1902 Encyclopedia > Medicine > The Iatro-Chemical School

(Part 27)

The Iatro-Chemical School

The so-called iatro-chemical school stood in a much closer relation to practical medicine than the iatro-physical. The principle which mainly distinguished it was not merely the use of chemical medicines in addition to the traditional or, as they were called in distinction, "Galenical" remedies, but a theory of pathology or causation of disease entirely different from the prevailing "humoral" pathology. Its chief aim was to reconcile the new views in physiology and chemistry with practical medicine. In some theoretical views, and in the use of certain remedies, the school owed something to Van Helmont and Paracelsus, but took in the main an independent position. The founder of the iatro-chemical school was Francis de le Boë, called Sylvius (1614-72), belonging to a French family settled in Holland. Sylvius was for fourteen years professor of medicine at Leyden, where he attracted students from all quarters of Europe. He made a resolute attempt to reconstruct medicine on the two bases of the doctrine of the circulation of the blood and the new views of chemistry. Fermentation, which was supposed to take place in the stomach, played an important part in the vital processes. Chemical disturbances of these processes, called acridities, &c., were the cause of fevers and other diseases. Sometimes acid sometimes alkaline properties predominated in the juices and secretions of the body, and produced corresponding disturbances. In nervous diseases disturbances of the vital "spirits" were most important. Still in some parts of his system Sylvius shows an anxiety to base his pathology on anatomical changes. Th remedies he employed were partly Galenical, partly chemical. He was very moderate in the use of bleeding.

The doctrines of Sylvius became widely spread in Holland and Germany; less so in France and Italy. In England they were not generally accepted till adopted with some modifications by Thomas Willis the great anatomist (1622-75), who is the chief English representative of the chemical school. Willis was as thorough-going a chemist as Sylvius. He regarded all bodies, organic and inorganic, as composed of the three elements – spirits, sulphur, and salt, the first being only found abundantly in animal bodies. The "intestine movement of particles" in every body, or fermentation, was the explanation of many of the processes of life and disease. The sensible properties and physical alterations of animal fluids and solids depended upon different proportions, movements, and combinations of these particles. The elaborate work Pharmaceutice Rationalis, based on these materials, had much influence in its time, though it was soon forgotten. But some parts of Willis’s works, such as his descriptions of nervous diseases, and his account (the earliest) of diabetes, are classical contributions to scientific medicine. In the application of chemistry to the examination of secretions Willis made some important steps. The chemical school met with violent opposition, partly form the adherents of the ancient medicine, partly from the iatro-mechanical school. Towards the end of the 17th century appeared an English medical reformer who sided with none of these schools, but may be said in some respects to have surpassed and dispensed with them.

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