Duverney, Joseph-Guichard

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Duverney, Joseph-Guichard

(b Feurs, France, 5 August 1648; d. Paris, France, 10 September 1730)


Duverney, the son of the village doctor, went to Avignon when he was fourteen years old to study medicine, receiving his medical degree there in 1667. Shortly thereafter he went to Paris, where he soon began to attend the weekly scientific meetings at the house of the Abbé Bourdelot. At these meetings Duverney often spoke on anatomical subjects. Here, too, he probably met Claude Perrault, who asked him to assist in dissections.

Perrault was the leader of a group of anatomists, who came to be known as the “Parisians,” who collaborated with one another to an uncommon degree, regularly performing dissections as a group and collectively reviewing both the text and plates before publishing their collaborative work. Individually and together they dissected a wide variety of animals, many of which came from the royal menagerie at Versailles. (Duverney performed the dissection of an elephant in the presence of Louis XIV.) These anatomists considered most zoological writings inadequate and wished to assemble a large series of observations to constitute a new Historia animalium to replace that of Aristotle—one that would be worthy of their monarch.

The Paris group concentrated on describing unusual species and distinctive anatomical features, barely more than cataloging the commonplace. They used the human body as a standard of reference, not because of its assumed perfection, but for their readers’ familiarity with it. When appropriate, domestic animals were used for purposes of comparison, although these were not described in any detail. They published their comparative anatomical studies anonymously at first. Although individual contributions to these earlier papers can only occasionally be determined, there is little question that Duverney contributed to them, probably heavily, presumably beginning with the Description anatomique... of 1669, which contained descriptions of a chameleon, beaver, dromedary, bear, and gazelle.

Duverney’s connection with the Académie des Sciences began in 1674 when he was enlisted to assist in the completion of the two sumptuous elephant-folio volumes of the Mémoires that were published anonymously at the king’s expense. The work had been begun by Perrault, Louis Gayant, and Jean Pequet but had been interrupted by the deaths of the latter two. The same year, the Academy sent Duverney to Bayonne and lower Brittany to dissect fishes; Phillipe de la Hire accompanied him as his illustrator. Duverney was elected to full membership in 1676.

In 1679 Duverney was appointed to the chair of anatomy at the Jardin du Roi. He was a highly successful lecturer, and his auditors included the curious and the fashionable as well as serious students of anatomy. Jacques-Bénigne Winslow, F. P. du Petit, and J.-B. Senac—who edited two of Duverney’s posthumous works—were among his students.

In 1688 Perrault died, and Duverney became responsible for all the comparative-anatomical work sponsored by the Academy. He also inherited Perrault’s manuscripts relating to such work, including descriptions of sixteen animals that needed only editing for publication, but these did not appear until after Duverney’s death. Duverney had a certain reluctance to publish—for example, he bought the manuscript of Jan Swammerdam’s Biblia natura with the intention of publishing it, but the book did not appear until Hermann Boerhaave bought it from him. Nor did he ever produce the new edition of the Mémoires, despite the urgings of the Academy.

The only major work written by Duverney alone and published during his lifetime was, in fact, his Traité de l’organe de l’ouie...(1683), the first thorough, scientific treatise on the human ear. In it he describes the structure, functions, and diseases of the ear and includes a further description of the fetal ear, noting its differences from the adult structure. Duverney based his study of the ear on a study of its sensory innervation; to this end he had a new plate engraved to illustrate the base of the brain and the origin of these nerves, since he had found no adequate figure of this region. His interpretation of aural function was mechanical; for example, in the Traité he states that sound is transmitted within the ear as vibrations carried by the enclosed air and by the malleus, incus, and stapes. These vibrations reach the end of the nerves and set up a flow of spirits to the brain; the muscles (except for the muscles of the neck that turn the head) are motivated by another flow of spirits from the brain. Duverney believed that there is a direct communication by the nerves from the outer ear to the neck muscles, so that a flow of spirits along this route is responsible for the turning of the head when a noise is heard.

In addition, Duverney read numerous papers to the Academy, of which the most important are a group dealing with the circulatory and respiratory systems in cold-blooded vertebrates. In 1699 he presented a paper on these subjects, especially in the tortoise but also in the carp, frog, and viper. He presented a highly accurate description of the heart of the tortoise, demonstrating the single ventricle and its three cavities, the flow pattern of the blood, and the mixing of the arterial and venous bloods. He noted that the pulmonary artery carries venous blood, and he recognized the respiratory function of the gills. He here displays a knowledge of the piscine circulatory system that surpasses that of any other seventeenth-century work.

In a paper of 1701 Duverney limited himself to fishes with gills, but did not go significantly beyond his earlier work. He did describe the role of the gills in greater detail, however, in particular the diffusion of blood in the gills to provide a greater respiratory surface. He recognized that the change of color in the gills marked the conversion of venous to arterial blood. Knowledge of the cold-blooded vertebrates’ circulatory state had been chaotic and disorganized prior to Duverney’s work; he systematized it and advanced it considerably.

Three anatomical structures are sometimes given Duverney’s name. The first, an incisura in the cartilage of the external auditory meatus, was described in his Traité; the second, the pars lacrimalis musculus orbicularis oculi, was described in the posthumously published (1749) L’art de disséquer; while the third is commonly known as Bartholin’s glands, after Caspar Bartholin (1655–1738), who first described them in humans—Duverney had previously observed them in the cow.


I. Original Works. The collected works of the Parisians, to which Duverney would have contributed, were the Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des animaux, 2 vols. (Paris, 1671–1676), trans. into English by Alexander Pitfield (London, 1688; later eds., 1701, 1702). An expanded ed. appeared after Duverney’s death but included much of his material, 3 vols. (Paris, 1732–1734). Duverney’s principal individual study was the Traité de l’organe de l’ouie, contenant la structure, les usages & les maladies de toutes les parties de l’oreille (Paris, 1683). A Latin ed. appeared (Nuremberg, 1684), and there were two English eds., trans. by J. Marshall (London, 1737, 1748).

Individual papers cited in the text are “Observations sur la circulation du sang dans le foetus et description du coeur de la tortue et de quelques autres animaux (du coeur de la grenouille; de la vipère; de la carpe),” in Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris (1699); and “Mémoire sur la circulation du sang des poissons qui ont des ouyes et sur respiration,” ibid. (1701).

Duverney’s posthumous writings include L’art de disséquer méthodiquement les muscles du corps humain (Paris, 1749); Traité des maladies des os, J.-B. Senac, ed. (Paris, 1751), English trans., The Diseases of the Bones, S. Ingham, trans. (London, 1762); and Oeuvres anatomiques, 2 vols., J.-B . Senac, ed. (Paris, 1761), which contains most of his papers published in the Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences, including the important ones on the circulatory system of the cold-blooded vertebrates.

II. Secondary Literature. Principal biographical sources are the article in Biographie universelle (Michaud) ancienne et moderne, vol. XII (Paris, 1855); and Bernard Le Bovyer de Fontenelle, “Eloge,” in Oeuvres, new ed., vol. VI (Paris, 1742).

Wesley C. Williams