A Brief Biography of Samuel Hahnemann
by Peter Morrel
Samuel Hahnemann was the third child [of five] and eldest son of a pottery painter in the porcelain town of Meissen in Saxony. As a child, he showed a remarkable aptitude for study [Cook, 28], excelling both in languages and in science; he was fluent in English, French, Greek and Latin. Even "at the early age of 12 he helped his master to teach Greek," [Haehl, vol. 1, 13] to other students. Hahnemann was "a pupil of exceptional ability," [Cook, 24] with "an exceptional talent for languages;" [Haehl, vol. 1, 13] he "was drawn irresistibly towards science and research." [Haehl, vol. 1, 14]
At Easter 1775, he enrolled at the University of Leipzig to study medicine, but he soon became disappointed with its poor facilities, as medical students at Leipzig had "neither clinic nor hospital at their disposal." [Haehl, vol. 1, 20] While there, and to enhance his meagre income, he undertook translation work for a fee, such as translating four books from the English [Cook, 33], and teaching French to a wealthy Greek man [Haehl, vol. 1, 11] "in order to help him earn his living." [Haehl, vol. 1, 19] He declined to engage in the social life with other students [Cook, 33].
Early in 1777, he transferred as a medical student to Vienna, to gain greater clinical experience, though this proved very costly on his paltry allowance. After only nine months [October 1777], and after being robbed [Haehl, vol. 1, 11, 20], financial hardship forced him to abandon his studentship. However, he had so deeply impressed the physician to the royal court, Professor von Quarin [1733-1814], that he secured for him a secondment to practise medicine for a rich patron in Transylvania, the Governor of Hermannstadt [now Sibiu, Romania], Samuel von Brukenthal [1721-1803].
As family physician and curator of the museum and capacious library, Hahnemann stayed there for 18 months cataloguing the Governor's coin collection [Cook, 35; Haehl, vol. 1, 11], ancient books and manuscripts, one of the finest collections in Europe of texts on alchemy and magic. While there, he had "the opportunity of learning several other necessary languages and of acquiring knowledge of some collateral sciences." [Haehl, vol. 1, 11] Upon leaving Hermannstadt in the Spring of 1779, he "was proficient in Greek, Latin, English and Spanish." [Cook, 35]
Hahnemann submitted a thesis on Cramps [Conspectus adfectuum spasmodicorum; Cook, 36] and registered for the degree of MD at Erlangen [Cook, 36] in August 1779 after only one term's further study. He chose Erlangen "only because he had learned that the fees there would be less." [Haehl, vol. 1, 24] What he did or where he lived during 1779-80 is unknown [Cook, 38; Haehl, vol. 1, 27], but in 1781, he took a village doctor's position in the copper-mining area of Mansfeld, Saxony [Haehl, vol. 1, 26]. He obtained various medical positions during 1780-83, but soon after his marriage  he became increasingly disenchanted with the imperfections of medical practice, [Haehl, vol. 1, 29, 33; Cook, 47, 52] and turned once again to translation work to enhance his modest income and to feed his growing family.
On moving to Dresden in 1784, and by this time hugely dissatisfied with the harmfulness and inefficacy of medicine, he gave up medical practice entirely to devote himself to translation work on a full-time basis. In Dresden, "Hahnemann...practised his profession only to obtain definite proofs against it." [Gumpert, 49] In 1784 "...he translated Demarchy's "The Art of Manufacturing Chemical Products" from the French. It was an elaborate work in two volumes, to which he made numerous additions of his own." [Gumpert, 34] As a result, he willingly endured great poverty: "Hahnemann at this time, 1790, was poor," [Bradford, 47]. His "struggle with poverty," [Haehl, vol. 1, 34] reduced him to the merely passive role of a scholar of the medical past and a translator of medical texts; "his translation work gave him meagre support...in the year 1791, poverty compelled him to move from Leipzig to Stotteritz," [Bradford, 51]. "He reduced himself and his family to want for conscience sake," [Bradford, 36].
He soon came to be highly regarded as a translator of scientific and medical texts from French and English for the Dresden Economical Society. At this stage, his future as a respected translator for the scientific community, was assured: "the more definitely Hahnemann passed into oblivion as a doctor, the greater grew his reputation as a writer on medical subjects. Orders for translations poured in on him from Leipzig." [Gumpert, 58] In spite of honours heaped upon him by some learned societies [Haehl, vol. 1, 35], could such a fate have even remotely satisfied the ambitions and talents of this man?
