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Ambroise Paré and his times, 1510-1590 online

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ing his own case.

He was fond of good wine : witness that great cask
of wine, bigger than a pipe of Anjou, that he got at
Metz for curing M. de Magnane ; " and he told me
when it was finished he would send me another."
But it is evident from the Journey to Flanders that
he limited himself, and did not exceed his rule. It is
not likely that he smoked ; he was fifty years old
when Jehan Nicot brought tobacco to Paris. He
walked or rode to see his patients ; there were no doc-
tors' carriages then.* Blessed with a country bring-
ing-up, and a good constitution, he stood all the
hardship of war, the unwholesomeness of Paris, the
constant pressure of work. And when some acci-
dent or some chance attack of illness laid him on his
back, he treated himself, or let himself be treated,
with great prudence and courage.

* When he first came to Paris, only two carriages were to be seen,
belonging to the Queen and to Madame d'Estampes. Carriages in-
side Paris were prohibited by a sumptuary law in the time of Charles
IX. Even later than Pare's death, we find Henri IV. writing to Sully
that he cannot come to see him, because the Queen is uisng the

250 Ambroise Par^

There was yet another occasion of sudden illness,
wherein he had to be his own doctor :

" A-fter the taking of Rouen (1562) I found myself at
dinner with a company wherein were some who hated
me to death for the Religion : they handed me some
cabbages, which contained either corrosive sublimate or
arsenic. "With the first mouthful, I felt nothing : with
the second, I had a great heat and burning, and great
astringency in the mouth and especially at the back of it,
and the foul taste of the good drug. . . ."

He at once treated himself in the right way, and
was none the worse. Of course he may have made
a mistake ; the use of poison was so common that
the fear of it was everywhere ; or some fool may
have thought it funny to put the surgeon's drugs in
the surgeon's dinner. At any rate, he believed that
poison had been administered to him, in 1562, be-
cause he was, or Avas supposed to be, a Huguenot.
Thirteen years later, and three years after the massa-
cre of St. Bartholomew's Day, in the warfare over
the first edition, the faculty took him to task for put-
ting this story into his treatise on poisons. Here is
his answer, 1575 •

" ]\Iy enemies have wickedly chosen to drag into the
matter this word Religion, to make me hated of all good
men. For it was used by me, not to glorify myself for
having followed this way of thinking, but lest the reader
should think they attempted my life because I committed

Some Aspects of Pare 's Life 251

some great crime. Still less did I use it to show that
those who follow the Holy Catholic Church of Rome
take illicit means to get rid of their enemies. For I
hereby declare, and it is absolutely certain, that this
poisoner was neither of the one religion nor of the other,
but only a libertine without fear of God."

And the same year, in the Preface to the first
edition, he wrote:

" The Surgeons have wished to make me odious to
the powers of Church and State, and to the people ; they
have left no stone unturned to make me stumble if they

This story of the dinner at Rouen brings with it
the old unwelcome question, was Pare Catholic or
Huguenot ? I will endeavour to be at least inoffens-
ive over it. To make a beginning somewhere,
boldly plunging, I say that I believe he was more
Catholic than Huguenot ; that religion, for him, was
not Calvinism, nor the sermons of Huguenot minis-
ters, nor any zeal for Protestant tactics ; but rather
it was the Bible, and the faith of the Catholic Church,
as set forth at Saint Andr6 des Arcs, at whose altar
he and Jehanne Mazelin were married. Here the
children were baptised, here they were buried, and
their mother with them ; and he was to lie side by
side with them. It was the church of a thousand
memories, and within a stone's throw of home : and

252 Ambroise Pare

I am convinced that he was never wholly Huguenot,
and became almost wholly Catholic ; not only for
the sake of safety, but because he was loyal, quiet,
and conservative : a man who heartily disliked
change, self-will, scepticism, controversy, politics,
and foreigners.

Having made this plunge, I submit some facts
touching Ambroise in his relation to the two opposed
parties in the State :

(i) In 1579, ^^^ wrote the following Advice to the
Reader at the end of his treatise on the plague. I
put it here not only for its own merits, but because
it shows how well he worked with the Catholic
clergy :

" Advice to the Reader.

