1800s Education
1800s Medicine

The care a nation takes of its health always reveals a lot about its attitudes to life. In France, the medical profession is particularly interesting, for there is a political dimension to its influence. Its rise to power in the state is one of the striking features of this century. There were 15 doctors in the Assembly of 1789, 26 in that of 1791, 40 in the Convention. About a dozen served in the
smaller Restoration Chamber of Deputies and 28 in that of July. In 1848, 49 of the constituents were doctors, and in 1849, 34 of the legislators. There were 11 in Napoleon III's Corps Legislatif of 251 members, 33 in the National Assembly of 1871, but by 1898 their number had risen to 72. It may be argued from these figures that doctors gradually replaced the old landowning class and in some cases the clergy as leaders of public opinion and that in the Third Republic they reached the zenith of their prestige and influence. But to say this is to beg many questions: it is to assume that doctors were not also landowners, that their influence was an alternative and opposed to the old notable class, that the profession meant the same thing over 150 years, that the opportunities open to doctors were unchanging, and that their appearance in parliament always represented an acknowledgement of their influence, rather than that the doctors were seeking new fields in which to act, to compensate for difficulties they were experiencing in the exercise of their profession. Medicine in France in this period was in fact in a state of confusion and division as total as that which afflicted politics. It is impossible to paint a picture of doctors as the products of a new science whose capacity and skill were gradually established, recognised and accepted. There was no one medical science, and the rivalry between the different theories was as merciless and disruptive as the cut-throat competition of commerce. In 1850 the medicine of cure by bleeding, purging and the administration of enemas was still in existence, for all the discoveries of the capital cities, whose doctrines were slow to penetrate the countryside. The efforts of Voltaire's doctor Tronchin (1709-81) and his school to replace this by the use of fresh air, exercise, vegetarianism, water-drinking, breast-feeding and vaccination were slow to win acceptance.


The enlightenment even saw a regression to the doctrine of vitalism- the belief that a mysterious vital element regulates the organs and fights death. This doctrine was taken up by the faculty of medicine of Montpellier and taught by it till the twentieth century so that Paris and Montpellier taught medicine in radically different ways., The training which the doctors practising between 1850 and 1900 received preserved the strangest errors taught by men highly esteemed in the first half of the century. One of these, to take an example, was Broussais (1772-1838), a man of great eloquence, imposing presence, and unrelenting combativeness, who wielded great power in the medical world. He imagined that the cause of all diseases was inflammation, particularly in the intestines. He prescribed abundant blood-letting, leeches and severe diets. His starving patients, bled white, died like flies, but he was nevertheless made a professor at the faculty of Paris ( 1831) . When towards the end of his career his star waned and his students turned elsewhere, he took up phrenology and his very popular lectures on this gave him a second lease of life. Equally influential but at a more popular level was F. V. Raspail (1794-1878), whose Natural History of Health and Illress (1843) and annual en-cyclopedias (1846-64) became best sellers as manuals of self medication: he advocated camphor as the cure for all diseases. Possibly the single most successful doctor of the nineteenth century was Philippe Ricord ( 1800-89), personal physician to Napoleon III and the national expert on syphilis.


Born in Baltimore, the son of a bankrupt French shipowner, he rose to become Paris's busiest and possibly richest doctor . His house in the rue de Tournon contained five large salons for his patients to wait in: one for ordinary people, always crammed full and each given a number, one for women, who entered by a separate staircase, one for people with letters of recommendation, and a fourth for friends and doctors. All were decorated magnificently with paintings and sculptures, for he was a great collector. An enormous fifth reception salon had two Rubens, a Van Dyke, Gericaults, etc. His office contained on three walls a large library surmounted by a gallery of busts of the great physicians of all time, underneath it glass cases with Paris's best collection of surgical instruments and on the fourth wall portraits of his masters Dupuytren and Orfila, and one of himself by Couture. He was France's most decorated celebrity after Alexandre Dumas, with seventeen medals: he was popular not leat for being a man of the world, indulgent to his patients and famous for his witticisms.' His Treatise on Venereal Diseases (1838) did rightly distinguish between gonorrhoea and syphilis, but he insisted that the latter was not contagious through secondary lesions : he continued to administer his incorrect doctrine to all the rich of Europe, despite the discoveries of the more obscure Joseph Rollet of Lyon (1856).

Extract from “France 1848 – 1945 Ambition & Love”, by Theodore Zeldin. Oxford University Press, Britain:1979.

Amazon eBay: in madagascar, for example, the “zébu de mitrailleuse,” the machine gun zébu, as shown figure 1. veterinary surgery in the countryside, morocco. source: l’inspection du service vétérinaire de l’armée. le service vétérinaire et le service de la remonte aux colonies, les armées françaises d’outre-mer: collection éditée à l’occasion de l’exposition coloniale internationale de paris (paris: imprimerie nationale, 1931). volume 29 ¦ no. 1 ¦ may 2006 veterinary heritage ¦ 3 in figure 2, was useful to the french. military veterinarians were of paramount importance in keeping these animals fit and able to work. if the horses and other beasts of burden couldn’t advance, neither could the french army. humans were more expendable, in many ways, than the animals because the french were drawing on local algerian conscripts as well as on their own prisons to man the french african army, l’armée d’afrique.16 these french prisoners were hardened criminals who were difficult to control. they were sardonically called les joyeaux, the cheerful or merry ones. in north africa, in particular, camels became an important force in the french war apparatus since much of the terrain they set out to conquer was difficult if not impossible to cover without them. in fact, the french developed an entirely new form of military unit, the mehari company, le compagnie méhariste, based almost entirely on camels and they utilized substantial local algerian labor to man these units.17 the name is derived from the type of camel preferred for these units, the méhari, a very light colored camel. as a result of dealing with this new beast of burden, the french were forced to learn a great deal about camel husbandry and treating camel diseases. this research formed a substantial part of their scientific contributions as veterinarians in africa and culminated in major works like that of the veterinarian curasson, the camel and its diseases, still cited today.18 french veterinarians in africa made many important scientific contributions to medical knowledge in general, and veterinary knowledge in particular. one example comes from the work of veterinarian camille guérin and his colleague the physician dr. calmette. at the pasteur institute, named “pastoria,” in the guinean town of kindia, the “first trials of the vaccination against tuberculosis with bcg were made.”19 bcg stands for bacille calmette- guérin and this vaccine developed by guérin and calmette is still used in many countries to protect against tuberculosis. pastoria was created and directed by the military veterinarian wilbert. another veterinarian, dr. nocard, supervised some of the first trials of the vaccine for anthrax in algeria in 1898.20 prior to this, dr. nocard had researched cholera in egypt, and was considered by dr. louis pasteur to be very talented. in 1911, the veterinarians bouquet and bridré discovered and tested the first vaccine against sheep pox in algeria.21 other important research by military veterinarians included work done in morocco on trypanosomiasis, a significant killer of camels in north africa. these are a few of the many examples of important veterinary and medical research conducted by french veterinarians in africa. military veterinarians, though, did not limit their activities to healing animals or the research of exotic diseases. these men played an active role from figure 2. machine gun zebu, madagascar.

 
 
 
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