Sue Young Histories

Christoph Wilhelm Friedrich von Hufeland 1762 - 1836

August 30, 2008

Christoph Wilhelm Friedrich von Hufeland 1762-1836 was the Counsellor of State and the Physician in Ordinary to the King of Prussia, and Professor in the University of Berlin, and he was a contemporary and personal friend of Samuel Hahnemann.

Hufeland became a staunch advocate of homeopathy, and he was responsible for publishing Samuel Hahnemann’s articles on homeopathy, the very first time the word homeopathy was ever used. Hufeland was the personal physician of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller,

Hufeland has been described as the ’greatest German clinician of the late 18th century‘.

Hufeland ”never lost respect for Samuel Hahnemann’s genius and services to medicine.”

Hufeland wrote:

From: The first reason inducing me to write is the fact that I considered it incorrect and unworthy of science to ridicule or persecute the new doctrine of homeopathy… I find suppression and despotism in science repugnant; here, the only rule should be freedom of spirit, basic research, the confutation of hypotheses, the comparison of observations, adherence to facts and not to personalities. (…)

Homeopathy must necessarily be contested if it intends to present itself as a general principle of every therapy. In fact, if this affirmation were to be taken literally, it could seem to be the grave of all sciences and human progress. (…)

But homeopathy is valid as a field of observation and, instead of being repudiated, should be used as a special method of cure, subordinate to the higher concepts of rational medicine.

On the basis of my personal observations, I am convinced that it can render a service not rarely, but sometimes in a highly striking manner, particularly after the failure of other treatments. (…)

I am not in favor of homeopathy, but of the inclusion of a homeopathic method in rational medicine. I would not speak of homeopathic physicians, but of physicians that use the homeopathic method at the right time and in the right place. [Hufeland, System der Prakt. Heilkunde, 1830,

Hufeland is often cited as the greatest German clinician of the late eighteenth century, and he described Samuel Hahnemann as “one of the most distinguished of German physicians … a practical physician of matured experience and reflection”…

Hufeland’s Journal of that name was programmatically opposed to the theoretical turn in academic medicine. Samuel Hahnemann chose to announce his New Principle for Ascertaining the Curative Powers of Drugs there in 1796…

Samuel Hahnemann later published his first experiments with the greatly attenuated therapeutic doses in 1801 in Hufeland’s Journal, and several important critical and homeopathic articles followed, which invariably appealed to clinically validated experience as the arbiter of therapeutic efficacy, not theory or tradition…

Although the bones of the system had first been presented in Hufeland’s Journal under the title Heilkunde der Erfahrung (The medicine of experience) in 1805, the change of title to the more imposing Organon der rationellen Heilkunde indicates that Samuel Hahnemann believed that appeals to experience were unlikely to sway a medical establishment wedded to a priori theories of disease and how medical knowledge was to be structured.

In a letter to Hufeland, Samuel Hahnemann expressed his dismay with allopathy. He could no longer practice a kind of medicine which could produce death or new affections and chronic maladies (side effects) which often are more difficult to remove than the original disease. Samuel Hahnemann equalled this behaviour to that of a murderer or tormentor of patients.

In A letter to a Physician of High Standing (Brit. Jour. of Hom., Vol. 1, p. 105. Lesser Writings, New York, Allg. Anzeiger, july 14, 1808.) Samuel Hahnemann wrote:

It was agony for me to walk always in darkness, with no other light than that which could be derived from books, when I had to heal the sick, and to prescribe, according to such or such an hypothesis concerning diseases, substances which owed their place in the Materia Medica to an arbitrary decision.

“I could not conscientiously treat the unknown morbid conditions of my suffering brethren by these unknown medicines, which being very active substances, may (unless applied with the most rigorous exactness, which the physician cannot exercise, because their peculiar effects have not yet been examined) so easily occasion death, or produce new affections and chronic maladies, often more difficult to remove than the original disease.

“To become, thus the murderer or the tormentor of my brethren was to me an idea so frightful and overwhelming, that soon after my marriage, I renounced the practice of medicine, that I might no longer incur the risk of doing injury, and I engaged exclusively in chemistry, and in literary occupations.

