During my tenure of a chair in the London School of Homoeopathy, I occupied the Summer Session of 1881 by reading with my class the Organon of Medicine of Hahnemann, expounding and commenting as I went. I collated, for this purpose, the five editions through which the work had passed. Being called upon, in the October of that year, to deliver the then annual Hahnemannian Lecture, I utilised the studies of the Summer, and discoursed on Hahnemann as a Medical Philosopher, with especial reference to the Organon. The lecture was published, but is probably long ago out of print; and its subject is of so much importance to our present enquiry that I think I cannot do better than reproduce its substance here.
1. The Organon was first issued in 1810. A Second Edition appeared in 1819; a Third in 1824; a Fourth in 1829; and a Fifth and last in 1833. Each of these is described as “augmented” (2nd), “improved” (3rd), or both “augmented and improved” (4th and 5th); and in truth all save the Third, show considerable changes as compared with their immediate predecessors. It is quite impossible to form an adequate estimate, either of the work or of its author, without some knowledge of the changes it has undergone in its successive stages. Without this, neither foe can criticise it nor disciple learn from it aright. For instance, the hypothesis of the origin of much Chronic Diseases in Psora, which hostile critics are never weary of ridiculing as one of the fundamental principles of Homoeopathy, first appeared in the Fourth Edition, i.e., in 1829.
Theory of the dynamization of medicines i.e., of the actual increase of power obtained by attenuation, when accompanied by trituration or succussion is hardly propounded until the Fifth Edition. Again, there is the doctrine of a “vital force,” as the source of all the phenomena of life, as the sphere in which disease begins and medicines act. This has been regarded by many of Hahnemann’s followers as an essential part of his Philosophy. “Voici donc” exclaims M. Leon Simon (the first of the three who have made this name distinguished) “la pensee fondamentale de Hahnemann, la pierre angulaire du system!” But the earliest mention of this conception occurs in the Fourth Edition; and the full statement of it with which we are familiar in the Fifth (9-16) appears there for the first time.
You may ask how you are to get a knowledge of this development of our text-book. To some extent, I shall give it to you in the present Lecture; but you may all obtain for yourselves, and in full detail, by gaining possession of the translation of the “Organon” by Dr. Dudgeon, issued by the Hahnemann Publishing Society in 1893. In this volume, besides a revision of his version of 1849, our learned colleague has supplied an Appendix containing a full exhibition of the changes the work has undergone between 1810 and 1833; so that we have its growth before us at a glance. This is not the least of the many boons Dr. Dudgeon has bestowed upon Homoeopathic literature.
II. The “Organon” is Hahnemann’s exposition and vindication of his therapeutic method. It had been preceded by a number of essays in HUFELAND’S JOURNAL the leading medical organ of the time, in Germany. Of these the most noteworthy were “On a New Principle for ascertaining the Curative Powers of Drugs” (1792): “Are the obstacles to certainty and simplicity in Practical Medicine insurmountable?” (1797); and “The Medicine of Experience” (1806). The time seemed now to have come when there should be published separately a full account of the new departure he was advocating; and hence the “Organon” of 1810.
Why did he give his treatise this name? He must, there can be little doubt, have had Aristotle in memory, whose various treatise on Logic were summed up under the common title “Organon.” Logic the art of reasoning is the INSTRUMENT of research and discovery: Hahnemann designed his method as one which should be a medical logic, an instrument which the physician should use for the discovery of the best remedies for diseases. But the example immediately before his mind, and through whom he was probably led to Aristotle, must have been Bacon.
The second treatise of the “Instauratio Magna” of the English Chancellor is entitled “Novum Organum”: it was the setting forth of a new mode of reasoning, which in scientific research should supersede that of Aristotle, and lead to developments of knowledge hitherto unattained. That Hahnemann should aspire to do such work for medicine as was done for science in general by Bacon has been scouted by his enemies, and even deprecated by his friends, as presumption. And yet no comparison could better illustrate the real position of the man both in its strength and in its weakness.
