Homoeopathic physicians are familiar with the picture of Samuel Hahnemann, the scientist and founder of the homoeopathic healing art. His name brings to mind a studious, thoughtful man, absorbed in pouring over weighty tomes or conducting series of experiments with minute doses of drugs. Hahnemann the student, Hahnemann the physician, Hahnemann the philosopher, we can all visualize. It is more difficult to realise that Hahnemann was first of all an ordinary human being. It is true that he was gifted with marvellous powers of concentration, deep philosophical insight and unusual ability to correlate facts; nevertheless, Hahnemann was very much as other men in the ordinary contacts of life and he rose to his great works only after countless battles against himself and outward circumstances.
We forget Hahnemann, the precocious child, a problem to his family; Hahnemann, the almost insufferably egotistical youth, feeling his powers and going forth to reform and conquer the world; and Hahnemann, the poverty-stricken, burdened man, helping his wife in the labors of the household. We must never forget that his remarkable attainments came only after long and bitter struggle against the forces of nature and circumstances, and that his greatest attainment was the ability to hew to the line, even in the most bitter adversity.
Hahnemann came from a family of artists of considerable merit, the grandfather, father and uncle all having devoted their time to painting, principally on porcelain. Hahnemanns father and uncle went to Meisson in connection with the artists school attached to the famous porcelain works there. Since the elder Hahnemann was called to Meissen to assist in the work of designing the porcelain, we may assume that his work was noteworthy; and he was the author of a treatise on water-color painting. He was a thoughtful, quiet, thrifty man of good habits, who earnestly lived by his motto, “To act and live without pretense or show”.
His first marriage was short and ill-starred, for his wife died in childbirth. Two years after the death of his first wife he married again (1750) and in 1753 he acquired a modest and suitable home in which to establish his growing family. Samuel was born in 1755 to parents who were prospering in a quiet way. However, in 1756 the Seven Years War brought bad times to Meisson, for King Frederick II of Prussia passed through the town on his way into Saxony, and the famous porcelain works and the surrounding country were thoroughly plundered. With the country in this state, and the consequent economical stress, it is no wonder that the Hahnemann family were forced into the simplest living, for while economic pressure was great, the increasing family brought new demands and new problems for the parents to solve.
In spite of their straightened circumstances, Samuel Hahnemanns parents found the means to place their children at an early age in a good school, and by paring expenses here and there kept them in school until they had a sound educational basis. Samuel developed early in life a mind thoughtful beyond his years, and his father fostered this tendency by teaching him to observe Nature in all her moods, and to observe closely all the lessons, which may be read in the great book of the outdoors. Samuel had the family gift of artistry, and the ability to record what he saw; this, coupled with his thoughtful mind and his training in careful observation, were preparing him for that exceptional life work which was to follow.
It was through no design on the part of Samuels father, however, that Hahnemann stayed in school beyond the time when his artistic trend might be put into practical use. The struggle to give the children an adequate education during their earlier years was almost more than could be expected of parents in their straitened circumstances, and the father had long looked forward to the day when his burden would be eased by younger shoulders. As far as Samuel was concerned this day was never to come.
It is said that his intense interest in his studies enlisted his mothers sympathy, and when Samuel dared not borrow one of the family lamps for fear of detection, he fashioned a crude porcelain lamp for himself, and his mother furnished oil from the scant family store. By studying early and late he made such progress in his studies that his schoolmaster protested against Samuels removal from school.
The father found it impossible to consider further drain on his slender resources, but the school- master offered free tuition in such a tactful way that he overcame the fathers scruples and Samuel was allowed to continued his studied. The schoolmaster devoted much effort to this exceptional pupil, and at the age of twelve Samuel had such a comprehensive knowledge of Greek and Latin that he assisted his instructor by tutoring backward pupils. This was the first of a long series of victories when he way seemed barred for lack of funds.
Samuel Hahnemann had four great gifts: a voracious appetite for learning; the willingness to study, often spending all the night hours pouring over his books; magnificent health, which allowed him to spend his strength almost unceasingly on the work to which he had set his hand; and the ability to arouse in his instructors such sympathy and interest that they were willing not only to teach him without recompense, but in some instances found the means for him to earn his living at the same time as he continued his studies. Is it any wonder that with his remarkable mind, the praise of his teaches and his ascent into a higher intellectual, sphere, the young man felt a great pride in his achievements?.
Hahnemanns graduation essay in 1779 marked one of the great goalposts of his career.
Then followed many lean years. From the beginning of his medical practice, Hahnemann was outspoken in criticism of prevailing medical practice. His was against current methods such as bleeding and the universal lack of attention to diet and hygiene soon won him the notice of many physicians, for his fluent pen seized upon current events to emphasize his views.
The fatal illness of Kaiser Leopold II of Austria in 1792 came at a time when there was much unrest, and the illness assumed political significance and roused wild rumors, so that the court physicians were forced to publish frequent bulletins. The methods of treatment, which were largely venesections at frequent intervals, roused Hahnemanns caustic criticisms. These criticisms were published, and Hahnemann soon became the storm centre of medical thought in Germany.
