Richard Hughes MRCS LRCP (20 August 1836 – 3 April 1902) was an orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy to become a Physician at the Brighton Homeopathic Dispensary, Editor of the British Journal of Homeopathy and Permanent Secretary of the Organization of the International Congress of Homoeopathy Physicians. Richard Hughes was also President of the 2nd International Homeopathic Congress held in London on 11th-18th July 1881 at Aberdeen House, Argyll Street, Regent Street.

Richard Hughes was the ‘Grand Old Man’ of British homeopathy. The Faculty of Homeopathy still conducts annual Richard Hughes Memorial Lectures. Richard Hughes tried to realign homeopathy to find accord with orthodox allopathic physicians, in the forlorn hope that homeopathy would become accepted and mainstream. As a consequence he started a factional dispute with other homeopaths who favoured a very different approach, and who formed themselves into the Cooper Club.

Richard Hughes was born in London, England. He received the title of M.R.C.S. (Eng.), in 1857 and L.R.C.P. (Edin.) in 1860. The title of M.D. was conferred upon him by the American College a few years later.

Richard Hughes was a great writer and a scholar. He actively cooperated with Timothy Field Allen to compile his Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy and rendered immeasurable aid to Robert Ellis Dudgeon in translating Samuel Hahnemann’s ‘The Materia Medica Pura into English.

In 1862 he became one of the editors of the British Journal of Homeopathy and continued in that capacity until the journal ceased in 1884.

In 1876, Richard Hughes was appointed as the Permanent Secretary of the Organization of the International Congress of Homoeopathy Physicians in Philadelphia, and he presided over this International Congress in Philadelphia.

English homeopath Richard Hughes (1836-1902) started the debate on high potency vs low potency which still gets argued today…

What may be called the English school of homeopathy in the nineteenth century produced two writers of outstanding importance, Robert Ellis Dudgeon and Richard Hughes….

Important though Robert Ellis Dudgeon’s contribution is, however, it was his friend and colleague Richard Hughes whose personality stamped itself most emphatically on British homeopathy at this period.

Although he was at one time on the staff of the London Homeopathic Hospital, Richard Hughes spent most of his medical career in practice in Brighton, though it is difficult to believe that he had a lot of time to spare for actually seeing patients.

He organized the five-yearly International Homeopathic Congresses and he edited the Annals of the British Homeopathic Society.

His most important and influential role, however, was as a teacher and writer.

He was appointed Lecturer in Materia Medica by the British Homeopathic Society and his lectures were published and used as the basis for instruction of doctors up to his death in 1902.

His views on homeopathy were endorsed by Robert Ellis Dudgeon and others as an authentic up to date interpretation of homeopathy. Richard Hughes became in fact the Grand Old Man of British homeopathy in the nineteenth century (though to be sure he was only 62 when he died).

It is therefore legitimate to speak of Hughesian homeopathy, though it must be understood that this was not Richard Hughes’s view alone but was the orthodox British homeopathy of the day.

Hughesian homeopathy -The essential character of Hughesian homeopathy was that it lay at the “scientific” end of the homeopathic spectrum of opinion. That is, it was pragmatic and anti-mystical.

On the theoretical level Richard Hughes, Robert Ellis Dudgeon and other leading British homeopaths of the day rejected Samuel Hahnemann’s concept of the vital force, his theorizing about how homeopathic medicines worked, and the psora theory.

They were also unhappy about potency. In practice, they were prepared to concede that some high dilutions – at least up to the 30th centesimal – did seem to work, but they recognized the difficulty of explaining this in terms of the contemporary knowledge of physics and chemistry.

The vast majority of British homeopathic prescribing at this time was based on the use of very low (material) dilutions – 6c and below. As for the claims of Caspar Julius Jenichen, Constantine Hering and others to be able to produce ultra-high potencies by various non-Hahnemannian techniques, Richard Hughes and Robert Ellis Dudgeon treated these with gentle derision.

