Kents Influence on British Homeopathy

Kents Influence on British Homeopathy

The ‘High Potency Habit’

At the same time [c.1870-1910] as members of the ‘Cooper Club’ were a dominant influence in UK homeopathy, a new approach began to gain great influence, imported from the USA: the use of the higher potencies. The person who eventually came to be regarded as the chief exponent of this high potency method was Dr. James Tyler Kent [1849-1916], based first in St Louis and later in Chicago.

This influence came to Britain in three successive waves. Firstly from Skinner and Berridge [trained in Philadelphia] and brought to 1870s Liverpool; secondly, by Gibson Miller, who trained with Kent in St Louis, and which came to 1880s Glasgow; and thirdly, from Margaret Tyler and Octavia Lewin in the 1908-13 period. The latter ‘Kent in Chicago’ was imported into the British Homeopathic Society [BHS] in London and thus in many ways can therefore be interpreted as contributing significantly to the official policy of British homeopathy [see Bodman, 1990, pp.85ff].

Kent, therefore, ushers in the twentieth century. He takes us from the turbulent, laissez-faire and largely experimental homeopathy of the late 19th century, the homeopathy of Burnett and Cooper, with its eclectic emphasis upon herbs, tinctures and nosodes, into the first two decades of the 20th century. Kent therefore forms the linking bridge between the Cooper Club and the lay revival presided over by figures like Ellis Barker, Tomkins and Puddephatt in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

This influence chiefly involved the use of the higher centesimal potencies. These potencies were first developed by Skinner and Fincke in the USA [see Winston, 1999, pp.89-97; and Fincke, 1989] by making centesimal fluxion machines. These machines essentially contained rotating glass phials which, once set up in operation, could be filled, succussed and emptied repeatedly over many hours, without human assistance, starting with a drop of tincture and alcohol/water solutions. They provided a very convenient, mechanised means of making high potencies in a short space of time: in hours rather than weeks [see Winston, 1989].

A very useful biography of Kent is found in Dose and Singh, 1989; by Winston in The American Homeopath 2, 1995, and in Winston, 1999 [see also Nicholls, 1988, pp.186, 217-8, 265-6 and 220-1]. We can identify a number of reasons why Kent became such a seminally important homeopath. He devised an exhaustive Repertory, based in structure upon that of Jahr and Boenninghausen [see Saine, 1990], but much larger and which soon supplanted it to become the standard work [which it still is today]; he was a brilliant teacher of homeopathy, especially materia medica; he emphasisedd the higher potencies, which were very popular in the USA at that time; he emphasised most centrally the Hahnemannian concept of case totality and the single remedy [simillimum] above all other ‘deviant’ modes of homeopathic practice, like low-potency combination remedies used as specifics, an approach he detested.

First Wave: Skinner and Berridge

For British homeopathy, the original link with America lies with Dr. Thomas Skinner and his conversion to homeopathy by the Liverpool-based American homeopath Dr. Edward William Berridge [1844-1920]. Skinner went to the US soon after his conversion to homeopathy in the 1870s [see Winston, 1999, pp.96-7]. While there he worked on developing a ‘Potentising Continuous Flux-ion Machine’, often termed by Americans the ‘Skinner Machine’ [see Winston, 1999, pp.96-7], which was instrumental in developing a good supply of the high centesimal potencies that were being developed and used in the USA at that time and which soon became the standard tools of American practice. The device apparently used a similar type of process to that developed fifty or so years earlier in Russia by General Korsakoff [see Winston, 1989; Winston, 1999, pp.87-102; see also Munz, 1997, pp.26-29; Fincke, 1989; and Bhumananda 1994, pp.251-3].

‘Korsakoff was the real original inventor of the high potencies, for he first conceived and executed the idea of diluting medicines up as high as 1500. Sulphur, he said, acted better at that degree of potency.’ [Dudgeon, 1853, p.351]

Kent also produced one of these potentising machines himself, which was still working up until the 1940s in an Erhart & Karl Pharmacy in Chicago [see Winston, 1989; also Winston, 1999, pp.101-102].

