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Richet, Charles Robert

Category: Scientist


Charles Robert Richet (26 August 1850 – 4 December 1935) was born and died in Paris, the son of Alfred Richet, Professor of Clinical Surgery in the Faculty of Medicine, Paris, and his wife Eugenie, née Renouard.

He studied in Paris, becoming Doctor of Medicine in 1869, Doctor of Sciences in 1878 and Professor of Physiology from 1887 onwards in the Faculty of Medicine, Paris.

 In 1913, he won the Nobel Prize "in recognition of his work on anaphylaxis".

For 24 years (1878-1902) he was Editor of the Revue Scientifique, and from 1917 he was co-editor of the Journal de Physiologie et de Pathologie Générale. He published papers on physiology, physiological chemistry, experimental pathology, normal and pathological psychology and numerous researches all done in the physiological laboratory of the Faculty of Medicine, Paris, where he studied normal and pathological facts together with each other.

Among his other works are: Suc Gastrique chez l'Homme et chez les Animaux, 1878 (Gastric juice in man and in animals); Leçons sur les Muscles et les Nerfs, 1881 (Lectures on the muscles and nerves); Leçons sur la Chaleur Animale, 1884 (Lectures on animal heat); Essai de Psychologie Générale, 1884 (Essay on general psychology); Souvenirs d'un Physiologiste, 1933 (Memoirs of a physiologist).

He was also the editor of Dictionnaire de Physiologie, 1895-1912 (Dictionary of Physiology), of which 9 volumes appeared.  Most of Charles Richet's physiological works scattered in various scientific journals were published in the Travaux du Laboratoire de la Faculté de Médecine de Paris (Alcan, Paris, 6 vols. 1890-1911) (Works of the Physiological Laboratory of the Faculty of Medicine, Paris).


Claude Bernard and his pupils

Physiology is the scientific study of normal mechanisms, and their interactions, which operate within a living system. A sub-discipline of biology, its focus is in how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and biomolecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system.  It is thus a ‘whole’ body discipline.  In medicine, a physiologic state is one occurring from normal body function, rather than pathologically, which is centred on the abnormalities that occur in animal diseases, including humans.  And it requires one to experiment, often with animals.

Many of Richet’s discoveries helped the very animals he experimented on.  In 1900, for example, he showed that feeding milk and raw meat might cure tuberculous dogs.  And in yet other cases he was able to help patients without extensive animal testing.  For example, in 1901 he established that by decreasing the sodium chloride in food, potassium bromide is rendered so effective for the treatment of epilepsy that the therapeutic dose falls from 10 g to 2 g.  But in some of his exceptionally significant studies, extensive animal studies were needed – and this has relevance to later developments, as we shall see.


In experimental therapeutics Richet showed that the blood of animals vaccinated against an infection protects against this infection (Nov. 1888). Applying this principle to tuberculosis, he did the first serotherapeutic injection done in man (Dec. 6, 1890).

The A Pros And Cons Of Vivisection' By Dr Charles Rlchet Professor Of Physiology In The Faculty Of Medicine Paris 1908


The ...discovery which I shall take as an example demonstrating the value of experimentation, is the history of Serotherapy. And I may be permitted to dwell somewhat on this subject as I had the good fortune, in 1888, of making the decisive experiment which was the beginning of serotherapy.

Whilst inoculating some rabbits and dogs with a microbe taken from pus {Staphylococcus pyosepticus} I developed a certain disease both in the rabbits and in the dogs. But the dogs did not die, whilst all the rabbits died from the results of the inoculation. I thought then that, the cause of that resistance being due to the difference of blood, I might be able to make the rabbit refractory to the infection by injecting it with the blood of a dog in normal health.

The experiment succeeded. The rabbits which had received the blood of the dog, when they were afterwards infected with the staphylococcus, became very ill but did not die. Later on, I took, not the blood of a dog in normal health, but the blood of a dog that had received the infection of the staphylococcus and had recovered from that infection, and I injected this blood into the rabbits. Now the rabbits that received the blood of the infected, healed dog had acquired complete immunity to this form of microbe infection : the principle of serotherapy was discovered (5th Nov. 1888).

