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.

1.4 The 1870—1880s

Although slowly, homeopathy strengthened its positions throughout the Russian Empire. During these years the lay image of Russian homeopathy was firmly established. The society of doctors, whom the lay supporters were supposed to support, proved to be of poor vitality. The hospital and the journal issued by the Society, were closed, both for lack of finances. The society divided into professional and lay organizations; the latter managed its activity successfully and soon became the main Russian homeopathic institution; this remained unchanged until the temporary borderline of my study. In 1889, the first non-St. Petersburgian homeopathic organization was founded (the Kiev Society of the Followers of Homeopathy). Many Russian clergymen, especially rural ones, became interested in homeopathy and started practicing it. Some zemstvos, disappointed with contemporary zemstvo medicine, expensive and unreliable, sought other methods to be adopted, including homeopathy. These topics are also analyzed in the chapters "Homeopathic facilities" and "Homeopathy and zemstvo medicine".

1.4.1 Homeopathic department at the Helsingfors Hospital

I would like to briefly describe the effort of Count Adlerberg to introduce homeopathy into Helsingfors (now Helsinki, the capital of Finland) with the prominent homeopathic physician, Dr. Eduard von Grauvogl (1811—1877);79 see also the chapter "Homeopathic facilities". According to the Highest Will, Dr. Grauvogl had to stop his treatment and delivering lectures in the hospital entirely because of the illness of his patron, and to treat the latter.

According to the request of Bojanus, Dr. Grauvogl described in detail his experience.

Homeopathic treatment [at the Helsingfors Military Hospital] had continued from January 1, to July 25, 1872, whilst my private practice became large and stretched to St. Petersburg. The rooms intended for homeopathic treatment, were filling slowly, as especially difficult, mostly incurable, cases were chosen [to be hospitalized in these rooms]. No acute cases were put in my rooms, except for those who proved to be in dangerous conditions. This behavior seemed to me abusive; nevertheless, all my complaints and requests [...] remained unanswered. Nothing resulted not only from my complaints, but also from the orders of the Count [Adlerberg], as the Chief Physician of Helsingfors, an ardent enemy of homeopathy, did all as he wished. Only in Russia is it possible that one behaves contrary to the will of the Tsar and the persons empowered by him80.

These complaints of Dr. Grauvogl clearly recall those of his German predecessor in the very same capacity, Dr. Herrmann (for these complaints see the chapter "The Homeopathic facilities"). Dr. Grauvogl's treatment provided the following official statistics: 81 patients were treated; 52 recovered, 10 transferred to the allopathic department, 5 died and 14 remained in treatment. Dr. Grauvogl also complained on the enmity of the doctors subordinated to him — in his opinion, they deliberately misdiagnosed their patients in order to represent their diseases for future statistics as much milder than they were in reality. Other complaints of Dr. Grauvogl were the following:

1. All the soldiers [treated] were suffering from chronic mercurialism, widely spread in the Russian army;
2. Soon after I started treating [...], severe hospital infections developed in my rooms, whilst the doctors attached to my unit were looking at these in cold blood, as common phenomena;
3. In the periodicals of Helsingfors, homeopathy, the audience [of the lectures] and myself became a subject of crude attacks, mockeries and curses. All my undertakings met with obstacles and resistance. The patronage of the Count, that I had so much expected, was powerless against attacks and intrigues from all directions [...]81.

One may wonder how Dr. Grauvogl succeeded to provide such positive statistics in such conditions... Nevertheless, after Dr. Grauvogl left Helsingfors, allopathic administration of the hospital allegedly reported that homeopathic treatment may be considered as effective only in mild acute diseases, which often pass by themselves, whilst the rest of diseases cannot be treated with homeopathy82. Naturally, Bojanus refuted this conclusion, analyzing in detail reports submitted by allopaths in different periods of time. When comparing these reports, he found many contradictions in the interpretation of results, diagnoses, etc. For example: allopaths did not try to deny that 52 patients recovered, whilst there were, according to allopathic diagnoses, no more 7-8 cases, which might be interpreted as "mild acute diseases" from among the 81 cases treated. How may this be explained, if one considers that homeopathy is effective only in these "mild acute diseases which pass by themselves"?83

1.4.2 The Medical Council vs. Homeopathy: 50 years later

In 1882, the Medical Council was consulted again concerning its policy toward homeopathy. It goes without saying that the 50 years that had passed since this organization condemned homeopathy, did not change its negative attitude toward homeopathy.