At this point we must briefly plunge into some of the mysteries of economic geography. At that time, Liverpool was very important as a major UK port and linked both with the Tate sugar family [and therefore with the West Indies], who sponsored the building of the Hahnemann Hospital in Liverpool, [later the Tate Gallery in London] and also the direct link with America as a trading port and for passengers travelling or emigrating from northern England and Ireland to the USA. It is most probable that this link worked to benefit communication between British and American homeopathy throughout the 19th century. The same is also true, though to a lesser extent, of Bristol, the Wills tobacco family [who funded the building of the Bristol homeopathic hospital] and its similar importance as a port trading with the American continent, such as the southern tobacco-producing States.

“It was through correspondence about some matter apart from medicine that Dr. Skinner in 1873 became acquainted with Dr. Berridge [in Liverpool]; but the acquaintance led to a desire on Skinner’s part to know something about homeopathy, as he had heard of some good cures when over in America. The upshot of it all was that Dr. Berridge prescribed Sulphur for our patient in the MM potency, prepared by Boericke of Philadelphia. When Skinner felt the homeopathic remedy at work inside him it was a revelation indeed. ‘I shall never forget the marvellous change which the first dose effected in a few weeks, especially the rolling away, as it were, of a dense and heavy cloud from my mind.’ He was cured of the constipation, the acid dyspepsia [which he had had all his life], sleeplessness, deficient assimilation and general debility, and restored to a life of usefulness and vigour…’ [Clarke, 1907]

The above passage clearly shows Skinner must have been to the US before 1873. Due to ill-health, Skinner had in fact been ‘hors de combat’ for 3 years, during which time he worked on transatlantic liners as a medical officer and had become acquainted with US life and homeopathy. Presumably he had friends there too, as he stayed there in 1876 to attend a conference. Again, we see the link with geography [see Blackie, 1996, p.558; also Bodman, 1971].

Second Wave: Gibson Miller

The Kentian influence also came to these shores with Dr. Robert Gibson Miller [1862-1919] in Glasgow, who studied with Kent in 1884 in St Louis. He in turn began to influence UK practice chiefly in Scotland, from where the ‘high potency habit’ formed a separate and parallel strand to that centred mainly in Liverpool with Drysdale and Berridge [see Winston, 1999, pp.200-201]. Gibson Miller published his ideas in 3 small works: Elements of Homeopathy, Relationships of Remedies and A Synopsis of Homeopathic Philosophy.

Very little is known, as yet, about how and why Gibson Miller went to see Kent in the first place, or how his visit was financed. There might also have been a link, a suggestion maybe from Berridge in Liverpool, and Skinner, of course, who had strong links there since 1875. It may have occurred because UK homeopathy was declining, and they were ‘fishing around’ for new ideas and direction. They clearly felt that in terms of new homeopathic initiatives, the USA was the place to look. Yet the ‘old guard’ who controlled UK homeopathy at that time were deeply sceptical of high potencies and very resistant to change [see Blackie, 1996, p.561-2]. The ‘old guard’ mainly comprised Drs. Hughes, Dudgeon and Dyce-Brown, who dismissed the high potencies as laughable.

This aspect also raises another question about the links between 19th century Scottish and English homeopathy which I have not really explored. How much did Gibson Miller disseminate his newly-acquired skills to other UK doctors? Another question is how much he also disseminated his new ideas to the medically unqualified? As we have seen with Clarke, much of the basis for even teaching lay persons the rudiments of homeopathic prescribing was a response to its continued decline. It would be useful to know, therefore, if Gibson Miller did the same in Scotland and for similar reasons. Gibson Miller travelled from Scotland to St. Louis and ‘brought the beginnings of Kentian Homeopathy back to Britain.’ [Gibson Miller’s Obituary, BHJ 9, 1919, p.107]

“Gibson Miller was the founder of all Glasgow homeopathy, well disposed towards the laity, lost a son in the Great War [1916] and he died of cancer soon after. He never recovered from the loss of his son…he was tall and scraggy, a typical Carcinosin type, as John Paterson used to say. He was associated with Berridge, Thomas Skinner and Simpson of anaesthetic fame. Miller, like Skinner, used high potencies, while Cooper used low and Clarke used mixed.” [John Pert, 1991, former chief pharmacist at Nelson’s in a telephone conversation]

Miller was also an important influence on the future Physician Royal, Sir John Weir, who he treated for boils and converted to homeopathy [see Bodman’s Weir Obituary in BHJ, 1971].

