Bérard, Joseph Fr

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Bérard, Joseph Frédéric

(b. Montpellier, France, 8 November 1789; d. Montpellier, 16 April 1828)


Bérard’s M.D. thesis, “Plan d’une médecine natrurelle” (1811), aroused interest, and he soon became very successful private teacher. He abandoned teaching to go to Paris, where he collaborated on the Dictionnaire des sciences médicales, contributing articles on cranioscopy, the elements trance, and muscle strength. Returning to Montepellier in 1816, he tried unsuccessfully to found a journal and then returned to teaching. In 1823 Bérard was appointed professor of public health at the Faculté de Médecine of his native city, and he took the chair in 1826. He died two years later, at the age of thirty-nine.

Bérard was essentially an analyst of ideas and a philosopher as well as a historian, and his books are of great interest to those who wish to learn at first hand about the fundamental ideas of the leaders of the Montpellier school of science. He wished to prove that all these scholars were eager to have experience and observation triumph, but he had to admit that most of them were snared into the very errors that they condemned. For example, he wrote about Barthez, the great theoretician of vitalism:

The term of vital principle inserts into physiological language a genuine obscurity; it turns attention away from direct observation of phenomena and their comparative analysis...and directs it toward the search for cause... and thus destroys science...

Barthez usually proceeds by... the synthetic method... the shortest and the least sure... which seems to me dangerous. On the contrary, the analytic method... which in physiology starts with individual facts and goes on to general phenomena, is sure and easy. It permits a free examination of dogmas and allows an opportune place for all improvements possible [Doctrine médicale de I’École de Montpellier... pp. 110–112].

Because of his acute critical sense, his lucidity, and his remarkable gift of exposition, Bérard deserves to be rescued from oblivion.


I. Original Works. Bérard’s writings are “Plan d’une médecine naturelle,” thesis (Montpellier, 1811); Essai sur les anomalies de la variole et de la varicelle (Montpellier, 1818), written with de Lavit; Doctrine médicale de I’École de Montpellier et comparaison de ses principes avec ceux des autres écoles de I’Éurpe (Montpellier, 1819); Mémorie sur les avantages politiques et scientifiques du concours en général(Paris, 1820); the articles “Cranioscopie,” “Éléments,” “Extase,” and “Forces musculaires,” in Dictionnaire des sciences médicales (1821–1824); various writings in Revue médicale, 6 (1821), 341–370; 7 (1822), 185–223, 456–493; 8 (1822), 152–180, 282–299; 9 (1822), 240–262; n.s. 1 (1824), 1–32, 462–486; n.s. 3 (1824), 277–294; Doctrines des rapports du physique et du moral...(Paris, 1823); Lettre posthume et iné de Cabanis à Fouqute sur les causes premières (Paris, 1824), with notes; and Notes additionnelles à I’édition de la doctrine générale des maladies chroniques de Dumas, 2 vols. (Paris, 1824).

Détermination expérimentale des apports du systéme nerveux en général... was announced for publication in 1823 but never appeared.

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Bérard are E. Beaugrand, “Bérard,” in Dictionnaire Dechambre, IX (1868), 100; and R. de Saussure, “Fr. Bérard historien de la médecine,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, supp. 3 (1944), 309-317.

Pierre Huard