When Hahnemann says, "in Dresden, I played no prominent part," [Haehl, vol. 1, 31] he means no prominent part in medicine, because he was chiefly a passive translator and scholar and engaged in the raising of his growing family.
Curiously for one so qualified, throughout the next twenty years or so, a strange wanderlust drove him [Haehl, vol. 1, 48] to drag his growing family, from town to town, never staying in one place for more than a few months or a year. For example, in 12 years from 1792-1804, he lived in fourteen different towns. During this important phase of "his restless wandering life," [Haehl, vol. 1, 23] he was a lonely figure, thoroughly disgusted with medicine [Cook, 52; Haehl, vol. 1, 64] and completing many translations for his sole income. Between 1777 and 1806 he translated 24 large textbooks and numerous articles into German, usually accompanied with extensive footnotes and detailed corrections of his own. Hahnemann "sat at his desk writing until his fingers were sore. There was no more talk of medical practice. The doctor was a fanatic devotee of the quill pen, who now drowned his sorrows over his lost medical career in a sea of ink." [Gumpert, 61]
During these "restless years of wandering," [Haehl, vol. 1, 13] Hahnemann was the while developing his ideas and publishing essays based upon his studies. In what was undoubtedly a crucial period of his life, and not apparent to the outer observer, his medical views were undergoing a revolution as he slowly accumulated evidence for radically new medical concepts and methods, which would, in due course, significantly change his future course in life. His "whole intellect was in a state of ferment...and complete internal revolution." [Haehl, vol. 1, 48] Haehl gives a very sound analysis of the problem. Hahnemann was "distracted by mental labours, which drove him restlessly from town to town." [Haehl, vol. 1, 48] Once he had finished "wrestling with his thoughts," [Haehl, vol. 1, 48] and "the work of the mind accomplished," [Haehl, vol. 1, 48] then his "peace and tranquillity returned of their own accord." [Haehl, vol. 1, 48] His particular 'mental labours' undoubtedly concerned his abandonment of medicine and his search for safer and more efficacious medical concepts and methods.
However, what was crucial about his wandering years, for his future work, was that through translation work, he could begin to scrutinise every idea and method in medicine ever advanced, and evaluate its usefulness and efficacy. Translation work opened up for him new medical worlds, which he could inspect and contemplate as evidence in his own search for medical enlightenment.
It was in 1790, while translating William Cullen's Materia Medica that the first evidence emerged for the great things still to come. Unconvinced by Cullen's theory that Cinchona was a specific for Malaria because of its tonic action on the stomach, Hahnemann decided to take a small dose of Cinchona over several days to observe its effects. In this first proving experiment, Hahnemann observed symptoms broadly similar to those of malaria, including spasms and fever. [Cook, 59; Haehl 37, 39] With Cinchona, he had "produced in himself the symptoms of intermittent fever," [Haehl, vol. 1, 39] which suggested to him a medical principle. He thus established anew the validity of an old therapeutic maxim: 'like cures like' or similia similibus curentur.
With his family and friends, he then undertook further drug provings. "Day after day, he tested medicines on himself and others. He collected histories of cases of poisoning. His purpose was to establish a physiological doctrine of medical remedies, free from all suppositions, and based solely on experiments." [Gumpert, 92] In his search for new remedies to prove, "Hahnemann sent his children into the fields to collect henbane, sumach, and deadly nightshade. They grew up like young priests of the Asclepieion of Cos...they felt the leaves, blossoms and tubers with small but expert hands...everyone was obliged to join in the work...for there was no other way to succeed in his titanic plan of rescuing the wealth of natural remedies from the quagmire of textbooks, and displaying it in the bright light of experience." [Gumpert, 93-94] His family and friends became central to his task: "the family huddled together; and every free moment of every one of them, from the oldest to the youngest, was made use of for the testing of medicines and the gathering of the most precise information on their observed effects." [Gumpert, 114] The results of his investigations were meticulously catalogued: "Hahnemann neatly and conscientiously assembled and numbered his observations of the symptoms excited in himself and his children by the most varied of medicines." [Gumpert, 114]
However, another fifteen years elapsed before his thinking, study and experiments finally bore rich fruit. In 1796, his Essay on a New Principle consolidated the work with Cinchona, extending it into a general principle applicable for all drugs, and this laid the foundation for a complete system of medicine based on similia. By 1796 he was also practising medicine again, but "he did not charge for the medicines which he produced himself." [Cook, 77] In summary, we can see that the essence he had distilled from his wandering was: single drugs in moderate doses, employed for conditions seen when they are proved on healthy volunteers. From this alone, he was inspired to commence a lot of writing of his own.
