A Homeopathic Love Story: The Story of Samuel and Melanie Hahnemann by Rima Handley
This is an amazing love story between a 79 year old man (Samuel Hahnemann) and a 35 year old woman (a French artist, intellectual, feminist). Fascinating and well-documented, with some powerful chapters on how Hahnemann actually practiced.
This book review is reprinted with the permission of the International Foundation for Homeopathy
A Homeopathic Love Story:The Story of Samuel and Melanie Hahnemann
by Rima Handley, FSHom
North Atlantic Books, 1990 Berkeley, California
Reviewed by Francis Treuherz
Reprinted with permission from The Homoeopath.
The author, Rima Handley, FSHom, is the Dean of the Northern College of Homeopathic Medicine, with a practice in Newcastle upon Tyne. Rima has also authored “In Search of the Later Hahnemann” explore the casebooks of Samual Hahnemann.
This story is so well known, and yet no one has ever told it before. There have been many biographies of Samuel Hahnemann, by Bradford, Haehl, Hobhouse, Fritsche, Gumpert, Cook, and more. Yet none of them have told us about Melanie, and her life, not only with Samuel, but before they met and after his death. None have told us of Hahnemann’s work in such detail, about the potencies he used and the patients he saw. None have set their lives and work in a historical and cultural context which is so brilliantly done here. And none have been critical; the earlier biographers have always adopted a stance of hagiography, their subject remained on a pedestal and their real life was not portrayed. Rima tells it all and tells it with scholarship.
For new readers the story starts here: in the middle of the 19th century a 35-year-old woman artist from Paris disguises herself as a man to travel across Europe and to find a homeopathic physician, Samuel Hahnemann, a widower in his seventies and almost a recluse. She becomes his patient, his student, and subsequently his wife. They travel to Paris and … you must read the book!
The book begins with their meeting, and then recapitulates in two chapters about the childhood and early life of Melanie, and two more about the earlier life and work of Samuel. Two more chapters tell of their arrival and early years in Paris. Most interesting for us are the chapters on their methods of practice and the diseases encountered and treatments offered. The tale of Samuel’s death and the reactions to it are followed by four chapters on the work and trial of Melanie, and the stories of the many visitors from America and elsewhere who came to meet Melanie and to try to obtain the manuscripts of the last Organon. Rima tells this in detail, and most important it is, being at the heart of the intellectual controversies which still beset homeopathy. Throughout these chapters we learn of Melanie’s loves and romances, and her family life, with her adopted daughter, and her relationship with the Boenninghausen family.
Rima tells the story of how Melanie became the first woman to practice medicine openly in Paris, albeit after a legal struggle. In other words, the first woman to practice medicine in the western world was a homeopath “at a time when no woman in Europe had yet succeeded in working as a doctor of any kind.” Rima tells how Hahnemann broke all the rules which we have learned to take for granted, and which we sometimes break ourselves. He was intent on refining and developing his ideas and his mind and work remained inventive and experimental until the end. Rima tells of his patients and their lives, the fashionable and titled and well-travelled people, and their servants also. We learn how homeopathy was practiced with all classes of people and we learn about the obstacles to cure. We learn about some of the visitors from England and elsewhere who came to see, to mock, to learn, or to seek a cure.
The book is handsomely produced, although in paperback, with generous margin and typeface, adding to its eminent read ability. I have already given it as a gift to my wife, my elderly homeopathic parents, and my allopathic Greek uncle, with favorable feedback. Read it, and give it to your loved ones for presents this winter. Despite the existential tragedy of life, that Hahnemann did not find this true love until so late in life, and that Melanie spent so many years as a widow, they were together for nine wonderful years, portrayed in this book in a way which gives hope and optimism to us all.
RESONANCE JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1991