Biological Sketch of Hahnemann


The histories of many men who have risen to eminence in some particular branch of science teach us that they have done so under the most unfavourable circumstances. Hahnemann belonged to this class of great men….


Difficulty of forming a correct estimate of him

– His birth and parentage

– Pursuit of knowledge under difficulties

-School days- Student’s life in Leipzic and Vienna

-Removal to Hermannstadt- Graduates in Erlangen

-Practises in Hettstadt, then in Dessau, then in Gommern

-His first marriage-Removes to Dresden-Chemical labours

-Berzelius’s opinion

-Goes to Leipzic

-Discovery of the homoeopathic principle

– Res angusta domi

-Accepts the charge of a lunatic asylum-Introduces the principle of moral restraint

– Removes to Walschleben, Pyrmont, Brunswick, Wolfenbuttel, and Konigslutter

-Works written during this period-Enunciation of the homoeopathic principle

-Persecution of the apothecaries-Discovery of the prophylactic for scarlet fever

-Tardy acknowledgment of his discovery

-Forced to leave Konigslutter

-Accidents on the journey

– Arrives at Hamburg

-Removes to Altona, Mollen, Eulenburg, Machern, Dessau

-Works written during this period

-Hostility of his colleagues

-Chemical mistake

-Removes to Torgau

-Writes for a literary journal

-Returns to Leipzic

-Attacks upon him

-His thesis to enable him to lecture

-Commences lecturing

-Literary labour

– Treatment of Prince Schwarzenberg

-Persecution of the apothecaries

– Driven from Leipzic

-Settles in Coethen

-Works written during this period

-Foundation of the Central Homoeopathic Society

-(Secret history of Hahnemann’s statue)

– Indicates the remedies for cholera

– Death of his first wife-Second marriage

– Removal to Paris-Death and burial

-Characteristics of Hahnemann’s mind

-His perseverance

– His intolerance

-His unsociableness

-His conscientiousness

-His industry

– His generosity

– Anecdote of his high estimate of the medical profession

-His humility

-Compared to Luther

-Estimate of his character.


“HAHNEMANN, dieser seltene Doppelkopf von Philosophie und Gelehrsamkeit-dessen System am Ende den Ruin der gemeinen Receptirkopfe nach sich ziehen muss, aber noel, wenig von den Praktikern angenommen and mehr verabscheut als untersuchtist.”- JEAN PAUL RICHTER, Zerstreute Blatter, II. Band, S. 292.

ALTHOUGH it would perhaps be out of place to preface a course of lectures upon the ordinary Practice of Physic with an account of the Personal history of Aesculapius or Hippocrates, of Galen or Sydenham, as the representative men of old Physic, the case is altered when we have to discourse of that thorough reformation of the art of Medicine commonly called Homoeopathy; for Homoeopathy is so intimately associated with the name of Hahnemann, and a study of his history and a due appreciation of his character are so essential for enabling us to comprehend the various developments and phases of this complete and remarkable Reformation, that it would be almost as unpardonable for the teacher of Homoeopathy to omit attempting to estimate the character of its Founder, as it would be for the historian of the great religious Reformation of the sixteenth century to omit the study of life and character of Martin Luther.

But nine years have elapsed since Hahnemann entered the domain of history, and in confirmation of the saying that a hero is not appreciated till he has passed away from among us, we observe that these nine years have witnessed an extension of homoeopathy unequalled since its promulgation fifty years ago; and its Founder, who could at the period of his decease only reckon his disciples by hundreds, is now acknowledged as their master by thousands of educated medical men scattered all over the globe; and the very town whence he was driven by the enmity of his colleagues only twenty years ago, a few months since saw a costly monument of bronze erected to his memory by the united efforts of his admirers of all nations.