“But I became a father, serious diseases threatened my beloved children, my flesh and blood. My scruples redoubled when I saw that I could afford them no certain relief.”

After passing through the usual studies with great credit to himself Samuel Hahnemann took his degree and began to practice as a medical man.

It soon struck (him)…

“…that I was called upon to admit in the practice of medicine a great deal that was not proved.

“If I was called to attend a patient I was to collect his symptoms, and next to infer from these symptoms that a certain internal condition of the organs existed, and then to select such a remedy as the medical authorities asserted would be useful under such circumstances.

“But it is very evident, that the argument is most inconclusive and that room was thus left for many curious errors, and so I determined to investigate the whole matter for myself from the very beginning.”

Samuel Hahnemann was not satisfied with the vague and unsatisfactory medical knowledge, which he conveyed through his feelings in the letter he wrote to Hufeland

Hufeland was a prolific author and proponent of “Nature Cure,” which consisted of hydrotherapy (cleansing the colon with a water flush), air and light baths, vegetarian diet and herbal remedies, Hufeland was also a great fan of mineral springs and “Water Cure” (popularized by Sebastian Kneipp).

His most successful written work, _Hufeland’s Art of Prolonging Life_, became one of the most widely read books on preventive medicine and was the first natural health best seller.

Hufeland coined the phrase macrobiotics, later adopted by George Oshawa, an admirer of Hufeland and founder of the modern macrobiotic movement.

Hufeland was deeply influenced by the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose ideology fueled the philosophy of naturism and the nature cure movement, which became popular throughout Europe.

Hufeland was one of the most successful and respected physicians of his time, graduated in medicine from Gottingen in 1783. He initially succeeded his father and grandfather as Court Physician in Weimar where he came to know as patients Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller and their brilliant circle.

In 1793, he was called to Jena as Professor and went to Berlin in 1800 as Royal Physician, Director of the Medical College, and Chief Physician at the Charite.

Hufeland edited the Journal Der Praktischen Arzneikunde for forty years. He corrected misconceptions about phrenology, mesmerism and other subjects…

Hufeland published Samuel Hahnemann’s paper New Principle for Ascertaining the Curative Powers of Drugs, which was the very first time the word homeopathy was ever used.

Hufeland was a leading figure in 10th Century medical journalism, editing four journals, and he was also a prolific author. His outspoken support for vaccination played a major role in its eventual adoption in Germany.

In 1796 homeopathy was born by the publication of Samuel Hahnemann’s article in a periodic founded by Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, a German physician, Professor in Jena, who was friendly with Samuel Hahnemann during more of thirty years.

This periodic, which defended the experimental philosophy and was devoted to practical medicine, was nevertheless the mean instrument to spread Samuel Hahnemann’s ideas until the issue of The Organon in 1810.

Also, the thought of Samuel Hahnemann was built up itself partly in large connection with the ideas of this review, and probably still more with Hufeland’s writings. The prolix author Hufeland published in 1795, 1796, and 1800, at the same time of homeopathy’s foundation, three main works that Samuel Hahnemann has certainly distinguished.

Between 1825 and 1830, Hufeland tried to put himself as an unprejudiced judge of the attacked homeopathy. His pleading, as well as his straight critical remarks was an authentic and right enough testimony, only made a little false by the state of medicine in these days. He put up the controversy at least as high as today’s polemics.

Robert Ellis Dudgeon wrote:

The years 1805 and 1806 were eventful ones for the development of the doctrine, and whilst Samuel Hahnemann demolished the time honoured faith in the medicine of the 3000 years, in his masterly little work entitled Esculapius in the balance, the temple of his own system, of which he had hitherto been only laying the foundations, commenced to exhibit some those fair proportions which we now admire, by the appearance of the first sketch of a Pure Materia Medica which he gave to the world in Latin, and of that wonderful exposition of his whole doctrine, entitled The Medicine of Experience, which was published in 1806 in Hufeland’s Journal…

During the years 1806 and 1809, Samuel Hahnemann published in that journals a succession of papers equal terseness, vigor and originality to anything he had previously written, which two deserve especial mention, viz, his essay on the value of the Speculative System of Medicine, and toughing and earnest letter to Hufeland, whom he never ceased to love and esteem, thought in every respect he was a much greater man and finer character than the Nestor of German medicines, as Hufeland was called…

