DR JAMES COMPTON BURNETT – A Conscientious Homoeopath

In order to know about how a Scottish allopathic physician converted to Homoeopathy and then became hugely successful practitioner in the city of London, just knowing the writings of Burnett is not enough but one must be advised to read the biography as well as his writings in full. No Homoeopath has left such a large compilation of his clinical cases and observations like Burnett. Despite being a busy practitioner, he used to keep note of all his cases and observations.

Burnett was born in a Scottish familyto Charles Compton Burnett who was a landlord and to Sarah Wilson on 20 July 1840 in Salisbury of Scotland. Burnett got his name ‘Compton’ from his grandmother Miss Compton of Hampshire who was a lady of fortune and at whose desire the addition was made. Burnett was father of famous British author, Ivy Compton Burnett and great uncle of Marjorie Blackie who served Queen Elizabeth II as her physician for many years.

Early education

Burnett was not only physically taller and healthier for his age but also more mature and thoughtful than his age. Burnett received his early ordinary English education till age of sixteen after which he was sent to school in France. He further spent some time studying philosophy for which he had some serious thoughts of pursuing his career in but only words and theories could not satisfy Burnett’s mind and thus he finally chose to study medicine and pursue his career in it.

 He took admission in Medical School of Vienna and Anatomy took his interest in first year of the course. He studied Anatomy for additional two years and was awarded Gold Medal in Anatomy on his graduation. His in-depth study of Anatomycan be related with his introduction of Organopathy method of treatment in Homoeopathy later in his practice life. Slides prepared by Burnett of various specimens are still preserved in the Pathological Museum of Vienna. After completing his Bachelors in Medicine (M.B.) from Vienna in 1865 he entered Glasgow University and took an M.B. degree again in 1872.

Introduction to Homoeopathy

After graduating, Burnett started working in Barnhill Parochial Hospital and Asylum and soon getacquainted with the fruitless routine treatment of conventional medicine and started taking interest in Homoeopathy. The first reason he states in his book ‘50 Reasons for being a Homoeopath’ is about a boy Tim who died in a hospital due to pleurisy following fever which made Burnett despondent of his profession. Following night while having dinner with his friend Dr. Alfred Hawk he narrated this incident to him. On his suggestion he started reading Richard Hughes’s Pharmacodynamics and Therapeutics in Homoeopathy. Despair on failing to treat fever he referred to cases of fever in Homoeopathy literature. He found in reference to Aconite that it cut short down any type of fever if given in early stages. Having read that and enthusiastic to check it, Burnett instructed nurses in hospital to administer one side of children in ward to give solution of Fleming’s Tincture of Aconite that he had.And advised forchildren admitted on other side of ward to be treated with authorized orthodox method. At his dismissal of two days, children who were given Aconite for their fever were sent back home after recovery making fever ward look empty on Burnett’s arrival. Nurses named those Aconite solution bottlesas ‘Burnett’s fever bottle‘. Burnett further observed that Aconite was useful in the beginning of all fever with chill cases in any condition except when stomach was involved. The second reason he states for being a Homoeopath is his own case ofstitching pain in the left side of his chest after suffering from pleurisy which was not getting well from any other treatmentbut got cured with Bryonia alba.

Doctors at that time were allowed to take their M.D. degree only after two years of practice in hospitals after M.B. Degree.They had to proposeany medical topic for their thesis on getting admission in M.D. Burnett chose‘Specific Therapeutics’ as his thesis topic but it was rejected because of its Homoeopathic biasness. It was only after a year or two in 1876 he was allowed to pursue his M.D. with thesis on different subject.

Dr. Burnett’s Homoeopathic beginning

Burnett was the man of truth like Hahnemann. He said ‘The pathy that will cure is the pathy for me’ and likewise Burnett’s journey started in Homoeopathy.

Dr. Burnett started visiting a Homoeopathic chemist named Edward Thomas in Chester for learning. Burnett got married to his daughter Agnes on 6 July 1874. He moved to Liverpool and got busy in practicing Homoeopathy, conducting scientific research and reading and writing medical journals. Burnett started visiting London daily and his practice flourished in London with each passing day. Fame started following him and he became the Editor of the Homoeopathic World in August 1879 succeeding Dr. Shuldham. In the 14th Edition of the journal, in the PrefaceDr. Burnett made it clear that the pages of this journal will only be filled with materials which will be experimental proof to the cardinal doctrine of Homoeopathy,Similia SimilibusCurentur.As the editor of the journal, he was succeeded by Dr. J. H. Clarke in 1885.

