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[“Advice to Beginners, Etc.;” a lecture delivered at the Homoeopathic College of Pennsylvania, October, 1864.]

By Constantine Hering M.D., Philadelphia, PA.

So you would begin in earnest to study the Materia Medica, if you had a “purified” one. You have heard so many say they had found a hair in the soup served up by Hahnemann, that you have lost your appetites! If you intend to wait for Hahnemann's purification, you may have to wait a long while; may the Lord comfort your patients! But to him among you who really means to come and work hard, I will give some good advice that will give him a real appetite, especially if he possesses a sound intellectual stomach. But, first of all, this so-called “purification” must be done away with.

When purification is spoken of, regarding a Materia Medica expressly called “pura” by Hahnemann himself, the beginning of false judgment and the impulse leading to a permanent confusion of ideas is already given.

If it is intended to refute Hahnemann, as his opponents have already done, then it is another matter; their first object being to distort and twist the meaning of words. If it is intended, as all the purifiers have really done, to imitate their opponents in everything, then indeed it may serve its purpose. But all this must be dropped, if we really intend to further the healing art; and in this case we must not use the word “purification” in an entirely different sense from that in which Hahnemann used the word “pure.” What Hahnemann meant by “pure” and why he used this expression has been clearly defined by his own words, and has been sufficiently discussed; it certainly is not synonymous with “spotless.” In his Fragmenta he speaks of “viribus positivis, absolutis;” more pertinently and correctly he afterwards called his Materia Medica “pure,” in order to indicate its freedom from fiction, experimental cures, preconceived opinions and abstract ideas. Such impurities are not found in the least degree in the whole eleven volumes.

That much found its way in, which had better come out again, shall not be denied. If this is to be eliminated, it should be called revision. But what do the purifiers propose to reject?

1st. Many, perhaps most, of the quotations from ancient authors.

So they have ascended and descended with praiseworthy assiduity the library ladders; have opened old dusty quartos and folios, and shut them again and were happy when they found evidence against Hahnemann. But what is all this for? Strike out, if you will, quotations and all from the Materia Medica, and then see what becomes of the remedy. Each one remains exactly as it was, not a single one among them is in the least changed in its characteristic peculiarities. But if nothing is to be gained, why this scrubbing and scouring of brass buttons? The object is, after all, to vanquish the foe, but that can be done with unscoured buttons as well.

2nd. They intend to root out the symptoms belonging to the individual who proved the remedy, and imagine that the quantity of symptoms recurring among many remedies proved by one individual, belonged to him and not to the remedy. The non-recurring symptoms, on the other hand, are regarded as peculiar to the remedy, and not to the prover. Singular! Since we have of one prover but a few provings, of a second a few more, of a third more still, how many provings are requisite in order to be justified in striking out? What could be done with such provings, where the same prover could only prove a few remedies? They would have to be laid aside entirely. Suppose, e. g., we had six or seven provings of one prover, and then erased all repeated by recurring symptoms, say one-half; but then, suppose our prover to furnish six or seven provings of other remedies, in that case a mass of symptoms would again present themselves to be erased from the remedy already half demolished. But that were an endless striking out. Whoever wishes to try it, may begin with the provings in the Oesterreichische Zeitschrift, and then see what he has gained. Among Hahnemann's disciples and provers, single symptoms, obtained from male and female friends, were unconditionally added to the report. You are not certain, in a single case, that the prover observed all the symptoms upon himself. Of Hahnemann's own, it is positively known that he observed and collected them without distinction of person, upon many different people. Only in regard to the Austrian provings we are certain; let those who will, begin with the latter their process of assorting and erasing individual symptoms! It will then be found that the symptoms of the same prover of different remedies will indeed coincide much less with one another, than is the case with Hahnemann's provers, and that undoubtedly is progress and a preference; but, alas! another difficulty soon arises. How great must the similarity of symptoms be, how close the coincidences of expression, and how far must either the same or different organs be affected? Compare, for example, the similarity of Aconite and Bryonia, and the related remedies Bryonia and Colocynth. Where, in this case, is the boundary of that which is to be eliminated? The entire individual-symptom-purification depends on this boundary, which cannot be drawn by arbitrary power like that of the Erlking.

