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The Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts ..., Volume 10 online

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body. The small dose used by homoeopathic
prescribers is considered in another part of this

Homoeopathy as a mode of medical practice
is usually said to have originated in 1796, when
Dr. Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann
published in <Huf eland's Journal, J at Jena,
an < Essay on a New Principle for Ascertain-
ing the Curative Powers of Drugs. > In this
essay he criticizes the state of the medical art,

and especially urges that the chemical proper-
ties and powers of drugs are not adapted to the
work of curing disease, but that cures must be
accomplished by an entirely different property
resident in medicinal substances. Having read of
cures in medical literature and observed, in his
own patients, recoveries occurring under the evi-
dent influence of the "similar* remedy, he offers
the following theory of the phenomenon : "Every
powerful medicinal substance produces in the
human body a kind of peculiar disease; the
more powerful the medicine, the more peculiar,
marked, and violent the disease. We should
imitate nature, which sometimes cures a chronic
disease by superadding another, and employ, in
the (especially chronic) disease we wish to cure,
that medicine which is able to produce another
very similar artificial disease, and the former will
be cured; similia simiiibus? Hahnemann fur-
ther explains his conception of a homoeopathic
cure in his ^rganon,* section 26, in the follow-
ing language: "A weaker dynamic affection is
permanently extinguished in the living organism
by a stronger one, if the latter (while differing
in kind) is very similar to the former in its
manifestations.* This language he designates
the "homoeopathic law of nature.* The term
^homoeopathy* or "similar disease,* as represent-
ing the new medical practice, may have been
suggested not alone by the fact of cures pro-
duced by the similar drug, but also by Hahne-
mann's theoretical explanation of the phenom-

A correct and adequate conception of homoe-
opathy, of the difficulties necessarily encountered
in its propagation and establishment, and of the
place it holds and the influence it exerts in
the development of therapeutics can be obtained
only through knowledge of the conditions of
general medicine down to the close of the 18th
century. It is essential, therefore, that refer-
ence be made to certain points in the progress of
medical history from its beginnings to and in-
cluding the period of the investigations that re-
sulted in the discovery of homoeopathy as a
general therapeutic principle. This reference
does not need to embrace all the departments of
medical science — anatomy, physiology, pathol-
ogy, etc. — but the department relating to treat-
ment, or therapeutics only. It is requisite for us
to know and appreciate the mental conception —
the basis of reason — upon which the "art of
healing* was established prior to the advent of
homoeopathy as a system of medical practice.

The earliest efforts of men to alleviate the
sufferings caused by illness and mechanical in-
jury were chiefly instinctive. Water, moist
earth, the fleshy portions of plants, and other
cooling substances, were employed by men, as
well as by the lower animals, to mitigate the
pain, heat, and discomfort of local inflamma-
tion; and other simple expedients were instinc-
tively resorted to for various disordered condi-
tions. In time the number and variety of known
remedial agents, as well as of the diseases for
which they were used, must have been rapidly
extended by experience. And thus began the
"empirical method* of treatment — the natural
second step in the progress of medicine.

Inefficient as were these modes of treatment,
they were far more rational than most of those
that occupy the pages of medical history for
many succeeding centuries. These later methods
were based, not on observation and experience,

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but upon piire assumptions having, as John Stu-
art Mill expresses it, 'no limitations other than
those of the imagination* (The construction
■of medical theories, or philosophical explanations
of observed facts, was a still later development.)

Among the large number of these hypotheses
are the following: (i) That disease is a punish-
ment sent by some malevolent deity; (2) that it
«s due to the influence of a comet, a planetary
conjunction, an earthquake, or some other celes-
tial or terrestrial phenomenon; (3) that it is
-caused by abnormal preponderance of some one
of the four elements (fire, air, earth, and water)
of which the human body was said to be com-
posed; (4) that it originates in a disturbance of
the bodily states of heat, coldness, moisture, and
dryness; (5) that it arises from disproportion
in the four humors which supply the organism —
bloody mucus, black bile, and yellow bile; (6)
that it is produced by a materia peccans, or
offending matter, which must needs be expelled;
(7) that the body contains multitudes of 'invisi-
ble pores* through which circulate infinitesimally
jninute atoms or corpuscles, and that disease has
its cause in obstruction or relaxation of these
pores ; (8) that disease is based upon three pos-
sible states of the organism — 'strictum,*
^laxum,* or 'mixtum* — which must be treated
with laxatives, astringents, or a combination of
both, as might be needed; etc, etc. All these
hypotheses, and many others, arose prior to the
olose of the 2d century a.d. Their absurdity is not
more grotesque than that other hypothesis which
underlies each and all of them; namely, that a
knowledge of the cause or nature of disease can
indicate the means and method of its cure; a
view not held at present by any homoeopathic
or other scientific physician.