Third Wave: Tyler

Kent’s influence also came to Britain in a third wave through Dr. Margaret Tyler:

“About 1907 her great concern was for the future supply of homeopathic physicians, as there was no definite post-graduate teaching, though much had been done by individuals. She was a great believer in going to the fountain-head, as she termed Hahnemann, and feared that much of the homeopathic practice was getting away from her ideal. She then, with her mother, instituted the Sir Henry Tyler Scholarship fund to help doctors go to the USA to study under Dr. James Tyler Kent, a keen Hahnemannian in practice. This created a stir and much controversy, but Dr. Tyler carried on with her efforts and many of the physicians of today studied under Dr. Kent between 1908 and 1913.” [from Margaret Tyler’s Obituary, BHJ, 1942-1943, by Sir John Weir]

By about 1905 British homeopathy had been in decline for over twenty years [see Nicholls, pp.207-8; Leary et al, 1998, p.264]. The BHS seems to have been looking out for some new ideas and guidance, a fresh impetus. Kent provided it, not only as a brilliant and highly successful practitioner and teacher of homeopathy; but also as a powerful writer and theoretician. He developed, brought out, greatly extended and emphasised its underlying philosophy.

The new breed of Kentian homeopathy was particularly influential on the generation of British homeopaths who were born in the 1870-1890 period, because they were in a position to benefit directly from scholarships which would send them over to Chicago to receive a year’s tuition with the great man himself. Kent died in 1916.
Several key figures in British homeopathy took up these study tours including Drs. Douglas Borland, John Weir [1879-1971], Dorothy Shepherd [1871-1952], Harold Fergie Woods [1888-1961] and Percy Purdom [c1880-c1940]. It is no exaggeration to say that as a result, they returned to the UK with tales of a form of homeopathy bordering on the miraculous [see Winston, 1999, pp.200-209]. They then began to transplant this Kentian form of homeopathy within the BHS and RLHH, and this soon came to be somewhat unquestioningly regarded in the UK as the new, standard mode of practice throughout the 1920-60 period. There is no evidence that Margaret Tyler [1857-1943] herself went to the US, but she corresponded with Kent. It was her mother, Lady Tyler, who set up the Henry Tyler Scholarship in her husband’s memory, just after his death in 1908.


Kent also created the first coherent, persuasive and highly influential philosophy, which has largely gone unchallenged within the movement. It was formulated as a synthesis of Swedenborgian mysticism and the more romantic portions of Hahnemann’s Organon and the Miasm Theory of The Chronic Diseases [see Kent, 1900, Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy].

However, as quickly became apparent, Kent’s homeopathy was rooted in a rather dogmatic and puritanical attitude, and seems to derive from a pedantically scholastic and uncritical reverence for everything Hahnemann wrote.

“Kentianism, then, was metaphysical, dogmatic, puritanical and millennial. Homoeopaths who failed to achieve results with the high dilutions lacked intellectual skill and rigour, as well as the moral fibre for the arduous task of identifying the simillimum. In short, so far as Kentians were concerned, the faithless were responsible for the corruption and decline of the movement.” [Treuherz, 1983]

It is also deductive and didactic and denies that the facts of the outer world are in any sense superior to, or an arbiter for, theoretical ‘principles’. In that sense it seems stubbornly medieval in its extreme deductivism. It turns its back completely on the empirical approach of scientific rationalism and thus on allopathy.

‘When a man thinks from the microscope, and his neighbor’s opinion, he thinks falsely. Nothing good can come from this. Evil must take place, and changes, which are the ultimates of his internal thought, will take place in the body’ [Kent, 1926]

‘The microbe is not the cause of disease. We should not be carried away by these idle Allopathic dreams and vain imaginations but should correct the Vital Force'[Kent, 1926]

‘The Bacterium is an innocent feller, and if he carries disease he carries the Simple Substance which causes disease, just as an elephant would.’ [Kent, 1926]

This stubborn determination to studiously ignore the rest of medicine and the ‘ideological push’ of the last 200 years, makes it appear to the modern eye, as reactionary, hard-line and perverse.