3rd. All the “impure” symptoms of “patients” belong to what should be eliminated. But there a boundary line would have to be drawn through a mass of humanity so dense that even the Erlking's might would be powerless. In a large city of a given number of inhabitants, we have, next to a certain number of daily deaths, a ten or hundred-fold greater number of patients lying in bed; a very rapidly increasing ratio of less and less sick patients, and an exceedingly great number of those who are still able to attend to their business; and lastly the greatest number of those who are neither sick nor well. Then the proportion of those less sick rapidly decreases; but entirely, ideally well, without any complaint at all, even without dormant dyscrasia and unpoisoned, either by Rhubarb or kine pox, we shall see but few, and soon none at all. For the sake of illustration, if this were to be represented by a curve, this mass of humanity arranged according to its degrees of health, would assume the form of a black radish, held by its green tuft, not upwards but downwards, (representing mortality, resurrection etc.,) while its root and few radicles pointing upward, would represent the “pictures of health.” If you cut a whole radish transversely across its thickest part, it will be apparent that the upper half at first appearing as the largest, is the smallest when separated. Thus it is with the well and the sick.

The question then is, how far shall the caudal extremity of the radish be bobtailed, since that is to be thrown away when the radish is eaten? In the purification of the Materia Medica, on the contrary, it is considered as alone worth keeping, and as health-bringing.

4th. But the fourth and most prolific activity is manifested in the endeavors to arouse suspicion, and in calumny of individuals: the casting out of the black sheep. Here one is said to have approached the mirror too often to examine his pupils, without sufficient knowledge of all the optical and physical improvements made tens of years afterwards. Then, another is accused of having used the milliners employed by his wife, for the purpose of manufacturing symptoms; and, just as the peasant women of Tiefenfort decorated themselves with the ribbons and caps obtained from the factory of the mistress, in like manner did Hartlaub and Trinks' pure Materia Medica 1 - 3, and, later, Hartlaub and Trinks' Annals, parade the provings derived from the symptom-factory of the husband. And as the ribbons and caps of those peasants, in the region of Tiefenfort in Bohemia, have become old-fashioned, in like manner have the productions of the symptom-factory of that well-meaning but logically inexperienced Surgeon Cajetan Nenning gone out of fashion and belong in the lumber room along with the bivalvular hoop-skirts of ancient spinsters.

Twenty years ago (not now) another class of doomed provers were subjected to the ordeal of bottle-flies and other insects, and were called bashful, sensitive, timid, more timid, most timid, white-livered sensationalists. In Paris, on the other hand, the work was done more boldly, by placing the necks of such people under the guillotine, and the word was “heads off!” What an enormous lot of symptoms must have tumbled into the pit along with the corpses! The pure Materia Medica stood like a man of snow in the March sun, melting away, leaving only the dismal eyes of charcoal and the pipe stem. That is called the foundation of a life saving healing art. Such, it is thought, are the four hinges of the gates that close or open our domains.

But, say the undaunted, if this is not to be called “purification,” then call it revision, necessary by all means! And in case of insurmountable difficulties, arising out of disagreement regarding the capacity of implements to be employed in the sifting process, one point would stand above all doubt; a security must be demanded, and this, Hufeland would have said, should be demanded in tones of thunder.

This, as a matter of course, is willingly admitted at the outset. Among remedies there is a great difference regarding their value; this applies with equal force to the provers, as well as to individual symptoms of each remedy. On this point, then, we are a unit; why then do our paths diverge henceforth? Indeed, they do not even diverge, but we proceed in directions so entirely opposite that we strike our heads together. It is no ordinary misunderstanding, common among men, leading to this or that side from the right path, but an essentially opposite fundamental idea, not simply leading astray, but in consequence of which “minds burst upon each other.” Why must we cut loose from each other, as the school of Hahnemann in its totality does from that of its opponents, who hate and despise us? Why must we witness a repetition of the same hatred and scorn? Do we not wish to cure all our patients? Do we not strive to render the task easier, and to acquire quick, precise decision regarding the one right remedy, in every case? Who would always flounder like the camels in the desert of symptoms, or seek the mountain paths among brambles and rocks, like goats.

