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Practicing Chemistry “After the Hippocratical Manner”: Hippocrates and the Importance of Chemistry for Boerhaave's Medicine

  • Rina Knoeff
Part of the Archimedes New Studies In The History And Philosophy Of Science and Technology book series (ARIM, volume 18)

It is well known that Herman Boerhaave, the eighteenth-century “instructor of all of Europe” (communis Europae praeceptor), was an ardent supporter of Hippocrates. While historians have discussed Boerhaave’s veneration for Hippocrates as the “Father of Medicine” before, it is less known that Boerhaave also recommended practicing chemistry “after the Hippocratical manner.” Boerhaave’s advice is remarkable since chemistry is alien to the Hippocratic writings. What, I ask in this paper, did Boerhaave mean when speaking about the “Hippocratical manner” and why did he make this method central to his chemistry? What in the Hippocratic corpus was of particular use in the chemical laboratory that attracted Boerhaave? How did Hippocrates function as an essential connection between Boerhaave’s chemistry and medicine?

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Individual Power Natural Philosopher Vital Force Human Intellect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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References

Notes

  1. 1.
    For an evaluation of the early modern meaning of “discipline” see Andrew Cunningham, “The Pen and the Sword: Recovering the Disciplinary Identity of Physiology and Anatomy before 1800. I. Old Physiology – The Pen,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biomedical Sciences 33, 2002, 631–65, on 632–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See for instance Gerrit A. Lindeboom, Herman Boerhaave: The Man and His Work (Leiden: Brill, 1968), Boerhaave’s chief twentieth-century biographer. But also more recently historians have denied that Boerhaave’s natural philosophy included immaterial powers; see for instance Harold J. Cook, “Boerhaave and the Flight from Reason in Medicine,” Bulletin for the History of Medicine 74, 2000, 221–40.Google Scholar
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    Andrew Cunningham, “Medicine to Calm the Mind. Boerhaave’s Medical System and Why It Was Adopted in Edinburgh,” 40–66 in The Medical Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century, Andrew Cunningham and Roger French, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); John C. Powers, Herman Boerhaave and the Pedagogical Reform of Eighteenth-Century Chemistry (Ph.D. dissertation; Indiana University, 2001); Rina Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738). Calvinist Chemist and Physician (Amsterdam: Edita, 2002).Google Scholar
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    See John Powers’s contribution to this volume.Google Scholar
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    The exact date of the beginning of Boerhaave’s medical studies is unknown. Lindeboom (Herman Boerhaave, 28) has suggested that it was in 1691 because Boerhaave, after graduating with a philosophy degree in 1690, worked in the university library for nine months.Google Scholar
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    Herman Boerhaave, Commentariolus, XII; translated in Lindeboom, Herman Boerhaave, 381.Google Scholar
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    Herman Boerhaave, Oratio de commendando studio Hippocratico (Leiden: 1701), 6; translated in A.M. Luyendijk-Elshout and E. Kegel-Brinkgreve, Boerhaave’s Orations (Leiden: Brill, 1983), 66. In the following I shall refer to the translation of the oration as CSH.Google Scholar
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    Cornelis Love, translator of Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, explicitly praised Boerhaave as the “Dutch Hippocrates.” See his preface to Kortbondige Spreuken wegens de Ziektens te Kennen en te Genezen (Amsterdam, 1741). Recently, Jan K. van der Korst noted that perhaps Boerhaave rather than Pieter van Foreest earned the title of “the Dutch Hippocrates”; “Van gevierd Hippocraat tot vergeten Galenist,” 145–52 in Pieter van Foreest: De Hollandse Hippocrates, Henriette Bosman-Jelgersma, ed. (Krommenie: Drukkerij Knijnenberg,1996), on 145.Google Scholar
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    Cunningham, “Medicine to Calm the Mind,” 49. Elsewhere Cunningham argues that it was Sydenham’s representation of Hippocrates that Boerhaave spread across Europe. I disagree with this interpretation. I argue in this paper that Boerhaave’s Hippocrates was Calvinist and that what he adopted from Sydenham’s understanding of Hippocrates primarily fitted the Calvinist criteria of his research. See Andrew Cunningham, “The Transformation of Hippocrates in Seventeenth-century Britain,” 91–115, on 105 in Reinventing Hippocrates, David Cantor, ed. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).Google Scholar
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    David Cantor, “The Uses and Meanings of Hippocrates,” 1–18 in Reinventing Hippocrates, on 3.Google Scholar