The biographer who has not enjoyed the friendship and acquaintance of his hero cannot indeed have such an exact idea of his minuter traits of character and peculiarities as he who has had this advantage; but on the other hand he may be able to form a juster estimate of his general characteristics and genius, by an unbiased study of his works and of the impressions produced upon those who were familiar with him; just as the spectator placed upon a hill may be able to form a more correct idea of the general features and capabilities of a town, than one of its inhabitants who may be familiar with every house, but not with its aspect from beyond its walls.

Hahnemann has not been dead long enough to enable us to assign to him his true place among the world’s worthies. The veneration of some might perhaps induce them to give him too high a rank in the Walhalla of immortality, whilst others, to whose remembrance the petty foibles incident to humanity, of which our Hahnemann had his share, recur too vividly, might be apt to under estimate him.

The biographies that have hitherto been published of Hahnemann are meagre and contradictory, and the time has not yet come for the publication of those letters and documents which we know to exist in the custody of his family and friends, and from the careful study of which we should be able to gain a clear insight into the motives and reasons for various actions of his eventful life, which at present we can only conjecture.

The histories of many men who have risen to eminence in some particular branch of science teach us that they have done so under the most unfavourable circumstances, and in spite of the greatest obstacles thrown in their way by fortune and by their own natural guardians. Hahnemann belonged to this class of great men.

His father, an industrious but fortuneless painter on porcelain in the celebrated manufactory at Meissen, as charming little town on the banks of the Elbe, near Dresden, discouraged all his endeavors to qualify himself for a calling superior to that he himself pursued, though he seems in other respects to have had a great influence on the character of his son by his exhortations to him to exercise his independent judgment in all cases, and not to take anything on trust, but in every case to act as reflection told him was for the best. “Prove all things, hold fast that is good,” was the substance of his advice. By this advice Hahnemann profited, and, notwithstanding his father’s prohibition to study, he pursued his strong inclination to do so in spite of all opposition, and on many an occasion when it was thought he was sound asleep, he was consuming the midnight oil over his books, in a lamp which he had himself constructed out of clay, as he was apprehensive of being discovered had he used one of the household candlesticks. This little incident I have thought worth mentioning, as it exhibits his perseverance and indomitable steadfastness of purpose even at that early age. His aptitude for study excited the admiration of his schoolmaster, with whom he became a favourite, and who undertook to direct his studies, and encouraged him to a higher order to study than that which constituted the usual curriculum of a Grammar School. This did not please his father, who several times removed him from the school and set him to some less intellectual work, but at length restore him to his favorite studies at the earnest request of his teacher, who, to meet the pecuniary difficulty, instructed the young Samuel until his twentieth year without remuneration.

On leaving school it was the custom to write an essay on some subject, and Hahnemann selected the somewhat unusual one of ” the wonderful structure of the human hand,” a theme which has in our own time been so beautifully discovered upon by Sir Charles Bell, in his Bridge-water Treatise. Who would not like to see how the boy Hahnemann treated this subject, his selection of which shows a strong bias towards natural science?

Twenty thalers (about L3 sterling the only patrimony he ever received) and his father’s blessing, were all he carried with him from Meissen to Leipzic, where it was his intention to study medicine. He was allowed free access to the various classes, and managed to support himself by teaching French and German, and by translating books from the English. From Leipzic be journeyed, to Vienna, in order to witness the practice of medicine in the hospitals there, and had the good fortune to secure the friendship or Dr. von Quarin, who treated him like a son, and took great pains to teach him the art of medicine. By some roguery or other, however, he lost the greater part of his money here, and so, after a sojourn in Vienna of only three quarters of a year, he found himself forced to accept the situation of family physician and librarian to the Governor of Transylvania, with whom he resided in Hermannstadt two years, and whence he removed to graduate in Erlangen, in 1779.

