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.

Chapter One

Allopathy vs. Homeopathy: Homeopathy in Russia during the period under study

1.1 Introduction

I found it to be a most appropriate approach to start my research with a sketched history of homeopathy in Russia, representing main landmarks of the relationship allopathy-homeopathy on the Russian soil during the period under study. I am not going to explore the development of homeopathy in Russia in a detailed manner in this chapter, as other chapters will serve this purpose. I aim firstly at introducing the reader to the 90 years existence of the homeopathic doctrine in the Russian Empire, enabling the reader to follow further chapters with more understanding of the times and events of the period. Nevertheless, such important topics as conversion to homeopathy and anti-homeopathic propaganda will be analyzed in this chapter.

1.2 The 1820s and the beginning of the 1830s — the decisive years for Russian homeopathy

1.2.1 Homeopathy in Russia: its first steps

For a long time in the Russian Empire professional homeopathy, i.e., homeopathy practiced by doctors, was connected with foreign physicians, especially of German origin. Those doctors were invited by the government or by private persons to practice in the Russian Empire.

Tsar Alexander I

According to Bojanus,

Homeopathy entered Russia in the last years of Emperor Alexander I's rule.

In 1824, Dr. Adam, who had become acquainted one year before to Hahnemann, arrived in Russia from Germany. [...]. He introduced to homeopathy Dr. Scherring, who later became the Chief physician of the Special Guardian Board1.

At about the same time,

When Hahnemann's ideas, little by little, became known in St. Petersburg circles, the new method of treatment had been practiced at the Western frontier areas of the Russian Empire by two doctors, ardent adherents of Hahnemann [...], [namely] Stegemann in Lifland and Bigel in the Kingdom of Poland2.

Tsar Nicholas I

I have little information about these persons and rely mainly on the facts reported by Bojanus. It is known that Dr. O. F. Scherring, as mentioned above, who had been first introduced to homeopathy by Dr. Adam, successfully used homeopathy to treat the wide spread inflammation of eyes in the Russian army. This was in the Krasnosel'sk and Medvedď military hospitals years later, in 1854—55 and 1856 respectively. His treatment was not purely homeopathic in a Hahnemannian sense of a word: Scherring applied undiluted tinctures taken as 1/100, 1/30, 1/2 of grain and even as much as one grain, but nevertheless all these were prescribed according to the law of similars. Mainly such medicines as Belladonna, Aconitum, Mercurius solubilis, Arsenicum, Conium, Rhus tox., Pulsatilla, Acidum nitricum, Thuja and Sulphur were used3. Scherring himself called this method "specific" (since the late 1820s the word "homeopathy" had had an effect on the Russian medical establishment similar to that of the red tissue on bull), and not homeopathic. While then demonstrating convincingly the advantages of homeopathic treatment, Dr. Scherring introduced homeopathy to several doctors, among them Drs. Iosif Kazakevich (1826—1871) and Stepan Stetkevich (1812—1894) — both became then convinced homeopaths. The Tsar Nicholas I, who was familiar with the "half-homeopathic" method of Dr. Martin Mandt (see the chapter "Homeopathic facilities") and often visited the hospital, both encouraged Dr. Scherring to continue with the treatment and regretted that such a fine "specific" treatment was not widely used in all Russian medical facilities. On November 5, 1862, Russian homeopaths celebrated a fiftieth anniversary of Scherring's medical service. The Grand Duke Nicholas presented him personally with the Tsar's reward, the order of St. Vladimir of the Second Class4. Scherring died in 1864 or 1865.

Dr Iosif KAZAKEVICH (1826—1871)

Dr. Adam did practice homeopathy but also called it "specific treatment" and, most probably, was never involved in the open struggle with allopaths. The next and the last time we hear about him is when Bojanus mentions that he took part in the activity of the Commission created by the State Council in 1833 (see below)5.

Prussian Dr. Stegemann (?—1835) had graduated from Jena University and converted to homeopathy around 1821. He arrived in Riga in 1823. Bojanus failed to find any exact data on his activity. In the late 1820s he left Riga for Germany to study homeopathy there more thoroughly. Until his death in 1835, he practiced in Riga again, also in Dorpat and in Switzerland6.

