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.

1.5.2 Contra homeopathy: anti-homeopathic publications

One should mention that because of the modest number of homeopathic doctors, homeopathy did not represent a serious threat for the Russian regular profession and, subsequently, did not require any serious measures to be mobilized. Under "serious measures" I understand first the massive issuing of anti-homeopathic literature. Russia was obviously not a rich soil for a large number of such anti-homeopathic books, brochures, pamphlets, etc. Nevertheless, it is interesting to follow anti-homeopathic publications in order to see how Russian regular profession reacted to different periods of the popularity of homeopathy in Russian society.

Ossip Senkovsky (1854—1927)

The only Russian anti-homeopathic writing issued as a book during the almost 50 year long presence of homeopathy in Russia was published in 1840 by Dr. Semen Vol'sky (1782—1849), the chairman of the St. Petersburg Society of Russian physicians, a member of the Medical Council and physician-in-ordinary at His Majesty's Court. This was the book "About Hahnemann and Homeopathy. A Pragmatic Writing". Vol'sky did not try to learn even the most basic propositions of homeopathic theory before he started his critics. The editor of the popular periodical "Biblioteka dlia chteniia" ("Library for Reading") Ossip Senkovsky112, although not being involved in medicine, justly stigmatized this writing as a dull compilation.

What does 'a pragmatic writing' want from homeopathy? [...] [The author] cannot judge homeopathy in a scientific manner [as] he is not familiar with homeopathy at all. He did not study homeopathy; he has not been familiar with the present situation of homeopathy. [...]. There is nothing more ridiculous, more superficial and more baseless than the critical analysis of homeopathy presented in this writing113.

Vol'sky's book was also ridiculed by Bojanus114. Several years ago the Russian journal "Problemy sotsial'noi gigieny i istoriia meditsiny" (Problems of Social Hygiene and the History of Medicine) published a paper in which the book of Vol'sky was regarded as

[...] A trustworthy source on the spread of homeopathy in Russia, a polemic on the essence [of homeopathy], information about the life and activity of a misled doctor, who tried to rebuild contemporary medicine based on the principles of similarity and small doses115.

This sentence is rather important to demonstrate that even now Russian medical-historical science has apparently not recognized homeopathy to be a subject deserving a serious study.

Till late in the 19th century the unsuccessful attempt of Semen Vol'sky remained the only anti-homeopathic publication. The first Russian anti-homeopathic publication of the last quarter of the 19th century was the brochure by Carl Ernst Bock (1809—1874), an anatomist at Leipzig University. In 1854—55, he wrote several anti-homeopathic articles in the liberal periodical "Gartenlaube". In 1855 he issued the pamphlet "Die Homöopathie, ein Gewebe von Täuschungen, Unwissenschaft and Unwahrheiten"116. This brochure was translated into Russian and issued by Carl Klosse, whose biographical data is unknown to me, in 1875 under the title "Homeopathy exposed in the interests of public health"117. Till 1907, this brochure was republished 5 times (1883, 1904, 1905, 1907 — two editions). These were rather primitive critics meant for the unpretentious reader. Bock stressed that Hahnemann is a quack and homeopathy is a fraud. The law of similars does not exist; the success of homeopathy has to be ascribed to the natural process of recovering exclusively - all these without any reference.

The 1890s show the growing anxiety of the regular profession toward homeopathy and its steadily developing influence throughout Russian society - an anxiety, mixed with a keen hostility, which later encouraged the decision of the 9th Meeting of the Pirogov Society concerning homeopathy (see below). The most appropriate scheme adopted by Russian allopaths was a public lecture delivered by some physician or professor and later published as a brochure.

