Alphonse Beck M.D. (9 October 1822 – 6 November 1902) was a Swiss orthodox physician and politician who converted to homeopathy.
Alphonse Beck was a colleague of Carl Bojanus, Anton von Hubbenett, Osip Lensky, Karl Franz Dominik von Villers, John James Drysdale, and many others.
Alphonse Beck was born in Monthey, Valais in Switzerland to Dr. Charles François Beck (1785 – 1867) and his wife Marguerite Darbellay. In 1827 Charles Beck was appointed surgeon major of the Valais Canton 3rd Regiment in service with the Kingdom of Naples and saw action during the 1848 Revolution in Sicily.
Alphonse Beck studied allopathic medicine in Naples. While in Naples he appears to have been introduced to homeopathy by a Professor Cigliano who impressed Beck by artfully curing a case of hysteria with ignatia. An alternative account is that Beck first learned of homeopathy at the university where Cosmo de Horatiis who was then Professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine experimented with homeopathic remedies.
He returned to Monthey in 1846 where he set up in practice with a growing reputation as an orthodox physician. Two years later, in 1848, he followed his father into military service with an appointment as battalion physician for the Valais contingent of the new federal army.
Alphonse Beck’s conversion to homeopathy was due, it would seem, to Maurice Clayvaz (1798 – 1883), a homeopath from Saxony who was practicing in the Valais area. Beck, confounded by a difficult case, was put in touch with Clayvaz who quickly cured the patient. It was under Clayvaz’ tutelage that Beck eagerly took up the study of homeopathy.
Beck ‘s career took off after he treated a Russian Grand Duchess who had broken her leg while vacationing in the alps. It was at the behest of this aristocratic patron that Beck took up the invitation to move to St Petersburg.
In 1859 he went to Russia where practiced homeopathy with his good friend Dr. Karl Franz Dominik Villers. Shortly after Beck arrived, Villers’ infant son Alexander contracted diphtheria and was successfully treated with homeopathy by Beck. Thus, Dr. Alexander von Villers was the first person cured with Mercury Cyanatus. Thirty years after this cure, Alexander von Villers and Alphonse Beck attended the same conference and spoke on the same platform.
Beck soon established himself in the Russian capital and built a thriving homeopathic practice among the wealthy and renowned families of St. Petersburg. It was said that the Russian Tsar Alexander II offered to create a chair of homeopathy for Beck at the University of St Petersburg. Beck purportedly declined the honour on the grounds that he was not yet prepared for such a role, instead recommending that a Russian doctor would be a better appointment for such a position. It was also reported that, as a mark of Tsar Alexander’s esteem, Beck was permitted to found the “Imperial Homeopathic Society of Russia,” although there appear to be no extant historical records of such a society associated with Beck’s name.
In the late 1860s Beck became gravely ill and, after recovering, to the regret of his Russian aristocratic clients, decided to return to the more agreeable climate of his home town in Switzerland. He settled back in Monthey in 1870 and people traveled from far and wide to consult him, including many of his Russian clients.
While in Valais, Beck also turned to writing, and he contributed articles to homeopathic journals.
Beck devoted his free time to serving on the Valais Grand Council, of which he was an important and influential member for thirty years. He also founded the Valais Mutual Aid Society and was noted for his philanthropic endeavours in the region.
In August 1889 Beck was named alongside Dr. John James Drysdale as Vice-President of the International Homeopathic Congress in Paris.
Alphonse Beck is only known to have had three students of his own: Dr. de Brasol, of Petersburg; Dr. Barlee, in Edinburgh; and Dr. Nebel in Montreux.
[Alphonse Beck’s student, Antoine Nebel, provided additional biographical information about Beck’s life and career that the editors of the Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy added to their translation of Pierre Schmidt’s “Historical Sketch of Homeopathy in Switzerland,” originally presented at the American Institute of Homeopathy annual meeting in New York, 1925].
