I have come across many precious stories from our homeopathic history which will be including them in this blog from time to time. There are many great masters of this art and science who have had the courage and tenacity of their beliefs to carry the torch for this powerful system of medicine down through the centuries.
Today I would like to introduce Dr. James Comptom Burnett (1840 – 1901). Fluent in French and German, Dr. Burnett attended medical school in Vienna (where he studied an extra two years of anatomy simply for the joy of it) and then received his M.B. from Glasgow Medical School in one year instead of the usual three years. He took a post at Barnhill Parochial Hospital and Asylum in Glasgow. He had been scornful of homoeopathy, but the death of a well loved child in his hospital caused him to revise his views.
Such a ‘conversion’ was tantamount to professional suicide since a major career in medicine would be denied to him. In Britain at this time, the professional medical association of orthodox medicine specifically prohibited their members to consult with, or even to meet socially, homeopathic practitioners. Burnett wrote “the social value for surgery is a baronetcy, the social value of a homeopath is slander and contempt.” A man of remarkably strong character, Burnett was vehement in defending and propagating homeopathy among his allopathic acquaintances. One such book: Homeopathic Treatment or Fifty Reasons for Being a Homeopath is a fascinating example.
The book consists of 50 letters written to a young, newly graduated medical student. This young man was the nephew of a Member of British parliament who was a friend of Burnett and a patron of homeopathy. The uncle wanted to convince his nephew about the virtues of the science of homeopathy and arranged a dinner for the three of them for this purpose. The young doctor was brash enough to call Burnett a quack. Burnett was stung to the quick and took upon himself to rebuttal the charge.
Here is Dr. Burnett’s first reason:
“A number of years ago, on a dull, dreary afternoon, which I had partly occupied at ‘B’ hospital with writing death certificates, I suddenly rose & felt something come over me for the fiftieth time at that period. I hardly knew what, but it grew essentially out of my unsatisfactory clinical results. I had been an enthusiastic student of medicine originally, but an arrantly sceptic professor quite knocked the bottom out of all my faith in physic, while overmuch hospital work and responsibilities, grave beyond my age and experience, had squeezed a good deal of enthusiasm out of me. After pacing up and down the surgery, I threw myself back in the chair and dreamily thought myself back to the green fields and the early bird’s-nesting and fishing days of my childhood.
Just then a corpse was carried by the surgery window and I turned to the old dispenser and enquired in a petulent tone, “Tim, who’s that dead now?” “Little Georgie, Sir.” Now little Georgie was a waif who belonged to nobody, and we had liked him and had kept him about in odd beds, as one might keep a pet animal. Everybody liked little Georgie; the most hardened old pauper would do him a good turn, and no one was ever more truly regretted than he.
It all came about in this way: One day I wanted a bed for an acute case, and I ordered little Georgie out of his bed in a warm, snug corner to another that was in front of a cold window; he went to it, caught cold, had pleurisy, and Tim’s reply gives the result. Said I to myself: If I could only have stopped the initial fever that followed the chill by the window, Georgie would have probably lived. But three medical men besides myself had treated Georgie -all in unison- and all hospital men; still pleurisy followed the febricula, dropsy followed the pleurisy, and poor little Georgie had died.
Old Tim was a hardened man and I never saw him show any feeling or sentiment of any kind, or regret anybody’s death, but I verily believe he was very near dropping just one wee tear over Georgie’s memory, for I noticed that his attention was needlessly and unwontedly fixed on the surfaces of the bottles he was washing. Be that as it may, Georgie was no more, and I FELT SURE THAT HE NEED NOT HAVE DIED, and this consciousness nearly pressed me down into the earth.
That evening a medical friend from the Royal Infirmary turned up to dinner with me, and I told him of my trouble and of my half determination to go to America and turn farmer: at least I should be able to lead a wholesome natural life. He persuaded me to study Homeopathy first, and refute it, or, if apparently true, to try it in the hospital. After many doubts and fears – very much as if I was contemplating a crime – I procured Hughe’s Pharmaco-dynamics and Therapeutics which my friend said were a good introduction to homeopathy.