" The Author gives the following little admonition to
the young surgeon, who may sometimes find himself in
places where there are neither priests nor other people
of the Church at the death-beds of the poor patients ;
as I saw when King Charles was at Lyon (1574) during
the great mortality, where they used to shut up a surgeon
in the rich houses, to tend those within that were plague-
stricken ; so that they could not be helped by any to
console them in the extremity of Death. The said sur-
geon, having been instructed by this little admonition,
will be able to serve in need of some greater cleric than
himself. And I do not wish here to pass beyond the
bounds of my calling, but only to help the poor plague-
patients in their extremity of Death :

Some Aspects of Pare 's Life 253

*' Death is the fear of the rich,
The desire of the poor,
The joy of the wise,
The dread of the wicked,
End of all miseries,
And beginning of life eternal :
Happy to the elect,
And unhappy to the reprobate."

(2) After the massacre of the Huguenots, the cure
of Saint Andre, M. Christofle Orbry, was a strong
Leaguer, furious against the Reformed Church.

(3) The Reformation came late to France, later
still to Paris. The Huguenot cause was weak in
Paris, long after it was strong in the provinces ; there
were massacres of Huguenots in the country towns,
years before the Saint Bartholomew's Day in Paris.
The date of the first Reformed church opened in
Paris is 1555. It is not likely that Par6, getting on
for fifty, would leave Saint Andre to sit under a
strange Calvinist preacher in a brand-new place of

(4) He had no liking for theological disputation.
In the battle of the first edition, the faculty de-
clared he had said something wrong about predestin-
ation. Here is his answer to them (1575) :

'* I say I will not enter into the holy inner chamber of
God, and it is not for me to settle such high matters.
Still, if there be rashness in what I have declared, you
must equally accuse M. Saint Paul (i. Cor., eh. 12) of
rashness, from whom the words are taken."

254 Ambroise Pare

(5) L' Estoile has preserved a vast store of epi-
grams, skits, satirical verses, and the like, from both
parties. Many of those made by the Huguenots are
veritable triumphs of brutality and obscenity, without
parallel on the Catholic side. Fare's name is not
once mentioned, either for good or for evil, by either
Catholic or Huguenot.

These suggestions are vague and disconnected :
so much the better : he himself saw the chaos of
intrigues and interests, the plots and counter-plots,
the points at issue all confused and vague. I believe
he went to Mass, he and Jehanne together, at Saint
Andre ; and I believe he went more regularly after
1572-73, not only because it was dangerous not to
go, but because now his wife and children were
buried there. I am sure he went neither as a
" secret Huguenot," nor " as hypocrite and not as
Catholic " : nor yet to follow the fashions, like the
man in the Huguenot skit:

" Pour suivre le monde k la Messe
Colin pense estre homme de bien :
Pour aller souvent a confesse
Colin cuide estre homme de bien."

Nor did he make cheap allusions to the house of
Rimmon : nor, like Conde going to Mass for safety's
sake, the year after the Massacre, did he " show him-
self in such difficulties over his devotions that you

Some Aspects of Fare's Life 255

might tell he was not a good Catholic, crossing hinn-
self at all sorts of odd times."

But we do not know for certain, nor is it our busi-
ness, whether he went to Mass. At least, he may-
have gone partly for safety's sake. He was not in
danger at the Court ; but his life was not always safe
in the streets and slums of Paris : there were times
after the Massacre when any drunken ruffian might
raise the cry of Huguenot against him. Here, to
illustrate this peril, are two entries in L' Estoile's jour-
nal ; the first of them comes very near Par6 himself :

(i) " May, 1578. One Mercier, a pedagogue, was
attacked at nine o'clock at night, in his house near
Saint Andre des Arcs, by two villains, a tinplate worker
called Poccart, and a tailor called Pierre de La Rue, who
lives at the corner of the Pont Saint Michel. They
stabbed him and threw him into the river without a
shadow of justification. The account given by these two
hirelings of the League, two of the busiest blackguards
in the city, was that the poor gentleman was a heretic,
therefore they put him to death. Whereas, only two
days before, he made his Easter communion in his parish
church of Saint Andre des Arcs, and took the Sacra-
ment from the cure's own hands. Mdme. Seguier, the
President's wife, who had been near Mercier at the com-
munion, remined M. le cure of this * : he answered her,

* If it is the same man who was cure of Saint Andre two years
later, then, according to L' Estoilc, he is not to be trusted. In 1580,
L' Estoile makes the following note : " This year died in Paris, at
her house on the Quai des A.ugustins, Mdme. de Bisseaux, a wise and

256 Ambroise Pare

that he clearly remembered giving the Sacrament to
Mercier, and how Mercier was close to her at the table ;
but, for all that, Mercier was still a Huguenot, as they
said of him, and had received the communion as hypo-
crite, not as Catholic." The widow appealed to the
magistrates for justice. " They made her no other an-
swer but that her husband had been a dog of a minister,
and if she said anything more they would put her into the
river in a sack."

