Boerhaave, Herman

, an illustrious physician and professor at Leyden, born Dec. 31, 1668, at Voorhoot, a small village in Holland, about two miles from that city. His father intended him for divinity, and with this view initiated him in letters himself. About the twelfth year of his age, he was afflicted with an ulcer in his left thigh, which seemed to baffle the art of surgery, and occasioned such excessive pain, as much interrupted his studies for some time; but at length, by fomenting it with salt and wine, he effected a cure himself, and thereupon conceived his first thoughts of studying physic. In 1682, he was sent to the public school at Leyden, and at the expiration of the year got into the sixth and highest class, whence it is customary, after six months, to be removed to the university. At this juncture his father died, who left a wife | and nine children, with a slender provision of whom Herman, though hut sixteen, was the eldest. Upon his admission into the university, he was particularly noticed by a friend of his father, Mr. Trigland, one of the professors of divinity, who procured him the patronage of Mr. Daniel Van Alphen, burgomaster of Leyden and by the advice of these gentlemen he attended Senguerd’s lectures on logic, the use of the globes, natural philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics he likewise attended the learned Jacob Gronovius on Greek and Latin authors, R kius on Latin classics, rhetoric, chronology, and geography, and Trigland and Scaafe on the Hebrew and Chaldee languages, in order to understand the sacred writings in their originals. In 1687, he applied to mathematics, and found the study so entertaining, that, after having gone through geometry and trigonometry, he proceeded to algebra, under Voider, in 1689. This year he gave a specimen of his learning in an academic oration, proving, “That the doctrine of Epicurus concerning the chief good was well understood by Cicero” and for this received the golden medal, which usually accompanies the merit of such probationary exercise. In 1690 he took a degree in philosophy. In his thesis on this occasion, with great strength of argument, he confuted the systems of Epicurus, Hobbes, and Spinosa. After having laid a solid foundation in all other parts of learning, he proceeded to divinity under the professors Trigland and Spanheim the first of whom gave lectures on Hebrew antiquities, the second on ecclesiastical history.

Notwithstanding he was thus qualified for entering into orders, which, according to his father’s intention, he had hitherto chiefly in view, and that his patrimony was by this time almost wholly exhausted; yet such was his diffidence, that he attempted rather, by teaching mathematics, to defray the expence attending the farther prosecution of his theological studies. By this means he not only increased his reputation, but (what laid the foundation of his future fortune) was introduced to an intimate friendship with John Vandenburg, burgomaster of Leyden. By this new connection he was recommended to the curators, to compare the Vossian manuscripts (purchased in England for the public library at Leyden) with the catalogue of sale; which he executed with such accuracy as procured him the esteem of the university, and recommended him in so particular a | manner to Mr. Vandenburg, that this gentleman became ever after solicitous for his advancement and observing the amazing progress Boerhaave made in whatever he applied to, persuaded him to join the study of physic to philosophy and theology. As a relaxation therefore from divinity, and in complaisance to this gentleman, he dipt into physic, being duly prepared for it by his acquaintance with the learned languages, mathematics, and natural philosophy and he resolved to take a degree in physic before his ordination. The study of medicine commencing with that of anatomy, he diligently perused Vesalius, Fallopius, and Bartholin, oftentimes himself dissecting and attending the public dissections of professor Nuck. He next applied himself to the fathers of physic, beginning with Hippocrates and, in their chronological order, reading carefully all the Greek and Latin physicians but soon finding that the later writers “were almost wholly indebted to that prince of physicians for whatever was valuable in them, he resumed Hippocrates, to whom alone in this faculty he devoted himself for some time, making extracts, and digesting them in such a manner, as to render those inestimable remains of antiquity quite familiar to him.” He afterwards made himself acquainted with the best modern authors, particularly with Sydenham, whom he usually styled the immortal Sydenham. He next applied to chemistry, which so captivated him, that he sometimes spent days and nights successively in the study and processes of this art. He made also a considerable proficiency in botany not contented with inspecting the plants in the physic-garden, he sought others with fatigue in fields, rivers, &c. and sometimes with danger in almost inaccessible places, thoroughly examining what he found, and comparing them with the delineations of authors.

