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Ambroise Paré and his times, 1510-1590 online

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ren : and he who will read and read again the
" Pieces Justicatives " of Le Paulmier, the parish
registers, and the family papers, may weave a hun-
dred pictures out of them. We come across Saint

195 Ambroise Pare

Andre far more often than I have written the name.
Baptisms, marriages, and funerals, the same parish
church took them all. The increased wealth in the
marriage-contracts, the magnificent godparents, the
good marriages that the daughters made, the crowd
of grandchildren whom I have not named — all these
are mixed with the names, here and there, of Am-
broise's old friends, successful at last, or still ob-
scure. The sound of the vie de famille is in the
houses of the Rue de L'Hirondelle long after his
death. There his widow lived and died (June 26,
1606) ; there Catherine Rousselet, widowed too,
came back and died, ten years later. And of all the
daughters I most want to know more of her, Jehanne
Mazelin's child ; especially why Claude Viart married
not her but her cousin. Ambroise never had a son
to follow him. There is a meaning, the lacrimcB
reriun, in the names of these babies : Isaac, the
child of promise, born fifteen years after Francois ;
Ambroise, born seventeen years after Isaac ; then
another Ambroise, the last child of his father's old
age : all four of them dead in a few months or years
after their birth.

" Le Roi est Mort : Vive le Roi."

The death of Charles IX., from phthisis, was on
Whitsunday, May 30, 1574, in the twenty-third



Paris 197

year of his age, and the thirteenth of his reign. He
had been under Park's care, for pain and contraction
of the arm after venesection, some time before 1569.
Of his death, Brantome says, " M. de Strozzi and I
told Master Ambroise Par6, the King's chief surgeon,
that the King was dead ; who answered, in an offhand,
abrupt way : — en passant et sans long propos — that
he was dead from too hard blowing of his horn out
hunting." Mazille attended him in his last illness.
The terrors of which he had told Par6 returned upon
him. On the Thursday before he died, there was a
great consultation of all the physicians, and on the
Friday, Mazille told him they could do no more for
him. Then he asked them to draw the bed curtains,
that he might try to sleep ; and they left him with
two of his gentlemen and his old Huguenot nurse:*

* " Mazille estant sorty, et ayant fait sortir tous ceulx qui estoynt
dans la chambre, hormis trois, assavoir, La Tour, Saint Pris, et sa
nourrice, que Sa Majeste aimoit fort, encore qu'elle fut de la religion ;
comme elle se fut mise sur un coffre et commenfast a sommeiller,
ayant entendu le roy se plaindre, pleurer, et sospirer, s'approche
tout doucement au lit ; et tirant sa custode, le roy commence a luy
dire, jettant un grand souspir, et larmoyant si fort, que ses sanglots
lui interrompoyent la parole : ' Ah, ma nourrice, ma mie, ma nour-
rice, que de sang et que de meurtres. Ah, que j'ay eu un meschant
conseil. O mon Dieu, pardonne-les-moy et me fay misericorde, s'il
te plaist. Je ne S9ais ou je suis, tant ils me rendent perplex et agite.
Que deviendra tout cecy ? que deviendrai-je moy a qui Dieu le
recommande? que feray-je? Je suis perdu, je le sens bien.' Alors
la nourrice luy dit, ' Sire, les meurtres et le sang soyent sur
la teste de ceux qui vous les ont fait faire et sur vostre meschant

198 Ambroise Pare

and on the Sunday he died. On the Monday after-
noon, at four o'clock, Pare made the examination
and embalment, in the presence of eight physicians
and surgeons of the household. The account of the
King's funeral states that among the host of great
people who followed it were the King's surgeons, on

Henri III. (i 574-1 589) was twenty-three years old
when he succeeded his brother. Pare kept his place
as chief surgeon and valet-de-chambre, and became a
member of the King's Council. Even to Henri HI.
he was loyal; the King had his good moments, and
Par6 must make the most of them. He bore with
the King's favourites, the vices of the Court, the
King's follies — his monkeys, dogs, and parrots, his
horseplay in the streets, his bilboguet, — Par6 saw
him thus playing the fool a score of times. He
made him laugh once, with a joke that sounds very
simple now ; and showed him the anatomical pict-
ures in his big books — the sort of thing that would
amuse him.