During this time, and for several years thereafter, he moved about continually from place no established practice, and could not afford to stay in a place long enough to build up a thriving practice. Some practice he had by mail from those whose attention he had drawn through his writings, and he retained some of the patients whom he had drawn in his brief periods in various towns. He had married soon after graduating, and now he had an increasing family to consider. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars with the consequent economic upheaval added to the unrest of this period. Hurried by lack of suitable income, and critical of the prevailing medical methods, his anxieties drove him from place to place, ever hoping for better times. Samuel Hahnemann could not and would not vegetate, in body or mind.
His sheet anchor in these discouraged days was his interest in chemistry, in which he was almost wholly self-taught. In this branch of science he rose to unusual prominence among the most eminent men of his day, marking the ability of the man. Remarkable as this eminence was, it did not provide means of livelihood; and here Hahnemanns gift for languages was forced into play and served to support his family through translations of scientific and medical works. His feeling that a physicians ability to help the sick was limited to advice on dietetic and hygienic measures, and his growing distrust of medical aid, so disheartened him that a some of his sojournings he made no attempt to establish a medical practice.
His translation of Cullens Materia Medica and its consequent effect upon medical practice you all know. His first glimpse of he law of healing gave new impetus for his mental powers, and his scientific mind found in this glimmering of truth a new field for investigation. To this new concept he devoted his time, and thenceforth the truth became ever clearer to him, and gradually, by toilsome stages, a rational system of medicine was evolved.
However, his wandering continued at frequent intervals until 1805, when he settled in Torgau, living there until 1811. During this period his startling innovations in caring for the insane brought him into the limelight and his practice increased proportionately, although the mental cases were few. He ardently supported reforms of sanitary conditions in general, and for the poor particularly.
His reform measures, extremely radical for that day, which he put forth with all the vigor of his fluent pen, increased his fame so that numbers of people came to seek his advice. His attention to the new theory had clarified his ideas greatly, and he felt great confidence in the rationality of his work. He felt sufficient assurance to confide these ideas to writing, and in 1810 the first edition of the Organon was printed.
Like many who firmly believe in the value of their discoveries and deductions, Hahnemann was disappointed and embittered that his published findings in the Organon brought about no revolution in medical practice; what was so clear to him should be obvious to all when it was brought to their attention. Since his converts were few he sought other means to bring the new science to the attention of practicing physicians.
He then determined to become a lecturer at Leipsic University, that he might inculcate his ideas in the budding physicians. Even here his way was made difficult by antagonism and carelessness, and his own antagonistic attitude did not draw many students toward him. There were a few who came out of curiosity but stayed because their minds were stimulated by contact with Hahnemanns clear, logical thinking numbers, Hahnemann;s students came and learned the rational art of healing.
About this time the enemity of the chemists came to a head, for Hahnemann taught that all physicians should prepare their own medicines. In 1821 Hahnemann was forbidden to prepare or dispense any medicines whatsoever within the boundaries of Saxony, whereupon he removed to Kothen where he remained for a number of years. Here he came under the patronage of personages of rank, who became his patients, and here he began to taste the fruits of his strenuous years of study and teaching.
He was not free from attacks on his methods, not did he cease to flourish his vigorous pen; but his financial stress was lessened. His students continued to seek him out, and although he had bitter difference of opinion with a number of them, yet not all his teaching fell on stony ground; and there were those who were converted heart and soul to the new principles.
Hahnemanns attitude toward his patients was autocratic in the extreme, and he advised his students that “more often than not they should send away patients, or leave them at once if they do not show confidence or respect for you and your art. You must never allow them to dismiss you.. you must dismiss them first.” Hahnemanns habit of demanding his fee on delivery of the medicine or at stated regular intervals from even the poorest of his patients caused much stir in professional circles; and his alternative custom of caring for patients for a stated fee at regular intervals regardless of the number of times he was employed was hailed as a scandalous innovation. However, his attention to these insured him of a comfortable livelihood in his later years.
With characteristic method, Hahnemann, regulated his charity work to twelve patients a year, and these were accorded the same courtesy and skill as his wealthiest patients. It is said that he contributed generously to the homoeopathic care of the poor under other hands than his own.
After Hahnemanns second marriage, he was encouraged to settle in Paris, and after some years of successful practice here he finished his work on July 2, 1843. Seldom does a life span cover greater struggle and hardship for an ideal so largely unselfish. Clear thinking, hard work and rugged honesty were the pattern on Hahnemann;s life. Had his virtues and abilities been tempered with more tact and graciousness, how much more he might have done for the system of medicine he founded! The tendency to go out of his way to attack the methods of others was the great flaw in an otherwise majestic character. His bequest of his discoveries and deductions to later generations carried with it the hereditary taint of acrimonious attack. Would that this heritage might he eliminated, and the unmixed blessings of Hahnemanns work be perpetuated!.