His progress in physic hitherto was without any assistance from lectures, except those mentioned in anatomy, and a few by professor Drelincourt on the theory; nor had he yet any thoughts of declining the priesthood: amidst mathematical, philosophical, anatomical, chemical and medical researches, he still earnestly pursued divinity. He went to the university of Harderwick in Guelderland, and in July 1693 was created there M. D. Upon his return to Leyden, he still persisted in his design of engaging in the ministry, but found an invincible obstruction to his intention. In a passage-boat where he happened to be, some | discourse was accidentally started about the doctrine of Spinosa, as subversive of all religion and one of the passengers, who exerted himself most, opposing to this philosopher’s pretended mathematical demonstrations only the loud invective of a blind zeal, Boerhaave asked him calmly, “Whether he had ever read the works of the author he decried” The orator was at once struck dumb, and fired with silent resentment. Another passenger whispered the person next him, to learn Boerhaave’s name, and took it down in his pocket-book; and as soon as he arrived at Leyden, gave it out every where, that Boerhaave was become a Spinosist. Boerhaave, finding that such prejudices gained ground, thought it imprudent to risque the refusal of a licence for the pulpit, when he had so fair a prospect of rising by physic. He now therefore applied wholly to physic, and joined practice with reading. In 1701, he took the office of lecturer upon the institutes of physic and delivered an oration the 18th of May, the subject of which was a recommendation of the study of Hippocrates: apprehending that, either through indolence or arrogance, this founder of physic had been shamefully neglected by those whose authority was likely to have too great weight with the students of medicine. He officiated as a professor, with the title of lecturer only, till 1709, when the professorship of medicine and botany was conferred on him: his inaugural oration was upon the simplicity of true medical science, wherein, exploding the fallacies and ostentation of alchemistical and metaphysical writers, he reinstates medicine on the ancient foundation of observation and experiments. In a few years he enriched the physic-garden with such a number of plants, that it was found necessary to enlarge it to twice its original extent. In 1714, he arrived to the highest dignity in the university, the rectorship; and, at its expiration, delivered an oration on the method of obtaining certainty in physics. Here, having asserted our ignorance of the first principles of things, and that all our knowledge of their qualities is derived from experiments, he was thence led to reprehend many systems of the philosophers, and in particular that of Des Cartes, the idol of the times. This drew upon him the outrageous invectives of Mr. R. Andala, a Cartesian, professor of divinity and philosophy at Franeker, who sounded the alarm, that the church was in danger; and that the introduction of scepticism, and even Spinosism, must be the | consequence of undermining the Cartesian system by such a professed ignorance of the principles of things his virulence was carried to such a degree, that the governors of the university thought themselves in honour obliged (notwithstanding Boernaave’s remonstrances to the contrary) to insist upon his retracting his aspersions. He accordingly made a recantation, with offers of further satisfaction to which Boerhaave generously replied, that the most agreeable satisfaction he could receive was, that so eminent a divine should have no more trouble on his account. In 1728, he was elected of the academy of sciences at Paris; and, in 1730, of the royal society of London. In 1718, he succeeded Le Mort in the professorship of chemistry and made an oration on this subject, “That chemistry was capable of clearing itself from its own errors.August 1722, he was taken ill and confined to his bed for six months, with exquisite arthritic pains; he suffered another violent illness in 1727; and being threatened with a relapse in 1729, he found himself under the necessity of resigning the professorships of botany and chemistry. This gave occasion to an elegant oration, in which he recounts many fortunate incidents of his life, and returns his grateful acknowledgements to those who contributed thereto. Yet he was not less assiduous in his private labours till the year 1737, when a difficulty of breathing first seized him, and afterwards gradually increased. In a letter to baron Bassand, he writes thus of himself “An imposthumation of the lungs, which has daily increased for these last three months, almost suffocates me upon the least motion if it should continue to increase without breaking, I must sink under it; if it should break, the event is still’ dubious happen what may, why should I be concerned since it cannot be but according to the will of the Supreme Being, what else should 1 desire God be praised In th mean time, I am not wanting in the use of the most approved remedies, in order to mitigate the disease, by promoting maturation, but am no ways anxious about the success of them I have lived to upwards of sixty-eight years, and always cheerful.” Finding also unusual pulsations of the artery in the right side of the neck, and intermissions of the pulse, he concluded there were polypous concretions between the heart and lungs, with a dilatation of the vessels. Sept. 8, 1738, he wrote his case to Dr. Mortimer, secretary of the royal society and for some days there | were flattering hopes of his recovery but they soon vanished, and he died the 23d, aged almost seventy.