As a homeopath Richard Hughes naturally placed the similia principle at the centre of the stage but his attitude to it was relaxed and non-dogmatic. It was, he said, not a law of nature as Samuel Hahnemann claimed but simply a rule of thumb – a skeleton key to try in the therapeutic lock. It often gave the right answer but not invariably, nor was it the only key worth trying.

Richard Hughes believed, moreover, that if you are serious about the similia idea you must take pathology into account. It was all very well for Samuel Hahnemann to say that nothing could be known about the mechanism of disease; in his day that might have been true, but times had changed and quite a lot was now known about pathology and the new knowledge needed to be incorporated into homeopathy.

Richard Hughes believed that medicines should be chosen not just on subjective symptoms they produced but on the basis of their known pathological effects on human beings and even (daringly) on animals. For example, if your patient is suffering from an ulcer you should choose a medicine known to produce ulcers, and so on.

This insistence on the role of pathology in prescribing was to cause later generations of homeopaths, who were following a very different star, to adopt a superior attitude to Richard Hughes and to label him pejoratively as a mere “pathological prescriber”.

Important though all these ideas were for British homeopathy, what really distinguished Richard Hughes was his critical and scholarly approach. Most homeopaths of the day outside Britain, especially in America, based themselves on Samuel Hahnemann’s later work almost exclusively – that is, on the fifth edition of The Organon and on The Chronic Diseases.

Richard Hughes, in contrast, looked at Samuel Hahnemann’s writings as a whole. He carefully charted the way the Master’s thought had evolved over the years and was not afraid to say in what ways he thought it had changed for the worse.

He pointed out, for example, that Samuel Hahnemann’s laying down the rule that the 30th potency should be used for all purposes had fossilized homeopathy most undesirably. He also showed that the so-called provings of The Chronic Diseases could not have been carried out in the same way as those of The Materia Medica Pura and so could not be relied on as accurate descriptions of the effects of the new medicines.

Such views, of course, were lese-majeste in the view of the large number of homeopaths for whom Samuel Hahnemann’s words were law.

Richard Hughes’s contribution to homeopathy was not confined to critical discussion of Samuel Hahnemann’s writings. His most important undertaking was undoubtedly his attempt to revise and purify the homeopathic materia medica, which resulted in his rather ponderously titled Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy.

Richard Hughes had earlier collaborated with the American Timothy Field Allen in the production of that editor’s Encyclopaedia, but later he came to feel that Timothy Field Allen had been too uncritical and had included much that would have been better omitted.

The problem with the materia medica, as Richard Hughes saw it, was that it had moved a long way from the original idea of basing everything on provings or reports of poisoning.

Many of the symptoms recorded in homeopathic textbooks were “clinical”, without a basis in provings, and many were the result of uncritical copying by one author from another.

Richard Hughes’s aim was to sift all this material and publish only what he thought was reliably established. This was a truly monumental undertaking. The four volumes of the Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy took seven years to prepare (1884-91).

It was a joint enterprise, in which the British Homeopathic Society collaborated with the American Institute of Homeopathy; nevertheless the impetus behind it came from Richard Hughes and he carried out most of the work.

His intention was to include all the reliable information available in his day apart from that in Samuel Hahnemann’s writings. This involved a vast amount of translating, sifting and editing.

A number of rules were adopted to eliminate untrustworthy reports. No purely clinical symptoms were included, of course, and nor were symptoms obtained with high dilutions (above 6c) unless confirmed by provings of more material doses.

A very important feature was that all the provings were given in narrative form so that they could be read consecutively.

The Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy was a unique attempt to present a truly critical collection of the materia medica and demanded a high degree of dedication from its readers.

Even though the symptoms were presented in narrative form rather than as lists, they were so compressed that they were hard to take in. Richard Hughes was evidently sensitive on this score, for he wrote:

“It seems to be the impression of some that our Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy is a mere luxury of pathogenesy, quite beyond the requirements of the student and the practitioner, and only really valuable to the teacher or writer on the subject.”

But it was the student who was expected to use the Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy. Thanks to it the subject

“will be found full of life and meaning; and materia medica, hitherto the dullest and most hopeless, will become the most interesting of studies.”