The great chief difference is this: we followed the counsels of Hahnemann, and when we found it difficult to cure or failed altogether, we thought the fault lay in ourselves. But the opponents of Hahnemann, within his school, blamed the Materia Medica instead of themselves. While we at length achieved artistic facility by dint of perseverance, thereby augmenting our respect towards Hahnemann's Materia Medica, the opponents in our own camp made the Materia Medica the great scapegoat of their want of success, vieing with each other in expositions, kickings and bickerings without end. Who could expect them to approach such a mass of symptoms, replete with uncertainties, much more to enter these newly opened halls of books with reverence, to inspect and search again and again in each new case of disease, baffling all curative efforts. That was the manner in which we mastered the old remedies, as well as the new.

Berberis is a good illustration; when the proving of this remedy reached Allentown, it created surprise on account of its numerous symptoms, comprising one thousand two hundred and twelve in all. The students thought they could more easily eat their way through the mountain of pudding, like the mouse in the fable, than conquer this remedy. The translation of Jahr's Manual was then in progress. The tedious work was accomplished, and an extract made; one thousand two hundred and twelve symptoms were reduced to two hundred and ninety-six, the juicy grapes became dried and shriveled raisins, pressed singly or in bundles into various compartments. The seeds, nevertheless, yielded the following prolific vines upon this soil.

Dr. Jeanes cured by Berberis a fistula of the rectum, with short cough and other chest symptoms. This curious complication of fistula ani with consumption, was discussed among us in 1834, and corroboroted by many analogous cases. With the appearance of fistula ani, the chest symptoms sometimes disappear; but after the so-called operation for fistula, the patients often die with irremediable consumption. The alkaline Phosphate of Lime which we proved at that time, but which is not yet printed, produced symptoms corresponding to both the above named conditions. Our knowledge of these facts led to the frequent exhibition of the remedy with great success.

Dr. Jeanes reported the case of a fistula recti of three month's standing, combined with frequent, troublesome short cough, sallow color of face, etc. After Berberis18, the cough ceased within forty-eight hours, and the fistula improved for a few weeks. Then the patient had an attack of bilious colic, to which he had been much subject three years ago, and which was relieved by Colocynth. Then the fistula continued to improve, and healed completely, after the eruption of boils, which took place after several weeks.

Dr. Jeanes ascertained that another patient, frequently suffering with so-called bilious colic followed by jaundice, was permanently cured by drinking an infusion prepared from the bark of the root of Berberis.

Dr. Lingen cured a painful diarrhea preceded by rumbling, with burning sensation and pain on the left side in the descending colon. The burning extended down through the anus, but did not come at night. In another case, old yellow blotches about the navel had vanished, with desquamation, after Berberis. Dr. Lingen pointed out how frequently the symptoms of Berberis corresponded to chronic gonorrhoea.

Dr. Kitchen used it successfully in affections of the kidneys, marked by continuous straining to urinate, and pain in the neck of the bladder, particularly burning; and passing but little urine. Subsequently it was also used in a case where the burning was felt at the extremity of the glans penis, but within the urethra particularly.

Dr. Neidhard used it in many affections of the kidneys, marked particularly by burning and soreness in the region of the kidneys. Also particularly when kidney disease is followed by sour or bitter taste in the mouth with congestion of the neck, together with good appetite, bolting of food and reddish sediment in the urine. He reports another very important case, in which he was governed entirely by the symptoms. A patient who had been operated upon for strabismus suffered from violent stinging pains, at first going from the knee toward the eyes, then passing through the eye inwardly, or from the temple toward the eye, sometimes flying toward the arm; Berberis brought relief, and a farther application of this experience may be expected.

