Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, was a Renaissance genius who was skilled in many fields: he was a master pharmacist, a skilled linguist and translater who was fluent in seven languages, and the forerunner of today’s natural healers who promote a natural diet and healthy lifestyle.
He could also be called the first psychiatrist, because he was the first person in modern times to promote the humane treatment of the mentally ill as well as curing them with his remedies.
Decades before Koch and Pasteur, he understood the principles of contagious illnesses and successfully treated the deadly epidemics which ravaged Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. Hahnemann could even be considered a pioneer of modern public health and sanitation measures.
Hahnemann would merit a prominent place in the history of medicine for any of his contributions. His greatest contribution, of course, is the founding of the system of homeopathy, an unparalleled achievement: so far as we know, Hahnemann is the only person to have envisioned an entire system of medicine and then fully developed it into a powerful and practical tool within the span of a single lifetime.
He was a true visionary whose understanding of the energetic basis of health and healing anticipated by a century the paradigm of matter as energy in modern physics. And allopathic medicine has barely begun to incorporate an understanding of the mind-body connection which Hahnemann delineated nearly two centuries ago.
Hahnemann was born on April 11, 1755, in Meissen, Saxony, Germany where his father was employed as a porcelain painter. Money was scarce, and in his early years the young Samuel was frequently taken out of school for lack of money. He helped pay for his own education starting at the age of 12 by tutoring his fellow students in Latin and Greek. Hahnemann’s father cultivated original thinking in Samuel from the time he was young. Before going to the porcelain factory, he would often shut Samuel up in a room, giving him a knotty question to ponder. “Prove all things, hold fast to what is good, dare to be wise” was the substance of his advice to his son. Hahnemann was such a brilliant student that one of his professors arranged for free tuition. He left school in 1775 after presenting a dissertation in Latin on “The wonderful construction of the human hand.”
Hahnemann published many works on chemistry, the most celebrated being a treatise on arsenic poisoning. Some of his critics would later say that Hahnemann would have been a great chemist had he not turned into a great quack.
The year 1791, when Hahnemann was 46, marked a turning point in the development of his thought. Up to that point he could see the limitations, even the dangers, of the medicine he had been trained in, but he had no good alternative to offer.
In 1791 Hahnemann had a remarkable insight while translating Cullen’s Materia Medica. Cullen attributed the antimalarial properties of Cinchona bark (from which quinine is made) to its bitterness, but Hahnemann knew that other bitter herbs are not active against malaria. He began a practice which he would continue throughout his life and which demonstrated his great integrity and love of knowledge: he experimented on himself. He found that Cinchona bark (from which the homeopathic remedy China is made) could induce in him, a healthy person, the same symptoms it would cure in the sick person. This discovery led to the first law of homeopathy: the Law of Similars, or “Like Cures Like.”
Hahnemann also made his mark as a psychiatrist. Asylums at this time were usually run in connection with prisons; the mentally ill were crowded in close quarters with insufficient food. Worse, they were abandoned by physicians, who believed that insanity was contagious. Instead, the mentally ill were chained, flogged, and teased for the amusement of visitors. The first real asylum for mental patients was opened by Hahnemann in Georgenthal. It was designed for the wealthy insane and melancholic. He had only one patient, the well-known author Klockenbring of Hannover, who was suffering from a full-blown mania which modern psychiatrists would have great difficulty treating. Yet Hahnemann cured him completely in seven months. It was the first time in the modern era that insane people were treated with gentleness, humaneness and compassion instead of coercion.
In 1810 Hahnemann published the first edition of the Organon of the Healing Art, his most important work. This book laid out the foundations of his new approach to healing, including the Law of Similars, the principle of giving a single medicine which had been potentized, and in the smallest possible dose, and only giving remedies which had been proven on healthy people.
Success was achieved in 1813 when Hahnemann used homeopathy to treat an epidemic of typhus, which affected Napoleon’s soldiers after their invasion of Russia.
In 1831 homeopathy triumphed again, this time over the cholera epidemic which spread westward from Russia, while allopathic medicine was helpless against the virulent disease.
At every step in developing his system Hahnemann was met with great discouragement and abuse. He suffered from the attacks of the orthodox medical establishment of his time, which used all the legal and political weapons at their disposal to stop him. The journals of his time printed scathing, even libelous, critiques. The criticisms he endured only stimulated him to perfect his system.
Hahnemann’s integrity was strikingly displayed in his abandoning his medical practice when he found it harmful to his patients, instead trying to support his large family on a meager income from translating books. He also demonstrated his integrity by doing something which physicians and pharmacists of today would never think of: he experimented on himself with the remedies he gave to his patients.
This brings us to another admirable quality, his industriousness. In addition to developing an entire system of medicine and proving about a hundred remedies, he wrote about 70 original works on chemistry and medicine and translated about 24 works from English, French, Latin, Italian.
Finally, he was humble. He wrote to his friend Dr. Stapf, “Be as sparing as possible with your praises. I do not like them, I feel that I am only an honest, straightforward man who does not more than his duty.”
Excerpted from the book “Hahnemann revisited” by Luc de Schepper