Desault, Peter Joseph

, principal surgeon to the Hotel-Diet) in Paris, and a great improver of the art, was born Feb. 6, 1744, at Magny Vernois, a village in the province of Franche Cointc. He was educated among the Jesuits, and intended by his father for the church; but evincing a stronger inclination for the medical profession, he was sent to Befort, where he spent three years in the military hospital there. To his medical studies he added that of the mathematics, in which he made great progress; but fell into one of the many errors so common among the physicians of that day, namely, a false application of the rules of geometry to the laws of the animal œconomy. He not only perused with avidity the treatise of Boreili, “De IMotu Animaliuin,” but translated the whole of it, | and added a commentary more abundant in calculation than that of his author. In 1764, at the age of nineteen, he came to Paris, where surgery at that time flourished under Lafaye, Morand, AndouiHet, and Louis. Animated by the fame they had acquired, and desirous to emulate them, Desault pursued his anatomical studies with the greatest ardour, and was continually employed in dissections, or in witnessing the operations performed in the hospitals. In the winter of 1766, he commenced a course of lectures on anatomy, and soon reckoned 300 pupils, most of them older than himself, who were attracted by the clearness of his demonstrations, the methodical arrangement of his descriptions, and, above all, by his indefatigable zeal as a teacher. After some opposition from the jealousy of the other lecturers, whose schools became deserted, he was admitted* in 1776 into the corporation of surgeons, and allowed to pay the usual fees when convenient; a circumstance which, however honourable to their liberality, shews that his celebrity had not yet been attended with much pecuniary advantage. After becoming a simple member, and then a counsellor of the perpetual committee of the academy of surgery, he was appointed chief surgeon to the hospital of the college, and consulting surgeon to that of St. Sulpice, neither of which added any thing to his fortune, but increased his experience. In 1779 he invented the bandage now in use for fractures, by means of which, the fragments being kept in a state of perpetual contact, become consolidated, without the least appearance of deformity; an almost inevitable consequence of the former mode.

On his appointment to the place of surgeon-major to the hospital de la Charite, in 1782, he introduced a new method of treatment in oblique fractures of the thigh-bone, and substituted new bandages in fractures of the humerus and clavicle, never recurring to amputation but in extreme cases. On the death of Ferrand, chief-surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu, and of Moreau, the whole charge of the hospital devolved on him; and in 1788, he succeeded, although against some opposition, in establishing a clinical school, for which a spacious amphitheatre was erected; and more than 600 auditors, composed of all nations, constantly attended to learn a new system, consisting of a simple mode of treatment, disengaged from ancient prejudices, and a complex incoherent practice. In 1791 he published his | Journal de Chirurgerie,” which described the most interesting occurrences in his school, and detailed the improvements he was introducing. In the multiplicity of these labours, and although obliged to attend four hundred sick persons twice a day, he nevertheless employed more than four hours in visiting private patients. In 1792, when he had been appointed a member of the council of health, he was denounced in the revolutionary societies, as an egotist, an indifferent, &c. cant phrases introduced at that time, and was imprisoned in the Luxemburgh; but, the tyrants of the day finding that the business of the HotelDieu, and of the clinical school, now in its highest reputation, could not be conducted without him, he was released. The subsequent atrocities, of which he was a painful witness, affected his mind, and are said to have brought on a malignant fever and delirium, which ended in his death, June 1, 1795. Other accounts state that he was appointed to visit Louis XVII. then in the prison of the Temple, and that he was poisoned, either to conceal the brutal conduct which he had witnessed respecting that young prince, or because he refused to yield to the views entertained against his life. The French republic, however, eag’er to pay homage to his memory, presented his widow with a pension of 2000 livres per annum. His eloge was written by Bichat, one of his pupils, and his coadjutor in the “Journal de Chirurgie;” and by Petit, chief surgeon of the hospital of Lyons. Desault left but one work behind him, in which the name of his friend Chopart is joined with his own; it is entitled “Maladies Chirurgicales et des Operations qui leur conviennent,1780, 2 vols. 8vo. This has lately been translated into English by Mr. Turnbull. 1


Gleig’s Supplement to the Encycl. Britannica.—Dict. Hist.—Biographic Moderne.