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Reflections on Hahnemann’s Appearance and Mode of Life


Dr. Thomas Lindsley Bradford presents some brief reflections on one period in Hahnemann’s life.

Excerpted from The Life of Hahnemann – T.L. Bradford MD.

At this period of his busy life (circa 1816) Hahnemann did not leave his house to visit patients. His time was entirely devoted to his lectures, his studies, and his consultations at home. He, however, in fine weather took a daily promenade with his wife and children. Hartmann’s narrative in the preceding chapter enables one to form a very distinct idea of his home life. He attracted to him others than medical men, many of whom were greatly impressed with the old philosopher, and, too, became his followers.  The following interesting story was written by one of these, a young law student, the Baron von Brunnow.

Ernst George von Brunnow was born at Dresden, April 6, 1796, and died there, May 5, 1845. He was of a noble Courland family. Ill health prevented him from devoting himself to philosophy and law, and he cultivated lighter literature. He became a convert to Hahnemann by whom he was greatly benefited in health. He translated the Organon into French, assisted in the Latin translation of the Materia Medica Pura and was also the author of several novels. He says:

It was on a clear spring day of the year 1816 that I, a young, newly-enrolled student of law, sauntered with some of my companions along the cheerful promenade of Leipsic. Among the teachers of the University were to be found at that time many notables, and not a few originals. Many a professor and master stalked gravely along in the old-fashioned dress of the former century, with peruque and bag, silk stockings, and buckles on his shoes, while the pampered sons of the landed gentry swaggered about in hussar jackets and pantaloons ornamented with points, or in leather breeches, with high dragon boots and clinking spurs.  Tell me,’ said I to an older student than myself, who was walking with me,  “Who is that old gentleman with so extraordinarily intelligent a countenance, who walks respectfully arm in arm with his somewhat corpulent spouse, and is followed by two pairs of rosy girls?”  ‘That is the celebrated Doctor Hahnemann with his wife and daughters. He takes a walk regularly every afternoon round the town with his wife and aughters, was the reply.  ‘What,’ rejoined is there about this Hahnemann that makes him celebrated ?”

“Why he is the discoverer of the Homoeopathic system of medicine, which is turning old medicine topsy turvy,’ replied my acquaintance, who, like myself, was from Dresden and had also enlisted himself under the colors of Themis.

My curiosity was excited and I wished to know something more about him. My companion belonged to the enthusiastic admirers of Hahnemann who attended his lectures and gladly assisted in the proving of medicines. Everything he told me about this remarkable man excited my interest in the highest degree. From my childhood I had been delicate and a victim to physic, so that my confidence in medicine was very frail. Besides other grievances, I suffered especially from my eyes, which I required at that time most especially. Impelled by hope I read the Organon, and was more and more taken with Homoeopathy at every line. It was the first medical book I had had in my hand, so that it did not strike me at that time that doctrines which appeared so clear, supported by reasoning so consistent, might be yet too exclusive in their character and have their dark side. I was a zealous proselyte, and, like all neophytes, admitted no salvation beyond the pale of my own church. I made the resolution of putting myself under Hahnemann’s treatment.

Hahnemann at that time was in his sixty second year. Locks of silver white clustered round his high and thoughtful brow, from under which his animated eyes shone with piercing brilliancy. His whole countenance had a quiet, searching, grand expression. Only rarely did a gleam of fine humor play over the deep earnestness, which told of the many sorrows and conflicts endured. His carriage was upright, his step firm, his motions as lively as those of a man of thirty. When he went out, his dress was of the simplest – a dark coat, with short small clothes and stockings. But in his room at home he preferred the old household, gaily-figured, dressing gown, the yellow stockings and the black velvet cap. The long pipe was seldom out of his hand, and the smoking was the only infraction he allowed himself to commit upon his severe rules of regimen. His drink was water, milk, or white beer; his food of the most frugal sort. The whole of his domestic economy was as simple as his food and dress. Instead of a writing desk he used nothing but a large plain deal table, upon which there constantly lay three or four enormous folios, in which he had written the history of the cases of his patients, and which he used diligently to turn up and write in while conversing with them. For the examination of his patients was made with all the minuteness of which he has given an example in the Organon.

A very peculiar mode of life prevailed in Hahnemann’s house. The members of his family, the patients and students of the University, lived and moved only in one idea, and that was Homoeopathy; and for this each strove in his own way. The four grown up daughters assisted their father in the preparation of his medicines, and gladly took part in the provings and, still more, this was done by obliging students, whose names will be found carefully recorded in connection with their individual observations in the Materia Medica Pura. That these experiments were not at all injurious to those engaged in them I can testify from personal observation.