In 1804, with "this restless inclination for travelling," [Haehl, vol. 1, 47] finally expended, he settled in Torgau, "for seven whole years," [Haehl, vol. 1, 72] - 1804-1811 - and began to write a series of important essays: all "his chief works were produced in the Torgau period," [Haehl, vol. 1, 74] within which every detail of his new system was taking shape. Into these essays were instilled everything he had discovered in his restless wandering, deriving from his provings, his thinking and his studies. His Fragmenta de viribus  presented the first published details of 27 provings, including Pulsatilla, Ignatia, Aconite, Drosera and Belladonna. [Cook, 95] "...Hahnemann's "Fragmenta de viribus medicamentorum positivis." was published in Latin. This two-volume work gives us, for the first time, an insight into the remarkable, and so far unknown, methods of investigation, which he employed. It supplies reports on the tests of twenty seven medicines the results of years of experiment on himself and his family." [Gumpert, 122]
From the considerations he had arrived at in his wandering years, Hahnemann had sought to develop a medical system that relied solely on single drugs in harmless doses and based upon pure observation, empiricism and experiment. He sought to "do away with the blind chimney sweeper's methods of dulling symptoms," [Gumpert, 99] then so much in vogue. He fought "with redoubled energy for the purity of medicine. He struck deadly blows at three points: first, he believed that the doctor should prepare his own medicines; second, he advocated ever more definitely the administration of small doses; and, third, he was a most passionate opponent of mixed doses that contained a large number of ingredients." [Gumpert, 96]
Then came The Medicine of Experience in 1805, which was in every respect a forerunner of his Organon. His other essays of 1805, 1808 and 1809, amount to magnificent critiques of every mode of medical treatment and discussions of why similia and single drugs are superior, and always have been. These were soon followed up with his Materia Medica Pura  and Organon , which proved to be great landmarks in the establishment of homeopathy: "...the "Organon of the Art of Healing" is presented in sections after the manner of a legal code. [Its]...sections manifest the notable and intimidating terseness of legal paragraphs, which, despite their unequivocal and final character, can scarcely be understood without prolific commentaries." [Gumpert, 133] Likewise, his radical experiments with dose reduction, commenced in 1798 and endlessly revised throughout his long life. The first decade of the nineteenth century saw an unprecedented outpouring of original texts, as soon as his wandering had ceased.
This veritable dam-burst of literary activity was obviously preceded by two decades of study, experimentation and hard thinking. In 1806, his last translation, from the Latin, of Albrecht von Haller's Materia Medica [Haehl, vol. 1, 73], signalled the end of the first phase of his life: the study of the views of others, and the beginning of a new phase: of being his own man, and of formulating and defending his own views. Homeopathy, therefore, had a somewhat protracted 'birth,' emerging in pieces: between "1790 and 1805...homeopathy was slowly coming to birth."[Haehl, vol. 1, 48]
Of his stay in Torgau, it can be said that Hahnemann had, through his detailed and exhaustive studies, at last laid out a systematic and point-by-point demolition of every element in ancient and medieval medicine, leaving single drugs and similars as the only useful remnants. From these simple crumbs, combined with his experiments, he was able to build brilliant essays leading directly to the Organon, which is his detailed exposition of the whole conceptual and practical realm of homeopathy.
In 1812, Hahnemann moved back to Leipzig, "the Saxon Athens," [Haehl, vol. 1, 96] with a new confidence and the chief intention of taking on the allopathic establishment. He was returning, "pre-eminently as a teacher...to declare publicly...what he had discovered." [Haehl, vol. 1, 96] He obtained a teaching post on the faculty of the university medical school after defending a thesis on Hellebore, which quoted scores of ancient works in most European languages [Cook, 101; Haehl, vol. 1, 97]. Such was the vast extent of Hahnemann's knowledge of the medical past and of languages. Quoting from "more than fifty...doctors, philosophers and naturalists," [Haehl, vol. 1, 97] he was able "to show his extraordinary knowledge of languages...[and] to quote verbatim from manifold German, French, English, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic medical writers." [Haehl, vol. 1, 97] Such a performance was hugely impressive to the academics present.
Yet, his lectures to students, though starting out well, soon degenerated into a predictably caricatured performance with long-winded and bitter assaults upon the medical mainstream, which had Hahnemann ranting and raving like "a raging hurricane against the old methods," [Haehl, vol. 1, 98] and which saw his students dwindle to single figures. By unleashing such "uncontrolled and abusive attacks on contemporary medicine...he became incoherent and lost the sympathy of his audience." [Cook, 105] Consequently, "his audience lessened every hour and finally consisted of only a few." [Haehl, vol. 1, 98] For example, the winter semester 1820-21 "had been attended by only seven students." [Haehl, vol. 1, 120] This situation inevitably weakened his position in the university. Imagine if, by contrast, his course of instruction had been very popular, with swarms of students, then it would have been very difficult for the professors to attack him. That was sadly not to be.