He was soon called to attend him, in September

conseil. . . . Mais pour I'honneur de Dieu, que Vostre Majeste
cesse de larmoyer et se fascher, de peur que cela ne rengrave, qui est
le plus grand malheur qui s9auroit advenir a vostre peuple et a nous
tous.' Et sur cela luy ayant este querir un mouchoir, pour ce que
le sien estoit tout mouille et trempe de larmes, apres que Sa Majeste
I'eut pris de sa main, luy fist signe qu'elle s'en allast, et le laissast en
r eposer . ' ' — L' E st oile.

Paris 199

I575> for a furious earache : this was a serious mat-
ter, his brother having died of disease of the ear.
Here is L'Estoile's account of it :

" Sept. 2d. The King fell ill with a pain in his ear,
which frightened him, because the King his brother had
died of it ; and he said this two or three times to-day.

" Sept. loth. The King drove out, against the advice
of his physicians ; and returned soon after, with extreme
pain in his ear ; and that night he was so ill, that they
sent to all the monasteries in Paris, to pray for him,
and a courier to the Queen-mother ; for all the doctors
despaired of him for twenty-four hours, except Le Grand.
They attributed the malady to his wakeful nights and
excesses during the Carnival, when notwithstanding the
affairs he had on his hands, he had passed whole nights
in mumming and masquing, and other exercises little
suited to his health."

A rumour ran through the Court, that Par^ might
attempt to poison the King ; he was therefore care-
ful to do nothing save in the presence of the phy-
sicians. This was the year of his first fight with the
faculty ; and in their jealousy they tried to keep him
out of the consultations. Ingrat ! tii as battu ton
pere, he said to Ferrier, one of the Queen-mother's
physicians, who tried this trick on him.

When Jacques Clement, in 1589, rid France of
Henri HI., Pare was seventy-nine years old ; it was
Antoine Portail who stood by the King's death-bed
at Saint Cloud.

200 Ambroise Par6

Warfare with the Faculty.

Park's long fight with the physicians, from 1575 to
1 585, was waged over the pubHcation of his Collected
Works. The ten years' war is marked by three great
battles : it is the War of the Three Editions. Some
account of his writings is given in the chapter,
" Opera Omnia " ; here we are concerned only with
the effect produced by each successive edition on
the faculty. It was a sort of Holy War for the de-
liverance of surgery from the bondage of medicine ;
and it is pleasant to read the fatuous indignation
and futile reprisals of the physicians, as they lost one
battle after another.

I. The Edition of i^JS. The King's privilege,
for nine years, allowing Par6 to publish his Collected
Works, was signed at Avignon, on November 30, 1 574.
The book, a folio of 945 pages, dedicated to the
King, finished printing on April 22, 1575. It is
characteristic of the faculty, that they were taken
by surprise. On May 5, they held their first meet-
ing, to stop a book that was already published ; they
called Par6 impudent and ignorant ; they appealed
to the Parliament — a method still employed by the
profession, from time to time, without very marked
success — and asked that a decree, forty years old,
should be confirmed, forbidding the sale of any medi-
cal book without the approval of the faculty ; and

Paris 20 1

they observed that Par6 was only a barber-surgeon,
thrust into the College of Surgeons by the King,
ignorant of Latin and Greek, even of grammar.
They got together some of the surgeons, and a
deputation from the University; and on July 9, they
had another meeting, with the miserable Estienne
Gourmelen, then Dean of the faculty, in the chair :
who pointed out to them that the book contained
much that was grossly indecent and immoral.

Five days later the case came before Parliament.
There were counsel present on behalf of (i) the
faculty, (2) the confraternity of Saint Cosmo, (3) the
civil authorities, for fear the book should be really
indecent, (4) Andr6 Malezieu, Provost of the con-
fraternity, who said Ambroise had plagiarised from
him : — from him, whose contribution to medical and
surgical literature was a translation into French of a
surgical work in Latin by that eminent physician
Gourmelen. The Parliament confirmed the decree
of 1535 ; everybody was to put in his pleadings, in
writing, within three days. The whole thing stopped
here ; farce from beginning to end ; the book was all
over Paris long ago.

Ambroise took this opportunity of telling the fac-
ulty what he thought of them, in a thin quarto
of fifteen pages."^ Every word of it should be read

* This pamphlet was addressed to the Parliament. It is given in
full by Le Paulmier.

