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Savouring Alchemy

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Abstract

Herman Boerhaave was not the first physician to study the bodily fluids by chemical methods. This chapter discusses his precursor, in particular Paracelsus, Van Helmont, and Sylvius. In a time dominated by humorist, anatomical, and mechanical views of the body, these men belonged to a new school of iatrochemistry—or medical chymistry—that relied on chemical methods to understand the human body. Focusing on the case of saliva and digestion, this chapter examines how Boerhaave rejected medical chymistry to solidify his own chemistry of medicine. Although Boerhaave was less dismissive of chymistry than he publicly led on, ultimately he was able to develop an irenic and inclusive model of physiology, establishing it as the standard for decades to come.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This case is shared in Frederik Ruysch, Alle de ontleed- genees- en heelkundige werken, trans. Ysbrand Gysbert Arlebout, 3 vols (Amsterdam, 1744), vol. 3, 1007–9. Verduyn was one of the overseers of the Amsterdam surgeons’ guild from 1729 to 1731. See Abraham Titsingh, Diana, ontdekkende het geheim der dwaazen die zig vroedmeester noemen: ter eeren van chirurgia geschreeven (Amsterdam, 1750), 66, 9.

  2. 2.

    Albrecht von Haller, ed. Dr. Boerhaave’s Academical Lectures on the Theory of Physic: Being a Genuine Translation of his Institutes and Explanatory Comment, 6 vols (London, 1742–1746), vol. 1, 134, vol. 5, 446.

  3. 3.

    ‘Chymistry’ denotes all chemical practices prior to 1700 when the words alchemy and chemistry were used interchangeably. This includes chrysopoeia (i.e., transmutation of base metals into noble ones), spagyria (i.e., purification of substances), and iatrochemistry or chemiatria (i.e., the school of medicine explaining disease in terms of chemical doctrines and the use of metals and minerals in treatment). See William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, ‘Alchemy vs. Chemistry: The Etymological Origins of a Historiographic Mistake’, Early Science and Medicine, 3 (1998), 32–65.

  4. 4.

    Allen G. Debus, Chemistry and Medical Debate: Van Helmont to Boerhaave (Canton, MA, 2001).

  5. 5.

    Antonio Clericuzio, ‘Chemical and Mechanical Theories of Digestion in Early Modern Medicine’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 43 (2012), 329–37.

  6. 6.

    Elizabeth A. Williams, ‘Sciences of Appetite in the Enlightenment, 1750–1800’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 43 (2012), 392–404; ead. ‘Food and Feeling: ‘Digestive Force’ and the Nature of Morbidity in Vitalist Medicine’, in Vital Matters, ed. Helen Deutsch and Mary Terrall (Toronto, 2012), 203–21.

  7. 7.

    Herman Boerhaave, Sermo academicus de chemia suos errores expurgante (Leiden, 1718).

  8. 8.

    As translated in E. Kegel-Brinkgreve and A.M. Luyendijk-Elshout, eds., Boerhaave’s Orations (Leiden, 1983), 207.

  9. 9.

    E.D. Baumann, François dele Boe Sylvius (Leiden, 1949); Rina Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738): Calvinist Chemist and Physician (Amsterdam, 2002).

  10. 10.

    Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago, 2004), 298–9.

  11. 11.

    Kegel-Brinkgreve and Luyendijk-Elshout, Boerhaave’s Orations, 207–8.

  12. 12.

    Ibid. For a detailed discussion on the idea of the human body as chemical laboratory, see Antonio Clericuzio, ‘The Internal Laboratory: The Chemical Reinterpretation of Medical Spirits in England (1650–1680)’, in Alchemy and Chemistry, ed. Piyo Rattansi and Antonio Clericuzio (Dordrecht, 1994).

  13. 13.

    Reinier de Graaf, Alle de wercken, so in de ontleed-kunde, als andere deelen der medicyne (Amsterdam, 1686), 499.

  14. 14.

    Sylvius collected the dissertations of Quina and nine other students on various physiological topics in Franciscus Sylvius, Disputationum medicarum: pars prima primarias corporis humani functiones naturales ex anatomicis, practicis & chymicis experimentis deductas complectens (Amsterdam, 1663).

  15. 15.

    For the complete inventory, see Harm Beukers, ‘Het laboratorium van Sylvius’, TGGNWT, 3 (1980), 28–36.

  16. 16.

    Baumann, Sylvius, 67–9; Ronald Sluijter, ‘Tot ciraet, vermeerderinge ende heerlyckmaeckinge der universiteyt’: Bestuur, instellingen, personeel en financiën van de Leidse universiteit, 1575–1812 (Hilversum, 2004), 79. On De Maets, see John C. Powers, Inventing Chemistry: Herman Boerhaave and the Reform of the Chemical Arts (Chicago, 2012), 49–55.

