Herman Boerhaave: The Nearly Forgotten Father of Modern Medicine - The Objective Standard

Isaac Newton developed calculus, demonstrated the immense practicality of the scientific method, and discovered the laws of motion that govern the physical world. Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution, discovered the mechanism of natural selection, and established the fundamental principles of biology. Michelangelo perfected the art of sculpture, depicted man as a heroic being, and inspired viewers and artists across centuries. Such men advanced their respective fields by orders of magnitude. Who is their equivalent in the field of medicine? His name, which few people today recognize, is Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738).

In his day, Boerhaave was a world-renowned physician and educator. He held three professorial chairs—in medicine, chemistry, and botany—at the University of Leiden and made the Dutch school the focal point of medical education in the Western world. During the Age of Reason, Boerhaave was the undisputed standard-bearer of Enlightenment medicine:1 When he began his work in medicine, the field was still mired in the mystical methodologies and superstitions of the Middle Ages; by the time he was through, the field was a science concerned with the natural causes and treatments of illnesses. And although his name has since faded into near obscurity, his influence remains.

To acquaint you with this heroic man, let us briefly survey the highlights of his life, and then consider his seminal contributions to medicine. . . .

Endnotes

1 Richard Toellner, “Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738),” in Klassiker Der Medizin, edited by Dietrich v. Engelhardt and Fritz Hartmann (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1991), p. 215 (translations mine).

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2 Rina Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738): Calvinist Chemist and Physician, (Amsterdam: Koninklijke Nederlandse Akad. van Wetenschappen, 2002), p. 22.

3 D. A. K. Black, “Johnson on Boerhaave,” Medical History, vol. 3, no. 4, October 1959, p. 325.

4 Toellner, “Herman Boerhaave,” p. 223.

5 Benjamin Ward Richardson and George Martin, “Disciples of Aesculapius,” vol. 1 (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1901), p. 99.

6 Frits G. Nelis, “Hermannus Boerhaave: simplex very sigillum,” Folia Gastroentologica et Hepatologica, vol. 2, no. 1, 2004, p. 5.

7 G. A. Lindeboom, Herman Boerhaave: The Man and His Work (London: Methuen & Co., 1968), p. 34.

8 William Burton, An Account of the Life and Times of Herman Boerhaave (London: Henry Lintot, 1746), pp. 21–23.

9 Burton, Account of the Life and Times (London: Henry Lintot, 1746), pp. 21–23.

10 Toellner, “Herman Boerhaave,” p. 225.

11 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work,pp. 163–216.

12 Toellner, “Herman Boerhaave,” p. 215.

13 Kathleen Wellman, La Mettrie: Medicine, Philosophy, and Enlightenment (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992), pp. 62–63, www.questia.com, accessed January 31, 2010.

14 Ursula Weisser, “Galen (129–ca. 200 oder nach 210 n. Chr.),” in Klassiker Der Medizin, edited by Dietrich v. Engelhardt and Fritz Hartmann (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1991), p. 23 (translations mine).

15 Weisser, “Galen,” pp. 22–27.

16 Heinrich Schipperges, “Paracelsus (1493–1541),” in Klassiker Der Medizin, edited by Dietrich v. Engelhardt and Fritz Hartmann (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1991), pp. 101–12 (translations mine).

17 Nancy G. Siraisi, “Medicine and the Renaissance World of Learning,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 78, no. 1, Spring 2004, pp. 1–36.

18 Fielding H. Garrison, An Introduction to the History of Medicine (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1913), p. 169.

19 James Longrigg, Greek Rational Medicine: Philosophy and Medicine from Alcmaeon to the Alexandrians (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 1.

20 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work,p. 358.

21 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, pp. 363–64.

22 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 266.

23 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 101.

24 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 101.

25 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 269.

26 Wellman, La Mettrie, p. 67, www.questia.com, accessed February 1, 2010.

27 Wellman, La Mettrie, p. 67.

28 Richard Allen, “David Hartley On Human Nature,” in SUNY Series in the Philosophy of Psychology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), p. 105.

29 Hubert Steinke, Irritating Experiments: Haller’s Concept and the European Controversy on Irritability and Sensibility, 1750–90 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005), p. 33, www.questia.com, accessed February 15, 2010.

30 Lois N. Magner, A History of the Life Sciences,3rd ed., (New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2002), p. 216.

31 Magner, A History of the Life Sciences, p. 216.

32 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, pp. 154–57.

33 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, pp. 137–41.

34 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 369.

35 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, pp. 283–84.

36 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, pp. 283–86.

37 Wellman, La Mettrie, p.63, www.questia.com, accessed January 31, 2010.

38 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, pp. 285–86.

39 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 291.

40 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 292.

41 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 365.

42 Kim Ock-Joo, Lee Myung, and Hwang Sang-Ik, “Hermann Boerhaave: A Historiographical Survey,” Korean Journal of Medical History, vol. 6, 1997, p. 121.

43 John Sanderson Robert Taylor Conrad, Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait and Co., for James A. Bill, 1848), pp. 378–90.

44 Gillian Hull, “The Influence of Herman Boerhaave,” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol. 90, September 1997, p. 513.

45 Lindeboom, The Man and His Work, p. 364.

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