Dr. Lippe used it in very many cases of renal and vesical affections and passage of small calculi, whenever the urinary symptoms of Berberis were accompanied by the pain in the hips which characterizes this remedy. He cured by means of Berberis a severe stinging behind the right ear appearing in paroxysms, with aggravation every evening. It was also used in several cases of stiffness in, the neck, (throat?) sometimes one-sided, also with internal puffiness, similar to Pulsatilla.

Dr. Pehrson used it when indicated by a feeling of a lump in the throat, with very violent pains before and during stool, resembling constriction, “feces could not pass through,” also heat of the body in the afternoon.

Dr. Williamson cured with Berberis a case of violent burning and stinging in the urethra of a woman aged fifty, since the cessation of menses.

N. N. used it in a case of chronic ovarian disease, in four doses of the 6th in absence of voluptuousness during coition.

Dr. Ingals wrote that Berberis had decidedly improved the following case: A man aged 70 or 80, suffered from a cord-like induration along the dorsum of the penis, reaching to the end of the corpora cavernosa, causing a considerable curve of the glans upwards during erection, the symptom of Berberis being “the penis harder and retracted.”

This list of cases might easily be prolonged, particularly if the accumulation of reports and memoranda, collected around the mines of our experience should be sifted.

Nothing was experienced in Germany in the first decennium after the appearance of this proving, notwithstanding the inviting report of Widemann, (Hygea iv, p. 97, 1836,) who, notwithstanding his neat cure, thinks it his duty and according to fashion, to complain of the one thousand two hundred and twelve symptoms, as well as to protest against drawing hasty conclusions regarding the case reported by him.

So little did Widemann comprehend Hahnemann's Materia Medica, that he thought it fit to remark, p. 99, “no great inventive faculty is requisite, in order to hunt up several appropriate symptoms corresponding to many and various diseases, among those (one thousand two hundred and twelve!) enumerated by Hesse!” What dreadful conceit! What an entire want of clear conception of given facts, furnished on the one hand by the case itself, and by the symptoms of the remedy on the other! What has “inventive faculty” to do with such a case? There is nothing at all to be invented, and why this contempt of one of the most significant intellectual functions of the human mind, serving the high purpose of curing disease?

Nothing but the absurd fashion of those days has called forth the above remarks. The onions of doubt were cut up, till the pungent vapor obscured clear vision and distorted the objects standing clearly in view. Almost all symptoms presented by Widemann's patient were to be found among those of Berberis, and the most important, decisive symptoms of the case were at the same time prominent and peculiar indications of the remedy. No other remedy of the Materia Medica presented an equal similarity, and more than this, the remedy administered in 3/6 produced new symptoms which likewise corresponded to symptoms found among the one thousand two hundred and twelve! These, too, were plainly specific. The patient, whose case had dragged along several years, has been well for four weeks, “having danced at a party.” But lo! The doctor shrugs his scientific shoulders, because “we cannot know what might follow.” Suppose now, the entire case of the woman had reappeared, and the same remedy, instead of being given in higher and higher dynamizations “must,” from prejudice, be given stronger and stronger without benefit etc., what conclusions could have been drawn? None, except that the industriously collected facts of Hesse were, singly and collectively, corroborated. Could Hesse have survived the success obtained by homoeopathic physicians, returning to the alone-curing method of Hahnemann, he would have experienced the pleasure of seeing the inexhaustible fountain of his excellent production giving relief for all generations to come. Rosenberg's case of coryza (Oehme 166) is sufficiently important to lead to further results. Also Buchner's case of Berberia (A. H. Z. 47,176.) is useful in confirming many facts. But the best of all these cures is that of Veit. Meyer, in the A. H. Z. 53. 176. Oehme 5. 270. More are ardently hoped for.

