Herman Boerhaave

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Herman Boerhaave
Herman Boerhaave by J Champan.jpg
Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738)
Born (1668-12-31)31 December 1668
Voorhout, Dutch Republic
Died 23 September 1738(1738-09-23) (aged 69)
Leiden, Dutch Republic
Nationality Dutch
Fields Physician
Institutions University of Leiden
Alma mater University of Leiden
Doctoral advisor Burchard de Volder
Doctoral students Gerard Van Swieten
Known for Founder of clinical teaching
Author abbrev. (botany) Boerh.

Herman Boerhaave (Dutch: [ˈɦɛrmɑn ˈbuːrˌɦaːvə], 31 December 1668 – 23 September 1738)[1] was a Dutch botanist, Christian humanist and physician of European fame. He is regarded as the founder of clinical teaching and of the modern academic hospital and is sometimes referred to as "the father of physiology,"[2] along with his pupil Albrecht von Haller. He is best known for demonstrating the relation of symptoms to lesions and, in addition, he was the first to isolate the chemical urea from urine.[3] His motto was Simplex sigillum veri; Simplicity is the sign of truth.


Oud Poelgeest Castle, Herman Boerhaave's home in Oegstgeest, near Leiden. This was the site of his outdoor botanical garden that was renowned during his lifetime and rivaled Hortus Cliffortianus, the garden of his friend and sponsor to Linnaeus. He travelled back and forth to his friend's garden and to the Leiden University by trekschuit.

Boerhaave was born at Voorhout near Leiden. The son of a Protestant pastor,[4] in his youth Boerhaave studied for a divinity degree and wanted to become a preacher.[5] After the death of his father, however, he was offered a scholarship and he entered the University of Leiden, where he took his degree in philosophy in 1689, with a dissertation De distinctione mentis a corpore (on the difference of the mind from the body). There he attacked the doctrines of Epicurus, Thomas Hobbes and Spinoza. He then turned to the study of medicine, in which he graduated in 1693 at Harderwijk in present-day Gelderland.

In 1701 he was appointed lecturer on the institutes of medicine at Leiden; in his inaugural discourse, De commendando Hippocratis studio, he recommended to his pupils that great physician as their model. In 1709 he became professor of botany and medicine, and in that capacity he did good service, not only to his own university, but also to botanical science, by his improvements and additions to the botanic garden of Leiden, and by the publication of numerous works descriptive of new species of plants.

On 14 September 1710, Boerhaave married Maria Drolenvaux, the daughter of the rich merchant, Alderman Abraham Drolenvaux. They had four children, of whom one daughter, Maria Joanna, lived to adulthood.[6] In 1722, he began to suffer from an extreme case of gout, recovering the next year.

In 1714, when he was appointed rector of the university, he succeeded Govert Bidloo in the chair of practical medicine, and in this capacity he introduced the modern system of clinical instruction. Four years later he was appointed to the chair of chemistry as well. In 1728 he was elected into the French Academy of Sciences, and two years later into the Royal Society of London. In 1729 declining health obliged him to resign the chairs of chemistry and botany; and he died, after a lingering and painful illness, at Leiden.


His reputation so increased the fame of the University of Leiden, especially as a school of medicine, that it became popular with visitors from every part of Europe. All the princes of Europe sent him pupils, who found in this skillful professor not only an indefatigable teacher, but an affectionate guardian. When Peter the Great went to Holland in 1716 (he was in Holland before in 1697 to instruct himself in maritime affairs), he also took lessons from Boerhaave. Voltaire traveled to see him, as did Carl Linnaeus, who became a close friend. His reputation was not confined to Europe; a Chinese mandarin sent him a letter addressed to "the illustrious Boerhaave, physician in Europe," and it reached him in due course.

The operating theatre of the University of Leiden in which he once worked as an anatomist is now at the center of a museum named after him; the Boerhaave Museum. Asteroid 8175 Boerhaave is named after Boerhaave. From 1955 to 1961 Boerhaave's image was printed on Dutch 20-guilder banknotes. The Leiden University Medical Centre organises medical trainings called Boerhaave-courses.

Boerhaave first described Boerhaave syndrome, which involves tearing of the esophagus, usually a consequence of vigorous vomiting. He notoriously described in 1724 the case of Baron Jan von Wassenaer, a Dutch admiral who died of this condition following a gluttonous feast and subsequent regurgitation.[7] This condition was uniformly fatal prior to modern surgical techniques allowing repair of the esophagus.

Boerhaave was critical of his Dutch contemporary, Baruch Spinoza, attacking him in his dissertation in 1689. At the same time, he admired Isaac Newton and was a devout Christian who often wrote about God in his works.[8] A collection of his religious thoughts on medicine, translated from Latin to English, has been compiled by the Sir Thomas Browne Instituut Leiden under the name Boerhaaveìs Orations (meaning "Boherhaavian Prayers").[9] Among other things, he considered nature as God's Creation[10] and he used to say that the poor were his best patients because God was their paymaster.[11][12]


Aphorismi de cognoscendis et curandis morbis, 1728


  1.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Boerhaave, Hermann". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Kelly, Kate (2010). The Scientific Revolution and Medicine: 1450-1700. Infobase Publishing. p. 20
  3. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  4. Robert Siegfried (2002). From Elements to Atoms: A History of Chemical Composition, Volume 92, Issues 4-6. American Philosophical Society. p. 128
  5. Mendelsohn, p.287
  6. http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/2404.html
  7. Boerhaave H. Atrocis, nec descripti prius, morbii historia: secundum medicae artis leges conscripta. Leiden, the Netherlands: Lugduni Batavorum Boutesteniana, 1724
  8. Mendelsohn, p.287
  9. Boerhaave, Herman (1983). edited by Elze Kegel-Brinkgreve & Antonie Maria Luyendijk-Elshout. Boerhaaveìs Orations. Volume 4 of Publications of the Sir Thomas Browne Institute Leiden. Brill Archive. ISBN 9004070435, 9789004070431
  10. Principe, Lawrence (2007). New Narratives in Eighteenth-Century Chemistry: Contributions from the First Francis Bacon Workshop, 21–23 April 2005, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. Springer, p. 66-67
  11. H. Biglow, Orville Luther Holley (1817). The American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review, Volume 1. H. Biglow, p. 192
  12. Hosack, David (1824). Essays on various subjects of medical science. New York Symour. p. 113
  13. Author Query for 'Boerh.'. International Plant Names Index.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Further reading

  • Powers, John C. (2012). Inventing Chemistry: Herman Boerhaave and the Reform of the Chemical Arts. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-67760-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links