I mastered their main points in a week or two, and came from a consideration of these to the conclusion that either Homeopathy was a very grand thing indeed, or this Dr Hughes must be a big…… No, the word is unparliamentary. You don’t like the word? Well I do, it expresses my meaning to a T; on such an important subject there is for me no middle way. It must be either good clear God’s truth, or black lying. A fool the man could not possibly be, since it would be quite impossible for a fool to write the books. And as he seemed to speak so eloquently from a noble soul, it lifted me right out of the slough of despond – for a little while, but then came a reaction: had I not often tried vaunted specifics and plans of treatment, and been direfully disappointed? So my old scepsis took possession of me.
“What,” said I, “Can such things be?” No, impossible. I had been nurtured in the schools, and had been taught by good men and true that Homeopathy was therapeutic Nihilism. No, I could not be a Homeopath; I would try the thing at the bedside, prove it to be a lying sham, and expose it to an admiring profession! I was full of febricula on account of Georgie’s fate, so I studied the say of the homeopaths thereon, and found that they claimed to cut short simple fever with Aconite. Ah, thought I, if that be true, Aconite would have saved little Georgie if given in time at the very onset.
Well, feverish colds and chills were common enough just then, and I had, moreover, a ward where children thus taken ill were put till their diseases had declared themselves, and then they were drafted off to the various wards, for that purpose provided, with pneumonia, pleurisy, rheumatism, gastritis, measles, as the case might be. I had some of Fleming’s Tincture of Aconite in my surgery, and of this I put a few drops into a large bottle of water and gave it to the nurse of said children’s ward, with instructions to administer of it to all the cases on the one side of the ward as soon as they were brought in.
Those on the other side were not to have the Aconitic solution, but were to be treated in the authorized orthodox way, as was theretofore customary. At my next morning visit I found nearly all the youngsters on the Aconite side feverless, and mostly at play in their beds. But one had the measles, and had to be sent to the proper ward. I found that Aconite did not cure measles. The others remained a day or two, and were then returned whence they had originally come. Those on the non-Aconite orthodox side were worse, or about the same and had to be sent into hospital – mostly with localized inflammations, or catarrhs, measles etc.
And so it went on day after day: those that got Aconite were generally convalescent in twenty-four or forty-eight hour, except in the comparatively seldom cases where the seemingly simple chill was the prodromal stage of a specific disease such as measles, scarlatina, rheumatic fever: these were barely influenced by the Aconite. But the great bulk of the cases were all genuine chills, and the Aconite cured the greater part right off, though the little folks were usually pale, and had perspired, as I subsequently learned, needlessly much.
I had told the nurse nothing about the contents of my big bottle, but she soon baptized it “Dr Burnett’s Fever Bottle.” For a little while I was simply dumbfounded, and I had spent much of my nights studying Homeopathy: I had no time during the day. One day I was unable to go do my usual rounds through the wards; in fact, I think I was absent two days – from Saturday till Tuesday – and on entering the said children’s ward the next time in the early morning, the nurse seemed rather quiet, and informed me, with a certain forced dutifullness that all the cases might, she thought, be dismissed.
“Indeed,” said I, “how’s that?’ “Well doctor as you did not come round on Sunday and yesterday, I gave your fever medicine to them all; and indeed, I had not the heart to see you go on with your cruel experiments any longer: you are like all the young doctors that come here – you’re only trying experiments!” I merely said “very well, nurse; give the medicine in future to all that come in.” This was done till I left the place, and the result of this Aconite medication for chills and febricula was usually rapid defervescence, followed by convalescence. But when the stomach was much involved, I at times found the Aconite useless, unless vomiting occurred, and so in such cases I administered a mild emetic, whereupon defervescence at once set in, and, though a homeopath for a good many years, I still think a mild emetic the right treatment when the stomach is laden and cannot unburden itself by natural vomit.
But still this is only by the way: I enter all these preliminary, incidental and comcomitant circumstances merely to put you on the same ground whereon I myself stand; they are not essential, for they only lead to this: Aconitum in febricula was, and is, my first reason for being a homeopath. Have you as good a reason for being a “regular”?” Excerpted From: Best of Burnett, and Fifty Reasons for Being a Homeopath