Hufeland … who founded a respected and still extant medical journal in Göttingen, reported in an article published in The Lancet in 1829 that:

“I. The proper use of belladonna has, in most cases, prevented infection, even in those instances where, by the continual intercourse with patients labouring under scarlet fever, the predisposition towards it was greatly increased. “II. Numerous observations have shown that, by the general use of belladonna, epidemics of scarlet fever have actually been arrested. “III. In those few instances where the use of belladonna was insufficient to prevent infection, the disease has been invariably slight. “IV. There are exceptions to the above three points, but their number is extremely small.”

Hufeland was a German physician. He is famous as the most eminent practical physician of his time in Germany and as the author of numerous works displaying extensive reading and a cultivated critical faculty.

He was born at Langensalza, Thuringia and educated at Weimar, where his father held the office of court physician to the grand duchess. In 1780 he entered the University of Jena, and in the following year went on to Göttingen, where in 1783 he graduated in medicine.

After assisting his father for some years at Weimar, he was called in 1793 to the Chair of Medicine at Jena, receiving at the same time the positions of Court Physician and Professor of Pathology at Weimar.

In 1798 Frederick William III of Prussia granted him the position director of the medical college and generally of state medical affairs at the Charité, in Berlin. He filled the Chair of Pathology and therapeutics in the University of Berlin, founded in 1809, and in 1810 became Councillor of State.

In time he became as famous as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Herder, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, and Wieland in his homeland.

The most widely known of his many writings is the treatise entitled Makrobiotik _, which was translated into many languages. Of his practical works, the _System of Practical Medicine_ is the most elaborate. From 1795 to 1835 he published a __Journal Der Praktischen Arzneikunde_. His autobiography was published in 1863.

Christoph Wilhelm Friedrich Hufeland was born 12 August 1762 in Langensalza into a medical family, both his father and grandfather having served as personal physician at the Weimar court.

His father, Johann Friedrich Hufeland (1730-87), was called to Weimar when Christoph was only three, and so he was raised in a culturally rich environment, inspired by Herder’s sermons and, as an adult, attending Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s weekly “Friday Society” gatherings.

His childhood playmates included the future playwright August von Kotzebue. After studies at Jena and Göttingen, Hufeland kept a private practice in Weimar for ten years (1783-93) before beginning a long teaching career at Jena (1793-1801) and Berlin (1801-36).

Despite a deepening blindness in old age, Hufeland remained active to the end, sending his _Enchiridion medicum_ (1836) to the printer just days before his death at the age of seventy-four on 25 August 1836.

He was a gifted medical popularizer best known for his widely-translated book on prolonging one’s life (Makrobiotik, 1797); but he is also remembered for his pioneering work on paediatrics and child rearing, public health, therapeutics, and medical education, and his discussion (in Makrobiotik) of the twenty four hour cycle as a basic unit of biological chronometry, establishing him as an early founder of chronobiology.

In contrast to many of his peers, Hufeland’s deeply practical intuitions left him a confirmed eclectic and suspicious of all system building. In character, he was deeply pious, and was committed to his medical profession, setting up funds for needy physicians and their widows.

Hufeland had four sisters and one brother. His older sister married a theology professor at Jena, and his younger brother, Friedrich Gottlob (1774-1839), studied medicine at Jena and later taught there and at Berlin. A cousin, Gottlieb Hufeland (1760-1817), was professor of law at Jena and co-editor of the influential Allgemeine Literatur Zeitung.

Hufeland began his university studies at nearby Jena in the summer of 1780 (studying anatomy under Justus Ferdinand Christian Loder, but after a year of what he felt was a mediocre program and a philandering student body, he left for Göttingen, spending two years with a medical faculty consisting of August Gottlieb Richter, surgery and ophthalmology, Ernst Gottfried Baldinger, clinical medicine, Johann Andreas Murray 1740-91, botany, Heinrich August Wrisberg anatomy, Friedrich Gmelin medicine and chemistry, and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach medicine, but also attending physics lectures in the philosophy faculty under Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, to whom he dedicated his medical bestseller, Makrobiotik.

