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By Carroll Dunham, M. D., New York.

Dr. Hering has very happily explained that Hahnemann called his Materia Medica “pure,” not as claiming that it is “spotless” or faultless, but that it is “free from fiction,” from preconceived theory, from hypothetical notions; that it embodies the result of the pure observation of phenomena produced by drugs upon the healthy organism.

Such is our Materia Medica - a record of actual occurrences, of events that really took place, of results that were unquestionably produced upon the healthy subject. It can never grow obsolete. Theories may be originated, may flourish and grow antiquated, and at last fade into oblivion. The hypotheses that constitute the science of Pathology, after passing current for a generation or two, are sure to be repudiated in favor of some newer issue, and the very terms in which they are expressed may become unintelligible as time goes on. But the facts of our Materia Medica, expressed in the ever comprehensible vernacular language, are always fresh. Being the results of pure observation and therefore absolutely true, no modifications in philosophy, no changes of theory can supersede them. Our Materia Medica is an ever-enduring work.

It is of the utmost importance that it should always retain this quality of “purity,” this freedom from fiction and from hypothesis. Very justly, therefore, do the leaders of our school denounce and discourage all attempts to incorporate into the Materia Medica, speculations upon the modus operandi of remedies, and inferences concerning the diseases which they may be likely to cure.

But we, whose business it is to encounter disease, the foe we are to grapple and to overcome, receive in our hand this weapon, the pure Materia Medica. And before we sally forth to encounter the Philistine, we need to “prove” our weapon, to test its strength, to feel its sharpness and to form an estimate of the feats we may reasonably hope to be able to accomplish with it, to what tasks it will probably be equal, and for what others we shall need to look elsewhere for an implement. Now, as regards the result of the use of a weapon, much depends upon its shape, texture and temper. But much likewise depends on the strength and dexterity of him who uses it. The same sword that would serve only to trip up an awkward wearer may execute wonders of prowess in the hand of a master.

And thus it is with the records that make up our Materia Medica. The facts are the same to the eye of every reader. But where one mind may see only confusion and a maze of unconnected words, another may discern order and light and the outline of a definite and consecutive chain of pathological processes, and, consequently, a clear indication for the use of the drugs in the treatment of the sick.

For, while the Materia Medica, in the books, is a simple record of observed facts - in the mind of the practitioner it becomes the subject of reflection, of comparison and of hypothetical reasoning, which will be more or less just and valuable according to the measure of the practitioner's natural ability and to his intellectual culture. For, as has been already said, “The significance of a fact is measured by the capacity of the observer.”

It follows, from this, that each practitioner sees, in every drug of the Materia Medica, some properties and capabilities different in degree, and perhaps even in kind from those which his neighbors see in it, inasmuch as his natural endowments and his acquirements differ from theirs.

The experience of all of us corroborates this statement. Where one practitioner perceives in the proving of Nux vomica an indication for its use in constipation alone, others see equally strong reasons for giving it in diarrhea, in prolapsus uteri, and in hernia; while only a few, perhaps, would find in the proving, grounds for believing Nux vom. to be, as it is, one of our very best remedies in strumous ophthalmia!

Many practitioners infer from the provings that Lycopodium is likely to be a good remedy for some forms of chronic constipation and of disease of the bladder and kidney. Not so many, perhaps, would discern its value, as Dr. Wilson did in acute pneumonia, or, as others have done, in that painful form of acute duodenitis which is often loosely called “bilious colic.” Colocynth is universally recognized as a remedy for flatulent colic, for one form of dysentery and for a variety of neuralgia. But how many practitioners have seen in the proving good reason for using Colocynth to cure a chronic ovarian tumor? It has cured one.

It were needless to multiply instances of this kind. Those already cited show that, while all practitioners read the same proving, they perceive each a somewhat peculiar significance in what they read. By interchange of ideas on these subjects, physicians may be mutually benefited and their capacities for usefulness greatly enlarged. It would appear then that, while the text of our Materia Medica should be sedulously kept “pure,” as we have defined its purity, we may, with profit, interchange our deductions from what we read therein and our views of its practical application.

And there would seem to be not only room, but a legitimate demand, for essays, or still better, for systematic works on the drugs, studied from a therapeutical and clinical point of view, as a sort of complement to our Materia Medica Para, which very properly regards the remedies strictly from a pathogenetic stand point. Such works would necessarily be of a transient nature and have only an ephemeral value, since they would group symptoms and would necessarily interpret them in accordance with the physiological and pathological notions of the day. But they might be of none the less service to the physician of the generation in which they appear, since it is by the light of such notions, transitory as they are, that he gropes his way among the difficulties and obstacles of his professional path.

Considerations of this kind have emboldened us to lay before our colleagues, hitherto always kindly indulgent of such efforts, a series of studies and reflections upon portions of the Materia Medica. They are avowedly fragmentary, and are devoid of all claim to other authority than such as may come from their intrinsic reasonableness.

In the form of these Observations, we propose to follow, in a general way, the Schema published in Vol. III, pp. 305-313 of this Review, although in the remarks on Aconite we prefer to change the order there given, making the Special Analysis precede instead of following the General Analysis.


Source: The American Homoeopathic Review Vol. 06 No. 01, 1865, pages 25-28
Description: Observations on Materia Medica.
Author: Dunham, C.
Year: 1865
Editing: errors only; interlinks; formatting
Attribution: Legatum Homeopathicum
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