In 1891, Dr. George Karrick issued his lecture delivered in 1890 followed by stormy debates with the homeopaths who were present at the lecture, as a book entitled "Homeopathy as a hobby and doctrine"118. The biographical data of Dr. Karrick are unknown to me. Nevertheless, he seemingly was an Englishman - both because of his name and because of the fact that he had worked during 20 years at the British Embassy in St. Petersburg119. Here and further I omit describing details of the critics; for these anti-homeopathic writings the main common points are the following: homeopathic medicines cannot be effective; Hahnemann's experiments (provings) are falsifications; the statistics concerning the superiority of homeopathy over allopathy are also falsifications or misinterpretations; Hahnemann's ideas, especially regarding dynamisation and miasmas, have been rejected even by his followers (the latter argument was partly true).

Prof. Isaak Orshansky (1851—ca.1893)

Also in 1891, Prof. Dmitry Rodzaevsky (1857—1894) of the Kiev University published his lecture "Homeopathy as a medical-philosophical system in the past and in the present. A critical-historical essay"120. In 1892, was published in Khar'kov a lecture entitled "Homeopathy, its origins and present situation", delivered by Prof. Isaak Orshansky (1851—ca.1893) in the same city121. In the same year and in the same city, Prof. Rodzaevsky already known to us, published his pamphlet "The significance of oligodynamic phenomena for the animal organism"122. I suppose that this Khar'kov-located anti-homeopathic activity followed the opening of a homeopathic society in that city in 1891. In the work of that society took part the Khar'kov University professor for Obstetrics and Gynecology Pavel Yasinsky (1839—?) and Dr. Grigory Ryndovsky (1814—1898), who formerly delivered lectures on pharmacology at the same university.

In 1893, Dr. A. Lozinsky published his pamphlet "Homeopathy according to the teaching of its authorities"123, which was highly appreciated by "Vrach":

[...] The brochure [...] was written so clearly and convincingly that the common sense of every homeopath, if the latter is not a fanatic [...], will demonstrate him where the truth is. [...]. Almost the whole book was written in a quiet and even tone, [...]; with cold blood and even with some sympathy to these unhappy delusioned people, did [Lozinsky] break the arguments of homeopaths [...]124.

Despite such a high appreciation, no new argument against homeopathy, no original view of it, were invented by Lozinsky. Having begun with the assertion that Hahnemann was wrong in his evaluation of Peruvian bark's effect and, thus, homeopathy is nothing more but a chain of consecutive erroneous conclusions, he concluded with the denial of even most evident cases of recoveries as a result of homeopathic treatment.

Also in 1893, Dr. Karrick published his objections to the critics of homeopaths on his lecture, which had appeared in 1891 (see above), in a pamphlet under the same title125.

In 1895, Dr. A. Lozinsky issued his brochure "Against homeopathy. A collection of polemic papers"126. From the "Introduction" we learn that since 1893, he failed to deliver his anti-homeopathic lectures at the meetings of different Russian medical societies. I guess this failure may be explained by the fact that at the beginning of the 1890s the regular profession, relying on its most structured level (societies) did not yet recognize the homeopathic threat.

In 1897, Dr. I. Matskevich published his pamphlet "The Role of Homeopathy in the 19th century. Critics of Homeopathy as an Unscientific Method"127. This writing recalls the book by Vol'sky by the number of unfounded statements. Matskevich, for instance, ascribed to Hahnemann the statement that no medical education is needed to treat with homeopathy (p. 8), etc. It is true that critics of such a primitive kind were nevertheless rare for Russian allopathy. As an opposite example can be viewed a charitable lecture delivered by Dr. Avraham Finkelstein (1836—1905), published in 1896 as a brochure with the title "On homeopathy. A public lecture delivered on March 19, 1892 by a substitute to the Chairman (now Chairman) of the Society of Odessa physicians, A. M. Finkelstein for the good of those who have suffered from the bad harvest"128. After having described medicine and philosophy contemporary to Hahnemann, the essence of homeopathy, its principles, etc., Dr. Finkelstein highly appreciated Hahnemann's services rendered by him to medicine in general and especially to pharmacology and diagnostic. Of course, Dr. Finkelstein, being an allopath, mentioned that Hahnemann's approach paved the way to the expectative method "playing so important a role in medicine of the present days"129. But his attitude was by far cleverer than the primitive invectives of his Russian contemporary allopathic colleagues, and was similar to that adopted by the regular profession in the USA and Britain in the late 19th century.