Hufeland received his doctorate on 24 July 1783, but rather than embarking on a customary academic tour of Europe, he returned instead to Weimar in order to assume his ailing father’s medical practice. Shortly after his arrival Hufeland was called to care for the local duke’s five-year old daughter, who unfortunately died soon afterward, and when the duke’s mother later fell ill, Hufeland was replaced by a professor of medicine from Jena, after which the mother regained her health.

These medical misfortunes cost Hufeland what had been his father’s position as personal physician (Leibarzt), leaving him instead at the lesser-rank of court physician (Hofmedicus). Hufeland nevertheless counted among his patients such notables as Wieland, Herder, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller.

He also joined the Illuminati Order at this time, having been introduced to freemasonry in Göttingen in 1783, and his deep aversion to Catholicism led him to work actively alongside Adolf Knigge and the order’s founder, Adam Weishaupt.

In the fall of 1792, Carl August, the duke of Sachsen-Weimar, was present at one of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Friday Society meetings during which Hufeland read from a draft of his Makrobiotik. This so impressed the duke that he was offered a medical professorship at Jena, and in the summer of 1793 began a highly successful eight year teaching career there, drawing large numbers of students (he reports 500 for his macrobiotic lectures, which would have been exceptional given Jena’s average enrollment of less than 900 students).

While at Jena, Hufeland turned down offers from Kiel, Leipzig, Padua, and St. Petersburg (here to serve as a personal physician to the Russian court), but in 1801 he accepted a similar call to Berlin as Friedrich Wilhelm III’s personal physician, where he would also direct the College of Medicine and Surgery and act as supervising physician of the Charite, the largest hospital in Berlin and perhaps the leading teaching hospital in all Europe.

Overwork and lack of research time eventually led Hufeland to accept a teaching offer at Göttingen, but this move was blocked by the king, who instead built him a new house and insisted he remain in Berlin.

Napoleon’s advancing troops later caused the royal family to flee Berlin and, as personal physician, Hufeland accompanied them east to Memel (January 1807-January 1808) and then Königsberg (January 1808-December 1809), where he enjoyed the company of Immanuel Kant’s old friends Johann Georg Scheffner and Ludwig Ernst Borowski (1740-1831).

With the opening of the new university in Berlin in 1810, Hufeland was given the Chair of Special Pathology and Therapy and served as the first Dean of Medicine, teaching alongside his erstwhile friend Johann Christian Reil, who had been called from Halle to teach clinical medicine, and Carl Asmund Rudolphi , who taught anatomy.

Both Johann Christian Reil and Hufeland had been closely consulted by Wilhelm von Humboldt in the planning of the new medical faculty, and Johann Christian Reil’s emphasis on classical training initially took the upper-hand.

Hufeland’s emphasis on therapy, bedside doctoring, and the social dimensions of illness was not without effect, however, and among other things led to the opening of Berlin’s first polyclinic for the poor at the Charite.

The relationship with Johann Christian Reil became increasingly strained during their three years together at Berlin, even leading to blows between their respective students, and Hufeland’s autobiography (finished in 1831) leaves Johann Christian Reil wholly unmentioned. Johann Christian Reil’s untimely death in 1813 allowed Hufeland to expand his clinic-based vision of medical education.

Among his many awards and honors, Hufeland was invited in 1790 into Germany’s oldest scientific society, the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, and into the Prussian Academy of Sciences at Berlin on 23 December 1800.

In 1809 he was raised to the nobility, and was made a Knight of the Order of the Red Eagle, 3rd Class.

Hufeland’s literary ambitions began with a long essay (published in

  1. criticizing Franz Anton Mesmer’s belief in animal magnetism and magnetic healing. This essay’s positive reception encouraged Hufeland to pursue what was to become a highly successful writing career, authoring over 400 publications.

His doctoral work (1783) on the effect of electrical stimulation on dead and near-dead animals — a continuation of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s work with electricity at Göttingen — combined several themes of popular interest in his day: electricity, its role and effects on living beings, and premature burial.

This last interest was the subject of several publications (1790, 1791, 1808) which led to the creation of Weimar’s (and Germany’s) first “waiting mortuary” in 1791, a place where recent corpses could be watched for signs of life or, more to the point, signs of putrefaction — the only certain indicator of death, according to Hufeland.