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    Other (non-Calvinist) natural philosophers also adopted Hippocrates as their primary role model. Thomas Rütten has argued that Hippocrates was constructed a Christus medicus in the medical tradition which developed analogously to the theological tradition, “Hippocrates and the Construction of ‘Progress’ in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Medicine,” 37–58 in Reinventing Hippocrates, on 43. According to Owsei Temkin, Hippocrates in a World of Pagans and Christians (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), the ease of adopting Hippocrates into a Christian tradition has to do with the Hippocratic suggestion that nature is full of divine powers and that the physician is a servant of this divine nature.Google Scholar
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    In my Ph.D. dissertation, Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738), I have already extensively discussed Boerhaave’s Calvinism. See also Knoeff, “The Making of a Calvinist Chemist: Herman Boerhaave, God, Fire and Truth,” Ambix 48, 2001, 102–11.Google Scholar
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    Herman Boerhaave, Sermo academicus de comparando certo in physicis (Leiden, 1715), 6; translated in Luyendijk-Elshout and Kegel-Brinkgreve, Boerhaave’s Orations, 157.Google Scholar
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    Harold J. Cook, “The New Philosophy in the Low Countries,” 115–49 in The Scientific Revolution in National Context, Roy Porter and Mikulás Teich, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), on 116.Google Scholar
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    Cunningham, “Medicine to Calm the Mind,” 48.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Herman Boerhaave, Sermo academicus de honore medici, servitute (Leiden, 1731), 6–7; translated in Luyendijk-Elshout and Kegel-Brinkgreve, Boerhaave’s Orations, 247–48. In the following I shall refer to the translation of the oration as HMS.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 252. Luyendijk-Elshout and Kegel-Brinkgreve have searched for the source of the Hippocratic quotation, but they have found none.Google Scholar
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  25. 25.
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    Roger French, Medicine before Science: The Business of Medicine from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 207–12.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of the Greek meaning of “observation” see Geoffrey E. R. Lloyd, Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies in the Origin and Development of Greek Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 129. See also Cantor’s discussion of Lloyd’s argument in his introduction to Reinventing Hippocrates, 3–4.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    CSH, 69–71.Google Scholar
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    Herman Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry, trans. by Peter Shaw, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London, 1741), 2:3.Google Scholar
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    Boerhaave, Commentariolus, XII. The Commentariolus is published in Lindeboom, Herman Boerhaave, 377–86.Google Scholar
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    For Boerhaave considered as a Baconian see Luyendijk-Elshout and Kegel-Brinkgreve, Boerhaave’s Orations, 16. More recently Ursula Klein has also argued for a Baconian Boerhaave in “Experimental History and Herman Boerhaave’s Chemistry of Plants,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 34, 2003, 533–67, on 557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Luyendijk-Elshout and Kegel-Brinkgreve, Boerhaave’s Orations, 238.Google Scholar
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    HMS, 261.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 251, my italics.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Hippocrates quoted in Iain M. Lonie, “Hippocrates the Iatromechanist,” Medical History 25, 1981, 113–50, on 138.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 138–39.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 140.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Nicholas G. Round, “Alonso de Cartagena and John Calvin as interpreters of Seneca’s De clementia,” 67–88 in Atoms, Pneuma and Tranquility: Epicurean and Stoic Themes in European Thought, Margaret Osler, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). See also in the same volume: M. A. Stewart, “The Stoic Legacy in the Early Scottish Enlightenment,” 273–96.Google Scholar
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    John Calvin, Institutes (Geneva, 1559), I, ix, 4.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    HMS, 253.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 251.Google Scholar
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    For Hippocrates see Nature of Man. For Boerhaave see HMS, 253.Google Scholar