  17. 17.

    G.J. Hoogewerff, ed. De twee reizen van Cosimo de’ Medici, prins van Toscane, door de Nederlanden (1667–1669): Journalen en documenten (Amsterdam, 1919), 311–2.

  18. 18.

    On Sylvius’s chymical medicine, see Evan R. Ragland, ‘Chymistry and Taste in the Seventeenth Century: Franciscus Dele Boë Sylvius as a Chymical Physician between Galenism and Cartesianism’, Ambix, 59 (2012), 1–21; Harm Beukers, ‘Acid Spirits and Alkaline Salts: The Iatrochemistry of Franciscus dele Boë, Sylvius’, Sartoniana, 12 (1999), 39–59.

  19. 19.

    Franciscus Sylvius, A New Idea of the Practice of Physic, trans. Richard Gower (London, 1675), 28. This translation was based on Franciscus Sylvius, Praxeos medicae idea nova (Leiden, 1671).

  20. 20.

    Sylvius, Practice of Physic, 50–1.

  21. 21.

    Ibid., 51.

  22. 22.

    Sylvius, Disputationum medicarum decas, vol. 5, §36.

  23. 23.

    Sylvius, Practice of Physic, 51–2.

  24. 24.

    Reinier de Graaf, De succi pancreatici natura et usu exercitatio anatomico-medica (Leiden, 1664). For a more detailed discussion on De Graaf’s experiment, see Evan R. Ragland, ‘Experimenting with Chymical Bodies: Reinier De Graaf’s Investigations of the Pancreas’, Early Science and Medicine, 13 (2008), 615–64. On De Graaf, see Hans L. Houtzager, ed. Reinier de Graaf 1641–1673: In sijn leven nauwkeurig ontleder en gelukkig geneesheer tot Delft (Rotterdam, 1991); Mart J. van Lieburg, ‘Reinier de Graaf en zijn plaats in het fysiologisch onderzoek van de zeventiende eeuw’, Gewina, 15 (1992), 73–84.

  25. 25.

    Herman Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry: Including the Theory and Practice of that Art: Laid down on Mechanical Principles, and Accommodated to the Uses of Life, trans. Peter Shaw and Ephraim Chambers, 2 vols (London, 1727), vol. 1, vi; Herman Boerhaave, Institutiones et experimenta chemiae, 2 vols (‘Paris’, 1724), vol. 1, 2. See also Powers, Inventing Chemistry, 112.

  26. 26.

    Ursula Klein, ‘Experimental History and Herman Boerhaave’s Chemistry of Plants’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 34 (2003), 533–67, here 538–41.

  27. 27.

    Herman Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry: Including the History, Theory, and Practice of the Art, trans. Peter Shaw, 2nd ed., 2 vols (London, 1741), vol. 1, 2–3. Emphasis added.

  28. 28.

    Disputationum medicarum II in Franciscus Sylvius, Opera medica (Amsterdam, 1679), 13. The original dispute was held by Ludovicus Meyer in 1659.

  29. 29.

    Kegel-Brinkgreve and Luyendijk-Elshout, Boerhaave’s Orations, 207–8.

  30. 30.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 2, 182–3.

  31. 31.

    Ibid., vol. 2, 186–7.

  32. 32.

    Kegel-Brinkgreve and Luyendijk-Elshout, Boerhaave’s Orations, 206.

  33. 33.

    See, for example, Boerhaave to Joannes Baptista Bassand, 23 July 1733, in G.A. Lindeboom, ed. Boerhaave’s Correspondence, 3 vols (Leiden, 1962–1979), vol. 2, 320–1. Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave, 181.

  34. 34.

    William Burton, An Account of the Life and Writings of Herman Boerhaave (London, 1743), 67, 158. Boerhaave owned editions of their main works: Paracelsus, Opera medico-chemica, 3 vols (Frankfurt, 1603); idem, Opera: Bücher und Schrifften (Strassburg, 1616); idem, Opera omnia medico-chemico-chirurgica, 3 vols (Geneva, 1658); and Jan Baptist van Helmont, Ortus medicinae, ed. Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont (Amsterdam, 1652); idem, Opera omnia (Frankfurt, 1707). See ‘Bibliotheca Boerhaaviana sive catalogus librorum instructissimae bibliothecae viri summi D. Hermanni Boerhaave’ (Leiden, 1739).

  35. 35.

    Boerhaave had offered private lectures in chemistry since 1702. See Powers, Inventing Chemistry, 68, 84, 9.

  36. 36.

    Boerhaave, Institutiones et experimenta chemiae, [*2].

