The influence of Boerhaave's ideas in European medicine in the 17th and 18th centuries

Maurice Boucher
Lyons, France

At the end of the 16th century, following the controversy generated by Galen's theories, a new era was to begin in which Boerhaave's role was essential. Heir to the great names of the previous century (Heurnius), Boerhaave will be at the origin of important changes in medical teaching and practice: medical observation, clinical medicine and the creation of chairs of medicine. In this perspective, in France, JL Petit described crepitus, an of bone fracture expressed as a pain felt by the patient. Doctors, aware of this new manner of thinking based on anatomy, physiology and fundamental sciences, were to be the sculptors of this new method: listening, palpating, auscultating to examine the patient. Desault created in Paris one of the first chairs of clinical surgery, Dubois de Rochefort, a chair of clinical medicine. Pinel, Bichat, Cabanis, Corvisart were to follow, in particular, Dr Borden who published in Diderot's and D'Alembert's Encyclopedia, insisting on the role of clinical examination of the patient. He described the for which he showed its diagnostic value heralding the end of an illness and also its prognostic value; the number of crises indicating the evolution of an illness. Van Swieten (inventor of a treatment for syphilis) who worked in Austria had been a pupil of Boerhaave. He was very cultured and appreciated by Marie-Thérèse who entrusted him with the teaching and organisation of medical practice at the University of Vienna. It was Van Swieten who signed Mesmer's Medical Doctorate thesis (perhaps a little lightly) but he was also the excellent President of Franz Gall's thesis, one of the first discoverers of motor aphasia. Van Swieten's chair was occupied by De Haen, who was to be the first Professor of Medical practice in Holland and continued, in Vienna, the work of his predecessor. It was in this climate of clinical research that Auerbrugger applied the theory of percussion to the study of thoracic illness. Such were the disciples of Boerhaave. Such were the men who followed Boerhaave's example. Many other examples could be quoted but time is lacking. Such were the disciples of Boerhaave, a great man of the 17th century whose glory has persisted through the centuries.


Poster Session I
Friday, 20 June 1997, 12.15 - 12.45

Second Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and 6th Meeting of the European Club on the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Leiden, The Netherlands