- Notice sur l’eau ferrugineuse et saline de Morgins en Valais (1856)
- Essai sur les médicaments à propriétés variables et à propriétés permanentes (1867)
- Observations sur l’emploi du cyanure de mercure dans le traitement de la diphthérite (1868)
The journal Vestnik noveishih vrachebnyh metod (The Herald of New Medical Methods) which was published in St. Petersburg in the early 1860s, published in 1862 a very interesting document deserving a special study.
The document was A program for a clear persuasion of the efficiency of the homeopathic method and of the possibility for homeopathy to be accepted as a medical art, signed by Profs. Kozlov and Zdekauer… Carl Bojanus cited the whole “Program” and the answers of homeopaths.
This program began with an unquestionable assertion: Common sense has convinced everybody that a doctor needs the two following conditions in order to successfully treat diseases:
1. The ability to make the right diagnosis of the disease, and to promote the right treatment based upon this diagnosis.
2. Applying the needed medicines at the appropriate time, which enables them to have their effects with the steady and exactly expected actions, during the time and to the extent […] defined by the doctor.
Thus, from the very first words one can understand that Prof. Zdekauer and Kozlov, even if they wished to discuss the theme seriously, were prepared to speak with homeopaths while staying on purely allopathic soil (location of disease in the body, actions of the medicines as expected in time and effect), which, in their opinion, “represented the essence of the medical art”.
The professors were trying to get the answers to the following points:
1. How do homeopaths locate the injured places in the body?
2. How can one treat, according to homeopathy, different diseases presenting similar symptoms?
Although the “Program” occupies 10 pages in the book of Carl Bojanus, these were mostly questions on the ability of homeopathy to treat this, that or another disease. The authors finished writing their “Program” in a way that hardly harmonized with the minor tone in which the document was written at the beginning:
Clear and tangible experiments have to prove that homeopathy possesses medical action, enabling the fulfillment […] of the aims […] subordinated in time and power to the will of the doctor […]. Only in this way would one achieve the conviction that homeopathy may be permitted, together with rational medicine, for the good of mankind.
Otherwise, it should be decided that homeopathic treatment of diseases, provided not only by laypeople but also by doctors, is a public evil, should be prohibited. Four homeopathic physicians, Anton von Hubbenett, Carl Bojanus, Alfons Beck and Carl Frantz von Villers reacted to the “Program” in Zhurnal gomeopaticheskogo lecheniia…
“I shall limit myself to several central points in those answers. All the homeopaths stressed that the authors of the “Program” had no intention to discuss homeopathy on the grounds of homeopathic theory and practice; instead of that they proposed carrying out only those experiments which are acceptable for the allopathic school.
“Every experiment arranged outside the homeopathic doctrine […] has been a priori deficient and has no significance. In order to support a scientific denial of homeopathy from experiments, one should base this denial on homeopathic experiments. Otherwise, this [denial] cannot be considered fair.”
They also pointed out that it is not a secret that allopathic and homeopathic methods of diagnosis and treatment are different; it is not clear what the professors expected from homeopathy, whereas even within allopathy there was no full fledged unity in the treatment of various diseases, whilst the polypharmacy had become the most serious problem of allopathy.
Alfons Beck, whose answer was the most detailed, argued that although the exact definition of a disease’s location has been difficult for homeopathy as well as for allopathy, this does not create an obstacle to a successful homeopathic treatment, while for allopathy the lack of localization is an insuperable barrier.
He also proposed an experiment to prove the effect of homeopathic medicines on healthy persons according to Samuel Hahnemann’s method. One could moreover establish a homeopathic hospital, in which a committee of allopathic doctors might be observers and make judgments without being involved in the treatment.
Other homeopaths proposed nothing but only answered the questions. No development of the discussion followed.
As to the results of this discussion, Carl Bojanus wrote in 1882: “Twenty years will be too short for homeopaths to obtain a reaction […] to their answers and proposals. Why the discussion was proposed [by allopaths] at all? We leave this question open…
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