Since then, serotherapy has been applied, by Behring in Germany and by Roux in France, to diphtheria (1892). These two savants showed that the blood of animals, and especially of horses, that had been infected with diphtheria and cured, could, when injected into patients attacked by diphtheria, diminish, in an extraordinary proportion, the duration and intensity of the disease. There is no other treatment for diphtheria to-day. A doctor is guilty, and even criminal, if he does not use it, for the therapeutic results of this treatment are marvellous.

All those who have seen the effects of one of these injections of serum on children down with diphtheria are veritably stupefied at the resurrection which they witness only a few minutes after the injection. The unfortunate child with his purple face and convulsed limbs, scarcely breathing, comes back to fresh life as soon as he has received the beneficent injection of serum. The facts are so decisively clear that even if we have only seen them once we can never again forget them. But I shall simply call the attention of my readers to the following statistics, the result of more than 500,000 observations made in England, in the United States, in France, in Russia, in Germany, in Italy, in Austria, in fact everywhere : the death-rate in diphtheria before 1892 (for the serotherapic method took four years to become known and practised) was 45 per cent. After 1892, this death-rate fell to 12 per cent. Consequently, out of every hundred patients suffering from diphtheria, thirty are saved by the serotherapic treatment.

Let us stop for a moment to consider these figures, which seem mere abstractions to those who have not reflected. At the present time, about 300,000 children per annum in France are attacked by diphtheria ; that makes 4,500,000 from 1892 to 1907. The proportion of 30 per cent, is therefore 1,350,000. The number of children who have been saved in France alone by serotherapy in fifteen years is therefore 1,350,000.


In physiology, Richet worked out the mechanism of the thermoregulation in homoiothermic animals. Before his researches (1885-1895) on polypnoea and shivering due to temperature little was known about the methods by which animals deprived of cutaneous transpiration can guard against overheating and how chilled animals can warm themselves again.

I was able to demonstrate that, if the temperature of the air is very high, as in the hottest days of summer, dogs that are muzzled die rapidly of hyperpyrexia (i.e. high fever), for they are no longer able to cool themselves by panting. It is true that this experiment cost the lives of a few dogs, but has it not saved many others by pointing out that dogs should not be muzzled under certain conditions?



In 1913, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his researches on anaphylaxis. He invented this word to designate the sensitivity developed by an organism after it had been given a parenteral injection of a colloid or protein substance or a toxin (1902). Later he demonstrated the facts of passive anaphylaxis and anaphylaxis in vitro.

The applications of anaphylaxis to medicine are extremely numerous. As early as 1913, when the Nobel prize was awarded, over 4000 papers had been published on the topic and it had started to play an important in pathology. He showed that parenteral injection of protein substances 'modifies profoundly and permanently the chemical constitution of the body fluids'. Essentially the body produces an immune reaction to the substances.

Even today the implications of Richet’s findings are not understood and as a consequence millions of children are being vaccinated and developing allergic reactions or suffering brain damage as a consequence.  One in six children in the USA for example are brain damaged [source CDC]

In 1902 he published, in collaboration with Portier, the first work on this subject. Later, in a series of studies collected in the monograph L'Anaphylaxie of 1912, Richet - unaided - confirmed and expanded this discovery.

He experimented with several protein toxins, of animal and vegetable origin. If one of these toxins is injected beneath the skin of the test animals, in such a small dose that the subjects do not react, and if the injection is repeated after an interval of two or three weeks with an equally weak dose, this is almost always followed, sometimes even during the second injection, by the most violent toxic symptoms. These can cause the death of the animal in a few minutes.

The immune system had built up a record of the protein and the reaction was thus an immunological one – the body was fighting toxin – the foreign protein.  Richet showed that if the two doses are given at one session, or at a brief interval, or even four or five days apart, there are no toxic effects. In other words it does take a while for the immunological record to be built up and disseminated around the body.