“The longing of a Swiss for his rugged Alps.” he says, in an autobiographical fragment he has left behind him, “cannot be more irresistible than that of a Saxon for his fatherland.” Accordingly to fatherland he went, and settled down to practice in a small town named Hettstadt, but as there was no field for practice here, he removed, after three quarters of a year’s

residence, to Dessau, in 1781. Here it was, he tells us, that he first turned his attention to chemistry; but at the end of this year he was appointed district physician in Gommern, whither he removed, and her he married, his first wife, whose acquaintance he had previously made in Dessau, she being the daughter of an apothecary of that town: here also he wrote his first book on medicine, which gives the result of his experience of practice on Transylvania, and takes rather a desponding view of medical practice in general, and of his own in particular, as he candidly admits that most of his cases would have done better had he let them alone. After remaining nearly three years in Gommern- where, he naively observes,” no physician had ever been before, and whose inhabitants had no desire for one” — he transferred his residence to Dresden; but with the exception of taking for a year the post of physician to the hospital, during the illness of Dr.Wanger. he does not seem to have done much in the way of practice here.

During the last four years he lived in Dresden and the neighboring village of Lockowitz he published many chemical works, the most celebrated of which is a treatise upon poisoning by arsenic, which is quoted to this day as an authority by the best writers on toxicology. This was probably, the period he alludes to, in his letter to Hufeland, as that when he retired disgusted with the uncertainty of medical practice and devoted himself to chemistry and literature. That he made considerable progress in the former science, his valuable tests for ascertaining the purity of wine and of drugs and this treatise on arsenic testify; and we have likewise the testimony of the Swedish oracle of chemistry, Berzelius, who, knowing well the value of Hahnemann’s service to his own science, is reported to have said, ” This man would have been a great chemist, had he not turned a great quack.” We may take Berzelius’s opinion as to Hahnemann’s skill in chemistry;but try his physic by other than chemical tests.

In 1789 he removed to Leipzic, and in that year published his treatise On Syphilis, Lesser Writings,1. written the year before in Lockowitz, which I must confess, betrays no lack of confidence in the powers of medicine, and shows an intimate acquaintance with the best works of that period on the subject. But what this work is chiefly remarkable for, is its description of a new preparation, known to this day in Germany by the name of Hahnemann’ soluble mercury, and some very novel views relative to the treatment of syphilis; the dose of mercury to be given (which is remarkably small), the signs when enough has been ingested for the cure of the disease, and the denunciation of the local treatment of the primary sore. In 1790 he translated Cullen’s Materia Medica, and discovered the fever-producing property to cinchona bark; which was to him what the falling apple was to Newton, and the swinging lamp in the Baptistery at Pisa, to Galileo. From this single experiments his mind appears to have been impressed with the conviction, that the pathogenetic, effects of medicines would give the key to their therapeutic powers.

He seems, however to have contented himself with hunting up in the works of the ancient authors for hints respecting the physiological action of different substances, and to have tested them but sparingly, if at all, on his own person or on his friends; and in his researches, to have looked more fore the

peculiar and striking effects of the drugs than for those minute shades of symptoms which we find he so carefully recorded in his later years. In fact, he seems rather to have searched for parallels to those abstract forms of disease described in the works on nosology, than for analogues to the individual concrete cases of actual practice. I think any one who will read his first Essay On a New Principle, (Lesser Writings, p. 295), published in 1796, and the two papers, On Continued and Remittent fevers, (Ibid., p.382.) and On Hebdomadal Diseases, (Ibid., p 395.) published in 1798, will agree with me in this opinion.