Burnett along with Dr. J. H. Clarke and Dr. Hawk use to attend the clinic of Dr. John Drysdale at Liverpool. It was him whom Burnett dedicated his book Homoeopathic Treatment or 50 Reasons for being a Homoeopath. Dr. John Drysdale was Founder Editor of the British Journal of Homoeopathy. He was also the founder of Liverpool Homoeopathic Society and his clinic was an attraction for many young budding Homoeopaths like Burnett, Clarke and Hawks.

Burnett’s first wife died after sixth childbirth in September 1882. After one year, 43-year-oldBurnettmarried his second wifeKatherine Rees who was 27 years old. Katherine had visited Burnett to consult for her illness and thus Burnett mentions this to be his 26th reason to be a Homoeopath. He called her ‘love of his life’. Burnett moved to a larger country house in Hove with her and rented a lodging in a London hotel for himself to practice in London. Burnett’s practice increased to such an extent that he hardly used to get time to return home towards the end of his life.

Dr. Burnett’s Homoeopathic insights

The legacy of his clinical cases and observations started with his doubt on how acommon table salt can be a medicine that too in dynamized form. Following this he proved Natrum muriaticum on himself and there came his voila moment. He developed a crack in the middle of his lower lip. This complete story and his further observation with Natrum muriaticumcan be found in Natrum muriaticum; as test of the Doctrine of Drug Dynamization published in 1878. Similarly, origin of gold as remedy from pre-medieval time has been penned down by him in Gold as a Remedy in Diseasespublished in 1879.

Burnett also penned his view about Hahnemann in his book Ecce Medicus or Hahnemann as a Man and as a Physician and the Lessons of his Life published in 1880. Incorporation of his well-read Anatomy subject can be seen in introduction of Organopathic mode of treatment in Homoeopathy and many of his writing on different anatomical organs like Diseases of Veins in 1880,Diseases of Spleen in 1887and Greater Diseases of Liver in 1891. Burnett has dedicated his idea of Organopathyand above-mentioned books to Rademacher whom he refers as Resuscitator of Paracelsus Organopathy. Burnett mentions this Rademacher’s therapeutic method as Homoeopathy in its first degree. His head over heel approach in critical surgical cases like congenital anomalies, tumors and cataract, cancer etc. are all discussed in On the Prevention of Hare-lip, Cleft palate and other Congenital defects published in 1880, Valvular Diseases of Heart in 1882,Cataract: Nature, Causes and Cure published in 1889 and On Fistula and its cure by Medicines in 1890.In 1884, Burnett published a booklet on Vaccinosisand became the first one to point towards the ill-effects of vaccines and talk about nosodes including Baccillinum.

Burnett is also credited for proving number of important drugs like Bacillinum, Cundurangoand Ceanothus,etc. He has also added many clinical symptoms to list of drugs like Jaborandi, Juglans cinereria, Quercus, Levico,etc.Burnett has written on almost all the most common clinical conditions physicians come across in their clinics, from simple pruritus, ringworms, ailments of women to diseases like tuberculosis and cancer. Burnett truly has paved way as well as made it easy for Homoeopathic physicians to preach and practice Homoeopathy.

Cooper club

Writing about Burnett is incomplete without mentioning Cooper club. Burnett’s contemporaries included Richard Hughes, Alfred Hughes, J Drysdale, RE Dudgeon, JP Dake, AC Pope, JH Clarke and RT Cooper. There was two division among British Homoeopaths at that time. One group was led by Hughes whereas one was led by Burnett. Burnett had Dr. Robert Cooper and Dr. Thomas Skinner in his group which was later joined by Dr. Clarke also. All these four stalwarts use to meet on a weekday in dining club in London to discuss about their medical cases and medical politics. This group later came to be known as Cooper’s Club.

It is observed in Dictionary of Homoeopathic Materia Medica by Dr. Clarke the use of abbreviations like “B” and “RTC” which refers to symptoms told by Burnett and R. T. Cooper during these discussions in Cooper Club. Dr. Clarke referred this duo of Burnett and R. T. Cooper as “a noble pair of brothers”- geniuses both and therapeutics of highest order.

In words of Dr. J. H. Clarke in Life and Work of James Compton Burnett There was a directness about Burnett with a fund of humour, a merry twinkle in his eyes and a laugh that will long live in the memory of all who knew him”.Burnett’s wish to die in harnesswas fulfilled as he attended patients till day before his demise on 4th April 1901 from Angina pectoris.

About the author

Dr. Subhas Singh

Dr. Subhas Singh, MD (Hom), Ph.D is a well known personality in the Homeopathic World. He is the Director of National Institute of Homeopathy. A well known speaker and resource person at different seminars, workshops and conferences, Dr Subhas Singh continues to be the chairman of the Scientific Standing Committee of the Homoeopathic Medical Association of India (HMAI).