202 Ambroise Pare

carefully; and there was some good plain-speaking
in it : —

" For more than thirty years I have been printing my
treatises on Surgery ; Avhich not only have been opposed
by no man, but were received by one and all with favour
and applause ; which made me think, if I gathered them
together, I should be doing a thing very agreeable to the
public. Which I having accomplished, and that at an
expense past thinking — when I would make them see
the light, lo and behold, the physicians and the surgeons
have set themselves to obscure and quench them, for this
sole reason, that I wrote them in our mother-tongue, in
phrases quite easy to be understood. The physicians
feared lest all who should get the book into their hands
would be advised how to take care of themselves in time
of sickness, and would not be at the pains to call them
in. The surgeons were afraid lest the barbers, reading
these my works, would receive full instruction in all the
operations of surgery, and would come to be as good as
themselves, and so trespass on their domains. For the
rest, both parties in general were moved by wilful hate,
envy, and jealousy, to see Ambroise Pare in some repu-
tation as a man well esteemed in his profession.
Let me tell them I can pay them back. And I ask you.
Gentlemen, touching this charge of indecency, to re-
member it is one thing to treat of the right conduct of
life, according to moral philosophy, for the instruction
of tender youth, and another thing wholly different to
speak of natural things, like a true physician or surgeon,
for the instruction of full-grown men."

2. The Edition of iS79- ^^ ^S/^- VdiVh had a law-

Paris 203

suit with the College of Surgeons, over certain alter-
ations in their statutes, which Par6 and four other
surgeons refused to sign : these five carried the day.
The faculty, of course, took an interest in it ; and
decided that their legal adviser should watch the
case on their behalf.

In 1578, when the second edition was ready for
publication, the faculty held in their hands the de-
cree of 1535, confirmed in 1575 ; Pare therefore
submitted the new edition to them. What they
had called indecent and immoral he left untouched ;
but as they had been angry that he, a surgeon, had
written on fevers, he cut the treatise on fevers into
pieces, and mixed it with the treatise on tumours ;
a method of pathology not to be recommended
now. Then he submitted to them the book thus
shaken up. The faculty appointed a committee of
ten, on April 5, 1578, to report on " this man's heavy
volume." On August 2, the committee were called
upon to report. They said they would rather not
bind the whole faculty to any definite opinion ; and
suggested that each member of it should make up
his mind for himself. Here the matter dropped ;
and the second edition came out on February 8, 1579.
The Dean of the faculty in 1578 was no longer Gour-
melen, but Claude Rousselet, probably related to
Park's wife.

204 Ambroise Pare

Park's anger was rising fast. " I know very well
that the surgeons, who ought to lend me a hand to
hold up my chin for fear I should go to the bottom,
have wanted to push my head under water to drown
me. They have done their best to make me obnox-
ious to the authorities both of Church and of State,
and to the public ; they have left no stone unturned
to upset me if they could."

3. TJie Edition of 1582. This is the Latin edition,
put into Latin by Jacques Guillemeau. The opposi-
tion of the faculty to it was a marvel of stupidity.
Like the oft-quoted Dogberry, they were anxious
to be written down asses : and the minutes of their
meetings are still to be read in Paris. They met
on December 21, 1581, and were furious that anybody
but one of themselves should translate a book into
Latin. " Since there is nobody but a member of
the school who would know how to make the trans-
lation, it is disgraceful — quod indignum — to leave it
to over-presumptuous surgeons, incapable of writing
a page of Latin." They appointed a committee of
six, to enquire into the outrage : who made their
report nine days later. " Your committee have
gone into the subject carefully {inaxivie laboravit).
We recommend the following title for the book :
* Ambrosii Paraei primarii regis chirurgi Opera Latin-
itate donata a Docto quodam Viro : Cura et dili-

Paris 205

gentia Jacobi Guillemeau, chirurgi Parisiensis.' This
title to be given to the printer, Jacques Dupuys.
Any leaves of the book having upon them any other
title but this, to be effaced, torn up, and kept for
some vile purpose {expuncta et lacerata et in viliorem
usmn asservata)." Some physician was to be the
vir doctus : the faculty would make the translation
themselves, or pretend to make it. Nothing came
of it all: the book was printed in Germany, and
published in January, 1582, with the following title :
" Opera Ambrosii Paraei regii primarii et Parisiensis
chirurgi A docto viro plerisque locis recognita : Et
Latinitate donata, Jacobi Guillemeau regii et Paris-
iensis chirurgi labore et diligentia." The vir doctus
was perhaps Pare himself. The faculty were power-
less: they said Guillemeau's behaviour was madness,
and the height of impudence.

4. The Edition of 158^. This, the last edition in
Pare's lifetime, is above all to be prized ; for it con-
tains the Apologia and the Journeys. No opposi-
tion was offered to it : the faculty were silenced
at last.

Antimony, Mummy, and Unicorn's Horn.