If all these cured symptoms were underscored in the proving of Hesse, they would at once bear a defined and determined aspect, like a painting which cannot deceive.

Why should we be detained and bothered by erasing? What would it avail to scrape and erase the strong dark lines of a line engraving, representing a human figure? Look at the face and take it as it is.

“But not a single scraper or eraser or broom-maker has assailed Berberis.” For this very reason this remedy furnishes the best example; its numerous symptoms having been lamented. But this was the first thing to be done away with; this fear of insurmountable numbers is a miserable delusion. On the contrary, the more symptoms a remedy has, even were they a hundred thousand strong, the more surely and distinctly - for it cannot well be more easily in matters of such importance - the experienced reader will discover at first sight, the character of the whole. Would it not appear singular if a well schooled violinist should be afraid of the number of notes in a symphony of Beethoven? Why should a physician shrink from such labor?

Supposing Berberis were “pure,” and the rest really impure, which, however, cannot be admitted, could we not, in a similar manner form a correct idea concerning them? Would not this process lead to certainty in the course of years?

Suppose now the attempt were successfully made, and prior to all other experiments patients were cured; whereupon all the cured cases were remembered or noted with red ink in the registers of symptoms; then suppose, we were thereby enabled to achieve more cures, placing them among the “conglomerations of symptoms,” would not that gradually define the character of the one dim picture in strong relief?

But one condition still exists, no matter whether great or small; we must have cures, and consequently achieve cures, even at the risk of blundering a little. Our own cures should be numerous, and the more of them we have, the better; else the reports of others would not be credited. For a “man of education” (so-called) never believes what he cannot understand, particularly not the physician if he has a “medical education.” That has been proved by the Petersburg folios, wherein all homoeopathic cures were crushed to pulp. The same was done by the little imitations of those great folios, on the part of “scientific” Homoeopathists versus the Hahnemannians in general. Only our own cures enable us to judge the cures of others.

But how stands the case if these cures should fail occasionally, or even in most instances, what then? We could not be expected to accept in good faith the cures of others, particularly of suspicious “fanatics” or “one-sided amateurs!” But the fault, of some kind, must be somewhere, if the expected cures are not forthcoming.

As a matter of course, the question pertains only to curable cases; for everything declared as incurable hitherto by “scientific” physicians must necessarily remain so. But supposing the cases were curable, even easily curable, and all other conditions were fulfilled, - but notwithstanding all this the patients did not get so rapidly well, or not at all, as we are told to believe - an important alternative remains — either we are to blame, or something else is.

If we mortals are unsuccessful, or have met with adversity, we are always ready to place the cause upon external objects. Since we are bound to consider all homoeopathic physicians, from the recruit up to the scar-covered veteran, as men subject to adversities, we have a right to assume, that in case of failure in an attempt at curing, the reason must exist somewhere among us. As natural laws must be applied analogously in all instances, our first thought would be, in case of failure that perhaps the dose was too small, or was not often enough repeated. Then supposing cures to become less and less frequent, particularly rapid cures of acute diseases, and permanent cures in chronic diseases, what then? One remedy might have been wrongly selected; but if many were selected in rapid succession, another remedy having been given every few hours or days, should not the right one have been hit upon, once, in all probability? Particularly if the person making the selection was neither an “one-sided amateur,” nor an “orthodox fanatic,” but, on the contrary, a highly educated physician, who could “exert his judgment,” “after mature and profound reflection,” “with great intellectual ability,” and who “does not lack the criteria of experience,” could, in such a case, the cause of failure be sought after outside of the Materia Medica? If “scientific” physicians could not succeed in its use, it necessarily follows that it must be condemned as “unscientific;” and since we must yet wait awhile, until essays with and without prizes have alleviated this essential deficiency, the Materia Medica should first of all be purified. Even very respectable beginners have arrived at this conclusion.

Notwithstanding the propriety of this conclusion, another question regarding the above named alternative must be permitted. How much brushing is required in order to make a coat fit? If remedies do not fit the case; purification will never make them do so.

