BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF HAHNEMANN’S ORGANON OF MEDICINE by JOHN H. CLARKE, M.D.,
A LECTURE ON THE ORGANON
There are two books in the literature of medicine, and two only, which stand out in absolute pre-eminence over all other medical writings, however excellent these may be. With the Aphorisms of Hippocrates medical history had its beginning, and with the Organon of Hahnemann medical history begins anew. The Father of Medicine sums up in eight books of aphorisms, numbering 422 in all (supposing them all to be authentic), the practical wisdom of his day in the art and science of medicine; and so true is his estimate of what he observed, and so sound his judgment, that his descriptions of diseases and their gravity, and his general rules of treatment have scarcely been bettered his general rules of treatment have scarcely been bettered by writers who have come after.
Hahnemann, in his Organon, has likewise chosen the aphoristic form as the vehicle for his teaching. In a series of 294 aphorisms he sets forth the whole duty of the medical man. Hippocrates is more the artist of medicine, who saw clearly and described truly what he saw. Hahnemann is philosopher as well as artist; no less practical than Hippocrates, he goes down into the reasons of things in a way it was not possible for Hippocrates to do.
Let me quote, almost at random, a few of the sayings of the Father of medicine, to illustrate my meaning:-
“When the disease exists in all its vigour, it is necessary to use the most sparing diet” (i 8).
“Old men are best able to bear fasting, middle -aged persons bear it less easily, youths with still less case, and children least of all. Of the last, especially who are of a lively and active disposition”: i.13).
“Those disease which are undergoing, or have already undergone, the crisis should neither be disturbed nor altered by medicines, or anything else that may cause excitement, but should be suffered to take their course” (i.20) “Too much sleep and too much watching are equally injurious:”(ii.3).
“Spontaneous lassitude is the forerunner of disease” (ii.5).
“Diseases arising from repetition are cured by evacuation” and those which proceed from evacuation are cured by means which are exactly contrary to the causes:” (ii 22 )
(Here, I may remark, is the genuine sphere of an allopathic principle, which is sound enough provided it is fairly applicable.)
“Acute diseases come to the crisis in fourteen days” (ii.23). “The fourth day is the indicator of the seventh: the eighth is the commencement of the second week. The eleventh day should likewise be attended, to, for it is the fourth of the second week; we should also remark the seventeenth day, for it is the fourth from the fourteenth and the seventh from the eleventh” (ii 23).
“It is better than a fever should happen after a convulsion than a convulsion after a fever” (II.26).
“:A Convulsion caused by a sorrow is mortal” (v 2).
These are sufficient to remind you of the character of this monument of antiquity. The celebrated passage in which the homoeopathic idea is stated does not occur in the book of Aphorisms, but in another work attributed to Hippocrates- and, whether really his or hot, the book is of undoubted antiquity. Hahnemann quotes it is his Introduction. The following is the passage:-
“Though likes disease arises, and through likes being made use of diseases arises, and through likes being made use of diseases are healed in the sick-through vomiting sickness ceases”)
The difference in the tone and the scope of the two works will be apparent if we place side by side the first of the aphorisms of Hippocrates and the first two of those by Hahnemann. There is no more hackneyed quotation in the whole of medical literature than the “Ars longa, vita brevis,” which opens the Hippocratic book:
“Life is short; the art is long: the occasion is sudden, experience deceptive, and judgment difficult. Nor is it enough that the physician do his duty.; he should also see that the patient and his attendants do theirs, and that external things be well managed.”
Compare with this-true enough, but not very inspiriting-estimate of the doctor’s difficulties and duties the tone and confidence of Hahnemann’s exordium:-
“The physician’s high and only mission is to restore the sick to health-to cure, as it is termed.”
This is his first aphorism, and here is his second”-
“The highest ideal of a cure is rapid, gentle and permanent restoration for the health, or removal and annihilation of the disease in its whole extent, in the shortest, safest, most reliable, and most harmless way, on easily comprehensible principles.”
Between Hippocrates and Hahnemann there is the difference between dim twilight and broad daylight. The difficulties of the doctor’s position remain much as Hippocrates described them, but Hahnemann has brought the fullness of light to bear upon the difficult places and has shown him a way through some of them. He has brought a new life, hope, and confidence into the practice of the medical art.
To sum up: Hippocrates’s Aphorisms may be described as a well- ordered collection of excellent tips: Hahnemann’s constitute an organic philosophy of medicine. Hippocrate’s work reminds us to isolated fragments of some wonderful statue, whilst Hahnemann’s is like the living human organism itself.
It is astonishing how little is known by homeopaths generally about the Organon. It is seldom the first book that is given to a student. I believe there is a notion that it is chiefly concerned with the theory of homoeopathics, and everybody is so :’practical: nowadays! Besides, Hahnemann’s pathology, we are told, was to crude and so different from modern pathology! and we know so much more about homeopathy and drug action than he did, that if we take his drug-provings and make use of them we may look upon the rest of his works as entertaining and interesting but scarcely practical and useful”
Now this is as far as possible, from the actual truth. If there is one distinguishing feature more than another about the Organon it is that it is practical. It contains theory, no doubt; but theory is the most practical of all things-we cannot make progress without it. A theory is “something to see by”; the better and truer the theory on certain theories of disease and drug-action which experience in practice has proved to be sound. But leaving aside all that is theoretical, the bulk of the Organon deals with matters of fact and rules of practice.
Before going into details I will just rapidly sketch for you the contents of the volume. My remarks must all be understood to refer to Dr. Dudgeons translation of Hahnemann’s fifth edition, which is the best English translation we have. The fifth edition was published in 1833, Dr. Dudgeons translation in 1849, the revised translation, from which I quote, in 1893.