Brissot, Peter

, an eminent French physician, was born at Fontenai-le-Comte, in Poitou, 147s, and about 1495 was sent to Paris, where he went through a course of philosophy under Villemar, a famous professor of those times. By his advice, Brissot resolved to be a physician, and studied physic there for four years. Then he began to teach philosophy in the university of Paris; and, after he had done this for ten years, prepared himself for the examinations necessary to his doctor of physic’s degree, which he took in May 1514, Being one of those men who are not contented with custom and tradition, but choose to examine for themselves, he made an exact comparison between the practice of his own times and the doctrine of Hippocrates and Galen and he found that the Arabians had introduced many things into physic that were contrary to the doctrine of those two great masters, and to reason and experience. He set himself therefore to reform physic; and for this purpose undertook publicly to explain Galen’s books, instead of those of Avicenna, Rhasis, and Mesu’i, which were commonly explained in the schools of physic; but, finding himself obstructed in the work of reformation by his ignorance of botany, he resolved to travel, in order to acquire the knowledge of plants, and put himself into a capacity of correcting pharmacy. Before, however, he left Paris, he undertook to convince the public of what he deemed an inveterate error; but which now is considered as a matter of little consequence. The constant practice of physicians, in the pleurisy, Was to bleed from the arm, not on the side where the distemper was, but the opposite side. Brissot disputed about it in | the physic-schools, confuted that practice, and shewed, chat it was falsely pretended to be agreeable to the doctrine of Hippocrates and Galen. He then left Paris in 1518, and went to Portugal, stopping there at Ebora, where he practised physic; but his new way of bleeding in the pleurisy, notwithstanding his great success, did not please every body, He received a long and rude letter about it from Denys, physician to the king of Portugal; which he answered, and would have published if death had not prevented him in 1522. It was printed, however, three years after at Paris, and reprinted at Basil in 1529. Renatus Moreau published a new edition of it at Paris in 1622, with a treatise of his own, “De missione sanguinis in pleuritide,” and the life of Brissot; out of which this account is taken. He never would marry, being of opinion that matrimony did not well agree with study. One thing is related of him, which his biographer, rather uncharitably, says, deserves to be taken notice of, because it is singular in the men of his profession; and it is, that he did not love gain. He cared so little for it, that when he was called to a sick person, he looked into his purse; and, if he found but two pieces of gold in it, refused to go. This, however, it is acknowledged, was owing to his great love of study, from which it was very difficult to take him. The dispute between Denys and Brissot raised a kind of civil war among the Portuguese physicians. The business was brought before the tribunal of the university of Salamanca, Where it was thoroughly discussed by the faculty of physic; but in the mean time, the partisans of Denys had recourse to the authority of the secular power, and obtained a decree, forbidding physicians to bleed on the same side in which the pleurisy was. At last the university of Salamanca gave their judgment; importing, that the opinion of Brissot was the true doctrine of Hippocrates and Galen. The followers of Denys appealed to the emperor about 1529, thinking themselves superior both in authority and number; and the matter was brought before Charles V. They were not contented to call the doctrine of their adversaries false; they added that it was impious, mortal, and as pernicious to the body as Luther’s schism to the souL They not only blackened the reputation of their adversaries by private arts, but also openly accused them of ignorance and rashness, of attempts on religion, and of being downright Lutherans in physic. It fell out | Unluckily for them, that Charles III. duke of Savoy, happened to die of a pleurisy, after he had been bled according to the practice which Brissot opposed. Had it not been for this, the emperor, it is thought, would have granted every thing that Erissot’s adversaries desired of him; but this accident induced him to leave the cause undecided. “Two things,” says Bayle, in his usual prattling way, “occur in this relation, which all wise men must needs condemn; namely, the base, the disingenuous, the unphilosophic custom of interesting religion in disputes about science, and the folly and absurdity of magistrates to be concerned in such disputes. A magistrate is for the most part a very incompetent judge of such matters; and, as he Jiiiows nothing of them, so he ought to imitate Gallio in this at least, that is, not to care for them; but to leave those whose business it is, to fight it out among themselves. Besides, authority has nothing to do with philosophy and the sciences; it should be kept at a great distance from them, for the same reason that armed forces are removed from a borough at the time of a % general assize; namely, that reason and equity may have their full play.1


Boyle. —Moreri. —Haller Bibl. Med. Pract.