Homoeopathy – Its Nature and Origin

Small doses, then, speaking comparatively, is an essential element of the Homoeopathic method. But that such dosage should be what is known as infinitesimal that it should habitually deal with fractions from millionth upwards to this Homoeopathy does not compel either logically or practically….


L.R.C.P., Ed., M.R.C.S., Eng., M.D. (Hon.), N.Y., Phila., St. Louis, U.S.A.

I am to endeavour, in the ensuing course of Lectures, to tell you what Homoeopathy can do in the various recognised forms of diseases, and with what instruments it effects the doing. But before I come to such exposition, it is necessary that you and I should arrive at a mutual understanding as to what Homoeopathy is, and as to some at least of the questions that arise out of its theoretic conceptions and practical applications.

Briefly, then, let me define what is contained in the word we are using. Homoeopathy, I would say, is a therapeutic method, formulated the rule SIMILIA SIMILIBUS CURENTUR let likes be treated by likes. The two elements of the comparison herein implied are the effects of drugs on the healthy body and the clinical features of diseases; in either case all being taken into account, which is appreciable by the patient or cognizable by the physician, but hypothesis being excluded. Medicines selected upon this plan are administered single (i.e., without admixture), and in doses too small to excite aggravation or collateral disturbance.

I believe that nine-tenths at least of the adherents of Homoeopathy would accept this as a true account of all that is essential to it. If it be so, it is obvious that the thing with which we shall have to do is a METHOD not a doctrine or a system. It belongs to the art of medicine rather than to its science. Of course, the rules of art need not be, should not be, merely empirical: they should be in harmony with philosophy and science, and framed with correct conception and from sound induction.

I shall try to show you that Hahnemann’s method fulfills these requirements; that his way of regarding disease and drug action is eminently philosophical, that his direction to treat likes with likes results logically from a true induction from the facts of the matter and his reduction of dose follows as a necessary corollary thereto. But it remains a method still, and nothing more.

It takes a particular aspect of disease and of drug-action not denying that there are others as the opposing surfaces; and of the possible modes of applying the one to the other which we shall see to be three in number, it selects that which is expressed by SIMILIA SIMILIBUS. Observe also that this expression in its completeness as constituting the Homoeopathic formula is (in our definition) worded as a rule of art rather than a law of science. It does not say, SIMILIA SIMILIBUS CURENTUR likes are cured by likes, which (to say nothing of its dubious Latinity) would be inadequate, if meaning merely that such cure may be, unwarrantable if implying that all cure is, so wrought. It says, SIMILIA SIMILIBUS CURENTUR let likes be treated by likes, (In the discussion as to the true reading of the Homoeopathic formula, it has sometimes been overlooked that the subjunctive mood is used here, not in its potential (likes MAY BE treated by likes) but in its imperative force. It is like the well-known CEDANT ARMA TOGOE where the same grammatical form is employed.) which is good Latin and tenable direction.

I am well aware that the affirmative form of the phrase has long been current among Homoeopathists; (See Note 1 to this Lecture (p.9).) and that, so rendered, it has been taken as equivalent to a law of Nature, or even of morals.( See Note 2 (p.11). It is however, quite unwarranted by history, and must no longer be suffered to mislead. I know also how tempting it is to give to a method a philosophic body, to connect what is in itself purely practical with theoretic conceptions in the present case of life, disease, and of the MODUS OPERANDI of drugs.

This has been attempted by many adherents of Homoeopathy, from its founder onwards: and with theories of dynamism and such like, they have built up a system as ambitious as those which reigned in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is natural that the enquiring mind of man, “looking before and after,” should seek so to round his conceptions. But these thinkers have too often become so enamoured of their speculations that they have required or seemed to require that the profession should accept all, if they are to take any, should adopt the philosophy as well as the creed.

In so doing, they have seriously prejudiced the cause they have sought to advance. The notions of Physiology and Pathology current eighty years ago, and with which therefore the earlier Homoeopathists were imbued, are now greatly changed, and are not acceptable to the present generation. That Homoeopathy has been linked with these, has needlessly multiplied its vulnerable points; and it is at these that the attack of its hostile critics is generally made their success at such outworks favoring in themselves and others the belief that they have made the citadel untenable. ( See for instance the “Examen du systeme de S. Hahnemann: le spiritualisme et le mader alisme en Medicine” Par Dr. Stapparts, Brussels, 1881; the article on Homoeopathy by Dr. Glover in the Last Edition of the ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA; and that of Professor Palmer in the NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW of March, 1882).