The period between the 2d century and the
15th presents little record oi therapeutic art;
but with the invention of the printing-press came
a stronger impetus to all forms of research, med-
ical included. Since that time increasing know-
ledge of anatomy, chemistry, and physiology has
led to the elaboration of therapeutic theories
hased upon certain facts relating to these nat-
ural sciences. The advances in anatomy had
suggested a mechanical basis for therapeutics;
pneumatics, friction of fluids in vessels, the
diameters, curvatures, and angles of blood-vessels
were brought forward to explain the phenomena
of disease and to suggest measures for its cure.
Physiology and chemistry brought out a renewal
of the ancient doctrine of 'four elements* and
the substitution of the three a alchymistic sym-
twls* represented by mercury, salt and sulphur,
whose union is health, and their separation dis-
ease. The author of this doctrine, Paracelsus,
also ascribed to the 'vital force* not only the
power, but also the intelligence, to resist disease
and to provide for its cure. About the middle of
the 18th century, or near the time at which the
discovery of the general principle of similars was
made, physiological hypotheses became largely
identified with therapeutics; and the same might
be said of chemical theories. Health and disease
were the results of a contention between the
acids and the alkalies. Ha Her held to the view
that disease was due to change in the 'irritabil-
ity* of the tissues. Cullen revived an old doc-
trine that disease was caused by 'spasm* and
''atony* and required to be treated in accord-
ance with that view. Brown, the rival of Cullen,
concluded that diseases were either 'sthenic* or
Vol. 10 — 43

•asthenic,* and required asthenic, or sthenic
medication, as the case might be.

Before the close of the 18th century the medi-
cal profession had acquired knowledge of a num-
ber of drugs possessed of 'specific* properties
for the cure of particular diseased conditions;
among them Peruvian bark for intermittent and
other malarial fevers, mercury for syphilitic dis-
eases, sulphur for itch, etc. These specifics
exerted their curative effects by virtue of prop-
erties not at all understood at that time, and'
but imperfectly known a century later. These
specific cures were limited to comparatively few
diseases. For the treatment of the conditions
with which the medical practitioner is contend-
ing daily, which constitutes almost his entire
duty, he had nothing but fallacious assumptions
and hypotheses to depend on. Such was the con-
dition of the medical art at the time when
Hahnemann began his independent researches
in therapeutics.

Hahnemann possessed unusual linguistic at-
tainments, which gave him access to the publica-
tions not only of Germany, but of England,
France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, and
Arabia. He was not only a literary scholar.
He was also a practical expert in the fields of
chemistry, pharmacy, and industrial technology.
He made many discoveries in industrial chem-
istry, and introduced scores of improvements in
the details of manufacturing chemical products.
At the period of his earliest responsible con-
nection with medicine, 'there was,^ says Rapou,
'complete anarchy in the domain of therapeu-
tics * Hahnemann, unwilling to trust the lives
of his patients to the tender mercies of this con-
glomeration of assumptions, adopted the use of
the class of remedies known as specifics, whose
effects were easily ascertainable, though their
modus operandi was altogether unknown.