He also tested the effects of electrical and mechanical stimulation on Hedysarum gyrans, a plant known to respond vigorously to light, and from these studies concluded that irritability (Reizbarkeit) was the principle behind all life, and that every organic motion or power, from the unfolding of a seed to the workings of the mind, are simply variations of this one power (1790, 23-4).

This reduction of life to terms of irritability would gain currency in the latter half of the 1790s during the wave of Brownianism (followers of the Scottish physician John Brown) that swept across Germany and Italy, although Hufeland was actually among that movement’s more energetic critics (1795, 1799).

John Brown understood life as a relation between irritable matter and stimulation, with health defined as a balance between these two factors. Death or poor health resulted from either too much or too little stimulation — sthenia being the condition of overstimulation, asthenia the condition of understimulation (to be corrected by such drugs as wine, camphor, or opium), and indirect asthenia as an overstimulation so extreme as to nearly exhaust the body’s supply of irritability, leading to a weakness resembling direct asthenia in its symptoms, but requiring the very opposite treatment.

Hufeland incorporated John Brown’s classification of illness in his two volume work on medical therapeutics (System of Practical Medicine, 1800-1805), although he rejected John Brown’s system in its fundamentals, viewing life and good health as a spontaneous, original condition to be maintained through proper diet and lifestyle, rather than as something externally enforced through the manipulation of stimulation.

John Brown’s disciples sacrificed observation and common sense for an overly simple theory, according to Hufeland, who often collided with them on his staff at the Charite.

He was rather more favorably disposed towards another scientific fashion of the day, Franz Joseph Gall’s phrenology, which Hufeland viewed as empirically well established and which “should be considered as forming one of the boldest and most important steps in the study of nature.”

Hufeland’s first book promoted the use of smallpox vaccines (1789), a rather more controversial practice than it is today since it killed about two percent of all who received it. Hufeland introduced Edward Jenner’s much safer method of injecting cowpox virus, however, instead of a weakened smallpox virus, and in 1802 was able to establish a vaccination clinic in Berlin.

Hufeland’s interest in public health also led to his promoting the English practice of bathing in the sea, as well as to an investigation of German spas (1815). The growing interest in educational reform and the emergence of a new understanding of children was reflected in his promotion of pediatrics as a special field of medicine (Good Advice for Mothers, 1799; Medical Handbook, 1836).

Hufeland also published widely on therapeutics and pharmacology, and during this time founded his highly successful journal on medical therapy (_Journal Der Praktischen Arzneikunde_, 1795-1836, 1843).

Hufeland’s Makrobiotik, his masterpiece on preventive medicine, was first published in 1797, with a second edition appearing that same year, and eight official editions (as well as various pirated editions) appearing during his lifetime, along with several translations.

The organizing principle in Makrobiotik for understanding human life and health is no longer irritability, but rather life force (Lebenskraft), a term borrowed from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach.

This life force, according to Hufeland, is present in everything, although it is most easily detected in organic beings, where it is manifested as the ability to respond to external stimuli. This force can be weakened or destroyed, as well as strengthened, through external influences; it is depleted through bodily exertion and increased with rest; and so on.

Hufeland sought here not just a longer and healthier life, but also a more ethical life — moral and physical health were seen as intertwined and flowing from the same source, both marked by an abundance of life force. Illness was not to be cured so much as prevented by pursuing a proper diet and lifestyle.

Hufeland sent a copy of this work to Immanuel Kant, who responded quite favorably in an open letter that Hufeland published in his Journal and that forms the third part of Immanuel Kant’s Conflict of the Faculties (1798) [writings]. This connection with Immanuel Kant was perhaps nurtured by a philosophy colleague of Hufeland’s, Carl Christian Erhard Schmid, the first to lecture on Immanuel Kant at Jena and who had just published a treatise on physiology that was well-received in the medical community: Physiologie philosophische bearbeitet (Jena, 1798)

Hufeland wrote Some Account of Dr. Gall’s New Theory of Physiognomy, Hufeland’s Art of Prolonging Life, Enchiridion medicum, A Treatise on the Scrofulous Disease, Makrobiotik and many other books, not all have been translated into English.