Billeder på siden
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Stahl and Hoffmann--Stahl a Sour Metaphysician-Soul the only Living Force

in the Body—Roughly Handled by Haller— Darwin and Whytt-Animal Spirits - Nervous Fluid—Theory of Stimulation-Hoffmann ; his Early CareerTheory of Spasms-Fuge Medicos et Medicamenta-Soul and Spirit Identical -Boerhaave--His Birth-His World-wide Fame-His Institution-Superficial and Plausible— Galvanism-Contraria Contrariis curantur- Estimate of his Character.

The names of Stahl and Hoffmann, or rather of Hoffmann and Stahl, like those of Castor and Pollux, are always associated ; but, unlike the demigods, they are linked in perpetual antagonism: to believe in Stahl is to disbelieve in Hoffmann, and vice versa. Because they were great rival teachers when alive, their personal rivalry has

From a painting by Mandelaar, years of age. taken when Boerhaave was seventy

been regarded as inherent in their doctrines.

This seems to be an error. They appear to have been what we may call polar opposites, therefore organically identical, or at least, very similar. They started from opposite points and arrived at dissimilar conclusions ; but they traversed nearly the same space, and the apparent opposition of their ideas is due rather to the method in which they are arranged, than to their essential contrast. They are both represented as the founders of schools, although there is nothing really novel in the speculations of either, and they should be classed rather with medical preachers than with apostles.

To the same order belongs Boerhaave, the most celebrated teacher and practitioner of his age-almost of any age; in whose ante-room one might have encountered the representatives of the Emperor of China, sent from “ remote Cathay” to consult the great oracle of his time. Letters directed to “Dr. Boerhaave, Europe," used to be safely delivered into the hands of this modern Galen, « Il faut se conformer à la methode de Boerhaave dans la médi. cine," wrote the decided Frederick the Great of Prussia, to the Royal Academy of Berlin."

Each of these three men was the exponent of a great intellectual movement, and each represented a different aspect of the progress of medical speculation. For thought may be said to move in line, rather than column; and while Hoffmann commanded one wing, consisting of medical mechanics, Stahl was at the head of the other wing, formed of vitalists; while Boerhaave occupied the centre, composed of what might be called Rationalists and Eclectics.

George Ernest Stahl was born at Anspach, in the year 1660, when Sydenham was beginning to come into notice as a great practical writer, being then about thirty-six years of age. After obtaining his degree of Doctor of Medicine at Jena, in 1683, and occupying the post of Court Physician

1 Madame de Staël. Vol. I., p. 151.

[ocr errors]

A.D. 1660-1742.]




lar man.

[ocr errors]

at Weimar for a few years, Stahl was appointed, in 1694, to the chair of medicine at Halle. For twenty-two years he taught in that university : the only other medical professor being Hoffmann, who lectured on anatomy, chemistry, surgery, and the practice of physic; while Stahl taught botany, physiology, materia medica, and the institutes of medicine. In attempting to form a correct estimate of Stahl, we must bear in mind that he was sole colleague to a much more brilliant man than himself. Hoffmann was one of the most popular teachers of the age, and was the great glory of Halle. Stahl was not a popu

Haller calls him homo acris et metaphysicus, a sour metaphysician.”

In virtue of his metaphysical nature, he resented the attempt to explain the whole nature of man on the principles of chemistry and mechanics. Admitting that it was the true method to interrogate nature, and not to attempt to dictate, he began his interrogation in his own consciousness. What am I? Am I a mechanical apparatus or a chemical laboratory? Are the motions that perpetually take place in this my frame, to be explained by the fermentation of acids and alkalies, or by the size of the atoms of the fluids in relation to the vessels through which they pass ? Will this explain how I turn pale when I hear of the death of a friend, or why my face grows crimson when I am insulted? Will this explain how my appetite is destroyed by joy or sorrow, or why a man's hair will turn white in the course of an hour under intense emotion? These undeniable facts are not explained to the slightest extent, either by chemistry or mechanical philosophy. The effervescence of a mixture of acids and alkalies is no way under the influence of their feelings. No intelligence communicated to the retort will either favour or control the cloud of bubbles that rise and burst; nor will the action of a pump be affected by its change of owners. We must look to something beyond the mechanism if we want to obtain a key to the mystery of the human organism.'

While the so-called mechanical school strove to arrive at an explanation of the problems of organic structure, by a careful examination of all the parts, by taking the watch to pieces, proceeding from without inwards, Stahl followed the opposite method, and worked from within outwards. The body of man was not to him a curious aggregation of wellfitting parts, acting and re-acting on one another; it was an organic whole, springing out of the influence of mind.

By a rapid analysis he arrived at the conclusion, that what we feel within us and name the soul, is at once the subject of emotion and the moving power.

It is the same mind or soul that thinks and feels, that is aware of danger, and contrives a means of resistance or escape—the very same soul that raises the arm to strike, or moves the legs to run. This soul, then, is the living force in the body ; it not only stimulates the muscles to contract, but it presides over all secretions. What makes the tears flow in sorrow, but the soul ? What parches the mouth in fear, by sealing up the sources of the water of the mouth, but the soul ? The soul is everywhere present; it does everything. “The body, as body, has no power to move; it must always be put in motion by an immaterial principle. All movement is immaterial, and a spiritual act (ein geistiger

act).” 1

Stahl felt this, and expressed his feelings on the subject with the passionate earnestness of a man who utters convictions derived directly from consciousness. To him they were absolute truth, truth he had won for himself. was characteristic of the man, that, assuming the mystic language of inspiration, he should be intolerant of contradiction, and should resent as an insult, the suggestion that whether his doctrines on the subject of the soul were true or false, at all events they were not new; for that

| Theorie Med., pp. 43, 260.

A.D. 1660-1742.]



his soul no way differed from the Archæus of Van Helmont, or indeed from the Psyche of Aristotle. When Stahl was so addressed, he was wont “to curse and to swear,”

deny that he owed anything to the ancients, and to appeal to the direct consciousness of his hearers for the truth of his speech. In all this he was natural and true to himself. What he uttered as novelty, had, at least, the charm of freshness He reproduced the thoughts of others, but they were the growth of his own mind; and the bitterness that mingled with them was due in part to what he felt to be the unjust reception of these sublime truths.

Stahl has been severely dealt with by some of the greatest medical writers, especially by Haller; and, undoubtedly, he drew upon himself well-deserved chastisement by the extravagance of his assertions, and his contemptuous treatment of his great contemporaries. “The exact form of the semicircular canals in the ear, of the malleus, the incus, the stapes, and (what a magnificent discovery!) the round bone, would doubtless, if unknown, make the physical knowledge of the human frame very defective ! But medicine stands in need of such knowledge, just as much as it does of what became of the snow that fell ten years


We can understand this extravagance in a man who felt himself called on to protest against the exclusive prominence given by his brilliant colleague and his illustrious contemporaries, to the knowledge of the mechanism of the body; and who, glorying in his ignorance, boasted that “ he had had no time to saunter through class-rooms and wriggle through antiquarian libraries ;” but it was naturally irritating to those he despised.

As a theory of vital action in health, the hypothesis of Stahl is simple, and, to a certain extent, entirely satisfactory; indeed, it is not till we attempt to explain by it all

Proempt Mang. Sprengel, Vol. V., p. 306.

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »