Sue Young Histories

William Laidler Leaf 1791 - 1874

July 26, 2008

SquareWilliam Laidler **Leaf **1791 -1874 was one of the most wealthy merchants of the City of London, with extensive business interests in France. William Leaf was a silk merchant, and a Deputy Chairman of the Argus Life Assurance Company,

After having suffered from a chronic disease for some considerable time his friend Jean Barthelemy Arles Dufour drew his attention to homeopathy. William Leaf instituted a small hospital at Paul Francois Curie’s house, alongside Barry, Edward Charles Chepmell, Sydney Hanson, Victor Massol, Jas Bell Metcalfe, John Ozanne, William Parsons,

William Laidler Leaf was also the Patron of the Blackheath Home for Gentlewomen, and in 1843, James Leath’s publication of the 16 page essay Homeopathy Explained and Objections Answered written by William Laidler Leaf had sold so many copies, The Medical Times felt the need to come out to censor it!

From Richard Haehl, Samuel Hahnemann, Volume 2, (B. Jain Publishers, 2003). Page 507 onwards. William Leaf then went to Paris to consult Samuel Hahnemann who completely cured him. Out of gratitude he adopted the cause of the new science with all the circumspection and vigorous activity typical of an English merchant.

There was at that time only one pupil of Samuel Hahnemann in England. From him William Leaf demanded that he should make the teachings of his master better known by the publication of popular writing.

However, when he failed. William Leaf introduced through his friend Jean Barthelemy Arles Dufour, Paul Francois Curie of Paris to come to England (1835). Homeopathy became better known in England through popular writings and scientific works which Paul Francois Curie compiled in English, and which he published with the help of William Leaf.

William Leaf instituted in Paul Francois Curie’s house (previously Paul Francois Curie had been living at the dispensary, but in 1842 William Leaf obtained a large house in Hanover Square and fitted up with **25 beds where Paul Francois Curie now lived) a small hospital in which the doctor gave clinical demonstrations to allopathic colleagues (John James Drysdale, Robert Ellis Dudgeon, John Rutherford Russell, Richard Hughes (Eds.), The British Journal of Homeopathy, Volume 12. (Maclachlan, Stewart, & Co., 1854). Page 161). (In 1840, Thomas Egerton 2nd Earl of Wilton was the President of the London Homeopathic Medical Institution at 17 Hanover Square, alongside Paul Francois Curie, William Headland, William Leaf, Middleton, William Warne),

Soon the great rush of patients rendered it necessary to found a larger hospital and thus under the guidance of William Leaf and with the help of other friends of homeopathy, the *Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square was founded. This institution which was equal to all the demands made upon it, has trained some of the best English homeopaths. Unfortunately it shared the same fate as the Leipsig Hospital entirely through the discord of the homeopathic doctors who were attached to it and it came to an end. (NB the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square actually closed because Paul Francois Curie caught typhus from one of the patients there and he died in 1853).

In addition to the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square William Leaf also organised a dispensary for the poor of the district near his Country House (opened in 1837 in Finsbury Circus… where Joseph Laurie and George Fearon were students of Paul Francois Curie) and where Paul Francois Curie treated numerous patients every Sunday.

William Leaf died at his Country Seat near London on 3.7.1873 aged 83 years.

*Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square

Patrons: Christian Karl Josias Bunsenand Thomas Egerton 2nd Earl of Wilton, President Robert Grosvenor,

Vice Presidents: Thomas Roupell Everest, William Leaf, Charles Powell Leslie, James More Molyneux, James Wilson partner of James Manby Gully),

Trustees: William Leaf, Charles Hunt,

Secretary: William Warne.

The Conditions for the foundations of the *Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square were to relieve the poor as in patients, to offer relief to out patients and to offer educational facilities to students and lay enquirers.

**Patients were admitted on the order of the Governor or by payment of £3 15s a month, out patients were nominated by guinea subscribers or on payment of a guinea per anum. Otherwise, William Leaf and his friends financially supported the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square.

William Leaf, English merchant and philanthropist. Having been a patient and intimate friend of Samuel Hahnemann, he does much to establish and support homeopathy in the UK.

William Leaf and Jean Barthelemy Arles Dufour intend to place a plaque on the house in Meissen where Samuel Hahnemann was born (From Richard Haehl, Samuel Hahnemann, Volume 2,_ Letter from Samuel Hahnemann 11th December 1841_, (B. Jain Publishers, 2003). Page 4).

William Leaf had a portrait of Samuel Hahnemann in his possession from which prints were made for sale in London (engraved on steel by Woodman from a painting by G F Hering).

The first UK homeopaths were all close colleagues of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in Paris and they came to England specifically to set up homeopathic practice in the 1830s. They were Frederick Hervey Foster Quin, Paul Francois Curie, grandfather of the scientist Pierre Curie, William Leaf, a rich London Silk Merchant, and Thomas Roupell Everest

Frederick Hervey Foster Quin, William Leaf , Paul Francois Curie and Thomas Roupell Everest seem to have been part of an ‘inner sanctum’ of Samuel Hahnemann’s protégés in Paris. They established practices in the UK and later free dispensaries for the poor and also several hospitals.

William Leaf founded the first free homeopathic dispensary for the poor.

William Leaf was the Treasurer for the London Homeopathic Medical Institution at 17 Hanover Square in 1840, alongside Thomas Egerton 2nd Earl of Wilton, Paul Francois Curie, William Warne, William Headland and Mr. Middleton.

In 1835 William Leaf, a well to do merchant and supporter of homeopathy, invited Paul Francois Curie in 1835 to come from Paris as medical officer to a dispensary, which he founded in Finsbury Square, London.

Mr Leaf persuaded Paul Francois Curie to move to London. William Leaf received a letter dated 29 March 1839 with pills from Samuel Hahnemann; William Leaf was a close friend and confidant of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin. He helped the doctor to set up the first London Homeopathic Hospital at Golden Square in Soho.

Frederick Hervey Foster Quin did not like Paul Francois Curie and William Leaf lecturing on homeopathy to laymen, nor the demonstrations by patients arranged by William Leaf, who had been cured of a chronic disease by Samuel Hahnemann, and who wanted everyone to know about it. They were zealous converts to homeopathy which was distasteful to Frederick Hervey Foster Quin.

Frederick Hervey Foster Quin obviously regarded such conduct as rather unseemly and thus counterproductive to his own efforts to convert the medically qualified to homeopathy. He felt it would hamper its gradual acceptance.

William Leaf helped Frederick Hervey Foster Quin with the foundation of the British Homeopathic Society. Leaf was also a good friend of Paul Francois Curie, who was practising homeopathy in Paris. Paul Francois Curie moved to London [later Brighton] in order to practise here.

The Leaf Homeopathic Cottage Hospital has also been provided by the Misses Leaf, the daughters of the late William Leaf

Reference is made to Mr. Leaf as follows : The eminent London merchant and well known philanthropist died on the first July, 1874, at his residence, Streatham Hill, in the 85th year of his age.

We believe that there is no one unconnected with the profession of medicine to whom Homeopathy is more indebted for the firm root it took its this country forty years ago than to Mr. Leaf.

A patient and intimate friend of Samuel Hahnemann, Mr. Leaf spared neither influence, money nor tune in his endeavors to secure the practice of Homeopathy in England.

We purpose in our next number furnishing our readers with as full a record of the efforts be trade in this direction as the resources at our disposal will enable us to do.

In our issue of last month we referred briefly to the death of Mr. William Leaf, one of the oldest and most earnest adherents of Homeopathy.

Mr. Leaf was such a conspicuous champion of Homeopathy on its first introduction into England that he deserves something more than a passing notice in this journal. Very few professional men, and certainly no laymen, have done more for the spread of our art than Mr. Leaf.

He did not confine his efforts to spending money in this cause, though in this respect he deserves especial honor as the most munificent patron of Homeopathy that has yet appeared.

During this career he cannot have given in various ways less than £20,000 towards the advancement of this system.

But he gave also time, thought, work, influence : and he incurred much obloquy and reproach in his advocacy. We cannot pretend to present a full account of all Mr. Leaf did - we believe that a more complete memorial of him is in preparation and will be published shortly.

The most important facts we shall, however endeavor to record.

Mr. Leaf’s introduction to Homeopathy occurred about the year 1833. He was then very ill – not with any acute disease, out from a chronic disorder, which no treatment he had pursued had at all relieved.

At this time he had business relations with Jean Barthelemy Arles Dufour, then a large silk merchant in Lyon. Jean Barthelemy Arles Dufour was an earnest and enlightened homeopath, and he induced Mr. Leaf to take some medicines which he himself prescribed for him. The effect of these was so remarkable that Mr. Leaf was encouraged to continue the treatment. He went over to Paris, where Samuel Hahnemann was practicing, and placed himself under his care.

Ultimately he was cured, and retained the health which he then gained up to a very advanced age. It is plain that Mr. Leaf owed many years of life to homeopathic treatment. When he became a patient of Samuel Hahnemann’s he had a damaged constitution, one which would not have been presentable at any insurance office, and his life did not appear likely to be prolonged more than a few years. He was then 44 years of age, and he lived to the ripe old age of 84, retaining his bodily and mental faculties, unimpaired up to within a short time of his death.

If Homeopathy had done nothing more than giving to the world thirty years of Mr. Leaf’s life, it certainly deserves the gratitude of society. Mr. Leaf was so impressed with the striking results of homeopathic treatment in his own case that he at once placed his family under the same treatment.

He became an intimate, personal friend of Samuel Hahnemann ; went over to Paris every year to see him, and induced him to sit for his portrait, which is retained as an heirloom in the family.

Several of Samuel Hahnemann’s letters to him also are carefully preserved, with a lock of the venerable master’s hair. The letters are in French, with one exception, which is in English. They refer almost exclusively to medical treatment, and have no special interest for the public. They give, however, an incidental illustration of the vigor of Samuel Hahnemann’s mind, who was able to write with such accuracy and ease in two foreign languages. In the English letter there is scarcely a phrase which betrays the foreigner.

When Mr. Leaf became convinced of the truth of the new system of medical treatment, he was not the man to allow such a conviction to remain as a barren and neglected mental possession. He at once exerted himself to introduce it to his personal friends, to all members of the medical profession that he had access to, and to the public at large, by bringing Paul Francois Curie over to England to practice it both privately and in dispensaries and institutions which he either founded or liberally supported. He was persuaded by his friend, Jean Barthelemy Arles Dufour, to bring over Paul Francois Curie in the year 1835.

Paul Francois Curie resided in his house for about a year, till he could speak English well enough to practice. Mr. Leaf then guaranteed him a handsome income till he was able to make his practice remunerative. Owing to Mr. Leaf’s help, Paul Francois Curie was soon engaged, not only in extensive private practice, but also in conducting several dispensaries far its more general introduction to the public.

His first effort of this kind was at his own house in Finsbury Circus. This continued about two years. Then he separated his dispensary work from his private practice by taking rooms for dispensary in St. Martin’s le-Grand, an in Ely Place Holborn. When Paul Francois Curie removed to the West End, he continued to attend at Ely Place till the Hahnemann Hospital was founded in Bloomsbury Square, this was done chiefly at Mr. Leaf’s expense, and he was at the same time contributing liberally towards the Homeopathic Institution in 17 Hanover Square.

During the whole of the rest of his life he was a liberal supporter of homeopathic dispensaries both in his own neighborhood, Brixton and Streatham, and in distant localities,

In this work Mrs. Leaf cooperated with him most energetically. They established a dispensary indeed at their own house at Streatham, which Paul Francois Curie attended every Sunday, and where poor people and even cattle and horses belonging to their neighbors were treated. Mrs. Leaf would dispense the medicines as Paul Francois Curie prescribed them, and in this good work the Sunday afternoons were very actively employed.

Mrs. Leaf also regularly every week visited 17 Hanover Square, and encouraged her friends also to inspect the results of the treatment pursued there.

But Mr. Leaf did more than contribute liberally towards the support of these different institutions. He studied Homeopathy in the French works, which were at that time the only expositions of it accessible to him. He became very skilled in the practice of Homeopathy ; that he should have become so is the more remarkable when we consider that this was only a subordinate pursuit, and that he was actively engaged in conducting a large business at the same time.

Doubtless Paul Francois Curie assisted him in any difficult case that he undertook the charge of, but his own study rendered him to a great extent independent of such help. He had a number of patients at Eastbourne, who came to his house there for assistance. No trouble was too great for him ; no effort was spared in order to spread !he knowledge of what Homeopathy was, and could do. On more than one occasion he took a journey (not a railway journey then) to Worthing and other distant places. merely to help poor invalids whom he was trying to benefit.

As Mr. Leaf became better acquainted with the resources of Homeopathy, he was unceasingly anxious to induce medical men to study and practice it. Doubtless he first looked at their relation to Homeopathy from a business point of view. As a man well versed in commercial transactions, he knew that rapid, brilliant and lasting cures would add to the reputation and increase the practice of any medical man who could effect them. He was therefore very earnest in bringing it under the notice of his medical friends, being well assured that it would prove a commercial success to any medical man who could master it and practice it with skill.

He naturally thought that he had only to point out this medical El Dorado to his professional friends to induce them at once to appropriate its advantages. He was not prepared for the opposition which he encountered. He thought only of the truth and value of the new system, its power to alleviate suffering and prolong life, and make life itself more fruitful in all good results. And he naturally thought that his medical friends would also keep these aims paramount over all lower considerations.

But to his cost he found that the love of truth and the desire to cure disease and relieve pain and weakness were not always the supreme influences in the medical profession. His earnest advice was repelled with anger and contempt. Many of his friends despised him as a fanatic or a madman, and for many years he was exposed to an amount of reproach and social obloquy that would have daunted a less resolute nature.

Doubtless this was a kind of experience well fitted to bring out and ripen all the best qualities of his nature. A man of wealth has every inducement to shirk the battle of life and enjoy the ease which affluence places within his reach. Mr. Leaf was delivered from this snare by his championship of Homeopathy, at a time when such advocacy brought with it contempt and reproach even more than it does now.

Mr. Leaf’s enthusiasm for Homeopathy led him to write a pamphlet in exposition of it. It was published anonymously by James Leath, and went through several editions. The copy before us, dated 1842, is one of the “fourth thousand.”

The title is : “Homeopathy Explained and Objections Answered.” This little work of forty-seven pages is written with considerable vigor and skill.

The topics are arranged in an orderly and logical way, and the arguments in favor of Homoeopathy presented with much force of expression and illustration…

Mr. Leaf was born March 21st, 1791, and died July 3d, 1874, in the 84th year of his age. He had eleven children, two of whom died in infancy, four died after they were grown up, five survive him. At the time of his death he had forty-two grandchildren, having lost three, and eight great grandchildren.

He was a warm-hearted, benevolent man - not wearing, however, all his good qualities on the surface, for it was necessary to know him well to find out all the tenderness and sympathy that were often disguised by a somewhat blunt and reserved manner.

Indeed we have sometimes found that his feelings were often in the inverse proportion to his expression of them, so that you only discovered how deeply his sympathies were stirred by the acts of benevolence which they prompted. Often, however, he would unburden himself of the wealth of his inner feelings by writing what he would not trust himself to speak.

He was a devout Christian man, and the faith which prompted his good deeds sustained him in the heavy sorrows which the loss of his children caused him, and made his last hours tranquil and triumphant.

William Laidler Leaf is buried in West Norwood cemetery a few paces away from Paul Francois Curie.

See the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery web site with special thanks to Colin Fenn, the vice chairman of the Friends of West Norwood cemetery email 19.3.12 ‘… The cemetery was once known as the Millionaires’ Cemetery because of the wealthy and aspirational people of the Victorian era who ended up here. We recently discovered that Paul Curie is interred here, buried a few paces away from William Leaf. These are but two of dozens of notable medics and hospital founders buried here…’ And another email dated 27.3.12 ‘… The Friends were clearing scrub in the cemetery last weekend and so I took the opportunity to focus on the Leaf & Curie plots. You will see from the attached photo that William Leaf’s tomb - at the rear - is in good condition. Its a tall rough-hewn and ashlar granite sarcophagus with a deep brick vault below. Descendants are buried in there and in the plots to the left. There was also a marriage into the Tyas family and I notice there is a Tyas memorial in front of the main sarcophagus. Paul Curie’s tomb has not fared so well. In the centre foreground, just behind the ledger slab to Bonar Turnbull, we removed 4” of leaf mould to discover a broken up memorial or slab at the position where he should lie. It probably would have run the full length of the plot, about 6’ long by 2’ across, similar to the low gabled memorials to the right of it. You can see some of the remnants of the broken-up stone in the area of the plot…’

Of interest:

Walter Leaf 1852 - 1927 English banker and scholar, grandson of William Leaf, Walter Leaf was at Harrow with Albert Grey 4th Earl Grey, and he was a member of the Society for Psychical Research alongside George Wyld (President of The British Homeopathic Society), Walter Leaf wrote Walter Leaf, 1852-1927: some chapters of autobiography, where he talks of his family’s friendship with Anna Curie ?sister of Pierre Curie, and his grandfather’s love of Samuel Hahnemann, ‘There was a small bust of Samuel Hahnemann in almost every room of Park Hill; and in his private sanctuary…’ and ’I fancy (he) assisted the cause pretty liberally…’

From Leaf was born at Norwood, Middlesex, on 26 November 1852 and educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1877 he entered the family firm, becoming in 1888 chairman of Leaf & Company Ltd. Later he became Chairman of the Westminster Bank [1891]. He was one of the founders of the International Chamber of Commerce, of which he was elected President in 1925. From 1919 to 1921 he was President of the Institute of Bankers. He was President of the Hellenic Society and the Classical Association. He married Charlotte Symonds, daughter of John Addington SymondsWalter Leaf Leaf was also an active member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), London, and served a tenure on the council (1889-1902). He took part in the SPR sittings with the medium Leonora Piper in 1889-90 and frequently contributed to the Journal and the Proceedings of the SPR. He died March 8, 1927.

In 1877, Georgiana Tollemache Mount Temple and William Francis Cowper Temple were regularly attending meetings and séances at the home of the Leaf family, where they met Mary Sargeant Gove Nichols and her homeopath husband Thomas Low Nichols. I assume that James John Garth Wilkinson and his brother William Martin Wilkinson were present as these meetings were reported in The Spiritualist magazine _(James Gregory, _Reformers, Patrons and Philanthropists,_ (Taurus Academic Studies, 2010). Page 137. James Gregory has recorded this man erroneously as James Farquhar, and tells us he is a friend of Mary and William Howitt)._