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THE EARLY HISTORY OF PRACTICAL
N welcoming you here this evening, gentlemen, at the beginning of the winter session,-and welcome you I do with the sincerest pleasure, it has occurred to me that in no way could we spend a pleasanter hour than in reviewing the early history of practical anatomy. We shall see in the difficulties that attended its beginning, and the improvements that have been gradually introduced, how much better off we are than were our predecessors, and how zealously we should avail ourselves of these advantages.
The life and labors of Vesalius have been so often and so fully discussed that you have readily at hand the means of acquainting yourselves with them. I shall not, therefore, enter into these in detail, but only allude to them when necessary. But Vesalius, who was born in 1514, although the real father of anatomy, was by no means the first who practised human dissection. If we wish to see its starting-point, we must go back to ancient times. We must retrace our steps to the third century before Christ, and transfer ourselves from the amphitheatre of Padua to that of Alexandria, to
* The Introductory Address to the course of lectures on anatomy at the Philadelphia School of Anatomy, Tuesday, October 6, 1874. This was originally given as the Introductory to the course of 1870, and was then printed. The edition was soon exhausted, and by request was repeated and reprinted in 1874 with corrections and additions. The address is reprinted from the edition of 1874 with the kind permission of J. B. Lippincott Company.
discover the bold innovators who first forced the dead human body to disclose its secrets for the benefit of the living.
Two centuries earlier still, Democritus and Hippocrates had taken the first tentative steps, in the examination of the bodies of the inferior animals, but they ventured no further than this.
It is in Alexandria, three hundred years before Christ, that we meet with the first human anatomists, Herophilus and Erasistratus; and they are said to have been such zealous cultivators of the new science that they not only dissected the dead human body, but even the living, in order to search for the hidden springs of life itself.* It is curious to note how this belief that anatomists were addicted to ante-mortem dissection has not been peculiar to Egypt, but has pervaded all lands and all times. Vesalius was shipwrecked and died when fleeing for his life on a similar charge.† The Edinburgh Act of 1505, giving the surgeons the body of one criminal annually "to make an anatomie of," was guarded by the proviso, "after he be deid," and even Staupa, a medical man, in his book on dissection, published so late as 1827, gravely advises the student to assure himself that the body is "really dead."§ Even poetry has lent its aid to perpetuate the legend of the "Invisible Girl," whose ghost was be
Biographie Médicale par ordre chronologique, par MM. Bayle et Thillaye, Paris, 1855, tome i, p. 40. This charge of Tertullian is reasonably accounted for on the ground that such rumors would naturally attach themselves to the first dissectors of the human body. It is stated that Cocchi, in his De Usu Art. Anat., Florence, 1736, has vindicated them from the charge. Surgeons, however, not infrequently have been allowed to test operations on criminals, who were pardoned if they survived. Galen thus operated in cases of nerve wounds, and Paré, Colot, and numerous other surgeons, in cases of lithotomy.
† Bayle et Thillaye, op. cit., tome i, p. 231.
Prof. Struthers's Hist. Edin. Anatom. School, Edin. Med. Journ., Oct. 1866, p. 289, note.
§ Hyrtl, Handbuch der Zergliederungskunst, pp. 51, 52.