Heister, Lorenz

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Heister, Lorenz

(b. Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 19 September 1683; d. Bornum, near Königslutter, Germany, 18 April 1758)

anatomy, surgery, medicine.

Heister was the son of a lumber merchant who later became an innkeeper and wine merchant. His mother, Maria Alleins, was the daughter of a merchant. He was educated at the Frankfurt Gymnasium and received additional private lessons in French and Italian. In 1702–1703 he studied at the University of Giessen and in 1703–1706 at the University of Wetzlar. When he left Wetzlar, Heister had completed the study of all subjects needed for the practice of medicine. Thereafter he went to Amsterdam, where he attended the botanical lectures of Caspar Commelin and the anatomical demonstrations of Frederik Ruysch. Amsterdam was at the time the world center for the study of exotic plants and one of the few places where anatomy could be studied by practical dissection.

In June 1707, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Heister worked in the field hospitals at Brussels and Ghent. After his return to Holland, he studied in Leiden for a short time, attending Hermann Boerhaave’s lectures on chemistry and on the diseases of the eye and Goverd Bidloo’s anatomical lessons. He obtained his M.D. at the University of Harderwijk in May 1708. After his return to Amsterdam, Heister gave lessons in anatomy with demonstrations on cadavers. Ruysch, the official professor of anatomy, limited himself to an hour’s discussion of his anatomical preparations daily. Heister’s first class consisted of ten French surgeons’ apprentices, his second of German students; he lectured to each group in its own language.

In July 1709 Heister rejoined the Dutch army, this time as a field surgeon during the siege of Tournai. Later he tended those wounded in the battles of Oudenarde and Malplaquet. On 11 November 1711 he was appointed professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Altdorf, near Nuremberg. In 1720 Heister was appointed professor of anatomy and surgery at Helmstedt. Here his teaching duties changed several times: in 1730 he was charged with the teaching of theoretical medicine and botany and in 1740 with the teaching of practical medicine and botany. He remained in Helmstedt for the rest of his life.

Heister made many minor anatomical discoveries and corrected some faulty observations of his predecessors. While a field surgeon, he discovered the true cause of cataracts: an opacity of the crystalline lens, instead of a film over the cornea, as had been believed. His main significance, though, is as a teacher and author. In Altdorf and in Helmstedt he trained a large number of surgeons and physicians. His books on anatomy, surgery, and medicine dominated the field for several generations, serving to educate thousands of surgeons and physicians throughout western Europe. Heister’s main work, the Chirurgie, which was originally written in German, was translated into seven languages, including Latin and Japanese. Although not the first European book on surgery to be translated into Japanese, it was certainly the most successful, introducing Western methods to many Japanese surgeons.


