Saturday, February 5, 2011

Biography of Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann

Biography of Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843)

Samuel Hahnemann is the founder of homoeopathy. This outstanding scholar was born in Meissen, Saxony (now part of Germany), on 10th April 1755, into an impoverished middle-class family during Frederick the Great's Seven Years War. He was taught to read and write by both parents and credits his father with instilling "good and worthy" ideas into his mind. He was taught early by his father never to learn passively but to question everything.

Hahnemann pursued his studies vigorously throughout his boyhood and became a gifted linguist, proficient in German, English, French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Arabic. Towards the end of his teens he developed an interest in the sciences and medicine in particular. He eventually trained as a doctor, studying at Leipzig and Vienna before finally qualifying at Erlangen in 1779.

In 1782, at the age of 27, Hahnemann married Johanna Henriette Kuchler, the daughter of an apothecary. They ultimately produced a family of 11 children - 9 daughters and 2 sons. Hahnemann became a Medical Doctor in 1781 and practiced conventional medicine. During the early years of the marriage he derived his income from a combination of medical practise and the translation of medical and scientific texts. Once in practice, Hahnemann became disillusioned with the medical practises of the day.

Over the first 10 years of his practice Hahnemann resorted to treating patients as far as possible by diet and exercise, using a minimum of drugs and other harmful practises. By 1790, he felt he could no longer continue to even do this and gave up his practice all-together. In latter years he wrote: "My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines…The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life … and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing." (Haehl, Reprint 1992, Vol 1, p.64). Also: "After the discovery of the weakness and misconceptions of my teachers and my books I sank into a state of morbid indignation, which might almost have completely vitiated for me the study of medical knowledge I was about to believe that the whole science was of no avail and incapable of improvement. I gave myself up to my own individual cognitions and determined to fix no goal for my considerations until I should have arrived at a decisive conclusion." (Dudgeon, 1993 Reprint, p. 410).

For some time Hahnemann lived in considerable poverty with his wife and children, earning a living from writing and translation alone. He is described by a friend of that period as living with his family in a single room divided by a curtain, pursuing his own investigations by day and staying up every second night to do translation work to provide food for his family. Hahnemann first stumbled across the phenomena that he was later to call the homœopathic action of drugs in the year that he gave up his practice. When translating A Treatise on the Materia Medica by the Edinburgh physician, William Cullen, he read that the drug cinchona (china or quinine) was effective in the treatment of malaria because it was bitter and astringent and had a toning effect on the stomach. Hahnemann was not satisfied by this statement for, if it were true, then all bitter, astringent substances should likewise be effective in the treatment of malaria, and they were not.

Hahnemann decided to experiment with the effects of cinchona upon himself and discovered that the side-effects, or symptoms, that it produced in him were similar to the symptoms of malaria. He subsequently speculated that the curative action of the drug may lie in the similarity of the symptoms of the malarial disease and the symptoms able to be produced by the drug. Thus the first homeopathic proving, and the discovery of the first law of homeopathy: Similia similibus curentur, or "like cures like". Hahnemann named this newfound therapy "Homeo" (similar) "pathy" (suffering). As a result, he began to test other drugs of the day, such as belladonna, camphor, and aconitum, to study the symptoms that they produced. On the results of these experiments, he began to think seriously about a new medical principle, the principle of cure by similars but his methods were met with disbelief and ridicule by his contemporaries.  

Although his patients were experiencing profound cures which solidly verified his theories, Hahnemann was marked as an outcast because his method of single and minimum dosage was threatening the financial foundation of the powerful apothecaries. Hahnemann focused on reducing the dose to the point where there were no side effects but he was unsatisfied because this step further rendered the dose insufficient in strength to act. He experimented with a new method whereby after each dilution he would shake the substance vigorously. This he called "succussion" thus developing the energetic aspect of homeopathy. It is unknown how Hahnemann reasoned this (still scientifically unexplainable) method of "potentization".   

In 1810, Hahnemann published the first of six editions of The Organon which clearly defined his homeopathic philosophy. In the same year, 80,000 men were killed when Napoleon attacked Liepzig. Hahnemann's homeopathic treatment of the survivors, and also of the victims of the great typhus epidemic that followed the siege, was highly successful and further spread his, and homeopathy's, reputation. Hahnemann taught at the Liepzig University where his lectures would often shift into sharp tongued diatribes against the dangerous practices of conventional medicine, thus nicknamed "Raging Hurricane" by his students. By 1821 Hahnemann had proven sixty-six remedies and published his Materia Medica Pura in six volumes. In 1831, Cholera swept through Central Europe. Hahnemann published papers on the homeopathic treatment of the disease and instigated the first widespread usage of homeopathy which had a 96% cure rate as compared to allopathy's 41% rate.

In 1834 Hahnemann met the avant-garde Parisian, Mademoiselle Marie Melanie d'Hervilly. They were married (his second marriage, her first) within six months, and settled in Paris. In spite of the fact he was more than twice her age, they remained very intimate, she working by his side in his active practice until July 2, 1843 when Hahnemann died, in Paris, at the age of eighty-eight.

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