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.

1.9.3 France

1 rue de Milan - Paris

I have to recognize that this country seems to be the most problematic among those chosen for comparison for the lack of easily available sources dealing with the landmarks of homeopathy. The scanty reports I was able to find, confirm that in general the main development of homeopathy in France was rather similar to that in other countries.

Georg Heinrich Jahr (1800—1875)

No doubt that the presence of the founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, in Paris, where he had a rich practice from 1835 to 1843, played an especially important role for the further development of homeopathy in that country. Hahnemann had been visited by many laymen and practitioners, who tried to know more on the new method and to obtain even the most basic training in the new science from the hand of the founder. Among those who later became distinguished, Georg Heinrich Jahr (1800—1875), who passed with Hahnemann from Koethen to Paris, should be mentioned. Also the names of Antoine Jacques Jourdan (1788—1848) and Clemens von Boeninghausen became widely known; the name of Clemens von Boeninghausen has been connected with the first attempt of the repertorisation of the symptoms needed for the right choice of homeopathic medicine.

Demonstratively, the arrival of Hahnemann in France was accompanied by a letter sent by a group of members of the French Academy of Medicine to the Minister of Education and Public Health, in which they demanded to forbid Hahnemann to practice his method in France. Nevertheless, this demand was rejected on the following ground: if homeopathy is a chimera, it will soon disappear; on the contrary, if homeopathy will prove to be based upon a progressive doctrine, it will survive in spite of preventive measures203.

At Hahnemann's arrival, there was one homeopathic society (the Gallic "Institut Homéopathique") and there were two homeopathic journals ("Les Archives de..." and "Le Journal de la Médecine Homéopathique") in France.

Although the number of conversions remained rather insignificant, the output of homeopathic literature was impressive. Between 1830 and 1850, no less than 600 books and pamphlets on the subject of homeopathy were published, whilst 217 were issued between 1850 and 1860204.

Unfortunately, French homeopathy very soon demonstrated signs of internal conflicts. Gaier reports:

As in Germany, French homeopaths were divided into two camps: the older school of Parisian homeopaths revered Hahnemann and disparaged the more progressive school that called Tessier its leader, rather than Hahnemann205.

This was true. Yet Gaier failed to assess that these conflicts, which seemed so inoffensive at the beginning, brought the seeds of the future decline. He stressed:

Fine distinctions were drawn between the practice and theories of the two groups. For a long time the practitioners of Paris remained divided into these two healthily competing camps, each having its hospital, its society and its journal, with the patients as the ultimate beneficiaries206.

Léon Simon (1786-1855)

No doubt, these distinctions were far from being "fine" and competition was to the same extent far from being "healthy". Jean-Paul Tessier (1811—1862) and his followers represented by the journal "Art médical", aimed exclusively at the fusion of homeopathy with other medical trends, whilst so-called purists - Gottlieb Jahr, Léon Simon (1789—1867), Felix Croserio (1786—1855) and others, who established the "Société Hahnemanienne de Paris" in 1845 and issued the journal "ĽHahnemannisme", tried to keep homeopathy distinct from other medical doctrines.

Furthermore, behind the conflict of the trends stood a conflict of persons. Some distinguished French homeopaths (Perrussel, Gallavardin, Jousset, Simon, Noack, and Rapou) founded homeopathic dynasties. Every Master had his own pupils who were by no means allowed to consult with other authorities. The difference in religious affiliation deepened the sharpness of the conflicts207.

Like in other countries, allopaths could not reconcile with the idea that effectiveness of homeopathy can be examined by experiments:

Dr. Tessier made in 1849—51 tests at Hôpital Ste. Marguerite, deciding in favor of the homeopathic system. When he presented his report to the Paris [Medical] Academy he aroused a storm of protest for his fairness in admitting that there was good in homeopathy208.

Moreover, the Anatomical Society unanimously expelled Dr. Tessier in 1856 for publishing his scientific work in homeopathic journals; this was after the Society had adopted ethical rules prohibiting members from consulting with "a hypnotist, a homeopath, or any other charlatan of this species"209.

There were other examples of this kind. So, the Rhône Medical Society, to which most professors of the medical faculty at the Lyon University belonged, decided unanimously that those members who apply homeopathy, should be dismissed from the Society210. According to this decision Prof. Dr. Imbert-Gourbeyre de la Touche (1818—1912), Prof. at the Clermont-Ferrand University, was excluded from the Society in 1887. After this case was reported to a wide public, the theatre critic Francisque Sarcey strongly criticized the absurdity of Society's decision, recalling the medical staff of "The imaginary sick" by Molière. In reply, he was advised by the Society's newspaper "La Province médicale" (August 20, 1887) to judge only those matters he has studied; as to the expulsion of a member, the newspaper explained that the Rhône Society had considered that no physician can become a homeopath if he has not lost either his mind or his conscience211.

In his paper dealing with the history of homeopathy in France, Maurice Garden tried to explain the main factors which caused the decline of homeopathy in that country since the 1870s. These factors may be divided into external and internal ones. The author considers as external factors the general amelioration of allopathic medicine, in first due to the successes in bacteriology, hygiene and pharmacotherapy. The internal factors, in Garden's opinion, are represented by the fight between the "pure" and "mixed" camps as well as by the personal struggles between homeopaths212. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870—71 accompanied by the spread of anti-German xenophobia caused further deepening of the crisis.

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