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.
3.7 Zemstvo-directed homeopathic propaganda
Among other homeopathic issues aimed at informing zemstvo officials and deputies of zemstvo
meetings about homeopathy, I would like to highlight and analyse a brochure by Nicholas Grech and
Vasily Deriker "About the Methods of Defending Public Health. An Opinion of a Stranger
Proposed to the Zemstvo Meetings and Authorities" issued in 186671 as well as a secondversion of the
book of Dr. Evgraph Diukov "Medicine
and Medical Staff. About the Necessity of Changing the Accepted System of Education and Training of
The pamphlet (14 pages) of Grech and Deriker was the first Russian homeopathic publication
intended directly to attract the attention of the authorities of the newly formed system, i.e., the
Zemstvo, toward homeopathy. On his part, Diukov summarized in his book the development of zemstvo
medicine during a period of 45 years. He pointed out that, in fact, no significant changes had
occurred in zemstvo medicine which could remove the proposal of introducing homeopathy from the
agenda of the Zemstvo officials.
Before I start describing the brochure of Deriker and Grech, I must point out that the first
Russian homeopathic self-treatment book designed to acquaint the educated people (i.e. landlords,
priests, teachers) living in the rural localities with homeopathy, was issued in 1860, by one of
the co-authors of this brochure. This was the brochure "To the priests and all educated men
about domestic treatment within the people" by Vasily Deriker, whose role in the history of
Russian homeopathy, has yet to be evaluated73. Nevertheless, as there were yet no zemstvo institutions in 1860,
his book had no clear official address for readers to respond to, but it served to disseminate
information about homeopathy Russia-wide. The other co-author of "About the methods...",
Nicholas Grech, was also a very interesting person, who has been known in Russia for his
involvement in other, non-homeopathic, activities. Nicholas Ivanovich
Grech (1787—1867) had been close to the members of the Decembrist revolt in 1825,
though taking no part in their revolutionary activity. In 1812—1839, he had issued a popular
journal "Syn Otechestva"; moreover, he issued in 1831—1859, together with the
conservative journalist Faddey Bulgarin (1789—1859), a popular newspaper "Severnaia
pchela". He has also been known for his manuals on Russian grammar, and for his novels and
memoirs. In fact, the name of Nicholas Grech is ubiquitously mentioned in every source dealing with
either Russian history of the 19th century or history of Russian literature. The fact
that Nicholas Grech was an adherent to homeopathy and even wrote a brochure on this subject, is
hardly known. Nicholas Grech owned a printing house in which some homeopathic books and brochures
were printed in the 1860s, such as the translation into Russian of the book of an Englishman, Dr.
F. R. Horner "Reasons for Adopting
the Rational System of Healing" (Manchester, 1858?), the brochure of Deriker "To the
priests…", the brochure of N. Ivanov "O novoi knige "Pochemu ia predpochiol
gomeopatiiu" (On the new book 'Reasons for Adopting..."). In 1862, a brochure
entitled "Otvet fel'etonistu 'Meditsinskogo vestnika'" (Answer to a Satirist
of 'Meditsinsky Vestnik'); and in 1867, the second edition of the above mentioned book by
Horner, were published.
The authors of the brochure "About the methods...", foretold the main difficulties
which would make it impossible for zemtsvo medicine to provide the rural population with reliable
medical support. They stressed that
The raw pharmaceutical materials are useless until converted into allopathic
drugs, like solutions, pills, lotions, etc. at the request of the physician. How could also
pharmacists and laboratories be reached? The villages are long distances apart. How could a
physician arrive in time anywhere? And from where can the drugs be obtained? It is impossible to
bring all the medicines that are needed!74
Further, speaking of the lack of physicians, the authors stress that the problem of being unable
to recruit a highly-educated staff cannot be solved in the foreseeable future. At the same time
Although feldshers can help in the cases of external injuries, they are absolutely
helpless in the cases of any internal illness. So are midwifes. They can help in delivery, but the
care of mother and baby needs some special knowledge75.
In the opinion of the authors of the pamphlet, the problems of the provision of medical help in
the villages may be solved only by introducing homeopathy:
The rich literature on homeopathy testifies that is should be recognized that its
distinctive property is the ability to interrupt difficult diseases in their very beginning. [...].
By using homeopathic methods of treatment, the physician needs not to wait for the further
development of the disease in order 'to name it' and then 'treat it rationally'.
Homeopathy makes it possible to apply a medicine to every suffering person, without worrying about
the name of the disease nor about hidden changes of the organs. [...] Let us see how homeopathy
works [...] in the hands of people guided only by a homeopathic self-treatment book. Numerous
diseases are cancelled entirely in their first stages in those families which are familiar with
homeopathy. On the contrary, to permit these diseases to develop into some definite forms bearing
scientific Latin or Greek names, would mean to bring the patient to his death or, at least, to a
serious chronic illness. Thus, the homeopathic method of treatment, is, in fact, a preventive one.