However, to return to our history. Hahnemann seems to have had little or no opportunity to test his ideas by practice in leipzic and the little village of Stotteritz close by, and must have been completely occupied with with his chemical lucubrations and translations; for he wrote at this period a large number of chemical essays, and translated several chemical and other works, besides Cullen’s just named. His diligence must have been something extraordinary at this time, and no doubt his increasing family was a source of great anxiety to him, and caused him to slave to the extent on which we have evidence from his publications. How sorely the res angusta domi must now have pressed on Hahnemann, longing as he was for the opportunity to pursue the investigations of which he had just discovered the clue! how his great but impatient soul must have chafed and fretted at that oppressive clog of poverty– that necessity for providing bread for the daily wants of his children, which hindered him from soaring on his eagle flight into unexplored, undreamt- of regions of discovery! And the poverty which Hahnemann endured was not merely as income so small as to prohibit an indulgence in the luxuries of life, but often, very often, an actual want of the common necessaries of existence; and this with all the anxiety of an increasing and helpless family of young children!. And yet had it not been for his poverty, Hahnemann had probably never made the discovery on which his fame is built. Naturalists tell us that the oyster forms the lustrous pearl round certain extraneous substances that intrude themselves within the cavity of its shell, and irritate and vex its tender flesh — and so it is with the great and good; the vexations and annoyances of life are often the means of eliciting and developing those pearls of the mind that we admire and marvel

at.

With what eagerness must not Hahnemann now have accepted the offer of the reigning Duke of Saxe Gotha to take the charge of an asylum for the insane in Georgenthal, in the Thuringia forest, — a charge which would give him a present competency, and, above all, leisure to pursue his now painfully interesting investigations, and an opportunity of putting his discovery to the test. Here, then, we find him settled for a time in 1792. A cure that he made in this institution of the Hanoverian minister Klockenbring, who had been rendered insane by a satire of Kotzebue’s created, we are told, some sensation; and, from the account he published in 1796 of this case, Lesser Writings p. 395. we find that he was one of the earliest, if not the very first advocate for that system of treatment of the insane by mildness of coercion which has become all but universal. ” I never allow any insane person, ” he writes, ” to be punished by blows or other painful corporeal inflictions, since there can be no punishment were there is no sense of responsibility; and since such patients cannot be improved, but must be rendered worse, by such rough treatment.” May we not, then, justly claim for Hahnemann the honour of being the first who advocated and practiced the moral treatment of the insane? At all events, he may divide this honour with Pinel; for we find that towards the end of this same year 1792, when Hahnemann was applying his principle of moral treatment to practice, Pinel made his first experiment of unchaining the maniacs in the Bicetre. Hahnemann does not seem to have remained long in this situation; for the same year he removed to Walschleben, where he wrote the first part of the Friend of Health, (Lesser Writings, p. 189.) a popular miscellany, on hygiene principally, and the first part of his Pharmaceutical Lexicon, and in 1794 he went first to Pyrmont, a little watering-place in Westphalia, and thereafter to Brunswick.

In 1795 he migrated to Wolfenbuttel, and thence to Konigslutter, where he remained until 1799. In this interval of comparative settlement he gave out the second parts of his Friend of Health (Ibid., p. 240.) and Pharmaceutical Lexicon; and he had leisure to pursue his investigations, and to write, in 1796, for his friend Hufeland’s Journal, that remarkable Essay on a New Principle for ascertaining the Remedial Powers of Medicinal Substances, (Ibid., p. 295.) wherein he modestly but firmly expresses his belief that, for chronic diseases at least, medicines should be employed that have the power of producing similar affections in the healthy body; and the following year he published in the same journal an interesting case illustrative of his views; (Ibid., p. 353.) and wrote another essay on the irrationality of complicated systems of diet and regimen, and complex prescriptions. (Ibid., p. 358.) Several other essays followed this in rapid succession; among which I may mention that on antidotes, (Ibid., p. 374), and those on the treatment of fevers, (Ibid., p. 382), and periodical diseases. (Ibid., p.395.) But already the hostility of his colleagues began to display itself. Hahnemann, who had now abandoned the complicated medication of ordinary practice, and who had exposed, though gently, the absurdity of giving complex mixtures of medicine, forbore to write prescriptions, and himself gave the medicines, which he now invariably administered singly and alone. The physicians of Konigslutter, jealous of the rising fame of the innovator, incited the apothecaries to bring an action against him for interfering with their privileges by dispensing his own medicines. It was in vain Hahnemann appealed to the letter and spirit of the law regulating the apothecaries’ business, and argued, that their privileges only extended to the compounding of medicines, but that every man, and therefore still more every medical man, had the right to give or sell uncompounded drugs, which were the only things he employed, and which he administrated, moreover, gratuitously. All in vain: the apothecaries and their allies, his jealous brethren, were too powerful for him; and, contrary to law, justice, and common sense. Hahnemann, who had shown himself a master of the apothecaries’ art, by his learned and laborious Pharmaceutical Lexicon, was prohibited from dispensing his own simple medicines.

