This book review is reprinted from the British Homoeopathic Journal Volume 80, Number 3, July 1991, with permission from Peter Fisher, Editor.
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A Homoeopathic Love Story.
The Story of Samuel and Melanie Hahnemann.
North Atlantic Books: Berkeley.
Pp. 252 with index. $12.95.
[Editor's note: As of September 1997 Minimum Price Books' price is $16.95]
Although there have been several biographies of Samuel Hahnemann, very little has been written about his second wife, Melanie. This book describes their relationship and Melanie's life after the great man's death.
The first half of the book, after describing the meeting of this unlikely pair, deals with Melanie's former life and gives a potted biography of Hahnemann. There follows an account of their life together which, despite the title, occupies only some sixty pages. The remainder is an account of Melanie's life as a widow and her extensive and apparently successful practice of homoeopathy. The research for this biography has been extensive. Of most interest to homoeopaths will be the recently discovered case books of the Hahnemanns in Paris which have allowed the author to paint a detailed picture of their life and methods of practice. It appears that the work was almost entirely done by Melanie, with Hahnemann acting in a supervisory role. In contrast to our ideas of how the Master prescribed, medicines were frequently repeated, sometimes two at a time, and included Sulphur for almost every patient. Fascinating also is the picture given of this aristocratic practice where the highest nobility had to wait for hours, sometimes outside in their carriages before they could even get inside to wait again. At the interview Hahnemann reclines in an armchair in a dressing gown approving the efforts of Melanie who sits at the desk conducting the consultation.
The last part of the book covers the period after Hahnemann's death. It is suggested that Melanie was the first woman to qualify in medicine since she was granted an American diploma in homoeopathic medicine. However, since this did not happen until some years after the closure of the college concerned, the idea is at least open to question. Certainly the French Government was unimpressed and Melanie was fined and forbidden to practise. This did not stop her but she had to shelter behind qualified doctors and pharmacists.
It is for the reviewer to criticize where necessary. My criticism is that the author is uncritical. Her views on homoeopathy are 'classical' and she therefore does not criticize Hahnemann at all. His actions are explained as those of a great experimenter. But for me the picture painted of his methods in Paris raises the question as to whether the alleged successes were entirely valid. We are told that homoeopathy was the 'in' form of medicine in a society that had already welcomed phrenology and such people as Mesmer. If virtually every patient was given Sulphur and medicines were so frequently changed, the possibility that this very old man was producing merely a placebo effect in a populace who were attending the latest fad has to be considered. Another possibility is that the Sulphur, given out of devotion to the psora theory, delayed a cure that eventually came about when the correct medicine was prescribed.
She was treated successfully with Sulphur at first and then a variety of other remedies culminating in Ignatia, given when it eventually became clear that the swelling always became worse when she was upset.
This is not the sort of case to inspire confidence.
As for Melanie, her actions are explained as the result of her love for Hahnemann. We are given a picture, for which we only have her word, of her appalling childhood where her jealous mother even attempted to kill her. It would be surprising if Melanie turned out as normal, albeit determined, as the author suggests. Being of independent means she may not have been an 'adventuress', as Hahnemann's family suspected, but she might well have been a 'man eater'. Her relationship to the men in her life was certainly strange. The funeral arrangements for Hahnemann, when he was interred with her previous 'friends', seem very odd and would justifiably have caused friction with the family. There may have been problems about the estate, but the implication that his daughters cared for nothing but money seems to have come from Melanie. Similarly we only have one side of the argument to explain her possessiveness about the Organon. It is unfortunate that while a profusion of references is given they are missing when Melanie's actions are explained. There may well be good reasons for the author's deductions but, at present, for me the case remains 'not proven'.
The title conjures up a Barbara Cartland novel but the book purports to be a serious biography. It would have been interesting to see rather more argument, but that being so, the research has been carefully done. The reader can make his own deductions. This is an important book. It will be of interest to all homoeopaths but also to anyone who enjoys biography. It gives an insight into the history of feminism in the nineteenth century and to the politics of that time. It should have wide appeal.
British Homoeopathic Journal
Volume 80, Number 3, July 1991