No doubt, a preventive method is preferable over any medicinal method of treatment. It is
noteworthy that a patient recovers faster after getting homeopathic treatment, for he has not been
weakened by loss of blood, or from plasters, emetics, and purgatives76.
In addition, the authors did not forget to record the economical aspect of homeopathy:
One of the most important advantages of homeopathy is the cheapness of its drugs
[...] Homeopathy thus is available for the poorest people. Homeopathy thus enables to save
expenditures in the care of the sick77.
After these detailed explanations of the advantages and benefits which homeopathy could bring,
the authors enunciate their conclusions:
1. According to the "Polozhenie"78 [...] the zemstvos have the legal
right not to become involved in theoretical discussions between different medical schools, they may
support any medical tendency and enlist it into the zemstvo service.
2. The rural population cannot be provided with full medical support, like that in
big cities, with the exception of several particularly large villages. The retention of physicians
and feldshers [in their places of work] has not been sufficiently supported because of a permanent
lack of financial means.
3. The absence of qualified medical support encourages the rural population to
turn to wizards who use their age-old heroic medicines [...] and poison the people.
4. For the same reason, the educated people turn to another kind of
'sorcery', i.e. domestic homeopathic treatment. This wizardry does not poison, it is
absolutely safe, harmless.
5. Many thousands among the educated people and millions of evidences attest for
the good reputation of this method.
6. In places where there is no medical support, one may and should use even those
medicines which are arguable and doubtful, those which are safe and harmless [i.e. homeopathic
In view of these arguments, the Zemstvo could decide that:
1. Some part of the funds assigned for medicine would be used for homeopathy.
2. Not only feldshers, but also other educated people like priests and teachers
[....] should be provided with homeopathic manuals and medicines through the local zemstvo
3. Only [trained] physicians may freely choose the system of treatment they wish.
Feldshers have to be acquainted with homeopathy, at least from one chosen manual.
4. Several well-educated homeopathic physicians would be invited to compile short
but clear instructions for feldshers.
5. No obstacles should be put before [...] those people who want to help their
neighbours with safe and harmless drugs.
6. Different medical systems should be allowed to be represented at the Zemstvo
[...], waiting for evidence from facts and time79.
Analyzing these proposals, I would like to point out some important details. First of all, the
authors doubtless took into consideration the errors of "Zhurnal gomeopaticheskogo
lecheniia" which had been published in 1861—64 and addressed exclusively to
I remind that it was Vasily Deriker who had edited the journal and three years later wrote the
brochure now being analyzed, in co-authorship with Nicholas Grech. This time the authors turned to
the laymen responsible for providing medical support. The authors did not try to develop serious
scientific discussions on the matter of the advantages and shortcomings of allopathy and
homeopathy. Instead, they pointed out that the zemstvos were allowed, according to the spirit of
"Polozhenie", to adopt both systems and decide on their comparative results "from
facts and time".
Furthermore, Vasily Deriker and Nicholas Grech foresaw that homeopaths would need to pay
attention to feldshers. This fact is to be particularly stressed. I suppose that they were the
first propagandizers of homeopathy in Russia who suggested that feldshers have to play an important
role in the spreading of homeopathy. In the opinion of Deriker and Grech, feldshers should be
instructed by homeopathic doctors in order to be involved in homeopathic activity in the zemstvos.
Only much later in the 1900s, as I mentioned above, when the illusions regarding the possibility of
a massive conversion of physicians to homeopathy had been dropped completely, the problem of
teaching homeopathy to feldshers was finally considered. Thus, the brochure of Deriker and Grech
was some 45 years ahead the next serious discussion on this matter.