Pierre de La Rue was connected by marriage with
Pare, and lived within a stone's throw of his house ;
Mercier also lived close by ; so did Mme. de Bis-

(2) "Saturday, July 16, 1578. One Guitel, of Anjou,
was hanged, and his body burned to ashes, on the Place
de Greve ; he had already at Angers been condemned
to be burned alive, for the abominable heretic that he
was. The people kept shouting, according as they were
made to believe and to shout, that he was a Calvinist ;
but on the contrary, he was a real Atheist, as he showed
plainly at his execution, where he pronounced execrable
blasphemies against God, the Holy Trinity, and other
articles of the Christian Faith, which all men believe
alike, as much the Calvinists as the Roman Catholics.

virtuous lady, and one of the Religion ; whereof she had always
made profession. Nevertheless the cure of Saint Andre des Arcs,
her parish church, published everywhere the contrary, saying that he
had administered all the Sacraments to her. And the reason was
that M. de Bisseaux, her husband, fearing the times, and to avoid
scandal, had given six crowns to the cure to say this and declare it

Some Aspects of Fare's Life 257

But the evils of the times were so great, and the minds
of the common people so poisoned b)^ the sorceries of
the League, that all criminals were Calvinists, Heretics,
Politicals, or Navarrists."

Pare, therefore, might be in danger in the streets.
He was safe at the Court and in society. And the
attitude that the Court would take toward him is
illustrated by the stories told of two members of
the household with whom he worked : Mazille and
the old nurse.

Mazille was premier physician to Henri HI. He
died in 1578, and his property went to the Crown.
The King's favourites heard that he had died with
twenty thousand crowns ready money in the house :
they ransacked it from top to bottom, and found
nothing; at all events they found so little, that the
King, when he heard of it, said :

" I am very glad that the truth is known about him,
and that I myself am confirmed in the good opinion I
always had of Mazille : whom I loved and trusted,
though he was a bit of a Huguenot {ten peu Huguenot) ;
anyhow he was more faithful to my service than many
whom I see at the Court here, who abuse him, pretend-
ing they are good servants and great Catholics."

The old Huguenot nurse of Charles IX., " ma
mie, ma nourrice," must have been an odd figure
at the Court ; what people call a character. That

258 Ambroise Pare

story of her advising the Queen-mother to give
battle to the Huguenots at Dreux : — "Well, Ma-
dame, if nothing will satisfy them, they must be
made to listen to reason " ; it is like Juliet's old
nurse shaping the fates of the houses of Capulet
and Montagu ; and she did not even know how to
nurse. She was a Huguenot, and the young King
would not meddle with her faith : from the begin-
ning of his life to the end of it, she was paid to be
with him : the life and training of the King himself
were put in the hands of a heretic.

In his methods of work, Ambroise Par6 was in
some ways like John Hunter. They are separated
by two centuries, by all the differences between the
Scotsman and the Frenchman, between London in
the time of George HI. and Paris under the House
of Valois ; this diversity only emphasises the like-
ness between them, as surgeons. They both of them
began life in the country ; they saw something of war,
and wrote on gunshot wounds ; they spent the money
lavishly, when it came ; they were great lovers of ani-
mals and their ways :

" I kept at ray house a great quantity of sparrows'
nests in earthen pots ; and when the young ones were
fledged and of fair size, I had the whole nest taken
down, and set on the ground, that I and my friends

Some Aspects of Park's Life 259

might delight ourselves in seeing the care of the old
birds in feeding the young . . . and often I would
make trial with a strange sparrow put with the rest of
the young ones, to see if they would feed the stranger
as though he were legitimate."