From the Award Ceremony Speech by Professor C. Sundberg, Vice-Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine of the Royal Caroline Institute, on December 10, 1913

The hypersensitivity of Richet is not fortuitous; it is constant and produced with the same regularity as diminished susceptibility produced by immunization. Richet calls this hypersensitivity with regard to toxins, anaphylaxis, in contrast to phylaxis or prophylaxis, meaning protection…..
One feature of anaphylactic intoxication is that the symptoms are almost identical in all cases of anaphylaxis whatever the toxic agent and, up to a certain point, whatever the animal treated. The symptoms always show certain general characteristics: lowered blood pressure, paralysis of the higher brain functions, dyspnoea, low temperature, etc
The materials that can be used to induce anaphylaxis are very numerous. I shall confine myself to enumerating the different forms of proteins of alien origin to the subject and of inoffensive appearance (called proteins alien to the species), such as colouring matter of the blood, milk, white of egg, fish protein, oysters, tumour cells, vegetable protein (for example of the pollen that causes hay fever), microbial extracts, etc.

A vaccine consists of three parts – an excipient [like a holding fluid], the adjuvant [a booster to the immune system] and the pathogen to which the immune system must build a record.

In the medical profession’s and pharmaceutical company’s almost demoniacal haste to introduce vaccines, Richet’s findings have been almost totally ignored.  The excipient of vaccines used today contain milk or dairy products, glucose, white of egg, fish protein, numerous vegetable proteins for example peanut oil, and microbial extracts.

In vaccinating children without due consideration of Richet’s work we have given children anaphylaxis and killed them, or asthma, or allergies  - to dairy products, eggs, peanuts, various vegetables, sugars, fish, and so the list could go on.

Our stupidity knows no bounds.

The Jeckel and Hyde personality of Charles Robert Richet


Richet must be one of the strangest enigmas on this site.  His work on allergies and allergic reactions is valid even today and so important we have his Nobel speech as an observation to help those with allergies understand where they might come from.  Overall, it shows profound wisdom.  

In contrast, he expressed at times both racism and sexism that leaves one breathless, furthermore, - again at times - he shows an almost callous disregard for the people he examined or experimented on, and considered anyone who had been hypnotised or went into a trance to be mentally ill.

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/July 1880/Hysteria And Demonism III - A Study In Morbid Psychology. - By Charles Richet.

They are anæsthetic, and we may pinch them, prick them, burn them [sic], without exciting a painful sensation. The phenomena of catalepsy may also be very easily produced upon them. Their intelligence, over-excited by their nervous affections, enables them to find ingenious answers. In a word, the clairvoyants of the theatres and fairs are really asleep, but they are not diviners, only sick persons, and their true place would be in a hospital for the insane.
Somnambulism must, then, be regarded as a veritable disease, the symptoms of which are as well described as those of hysteria and epilepsy. The only remarkable and obscure side of the study of it is that the nervous affection can be induced by exterior manœuvres, the method of the action of which escapes us. Our ignorance of the cause of the phenomenon furnishes us no reason for denying its existence.

Richet at times appears to be not one person but two.  One is hard – masculine egotistical, white supremacist, sexist, racist, all intellect and without compassion or even emotion and apparently quite cruel. 

Then he suddenly writes something like this:


Amidst all the unsettled and contradictory theories accumulated by philosophers, thinkers and founders of religion, there remains scarcely any fixed and immutable theory save that of one dominating principle : The respect and love of our brothers in humanity.

All else is contestable and contested.

Though we are unable to demonstrate it formally, there is one universal moral law (the great Categorical Imperative of Kant) which commands us to be just and beneficent to our fellow-creatures.

All the most subtle sophisms will never be able to persuade me that I ought not, above all things, to feel solicitude for the lives and happiness of men.

And in case we should consider that this was not sincere, we have the following

W. D. Halliburton M.D., Ll.D., F.R.S. Professor Of Physiology, King's College, London. July 1908. – from the Preface to The Pros And Cons Of Vivisection

Professor Richet is not only one who speaks with authority, but he is one of the gentlest and kindliest of men. The science which he teaches is the science of life. To understand the meaning of vital processes it is necessary to study the living organism, and to obtain this knowledge it is sometimes necessary to perform experiments on living animals. When he defends a practice which many regard as cruel, detestable, and immoral, mainly because of the unscrupulous misrepresentations put forward by the professional Anti-vivisectionists, he does so because he is convinced that none of the epithets just mentioned correctly describe the experiments which are carried out in physiological laboratories at the present time. These experiments are undertaken only by properly qualified persons having a due sense of their responsibilities.