In a quite different spirit was written the next book I would like to refer to, "Medicine
and Medical Staff. About the Necessity of Changing the Accepted System of Education and Training of
Physicians" written by Dr. Evgraph Diukov (1904). Whilst Deriker and Grech could only guess
regarding the further development of zemstvo medicine, Diukov was able in the second edition of the
book to draw conclusions from a more than 45 year long experience of the zemstvo medical system. It
is also noteworthy for my research that Diukov wrote his book after the main society of Russian
physicians, i.e., the Pirogov society, had on its 9th Meeting established a particularly
negative attitude toward homeopathy and those practising it81. Diukov also used in his book the
most recent proceedings of zemstvo meetings and decisions of physicians' societies. All this
allows me to see his work as comparable in importance to the pamphlet written by Deriker and
Habent sua fata libelli. The second edition of "Meditsina i mediki" represents
the fruit of Diukov's labors since 1904 until 1911. The book was first published in 1904, just
after the 9th Meeting of the Pirogov Society of Russian physicians in January 1904; when the latter
declared homeopathy to be "a kind of wizardry". Diukov's writings had been published
previously in the form of separate articles in the journal "Mirny trud" in 190482, and later in that
year was issued as a book. In 1909—1910, significantly enlarged, the essays were published in
the "Vestnik gomeopaticheskoi meditsiny" issued by Diukov himself. In 1911, second
edition was published, considerably revised and enlarged. Also in 1911, Dr. Nicholas Bojanus, the
Chairman of the Moscow Society of the Followers of Homeopathy and a son of Dr. Carl Bojanus,
translated the book into German. A translation had also been published in "Leipziger
Popularische Zeitschrift für Homöopathie" and during the same year it was issued in
Germany as a brochure83. I intend to focus on the second edition of 1911. In my opinion, this
edition is doubtless preferable to the first one of 1904, as the latter reflects emotionality and
haste. Moreover, the edition of 1911 is closer to the temporal borderline of my investigation
(1914) and, in fact, may be seen as the last serious zemstvo-directed written answer to allopathic
physicians and their supporters during the period under study.
In his book Diukov records in detail many aspects of the competition between allopathy and
homeopathy, including university based medical allopathic education, and the general development of
world medicine since the second half of the 19th century. My discussion will concentrate
only on those parts of Diukov's book relevant to the propaganda of homeopathy as a vehicle that
enabled the improvement of the zemstvo system of public health. I have to mention the brilliant
style in which Diukov's book is written. Diukov's Russian is just blameless. The
author's wittiness animates an inevitably boring discussion on purely scientific matters and
allows the reader to follow the author's main theme with unremitting attention.
Before Diukov starts his narrative of the advantages of homeopathy, he acknowledges "no one
like the Zemstvo spends so much money in order to have good medicine"84. In Diukov's opinion,
however, this system proves to be completely unsatisfactory, not because of insufficient medical
staff or financing, but because of deeply rooted specific shortages of the allopathic approach as a
[...] When zemstvo physicians are asked for the reasons of their ineffectiveness,
they usually reply that it is caused by the inadequate organization of zemstvo medicine. If instead
of the circuit [raz'ezdnaia] system, it would introduce the 'stationary' one; if
the malicious 'feldsherizm' would be rejected and 'scientific' physicians
would be invited; if more medical stations would be established [...] then all things would go on
well and successfully. But after all these demands had been satisfied, [...] and after a lot of
money for the new stations was assigned, the situation remained unchanged. Then they [zemstvo
physicians] say that the treatment of the sick in the zemstvo is 'useless squandering of
medicines on the roads' and 'aimless stuffing with the Latin kitchen […]'; [they say]
that all the sense of zemstvo medicine is in prevention, not in therapy; the population should be
made more healthy not through the pharmacy, but by hygiene. To complete the mission, also a
sanitary-statistical 'bureau' ought to be introduced. Such a bureau would research the
reasons for diseases and arrange sanitary instructions for the population [...]. Also 'councils
of physicians' should be installed at the side of the 'incompetent' zemstvo
authorities, to guide and maintain medical affairs. After all these proposals also proved to be
useless, [zemstvo physicians] argued that people become ill and die because of being rude,
uncultured and uneducated [...] and zemstvo medicine is not able to successfully treat the diseases
of a population as long as its 'wild' culture remains unchanged [...]85.
While presenting and reviewing in a humorous spirit the different proposals of zemstvo
physicians aimed at the improvement of zemstvo medicine, Diukov, like Socrates in his philosophic
debates, continues his development of the main line ad absurdum and arrives at the point he
had planned from the beginning:
The Zemstvo invites physicians in order to treat the sick people, but physicians
reply that they will teach and enlighten the people with medicine and natural sciences. The Zemstvo
thinks that the role of physicians and medicine is to help and treat, while physicians say that for
a 'scientific' physician this affair makes no sense [...]. Again: if zemstvo physicians,
according to their own words, do not treat, but just stuff with medicines without any results, what
does it matter that the population prove to be 'dark', 'uncultured',
'rude'? Why [...] is it necessary to invite expensive physicians, when even feldshers would
be sufficient? [...] Finally, if zemstvo medicine is useless [...] without culture and general
education, then by what kind of logic does it require an increase of expenditures up to 30-40% of
the budget [...] for medicine, while for culture, the main purpose, in the opinion of physicians
[...] only 3-4% are budgeted?!
All these absurdities [...] prove that medical affairs are confused; a basic
misunderstanding brings physicians to the extremely awkward situation of their denying their main
calling: to treat diseased people. And, consequently, they deny themselves86.