Orthodox attacks upon him and upon homeopathy became increasingly coordinated, amounting to a "vicious campaign of persecution," [Cook, 124] which soon reached such a pitch as to make his life in Leipzig almost intolerable. He was "neglected and avoided by the students," [Haehl, vol. 1, 117] and was "obliged to leave Leipzig," [Haehl, vol. 1, 118] because of "this continuous antagonism of the medical profession and the governmental decree about self-dispensing," [Haehl, vol. 1, 118] of drugs, which very effectively barred him from further legal medical practice. Though he had achieved a lot, of leaving Leipzig some might say "Hahnemann felt himself to be almost excluded...[and] once more resolved upon migration," [Haehl, vol. 1, 117] as the most dignified solution.
By the end of 1820, he had therefore resolved to leave Leipzig. This was eventually achieved through protracted negotiations with the kindly Duke Ferdinand of Altona-Coethen. Hahnemann finally obtained in April approval from the Duke for a position in Coethen, and moved there in June 1821. [Cook, 25] This edict also allowed Hahnemann to do precisely what he had been denied in Leipzig: "to prepare his own medicines." [Haehl, vol. 1, 120] The comfort that must have brought would have seemed like a blessing from Heaven. He remained in Coethen with his wife and daughters, Charlotte and Louisa, in 'splendid isolation' for fourteen years [1821-1835]. Meanwhile, he continued to publish essays and books, updating his Organon, and Materia Medica Pura.
His publication in 1828 of The Chronic Diseases, opened up an entirely new chapter by exploring the underlying causes of disease as rooted solely in three ancient dyscrasias: skin diseases [Psora], gonorrhoea [Sycosis] and Syphilis. From "frequent observations, Hahnemann had discovered that chronic maladies...had some connection with a previous outbreak of Psora."[Haehl, vol. 1, 138] This 'miasm theory' stirred up great controversy among his followers, and seems to have instinctively elicited much more ridicule than it did praise. To Hahnemann, Psora was "a disease or disposition to disease, hereditary from generation to generation for thousands of years, and...the fostering soil for every possible diseased condition." [Haehl, vol. 1, 144] The theory "did not receive unanimous support from his followers, even after Hahnemann's death." [Haehl, vol. 1, 150] At the same time, he sought to have 30c potency established throughout homeopathy as the standard [Haehl, vol. 1, 321-2]. In this endeavour, he failed dismally, because the majority of his contemporaries preferred tinctures and 3x, while others, like Jenichen [1787-1849], Korsakoff [1788-1853] and Schreter [1803-1864], were busy raising potency to heights way beyond his wildest dreams [Haehl, vol. 1, 321-2].
On 8th October 1834 [Cook, 164], four and a half years after the death of his first wife, Johanna, a new lady entered his life: Melanie D'Hervilly Gohier [1800-1878], a young, attractive and well-connected French artist, who paid him a surprise visit in Coethen. Over forty years younger than him, she became first his patient, then his homeopathy student and then his lover. They were married on 18th January 1835 in Coethen [Cook, 166] and moved to Paris on 7th June [Cook, 168]. "And the old man from another land came to know this wonderful city of Paris as a vision from the Arabian Nights. He came to know its mysterious magic formula, which combines the maximum of freedom with the strictest observance of tradition." [Gumpert, 234] Their love affair and marriage caused a sensation among his German colleagues and neighbours, and scurrilous local "newspaper reports attempted to ridicule the marriage." [Cook, 168] "When this strange marriage had taken place, and had been sufficiently discussed, a storm of slander and vilification broke like a cloudburst." [Gumpert, 219] On Hahnemann's departure for Paris, "his daughters moved back into their father's house, where they lived until their death." [Haehl, vol. 1, 131] They were not very fond of Melanie.