Richard Hughes’s contemporaries shared his enthusiasm. At his death an obituarist in the American ‘Hahnemannian Monthly‘ described the Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy as “a work without parallel in all medical literature” (which was undoubtedly true) and went on to say that

“It is a work – we had almost said THE work – from which the future materia medical authority will compile all that is best and most reliable in his new textbook; and it requires no prophetic vision to foretell that its pages will be even more frequently explored at the end of the twentieth century than at its beginning.”

Alas for prophecy. Within a few years of Richard Hughes’s death his Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy, together with the rest of his work, had been forgotten almost as if it had never been, and later generations of homeopaths were to drink from a very different source.

To some extent this surprising turn of events can be explained as a natural reaction by British homeopaths against the ideas of a man whose influence had been paramount for so many years.

Richard Hughes was in many ways open-minded and undogmatic but it was no doubt inevitable that his teaching would eventually harden into a kind of orthodoxy.

Paradoxically however it was Richard Hughes’s very absence of dogmatism that made him seem to some later homeopaths a traitor to the cause, for this trait led him to minimize the differences that separated homeopathy from orthodox medicine.

It took considerable courage for a doctor to declare himself a homeopath in Richard Hughes’s day; nevertheless Richard Hughes seems to have felt no reciprocal hostility for his orthodox opposite numbers and indeed, in his last published work, The Principes And Practice of Homeopathy, he made a remarkable plea for reconciliation.

He was well aware, he wrote, of the many shortcomings of homeopathy and of the “fancies and follies” that had become incorporated in it. What was needed, he said, was for orthodox doctors to bring their resources of time, expertise, and intellect to bear on homeopath and help to put it on a sound scientific footing.

Richard Hughes himself had no doubt about where such a change would lead:

“Do our brethren know what would be the result of such generous policy? We should at once cease to exist as a separate body. Our name would remain only as a technical term to designate our doctrine; while “homeopathic” journals, societies, hospitals, dispensaries, pharmacopoeias, directories, under such title, would lose their raison d’etre and cease to exist.

“The rivalry between “homeopathic” and “allopathic” practitioners would no longer embitter doctors and perplex patients.

I suspect that it was this wish to unite homeopathy with orthodoxy, rather than his more technical views about the right way to choose medicines, that was the real reason for the virtual suppression of Richard Hughes’s ideas by later homeopaths.

If Richard Hughes had succeeded in effecting a reconciliation between homeopathy and orthodoxy it is likely that – as Richard Hughes himself realized – the result would have been the disappearance of homeopathy as a separate form of medicine; this did in fact happen later in the USA.

Hughesian homeopathy exhibits both the strength and the weakness of the scientific version of homeopathy.

To a modern doctor Richard Hughes’ writings and those of his friend Robert Ellis Dudgeon are among the most accessible of homeopathic texts, including those of the twentieth century.

Although the medical ideas with which these authors worked are long out of date, their pragmatic and critical attitude makes them surprisingly modern in tone and readable even today.

Nevertheless after Richard Hughes’s death British homeopathy moved decisively away from science, and Richard Hughes himself received the contemptuous Hahnemannian label of “half-homeopath”.

In February 1858 Hughes married Sarah Emily Amesbury (1836 – 1915) in Hove, Sussex. They had six children: Emily, Caroline, Grace, Arthur, Edith and Edmund.

In 1898, Richard Hughes was present when Samuel Hahnemann‘s body was disinterred from his tomb, for reburial under a more suitable memorial at the Cemetery of Pere Lachaise. Francois Cartier was Secretary to the Sub Committee in Charge of Samuel Hahnemann‘s tomb, alongside Leon De Brasol, Richard Hughes, James Bushrod Washington and Alexander von Villers.

Hughes died in Dublin in April 1902 and was buried in Albury, Surrey.

Select Publications:

He co-authored the Cyclopedia of Drug Pathogenesy with Jabez P Dake (1884-1891)

He edited The Materia Medica Pura of Samuel Hahnemann