I. Original Works. Many students earned their doctorates under Heister’s guidance. Since it was then the custom for the professor, not the candidate, to write the dissertation, these dissertations (there are at least seventyfive) should be counted among Heister’s work. In addition, he contributed many papers to the Ephemerides Caesareo-Leopoldinae naturae curiosorum and its successor, Acta physico-medica Academiae Caesarae Leopoldino-Carolinae naturae curiosorum. No modern bibliography of Heister’s works appears to exist. The following are his most imimportant books: Dissertatio inauguralis de tunica choroidea oculi (Harderwijk, 1708), doctoral diss.; Oratio inauguralis de hypothesium medicarum fallacia et pernice (Altdorf, 1710), his inaugural lecture as professor of anatomy and surgery; De cataracta glaucomate et amaurosi tractate etc. (Altdorf, 1711); Apologia et uberior illustratio systematis sui de cataracta glaucomati et amaurosi contra Wolhusi ocularii parisiensis cavillationes et objectiones (Altdorf, 1717); Compendium anatomicum, veterum recentiorumque observationes brevissime complectens etc. (Altdorf, 1717; other eds., some with slightly changed title, 1719, 1727, 1732; Amsterdam, 1723, 1733, 1748; Freiburg, 1726; Venice, 1730; Breslau, 1733; Nuremberg, 1736, 1737; Vienna, 1770), translated into English as A Compendium of Anatomy, Containing a Short, but Perfect View of All Parts of the Human Body (London, 1721, 1752), also translated into French (Paris, 1724, 1729, 1735, 1753), Dutch (Amsterdam, 1728), and Italian (Venice, 1772). Chirurgie, in welcher alles was zur Wund Arztney gehöret, nach der neuesten und besten Art, gründlich abgehandelt wird usw. (Nuremberg, 1718, 1719, 1724, 1731, 1739, 1743), also translated into Latin as Institutiones chirurgicas etc. (Amsterdam, 1739, 1750; Venice, 1740; Naples, 1759), into Dutch as Heelkundige Onderwijzingen enz. (Amsterdam, 1741, 1755, 1776), into English as A General System of Surgery etc. (London, 1750, 1768), Italian (Venice, 1765, 1770), French (Paris, 1771), and Spanish (Madrid, 1785); Vindiciae sententiae suae de cataracta glaucomate et amaurosi adversus ultimas animadversiones atque objectiones etc. (Altdorf, 1719); Oratio de incrementis anatomiae in hoc seculo XVIII habita (Helmstedt–Nuremberg, 1720), his inaugural lecture as professor of anatomy and surgery at Helmstedt; Infantes pro a diabolo olim suppositir habitos, revera nihil nisi Rachiticos fuisse (Helmstedt, 1725); Epistola de morte Silii Italici, celebris poetae et oratoris, ex clavo insanabili (Helmstedt, 1735); Compendium institutionum sive fundamentum medicinae (Helmstedt, 1736; Leiden, 4 eds., incl. 1749, 1764), also translated into Dutch (Amsterdam, 1761) and German (Leipzig, 1763); Nachricht von dem Leben und Thaten des englischen Augenarztes John Taylor (Helmstedt, 1736); Compendium medicae practicae, cui praemisse est dissertatio de medicinae praestantia (Amsterdam, 1743, 1748, 1762; Venice, 1763), also translated into Spanish (Madrid, 1752) and German (Leipzig, 1763; Nuremberg, 1767); Kleine Chirurgie oder Wund-Arztney, in welcher ein kurtzer doch deutlicher Unterricht und Begriff dieser Wissenschaft gegeben usw, (Nuremberg, 1747, 1764 [?], 1767), also translated into Dutch (Amsterdam, 1743) and Latin (Amsterdam, 1743, 1748); Systema plantarum generale ex fructificatione, cum regulis de nominibus plantarum a Linnei longe diversis (Helmstedt, 1748); Anatomisch-chirurgisches Lexicon (Berlin, 1753): Descriptio novi generis plantae rarissimae et speciosissimae africanae ex bulbosarum classe Brunsvigiae illustre nomen imposuit (Brunswick, 1753), also translated into German (Brunswick, 1755); and Medicinische, chirurgische und anatomische Wahrnehmungen (Rostock, 1753, 1770), also translated into English (London, 1755).

The bibliography of the Japanese translations is confused. All of them are based on the Dutch trans. Heelkundige Onderwijzingen enz. (Amsterdam, 1755). It seems that, starting in 1792, several pts. of this book were translated under different titles and were circulated in MS only. of these, a diss. on the dressing of wounds, Geka Shūkō translated by Ōtsuki Genkan was published in 1814 in three maki (pts.). The work Yōi Shinshō attributed to Sugita Gempaku and Ōtsuki Gentaku published in 1822 in fifty maki, is sometimes considered to be the trans. of Heister’s complete work. It is actually a collection of the MS translations mentioned above. Another trans., in 100 maki, was made in 1819 by Koshimura Tokumoto under the title Yōi seisen but was not printed. However, the atlas to this work, Yōka seisen zukai was published in 1820.

II. Secondary Literature. See Apparatus librorum nec non instrumentarum chirurgicorum Laurentii Heisteri (Helmstedt, 1760), the auction catalog of the books and instruments in Heister’s estate; V. Fossel, Studiën zur Geschichte der Medizin (Stuttgart, 1909), pp. 111–152; E. Gurlt, “Lorenz Heister,” in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, XI (Leipzig, 1880), 672–676; Dr. L. [Léon Labbé?], “Laurent Heister,” in Nouvelle biographie générale, XXIII (Paris, 1858), 806; C. P. Leporin, Ausführliches Bericht vom Leben und Sehriften des durch gantz Europam berühmten Herrn D. Laurentii Heisteri... (Quedlinburg, 1725); F. Schlipp, Laurentius Heister in seiner Bedeutung für die Augenheilkunde (Haarlem, 1910); V. Schmieden, “Laurentius Heister, ein Beitrag zur Chirurgie,” in Zentralblatt für Chirurgie, 51 1924, 710–718; and J. Vossmann, Zahnärztliches bei Laurentius Heister (Leipzig, 1924).

P. W. van der Pas