“You cannot divorce medicine and theology. Man exists all the way down from his innermost spiritual, to his outermost natural.” [Kent, 1926]

‘Experience has a place in science, but only a confirmatory place. It can only confirm that which has been discovered through principle or law guiding in the proper direction. Experience leads to no discoveries, but when man is fully indoctrinated in principle that which he observes by experience may confirm the things that are consistent with law.’ [Kent, 1900, p.40]

This passage, which is typical of Kent, can only make sense to a follower of pure dogma; Hahnemann, for example, would have totally disagreed by saying that ‘experience’ had taught him all he knew. Science, like homeopathy, is rooted in observations and experiments in the outer world, not in the enforcement of dogmas. Kent seems to place ‘the cart before the horse’ by stressing the philosophy and principles of homeopathy over and above the simple fact that it is primarily a system of therapeutics in which the progress of the patient is always far more important than the religious [or other] beliefs of the practitioner. In every science principles derive from observations, and do not dictate them.

Maybe this ideal of detachment and emotional neutrality even science subtly fails to comply with at times. Science occasionally gainsays the event before it happens and in effect dictates the outcome or ‘spin’ which should be placed upon some experimental data. This may be based upon theoretical considerations, political or financial factors. For example, the allopathic view of most clinical trials of unorthodox medicine, can hardly be described as ’emotionally neutral’ or detached. Someone watching a horse-race with a million dollars placed on one horse, can hardly be expected to manifest very much emotional detachment and neutrality!

However, as one of the most important homeopaths after Hahnemann, Kent has had a big influence as a theoretician, a practitioner, a writer and as a teacher of homeopathy. His influence has been especially strong on American, Indian and British homeopathy [see Nicholls, 1988, p.186], while the Continentals seem to have been largely untouched by his influence, except in Switzerland and the influence of Dr. Pierre Schmidt. In the case of India, their delight in homeopathy in general and Kentianism specifically might depend to some degree upon their own general interest in philosophical aphorisms and religious matters. Homeopathy supplies them both; Kent supplies them in profusion.

As a follower of the Christian mystical sect of Immanuel Swedenborg, Kent delivered a blend of Hahnemann’s Organon and miasm theory, spiritual forces and a crude psychology, comprising only will, understanding and intellect [see Aphorisms]. Some details of Kent’s ‘psychology’ and his ‘hierarchies’ are discussed by Taylor [1997, pp.5-7], elaborated by Vithoulkas [1980, pp.23-57 and especially pp.46-7 and pp.23-25], and considered by Sharma [1995, pp.39-40]. Kent approached his philosophy with typical vigour. He viewed all Hahnemann’s works and especially The Organon with a fundamentalist zeal, seeking to amplify and reinterpret every word of the Master, much like a theology scholar or biblical commentator. His Lectures On Philosophy, for example, form quite literally a rambling Swedenborgian commentary to the first half of Hahnemann’s Organon. To him these were precious and immutable homeopathic truths that it is sacrilege for anyone even to question, let alone ignore, dilute, negotiate or compromise. He even goes as far as saying:

‘A man who cannot believe in God cannot become a homoeopath.'[Kent, 1926, Aphorisms]

It is especially in Kent’s rather arrogant use of language, which hits us when reading his works, which really illustrates this fundamentalism and the precious certainty of his approach to homeopathy. The following quote from many possible ones, clearly demonstrates this:

‘…beware of the opinions of men of science. Hahnemann has given us principles… it is law that governs the world and not matters of opinion or hypotheses. We must begin by having a respect for law, for we have no starting point unless we base our propositions on law.’ [Kent, 1900, p.18]

Kent infers that homeopaths should base their whole approach upon the hard dogmatism of these ideas, which he elevates to the status of certitudes, and not upon the ever-shifting ideas of ‘mere men’. He is claiming a great authority and power behind such ‘immutable principles’, a power which like some divine form, stands ‘above and behind us’ and which we dare not abrogate or dilute for fear of one’s soul’s damnation.

As an attitude, this is so indistinguishable from that of fundamentalist religion, that it is clearly apparent how this form of homeopathy possessed, and generated for itself, so many problems with creative and imaginative people who much prefer to experiment and find truths out for themselves, eg. Samuel Hahnemann. This whole approach denies anyone the privilege or luxury of that kind of freedom. Total and unquestioning devotion to a given creed seems to be the basis of Kentianism, not reason or real-world experiment. As to whether Kent was truly a Hahnemannian homeopath see Henr 1995 and Cassam, 1999.