Pare conquered the faculty in this War of the
Editions ; but he did not shake the supremacy of
the physician over the surgeon in practice. It was

2o6 Ambroise Pare

a good thing, perhaps, that he did not : there was
only one Ambroise Pare, and the subjection of the
average surgeon of the XVI. century to the average
physician gave the patients a better chance that
their cases would be looked at all round. Pare
accepted this arrangement : again and again he tells
the young surgeon he must do this or that only with
the approval of the physician ; especially, the physi-
cian must decide if the patient is to be bled, and to
what amount. Pare was not a blind advocate of
bleeding, " lest the patient pour forth his life to-
gether with his blood ; " and was glad that the physi-
cians should decide in each case for or against it.
" For the practice of all such things as bleeding, a
physician shall be consulted. But because physi-
cians are not in every place and always to hand, I
have thought good to set down the following medi-
cines. ..." Again, of sciatica, he says, " The
quantity of blood to be drawn must be left to the
judgment of the physician, without whose advice
I would attempt nothing in this case." Once he
bled the Prince de La Roche-sur-Yon, for a sick
headache : taking the blood from an artery, not
from a vein, " whereof I have made trial upon
myself, to my great good " — but he did not do it
till the physicians had given their approval.

We have a good instance of the airs assumed by

Paris 207

the faculty. On August 10, 1559, Par6, then close
on fifty, and surgeon to the King, was a witness in
the action brought by the Damoiselle Fran^oise de
Rohan against the Due de Nemours: a scandal
in high life. Here is his evidence, shorn of legal
technicalities :

" That the Damoiselle de Rohan sent two of her
servants to him, asking that he would come and bleed
her next morning between seven and eight o'clock, say-
ing the physicians were to be there at that time to assist
at the bleeding. Witness went next morning to the
lady's chamber at the Louvre. At her chamber door he
met M. Sallon, chief physician to the Queen-mother :
who asked what was the purpose of his visit. Witness
answered he had come to bleed Mile, de Rohan. Then
M. Sallon said he should not bleed her. Witness asked
M. Sallon the reasons why he should not bleed the said
lady : then M. Sallon answered, ' There is a good reason,'
without explaining or specifying the said reasons." . . .

Ambroise got the reasons from one of the ladies-

Again, over the use of drugs, Ambroise was will-
ing to give way to the physicians. Thus, in 1560,
the faculty obtained a prohibition against the sale
of antimony in Paris, because it was in vogue with the
alchymists as a poison. Ambroise believed in an-
timony, as a good treatment for cases of plague, and
in his book on the plague, etc., 1 568, he spoke well of

2o8 Ambroise Pare

it. The faculty attacked him for this, and with
success ; and when he published his Collected
Works, 1575, he left out all praise of antimony, say-
ing only :

" Some approve antimony, and highly recommend it,
alleging many instances of its use observed by them-
selves. But since the use of it is forbidden by the mem-
bers of the faculty of medicine, I shall avoid saying
anything about it here."

But there were two drugs, of high repute in the
XVI. century, that he hated: and in his old age he
made a furious attack on them. These were mum-
my, and unicorn's horn : and his exposure of them
shows the wonderful vigour and youthfulness of his
old age, still at seventy-two original, independent of
habit and of tradition.'^

On August 31, 1580, M. Christophe Jouvenel des

Ursins, Marquis de Traisnel, a man of many titles, had

a bad fall from his horse in the country. Par6 was sent

for: and he called in five other surgeons, so serious

was the case, so important the patient. M. des Ursins

recovered, and lived eight years after his accident.

During his convalescence, he asked Ambroise why

* " Discours d' Ambroise Pare, conseiller et premier chirurgien
du roy, a scavoir, de la mumie, des venins, de la licome et de la
peste. A Paris, chez Gabriel Buon, au clos Bruneau, a 1' enseigne
Saint-Claude, 1582." 75 pages, with a fine portrait. There is a copy
in the British Museum.


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Paris 209

he had never given him any mummy : and this was
the origin of the last of all Ambroise's books: a
quarto of 75 pages, with Ambroise's portrait ; dedi-
cated to the patient.

