Romantic Medicine and John Keats

Romantic Medicine and John Keats

Romantic Medicine and John Keats

Romantic Medicine and John Keats

Synopsis

Using original research in scientific treatises, philosophical manuscripts, and political documents, this pioneering study describes the neglected era of revolutionary medicine in Europe through the writings of the English poet and physician, John Keats. De Almeida explores the four primary concerns of Romantic medicine--the physician's task, the meaning of life, the prescription of disease and health, and the evolution of matter and mind--and reveals their expression in Keats's poetry and thought. By delineating a distinct but unknown era in the history of medicine, charting the poet's milieu within this age, and providing close reading of his poems in these contexts, Romantic Medicine and John Keats illustrates the interdisciplinary bonds between the two healing arts of the Romantic period: medicine and poetry.

Excerpt

The period of Romantic medicine has existed as a hiatus in the history of science. Unified in its intellectual concerns yet conceptually distinct, and spanning the three decades of a recognized era, Romantic medicine has been ignored at once by historians of medicine whose studies end around 1794 with the triumph of French mechanism and serniotics in the newly established clinics of the late eighteenth century and by the chroniclers of modern medicine who begin their studies with the invention of the high-resolution doublet lens microscope in 1829 that permitted Robert Brown's discovery of cell nuclei, Theodor Schwann's cell theory, and Rudolf Virchow's description of cellular pathology. Also, theorists of Romantic art, secured perhaps by the common but otherwise insupportable twentieth-century assumption of the alienation of Romanticism from science, have chosen largely to exclude the issues of early-nineteenth-century medicine from their consideration. As a fertile period of transition between the birth of the clinic and the discovery of the cell, as an era of speculative insight between the imaginative reading of life signs and the visual knowledge of bacterial life, Romantic medicine engendered biology, zoology, immunology, clinical diagnoses, and evolution theory.

The anatomical chart of life and death drawn by Bichât, the surgical insights of the heirs of John Hunter, the zoonomic speculations of Erasmus Darwin, the evolutionary studies of Cuvier and Lamarck, the chemical research of Lavoisier, Davy, and Saussure, the analysis of specific poisons by Orfila, Vauquelin, and Berzelius, the homeopathy and minute dosage prescribed by Hahnemann, the fraught implications for pathology and subspecial diversity of Alexander von Humboldt's South American journeys, the experiments with induced "suspended animation" during surgery of Hickman, the stethoscope of Laënnec and microscope lenses of Brewster and Wollaston, the revelation of electromagnetic principles by Oersted and Faraday, the linkage of psychology and biology by Cabanis, the study of brain anatomy by Charles Bell, and the attempt to map the geography of the nervous system and the personality by Gall and Spurzheim -- all these belong to Romantic medicine and its high concern with the issues of life. They mark the recognized change in the prevailing scientific paradigm from theoretical physics to practical biology that occurred at the turn of the century, but they also express a more comprehensive . . .

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