It is especially when he lapses into the moral sphere of homeopathy that his deep dogmatism reveals itself. When he is speaking purely about homeopathy, which is comparatively rare, he does well, but as soon as he enters human affairs, a certain clearly-recognisable ‘Bible-punching’ tone seems to shines through…as the following quotes clearly demonstrate:

‘It is law that governs the world and not matters of opinion or hypothesis. We must begin by having a respect for law…’ [Kent, 1900, p.18]

‘This means law, it means fixed principles, it means a law as certain as that of gravitation… our principles have never changed, they have always been the same and will remain the same…’ [Kent, 1900, p.28]

‘Had Psora never been established as a miasm upon the human race, the other two chronic diseases would have been impossible and susceptibility to acute diseases would have been impossible…’ [ibid. p.126]

Kent would have no dealings with allopaths nor with low-dilutionists, who were pejoratively portrayed as ‘mongrel, milk-and-water half-homeopaths’. Homeopathy was seen very dogmatically by him as pure classical homeopathy as ‘laid down in tablets of stone by the master’ or nothing. This narrow, simplistic and somewhat inflexible view of homeopathy had split American homeopathy right down the middle, causing a very acrimonious clash of ideologies. It is generally conceded that this bitter wrangling contributed significantly to the precipitous decline of homeopathy in the USA during the first half of this century [Kaufman, Coulter, Rothstein, Gevitz].

The Swedenborgian influence

To Swedenborg, the realms of nature, and particularly the body and mind of man, were theatres of divine activity…A ‘universal analogy’ existed between the various realms of creation. The physical world was symbolical of the spiritual world and this, in turn, of God. He conceived a resonant system of hierarchies of God, universe and man. He became a theologian and established the ‘Church of the New Jerusalem’ [see Nicholls, 1988, pp.262-5; also Rankin, pp.70, 82, 94-5, 107, 112].

A Supreme Divine purpose reigned throughout creation. The life of the universe, whether physical, mental or spiritual was the activity of Divine Love. The physical universe is given its true place in the economy of creation, the womb of man’s most enduring and real life. Briefly, Swedenborg was heretical to mainstream Christianity, because he espoused that personal liberation could be won easily from an all-loving God and that ‘original sin’ was non-existent.

‘…he dispensed with the idea of original sin’, [Treuherz, 1983, p.48]

As with Paracelsus and ‘later theosophies’, the link with homeopathy is to be found in the vast hierarchies of form and spirit that he conceived as existing between God, mind and matter and penetrating throughout the universe. Kent linked all of this to the process of potentisation, the vital force and the miasms of Hahnemann, seeing them both as philosophies that fully confirm each other and which for him, married together splendidly, into a new organic creation. The following quotes from his Aphorisms more than amply illustrate this point:

‘Radiant substances have degrees within degrees, in series too numerous for the finite mind to grasp.’

‘The lower potency corresponds to a series of outer degrees, less fine and less interior than the higher.’

‘When it has passed to simple substance, the Radiant form of matter, it has infinite degrees. To express the degrees from the Outermost to the Innermost, we might say a grain of Silica is the Outermost; the Innermost is The Creator.’

‘There are degrees of fineness of the Vital Force. We may think of internal man as possessing infinite degrees and of external man as possessing finite degrees.’

‘There are degrees within degrees to infinity.’

‘Low potencies can cure acute diseases because acute diseases act upon the outermost degree of the Simple Substance and the body. In chronic disease the trouble is deeper seated, and the degrees are finer, hence the remedy must be reduced to finer or higher degrees so as to be similar to the degrees of chronic disease.’

Swedenborg composed a ‘theory of correspondences or connections between the visible and invisible worlds’, [Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, 1981, p.617]. The James family including Henry and William were Swedenborgians and in Massachusetts and East Coast ‘among its adherents [were] most of the social, intellectual and business elite.’ [Coulter, vol. 3, pp.467-8; see also Winston, 1999, pp.166-7]. At that time, many of the ‘Transcendentalists’, led by Emerson, were very taken with philosophies like Swedenborg’s.