The purpose of purification is one worthy of respect, since the remedies are thereby rendered more sure and prompt in their action, as well as more accessible. They are rendered more sure on account of the firmer foundation they have received; they are more prompt because they may be cut to suit pathological indications, and more accessible because “intellectual ability,” combined with “mature and profound reflection,” would select remedies about as follows: Aconite for phlogosis, Colocynth for hyperaesthesia of the nerves, Thuja for dermatic excrescences, etc. Everything else that might have escaped this cleansing process must henceforth be considered as thrown out.

The purpose, then is a proper one, and sanctions the means and clears our Materia Medica. Whoever thinks so may adhere to this kind of purification and strike out. But whoever wishes to make the proof of the sum, may try the following rules for purification, under-scoring instead of erasing.

The Materia Medica comprises three divisions; a, six volumes of pure Materia Medica; b, five volumes of Antipsorics; c, all the rest of scattered material; but all are accessible to everybody, and can be had, cheap as penny songs.

Since the purifiers have thrown their entire force exclusively upon division a, preferring to reject b entire, and without ceremony, and annihilating c, by severely ignoring it.

Since the first of these divisions has chiefly established the renown of Homoeopathy on the face of the earth, because it contains all those remedies principally used in acute diseases, and in daily practice, while we, with the rest of mankind, are indebted to it for a rich harvest of cases, firmly establishing our confidence in future success: therefore we gave the preference to the process of under-scoring in place of erasing.

Let each one remember that the ultimate object is critical analysis, and that consequently it is in fashion; it is criticism with red ink, only in the opposite direction, that is the whole difference, and no one should shun so slight a trouble.

In every successful cure, especially if it was accomplished by one remedy, we should review all the carefully noted (as a matter of course) symptoms of the case; then the Materia Medica is consulted again (as should have been done in selecting the remedy); search out the symptom, or symptoms, like those of the cured case, and mark them. At first a little mark will be enough; the second time it is lengthened, and at the third or even tenth, yea, the hundredth time, we may feel big, and make our mark accordingly, or even place a to point it out. Symptoms which are not found in the list are noted in the memorandum book.

This simple, straight-forward method should be adopted not only by one but by many, and continued as long as possible; for if the post hoc practice (not to say the propter hoc practice possibly proving true) should increase to such an extent, the chances would be even, and the difficulty greater.

Suppose a community of Homoeopathcians should spin these red lines into a red yarn, becoming visible in every shred of rope throughout the entire navy. Suppose, moreover, we had a complete edition of the entire Materia Medica, wherein these corroborative observations were noted, and likewise those obtained from trustworthy friends, of whom each one must have at least one or more, and then it will be something worth having. It will be gradual of course; but did not Hahnemann protract his labors over twenty years before he began to publish them? Perhaps we too may learn something in twenty years.

This then is briefly a proposition made for the purpose of securing the certainty of the Materia Medica, which process, though not a purification, or sifting, gradually tends to the same end.

But it must be presumed that no one will be vain enough to find a hair in the soup: indeed it is hot, and so is the work; but there are plenty of ways and means.

Ernest Wagner tells a story of a man who went about among people as a guest, with a sound stomach and wits, so that people liked to see him. Grace being said, he never failed to crumb bread into his soup, saying that he always did so because, firstly, it cooled the soup; secondly, it made more of it; and, thirdly, he liked it better that way. After that he would make such good use of his spoon, that it was a pleasure to see him.

Let that stand for us as an example. First of all, remember how many honorable men have sat at our board, to enjoy the meal with us after toil. Always labor first and come afterwards. Do not heed the imperfections of the repast, but take the bread of life and crumb it in - that is, cure your patients.


Source: The American Homoeopathic Review Vol. 06 No. 01, 1865, pages 07-12, pages 48-54, pages 121-124
Description: Our Materia Medica
Author: Hering, C.
Year: 1865
Editing: errors only; interlinks; formatting
Attribution: Legatum Homeopathicum
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