Herman Boerhaave

Herman Boerhaave (December 31, 1668 - September 23, 1738) was a Dutch humanist and physician of European fame, born at Voorhout near Leiden. He is regarded as the founder of the clinical teaching and of the modern academic hospital. His main achievement was to demonstrate the relation of symptoms to lesions.

Entering the university of Leiden he took his degree in philosophy in 1689, with a dissertation De distinctione mentis a corpore, in which he attacked the doctrines of Epicurus, Hobbes and Spinoza. He then turned to the study of medicine, in which he graduated in 1693 at Harderwijk in Gelderland. In 1701 he was appointed lecturer on the institutes of medicine at Leiden; in his inaugural discourse, De commendando Hippocratis studio, he recommended to his pupils that great physician as their model.

In 1709 he became professor of botany and medicine, and in that capacity he did good service, not only to his own university, but also to botanical science, by his improvements and additions to the botanic garden of Leiden, and by the publication of numerous works descriptive of new species of plants. In 1714, when he was appointed rector of the university, he succeeded Govert Bidloo (1649-1713) in the chair of practical medicine, and in this capacity he had the merit of introducing the modern system of clinical instruction. Four years later he was appointed also to the chair of chemistry. In 1728 he was elected into the French Academy of Sciences, and two years later into the Royal Society of London. In 1729 declining health obliged him to resign the chairs of chemistry and botany; and he died, after a lingering and painful illness, on the 23rd of September 1738 at Leiden.

His genius so raised the fame of the university of Leiden, especially as a school of medicine, that it became a resort of strangers from every part of Europe. All the princes of Europe sent him disciples, who found in this skilful professor not only an indefatigable teacher, but an affectionate guardian. When Peter the Great went to Holland in 1715, to instruct himself in maritime affairs, he also took lessons from Boerhaave. His reputation was not confined to Europe; a Chinese Mandarin wrote him a letter directed "To the illustrious Boerhaave, physician in Europe," and it reached him in due course.

His principal works are:

  • Institutiones medicae (Leiden, 1708)
  • Aphorismi de cognoscendis et curandis morbis (Leiden, 1709), on which his pupil and assistant, Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772) published a commentary in 5 vols.
  • Elementa chemiae (Paris, 1724).

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