No professor was ever attended in public as well as private lectures by so great a number of students, from such different and distant parts, for so many years successively none heard him without conceiving a veneration for his person, at the same time they expressed their surprise at his prodigious attainments and it may be justly affirmed, that none in so private a station ever attracted a more universal esteem. He amassed greater wealth than ever any physician in that country from the practice of physic, which was owing as much at least to his cEconomy, as the largeness of his fees he was falsely accused of penuriousness, for he was liberal to the distressed, but without ostentation his manner of obliging his friends was such, that they often knew not, unless by accident, to whom they were indebted. In friendship he was sincere, constant, and affectionate he was communicative without conceitedness, and zealous though dispassionate in contending for truth so unmoved was he by detraction, as to sa v “The sparks of calumny will be presently extinct of them selves, unless you blow them.

The following anecdotes respecting an important feature in Boerhaave’s character will not be read without interest “Fifty years are now elapsed,” says the learned baron Haller, “since I was the disciple of the immortal Boerhaave but his image is continually present to my mind. I have always before my eyes the venerable simplicity of that great man, who possessed in an eminent degree the power of persuasion. How often have I heard him say, when he spoke of the precepts of the Gospel, that the Divine Teacher of it had much more knowledge of the human heart than Socrates He particularly alluded to that sentence in the New Testament, * Whosoever looketh after a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart‘ for, added my illustrious master,” the first attacks of vice are always feeble reason has then some power over the mind. It is then in the very moment that such thoughts occur as have a tendency to withdraw us from our duty, that, if we with diligence suppress them, and turn our attention to something else, we may avoid the approaching danger, and not fail into the temptations of vice."

Boerhaave wrote in Latin a Commentary on his own Life, in which, in the third person, he takes notice of his | opinions, of his studies, and of his pursuits. He there tells us, “that he was persuaded the Scriptures, as recorded in their originals, did iustrurt us in the way of sulvation, and afford tranquillity to the mind, when joined with obedience to Christ’s precepts and example.” He complains, however, that many of those who make the most unequivocal profession of our Saviour’s doctrine, pay too little deference to his example recommended in one of his precepts—“Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.

Not long before he died, he told his friends, that he had never doubted of the spiritual and immaterial nature of the soul but that in a very severe illness with which he was afflicted, he had a kind of experimental certainty of the distinction between corporeal and thinking substances, which mere reason and philosophy cannot supply, and had opportunities of contemplating the wonderful and inexplicable union of soul and body. “This,” says Dr. Johnson, in his exquisite life of him, “he illustrated by the effects which the infirmities of his body had upon his facilities; which yet they did not so oppress or vanquish, but that his soul was always master of itself, and always resigned to the pleasure of its author.

This great man, on all occasions, declared sir Isaac Newton to have been a most accurate observer m cnemis* try, as well as in the other branches of natural philosophy. In his lectures he constantly called the immortal Sycltmham, the British Hippocrates.

Music and gardening were the constant amusements of Boerhaave. In the latter part of his life his great pleasure was to retire to his country seat near Leyden, where he had a garden of eight acres, enriched with all the exotic shrubs and plants which he could procure, that would live in that soil. “Thus,” says Dr. Lobb, “the amusement of the youth and of the age of this great man was of the same kind the cultivation of plants an employment coeval with mankind, the first to which necessity compelled them, and the last to which, wearied with the tiresome round of vanities, they are fond of retreating, as to the most innocent and entertaining recreation.

Boerhaave is buried in the great church of Leyden, under a large marble urn thus simply inscribed:

Salutifero Boerhaavii Genio Sacr.

