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GUY DE CHAULIAC
One of the most interesting characters in the history of medieval medicine, and undoubtedly the most important and significant of these Old-Time Makers of Medicine, is Guy de Chauliac. Most of the false notions so commonly accepted with regard to the Middle Ages at once disappear after a careful study of his career. The idea of the careful application of scientific principles in a great practical way is far removed from the ordinary notion of medieval procedure. Some observations we may concede that they did make, but we are inclined to think that these were not regularly ordered and the lessons of them not drawn so as to make them valuable as experiences. Great art men may have had, but science and, above all, applied science, is a later development of humanity. Particularly is this supposed to be true with regard to the science and practice of surgery, which is assumed to be of comparatively recent origin. Nothing could well be less true, and if the thoroughly practical development of surgery may be taken as a symbol of how capable men were of applying science and scientific principles, then it is comparatively easy to show that the men of the later Middle Ages were occupied very much as have been our recent generations with science and its practical applications.
The immediate evidence of the value of old-time surgery is to be found in the fact that Guy de Chauliac, who is commonly spoken of in the history of medicine as the Father of Modern Surgery, lived his seventy-odd years of life during the fourteenth century and accomplished the best of his work, therefore, some five centuries before surgery in our modern sense of the term is supposed to have developed. A glance at his career, however, will show how old are most of the important developments of surgery, as also in what a thoroughly scientific temper of mind this subject was approached more than a century before the close of the Middle Ages. The life of this French surgeon, indeed, who was a cleric and occupied the position of chamberlain and physician-in-ordinary to three of the Avignon Popes, is not only a contradiction of many of the traditions as to the backwardness of our medieval forbears in medicine, that are readily accepted by many presumably educated people, but it is the best possible antidote for that insistent misunderstanding of the Middle Ages which attributes profound ignorance of science, almost complete failure of observation, and an absolute lack of initiative in applications of science to the men of those times.
Guy de Chauliac's life is modern in nearly every phase. He was educated in a little town of the south of France, made his medical studies at Montpellier, and then went on a journey of hundreds of miles into Italy, in order to make his post-graduate studies. Italy occupied the place in science at that time that Germany has taken during the nineteenth century. A young man who wanted to get into touch with the great masters in medicine naturally went down into the Peninsula. Traditions as to the attitude of the Church to science notwithstanding, Italy where education was more completely under the influence of the Popes and ecclesiastics than in any other country in Europe, continued to be the home of post-graduate work in science for the next four centuries. Almost needless to say, the journey to Italy was more difficult of accomplishment and involved more expense and time than would even the voyage from America to Europe in our time. Chauliac realized, however, that both time and expense would be well rewarded, and his ardor for the rounding out of his education was amply recompensed by the event. Nor have we any reason for thinking that what he did was very rare, much less unique, in his time. Many a student from France, Germany, and England made the long journey to Italy for post-graduate opportunities during the later Middle Ages.
Even this post-graduate experience in Italy did not satisfy Chauliac, however, for, after having studied several years with the most distinguished Italian teachers of anatomy and surgery, he spent some time in Paris, apparently so as to be sure that he would be acquainted with the best that was being done in his specialty in every part of the world. He then settled down to his own life work, carrying his Italian and French masters' teachings well beyond the point where he received them, and after years of personal experience he gathered together his masters' ideas, tested by his own observations, into his "Chirurgia Magna," a great text-book of surgery which sums up the whole subject succinctly, yet completely, for succeeding generations. When we talk about what he accomplished for surgery, we are not dependent on traditions nor vague information gleaned from contemporaries and successors, who might perhaps have been so much impressed by his personality as to be made over-enthusiastic in their critical judgment of him. We know the man in his surgical works, and they have continued to be classics in surgery ever since. It is an honorable distinction for the medicine of the later fourteenth, the fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries that Guy de Chauliac's book was the most read volume of the time in medicine. Evidently the career of such a man is of import, not alone to physicians, but to all who are interested in the history of education.
Chauliac derives his name from the little town of Chauliac in the diocese of Mende, almost in the centre of what is now the department of Lozere. The records of births and deaths were not considered so important in the fourteenth century as they are now, and so we are not sure of either in the case of Chauliac. It is usually considered that he was born some time during the last decade of the thirteenth century, probably toward the end of it, and that he died about 1370. Of his early education we know nothing, but it must have been reasonably efficient, since it gave him a good working knowledge of Latin, which was the universal language of science and especially of medicine at that time; and though his own style, as must be expected, is no better than that of his contemporaries, he knew how to express his thoughts clearly in straightforward Latin, with only such a mixture of foreign terms as his studies suggested and the exigencies of a new development of science almost required. Later in life he seems to have known Arabic very well, for he is evidently familiar with Arabian books and does not depend merely on translations of them.
Pagel, in the first volume of Puschmann's " Handbook of the History of Medicine," says, on the authority of Nicaise and others, that Chauliac received his early education from the village clergyman. His parents were poor, and but for ecclesiastical interest in him it would have been difficult for him to obtain his education. The Church supplied at that time to a great extent for the foundations and scholarships, home and travelling, of our day, and Chauliac was amongst the favored ones. How well he deserved the favor his subsequent career shows, as it completely justifies the judgment of his patrons. He went first to Toulouse, as we know from his affectionate mention of one of his teachers there. Toulouse was more famous for law, however, than for medicine, and after a time Chauliac sought Montpellier to complete his medical studies.
For English-speaking people an added interest in Guy de Chauliac will be the fact that one of his teachers at Montpellier was Bernard Gordon, very probably a Scotchman, who taught for some thirtyfive years at this famous university in the south of France, and died near the end of the first quarter of the fourteenth century. One of Chauliac's fellowstudents at Montpellier was John of Gaddesden, the first English Royal Physician by official appoint