Homoeopathy was not an invention, like some
of the 'systems* of medicine that preceded it;
neither was it a sudden discovery. It was an
evolution extending from 1790 to 1835, a period
of 45 years. The earlier portion of the process
is described by Bradford, who in speaking of its
beginning says: 'We now come to the transla-
tion of a very important book ( Cullen 's c Ma-
teria Medical, from which must be dated the
discovery of the Law of Similars. It has been
asked why Hahnemann at this time happened
to translate this particular book, and it has been
asserted that he used it as a blind to foist on
the world his peculiar theories. It is not prob-
able that when he commenced upon Cullen
Hahnemann had any particular medical theories,
but only a growing disgust for the medical fal-
lacies of the day. This is clearly evidenced by
his writings at that time. It is not to be won-
dered at that he should translate the work at
that particular time. He was translating for
money, for the booksellers and publishers of
Leipsic, and it is not likely that he selected the
books which he was to translate. Dr. Cullen
was an authority on the subject of the materia
medica of his day, an experienced lecturer, a
talented chemist, and a brilliant and popular
teacher in Edinburgh. Naturally the Germans
wished to learn of his new and peculiar theories
regarding disease, as well as to obtain the use of
his ( Materia Medica,* which at this time was a
standard work.

'Hahnemann was the most accomplished
translator of medical works of the time, and

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what more natural than that the task should be
given to him. Cullen published the first edition
of this book; in London, in 1773. Another edi-
tion was issued in 1789, in two volumes, and it
was this edition that Hahnemann used in his
translation. In this book, Volume II., Cullen
devotes about 20 pages to Cortex Peruvianis
(Peruvian Bark), gives its therapeutical uses
in the treatment of intermittent and remittent
fevers, advises its use to prevent the chill, and
gives minute directions for the safest period
of the disease in which to use it. Hahnemann
was impressed with the use of this drug, with
which he as a physician had before been famil-
iar. Something in the manner in which Cullen
wrote decided Hahnemann to experiment with
it upon himself and to see what effect it would
have upon a person in perfect health. The re-
sult of this experiment will be given in Hahne-
mann's own words. In the translation of Wil-
liam Cullen's ( Materia Medica, } Leipsic,
Schweikert, 1790, page 108 of Volume II., ap-
pears the following foot-note by Hahnemann:
( By combining the strongest bitters and the
strongest astringents, one can obtain a compound
which, in small doses, possesses much more of
both these properties than the bark, and yet no
specific for fever will ever come of such a com-
pound. This the author (Cullen) ought to have
accounted for. This perhaps will not be so
easily discovered for explaining to us their ac-
tion in the absence of the Cinchona principle.

a ( I took, by way of experiment, twice a day,
four drachms of good China. My feet, finger
ends, etc., at first became cold; I grew languid
and drowsy; then my heart began to palpitate
and my pulse grew hard and small; intolerable
anxiety; trembling (but without cold rigor);
prostration throughout all my limbs ; then pulsa-
tion in my head, redness of my cheeks, thirst,
and, in short, all those symptoms which are char-
acteristic of intermittent fever, made their ap-
pearance, one after the other, yet without the
peculiar, chilly, shivering rigor.

a ( Briefly, even those symptoms which are of
regular occurrence and especially characteristic
— the stupidity of mind, the kind of rigidity in
all the limbs, but above all, the numb, disagree-
able sensation which seems to have its seat in
the periosteum, over every bone in the body — all
these made their appearance. This paroxysm
lasted two or three hours each time, and recurred
if I repeated this dose, not otherwise; I discon-
tinued it, and was in health. 5

^The next note in the German translation is
as follows: <Had he (Cullen) found in bark
traces of a power to excite an artificial antag-
onistic fever, he certainly would not have per-
sisted so obstinately in his mode of explana-
tion.* * ( ( Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel
Hahnemann, 1 by T. L. Bradford, M.D., pp.


These experiments seemed to show that Pe-
ruvian bark is capable of producing in the healthy
human organism a series of symptoms quite
closely resembling those of that peculiar form
of fever which it is known to cure. Instead,
however, of solving any questions in the mind
of Hahnemann, it only served to suggest sev-
eral others. Does Peruvian bark then produce
the same symptoms that it specifically cures?
Is its specinc curing property dependent on its
power to cause the symptoms wnich it cures?
If so, is this power peculiar to Peruvian bark,

or is it to be discovered in other drugs? And
do all drugs possess the power to cause symp-
toms similar to those they cure?

