1902 Encyclopedia > Medicine > Jan Baptista van Helmont (1580–1644)

(Part 24)

Jan Baptista van Helmont (1580–1644), Flemish chemist, physiologist and physician

The medicine of the 17th century was especially distinguished by the rise of systems; and we must first speak of an eccentric genius who endeavoured to construct a system for himself, as original and opposed to tradition as that of Paracelsus. Van Helmont (1578-1644) was a man of noble family in Brussels, who, after mastering all other branches of learning as then understood, devoted himself with enthusiasm to medicine and chemistry. By education and position a little out of the regular lines of the profession, he took up in medicine an independent attitude. Well acquainted with the doctrines of Galen, he rejected them as thoroughly as Paracelsus did, and borrowed from the latter some definite ideas as well as his revolutionary spirit. The archeus of Paracelsus appears again, but with still further complications, -- the whole body being controlled by the archeus influus, and the organ of the soul and its various parts by the archei institi, which are subject to the central archeus. Many of the symptoms of disease were caused by the passions and perturbations of the archeus, and medicines acted by modifying the ideas of the same archeus. These and other notions cannot be here stated at sufficent length to be intelligible. It is enough to say that on this fantastic basis Helmont constructed a medical system which had some practical merits, that his therapeutical methods were mild and in many respects happy, and that he did service by applying newer chemical methods to the preparation of drugs. He thus had some share, though a share not generally recognized, in the foundation of the iatro--chemical school, now to be spoken of. But his avowed followers formed a small and discredited sect, which, in England at least, can be clearly traced in the latter part of the century.

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