Remembering Dr Hahnemann: The Founder Of Homeopathy

Words: Dr Narayan C DESHPANDE

Dr Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, was born to a porcelain painter couple, in Meissen, Saxony, Germany, on April 10, 1755. His birthday, therefore, is fittingly celebrated as World Homeopathy Day, every year, in his honour, and to recognise, no less, the great contribution, also value, of his avant-garde discovery to the world.

The intrepid, also inquisitive, child grew up with different, yet perceptive, ideas in his mind. This wasn’t all. A kid scholar in his own right, little Hahnemann composed and delivered his Latin oration, The Wonderful Construction of the Human Hand, at his school leaving ceremony. It was well-received.

Hahnemann’s father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, like most parents — to fill in and take forward his family profession. Samuel did not opt to be the ‘chip of the old block.’ He preferred to pursue medicine.

Hahnemann left for Leipzig, at age 20, for his medical studies [1775]. And, as his cultured upbringing would have wanted it, he took his father’s pragmatic counsel seriously — “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.”

Samuel earned his bread and butter, in Leipzig, by teaching French and German — in other words, to taking care of his expenses. From there he moved to Vienna and entered the Hospital of the Brothers of Mercy. He soon became the favourite pupil of Professor von Quarin, a famous physician of the time.

Professor Quarin, who was mindful of Hahnemann’s immediate needs, got him the authorisation to practice medicine as family physician and curator for Samuel von Brukenthal, the Governor of Hermannstadt [now Sibiu, Romania]. However, a-year-and-a-half later, Hahnemann went to Erlangen to complete his medical studies. He procured his MD from the University of Erlangen [1779]. The subject of his thesis was: A Consideration of the Aetiology and Therapeutics of Spasmodic Affections.

The wedding bells rang, and Dr Hahnemann married Johanna Henrietta [1782]. He moved to Gommern, and published his medical essays in the second volume of Kreb’s Journal — including a book on the treatment of scrofulous sores [1784]. This happened to be his first original medical work.

Polyglot & Translator

Dr Hahnemann had an astonishing proclivity for translating books from other languages — being a polyglot with a special mastery in 14 languages. His eureka moment came when he could not resist, or contain his excitement, while translating Dr William Cullen’s Lectures on the Materia Medica — a landmark work of the time — in 1790. Dr Cullen’s affirmation that cinchona [quinine] bark possessed a specific febrifugal [fever-relieving] action, because it was the most aromatic and bitter substance known, provoked his scientific mind. Also, his curiosity.

Not the one to accept a word for a word, from his childhood, Dr Hahnemann felt that this was a far too simplistic hyperbole — there were any number of substances, not just barks, having exceptionally bitter properties. None of them, perhaps, had the medicinal strength to cure fevers, much less malaria.

Cinchona to Dr Hahnemann was what the falling apple was to Sir Isaac Newton. He wanted to find out the why and how of cinchona’s ‘feverish’ expanse, right from the word go. He made a decoction of cinchona bark. He soon did what no one else had done before him in medical history. He ingested the decoction. And, much to his amusement, he developed symptoms analogous to malaria. He now expounded his new principle — cinchona can cause malaria-like fever, so can cure the same illness, the trailblazing axiom of homeopathy. The cinchona exploration was the forerunner — the strategic point of reference for the progress of Dr Hahnemann’s pioneering ideas that soon turned medicine on its head.

Dr Hahnemann subsequently embarked on such experiments with a number of natural, allopathic [conventional medicine] and other substances whose curative actions were well-established, or nascent. He conducted on himself, also healthy human volunteers and other followers, such experiments, to finally proclaim, Similia Similibus Curentur [‘like cures like,’ the motto of homeopathy]. This became, no less, the ‘Homeopathic Law of Cure,’ the foundational principle of homeopathic practice ever since.

A Medical Pioneer

Well, all pioneers are subject of disdain, or plentiful pooh-pooh, to begin with. Dr Hahnemann was no exception. He had to endure several ‘direct, also reverse swing’ jibes and vitriol from his fellow allopathic practitioners, but he stuck to his discovery with a dictum that he strongly believed in — Aude Sapere, or ‘Dare to be Wise.’ Yes, his research was wise. A major leap. So, he didn’t hesitate to convey it to the medical fraternity. This led to the emergence of homeopathy, as a system in its own right, tended to, formulated, and expanded, by this great researcher — the first experimental, also experiential, physician.

Dr Hahnemann published his first volume of Materia Medica Pura, a meticulously documented record of symptoms produced by drugs, on healthy human beings, in 1811. The subsequent eight volumes of the work were published in the next ten years. Despite the antagonism of allopaths, apothecaries, and government officials, Duke Ferdinand of Anhalt Köthen approved and allowed Dr Hahnemann to live and practice homeopathy in Köthen [1821]. Dr Hahnemann published his famed classic, Chronic Diseases, Their Nature and Homeopathic Treatment, the following year.

Dr Hahnemann embodied the fundamental principles of homeopathy in the form of doctrines, laws and rules of practice in his monumental work, Organon of the Rational Art of Healing. With this, homeopathy [homois = similar; pathos = suffering] was given its name, also individuality, or distinctive character. This defines and identifies homeopathy for all time.