To obtain light upon these questions occu-
pied his efforts during the six years between the
translation of Cullen's ( Materia Medica } and
the publication of the ( Essay > above mentioned.
To quote from a writer in the British homoe-
opathic World, 5 1875, P- 234: a Drug after drug,
specific after specific, was tested on himself and
on healthy friends with one unvarying result —
each remedy of recognized specific power ex-
cited a spurious disease resembling that for
which it was considered specific. But many
more symptoms than those diagnostic of any one
disease resulted from almost every medicine,
and aroused a hope in the experimenter's mind
of specifically treating a greater number of dis-
eases than had ever been so treated before. Be-
sides discovering many valuable phenomena un-
dreamt of, he verified his discoveries and
observations by ransacking the volumes of re-
corded experiments in materia medica and the
whole history of poisoning.* The members of
his family and his personal and professional
friends aided in the work of experimentation,
and tests of each medicine were made with differ-
ent doses, and on many different persons, all the
work being conducted under his own super-

Dr. Bradford tells us that at the time of
Hahnemann's translation of Cullen's < Materia
Medica, 5 that is, at the beginning of his inde-
pendent investigations in 1700, he had no pre-
conceived theories or opinions to sustain. This
view of his biographer is corroborated by the
absence from Hahnemann's writings of even re-
mote reference to any a priori conception or
suspicion of a general curative relation between
drugs and diseases. Nor does it appear that he
then possessed the faintest conception of the
magnitude, or of the quality, of the task he was
gradually assuming. His original object evi-
dently was to ascertain why Peruvian bark cures
intermittent fever, and to learn if the view held
by Cullen — that its curative property resides
in a combination of bitter (tonic) and astringent
qualities — was indeed true. There is no his-
toric evidence that before 1790 the general thera-
peutic principle of similars had even dawned
upon his mind. But we may be quite sure that
the logical and philosophical principles that
must necessarily govern his researches had been
well thought out before the work had very far

Hahnemann and his disciples claim that ii*
the discovery of homoeopathy as a general prin-
ciple of organic science, and in its conception and
development as a system of medicine, assump-
tion, speculation and hypothesis have had no»
place ; but that observation, experimentation, and
inductive classification constitute the scientific
and solid foundation of fact upon which it rests-
They assert that all its essential doctrines are
susceptible of demonstration, that they have
been verified and reverified times without num-
ber, and that for the first time in the history of
intellectual development the establishment of
the homoeopathic principle showed that the
Baconian method of research is as applicable
in the realm of therapeutics as in any other de-
partment of scientific investigation. If we look
over the records of the processes leading to »t*
discovery, it appears that these processes wer*

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tinder the guidance of the following principles of
scientific philosophy, all of which are distinctly
set forth by Hahnemann in his < Organon ) :

i. That in the study of disease with a view
to its cure, the only safe dependence is upon
the manifestations (symptoms) perceptible to
the senses, and that no safe conclusions can be
drawn from mere theories erected • upon these
signs and symptoms. The signs and symptoms
constitute the only side of the disease that is
turned toward the physician, and the totality of
these signs furnishes the only true expression
or portrait of the disease.

2. That the specifically curative power of a
drug resides not in its physical, nor yet in its
chemical properties, but in its capacity to pro-
duce changes in the functions of the organism.

3. That the dynamic properties of a drug—
in other words, its power to specifically cure
disease — can be ascertained only by observing
the signs and symptoms which it can produce
in the organism, and that these specifically cura-
tive properties cannot be inferred from the
physical or chemical properties of the drug

• 4. That experiments for the purpose of ascer-
taining the pathogenetic properties (signs and
symptoms) of drugs must be conducted under
the precautions necessary in other researches;
and the tests must be repeated and varied with
a view to eliminate every influence and agency
that can vitiate the experiment. The drug ex-
perimented with, and the person experimented
upon, must both be ^standard* That is, the
drug must be pure and unmixed with any other
substance capable of disguising, modifying, or
otherwise affecting its own specific activity, and
the person experimented upon (prover) must be
possessed of good health, and free from any
unhealthful occupation or habit, and from any
mental, moral, or other influence or agent that
can modify the pure effects of the drug upon his
organism. Also, that the experimentation with
the drug must be continued until its whole
pathogenetic effect has been elicited.

