In January 1836, the appropriately named young Dr. Fickel took up the position of Chief Physician at the Leipsig Homoeopathic Hospital, an institution Hahnemann had scorned due to allopathic influences in its staffing.
What was fickle about Dr. Fickel, you may ask? He had been appointed the Chief Physician in a homoeopathic hospital – without knowing anything about homoeopathy. Dr. Fickel was an allopath who deliberately insinuated himself into the company of homoeopaths to harm the profession, cobbled together books on homoeopathy which he published under pseudonyms, and was offered the position of Chief Physician of the hospital by its governing association without knowing the first thing about homoeopathic treatment. During the 7 months that he held his position, most of the time he relied heavily on his assistant Dr. Seidel for actual prescribing, primarily dispensed sac lac, and left cures to nature.
You can read the whole sordid story in Haehl and in Bradford. It has all the elements of a good thriller, with money changing hands, people lying about their credentials, criminal negligence, unmasking and punishment of the wicked. Or something like that.
Fickel produced three works on homoeopathy, which would probably still be considered part of homoeopathic literature if he hadn’t been exposed at the time. All three were published under pseudonyms.
In the first he pieced together works by Hahnemann and other homoeopaths, and discussed effects of remedies. The book was well received by Stapf’s Archiv.
Fickel then produced a “Cyclopedia of the whole of theoretical and practical homoeopathy,” supposedly authored by a “Union of homoeopaths”. Hartmann, one of Hahnemann’s students and a member of the prover’s union who should have seen through it even if he and Hahnemann did part company, pronounced it to be “the most comprehensive, the most accurate and practical work”.
In 1835 Fickel published his third masterpiece, again under a pseudonym: “Homoeopathic manner of healing in surgical cases, together with the pure medicinal effects of a new and important anti-psoric.” The work was commended by Stapf and Haubold, and Haubold even claimed to have cured a condition of leucorrhea with the new remedy.
Fickel’s masterworks included descriptions of fictitious provings and cures, clearly tailored for his gullible audience, who chose to have blind faith rather than to check references.
Despite stories which were already circulating to the effect that Fickel was not the most plausible or well-intentioned homoeopath, and despite the warnings the appointment board had received, “The priests of homoeopathy opened wide to me the portals of their temple, not so much in confidence as from a blind sense of devotion…” wrote Fickel.
Suspicion continued to grow. Finally in March 1836 after more prodding and criticism of his work by Dr. Alphonse Noack, Fickel owned up to his penmanship and to his ulterior motives. He announced that the “insipid innacurate work” had a definite purpose, “the whole thing was nothing but irony and satire… against the prevailing charlatanry of our time”. In a pamphlet published in June or July 1836 Noack exposed the entire fraud, and Fickel resigned in August.
Several years after Fickel’s unmasking, he went public in attacks on homoeopathy, such as his “Direct Proof of the Futility of Homoeopathy as a System of Healing, for Doctors and Laymen”, published in 1840.
This sordid episode raises so many questions, many of them relevant today. Why did hardly anyone see through Fickel? Why were his works not more severely critiqued? And how on earth could someone who knew nothing of homoeopathy be appointed to one of homoeopathy’s top official positions of the time, as a senior practitioner?
Why relevant today? Because the dangerous mixture of apathy and mindless adulation of the great is alive and well. Because Hahnemann’s Organon is fast becoming an obsolete work – and without reading the original method, would-be practitioners will know nothing of homoeopathy except the regurgitated messes dropped by their teachers into their eager waiting mouths….
Fickel got as far as he did because few had the courage to challenge the “old boys network” of the time, to demand sources complete with chapter and verse for works. Has anything changed?