Our wisdom would rather have been to have kept on the ground chosen with such general acclamation by Dr. Geddes Scott, in his Prize Essay of 1848, which you will find in the Sixth Volume of the BRITISH JOURNAL OF HOMOEOPATHY. He there showed the great value of Homoeopathy to be that it was a theory of CURE rather than of DISEASE, and led direct to practice without the intervention of any further theory; in short, that it was a therapeia, complete in itself, and independent of allied sciences of Physiology and Pathology, so far as these consist of doctrines and conceptions, and are more than CATALOGUES RAISONNES of facts.

It appears, therefore, from what has been said, that Homoeopathy is essentially a practical method. It is, as its originator called it, an organon an instrument for effecting in the best manner a certain end, viz.: The cure of disease. It answers to machines like the steam-engine and the spinning-jenny; and like these must have had an inventor. That inventor was SAMUEL HAHNEMANN.

That the idea of fitting likes to likes in the treatment of disease had occurred to men’s minds prior to Hahnemann may be freely acknowledged. It may be found here and there in medical literature from Hippocrates downwards. But when examination is made into the nature of these similarities, they will be found in most instances something very different from those which Homoeopathy uses as its fulcra. That vomiting should be checked by an emetic, in an emetic dose (VOMITUS VOMITU), was treatment by similars in the eyes of the father of Medicine; and his successors wandered still further from the mark.

Their notions on the subject have been fully exhibited by Dr. Dudgeon, in his “Lectures on Homoeopathy,” and by Dr. Burnett, in his “Ecce Medicus!” Signatures the resemblance in form or colour of parts of plants to parts of the body; analogies yet more imaginary between the constituents of the macrocosm of the world and the microcosm of the organism; the use of preparations of the organs of animals for disorders of the same organs in man a practice at present undergoing a curious revival; the application of certain theoretical qualities of bodies dryness, coldness, and so forth to corresponding rather than opposite characters of disease these were the similars of the mediaeval physicians.

A few late writers Stahl the Dane, Stoerck, de Haen noticed the occasional or possible curative operation of measures (I say “measures,” and not drugs, for Stahl’s instances of cure by similars are all of external applications, like heat to burns, save one the use of Sulphuric acid for Acidity of stomach; and this, as the acid is not shown to be capable of causing VITAL Acidity, such as that which it cures, is no better Homoeopathy than that of the mediaevalists.) which caused disorder similar to that of the patient; but there they left the matter. Hahnemann’s distinction is that he grasped this similarity as the only real and fruitful one; and, seeing reason for suspecting it to be a general and not an exceptional basis of cure, tested and worked out his thought until he formulated it as a standing rule for the best medical practice.

This Hahnemann, of whom I am now speaking, was a German physician whose long life extended from 1755 to 1843. The story of it I need not tell you here, you can read it, if you know it not already, in the pages of the two books I have mentioned, or yet more fully in the Memoir by our able Russian colleague, Dr. Brasol, which was contributed to the International Homoeopathic Congress of 1896, and may be found in its Transactions. I will only say that the man who lived this life was no common character Jean Paul Richter’s phrase for him, “a double-headed prodigy of genius and erudition,” being amply borne out by his doings.

Richard Hughes
Dr. Richard Hughes (1836-1902) was born in London, England. He received the title of M.R.C.S. (Eng.), in 1857 and L.R.C.P. (Edin.) in 1860. The title of M.D. was conferred upon him by the American College a few years later.

Hughes was a great writer and a scholar. He actively cooperated with Dr. T.F. Allen to compile his 'Encyclopedia' and rendered immeasurable aid to Dr. Dudgeon in translating Hahnemann's 'Materia Medica Pura' into English. In 1889 he was appointed an Editor of the 'British Homoeopathic Journal' and continued in that capacity until his demise. In 1876, Dr. Hughes was appointed as the Permanent Secretary of the Organization of the International Congress of Homoeopathy Physicians in Philadelphia. He also presided over the International Congress in London.