  37. 37.

    Herman Boerhaave, Institutiones et experimenta chemiae, 2 vols (Venice, 1726); J.R.R. Christie, ‘Historiography of Chemistry in the Eighteenth Century: Hermann Boerhaave and William Cullen’, Ambix, 41 (1994), 4–19.

  38. 38.

    More on these and other alchemists, see Lawrence M. Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy (Chicago, 2012).

  39. 39.

    Boerhaave, Institutiones et experimenta chemiae, vol. 1, 21.

  40. 40.

    For lapidary and mineral medicine in this context, see Marieke M.A. Hendriksen, ‘Boerhaave’s Mineral Chemistry and Its Influence on Eighteenth-Century Pharmacy in the Netherlands and England’, Ambix, 65 (2018), 303–23; ead. ‘The Repudiation and Persistence of Lapidary Medicine in Eighteenth-Century Dutch Medicine and Pharmacy’, in Gems in the Early Modern World, ed. Michael Bycroft and Sven Dupré (Cham, 2019), 197–220.

  41. 41.

    Boerhaave, Institutiones et experimenta chemiae, vol. 1, 22.

  42. 42.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 1, 24. Emphasis in original.

  43. 43.

    Throughout the seventeenth century, mercury was praised for its penetrating and cleansing qualities. See Lawrence M. Principe, The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest: Including Boyle’s “Lost” Dialogue on the Transmutation of Metals (Princeton, 1998), 138–80; and Marieke M.A. Hendriksen, ‘Anatomical Mercury: Changing Understandings of Quicksilver, Blood, and the Lymphatic System, 1650–1800’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 70 (2015), 516–48.

  44. 44.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 1, 24. Emphasis in original.

  45. 45.

    Andrew Weeks, Paracelsus: Speculative Theory and the Crisis of the Early Reformation (Albany, NY, 1997); Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basel, 1958).

  46. 46.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 1, 25.

  47. 47.

    Ibid., vol. 1, 31–2.

  48. 48.

    Ibid.

  49. 49.

    Allen G. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (New York, 1977), 45–57.

  50. 50.

    Coined as the ‘artisanal epistemology’ in Smith, The Body of the Artisan, 82–93.

  51. 51.

    Lester S. King, The Road to Medical Enlightenment, 1650–1695 (London, 1970), 43–5.

  52. 52.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 1, 33–6.

  53. 53.

    Debus, The Chemical Philosophy, 104–17. See also Georgiana D. Hedesan, An Alchemical Quest for Universal Knowledge: The ‘Christian Philosophy’ of Jan Baptist Van Helmont (1579–1644) (London, 2016).

  54. 54.

    Paracelsus, De morborum origine et causa (1531) as quoted in Andrew Weeks, ed. Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493–1541): Essential Theoretical Writings (Leiden, 2008), 531.

  55. 55.

    Paracelsus, Opus Paramirum (1531), lib. 3, as quoted in Walter Pagel, ‘J. B. Van Helmont’s Reformation of the Galenic Doctrine of Digestion—and Paracelsus’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 29 (1955), 563–8, here 565.

  56. 56.

    Van Helmont, Ortus medicinae (Amsterdam, 1648) as quoted in Walter Pagel, ‘Van Helmont’s Ideas on Gastric Digestion and the Gastric Acid’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 30 (1956), 524–36, here 524.

  57. 57.

    Pagel, Paracelsus, 153–61.

  58. 58.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 1, 36; Debus, The Chemical Philosophy, 104–17.

  59. 59.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 1, 36.

  60. 60.

    Ibid., vol. 1, 22.

  61. 61.

    Ibid., vol. 1, 36–7.

  62. 62.

    Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry, vol. 1, vi.

  63. 63.

    As quoted in Burton, An Account, 166–7.

  64. 64.

    Robert Verhoogt and Chris Schriks, ‘Reflecting Media: A Cultural History of Copyright and the Media’, in The History of Information Security, ed. Karl de Leeuw and Jan Bergstra (Amsterdam, 2007), 83–119, here 88.

  65. 65.

    Herman Boerhaave, Elementa chemiae , quae anniversario labore docuit in publicis, privatisque scholis, 2 vols (Leiden, 1732).

  66. 66.

    Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry, vol. 1, v.

  67. 67.

    Herman Boerhaave, Institutiones medicae, in usus annuae exercitationis domesticos digestae (Leiden, 1708); and the last edition appearing during Boerhaave’s lifetime, Institutiones medicae in usus annuae exercitationis domesticos digestae, 5th ed. (Leiden and Rotterdam, 1734); Albrecht von Haller, ed. Praelectiones academicae in proprias institutiones rei medicae, 6 vols (Göttingen, 1739–1744).

