Hermann Boerhaave


Herman Boerhaave was an influential 18th century Dutch physician and professor of medicine, known for his revival of the Hippocratic method of bedside instruction and for conducting clinical conferencing with his students. He was also known for synthesizing the methods from the ancients, such as Hippocrates and Galen, with the scientific discoveries of his day. Boerhaave conducted post mortem evaluations of his patients, looking for causal relationships between the premorbid symptoms and their physical causes.

Like his predecessors, Boerhaave used the hydraulic metaphor of humor theory to understand health and sickness. He borrowed from ancient physicians, who held that health was related to a balance in the humors of the body—an equilibrium between fluids. Boerhaave focused on the vascular system and looked for imbalances (sickness) in the fluids by measuring forces, weights, and hydrostatic pressures.

Boerhaave maintained that the immaterial soul was irrelevant to the everyday medicine. Instead, he argued that physicians should attend to the physiological and pathological structures and functions of the body and leave considerations the soul to the priests and metaphysicians.

Boerhaave’s classic book Institutes of Medicine (1739-1744) ran through ten editions and was translated into five languages.

Selected Writings in English of Hermann Boerhaave

Boerhaave, Herman (1715/1986). Boerhaave’s aphorisms: Concerning the knowledge and cure of diseases/translated from the last edition printed in Latin at Leiden, with useful observations and explanations. J. Delacoste (Ed.). Birmingham Alabama: The classics of Medicine Library).

Boerhaave, Hermann (1751-1757). Dr. Boerhaave’s academical lectures on the theory of physic, being a genuine translation of his institutes and explanatory comment (2nd edition, 6 volumes). London.

Writings about Hermann Boerhaave

Johnson, Samuel (1739). Herman Boerhaave. The Gentelman’s Magazine. Retrieved on June 24, 2010 http://www.samueljohnson.com/boerhaave.html

King, Lester (1958). The medical world of the eighteenth century. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (Chapter 3, Hermann Boerhaave, systematist, pp. 59-93 and chapter 4, Hermann Boerhaave, scientist, pp. 95-121).

Lindeboom, G. A. (1968) Herman Boerhaave, the man and his work. London, Methuen.

Schneck, J. (1956). Hermann Boerhaave and Samuel Johnson, JAMA, 161, 14, 1414-1415.