Homeopathy Papers

Melanie D’hervilly—A Great Unknown

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A fascinating lecture by Mrs. Henry Wood about the life of Hahnemann’s second wife Mademoiselle Melanie D’Hervilly From: The Homoeopathic World #57 – 1922

At twenty-five to thirty Mademoiselle D’Hervilly, pretty, blonde, tall, elegant, with a fresh complexion, her face surrounded with blonde curls, and her small blue eyes as piercing as black ones, became the companion of a celebrated painter, Mons. L. In marrying the painter she married painting, and she might have signed more than one of his pictures as she afterwards signed the prescriptions of Hahnemann.

When Mons. L. died, she turned to poetry in the person of a septuagenarian poet, for the further she went the older she liked them. This was Mons. A. She now devoted herself to making verses with the same ardour with which she had set herself about painting big historical pictures, and A. having died in his turn, septuagenarians no longer contented her!  She married the octogenarian Hahnemann!

She now became as revolutionary in medicine as she had been in classical painting and poetry. Her devotion to homoeopathy went the length of a fanaticism.  One day, when I was complaining in her presence of the dishonesty of one of our servants, “Why did you not tell me before!” she exclaimed, “We have medicines for that.”

Let me add that she was a person of rare intelligence and that she was possessed of wonderful skill as a sick nurse. No one knew better than she how to devise all sorts of expedients for the comfort of poor patients. In her was combined the pious zeal of a sister of charity and the delicate resources of the woman of the world.

The care she took of Hahnemann was admirable. In April, 1848, Hahnemann became very ill.  For ten years he had suffered from bronchial catarrh each spring, but this time he did not rally, and in July he died, aged eighty seven, his mind unimpaired to the very end; truly a grand old man!

And now comes one of the curious anomalies of Melanie’s character. She applied for permission to have the body embalmed by Ganal, and to retain it for twenty days beyond the usual time of internment and then, after nine days gave him almost a pauper’s funeral at six in the morning.

“His daughter, Madame Liebe, and her son by her first marriage, Leopold Suss, who had been a week in Paris before the old man’s death, were never admitted to the sick room, but were allowed to attend the funeral. I have wondered if she expected a state funeral and when she did not get the public recognition, took umbrage. She must at one time have contemplated a lying in state and a big funeral, or why the embalming, and the twenty days delay.

On the 9th of July, at six o’clock on a pouring morning, a common hearse drove into the court-yard of the house in the Faubourg St. Honors. The common coffin was put into it and driven off to the Montmartre cemetery, followed on foot by the widow, by Hahnemann’s daughter, his grandson, and a young doctor named Lethiere.

The body was consigned to an old vault without any ceremony, religious or otherwise. The old vault, as a matter of fact, already contained the mortal remains of Messieurs L.  and A.

Albrecht says that this unostentatious funeral was in accordance with Hahnemann’s own wish, but the Homoeopathic World writes in no measured terms of the affair. It says, “Madame Hahnemann buried her husband with less decency and less regard than is shown to the poorest of our sorrowing poor. Many were the applications and requests of his admirers and friends and disciples to be allowed to attend his funeral, but all to no purpose, the day and hour were kept a perfect secret.”

The grandson writes, “The ostentatious affection which the wife displayed toward her husband whilst alive soon vanished after his death.” The immortal founder of homoeopathy was buried like the poorest of the poor, the funeral taking place at six in the morning under a pelting rain. (I notice that poor Melanie is made responsible for the weather by all her step belongings!)

Suss adds that the coffin was deposited in an old vault “where his devoted wife had already deposited the remains of two aged friends.” Whatever the reason for this unfitting funeral, and one must believe that Melanie had some reason, it was very unseemly and undignified. It would have been meagre for a small shop keeper and Hahnemann had amassed, during his eight years in Paris, over 4,000,000 francs.

You will remember he had given up nearly all his fortune, earned prior to his leaving Germany, to his daughters.  With extraordinary and unparalleled generosity, Melanie gave up the whole of the French earnings, also, to her step-children, and then earned their undying enmity by refusing to return the books which Hahnemann had borrowed from his daughter!

In January, 1847, the Algemeiner Zeitung has a notice that Madame Hahnemann will practice medicine, and she apparently had an enormous clientele. In 1847, the Dean of the Medical faculty of Paris took proceedings against her for practising without proper qualifications.

She stated she had a diploma from the Academy of Pennsylvania, that she had, so to speak, two tame doctors as her agents and never saw patients without one of them, and that she only acted as Secretary for them as for her husband. She made a most clever and ingenious defence, but was fined a hundred francs, and continued to practise!

