The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and
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.
1.3 The 1840—1860s — the Establishment of Homeopathy
After homeopathy in Russia had been given state recognition, this lowered the keenness of the
struggle between allopathy and homeopathy to some extent. Yet, although being recognized
officially, homeopathy in the Russian Empire remained the business of a few doctors, mainly of
German origin, in the metropolitan cities. This was rooted, not in the lack of interest of doctors
in the new system, but mainly in the administrative building of Russian medical system. Every
graduate of the medical faculty had to serve several years in the army or navy; afterwards he might
be accepted to the state service at some hospital. In the conditions of Russia until the last
quarter of the 19th century, the state service was the only way for a physician to
provide a constant position, a reliable (and steadily growing) salary and pension. The level of the
social development of the country did not allow a vast majority of physicians to expect for
satisfactory incomes from private practice. The charitable institutions, relatively independent
from the State, were poorly developed. Thus, in the light of an especially negative attitude of
Russian medical administration toward homeopathy, only few physicians practicing within a limited
number of rich families, could afford rejecting the state service. Usually these were either
invited foreign doctors who did not connect their future with Russia, or such Russian physicians
whose German origin allowed them to establish connections within the German-speaking milieu and to
study homeopathy from its sources. Accordingly, among the names of homeopathic physicians listed by
Bojanus65_2, who practiced homeopathy during the 1830s onwards, we see many foreign,
chiefly German, names: Zubov, Benevolensky, Vedrinsky, Roggenbau, Goldenberg, Yastrebtsov
(practiced in Moscow), Eglau (Kursk), Seider (Vyshny Volochok), Lessing (Orenburg), Kleiner and
Niemeyer (Saratov), Müller (Tambov), Cherminsky (Zhitomir), Peterson (Penza), Knorre and
Landesen (Pernov), Bigel (Warsaw). While studying the biographies of Russian homeopathic doctors, I
was struck by the fact that a significant number of future converts had studied at the Dorpat (now
Tartu in Estonia) University. This may probably be explained by its nearness to the European
centers where homeopathy was spread, as well as by the high standards of education, and perhaps by
a more critical attitude of students toward the established dogmas.
By the 1860s homeopathy had taken firm ground in St. Petersburg, whilst in other places its
position was still rather weak. The combination of the growing influence of the capital city of the
Empire, with the appointment of the new Minster of Interior General Alexander E. Timashev
(1818—1893), enabled Russian homeopaths to found their first Russian homeopathic society. Its
fate is analyzed in the chapter "Homeopathic
1.3.1 Further spread of homeopathy in Russia
The period of the 1840—50s concerning Russian lay homeopathy seems to be poorly
documented; we find only single examples of the involvement of non-doctors in homeopathic
treatment. One such example is the medical activity of the members of the Decembrist
Siberia, in the locations they were exiled to. The demand for more or less qualified medical
knowledge and skills remained great in Russia until the last quarter of the 19th century
not only in villages, but also in the provincial cities. The Decembrists and members of their
families often offered medical support to the local population. Dr. Ferdinand Wolf
(1796—1854) (the only physician among the Decembrists), the married couple Fonvizin and Pavel
Bobrishchev-Pushkin, practiced medicine in Tobolsk (Eastern Siberia). Bobrishchev-Pushkin
(1802—1865) treated patients with homeopathy67, and was reportedly especially effective during the
epidemic of cholera of 1847. One of the Decembrists, Ivan Pushchin
(1798—1859), wrote to a friend of him: "In Tobolsk our [Decembrists] help much more than
regular official doctors. Especially [Bobrishchev] Pushkin saved many people"68. Another
contemporary, M. Znamensky, a son of clergyman S. Znamensky who was especially close to the
Decembrists, recalls his visit to Bobrishchev-Pushkin:
When I entered the lobby, I found many Pushkin's visitors, the peasants; they
were sitting on the floor, on the window and on the trunk. These were patients of Pavel Sergeevich
[Bobrishchev-Pushkin]; they had a great belief in his minute medicines. [...]. I walked into the
room and found the owner speaking with a patient. He was explaining how she has to take the
medicines. The sick woman seemed petrified: her half-opened mouth and non-blinking eyes clearly
testified the attention with which she was listening to the homeopath69.
Eventually these successful treatments brought to Bobrishchev-Pushkin more educated patients:
"He became flooded with offers: the official intelligentsia, suddenly disappointed with
allopathy, ran to be treated by Pavel Sergeevich"70.
Whence could the knowledge of homeopathy as well as homeopathic medicines have been mastered by
Bobrishchev-Pushkin? He was arrested in December 1825; before then he hardly could have been much
interested in homeopathy — for homeopathy had not yet been known to wide laypublic in 1825.
