1902 Encyclopedia > Medicine > Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738)

(Part 30)

Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738), Dutch physician, anatomist, botanist and chemist

None of these men founded a school, -- a result due in part to their intellectual character, in part to the absence in England of medical schools equivalent in position and importance to the universities of the Continent. An important academical position was, on the other hand, one of the reasons why a physician not very different in his way of thinking from the English physicians of the age of Queen Anne was able to take a far more predominant position in the medical world.

Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738) was emphatically a great teacher. He was for many years professor of medicine at Leyden, where he lectured five hours a day, and excelled in influence and reputation, not only his greatest forerunners, Montanus of Padua and Sylvius of Leyden, but probably every subsequent teacher. The hospital of Leyden, though with only twelve beds available for teaching, became the centre of medical influence in Europe. Many of the leading English physicians of the 18th century studied there; Van Swieten, a pupil of Boerhaave, transplanted the latter’s method of teaching to Vienna, and founded the noted Vienna school of medicine.

Herman Boerhaave image

Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738),
Dutch physician
(probably the greatest medical and chemical teacher of the 18th century)

As the organizer, and almost the constructor, of the modern method of clinical instruction, the services of Boerhaave to the progress of medicine were immense, and can hardly be overrated. In his teaching, as in his practice, he avowedly followed the method of Hippocrates and Sydenham, both of whom he enthusiastically admired. In his medical doctrine he must be pronounced an eclectic, though taking his stand mainly on the iatro-mechanical school.

The best known parts of Boerhaave’s system are his doctrines of inflammation, obstruction, and "plethora." By the last-named especially he was long remembered. His object was to make all the anatomical and physiological acquisitions of his age, even microscopical anatomy, which he diligently studied, available for use in the practice of medicine. He thus differed from Sydenham, who took almost as little account of modern science as of ancient dogma.

Boerhaave may be some respects compared to Galen, but again differed from him in that he always abstained from attempting to reduce his knowledge to a uniform and coherent system. Boerhaave attached great importance to the study of the medical classics, but rather treated them historically than quoted them as canonical authorities.

It almost follows from the nature of the case that the great task of Boerhaave’s life, a synthesis of ancient and modern medicine, and the work in which this is chiefly contained, his celebrated Institutions, could not have any great permanent value. Nearly the same thing is true even of the Aphorisms, in which, following the example of Hippocrates, he endeavoured to sum up the results of his long experience.

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