With the present abundance of elaborate and exhaustive treatise, it may at first sight appear unduly presumptions for the writer to offer an epitome of medical history. However the available annals and chronicles are unable to serve the particular purpose for which these statements have been written, that is, to assist one in obtaining the proper historical perspective of homoeopathy. Scholarly volumes have been compiled with a general review of medicine as their text.
Homoeopathy being only a single event in a long, complicated and slowly moving story, must necessarily be dismissed in a few lines in books dealing with the general significance of various events and discovers in the entire field of medicine. As a rule these brief considerations consist of biographical sketches. of Hahnemann and a chronological account of his announcements, without a satisfactory evaluation of the relative importance of his ideas and a summary dismissal of all of his practices.
Special histories of homoeopathy have also been written, but are equally useless for the discussion at hand. Few in number, old in years, dealing at length with many irrelevant details, they were penned in a period characterized by bitter animosity between protagonists and antagonists. They represent propaganda and prejudice rather than history, fiction rather than fact, attack and defense rather than calm unheated discussions based upon sober reflection. For these reasons, among others, the writer has deemed it imperative to recall briefly certain salient features of medicine, since it is axiomatic that a subject which has had over one hundred years development can only be grasped when its history is known.
Recognition of the importance of the proper historical orientation and realization that this is essential to the correct critical attitude leads me to the belief that this resume may not be amiss, even though it barely outlines in the most elementary fashion a most complicated picture. Incidentally the possession of the appropriate attitude has other advantages. With such material, there can be inquiry into remote origins of the essential idea, reflection upon the effect on medical practice, building theories with some justification dealing with reasons for announcing the homoeopathic principle at the particular time in medical history, and whether or not evidence tends to show that the publication has resulted in advance.
In the following pages it will be occasionally necessary to inject personal theories into the discussion, but an endeavor will be made to subordinate them. The reader must always understand that these represent working hypotheses, never to be taken as proven statements, but merely as the most reasonable interpretation and explanation after an extensive sorting of all the available material. Critics may complain that the projection of personal ideas invalidates rather than mellows the text, but a report replete with refurbished antiques has only the value of a second-hand garment.
It is hoped that these introductory remarks may show that a review of certain pertinent phases of medical history is a necessary preamble to an intelligent discussion, as well as reveal the desirability of occasionally arriving at conclusions based on the data presented. I have despaired of citing authorities because the debt is too great, but let the original authors accept the compliment that imitation implies.
A general unanimity exists among those best qualified to have opinions upon the medical practice of primitive peoples. They appear agreed that the treatment of illness or injury consisted for the most part in instinctive reactions, that is to say, either crude mechanical devices directed at stopping the flow of blood from a torn vessel, or pristine pharmacological procedures.
It is equally elementary to state that medical practice at a slightly later period, practically at the dawn of recorded history, was based largely upon a demonology invented by our remote superstitious ancestors. In a world teeming with demons man quite naturally regarded disease as a visitation by some supernatural agency, and treatment consisting of procedures designed to render the new habitat of the evil spirit as unpleasant as possible seemed sufficient. Among the methods then in vogue were pommelling (a precursor of present day massage), fumigation with evil smelling stuffs which chased the demon beyond the Nile, or ejection by emetics.
Fraser, in his charming book, “The Golden Bough,” has devoted a large section to the consideration of “homoeopathic magic,” suggesting the psychological origin of the idea that likes may be treated by likes. It should be read by all interested, although it may not appeal to some.