It is hardly credible that a young officer studied then homeopathy on his own. The most probable
explanation is the following: after having been asked, as all other Decembrists71 by the local population for
medical support, he turned to his friends and relatives in St. Petersburg for advice. In reply,
they sent him homeopathic manuals and medicines. In the same way was homeopathy spread in Russia
from the main towns to the provinces.
1.3.2 A Discussion, which never took place
The journal "Vestnik noveishih vrachebnyh metod" (The Herald of New Medical
Methods") which was published in St. Petersburg in the early 1860s, published in 1862 a very
interesting document deserving a special study. The document was "A program for a clear
persuasion of the efficiency of the homeopathic method and of the possibility for homeopathy to be
accepted as a medical art", signed by Profs. Kozlov and Zdekauer72. Bojanus cited the whole "Program" and the answers of homeopaths.
This program began with an unquestionable assertion:
Common sense has convinced everybody that a doctor needs the two following
conditions in order to successfully treat diseases:
- 1. The ability to make the right diagnosis of the disease, and to promote the right treatment
based upon this diagnosis.
- 2. Applying the needed medicines at the appropriate time, which enables them to have their
effects with the steady and exactly expected actions, during the time and to the extent [...]
defined by the doctor73.
Thus, from the very first words one can understand that Prof. Zdekauer and Kozlov, even if they
wished to discuss the theme seriously, were prepared to speak with homeopaths while staying on
purely allopathic soil (location of disease in the body, actions of the medicines as expected in
time and effect), which, in their opinion, "represented the essence of the medical art".
The professors were trying to get the answers to the following points: 1. How do homeopaths locate
the injured places in the body? 2. How can one treat, according to homeopathy, different diseases
presenting similar symptoms? Although the "Program" occupies 10 pages in the book of
Bojanus, these were mostly questions on the ability of homeopathy to treat this, that or another
disease. The authors finished writing their "Program" in a way that hardly harmonized
with the minor tone in which the document was written at the beginning:
Clear and tangible experiments have to prove that homeopathy possesses medical
action, enabling the fulfillment [...] of the aims [...] subordinated in time and power to the will
of the doctor [...]. Only in this way would one achieve the conviction that homeopathy may be
permitted, together with rational medicine, for the good of mankind. Otherwise, it should be
decided that homeopathic treatment of diseases, provided not only by laypeople but also by doctors,
is a public evil, should be prohibited74.
Four homeopathic physicians, Drs. Anton von Hübbenett, Carl Bojanus, Alfons Beck and
Carl Frantz von Villers75 reacted to the "Program" in "Zhurnal
gomeopaticheskogo lecheniia". I shall limit myself to several central points in those answers.
All the homeopaths stressed that the authors of the "Program" had no intention to discuss
homeopathy on the grounds of homeopathic theory and practice; instead of that they proposed
carrying out only those experiments which are acceptable for the allopathic school.
Every experiment arranged outside the homeopathic doctrine [...] has been a
priori deficient and has no significance. In order to support a scientific denial of homeopathy
from experiments, one should base this denial on homeopathic experiments. Otherwise, this [denial]
cannot be considered fair76.
They also pointed out that it is not a secret that allopathic and homeopathic methods of
diagnosis and treatment are different; it is not clear what the professors expected from
homeopathy, whereas even within allopathy there was no full-fledged unity in the treatment of
various diseases, whilst the polypharmacy had become the most serious problem of allopathy.
Dr. A. Beck, whose answer was the most detailed, argued that although the exact definition of a
disease's location has been difficult for homeopathy as well as for allopathy, this does not
create an obstacle to a successful homeopathic treatment, while for allopathy the lack of
localization is an insuperable barrier77. He also proposed an experiment to prove the effect of homeopathic
medicines on healthy persons according to Hahnemann's method. One could moreover establish a
homeopathic hospital, in which a committee of allopathic doctors might be observers and make
judgments without being involved in the treatment. Other homeopaths proposed nothing but only
answered the questions. No development of the discussion followed. As to the results of this
discussion, Bojanus wrote in 1882:
Twenty years will be too short for homeopaths to obtain a reaction [...] to their
answers and proposals. Why the discussion was proposed [by allopaths] at all? We leave this
1.3.3 The first Russian homeopathic facilities
In the 1860s, the first Russian homeopathic journal, the first Russian homeopathic Society and
the first dispensary of this society were established. For more detailed information see the
chapter "Homeopathic facilities". I also have to mention that after the Zemstvo system
was introduced in 1864, some zemstvo decided to apply homeopathy. This subject is analyzed in the
chapter "Homeopathy and zemstvo medicine".
Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001