Dresden

A little more is known about the French Dr. Jean Bigel (1769—?). He had graduated from the Strasbourg University. In 1822—32 he was physician-in-ordinary of the Grand Duke Constantine. In 1822, he visited Dresden and was a witness to the vivid discussions between Hahnemann's adherents and opponents. Bigel purchased Hahnemann's "Organon", studied it and then started applying homeopathy in his day-to-day practice. From 1825 to 1847, he published several writings on homeopathy, whilst one of them ("Examen théoretique et pratique de la méthode curative du Dr. Hahnemann nommée homéopathie", Lyon, 1832) won him the Order of the Honorary Legion. In 1829, Dr. Bigel was entrusted with the treatment of the cantonists (the sons of soldiers obliged to serve in the army according to the laws of the Russian Empire of that time) at a cantonist school in Warsaw, whilst the treatment provided there was purely homeopathic7.

Dr Stepan STETKEVICH (1812—1894)

The first professional work (and, probably, the first altogether) on the subject of homeopathy, which appeared in the Russian Empire, was written in German. This was the work of Dr. Gottlieb Sahmen (1789—1847) from Dorpat University8 entitled "Concerning the present position of homeopathy as compared with medicine until now"9. Bojanus supposes that it was Dr. Stegemann who told Dr. Sahmen about this new doctrine and convinced him to examine it10.

Before speaking of Sahmen's book, I have to mention that the first time Hahnemann's name was spelled in Russian, was in 1793, in the first Russian medical newspaper entitled "St. Petersburg Vrachebnye vedomosti" (St. Petersburg Medical Reports). This periodical was issued in 1792—94, by the German doctor Fedor (Friedrich) Uhden (1754—1823), who graduated from Halle University in 1776. Two of Hahnemann's small articles were published in No. 14 (1793).

The following two articles were sent from Leipzig to be reported to a respectful Russian public. Their author, Dr. Hahnemann, has been made famous for his invention of the very useful soluble mercury, which is being currently used by all skillful doctors. Since the wine test described below, as well as a domestic remedy for necrosis of organs, both based on many experiments, seem to be especially helpful, we insert them into our 'Vedomosti'11.

Dr Richard HAEHL (1873—1932)

Those two scholarly papers were "Contributions to the Wine Test", first published in "Scherf's Beiträge zum Archiv der medicinischen Polizei", Leipzig, 1792 and "The most reliable domestic medicine against necrosis of organs (Sphacelus)", which, most probably, represents a part of one of Hahnemann's earlier writings, for I could find papers with similar titles neither in the list of Hahnemann's works by Wilhelm Amecke in his book "Die Entstehung und Bekampfung der Homöopathie" (1884), nor in the book "Samuel Hahnemann. His Life and Work" (1922) by Richard Haehl, i.e. in the most detailed sources dealing with Hahnemann's life and works.

As to the book by Sahmen, Bojanus regarded it with great respect and sympathy:

In this work [...] the advantages and shortcomings of homeopathy were analyzed with such impartiality and exemplary restraint and modesty that [this book] may be recognized as the only one within the literature of our opponents, deserving the attention and respect of the scientific public12.

Bojanus briefly described the contents of the book and the main conclusions of Dr. Sahmen. As this book has long ago become a bibliographic rarity, I allow myself to refer to Bojanus' comments on it, limiting myself to citing several of the chief thoughts of Dr. Sahmen. Sahmen certainly rejected Hahnemann's claims for building an universal system of healing. Sahmen asserted that Hahnemann did not revolutionize medicine, but found that there has always been a special attitude of medicine toward disease; this was what Hahnemann revived. Nevertheless, this fact does not mean that other specific attitudes do not exist. Thus, homeopathy has no right to dissociate itself from allopathic medicine. The results obtained from testing homeopathic drugs on healthy persons, Sahmen considered as unreliable, as being too subjective, and also because diseases artificially caused can never develop to be similar to idiopathic diseases. Despite these objections, Sahmen recognized that the successes of homeopathy have been evident. Sahmen himself examined such remedies like Nux vomica, Colocynthis and Opium with good results. When he became convinced that homeopathy often had important advantages as compared with allopathy, Sahmen urged his colleagues to continue research on the effect of medicines upon symptoms in order to enrich general medicine with new remedies and new approaches to treatment13.