And Fa.r6 loved the collecting of specimens, dis-
secting them, demonstrating them : though Hunter's
magnificent collection is far beyond anything that
Par6 dreamed of. Yet Pare was diligent at the same
work ; his house was full of curiosities of natural his-
tory and surgery ; he gets a rare specimen of disease,
and calls together sixteen physicians and surgeons
to see him dissect it ; he gets a dead ostrich, and
makes a skeleton of it, no easy matter ; he keeps the
bullets he has removed ; he shows odd specimens at

But there are two points of special likeness be-
tween them : first, the constant appeal to experi-
ence ; next, the love of questioning, comparing
notes, getting to know the results obtained by other

Of the appeal to experience and experiment —
Hunter's " Don't think ; try " — we have many in-
stances in Park's writings : here is one of the best :

" In the year 1538, when I was at Turin, surgeon to
the late M. le Mareschal de Montejan, I dressed one of
his pages, who was struck on the side of his head with a

26o Ambroise Pare

stone by one of his companions, on the parietal bone,
with fracture and depression of it ; and there came out
of the wound a portion of the brain, of the size of half a
hazel-nut or thereabouts : which so soon as I perceived
I said the wound was mortal. Hereupon came a young
physician, who disputed vehemently against me, saying
this portion of the brain was fat, and not brain. I told
him to keep it till I had done with my patient, and then
he should see I was right. Having dressed the page, to
prove by reason and experience that this portion of
brain could not be fat, I told him first that fat cannot be
formed within the skull, although the parts be cold ; for
there is great store of animal spirits, which are very hot
and subtle, together with the multitude of vapours raised
from all parts of the body to the head ; which things
hinder the generation of fat. And for experience, in
the dissection of dead bodies one never sees any fat
there. None the less he kept trying to gainsay me by
constant argument. At last I told him experiment
should decide between us. If it were fat, it would float
on water, and would melt if you put it on a hot
shovel." . . .

The love of questioning, of learning from every-
body, and of comparing notes, is as plainly marked
in Park's account of his work as in Hunter's letters
to Jenner. Nothing, so it were practical, was too
small for Park's notice : the old women's homely
remedies, — onions to a burn, onions for a toothache,
vinegar for weak eyes ; the rough and ready treat-
ment of wounds by the soldiers ; the wonderful drugs
of quacks, the sham diseases of professional beggars.

Some Aspects of Park's Life 261

He is sent by the King to Nancy, in 1575, to see
Madame la Duchesse de Lorraine, and learns from
Nicolas Piccart, her surgeon, a new way to reduce dis-
locations of the shoulder : he waits two years, bribing
and cajoling, to get the prescription for an ointment
from a surgeon at Turin ; he asks questions of every-
body : " On the journey to Bayonne, which I made
with my King in the year 1565, I asked the physi-
cians, surgeons, and barbers in all the towns through
which we passed, where the plague had been, what
results they had obtained from bleeding in cases of
plague," He would learn even of quacks. He got the
prescription for a caustic paste, his " velvet cautery,"
from an arch-quack, " a philosopher, a great distiller
of the quintessence of life, a quintessential master " :
to whom he gave, in exchange, enough velvet to
make him a pair of breeches. Having got this pre-
scription under promise of secrecy, he published it.
*' And if any should urge that I have broken my
promise to this alchymist, I answer that since he had
sold it to me it was mine ; and anyhow I think I
have done him no wrong ; on the contrary, he and I
between us have conferred a great benefit on the
public." Of these quacks or empirics he has many
good stories ; those, for instance, who promise to
insert a gold plate after fracture of the skull, shape
and hammer it in the presence of the patient and his

262 Ambroise Pare


friends, and then slip it into their own purses. But
he only disliked a quack when there was nothing to
be learned from him ; and he is not above quoting
one Doublet, an empiric, to confute his old enemy

He hated with all his heart the whole confraternity
of beggars ; he saw, in his old age, the frightful
rush of them into Paris ; stories were told how they
poisoned the wells and set fire to the houses : their
counterfeit sores and deformities were abominable to
him. For those who lament, as Charles Lamb did,
the decay of beggars, Ambroise's chapters on the
malingering of beggars are the most delightful read-
ing. There was the woman whom Jehan Pare found
begging at the door of the Huguenot chapel at Vitry,
on a Sunday, with a counterfeit ulcer ; and so she
was whipped and banished. On the same pitch, a
year later, was another beggar, with banner and tub
and castanets, and the nucleus of a subscription set
on the top of the tub ; his face was covered with
leprosy, made of glue, and was kept of a livid tint
by a scarf pulled round his neck half throttling him.
He, too, was unmasked by Jehan Par6, and was
whipped through the town on three successive Satur-
days, with his tub and castanets hung round his
neck ; the third whipping killed him : " which was
no great loss for the country." There was the big