With the change of Government, Dean Orfila went out of office and Madame H. went unmolested. In 1854, Dr. Talbot, of Boston, paid her a visit. He was shown into a bare spacious salon (she lived in the Rue Clichy, No. 48) its chief ornament being a colossal bust of Hahnemann.

Madame, he describes as tall, quite graceful, her hair slightly grey and in curls, her forehead high and intellectual. Her countenance impressed him as cold and forbidding.

With her first salutation, it was easy to see that she was a lady of unusual accomplishments and accustomed to meet strangers. She spoke freely and enthusiastically of Hahnemann; she had acted as his interpreter, scribe, apothecary, agent, and it is fair to assume that his life was lengthened by her constant unwearying attentions.

When he died, she said, she felt her mission was ended, however his patients came to her for help and advice and she kept on his work. In 1867, a Boston lady writes that having need of a physician, she called in Dr. Boenninghausen. This was the husband of Melanie’s, adopted daughter. The doctor was in Germany, but the widow Hahnemann was taking his patients for him. A message was left asking for an early call as the case was urgent. The lady says, “I can never forget the untiring devotion of Madame Hahnemann. Once we had occasion to call her at midnight. We were au quatrieme without an elevator, and as she came climbing up the stairs

I could not resist a half apology for her supposed fatigue, she turned to me quickly, her expressive face crowned with its glory of white hair, and beaming with life and vigour, and said with the naivete of a young girl, “ Moi je sais encore jeune.” We all became deeply attached to her.

She told me all about her life and that of her husband. She is French and a Catholic. She was born in Paris. Apropos of her meeting with Hahnemann, she said, Hahnemann was then eighty. He told her he had all his life looked for a woman as Diogenes had looked for a man, and that he had found what he sought in her.

She married him and as she expressed it “I was a servant to him and his copyist and kept his house and studied with him and it was paradise.” Her description of their wedded homoeopathic bliss was amusing! She told of their labours together, and how Hahnemann had no secrets from her, and how all day they worked at the same table and at night “his bed was here, mine there, and when we waked in the night our talk was of medicine. I didn’t marry him for his money but for enthusiasm.”

In 1869 Dr. Neidharht tells the Philadelphia Homoeopathic Society of a visit to Melanie Hahnemann. He says “She is now a lady of venerable aspect having a high forehead and pale complexion.” She, after several interviews promised to give him the silver cup out of which Hahnemann used to take his morning cocoa. But when, on leaving Paris, he claimed this prize, she withheld it on the plea that the family would object.

In 1865 came the crisis in the lamentable dispute which must always throw discredit on Madame Hahnemann. Dr. Suss Hahnemann, as he now called himself, announced that he was going to issue a sixth edition of his grandfather’s celebrated work “the Organon.”

The preface had been already printed and the book would have been practically an annotated reprint of the fourth edition. As soon as the work was, so to speak, on the stocks, Melanie wrote furiously to the editor of the Allegeiner Zeitung, and stated that she alone possessed the sixth edition of the “Organon,” and that anything published by the Hahnemanns was a fraud!

At this first word of the existence of a posthumous work, the whole homoeopathic world was in a fervent. The battle raged furiously, no one would give in. Melanie refused to produce her manuscript and when at last Suss Hahnemann issued his book, denounced it as incorrect, and designedly so.

All the leading homoeopaths tried in vain to get hold of her papers, “The Organon is our Khoran!” but in vain. In 1879, Dr.  Bayes, one of our leading physicians wrote her a definite offer; she replied by demanding a sum the interest of which would equal the income she was making from her practice.

This was too stiff a demand, especially as she refused to let anyone see the manuscripts. As she would not come down, the negotiations ended and the English homoeopaths declared war to the knife against her.

In 1878, the Americans opened the ball and received a honied reply from Melanie in which she stated that she was not out to make money, that she had never yet sold one of Hahnemann’s works, only used them in order to meet her necessities.

All she asked was an adequate subscription from the doctors and their patients. This was in March. In May she, like her husband, died of a bronchial catarrh. She was aged eighty-seven, and had survived him some thirty years.

As soon as they could do it with decency the various homoeopathic bodies attacked Madame Boenninghausen on the subject. The Americans sent Dr. Campbell to negotiate personally. She produced a bundle of papers weighing some thirty pounds.

These were mostly from Hahnemann’s patients describing their symptoms, with notes of their treatment. The “Organon” was an old edition with marginal notes of little value. For this Madame Hahnemann had in her own mind settled to fleece the Americans of 50,000 dollars.