The patients enthusiastically celebrated the effects of Homeopathy, and devoted themselves as apostles to spread the fame of the new doctrine among unbelievers. All who adhered to Hahnemann were at that time the butt of ridicule or the objects of hatred. But so much the more did the Homoeopathists hold together, like members of a persecuted sect, and hung with more exalted reverence and love upon their honored head.

After the day had been spent in labor, Hahnemann was in the habit of recruiting himself from eight to ten o’clock by conversation with his circle of trusted friends. All his friends and scholars had then access to him, and were made welcome to partake of his Leipsic white beer and join him in a pipe of tobacco. In the middle of the whispering circle the old sculapius reclined in a comfortable arm chair, wrapped in the household dress we have described, with a long Turkish pipe in his hand, and narrated by turns amusing and serious stories of his stormed-tossed life, while the smoke from his pipe diffused its clouds around him.

Next to the natural sciences the condition of foreign nations formed a most favorite subject for conversation. Hahnemann had a special fondness for the Chinese, and for this reason, that among them the children were educated in the strictest obedience and respect for their parents, duties which in the civilized countries of Europe were becoming more and more neglected.  Indeed the family of Hahnemann presented a pattern of the old German system of training children. The children displayed not only obedience, but the most hearty love towards their parents.

Although living in luxurious and elegant Leipsic, yet the daughters of Hahnemann took no part in any public amusement; they were clad in the simplest fashion, and undertook most cheerfully the humblest household services. Hahnemann had but little satisfaction from his son, who led so foolish a life in the place where he was settled as to be obliged to leave it. His father never mentioned him.

From his pupils Hahnemann exacted not only intelligence and diligence, but the strictest propriety of life. I know of one case in which he peremptorily closed the door against a young and talented medical student whom he discovered to be living with a person of loose character.

With regard to religion, Hahnemann, who belonged to the Lutheran confession, held aloof from all dogmatic creeds. He was a pure Deist, but he was this with full conviction.  “I cannot cease to praise and thank God when I contemplate his works”, he was accustomed to say.

Strict as was the obedience Hahnemann demanded from his children, as a husband he was far from having the rule in his own hands. His tall and stout wife, who, as Agnes Frei did to the noble painter, Albrecht Durer, gave him many a bitter hour, exercised the most baneful influence upon him. It was she who cut him off from society and set him against his medical colleagues. It was she who often caused dissension between himself and his most faithful pupils if they did not treat the doctor’s wife with the deepest respect. Notwithstanding this, Hahnemann was accustomed to call this scolding Xantippe, who took pleasure in raising a storm in the house, ‘the noble companion of his professional life.’

During my latter years at Leipsic Hahnemann’s prospects were somewhat overclouded. His flourishing practice and numerous adherents had become too alarming to his adversaries not to prompt them to take such active measures for his suppression as lay within their power. The implement to effect this was, naturally enough, the laws against his dispensing his own medicines. The matter was brought before the courts of medical jurisprudence, and from them Hahnemann appealed, and the decision was delayed.

At this time one of the heroes of the German war of liberation, the Austrian Field Marshal, Prince Schwartzenberg, had become affected, besides other complaints, with an apoplectic palsy of the right side, and for this he had tried the skill of all the most eminent physicians in vain. Homoeopathy alone had not yet been tried, and to enable him to get all the advantages of the new system he came to Leipsic, to place himself under Hahnemann’s own eye. The first consequence of this honorable tribute to Hahnemann was the suspension of the process the apothecaries had commenced against him. Had Prince Schwartzenberg recovered, then had Homoeopathy enjoyed an immediate triumph in Saxony, and even in all Germany, but every art has its limits. Hahnemann undertook the case as a desperate one on which he could try the effects of Homoeopathy. To the astonishment of all, the patient felt himself better from day to day; and he was seen driving about after a little time; but the powers of life had been too much weakened to permit of his recovery.

The former malady returned, and the Field Marshal died in the same town into which, in the same month of the year 1813, he had entered as a conqueror. Although the post-mortem proved that no medical skill could by any possibility have been successful in the case, yet the issue of it was very injurious to Hahnemann. The suspended process was immediately resumed, and it was decided that Hahnemann must give up dispensing his own medicines.

About the author

Thomas Lindsley Bradford

Dr Thomas Lindsley Bradford (1847-1918)

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