Tsar Alexander III

Dr. Vladimir von Ditman (on him and his conversion to homeopathy see the section "Conversion" in this chapter), whose publications, especially concerning the possibility to treat diphtheria with homeopathy, aroused the interest of the educated public, turned in 1882 to the Tsar, proposing to adopt the treatment of diphtheria with Mercurius cyanatus. It was reported later in the obituary of Dr. von Ditman, that his request was actively supported by an ardent adherent of homeopathy, the Rear-Admiral and the Adjutant of His Majesty, Otton Richter (1830—1907), one of the important persons at the court84. The Tsar (Alexander III) passed this proposal to the Medical Council. Thus, the latter had to reply. The inquiry of Dr. von Ditman was briefly cited in the "Decision" of the Medical Council, published in the official newspaper "Pravitel'stvennyi vestnik" (Government's Herald).

The epidemic of diphtheria, which has appeared in the capital city of Your Majesty, has caused heavy casualties, especially among children. There have been families where three, four and five children died within several days. Allopathic doctors are almost powerless in the struggle with this terrible enemy; while having no reliable medicine at their disposal, they lost as much as more than a half of all their patients. Since this disease [...] threatens to become a general disaster, I, Dr. Ditman, as a father and as a doctor, have no right to remain silent. I have become convinced after 12 years of homeopathic practice that there is a most reliable homeopathic medicine [for diphtheria]. My personal observations have been verified by a large number of observations [...] made by my colleagues85.

Dr. von Ditman asked the Tsar to provide homeopaths with an appropriate department "of several dozens of beds" at some St. Petersburg hospital, where poor sick children would have been treated with homeopathic medicines. As allopaths usually stressed that homeopaths misdiagnosed their patients, von Ditman insisted that one of the "distinguished specialists" confirm the diagnosis of diphtheria.

When analyzing the "Decision", I would like to divide the latter into two parts. The first part dealt with the personality of von Ditman, whilst the second one dealt with the essence of von Ditman's proposal. Both parts are approximately equal in size. In the first part, the authors of the "Decision" tried, on the basis of Ditman's books and pamphlets, to convince the reader that he was a total ignoramus in what they called science. Mainly they pointed out some inaccuracies in Ditman's definitions of that or other disease86. As to the proposal itself, the Council repeated the old fables on the oceans of water needed to prepare the 30th dilution, which was considered by von Ditman as especially effective in the treatment of diphtheria. Again, the Council insisted that homeopathic treatment cannot be effective on the ground of theoretical allegations and speculations only; the mere thought of a possible examination of the method was refused with indignation.

The Medical Council [...] concludes:

1. Mr. Ditman does possess neither medical, nor even the preparatory training needed to observe the sick.
2. His allegations concerning a reliable healing effect of Mercurius cyanatus in diphtheria, do not deserve any consideration.
3. From a scientific point of view, any attempt at proving the efficiency of homeopathic grains of Mercurius cyanatus cannot represent any interest.
7. It would be desirable to attract the attention of the censure institutions to the publications of Mr. Ditman [...] as the advertising instructions contained in them can deceive the public.
Signed: The Chairman: E. Pelikan; [...]; Advisory members: N. Kozlov, N. Zdekauer, [...], Y. Chistovich [...]87.

One should pay attention, that among the persons who signed the "Decision", were 1. The chairman Evgeny V. Pelikan (1824—1884), who was in the 1850s a physician in the "Exemplary hospital" created by Martin Mandt (see the chapter "Homeopathic facilities") where pseudo-homeopathic (atomistic) treatment was provided 2. Profs. N. Kozlov and N. Zdekauer, who twenty years before had proposed their own program of "reconciliation" with homeopaths (see above) 3. Yacov Chistovich, whose especially suspicious anti-homeopathic diary is analyzed in the chapter "Homeopathic facilities".

I have to mention that the authors of the "Decision" did not propose any other treatment as an alternative to homeopathy. Corynebacterium diphtheriae was found by Klebs in 1883; in 1884 Loeffler succeeded to grow this pathogenic organism artificially, whilst a more or less reliable treatment was developed in the late 1880s and in the beginning of the 1890s. The first successful treatment of diphtheria in Russia, based upon the latest scientific findings and technologies (I mean anti-diphtheric serum), was provided by Prof. Georgy Gabrichevsky (1860—1907) in a Moscow clinic in 1893—94, i.e., 11-12 years after the homeopaths had proposed their own method of treatment. Thus, Russian regular medical profession rejected a possible treatment, be it scientific or not, sufficiently effective or not, without testing it, whilst "scientific" allopathic treatment was at that time non-existent. The fact that allopaths, who enjoyed State support, were empowered to reject the proposals of the homeopaths without any practical examination, was traditionally an especially painful point of Russian homeopathy. Nevertheless, both the lack of any reliable treatment of diphtheria and the understanding that the "Decision" was clearly written by a biased interest group, allowed the Red Cross to provide homeopaths with a unit at an allopathic hospital. Then allopaths applied another tactics: they did not refer patients to the homeopathic unit and thus forced its closing (see the chapter "Homeopathic facilities").

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