1902 Encyclopedia > Medicine > Albrecht von Haller and Giovanni Battista Morgagni

(Part 32)

Albrecht von Haller (1708-77) and Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771)

From the subtleties of rival systems it is a satisfaction to turn to two movements in the medicine of the 18th century which, though they did not extinguish the spirit of system-making, opened up paths of investigation by which the systems were ultimately superseded. These are physiology in the modern sense, as dating from Haller, and pathological anatomy, as dating from Morgagni.

Albrecht von Haller (1708-77) was a man of even more encyclopaedic attainments than Boerhaave. He advanced chemistry, botany, anatomy, as well as physiology, and was incessantly occupied in endeavouring to apply his scientific studies to practical medicine, thus continuing the work of his great teacher Boerhaave. Besides all this he was probably more profoundly acquainted with the literature and bibliography of medicine than any one before or since. Haller occupied in the new university of Göttingen (founded 1737) a position corresponding to that of Boerhaave at Leyden, and in like manner influenced a very large circle of pupils. The appreciation of his work in physiology belongs to the history of that science; we are only concerned here with its influence on medicine. Haller’s definition of irritability as a property of muscular tissue, and its distinction from sensibility as a property of nerves, struck at the root of the prevailing hypothesis respecting animal activity. It was no longer necessary to suppose that a half conscious "anima" was directing every movement. Moreover, Haller’s views did not rest on a priori speculation, but on numerous experiments. He was among the first to investigate the action of medicines on healthy persons. Unfortunately the lesson which his contemporaries learnt was not the importance of experiment, but only the need of contriving other "systems" less open to objection; and thus the influence of Haller led directly to the theoretical subtleties of Cullen and John Brown, and only indirectly and later on the general anatomy of Bichat. The great name of Haller does not therefore occupy a very prominent place in the history of practical medicine.

Giovanni Battista Morgagni image

Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771),
Italian anatomist

The work of Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771) had and still preserves a permanent importance beyond that of all the contemporary theorists. In a series of letters De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis, published when he was in his eightieth year, he described the appearances met with at the post-mortem examination as well as the symptoms during life in a number of cases of various diseases. It was not the first work of the kind. Bonet had published his Sepulcretum in 1679; and observations of post-mortem appearances had been made by Montanus, Tulp, Vieussens, Valsalva, Lancisi, Haller, and others. But never before was so large a collection of cases brought together, described with such accuracy, or illustrated with equal anatomical and medical knowledge. Morgagni’s work at once made an epoch in the science. Morbid anatomy now became a recognized branch of medical research, and the movement was started which has lasted till our own day.

The contribution of Morgagni to medical science must be regarded as in some respects the counterpart of Sydenham’s. The latter had, in neglecting anatomy, neglecting the most solid basis for studying the natural history of disease; though perhaps it was less from choice than because his practice, as he was not attached to a hospital, gave him no opportunities. But it is on the combination of the two methods that of Sydenham and of Morgagni, that modern medicine rests; and it is through these that it has been able to make steady progress in its own filed, independently of the advance of physiology or other sciences.

The method of Morgagni found many imitators, both in his own country and in others. In England the first important in this field is at the same time that of the first writer of a systematic work in any language on morbid anatomy, Matthew Baillie (1761-1823), who published his treatise in 1793.

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