What is happening here?  The two do not appear to add up. 

The moral dilemmas of Physiology


At the time that Richet was practising, physiology involved a considerable amount of vivisection and experimentation as we have seen in his achievements above.  Richet even wrote a paper on vivisection describing the arguments for and against.  Basically Richet considered it a necessary evil.  That every opportunity should be taken to avoid pain in an animal using anaesthetics, but in his view experimenting on animals was justified if it saved human lives or advanced understanding of how the human body worked.

The A Pros And Cons Of Vivisection' By Dr Charles Rlchet Professor Of Physiology In The Faculty Of Medicine Paris 1908
The Circulation of the Blood, suspected ,by Michel Servet, Realdo Colombo, and Andreas Cesalpin, was really established by Harvey in 1628.  Yet Harvey was only able to demonstrate it by experiments performed on the living bodies of frogs and deer. Since Harvey's time, the laws of the circulation have been established with admirable precision. Hales demonstrated the pressure of blood in the vessels. Chauveau and Marey introduced into the heart of a horse an apparatus which enabled the pressure of the blood in the heart, in the arteries, and in the veins, to be measured.

One has to have a certain mentality to be able to do any experiments on animals and although Richet emphasised the necessity to avoid pain it is clear that he witnessed a great deal of pain and despite his bravado, really found it hard to stomach.

the physiologist who has performed many experiments understands more and more thoroughly the seriousness of pain. He feels all the weight of it : he has a greater responsibility. His morality has become higher and higher, his sensibility has increased. Often he repeats to himself this line of Virgil's : —

Non ignara mail miseris succurrere disco?
(Knowing misfortune, I teach the succour of the wretched.)

The very fact he felt the need to write the paper on vivisection shows that the morality of what he was doing was not straightforward in his mind, that he had difficulty himself justifying the pain and agony he was subjecting animals to.

Richet was actually a pacifist.  Starting in 1902, pacifist societies began to meet at a National Peace Congress, often with several hundred attendees. Unable to unify the pacifist forces they set up a small permanent delegation of French Pacifist Societies in 1902, which Richet led, together with Lucien Le Foyer as Secretary-General.  Richet did not want to hurt anything.

The terrible moral dilemma he faced was made more acute when in 1877, Charles Richet married Amélie Aubry. They had five sons, Georges, Jacques, Charles (who, like his father, was Professor in the Faculty of Medicine in Paris and was, in his turn, succeeded by his son Gabriel), Albert and Alfred, and two daughters, Louise (Mme Lesné) and Adèle (Mme le Ber).  Disease of all kinds was felling children and suddenly the problem became a very personal one.  But he still had to face the killing of animals and the suffering he inflicted on them and despite the paper it appears he was actually unable to reconcile it.

The extraordinary drug taking of Charles Robert Richet


What do people turn to when they cannot face the reality of what they do?  They might use alcohol, but in Richet’s day they turned to drugs, because drugs were very very accessible.

And Richet was a major – truly major user of both hasheesh and opium.  He tried absinthe and it scared him so much he set up an experiment he showed his students, to warn them against it [see the observations], but it appears he was an opium addict – or perhaps more correctly a laudanum addict.

He was human, inspired and compassionate when he had had his daily fix and he was a monster when he had missed a dose or had not had the dose for some time.

Popular Science Monthly Volume 12 March 1878  (1878)  - Opium and its Antidote -  Charles Robert Richet

Then the outer world disappears, and there remains only an inner world, sometimes full of tumult and delirium, and producing feverish excitement, or, as is more frequently the case, calm and quiet, and full of delightful repose.   This intoxication is purely psychical, and far superior to the intoxication produced by alcohol or hasheesh, for, though hasheesh gives one a few hours of insanity, opium gives sleep, and with this boon there is nothing that can compare. One must have suffered from insomnia in order to appreciate the value of opium. It brings sleep, and it banishes pain.