Some Aspects of Pares Life 26


stout woman who was so misguided as to display
her malady to Ambroise himself and to Dr. Flesselles,
as they were waiting for dinner at Flesselles' cottage
at Champigny ; she had suffered a most fatal com-
plication of diseases for forty years, and looked none
the worse for it. Flesselles, in his wrath, ran at her,
knocked her down, and jumped on her and kicked
her till she pretended to be dead ; then she got up
and ran away. There was another stout woman,
thirty or thereabouts, with a live snake inside her ;
whom a charitable unmarried lady took into her own
house, and got Ambroise, Hollier the physician,
and Cheval the surgeon, to see her. Hollier gave
her a powerful draught, but without result. When
they threatened to make it yet more powerful, she
went off that evening, packing up with her own
clothes some that belonged to the charitable lady ;
and six days later Ambroise saw her sitting astride
a pack-horse at the Porte Montmartre, in very low
company and very high spirits.

He who loves good reading, but is not a member
of Park's profession, let him take Malgaigne's edition,
and read the chapters on beggars, the treatise on the
plague, and the Journeys in Diverse Places. But he
will lose half the goodness of them if he reads them
only as history, only as romance: he must know
Par6, he must see him in his writings.

264 Ambroise Par^

As for his faults, Pare puts them down with the
ingenuous readiness of a child writing a diary. He
was proud of himself. But was there ever a more
engaging type of vanity ? Those marginal notes
that he wrote in his old age for the complete editions
of his works — Chariti de VAutheur. . . . Addresse
de r Autheur . . . Tesmoinage de la Dexterity de
VAutheur . . . Modestie de V Autheur — their sim-
plicity is past comprehension.

The conclusion of the whole matter is the hard
saying, which yet he did not include in all the good
advice which he gives to "the young surgeon":
that character, in the long run, avails more than
circumstances. Ambroise Park's methods are anti-
quated, his theories were all wrong, his books are the
forgotten treasures of a few great libraries. Our
methods, our explanations, will also be superseded ;
our books, many of them, will not even be treasured.
He has kept his hold for three centuries on men by
force of character, and by that alone.



" Let us be sure that the evil of the plague would be much less, if
we had help and consolation one from another. The Tu7-k has
these virtues ; and we, Christians in name, take no count of them :
as if we could thus escape out of God's hands. . . . And when
it shall please Him to take us from the world, that will be the be-
ginning of our greatest happiness, since this life brings with it an
infinity of labour and sorrow, and here we are well nigh buried under
things that fade and pass." — From the Book of the Plague.

FROM Ambroise Park's account of the plague I
have taken those chapters that give the best
picture of him and of his times. The Book of the
Plague was first published in 1 568, as part of a
larger treatise : and was included in the first edition
of Park's collected works. This present year 1897
has witnessed M. Haffkine's work in India, and the
discovery of the preventive treatment of bubonic
plague : it is therefore a good time to read the story
of a like disease in the sixteenth century, and to
see what Ambroise Par6 thought of it.


266 Ambroise Pare

I. Of the Plague ix General.

The plague is a disease coming of the wrath of
God, furious, sudden, swift, monstrous, dreadful,
contagious, terrible, called by Galen a wild beast,
savage, and most cruel ; the mortal enemy of the life
of men and of diverse sorts of beasts, plants, and
trees. The ancients called it Epidemic, because the
whole air was corrupt, so that many died all at once
in this or that part of the world : and they gave the
name Endemic to a disease which is peculiar and
familiar to one country, as the king's evil in Spain,
the goitre in Savoy, the leprosy in Guyenne near
Bordeaux, that is called Gahetz, and in Low
Brittany Cacots, and the lepers are called Ladres
blancs : and so with other diseases that have the
master}^ over other countries. The plague is often
attended by very cruel, pernicious troubles that
daily come of it : such as fever, buboes, carbuncles,
purpura, dysentery, delirium, phrenzy, gnawing
pains at the stomach, palpitation of the heart, heavi-
ness and weariness of all the limbs, deep sleep, and
dulness of all the senses. Some have a burning
heat within them, and are cold on the surface, with
restlessness, difficulty of breathing, frequent vomit-
ing, dysentery, bleeding from the nose and other

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