Demonstratively, after the Nizhnedevitsk zemstvo failed to employ a homeopath and the 9th Meeting of the Pirogov Society condemned homeopathy, the publication of anti-homeopathic writings ceased. The Russian regular profession felt that homeopaths had exhausted their reserves and should not be viewed as a serious opponent any more.

Viacheslav Manassein (1841—1901)

One should stress that the weekly "Vrach" (The Physician), edited by the St. Petersburg Medico-Surgical Academy Professor (from 1875 to 1892) Viacheslav Manassein (1841—1901), played an especially important role in the anti-homeopathic propaganda during the period from the periodical's appearance in 1881 to its cessation in 1901. This was due to the fact that "Vrach" enjoyed a great popularity among Russian doctors.

The weekly publication 'The Physician' became the most widely read and influential medical publication in pre-Revolutionary Russia [...]. Founded and edited by Professor V. A. Manassein [...] 'The Physician' projected its editor's social commitment and became the voice, the conscience, and the backbone of the Russian medical profession [...]. At least one third of the profession subscribed to 'The Physician', and most felt its influence. In an age of rapid scientific progress and increasing medical specialization, it provided useful material for the general practitioner, extensive articles on medical therapy for common illnesses, information on scientific advances and their practical application, and reviews of foreign and Russian medical books130.

No other medical periodical of that time can be compared with "Vrach" in popularity or circulation. For example, when analyzing various contemporary medical journals supposed to be read by the wide zemstvo doctor's community, like "Zemsky vrach" (Zemstvo Physician) issued in Chernigov in 1888—1894, "Zemskaia meditsina" (Zemstvo Medicine) issued in Moscow in 1885—1888, "Meditsinskaia beseda" (Medical Discourse) issued in Voronezh in 1887—1906, Frieden testifies that "these are rich sources for the study of zemstvo medicine but had a small circulation and a limited impact on the profession in general" as compared with "Vrach"131.

Dr. Lev BRAZOL (1854—1927)

From the very beginning "Vrach" adopted an especially irreconcilable position toward homeopathy, homeopathic doctors and supporters of homeopathy. Many examples of this keen hostility will be demonstrated in my study. The personal enmity of Manassein toward homeopathy was so great, that in 1887, when he was the head of the "Committee for Support of Students of the St. Petersburg Medical-Surgical Academy in Need", he rejected the money offered by the St. Petersburg homeopath Dr. Lev Brazol (1854—1927) and proposed to the Committee, an amount he had earned from delivering a lecture. When Dr. Brazol reported this event to the general press and Manassein was then strongly condemned by the main St. Petersburg general periodicals for his intolerance and for sacrifying the interests of the students to his personal ambitions, he stressed that

It is painful to see our general press arguing that students should have been allowed to receive the money which were paid for the denial of science, to the studying of which the students dedicate their best years and capacities...132

Homeopaths of course recognized the great negative impact of "Vrach" on the profession as regards to homeopathy:

If Russian allopathic doctors have been permeated with [...] a bias toward homeopathy and homeopathic doctors, this is [...] almost exclusively owing to 'Vrach', which during 20 years has steadily convinced Russian doctors that homeopathy is 'a quackery', 'a propagation of ignorance', 'a denial of science', etc133.

Briefly summarizing this section, I would like to stress that the 1890s were the only period when Russian regular profession undertook some means of propaganda against homeopathy, including anti-homeopathic publications.