Around 1826, a nephew of Hahnemann, Dr. Carl Trinius (1778—1844), who had studied in the universities of Jena, Halle and Leipzig, and who was a distinguished botanist and a physician-in-ordinary to the Tsar family since 1824, and a future tutor of young Alexander II (from 1829), converted to homeopathy. Probably he was the person who established the continued connection of homeopaths with the Tsar's Court. In 1826, Dr. Herrmann (?—1836), arrived in St. Petersburg from Saxony. The family of Countess Ostermann-Tolstaya hired him as domestic doctor. At the same time, he had a large and profitable practice in the higher St. Petersburg circles. He attracted special attention of his patients and of the Tsar's family, by his successful treatment of a bloody flux in Oranienbaum (a suburb of St. Petersburg).

The homeopathic method of treatment, as one could have expected beforehand, became suited to the taste of many noble persons. They viewed it as the salvation from all diseases. These rumors became known to the Tsar14.

The first official paper in Russian dealing with homeopathy, appeared in 1827 in the journal "Vrachebnye zapiski" (Medical Letters), issued in 1827—29, in the section "Pathology and Therapy"15. The paper was written by the editor Mikhail Marcus (1790—1865), who in 1841 became the President of the Medical Council (Meditsinsky Sovet) at the Ministry of Interior. The paper bore the title "Homeopathy of Hahnemann".

Despite the many present days objections, the homeopathy of Hahnemann has been spread widely all over Germany, attracting the attention of all sensible doctors. The latter reasonably suppose that if homeopathy included nothing useful, it would not have been a subject of so many thorough investigations...16

In his paper, Dr. Marcus analyzed in detail the essence of Hahnemann's doctrine, the main objections made by Hahnemann's opponents as well as the arguments of his adherents. Further Marcus rejected any "easy" judgment on homeopathy:

In order to judge homeopathy with certainty, one should go deep into the essence and significance of this distinguished invention, and then demonstrate its relationship to other medical theories. This will allow [the 'judge'] to follow the connection between homeopathy and these facts. The explanation of this connection would make homeopathy an important part of the new development of medicine [...]17.

Queen Olga of WÜRTTEMBERG (1821—1892) a daughter of Nicholas I

The conclusions of Dr. Marcus concerning homeopathy and its impact were doubtless benevolent:

While not returning to the shortcomings of homeopathy, one cannot deny the fact that the influence of Hahnemann's works on medicine in general is impressive. The empirical nature of homeopathy discourages one-sided speculative theories, adding a new significance to the experiments and forcing its opponents to expand its own field of experimentation.

By the assertion that all diseases are dynamic and that they originated only [...] from the conditions of vital functions, homeopathy removes medicine from the chemical and mechanical explanations attached to it.

By the investigation of drugs' action in their simple form on the healthy, [homeopathy] paves the way to the exact understanding of the spontaneous powers of medicines [...].

While rejecting physiology as not being satisfactory, homeopathy induces [researchers] to find firmer ground and to caution us against too precocious conclusions drawn from particular phenomena which are observed during experiments made on animals18.

Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich

As we see, the first reception of homeopathy in the Russian Empire was rather benevolent. When Grand Duke Constantine openly patronized homeopathy by keeping a homeopathic doctor as physician-in-ordinary, two of his brothers, Grand Duke Mikhail and Tsar Nicholas I, also became interested in the new teaching. According to Bojanus, to whom this story was told by Vasily Deriker19, Tsar Nicholas even proposed in 1825 to Dr. Scherring who had been converted to homeopathy by Dr. Adam, and treated successfully an epidemic of eye inflammation with homeopathic medicines, although, as mentioned above, calling this method "specific", "to promote this method of treatment decidedly". However, at that time the "promotion" of homeopathy under Nicholas I, even when called "specific treatment", did not go through for Scherring's fear to be accused by his medical superiors20.

Several years later, Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich reportedly turned to the Tsar, asking him to support homeopathy. According to the Highest (i.e., Tsar's) Order, the Medical-Military Department was requested to conclude a contract with Dr. Herrmann in February 1829. Dr. Herrmann pledged that for over a year he would treat homeopathically patients suffering from different diseases, like diarrhea, fevers of different origin, etc., in the military hospital which was to be established in the small town of Toulchin (Podolian province, Ukraine) for a reward of 12,000 rubles. Moreover, if Dr. Herrmann was successful in his treatment, his contract would be renewed. The contract provided independence in all the matters concerning Herrmann's covenanted activity, which granted him also freedom from customs' restrictions, including the non-opening of the box with homeopathic drugs at the customs21. Later this experiment was continued in St. Petersburg Military hospital. The story of these experiments is analyzed shortly in the chapter "Homeopathic facilities", whilst the statistics and their interpretation by the Russian highest medical authorities are presented further in this chapter.

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