Mummy was, or was supposed to be, what it said
it was : the resinous debris or scrapings of Egyptian
mummies. For unfathomable reasons, it was given
internally for the cure of falls and contusions ; and
was in high repute, "yea, the very first and last
drug of almost all our practitioners in such a case at
this present time." Ambroise will have none of it,
this " flesh of decomposed cadaverous dead bodies " :
he has never seen it do anything but give the patient
a pain inside, and make him sick : the ancient Jews,
Egyptians, and Chaldees, never dreamed of embalm-
ing their dead to be eaten by Christians. There are
mummies two thousand years old : " I leave you to
think what good meat and drink they would make
now." It smells so bad, that fishermen use it for
bait. The methods of embalment were different in
Egypt for rich and for poor : a low-class embalment
was only so much asphalt. And after all, what is
the drug that we use in Paris ?

" As a matter of fact, neither the physicians and sur-
geons who prescribe it, nor those who have written about
it, nor the apothecaries who sell it, are at all sure what it
really is. Read the ancients, read the moderns, you will

2IO Ambroise Pare

find they all differ about it : ask the apothecaries, ask the
merchants who sell it to them : one will tell you one
thing, another will tell you another. . . . Some
people believe that mummy is made and manufactured
in our own France : and that they take the bodies by
night off the gallows, eviscerate them, dry them in an
oven, dip them in pitch, and sell them for good true
ftmmmy, saying they bought them of Portugese mer-
chants, who brought them from Egypt."

Then comes the story of Ambroise's friend, Guy
de La Fontaine, who being at Alexandria in 1564,
made friends with a Jew there, who did a great trade
in mummies.

" He showed me," says Fare's friend, " a storehouse
where he had many bodies piled one atop of the other.
Then I asked the Jew again to tell me where he had
found these bodies, and whether they were found, as the
ancients said, in the sepulchres throughout the country.
The Jew fell to laughing, and mocked at this false state-
ment, saying that it was not four years since he had
prepared all these bodies himself, thirty or forty, and
they were the bodies of slaves, and such-like people : he
did not care whence they came, nor what they died of,
nor whether they were old or young, male or female,
provided he got them : and nobody could tell who they
were, once they were embalmed : and he marvelled
greatly, that the Christians were so greedy to eat the
bodies of the dead."

So much for mummy : " the sovereign'st thing on
earth for an inward bruise " in the XVI. century.
Pare would never prescribe it, or let anyone take it.

Paris 211

"As if there were no other way of saving a man
fallen from a height, contused, and grievously hurt,
but inserting and burying inside him another man :
as if there were no way of recovering health, but by
a more than brutal inhumanity."

Unicorn's horn was a drug so far like mummy
that nobody knew whence it came, what it was, how
it acted, or what was the dose of it. In Fare's time,
drugs were weighed and measured in a primitive
fashion : the grain was literally " a barley corn or
grain, and that such as is neither too dry, nor over-
grown with mould, nor rancid, but well conditioned,
and of an indifferent bigness " : other measures were
the handful,/?/:^//, and the pound medicinal, "which
is for the most part the greatest weight used by
physicians, which they seldom exceed." Happily,
the virtues of unicorn's horn were so great that it did
not matter how much or how little one took of it.
The genuine sort, narwhal or rhinoceros horn, sold
for more than its weight in gold : but horns and
bones and tusks of all kinds were used as unicorn's
horn. It was an antidote to all poisons : but Ron-
deletius had obtained equally good results, in cases of
poisoning, with plain ivory-dust ; " which is the rea-
son," says he, " why for the same disease, and with
the like success, I prescribe ivory to such as are poor,
and unicorn's horn to the rich." Chapelain used to

212 Ambroise Pare

say he would gladly abolish that custom of dipping a
piece of unicorn's horn in the King's cup, but he knew
the belief in its efficacy was rooted too deep in men's
minds for argument : besides, if it did no good, it did
no harm, save to the purses of those who bought it.
Ambroise reviews a whole host of delightful stories :
the travels of Venetian and Spanish gentlemen in
Arabia, Asia, and Cathay: Herodotus, Pliny, Prester
John, the great Cham of Tartary, his own friend
Louis de Paradis ; he quotes them all, and many
others. He would wholly refuse to recognise the
existence of the unicorn, but that it is mentioned in
the Psalms and the Prophets ; anyhow, what is sold
by the Paris apothecaries is too plentiful to be genu-
ine : and whatever it is, there is no virtue in it. He
tested the belief that if you draw a wet ring on the
table with a bit of unicorn's horn, round a spider,
scorpion, or toad, the animal will die sooner than
cross the ring : they did nothing of the kind. He
kept a toad three days in water with a bit of the
horn, and the toad was as lively as ever. There was
an old lady who sold unicorn's horn at the Pont du

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Online LibraryStephen PagetAmbroise Paré and his times, 1510-1590 → online text (page 12 of 18)