If he erred as to special points of Pathology, and even of practice, we must remember that Bacon was a doubtful acceptor of the Copernican Astronomy and ridiculed Harvey’s doctrine of the circulation, while he saw no difficulty in the transmutation of metals. But on the other side, how truly Baconian is the whole spirit and aim of the “Organon”! Like his great exemplar, Hahnemann sought to recall men from the spinning of thought-cobwebs to the patient investigation of facts.
Like him, he set up the practical which in this case is the healing of disease as the proper aim of medical Philosophy; not seeking “in Knowledge a terrace, for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect,” but rather accounting it “a rich store-house, for the glory of the Creator, and THE RELIEF OF MAN’S ESTATE.” Like him, his chief strength was devoted to the exposition and perfecting of his proposed method of further progress towards this end, leaving to the future the carrying it into effect.
Another Descartes may arise in medicine whose perception of special fields of knowledge may be keener, and who may leave his mark more clearly traced on certain branches of our art. But Hahnemann, when once his method shall have won the acceptance we claim for it will ever be reckoned as the Bacon of Therapeutics the fruitful thinker who taught us what was our great aim as physicians and how we should best attain to it.
Hahnemann first called his work “Organon of the Rational Medical Science!” (In my Hahnemannian Lecture, I rendered “Kunde” by “doctrine”. A consideration of the discussion on the subject carried on in the HOMOEOPATHIC WORLD of 1881 suggests that I shall be more closely adhering to the German, while not weakening my argument, if I now translate it “science.” (HEILKUNDE); but from the Second Edition onwards the title was changed to “Organon of the Healing Art” (HEILKUNST) the “rational” being here, and in all other places of its occurrence, either dropped or replaced by “true” or “genuine” (WAHRE).
Why this alteration? The elimination of the term “rational” has been supposed to “imply that his followers were required to accept his doctrines as though they were the revelations of a new Gospel, to be received as such, and not to be subjected to rational criticism.” (BRIT. JOURN. OF HOMOEO., XXXVI., 63.) I cannot think so. To me the clue of it seems to be afforded (and the Preface to the Second Edition bears out my view) by the coincident change from “Heilkunde” to “Heilkunst.” The name “science,” the epithet “rational,” were in continual use for the hypothetical system of the day. The promulgation of his views had arrayed the advocates of all these in bitter opposition against him. Hahnemann was accordingly anxious to make it clear that, in entering the lists of conflict, he came armed with quite other weapons. He was seeking, not the consistency of a theory, but the success of a practical art: to him it mattered little whether a thing commanded itself or not to the speculative reason, his one concern was that it should be true.
III. On the title-page of his First Edition, Hahnemann placed a motto from the poet Gellert, which has been rendered into English thus:
“The truth we mortals need
Us blest to make and keep
The All-wise slightly covered o’er
But did not bury deep.”
This was replaced in subsequent Editions by the words “Aude sapere”; but it continued to denote the profound conviction and motive inspiration of Hahnemann’s mind. It was the same thought as that which he expressed in the “Medicine of Experience”: “As the wise and beneficent Creator has permitted those innumerable states of the human body differing from health, which we term diseases. He must at the same time have revealed to us a distinct mode whereby we may obtain a knowledge of diseases that shall suffice to enable us to employ the remedies capable of subduing them: He must have shown to us an equally distinct mode whereby we may discover in medicines those properties that render them suitable for the cure of diseases if He did not mean to leave his children helpless, or to require of them what was beyond their power.
This art, so indispensable to suffering humanity, cannot therefore remain concealed in the unfathomable depths of obscure speculation, or be diffused through the boundless void of conjecture; it must be accessible, READILY ACCESSIBLE to us within the sphere of our external and internal perceptive faculties.” Hahnemann believed in the illimitable possibilities of medicine, because he believed in God.