5. That the observations made from such ex-
periments as those here indicated constitute the
only source of a pure and •standard" materia
medica, and supply the only material from which
general therapeutic principles can be discovered
or deduced.

6. That effects observed from the action of
a drug upon diseased persons (clinical effects) or
those obtained from a combination of drugs
(polypharmacy) are not ^standard" effects and
cannot serve as reliable guides in a search for
therapeutic principles.

In the opening sections of the ^rganon,*
Hahnemann mentions as among the physician's
essential acquirements :

(1) Knowledge of diseases; (2) knowledge
of the dynamic properties of drugs; (3) know-
ledge of the curative relations between the two.
This knowledge he holds essential both to the
development of therapeutic science and to enable
the physician to prescribe the curative remedy.

In order to qualify the physician for his work
his knowledge of disease must be composed of
facts perceptible to the senses. Our physiologi-
cal and pathological deductions in reference to
a case of disease are more or less uncertain and
theoretical. Absolute knowledge of disease is
limited to its signs and symptoms, besides •*•-:?!!

there can he no certain and assured foundation
for a science of therapeutics.
* The knowledge of drug-properties roust be
equally certain and substantial All drugs pos-
sess three classes of properties — physical, chem-
ical, and specific or "dynamic" The physical
and chemical properties can be ascertained by
physical and chemical methods, The specific or
dynamic properties, that is, the properties which
alone impart the power to accomplish specific
cures of disease, can be learned only by ob-
serving their power to cause changes in the
health of the organism as shown by their capa-
city to produce signs and symptoms. Here again
the signs and symptoms constitute the only sure
basis of classification and induction in the con-
struction of a science of therapeutics.

Having possessed himself of so much of
such knowledge as was within his reach,
Hahnemann then began the investigation of
the great and dominating question: Given
a knowledge of diseases as expressed by signs
and symptoms, aid a knowledge of drug
properties as expressed by signs and symp-
toms, can we discover between them any
general relation that will guide the physi-
cian in his search for the curative drug? In
this work of "interrogating nature" he had al-
ready been led to infer what her reply might be.
His experiment with Peruvian bark had given
him a somewhat emphatic hint. Then followed
the six years of experimentation upon himself,
his family, and friends; with what result we
have already seen. Accompanying and follow-
ing these experiments came the ^ransacking of
the libraries" — a work for which few men were
so well fitted. This literary search resulted in
two important discoveries. First, that when
two diseases manifesting quite similar symp-
toms appear in the same organism, they an-
tagonize or annihilate each other. This subject
is carefully outlined in the 'Organon,* sec 42-45,
and in sec 46 the writer cites a score of illus-
trative instances obtained from the pages of

edition the same list occupies 31 pages of the
appendix. In practically all of tne cases re-
ported, the mere name of the disease is sufficient
to suggest the fact' of similarity between the
symptoms of the malady cured and the symp-
toms of the drug prescribed. In other cases the
symptoms themselves are given with more at-
tention to detail than was customary at that
period of medical history. If we sum up the
remedies named in the ( Essay,* together with
those mentioned in the < Organon, ) we
Mave a total of 63 drug? to which Hahne-

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maun was able to ascribe homoeopathic cures
occurring in the practice of physicians who had
no knowledge of the homoeopathic principle.

In presenting this list of cases successfully
treated with the sjmilar remedy, Hahnemann
has made nearly 560 citations of writers who
had no suspicion that any general law of thera-
peutics was involved in the operation of their
prescriptions. The degree of similarity shown
between the pathogenetic properties of the drugs
administered and the symptoms manifested by
the patients seemed, in most cases, to be positive
and emphatic, and in some instances striking.
In what he has to say regarding the curative
effects of opium this fact is graphically shown.
He says:

•A condition of convulsions without con-
sciousness, resembling the death-agony, alter-
nating with attacks of spasmodic and jerky,
sometimes also sobbing and stertorous, respira-

Online LibraryWilfrid RichmondThe Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts ..., Volume 10 → online text (page 174 of 185)