The adopted daughter was either less rapacious or more honest, and had only expected $25,000! Campbell frankly says they were valueless. No one could have been more fully aware of this than Melanie and it was a pure piece of swindling on her part and one impossible to justify.

The daughter was profuse in her offers to the Americans of anything!  Everything! as a gift if only they would guarantee a return gift of an adequate monetary nature, adequate being synonymous with exhorbitant!

An effort was made to raise the sum of 15,000 dollars, but all felt it to be so extortionate, that the whole thing sizzled out. Madame Hahnemann was buried in the vault at Montmartre with her three aged loves. I have been unable to find any notices in the English daily papers on her death or funeral. The Illustrated London News just gives a bare announcement. She died in May.

The homoeopathic world takes no notice of the snapping of so strong a link with their great leader till August, when a most abusive article appears written by a member of the Hahnemann family, vilifying her in a most unseemly fashion.

It states that no sooner was Hahnemann dead-than his widow thought no more of homoeopathy.  That her affection for him and his doctrines vanished with his death, that the only reason for the unseemly funeral must have been stinginess, that she had been asked for pecuniary help for a step-grandson, in order that he might go to the ‘Varsity, and had answered : “ If he has not the means to study, let him be a shoe maker! ”

That she took Hahnemann to Paris, not for the good of the cause but for love of gold, a love which she clung to with a devotion that was truly pitiful. That she speculated on the large fortune Hahnemann would make, and her speculation was successful. That her death could not be regretted by any sincere homoeopath, as she never benefited the cause in the least. That she entered homoeopathy from mercenary motives and went out of it from the same.

It was a great astonishment to me that there was not found one homoeopath, doctor or layman, to take up the cudgels in defence of the widow of their great master. Respect for his memory should have either kept them silent in the first instance, or lead them to defend her from attack.

Melanie D’Hervilly was without doubt a most complex character. In these days she would be summed up as possessing no moral sense whatever, but in those days she could not have followed her intellectual bent without becoming the mistress of an intellectual man.

That she sought their companionship purely for their minds is obvious. I can find no proof of her having lived with a fellow student as was stated in the Leipsic papers at the time of her marriage, and when in taking up medicine she found she could pursue without a male protector, she was ever more satisfied to work alone.

When Hahnemann died, she was only forty-eight, and still very attractive, to say the least. She was also of extraordinary and unusual abilities. An excellent linguist, an accomplished artist, a brilliant conversationalist, she could, no doubt have found many men ready to worship her, but the material in matrimony had obviously no attraction for her.

Her life was full and happy. The small and petty spitefulness she displayed towards her step-relatives and her dishonest conduct about the Organon alienated the whole body of homoeopaths, and they are, in their turn small and petty in their reflections on her character.

That she was a most wonderful woman I have no doubt, and it is the fault of this somewhat spiteful boycotting of her memory by her husband’s followers that I have been able to collect so few facts and details about her life from 1843 to 1878. I can only hope that I have been able to collect enough to convince you that in introducing to you Melanie D’Hervilly I have introduced you to a really remarkable Frenchwoman.

About the author

Henry Wood

Mrs. Henry Wood

3 Comments

  • I enjoyed the article, however I had to wonder, how does a homeopath die of bronchial catarrh? Voilà: Pulmonary edema .
    It’s usually caused by heart problems. If the heart is ill or damaged, it cannot pump out enough of the blood it gets from the lungs.
    WebMD › … › Reference
    Heart Problems That Affect Breathing: Heart Failure, …

  • Mrs. Henry Wood

    Very interested in your brilliant article on Mélanie d’Hervilly

    I work on my homeopathy site in particular on the historical part.

    I prepare various sections on characters and subjects related to this homeopathic medicine which influenced various sociological currents during the 19th century: medical (human, animal), literature, theater, music, opera, painting, caricatures …

    Regarding Mélanie d’Hervilly, future wife of Samuel Hahnemann, I collected various documents on her various stages of her life: artistic before her marriage (painting, literature), her life with Hahnemann, and until her death in May 1878
    I found the information of his death in several newspapers mentioning his death.
    But the information was very sober and very limited.

    I have not found to date documents on the memory of this historical figure a priori forgotten on his death by his contemporaries and the homeopathic medical community

    I haven’t finished writing my article on Mélanie because my project is exciting but huge

    There is an unknown wealth to be found and exploited.

    Do not hesitate to contact me if you would like more information on this little-known character

    Best Regards

    Jean-François Royer

    • Greetings Jean-François,

      This article by Mrs Henry Wood is from 1922. I have a great liking for biographical material, so any time you wish to share articles in our journal, just contact me at : [email protected]

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