It has been mentioned, to the honour of Boerhaave, by | one of his biographers, that he received the visits of three crowned heads, the grand duke of Tuscany, William the Third, and Peter the Great, the last of whom slept in his barge all night, over against the house of our illustrious professor, that he might have two hours conversation with him before he gave his lectures. These visits most assuredly did more honour to the princes than to the philosopher, whose power, like that of the poets mentioned by Charles the Ninth in his epistle to Ronsard, is exercised upon the minds, while that of the sovereign is confined to the bodies of mankind.

As the list of the works of this illustrious physician form no inconsiderable monument to his memory, we shall avail ourselves of a more complete detail than has yet appeared in this country. In the revolutions of the medical science, it is true that many of them are no longer read, but by learned inquirers there are few of them which are not occasionally consulted, and the whole may be considered as an index to the history of medicine, under what may be termed his administration.

The works of Boerhaave are divided into three classes: the first, consisting of those which he acknowledged; the second, of those either attributed to him, or emanating from his school; and the third, of those to which he only performed the office of editor.

Under the first of these classes we have, 1 Various discourses, or “Orationes;” as “Oratio de commendando studio Hippocratico” and “Oratio de usu ratiocinii mechanici in Medicina,” reprinted 1709, 8vo. “Oratio qua repurgatas Medicinse facilis asseritur sirnplicitas decomparandocerto in physicis de chemia suos errores expurgante de vita et obitu Bernhardi Albini,Leyden, 1721, 4to. “Oratio quain habuit cum botanicam et chemicam professionem publice poneret,” ibid. 1729de honore medici servitute” all these are among his “Opuscula.” 2. “Institutiones medicae in usus exercitationis annuae domesticos,Leyden, 1708, 1713, 1720, 1727, 1734, 1746, 8vo; Paris, 1722, 1737, 1747, 12mo. translated into most languages, and even into the Arabic by order of the Mufti; and on which the following commentaries have been published one by Haller, Leyden, 1758, 7 vols. 4to; and another by Lamettrie, entitled “Institutions et Aphorismes,Paris, 1743, 8 vols. 12mo, 3. “Aphorisini de cognoscendis et curandis morbis, in usum doctritirc Medicinse,Leyden, 1709, 1715, 1728, 1734, 1742, 12mo; Paris, 1720, 1726, | 1728, 1745, 1747, 12mo; Louvain, 1751, 12mo, with his treatise “De Lue Venerea;” in English, 1735 in French, Kennes, 1738, 12mo; also in Arabic and on which Van Swietcn wrote his excellent commentary, 5 vols. 4to. 4. “Index plantarum qnae in horto academico LugJuuoBatavo reperiuntur,Leyden, 1710, 1718, 8vo. A new edition, enlarged, and with thirty figures of plants rather indifferently executed, and an account of the directors of the garden, from its origin to the time of Boerhaave, was published under the title of “Index alter, &c.Leyden, 1720, 4to; 1727, 2 vols. 4to. 5. “Libellus de materia medica et remediorum formulis,London, 1718, 8vo Leyden, 1719, 1727, 1740, 8vo; Paris, 1720, 1745, 12mo; Francfort, 1720; in French by Lamettrie, 1739, 1756, 12mo. This has sometimes been mistaken for a work “De viribus medicamentorum,” improperly attributed to Boerhaave. 6. “Epistolae ad Ruischium clarissimum, pro sententia Malpighiana de glandulis,” Amst. 1722. 7. “Atrocis nee descripti prius morbi histoia, secundum medicae artis leges conscripta,Leyden, 1724, 8vo. 8. “Atrocis, rarissimique morbi historia altera,Leyden, 1728. 8vo. 9. “Elementa Chemise quae anniversario labore uocnit in publicis, privatisque scholis,Paris, 1724, 2 vols. 8vo; Leyden, 1732, 4to Paris, 1733 and 1753, 2 vols. 4to. with the author’s “Opuscula,” and translated into French and English, the latter by Shaw and Chambers, 1727, 4to and again by Oallowe, 1735, 4to.