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    Herman Boerhaave, Verhandeling over de Kragten der Geneesmiddelen (Rotterdam, 1756), 19–44.Google Scholar
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    Herman Boerhaave, Sermo academicus de chemia suos errores expurgante (Leiden, 1718), 40; translated in Luyendijk-Elshout and Kegel-Brinkgreve, Boerhaave’s Orations, 212. In the following I refer to the translation of this oration as CSEE. Boerhaave similarly argued in the preface to Bellini’s De urinibus et pulsibus (Leiden, 1730) that the mechanical philosophy deserves praise, but that chemistry is best able to investigate the nature of the humors.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    CSH, 74–75.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    William Burton, one of Boerhaave’s first biographers, recognized the importance of Van Helmont for Boerhaave’s work. He stated that Boerhaave “had read over carefully Paracelsus four, and Van Helmont seven times: the latter was his favourite.” William Burton, An Account of the Life and Writings of Herman Boerhaave (London, 1743).Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    CSH, 83. Boerhaave was not the first to enlist Van Helmont among the admirers and followers of Hippocrates. Jole Shackelford (“The Chemical Hippocrates: Paracelsian and Hippocratic Theory in Petrus Severinus’ Medical Philosophy,” 59–88, in Reinventing Hippocrates, on 60) has argued that Hippocrates’ reputation among the English chemical physicians was presumably partly shaped by Van Helmont’s vision of Hippocrates as a chemist.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Herman Boerhaave, De Geneeskundige Onderwijzingen, C. Love, trans. (Amsterdam, 1745), 13.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    For Boerhaave condemning the iatrochemists see CSEE, 205–07.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    CSEE, 199–200. See also Isaac Newton, Opticks (London, 1730), Query 31, 375–96, on 394. This is not to say that Boerhaave was a Newtonian pur sang. Only in the beginning of his academic career can Boerhaave be called a Newtonian. Later in life he became more critical of the English natural philosopher.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Mary Jo Nye, “Physics and Chemistry: Commensurate or Incommensurate Sciences?” 205–44 in The Invention of Physical Science, eds. Mary J. Nye et al. (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992), on 217. Nye quotes from R. S. Mulliken, “Spectroscopy, Quantum Chemistry, and Molecular Physics,” Physics Today 21, 1968, 52–57, on 55.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Boerhaave, New Method, 1:173; Herman Boerhaave, Elementa chemiae, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1732), 1:79.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave, 116–17. John Powers, Herman Boerhaave and the Pedagogical Reform, likewise argues that Boerhaave’s pedagogical method was directed towards the development and analysis of theoretical claims, rather than the propagation of chemical remedies.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
  55. 55.
    Herman Boerhaave, Oration in qua repurgatae medicinae facilis asseritur simplicitas (Leiden, 1709), 25; translated by Luyendijk-Elshout and Kegel-Brinkgreve in Boerhaave’s Orations, 139–41.Google Scholar
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    Hippocrates, Aphorisms, I.6; Boerhaave, Kortbondige Spreuken, 4.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Gerard van Swieten, one of Boerhaave’s influential pupils and commentators, first argued that Boerhaave “united the theories of the chemists and the mechanicians”; Commentaries upon Boerhaave’s Aphorisms Concerning the Knowledge and Cure of Diseases (Edinburgh, 1776), x. Gerrit A. Lindeboom, “Boerhaave’s Impact on the Relation between Chemistry and Medicine,” Clio Medica 7, 1972, 271–78; “Boerhaave’s Concept of the Basic Structure of the Body,” Clio Medica 5, 1970, 203–08 also considered Boerhaave a mechanist. Luyendijk-Elshout, “Mechanicisme contra Vitalisme: De School van Herman Boerhaave en de Beginselen van het Leven,” Tijdschrift voor de Geschiedenis der Geneeskunde, Natuurwetenschappen en Techniek 5, 1982, 16–26 does not take much notice of Boerhaave’s chemistry for medicine. F.R. Jevons, “Boerhaave’s Biochemistry,” Medical History 6, 1962, 343–62, acknowledges (346) the importance of chemistry by stating that chemistry offered itself as the handmaid of medicine as a whole, not of pharmacy only. Allen Debus, Chemistry and Medical Debate: Van Helmont to Boerhaave (Canton: Science History Publications, 2001), however, has recently argued that although chemistry was relevant for Boerhaave’s physiology, it was ‘clearly not to become the theoretical basis of medicine’ (201).Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    CSEE, 211.Google Scholar
  59. 59.

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  • Rina Knoeff

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