Another important adherent was Dr. John James Garth Wilkinson [1812-99] who was a big friend of Henry James senior. Wilkinson had trained at Hahnemann College Philadelphia and published several books on the sect. Indeed, many people were attracted to Swedenborg’s ideas, including the English artist and poet William Blake [see F Treuherz, 1983, The Homeopaths, 4:2, winter 1983, Heklae Lava or the Influence of Swedenborg on Homeopathy, p.36-7 [pp.35-53; see also Barrow, 1985]; re Blake see Ackroyd, 1994:

‘[Blake]… picked up separate ideas, or fragments of knowledge, as he needed them. He was a synthesiser and a systematiser, like so many of his generation, but it was his own synthesis designed to establish his own system of belief… he borrowed notions from Swedenborg or Paracelsus. He was above everything else an artist and not an orthodox thinker’ [Ackroyd, p.90]

‘…Blake has picked up elements of Thomas Taylor’s Neoplatonism as well as Swedenborgian doctrine and some alchemical terminology. Everything upon the earth has a spiritual correspondence, and the world itself is inspired with the breath of divine humanity.’ [Ackroyd, p.116]

‘Blake was very clear about his spiritual ancestors. He told John Flaxman that ‘Paracelsus and Behmen appeared to me’, but their arrival meant he turned away from Swedenborg. ‘Swedenborg’s writings are a recapitulation of all superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no further. Have now another plain fact: any man of mechanical talents may from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen, produce ten thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg’s.’ It is true that the writings of Paracelsus and Boehme [Behmen] do seem to come from a purer spring of spiritual revelation than those of Swedenborg…’ [Ackroyd, p.147]

‘..many critics have noticed how intimately the ‘Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ is related to Blake’s movement from Swedenborg towards Boehme and Paracelsus…’ [Ackroyd, p.15]

‘…there is no doubt that the ‘Marriage’ represents Blake’s most serious attack upon Swedenborg and Swedenborgians…’ [Ackroyd, p.153]

There are definite links with other forms of American Transcendentalism in the 19th century especially the Romantic literary figures like Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson.
The teachings of Swedenborg are especially reflected in Kent’s ‘Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy’, where they are shaken up with parts of Hahnemann’s Organon to form an attractive but baffling cocktail of ideas. Before his death, he published three main works: ‘Repertory’, ‘Lecture on Materia Medica’, ‘Lectures On Philosophy’. He also edited the ‘Journal of Homeopathics’ from 1897 to 1903: seven volumes, constituting the lectures which he gave to advanced doctors and personal articles. Kent’s writings on Philosophy and Materia Medica were published in this journal before they came out in book form. After his death a collection of aphorisms, lesser writings and notes and cases was published [1926, ‘Lesser Writings, New Remedies, Aphorisms, etc.’].

Kent seemed to emphasise a rather tenuous link between religion and science and this spilled out into a form of hard, dogmatic, fundamentalist creed. There seemed to be no middle ground, no shade of grey.

Presumably this approach worked well in the USA at that time and held converts of homeopathy together. Over here it tended to make Kentian homeopaths look rather strange and to set homeopathy itself even further apart from mainstream allopathy than before. Once the Kentian creed became the official, legitimised creed of the BHS [c.1910-60] then it seemed that one had to be like that in order to practise any form of homeopathy. This tended to push homeopathy as a subject, even further out on a limb from allopathy than before, and thus no further dialogue between them became possible.

“In practice, Kentian homeopathy was, according to Wheeler, ‘slightly contemptuous of any attempt to make terms with other medical knowledge regarding, as it were, the teaching as something so transcendental that no reasoned explanations are likely to have any validity.”

It is of interest that Dr. Percy Hall-Smith, in 1930, a member of the BHS, said:

“My own conviction is that our teaching is not sufficiently practical, and the approach unduly philosophical, and too far removed from the line of thought of the average doctor… It requires a rather special type of mind and outlook to swallow at the first blush undiluted ‘Kentian principles’. The average mind trained on a more materialistic basis is liable to be repelled by such teaching at the outset. “

About the author

Peter Morrell

Peter Morrell

Peter Morrell
Honorary Research Associate in the History of Medicine, Staffordshire University, UK

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