Chemist & Physician

Dr Hahnemann influenced medicine like no one else before in history — and, in his own especial manner. To paraphrase the renowned Scottish, also royal, physician and homeopath, Dr John Weir [you’d have seen him portrayed in the award-winning Netflix series, Crown], “A study of the historical background of Hahnemann’s time explains much of his reform work in medicine. ln daily use among us — among them [conventional physicians], his ‘mercurius solubilis’ — the black oxide, and in Crell’s Annals [1793], Hahnemann was already mentioned as ‘the famous analytical chemist.’”

“In the treatment of the insane,” as Dr Weir contends, “Hahnemann was amongst the great pioneers. He’d, in 1792, advised the humane treatment of the insane. He never allowed any insane person to be given painful bodily chastisement. There could be no punishment for involuntary actions; these patients deserved nothing but pity, and were always made worse and not better by such treatment. He even went further than Dr Philippe Pinel, a French physician, and precursor of psychiatry, in advising psycho-therapeutical measures. One of his peculiarities was that he could do with very little sleep; indeed, it is recorded of him that for 40 years his custom was to sit up one night in four, studying. He was a prodigious worker; was only one year short of 90 when he died, and in the course of his long life he published 116 large works and about 120 pamphlets. He was always ‘filling gaps in his education,’ as he expressed it, as when he studied botany, or ‘took small journeys to learn mining science and metallurgy.’ He was not only a chemist, but a good musician and an astronomer, and he was versed in every branch of knowledge connected with medicine.”

Dr Weir also elucidated, “By his provings, Hahnemann introduced an entirely novel and scientific method of studying drug-action. He demonstrated the effect of drugs on the living human being [is] surely a method far superior to the study of their toxic effect on animals. Even if drugs did affect animals in precisely the same way that they affected all other animals and humans — which is not the case —what animal could initiate us into the suicidal impulses of Aurum — the terror of death of Aconite and Arsenicum — the terrors of anticipation [even to diarrhoea] of Argentum nitricum, and Gelsemium —the indignation and the effect on health of the bottled-up sense of injury of Staphisagria — the fear of knives for the impulses they suggest of Nux and Arsenicum — the shamelessness in mania and delirium of Hyoscyamus — the indifference to loved ones of Sepia and Phosphorus? These, and such symptoms, have led to the most brilliant curative work, and they can only be found by provings on sensitive men and women. Hahnemann insisted that what a drug can cause, that, and that only, it can cure, whether in the mental, or the physical sphere; that its curative powers depend entirely on vital reaction to drug-stimulus; that the stimulus must be only sufficient to evoke reaction in organs rendered hypersensitive to disease; that reaction must be respected, and allowed to run its course before a repetition of the stimulus [should it be called for].”

A Great Legacy

Dr Hahnemann founded homeopathy, a natural, holistic system of mind/body medicine that aims to treat the whole person rather than just the physical, or apparent, symptoms — safely and gently.

He introduced and gave a new sense of direction to public health and hygiene. He was also one of the first physicians to identify poor hygiene as a causative factor in the spread of illness.

He also strongly believed that the elementary causes of illnesses started in the mind. He thought of the mind/body connect, when psychology was still nascent. His observations preceded the work of Dr Sigmund Freud. He also gave primacy to the role of dreams decades before Dr Freud — who founded psychoanalysis and distilled dreams — was born. He analysed and swotted dreams as being representative axioms of the inherent portrait of the mind.

Picture this. Dr Hahnemann was the first medical pioneer to prepare Hydrophobinum [a homeopathic remedy] made from the saliva of a rabid dog. Just think of the time: Dr Louis Pasteur, the founder of vaccination, was but only eight years old.

The list is long.

Dr Hahnemann served homeopathy till his last breath. He died on July 2, 1843, aged 88.

The best part: Dr Hahnemann passed into the sunset at the pinnacle of his glory and triumph. His last journey was interesting. He had two funerals. The first was attended by Marie Mélanie D’Hervilly Gohier, his second wife, and close relatives. His second was entreated and organised by his loyal followers and admirers, from across the globe — with dignified splendour.

Dr Hahnemann’s grave and memorial are located in Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris. The inscription [in translation] reads:

  • Standing between the Inorganic and the Organic World
  • Uniting them for the benefit of the sick
  • Earning their gratitude
  • Looking towards eternity
  • Samuel Hahnemann, Benefactor of Mankind.
Dr NARAYAN C DESHPANDE, BSc, MD [Hom], is Officiating Professor & HOD, A H Medical College, Bengaluru. He’s also Professor Emeritus, and former in-charge Principal, Government Homeopathic Medical College & Hospital, Bengaluru, former PG Guide, Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, Karnataka, former PG Examiner, Mangalore University, MGR University of Health Sciences, Chennai, Health University, Salem, former Health Expert, Karnataka Public Service Commission, Bengaluru. A recipient of the prestigious Nadaprabhu Kempegowda Award for his 35+ years of commendable service to homeopathic education and alternative healthcare, Dr Deshpande lives in Bengaluru, India.

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