It brings sleep, and it banishes pain.  Poor man.

Popular Science Monthly Volume 13 August 1878  (1878)  - Poisons of the Intelligence-Hasheesh

It is very difficult to find out any more concerning the Oriental modes of preparing hasheesh; still, though our pharmaceutical information be insufficient, we are pretty familiar with the psychic effects of the drug. I have taken it myself again and again in various doses, and have administered it to many of my friends, and whatever I shall have to say concerning its properties will be based upon my own observations. ….. But, for a description of all these sensations, I would refer the reader to the brilliant pages of Théophile Gautier's "Club des Hachichins."

Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (30 August 1811 – 23 October 1872) was a user of hashish and opium, which is why he is on this site.  A heavy user.

Studies in Parapsychology

If you are as heavy user of drugs as Richet, eventually you start to ask questions about what all this means, what is it you are seeing and how it relates to, for example, religion.  By the look of poor Richet, by the time he was in his mid 70s he was in a terrible state.  He had the wide eyed look, the bulging eyes and the lost and gone appearance of someone who spends most of their time away from this earth and in another realm entirely, but before he got to this level, he used his research abilities to try to find out ‘why’. 


In 1891, Richet founded the Annales des sciences psychiques. He contacted fellow scientists researching the area and started to get involved in the research - Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, Frederic William Henry Myers and Dr Eugene Osty.  In 1919, Richet became honorary chairman of the Institut Métapsychique International in Paris, and, in 1930, full-time president.  In 1905, Richet was named president of the Society for Psychical Research in the United Kingdom.

Richet wrote:
"It has been shown that as regards subjective metapsychics the simplest and most rational explanation is to suppose the existence of a faculty of supernormal cognition ... setting in motion the human intelligence by certain vibrations that do not move the normal senses."

He hypothesized a “sixth sense”, an ability to perceive hypothetical vibrations, which he discussed in his 1928 book Our Sixth Sense.  Spiritualists of his day attributed most of the phenomenon of the day to the spirits of dead people.   Osty, Myers and many others rejected this, and were attempting to find out how apporting, levitation, psychokinesis etc worked.

It seems to me prudent not to give credence to the spiritistic hypothesis... it appears to me still (at the present time, at all events) improbable, for it contradicts (at least apparently) the most precise and definite data of physiology, whereas the hypothesis of the sixth sense is a new physiological notion which contradicts nothing that we learn from physiology. Consequently, although in certain rare cases spiritism supplies an apparently simpler explanation, I cannot bring myself to accept it. When we have fathomed the history of these unknown vibrations emanating from reality – past reality, present reality, and even future reality – we shall doubtless have given them an unwonted degree of importance. The history of the Hertzian waves shows us the ubiquity of these vibrations in the external world, imperceptible to our senses.

There is a comical side to this in that Wikipedia quotes Historian Ruth Brandon, who criticized Richet as ‘credulous’ when it came to psychical research, noting ‘his will to believe, and his disinclination to accept any unpalatably contrary indications’.  But why should one disbelieve if one had experienced such things oneself.  As he himself said......




Richet's works on parascientific subjects, which dominated his later years, include the following.  We have extracted a few observations from his thirty years of psychic research – listing them under this heading, but also produce the more generic ones under his name

  • Richet, C  - L'Avenir et la Prémonition (The Future and Premonition, 1931)
  • Richet, C - La Grande Espérance (The Great Hope, 1933).
  • Maxwell, J & Richet, C. Metapsychical Phenomena: Methods and Observations (London: Duckworth, 1905).
  • Richet, C. Traité De Métapsychique (Treatise on Metapsychics, 1922).
  • Richet, C. Thirty Years of Psychical Research (1923).
  • Richet, C. Notre Sixième Sens (Our Sixth Sense, 1928).

For the full details of Anaphylaxis which incorporates Dr Richet's Nobel Prize speech, please follow this LINK


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