Whatever we might make of her behaviour or motives, he repeatedly stated in letters how happy he was with Melanie in Paris: "better and happier than I have been for years." [Haehl, vol. 2, 375] It is also certain that in those final, blissfully happy, eight years of his life, he established a thriving medical practice in Paris with his young wife, becoming a celebrity and the preferred physician of the rich and famous, as well as giving free treatment to the poor. He and Melanie made a fortune together, allegedly four million francs in eight years [Haehl, vol. 2, 344-5]. She will ever remain an enigma. Melanie was, for her enemies, "an ambitious and self seeking intellectual...[but] for the man who loved her, a gentle, wide eyed, enchanted creature." [Gumpert, 222] She "never left his side. She mastered his casebooks, all the symptoms and most obscure notes of the Materia Medica Pura, as none of his pupils had ever done. She became a living compendium of homeopathy." [Gumpert, 241]
Although Hahnemann had introduced the smelling of remedies, or Olfaction, in 1832 [Haehl, vol. 1, 181], but it was during this last phase of his long life that he established Olfaction and the LM potencies as central pillars of his Paris practice. They are mentioned in detail in his final Sixth Organon , which, however, did not see the light of day until 1922 [Haehl, vol. 1, 86-7]. In old age, Hahnemann "grew thinner and more dwarflike. His knees bent in slightly; his torso was thrust forward, both when he walked and when he stood still...but the head, which ever more and more dominated the body, remained erect and sovereign." [Gumpert, 238] It was also in Paris where he made the last revisions of the Fifth Organon in February 1842, though it was never sent to a publisher [Haehl, vol. 1, 241, 286]. It is also clear that his Paris years were filled with continuous experimentation, [Haehl, vol. 1, 327-8] especially regarding dosage, potency and mode of administering remedies. It was at this time that he devised the liquid doses and LM potency scale [Haehl, vol. 1, 329].
Hahnemann died in Paris of bronchitis, 2 July 1843 and was buried first in Montmartre, but later reinterred in a more grandiose tomb, paid for by American subscription, in the more prestigious Cimitiêre Pere Lachaise, where many famous people are buried [e.g. Edith Piaf and Chopin]. Partly through attracting great controversy, and partly through impressive clinical results, homeopathy spread rapidly in Europe, Russia, India and the Americas, where it always found the sympathy of the rich and titled, as a safe alternative to bleeding and purging.
Most important works:
Essay on a New Principle 
Are the Obstacles to Medical Practice Insurmountable? 
Cure & Prevention of Scarlet Fever 
On the Power of Small Doses 
Aesculapius in the Balance 
Fragmenta de viribus medicamentorum positivis 
The Medicine of Experience 
On the Value of the Speculative Systems of Medicine 
Observations on the Three Modes of Medical Practice 
Hellebore thesis 
Sources of the Materia Medica 
Contrast of Old and New Medical Systems 
Four essays on Cholera 
All these essays can all be read in his Lesser Writings edited by Dudgeon, some of which are viewable online at:
|Organon|| ||Materia Medica Pura|
|1st edition 1810|| ||Volume 1 1811|
|2nd edition 1819|| ||Volume 2 1816|
|3rd edition 1824|| ||Volume 3 1817|
|4th edition 1829|| ||Volume 4 1818|
|5th edition 1833|| ||Volume 5 1819|
|6th edition 1842|| ||Volume 6 1821|
| ||Further editions released|
Significant dates in his life:
1755 10 April - birth
1775 to Leipzig University
1777 Spring - to Vienna
1777 October - to Hermannstadt
1779 Spring - leaves Hermanstadt for Erlangen University
1779 August - MD Erlangen
1782 Dec - marries Johanna Kuchler
1783 Henrietta born
1786 Frederick born
1788 Wilhelmina born
1789-1804 unhappy wandering in Saxony
1790 his mother dies; first proving with Cinchona
1791 Caroline born
1795 Frederika born
1798 Ernst born
1803 Eleonore born
1804 settles in Torgau for 7 years
1805 Charlotte born
1806 Louisa born
1811 Spring - moves to Leipzig
1820 loses legal battle in Leipzig to dispense his own drugs
1821 June - moves to Coethen
1830 30th March - Johanna dies in Coethen
1834 8th October - Melanie arrives in Coethn
1835 18th January - 2nd marriage
1835 7th June - leaves Coethen for Paris
1835 21st June - arrives in Paris
1842 Feb - composes the final 6th Organon
1843 2nd July - death
Thomas L Bradford, Life and Letters of Hahnemann, 1895
Trevor Cook, Samuel Hahnemann, the Founder of Homeopathy, UK: Thorsons, 1981
Robert E Dudgeon, The Lesser Writings of Samuel Hahnemann, London: Headland & Co, 1895
Martin Gumpert, Hahnemann - the Adventurous Career of a Medical Rebel, New York: Fischer, 1945
Richard Haehl, Samuel Hahnemann: His Life and Works, 2 volumes, 1922
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