Calvet's Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in Eighteenth-Century France

By L. W.B Brockliss | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Physician

I. MEDICINE IN AVIGNON

In France, as in other countries in the eighteenth century, medical practitioners were divided into two groups: the legitimate and the illegitimate. The latter consisted of a bevy of wise women, charlatans, Lady Bountifuls, and priests, who practised medicine with no medical qualifications and usually little formal knowledge. The former were qualified practitioners who had received formal institutionalized instruction in medicine and/or served an apprencticeship and had had their knowledge and skill validated by an appropriate body. As elsewhere too, legitimate practitioners were divided into three theoretically distinctive groups: physicians, who gave consultations on internal maladies; surgeons, who policed external diseases and carried out surgical operations, often under a physician’s instructions; and apothecaries, who supplied the drugs that physicians and to a lesser extent surgeons prescribed. Traditionally, the physicians were deemed to be the surgeons’ and apothecaries’ superior. As normally they alone had received a university medical education, supposedly they alone understood the real cause of disease and were equipped to suggest its cure. Surgeons and apothecaries, whose training historically took the form of a formal apprenticeship, were merely mechanical operatives.

Although the boundary between legitimate and illegitimate practitioners was porous, it was always meaningful. In eighteenth-century England unqualified medical practice was never formally outlawed; in France empirical healers were theoretically beyond the law. In France, too, the three groups of legitimate practitioners retained their distinctive persona and areas of responsibility until the end of the Ancien Régime. If, by 1789, the physicians were no longer the only ones to have received formal instruction and many surgeons in the big cities had been extremely well educated in the new surgical colleges established in the course of the century, the traditional hierarchical relationship between the three groups still pertained, in the eyes of the physicians at least. Physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries, moroever, were supposed to keep to their last, even though many physicians had studied surgery and vice versa, and many surgeons had taken a medical degree. The traditional medical structures were collapsing, certainly, by 1789 but they continued to have many supporters.

In eighteenth-century France legitimate medical practice was a carefully regulated métier. In all towns from 1707 consultations concerning internal

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Calvet's Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in Eighteenth-Century France
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • List of Illustrations xiii
  • List of Figures xv
  • List of Tables xvi
  • List of Abbreviations xvii
  • Biographical Note xviii
  • A Note on Terms xix
  • Currency Note xx
  • Introduction the Republic of Letters and Enlightenment 1
  • Chapter One - Esprit Calvet 20
  • Chapter Two - The Intellectual Milieu 69
  • Chapter Three - The Physician 126
  • Chapter Four - The Antiquarian 193
  • Chapter Five - The Natural Historian 242
  • Chapter Six - The Bibliophile 281
  • Chapter Seven - The Revolutionary Climacteric 335
  • Chapter Eight - Conclusion: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters 390
  • Bibliography 413
  • Index 435
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