The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and discrepancies

by Alexander Kotok, M.D.
On-line version of the Ph.D. thesis improved and enlarged
due to a special grant of the Pierre Schmidt foundation

1.8 The typology of Russian homeopathy

First Russian translation of

What type of homeopathy was practiced in Russia? It is particularly important to answer this question for, as we shall see later, the internal conflicts between different camps of homeopaths, i.e., "purists" and "homeo-allopaths", within the homeopathic profession was one of the reasons which led to the decline of homeopathy in the late 19th century. In order to conduct this inquiry, I shall rely both on quotations from Russian homeopathic periodicals and on an analysis of Russian homeopathic literature.

From the very beginning, homeopathy was practiced in Russia by new converts, who had a firm allopathic background. Unfortunately, the reports of Dr. Herrmann did not make it clear what medicines he applied and in which dilutions. Other German homeopathic doctors who had practiced in Russia around 1840—1850, were strongly criticized by Bojanus either for their open "homeo-allopathic" treatment or for the concessions they made to allopaths (see the chapter "Homeopathic facilities"). Although Bojanus did not clarify what he considered under "concessions", I guess that these were various combinations of homeopathy and allopathy. As Russian doctors mostly learned from their German colleagues, this "mixed" heritage had been passed over generations of homeopaths in Russia.

Also, Hahnemann's later theories of dynamisation and miasms were accepted with certain skepticism. For example, when replying to Prof. Kozlov's and Zdekauer's inquiry (see the section "Discussion, which never took place"), Dr. Carl von Villers wrote:

We shall abandon readily the theory of psora as non-acceptable to our pathologic views. [...]. It would be unfair to reproach Hahnemann, for when he created his system he was not aware of the later discoveries made by pathologic anatomy and other sciences177.

This statement leaves place to no doubt concerning the kind of homeopathy which was practiced by von Villers.

The famous St. Petersburg homeopath Dr. Lev Brazol wrote in 1887:

The theory of the 'dynamisation' of medicines, i.e., increasing their power through consecutive succussions, appears first as a hint in the 3rd edition of "Organon" in 1824, i.e., 25 years after homeopathy's outset. [This theory] in more detail is further developed only in the 5th edition of "Organon" in 1833, this is to say in that period of Hahnemann's activity when he had passed from the hard ground of the facts to the obscure field of pathological and philosophical hypotheses on the vital power, the psora, the causes of chronic diseases, etc. Therefore, the hypothesis of 'dynamisation' of medicines does not represent a considerable part of homeopathy [...]. The philosophical views of Hahnemann in his after-Leipzigian period (1821—1843), including his later teaching of 'dynamisation' are not shared by the overwhelming part of homeopathic physicians and, in any case, have nothing to do with the virtual and experimental side of homeopathic therapy178.

Later, while correctly mentioning that homeopathic medicines delivered in the kits among the laypeople comprised drugs prepared in the low and medium dilutions (thus there is no reason to speak of purely psychological effect, as the acting substance may be determined with physical and chemical methods), Brazol' stresses:

The macrodosists, i.e., those using chiefly or exclusively the low dilutions, do not retreat from Hahnemann's doctrine but follow his primary system. On the contrary, the microdosists, i.e., those using chiefly or exclusively the high dilutions, are not retreating either from Hahnemann's doctrine, and follow the dosage of the medial and last periods of the life of the teacher. [...] One should repeat that homeopaths-macrodosists represent the majority in Europe, while homeopaths-microdosists are the minority179.

Certainly, Russian homeopaths belonged to the "majority". Thus, while accepting on the whole the teaching of Hahnemann, Brazol refused to get along with the later, apparently "less scientific" period.

The number of Russian homeopaths was so insignificant (a little more than a hundred doctors who openly declared themselves to be homeopaths) that any kind of homeopathy would have been welcomed by Russian adherents of Hahnemann's doctrine. Nevertheless, the 30th centesimal dilution was the highest one used by Russian homeopaths, and the use of this dilution was considered almost as an act of heroism.

Frantz Hartmann Clotar Müller

It is interesting to follow the issuing of homeopathic literature in Russia. The pronounced lay-domestic character of Russian homeopathy meant first of all publication of manuals for laymen; this, in turn, meant low, material dilutions and frequent doses. But what was proposed to doctors? Hahnemann's "Organon" was translated (from the 2nd French edition, which, in turn, was based on the 4th German one) into Russian and issued in 1835. From 1835 to 1884, when the 5th German edition was finally translated, i.e., during almost 50 years, "Organon" was not republished! Moreover, "Chronic diseases", the most important of Hahnemann's theoretical works after "Organon", in which Hahnemann developed his conception of miasms, the application of high doses and making intervals in giving medicines, was not translated at all during the period under study. The explanation is simple: Russian homeopaths wished to distance themselves from "unscientific" attitudes of Hahnemann's late period. Hahnemann's "Lesser Writings" were not translated either. Neither the books of the British homeopath John Henry Clarke (1853—1931), nor those of the American homeopath James Tyler Kent (1849—1916) were translated into Russian, although both were probably the most significant figures of world homeopathy at the turn of the century. At the same time, books by such advocates of pathology-oriented prescriptions like Frantz Hartmann (1796—1853), Clotar Müller (1818—1877), and Richard Hughes (1836—1902), were welcomed and frequently republished.

Richard Hughes

The pronounced lay character of homeopathy in Russia and the financial dependence of Russian homeopathic societies (see the chapter "Homeopathic facilities") upon the pharmacies, had one especially negative side. I mean the problem of the wide-spread so-called "electro-homeopathic" medicines of Mattei180. Although Russian homeopaths protested energetically against Mattei's medicines, which were distributed in Russia throughout the Geneva Electro-Homeopathic Institute headed by the pharmacist Albert Sauter (1846—1896), a former collaborator and representative of Mattei, who succeeded in opening 42 (!) "electro-homeopathic" branches in different countries181, these medicines were sold in almost all Russian homeopathic pharmacies. To the best of my knowledge, only the pharmacy at the Khar'kov Society of the Followers of Homeopathy and the pharmacy at the St. Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians did not sell "electro-homeopathic" medicines. At least officially, the St. Petersburg Society of Homeopathic Physicians rejected the demand of the St. Petersburg Society of the Followers of Homeopathy to associate together as the latter sold Mattei's medicines (see the chapter "Homeopathic facilities"). "Electro-homeopathic literature" enjoyed wide public attention: no less than 25 books were issued in Russian on the subject of electro-homeopathic medicine, during the period from 1875 to 1916, including the translations of Mattei's books and pamphlets, several of them were even republished. The book by S. Smirnov "Electro-homeopathic medicines of Count Mattei" was first issued in 1875 and republished 9 times — the absolute record of "homeopathic" popularity! This number clearly reflected the demand of Russian lay public for domestic manuals, no difference whether it was homeopathy or pseudo-homeopathy. Yet Russian homeopathic periodicals publicly repudiated Mattei's "electro-homeopathy" and frequently published papers in which they pointed out that true homeopathy has nothing to do with Mattei's secret medicines.

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Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001