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Becoming a PhysicianMedical Education in Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, 1750-1945$
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Thomas Neville Bonner

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780195062984

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195062984.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 16 October 2021

Changing Patterns of Medical Study Before 1800

Changing Patterns of Medical Study Before 1800

2 (p.33) Changing Patterns of Medical Study Before 1800
Becoming a Physician

Thomas Neville Bonner

Oxford University Press

For the traditional physician of the eighteenth century, medicine was above all a humane study, mastered largely through books and the careful examination of medicine’s past and leavened now by a growing concern to know something firsthand of the feel of the human body in sickness and in health. To be a French or German or British physician in these years was to be a member of a cultural elite who, like other university graduates, found the truth in the rich treasures of ancient Greek and Latin writings. A degree in medicine was a testament of higher learning, not merely a professional qualification, and Latin was the visible symbol of that learning. Medicine was valued not so much for its efficacy in curing patients as for the knowledge it implied about the universe and humankind. Such notable figures as Quesnay, who had a medical degree, and Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau studied medicine as an integral part of a broad, humanistic culture. The character of a physician, wrote an English practitioner in 1794, “ought to be that of a gentleman, which cannot be maintained . . . but by a man of literature. He is much in the world, and mixes in society with men of every description.” Students were easily converted to the idea of the centrality of classical study in their lives. A young man in Edinburgh, for example, ridiculed his medical professors in 1797 for their ignorance and that of their students, who “could not translate the easiest passage in Latin.” On the Continent, a Munich professor offered at about the same time to instruct a whole class of medical students in liberal studies, since “their knowledge of the Latin language, philosophy, logic, and other general branches of education” brought “shame” to the faculty. Such complaints were frequent by 1800, revealing the growing tension between the ideal and the real in the classical training of students and professors. What kind of education, then, was suitable for a late-eighteenth-century physician? The mastery of ancient literature and medical texts was still essential to one’s status as a gentleman but was no longer regarded as the sole qualification for success as a physician.

Keywords:   Apothecaries, Bamberg, Chemistry, Diderot, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hamburg, Innsbruck, Joseph II

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