The approach of Diukov is doubtless clever and appropriate for the Russian reader. Diukov begins
his books with talking of zemstvo medicine, i.e., a topic well-known to everyone, a relatively
simple and understandable matter. Gradually he attracts the attention of the reader to his
demonstration of the advantages of homeopathy. Then the author gives a detailed explanation why
homeopathy is preferable to allopathy, referring to the history of medicine, quoting expressions of
great Russian physicians like Nicholas Pirogov and Sergey Botkin87 on the weakness of orthodox medicine,
etc. While achieving his chief goal of convincing the reader of the superiority of homeopathy, at
the end of his book Diukov returns to the zemstvos again.
They [the physicians] should think exclusively about one matter: about a better
use and a justification of the giant expenditures already incurred by the medical organizations.
[...] Those physicians who find it useless to treat people and have no intention to deal with
therapy in the zemstvos, should leave the zemstvos and forego [...] receiving money from the
people. [On the contrary] those physicians who admit that in their usual therapeutic practice [...]
they cannot but feel that they are 'stuffing drugs in vain', should, for the people's
sake, turn to that medicine which is useful and helpful, i.e., homeopathy88.
Diukov repeatedly devotes attention to the problem of "feldsherism":
It has already become a well-known fact that the problem of feldshers in the
zemstvos is the source of constant and bitter conflicts between physicians and the zemstvo
population. [...] The Zemstvo, naturally, does not dare to object to 'science' [...] but it
does protect its feldshers by pointing out the lack of zemstvo financial resources [...] which does
not allow replacing inexpensive feldshers with expensive physicians. Moreover, [as] the zemstvos
say, to exile feldshers without being able to replace them with physicians is [...] to leave the
population without any medical support at all89.
After repeating some well-known things (feldshers are closer to the people because of their
origins, no physician could practically manage his medical duties without feldshers, etc.) Diukov
turns to the main point:
Why are feldshers who treat, considered so malicious? Zemstvo physicians say:
because feldshers are medical ignoramus, poorly educated and uncultured, etc. [...]. This is a
wrong view. If feldshers are indeed malicious [...] this is exclusively because the medicines used
by both feldshers and the physicians who teach at the feldsher schools [...], are
'malicious'. Feldshers bring to the people what they have been taught by physicians. Just
provide feldshers with more reliable and less malicious drugs, and the notorious maliciousness of
feldshers would disappear immediately. Thus, all feldshers [...] would be converted into useful and
absolutely safe members of the zemstvo medical organization. In short [...] the feldshers have no
prescriptions being able to help without causing harm. The allopathic system has no such harmless
means and cannot provide them. It is only homeopathy which can provide feldshers with them.
Therefore, zemstvo physicians will never solve the problem of the 'maliciousness' of
feldshers from the point of view of considering the 'people's benefit'90.
Diukov finally stresses in his book, the following points about zemstvo medicine:
1. The current zemstvo medicinal apparatus is confusing in its approaches to treatment. Zemstvo
physicians actually do not believe in the effectiveness of their medicines; instead of treatment
they propose "sanitary direction" and "enlightenment" of the people.
2. As zemstvo physicians do not desire to deal with treatment, which is the physicians'
primary duty, there is no justification for the enormous expenditures for medicine in zemstvo
3. The root of all the evil is in allopathy, or, speaking more specifically, in using dangerous
allopathic drugs. When allopathic drugs will be replaced with homeopathic ones and the latter be
provided for the disposal by feldshers and intelligent laypeople, the Zemstvo could both save money
and improve the system of rendering medical help.
Discussing the Diukov's proposals, I have to note that some of them contained a rational
seed. The main shortcomings of zemstvo medicine since the beginning of the 20th century
were less connected with the situation of allopathic medicine, but in first with the bad health
conditions in the villages and with the lack in many localities of medical staff. The need to
attract the educated non-medically qualified people, like priests, teachers and landlords to offer
medical support till the physician comes, was evident. Even considering homeopathy to be pretty
often useless, one may suppose that sometimes it can heal. Therefore, homeopathy might have been
seen as a welcome addition to allopathy, at least in the cases when there is no possibility to get
the doctor's help at hand.
Like his predecessors, Diukov did not even hint to how the proposed changes would be performed.
For example, who would teach feldshers and laypeople homeopathy? How would homeopathic physicians,
meant to replace their allopathic counterparts, be obtained? In fact, such a style of propaganda
was characteristic for Russian homeopaths and their supporters. They proclaimed proposals, ideas
etc., without saying in what way they may be achieved. Russian homeopaths and their lay supporters
failed to create a system of homeopathic education. In fact, they had nothing definite to propose
to the zemstvos, they rather offered pure ideas without any practical basis. Nevertheless, some
zemstvos considered those proposals seriously and turned to the metropolitan homeopaths for
support. This topic will be analyzed later.
Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001