During the last year of his residence in Konigslutter he witnessed a severe epidemic of scarlet fever, and, made this glorious discovery of the prophylactic power of the belladonna in this disease, which alone would have sufficed to make his make his name remembered with gratitude by posterity. The mode of his discovery of this prophylactic is a true specimen of inductive philosophy, much more so than Jenner’s somewhat similar discovery of the prophylactic power of vaccination. Knowing the power of belladonna to produce a state similar to the first stage of scarlet fever, he used it with great success at that period of the disease, and whilst his mind was occupied with the great remedial virtue he observed it to possess, a circumstance occurred which led him to believe that it was not only a curative, but a preventive medicine for that malady.

In a family of four children, three sickened with the disease, but the fourth, who was taking belladonna at the time for an affection of the finger-joints, escaped, though she ad heretofore been always the first to take any epidemic that was doing about. An opportunities soon presented itself of putting its prophylactic powers to the test. In a family of eight children, three wee seized with the epidemic and he immediately gave to the remaining five children belladonna in small doses, and, as he had anticipated, all these five escaped the disease, notwithstanding their constant exposure to the virulent emanations from their sick sisters. The epidemic presented him with numerous opportunities of verifying this protective power of belladonna.

The mode he adopted of drawing the attention of physicians to his newly discovered prophylactic was singular. He announced for publication a work on the subject, and advertised for subscribers, promising to publish the work which should reveal the name of the prophylactic, as soon as he got 300 subscribers, and in the mean time supplying to each subscriber a portion of he prophylactic, and demanding his opinion as to its efficacy. This unusual proceeding, which might be justified on the plea that Hahnemann wished to have the prophylactic tested more impartially than it would have been had he at once revealed the name of it, gave rise to a; shower of bitter calumnies from his colleagues, who made little or no response to his offer, but loaded him with accusations of avarice and selfishness. (See Hahnemann’s paper on Professional Liberality, Lesser Writings, p. 417.) Hahnemann revenged himself on his calumniators, by publishing his pamphlet on scarlatina, Lesser Writings, p. 425. wherein he revealed the name of the prophylactic, and the facts that led to its discovery.

R.E. Dudgeon
Robert Ellis Dudgeon 1820 – 1904 Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in 1839, Robert Ellis Dudgeon studied in Paris and Vienna before graduating as a doctor. Robert Ellis Dudgeon then became the editor of the British Journal of Homeopathy and he held this post for forty years.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon practiced at the London Homeopathic Hospital and specialised in Optics.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon wrote Pathogenetic Cyclopaedia 1839, Cure of Pannus by Innoculation, London and Edinburgh Journal of Medical Science 1844, Hahnemann’s Organon, 1849, Lectures on the Theory & Practice of Homeopathy, 1853, Homeopathic Treatment and Prevention of Asiatic Cholera 1847, Hahnemann’s Therapeutic Hints 1847, On Subaqueous Vision, Philosophical Magazine, 1871, The Influence of Homeopathy on General Medical Practice Since the Death of Hahnemann 1874, Repertory of the Homeopathic Materia Medica, 2 vols 1878-81, The Human Eye Its Optical Construction, 1878, Hahnemann’s Materia Medica Pura, 1880, The Sphygmograph, 1882, Materia Medica: Physiological and Applied 1884, Hahnemann the Founder of Scientific Therapeutics 1882, Hahnemann’s Organon 1893 5th Edition, Prolongation of Life 1900, Hahnemann’s Lesser Writing.