Hahnemann, Christian Friedrich Samuel

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Hahnemann, Christian Friedrich Samuel

(b. Meissen, Germany, 10 April 1755; d. Paris, France, 2 July 1843)

medicine, chemistry.

Hahnemann was the son of Christian Gottfried Hahnemann, a painter of porcelain. He received his early education at home, then at the local school in Meissen. He began his study of medicine at Leipzig in 1775, subsequently went to Vienna, and finally received his medical degree from the University of Erlangen in 1779. Hahnemann practiced medicine in several towns of Saxony before settling in Dresden. Here he temporarily abandoned medicine because of dissatisfaction with the treatments of the time, which were based upon the prescription of drugs the effects of which he claimed to be uncertain and often dangerous. In an important work of 1786, Über Arsenikvergiftungen, Hahnemann described the symptoms, remedies, and legal investigation of cases of arsenic poisoning. Following this his interests turned to chemistry, and from 1787 to 1792 he published eleven papers in Chemische Annalen für die Freunde der Naturlehre. Among these were descriptions of a test that used hydrogen sulfide for detecting the presence of lead in wine and the preparation of a mercury compound (mercurous oxide) soluble in acetic acid. In 1789 Hahnemann moved to Leipzig, where he published a work on the treatment of venereal diseases with mercurous oxide and other mercury preparations.

For the next twenty years Hahnemann practiced medicine, moving frequently from one town to another, until he returned to Leipzig, where he stayed from 1810 to 1821. From 1788 to 1796 he translated several English treatises on drugs, including William Cullen’s Materia medica, and in 1796 published his first paper setting forth his own views, which later formed the basis of homeopathy. These ideas were more fully expressed in the first edition of the Organon der rationellen Heilkunde (1810) and the Materia medico pura (1811). Hahnemann’s theory included the proving of drugs by administering them to healthy persons to ascertain their effects and to evaluate their essential action, the study of the symptoms of particular diseases, and treatment using the principle that a drug capable of evoking in the healthy body a response that is similar to the primary symptom of a disease is likely to produce a reaction in the body which will overcome the disease.

In 1812 Hahnemann was admitted to the faculty of the University of Leipzig, where he taught his theory of medicine. He believed in administering only one drug at a time—he himself prepared all his drugs—and thus incurred the anger of Leipzig’s apothecaries. After the furor following the death of an Austrian prince who had placed himself under his care, Hahnemann was forbidden to dispense medicine and forced to resign from the university. In 1821 he moved to Köthen, where he remained until 1835. During this time his fame grew through his practice and the successive editions of his writings. In 1828 he published the first two volumes of Die chronischen Krankheiten, ihre eigenthümliche Natur und homöopathische Heilung. In this work he developed the doctrine of the psora, which maintained that the majority of chronic diseases are due to a morbid material present in the body, a material identical to that which produces a variety of scaly diseases on the surface of the skin.

In 1830 Hahnemann’s wife of forty-two years died, and in 1835 he married a rich patient, Melanie d’Hervilly. They moved to Paris, where with the assistance of his wife Hahnemann managed a large medical practice until his death at the age of eighty-eight. He is considered the founder of homeopathy, and his followers increased throughout the nineteenth century.


I. Original Works. Hahnemann’s major writings include Organon der rationellen Heilkunde (Dresden, 1810); Materia medica pura... (Dresden, 1811); and Die chronischen Krankheiten..., 4 vols. (Dresden-Leipzig, 1828–1830) 2d ed., 5 vols. (Dresden-Leipzig, 1835–1839). These went through many editions and translations. His lesser writings were collected and translated by Robert E. Dudgeon as The Lesser Writings of Samuel Hahnemann (London-New York, 1852); the preface of this work includes an extensive bibliography.

II. Secondary Literature. There are many biographies of Hahnemann and histories of homeopathy. Among the more useful are Linn J. Boyd, A Study of the Simile in Medicine (Philadelphia, 1936); R. E. Dudgeon, Hahnemann, the Founder of Scientific Therapeutics (London, 1882); Richard Haehl, Samuel Hahnemann, seien, Leben und Schaffen (Leipzig, 1922); and Rudolf Tischner, Geschichte der Homöopathie (Leipzig, 1932).

Daniel P. Jones

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