  68. 68.

    Hubert Steinke, Urs Boschung, and Wolfgang Proß, eds., Albrecht von Haller: Leben – Werk – Epoche (Göttingen, 2008).

  69. 69.

    Von Haller, Academical Lectures, vol. 1, 135–6. On Boerhaave’s conception of secretion, see Rina Knoeff, ‘Chemistry, Mechanics and the Making of Anatomical Knowledge: Boerhaave Vs. Ruysch on the Nature of the Glands’, Ambix, 53 (2006), 201–19.

  70. 70.

    Albrecht von Haller, Dissertatio inauguralis sistens experimenta et dubia circa ductum salivalem novum Coschwizianum (Leiden, 1727). See also Rainer Godel, ‘Controversy as the Impetus of Enlightened Practice of Knowledge’, in Scholars in Action, ed. André Holenstein, Hubert Steinke, and Martin Stuber (Leiden, 2013), 413–31, here 416–21.

  71. 71.

    Von Haller, Academical Lectures, vol. 1, 137, 41.

  72. 72.

    Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry, vol. 1, 153.

  73. 73.

    Von Haller, Academical Lectures, vol. 1, 140–5.

  74. 74.

    Ibid., vol. 1, 144–5. According to Boerhaave, distillation of saliva yielded ‘a water of a somewhat unpleasant, indeed, but notSeeSeeSmell a fetid odour’: Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 2, p. 188.

  75. 75.

    Von Haller, Academical Lectures, vol. 1, 140.

  76. 76.

    On the therapeutic properties of saliva in wounds, itching, and skin peeling were discussed in Martinus Houttuyn, Natuurlyke historie of uitvoerige beschryving der dieren, planten en mineraalen, volgens het samenstel van den heer Linnaeus, 37 vols (Amsterdam, 1761–1785), vol. 1, 313–4.

  77. 77.

    Von Haller, Academical Lectures, vol. 1, 142–3.

  78. 78.

    Ibid., vol. 1, 145.

  79. 79.

    Ibid.

  80. 80.

    Powers, Inventing Chemistry, 93.

  81. 81.

    Von Haller, Academical Lectures, vol. 1, 147.

  82. 82.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 2, p. 177.

  83. 83.

    Von Haller, Academical Lectures, vol. 1, 184–98.

  84. 84.

    Ibid., vol. 1, 212.

  85. 85.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 1, p. 345. Emphasis added. Cf. Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry, vol. 1, 148–53; Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave, 200. See also Boerhaave’s reference to ‘the united Force’ in Von Haller, Academical Lectures, vol. 1, 219.

  86. 86.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 2, p. 177. Emphasis added. Cf. Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry, vol. 2, 189.

  87. 87.

    Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave, 193–201; ead. ‘Practising Chemistry ‘after the Hippocratical Manner’: Hippocrates and the Importance of Chemistry for Boerhaave’s Medicine’, in New Narratives, ed. Lawrence M. Principe (Dordrecht, 2007), 63–76.

  88. 88.

    Klein, ‘Experimental History’.

  89. 89.

    Hubert Steinke, Irritating Experiments: Haller’s Concept and the European Controversy on Irritability and Sensibility, 1750–90 (Amsterdam, 2005), 175–229.

  90. 90.

    Elizabeth A. Williams, A Cultural History of Medical Vitalism in Enlightenment Montpellier (Aldershot, 2003), 123; Richard N. Schwab, ‘The History of Medicine in Diderot’s Encyclopédie’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 32 (1958), 216–23.

  91. 91.

    Louis de Jaucourt, ‘Salive’, in Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert, eds., Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 17 vols (Paris, 1751–1765), vol. 14, 572–3.

  92. 92.

    Gabriel-François Venel, ‘Digestion’, in Ibid., vol. 4, 999–1003; Williams, ‘Food and Feeling’, 207–8.

  93. 93.

    Lazzaro Spallanzani, Dissertations Relative to the Natural History of Animals and Vegetables, trans. Thomas Beddoes (London, 1784), vi.

  94. 94.

    Lazzaro Spallanzani, Dissertazioni di Fisica Animale, e Vegetabile, 2 vols (Modena, 1780); Evan R. Ragland, “Experimenting with Chemical Bodies: Science, Medicine, and Philosophy in the Long History of Reinier de Graaf’s Experiments on Digestion, from Harvey and Descartes to Claude Bernard” (Doctoral thesis, University of Alabama, 2012), 455–8.

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Verwaal, R.E. (2020). Savouring Alchemy. In: Bodily Fluids, Chemistry and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Boerhaave School. Palgrave Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Medicine. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-51541-6_2

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