Among the works attributed to him, without sufficient authority, or proceeding from his school, being compilations by his students from his lectures, are 1. “Tractatus de Peste,” published with other treatises respecting the plague at Marseilles. Boerhaave was himself infected at that melancholy period, and in this lays down a mode of cure. 2. “Consultationes medicse, sive sylloge epistolarum cum responsis,Hague, 1743, often reprinted, and translated into English, Lond. 1745, 8vo. 3. “Prselectiones publicae de morbis oculorum,” dictated by Boerhaave in 1708, Gottingen, 1746, 8vo. Haller published two editions; one in 1750, from a bad transcript; the other from a more correct one by Heister, Venice, 1748, 8vo. 4. “Introductio in praxin clinicam,Leyden, 1740, 8vo. 5. “Praxis medica,London, 1716, 12mo. 6. “De viribus medicamentorum,” collected from his lectures in 1711, 1712, Paris, 1723, 8vo, &c. 7. “Experiment* | et institutiones chemicaV' Paris, 1728, 2 vols. 8vo. 8.” Methodus discendi Medic-mam,“Amst. 1726, 1734, 8vo; Lend. 1744, the best edition by Haller, Amst. 1751, 2 vols. 4to, under the title of” Herman ni Boerhaave, viri summi, suique praeceptoris, methodus studii medici emendata et accessionibus locupletata.“9.” Historia plantarum quae in horto academico Lugd. Batav. crescunt,“Leyden, 1717, 2 vols. 12mo (under the name of Rome), Lond. 1731, 1738. 10.” Prselectiones de calculo,“Lond. 1748, 4to. 13.” Praelectiones academics?, de morbis Nervorum," Leyden, 1761, 2 vols. 8vo; Francfort, 1762. This was edited by James van Eeems, from various manuscript copies of Boerhaave’s lectures. In fact, all the works enumerated in this list were produced in the same manner, some in his lifetime, but mostly after his death. Such was the very extensive reputation of Boerhaave, that to be his pupil was in some degree accounted a qualification for future honours and practice, and every pupil was glad to bring away as much as he could in manuscript, to testify his diligence. The booksellers, very naturally desirous of profiting by the popularity of our author, employed many of these pupils in collating different transcripts, and publishing what was conceived to be the best text. In this way, doubtless, his reputation might occasionally suffer by the incorrectness or misapprehension of these transcribers yet even Haller and other eminent physicians were glad to avail themselves of such assistance, to extend /the Boerhaavian school, and promote the salutary revolution in medical science which this illustrious writer had begun. The celebrated medical school of Edinburgh was the first branch from it which introduced Boerhaave to this country, all the original founders and professors of that school having been his pupils.

There is yet a third class of writings connected with the name of Boerhaave, in which he acted principally as editor. Among these we may enumerate 1. The count Marsigli’s “Histoire physique de la Mer,” Amst. 1725, fol. 2. Vaillant’s “Botanicon Parisiense,” Lej’deu, 1727, 4to. 3. Swammerdam’s “Historia Insectorum, sive Biblia Naturae,” Amst. 1737, 2 vols. fol. translated into Latin by Gaubius, with a preface by Boerhaave. These, however, are not to be considered as new editions, for they were never published before, and the world was now, for the first time, indebted for them to Boerhaave’s zeal for | the promotion of science. Swammerdam’s work was purchased and printed entirely at his own expence. It wa* not by his talents only, but by his fortune also, that he sought to advance science; and his liberal patronage of Linr.-jeus and Artedi was amply acknowledged by both; but as in his first interview with the former there are some characteristic traits unnoticed by B jerhaave’s biographers, we shall in this place extract Stoever’s account, from his life of Linmeus.