1.5.3 Hiding information on homeopathy

The most demonstrative example of the anxiety and hostility of Russian regular profession toward homeopathy, nevertheless, was connected neither with anti-homeopathic publications nor with the expulsion of homeopaths from allopathic societies. The Russian medical administration hid information on homeopathy from abroad which the Russian medical establishment did not approve. It goes without saying that no critical paper on homeopathy could appear on the pages of Russian allopathic press, if this paper would have contained the lightest recognition of the merits of homeopathy or homeopaths. On the contrary, Russian homeopaths repeatedly pointed out that the allopathic medical administration put censorial obstacles to the republishing of some especially popular homeopathic manuals, like those of Deriker and Solov'ev. Furthermore, the highest Russian medical authorities, represented by Prof. Victor Pashutin (1845—1901)134, decided first "to edit" foreign publications and to translate them into Russian. This was the fate of "Bibliothek der gesamten medizinischen Wissenschaften" issued by Prof. Drasche in Vienna (1894). The article on homeopathy written in the original by neurologist Dr. Arthur Sperling who had worked with weak electric current and had thus become interested in homeopathy135, was removed by the Russian editors; instead of that, the "right" anti-homeopathic article of the Russian author Dr. Wagner was inserted. The editors remarked:

We are deviating from the rule to keep strictly to the German original. Our justification of this decision is that the author of the article in the German original, who, probably, sympathizes with homeopathy, failed to stick to objectivity, when trying to attach [to homeopathy] the character of a scientific doctrine136.

This hiding of information on homeopathy, together with the attempts of the Russian medical establishment to persuade the Russian medical reader that homeopathy is nothing more than "an unscientific wizardry", which was being held in contempt abroad as it was in Russia, played a negative role for the further development of homeopathy in Russia.

1.5.4 The Ban on Consultations with Homeopaths

As we have seen, the crude attacks on homeopathy, warmed up by the hostility of the chief Russian medical periodicals as well as of the leading professors toward homeopathy, were no less virulent than a direct ban, as will be demonstrated in the following case.

The editor of "Vrach-gomeopat", Dr. Anatoly Flemming (1868 — no earlier 1927), informed in No 1, 1900137 that he treated jointly with several allopathic doctors a sick woman; after the allopathic treatment had been recognized by all doctors as unsuccessful, Dr. Flemming proposed some homeopathic medicines. They worked, and the patient recovered in two days. Dr. Flemming reported no names, but only initials: Prof. P., Prof. M., a Senior Doctor of the hospital neurologist M., and Dr. S. This was sufficient for the editorial board of the monthly "Russky meditsinsky vestnik" (Russian Medical Herald) to demand from those who possibly participated in consultations with a homeopath, to name themselves. Otherwise, "Vestnik" warned, these names would be found according to the "Russian Medical List" (Rossiysky meditsinsky spisok) and then published138. One should understand that nothing official would have been undertaken against "betrayers". Nevertheless, it was important to hold them up to shame. As there was no reply, a month later "Russky meditsinsky vestnik" continued its investigation and found possible names: Profs. F. Pasternatsky, L. Popov, I. Merzheevsky, O. Mochutkovsky and Dr. E. Moritz. When publishing this list and commenting on it, "Vrach" added:

We are deeply convinced that in reality none of these highly respected colleagues could have consulted with a homeopath. Thus, Flemming morally had to name the true persons; otherwise, he would have been associated in the slander139.

Flemming thus sent a letter to "Vrach", stressing that all he had said was the truth; as to the "true names", he left the suspected to defend themselves before "Vrach", if they found it necessary. The remark of "Vrach" was demonstrative: "They have to justify themselves, not before us [i.e., before "Vrach"], but before all our colleagues valuing the dignity of the profession they have the honor to belong to"140.

To the best of my knowledge, nothing came from this investigation. I am not sure that the editors of "Vestnik" and "Vrach" were indeed interested in the ascertainment of the truth and in a further scandal connected with it. It was incomparably more important to show that in such a case, no regular doctor, would he be a Senior doctor to a hospital or a professor, may stay aloof of "public condemnation" from the side of his colleagues in the profession.

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