Bordeu, Théophile De

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Bordeu, Théophile De

(b. Izeste, France, 22 February 1722; d. Paris, France, 23 November 1776)


The son and grandson of Béarnese physicians, Bordeu studied medicine at Montpellier, where he received his medical degree on 10 November 1743. He returned to Montpellier for further study in 1745 and in 1746 went to Paris, where he devoted his time particularly to the clinical examination of patients at La Charité hospital. He returned to Béarn, to Pau, in 1749. There he held, in succession, the posts of intendant and superintendent of the mineral waters of Aquitaine, drawing attention to their therapeutic value through a newspaper that he had founded. His reputation led to his appointment as a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris in 1747.

In 1752 Bordeu went again to Paris, with the intention of practicing medicine, but he had to observe the regulation that only graduates of the Paris Faculty of Medicine could practice in the capital. He renewed his studies and was again graduated M.D. on 7 October 1754. At this time he became an attending physician at La Charité. Very soon he attracted a large practice, which aroused jealousy. As the result of a conspiracy organized by Michel-Philippe Bouvart, his name was removed from the list of Paris physicians in 1761, an act that had the effect of preventing him from practicing. Bordeu defended himself vigorously and was reinstated in 1764. His success with patients continued, and he cared for many important persons, among them Madame Du Barry.

The part that Bordeu played in the history of thermalism has caused him to be considered the founder of modern hydrotherapy. It was through him that the baths of the Pyrenees became known throughout the south of France and even in Paris. His Journal de Baréges and his Recherches sur les maladies chroniques (1775) are among his most important contributions to this field.

Bordeu also studied anatomy. In 1747 he published “Recherches anatomiques sur les articulations des os de la face,” which won him membership in the Academy of Sciences. He had already written a treatise on the formation of chyle, Chylificationis, (1742), that foreshadowed his important work on the glands, Recherches anatomiques sur les différentes positions des glandes et sur leur action (1752). In the latter he announced the double innervation (trophic and functional) of glands and organs, thus proving the existence of secretory nerves. He offered in evidence a local increase in the circulation when a gland is in action and, while emphasizing the influence of the imagination, showed that excretion is due to the gland itself and not the surrounding muscles. This shows the importance of Bordeu as a precursor in the science that in the twentieth century came to be distinguished as endocrinology. Finally, he demonstrated that secretion is the active elaboration of a new product separate from the constituents of the blood. Bordeu completed this sequence with his famous Recherches sur le tissu muqueux (1767), in which he described connective tissue—under the name of mucous tissue—showing its role in exchanges, the phenomena of nutrition, and the mechanical equilibrium of organs and tissues.

Semeiology also interested Bordeu. His “Recherches sur les crises” appeared in clopédie, as did his “did his “Recherches sur le pouls par rapport aux crises.” Both mark him as a clinician of the first order who knew how to obtain a large number of diagnostic and prognostic facts from an examination. Since Bordeu, physicians take the pulse by applying the tips of the four fingers to the hollow of the radius.

Bordeu played a great role in the history of medical theories. His thesis at Montpellier, De sensu generice considerato (“On the Senses, Considered Generically,” 1742), suggested the direction in which he was heading. His other works demonstrated that he considered each organ as having its own life and believed that life was the sum of all these “little lives” of the organs. Coordination among them was due to the mucous tissues. The organs and glands were set in motion by an irritation termed “sensibility.” These ideas opened the way for vitalism, a doctrine of which the school of Montpellier became the champion.


I. Original Works. Works by Bordeu are Chylificationis historia (Montpellier, 1742); De sensu generice considerato (Montpellier, 1742): “Recherches anatomiques sur les articulations des os de la face,” in Académie Royale des Sciences, Mémoires des savants étrangers, II (Paris, 1747); Recherches anatomiques sur les différentes positions des glandes et sur leur action (Paris, 1752); Recherches sur le tissu muqueux (Paris, 1767); and Recherches sur les maladies chroniques (Paris, 1775). His works are collected in A. Richerand, ed., Oeuvres complétes de Théophile de Bordeu, précédées d’une notice sur sa vie et ses ouvrages. 2 vols. (Paris, 1818).

Many of Bordeu’s previously unpublished works have been brought to light by Lucien Cornet: Théophile de Bordeu (Bordeaux, 1922); “Une consultation médicale au XVIIIe siécle.” in Bulletin de la Société des Sciences, Lettres et Arts de Pau, 3rd ser., 10 (1949). 44–50; “Le procés de Théophile de Bordeu, documents inédits,” ibid., 14 (1953), 139–143; “Lettres inédites de Théophile de Bordeu, présentées et commentées par le Dr. Lucien Cornet,” ibid., 15 (1954), 24–29; ldquo>Nouvelles lettres midites de Théophile de Bordeu (1753),” ibid., 18 (1957), 65–70; “Lettres inédites de Théophile de Bordeu (1746).” ibid., 20 (1959), 49–67; “Un ami de Théophile de Bordeu: Le médecin Jean de Brumont-Disse,” ibid., 21(1960), 39–52: “Lettres inédites de Théophile de Bordeu (1746). Deuxième séjour à Montpellier,” in Journal de médecine de Bordeaux, no. 136 (May 1960), 501–520; “Lettres inédites de Théophile de Bordeu (1747). Premier séjour à Paris.” ibid., no. 137 (September-November 1960). 1302–1404; “Lettres inédites de Théophile de Bordeu (1748). L’année de Versailles,” ibid., no. 138 (May 1961), 1475–1483; “Lettres de Théophile de Bordeu (1749). Fin du séjour à Versailles et retour à Pau.” ibid., no. 140 (February 1963). 328–337: “Lettres inédites de Théophile de Bordeu (1749),” in Journal de médecine de Bordeaux, no. 10 (October 1963): “Théophile de Bordeu et Madame de Sorbério,” in Revue régionaliste des Pyrénées, no. 161–162 (January-June 1964), 6–22; “Lettres inédites de Théophile de Bordeu (1750). Deuxième séjour à Pau et tournée d’inspection en Bigorre.” in Revue régionaliste des Pyrénées, no. 59 (1964), 155–164, and no. 60 (October-December 1964), 277–287; and “Théophile de Bordeu, le biologiste” in de la Société des Sciences, Lettres et Arts de Pau. 4th ser. 1 (1966), 123–125.

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Bordeu are E. Forgue, Théophile de Bordeu, fondateur de l’hydrologie, précurseur de la biologie moderne (1722–1776) (Paris, 1937); J. J. Gardane, Éloge historique de Bordeu (Paris, 1777); F. Grand, Un médecin du XVIIIe siècle aux conceptions biologiques modernes: Théophile de Bordeu (1722–1776), docteur de Montpellier et de Paris (Monipellier, 1964): and P. Roussel, Éloge historique de Théophile de Bordeu (Paris, 1778).

Louis Dulieu