Linnæus, when at Ley den, had particularly wished to see and converse with Boerhaave, but in vain. No minister could be more overwhelmed with intreaties and invitations, nor more difficult in granting an au[ >nce, than Boerhaave. His menial servants reaped ad ant a ^es from this circumstance for them an audience was always a profitable money-job by the weignt of gold it could alone be accomplished. Without a douceur it was hard for anystranger or foreigner to gain admittance. Linnæus was quite unacquainted with this method, and had it not in his power to make presents. Owing to Boerhaave’s infinite occupations, and the strict regularity which he observed, ambassadors, princes, and Peter the Great himself, were obliged to wait several hours in his anti-chamber, to obtain an interview. How much more difficult must it have been for the young northern doctor, allowing him his usual spirit of liberality, to aspire at the honour of admittance. Notwithstanding all these obstacles, he obtained it at last. He sent Boerhaave a copy of his newpublished system. Eager to know the author of this work, who had likewise recommended himself by a letter, he appointed Linnæus to meet him on the day before his intended departure, at his villa, at the distance of a quarter of a league from Leyden, and charged Gronovius to give him notice of his intention. This villa contained a botanical garden, and one of the finest collections of exotics. Linnæus punctually attended to the invitation. Boerhaave, who was then sixty-seven years old, received him with gladness, and took him into his garden, for the purpose of judging of his knowledge. He shewed him, as a rarity, the Crategus Aria, and asked him if he had ever seen that tree before, as it had never been described by any botanist. Linnæus answered that he had frequently met with it in Sweden, and that it had been already described by | Vaillant. Struck with the young man’s reply, Boerhaave denied the latter part of his assertion, with so much more confidence, as he had himself published Vaillant’s work, with notes of his own, and firmly believed that tree had not been described in it. To remove all doubts, and to give all possible sanction to what he advanced, Boerhaave immediately produced the work itself from his library, and to his extreme surprise, found the tree fully described in it, with all its distinctive marks. Admiring the exact and enlarged knowledge of Linnæus in botany, in which he seemed even to excel himself, the venerable old man advised him to remain in Holland, to make a fortune, which could not escape his talents. Linnoeus answered that he would fain follow this advice, but his indigence prevented him from staying any longer, and obliged him to set out next day for Amsterdam, on his return to Sweden; but nevertheless this visit to Boerhaave unexpectedly became the source of his fortune and of his eminence.

Among the editions of works already published, to which Boerhaave contributed, we have, 1. The writings of Drelincourt, one of his old masters, Amst. 1727, 4to. 2. “Pisonis selectiores observationes,” Ley den, 1718, 4to; and “Pisonis de cognoscendis et curandis morbis,” &c. Leyden, 1733, 8vo, 1736, 4to. 3. Vesalius’s “Anatomical works,1725, 2 vols. fol. 4. Luisinus’s “Tractatus medicus de Lue Venerea, prefixus aphrodisiaco,” 2 vols. fol. a collection of the writers on that disorder. 5. “Barth. Eustachii opuscula anatomica,” 3d edit. Delft, 1726, 8vo.

6. “Bellini de urinis et pulsibus,Leyden, 1730, 4to.

7. “Prosper Alpinus de presagienda vita et morte,1733, 4to. 8. “Aretaeus de causis signisque morborum,” Leyd. 1731, 1735. To all these he wrote prefaces, notes, and sometimes lives of the authors. He and Groenvelt had an intention of re-publishing all the most valuable Greek physicians and he is said to have left, almost ready for the press, the works of Nicander and jEtius. When we consider the labour necessary for these undertakings, as well as for Boerhaave’s original works, and the vast extent of his practice and correspondence, we may justly consider him as not only one of the most learned medical writers of his time, but as one of the most industrious nor can we be surprised that Linnæus, then unknown, or any stranger, should find access difficult to one whose time was so | valuable, so well employed, and so liable, from his great celebrity, to be lost in visits of ceremony or curiosity.1


Life by Dr. Will. Burton, 1746, 8vo, the second and best edition. Shulden’s Oratio Academica in Mem. H. Boerhaave, Leyden, 1738. Essai sur le caractere, par M. Maty, Cologne, 1747, 8vo. —Chaufepie. Life by Dr. Johnson, in his Works. —Pulteney’s Sketches. Stoever’s Linnæus. Sewanl’s Anecdotes, vol. II. p. 231. —Haller. Bibl. Med. Pract. Bibl. Anat. Botan. & Chirurg. —Saxii Onomasticon.