When Samuel Hahnemann translated Cullen’s ‘Treatise on Materia Medica’ in 1790, he learnt of Cullen’s explanation of the actions of Peruvian (or China) bark, Cinchona officinalis, a malaria treatment. Hahnemann disagreed with it and decided to conduct experiments of his own. He thus ingested high doses of Cinchona and noticed that subsequently he developed several of the symptoms that are characteristic of malaria. This is how Hahnemann later described his experience:
I took for several days, as an experiment, four drams of good china daily. My feet and finger tips, etc., at first became cold; I became languid and drowsy; my pulse became hard and quick; an intolerable anxiety and trembling (but without rigor); trembling in all limbs; then pulsation in the head, redness in the cheeks, thirst; briefly, all those symptoms which to me are typical of intermittent fever, such as the stupefaction of the senses, a kind of rigidity of all joints, but above all the numb, disagreeable sensation which seems to have its seat in the periosteum over all the bones of the body – all made their appearance. This paroxysm lasted for two or three hours every time, and recurred when I repeated the dose and not otherwise. I discontinued the medicine and I was once more in good health.
Hahnemann described what de facto was the 1st homeopathic proving. Despite the fact that Hahnemann misinterpreted the event, provings thus became the very basis of homeopathy. At Hahnemann’s time, it was highly uncommon for doctors to test their medicines in this way. So, one might wonder: where did the idea come from? Is it his very own innovation, or did he get the idea from someone else?
In 1777, Hahnemann had studied medicine in Vienna. The medical school was at the time strongly influenced by Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772) He was the innovator of a new way of medical thinking and is honoured for this legacy to the present day in Vienna.
Van Swieten’s aim was to put medicine on new scientific foundations based on objective clinical observation, botanical and chemical research, and the introduction of new, powerful remedies.
One of the pupils of this school was Anton Störck (1731-1803). He became the director of Austrian public health and medical education, appointed by Empress Maria Theresia. Störck was the first medical scientist to systematically test the effects of medicines, including poisonous plants (e.g., hemlock, henbane, meadow saffron).
In numerous cases, Störck used himself as a subject in his experiments to determine adverse effects and tolerable dose levels. One of his pupils was Joseph Quarin who fully adopted his teacher’s concepts. He later rose to considerable prominence in the Viennese medical establishment.
Hahnemann’s clinical teacher at Vienna was Joseph Quarin. Hahnemann’s idea of ‘homeopathic provings’ are thus to a significant extent influenced by Störck’s innovation.