Menuret De Chambaud, Jean Jacques

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(b, Montélimar, France, 1733; d. Paris, France, 15 December 1815)

physiology, medicine.

Having completed preliminary Philosophical studies, presumably in Montclimar, Menuret received his medical degree from Montpellier and journeyed to

Paris to seek his fortune. His activity in the capital is evidenced by several notable contributions to the final series of volumes (1765) of the Diderot-d’Alembert Encyclopédie. Medical practice appears to have been his principal occupation; Menuret held minor appointments in the royal household (physician to the staff of the royal stables and consulting physician to the Comtesse d’Artois, wife of the future Charles X). Active in military service during the revolutionary wars (he joined General C. F. Dumouriez in his disgrace and (light from France), Menuret passed his final years in providing medical care for the poor of his section of Paris.

Menuret applied considerable learning and subtlety to consideration of the principal phenomena of life and to the methods deemed suitable for the study of vital activities. In his views he echoed those expressed by Théophile de Bordeu and others of similar conviction, and thus expounded further the central tenets of Montpellier vitalism. Observation assumed methodological preeminence; experimentation was virtually rejected. Observation respects the autonomy, the naturalness of the object or process under scrutiny; experiment “dismembers and combines and thereby produces phenomena quite different from those which nature presents.”1 This approach confirmed the faith upon which the Montpellier physiologists acted—the uniqueness of vital structure and processes necessarily excludes the possibility of an easy or even legitimate application of the methods or substance of other sciences to matters physiological.

Menuret regarded mechanistic explanation and its associated manipulative, experimental method as the principal enemy. One must begin with the characteristic manifestations of life (motion and sensory impressions), recognize in their ceaseless interaction the very essence of life, and then concede that these processes, while grounded in the physical constitution of the body (Menuret speaks of molécules organiques), will be no better understood even if translated into the language of contemporary physics or chemistry.

Such views were fully in accord with Menuret’s central preoccupation, which was man and his relation to the medical art. Menuret was a physician with broad clinical experience; he was also a physician who claimed to regard practice as being far more important than theory. In medicine observation must absolutely displace experiment; the nature of man and the art demand no less.2 For this reason the prospective physician required more the clinical experience won through apprenticeship or in the hospital and less a rigorous introduction to the sciences ancillary to medicine. “No profession,” Menuret remarked of medicine, “demands more imperiously the harmonious cooperation of science and virtue3 The physician’s virtue referred not to scientific learning but to the recognized and willingly accepted responsibility of the physician to the healing art and to its primary concern, the patient.

Montpellier medicine was noted for its clinical emphasis. It venerated Hippocrates and Sydenham, condemned (but often yielded to) speculative excesses, and sought, as part of its ambition to embrace all that affected the ailing patient, to determine with comprehensiveness and precision the factors which dictated the well-being or afflictions of man. Among these factors were climate and the general physical and social conditions under which men lived, Menuret devoted considerable attention to these matters, His medical surveys of Montélimar and Hamburg are worthy examples of medicogeographical interest; that of Paris is an invaluable guide to conditions influencing health and disease in the French capital during the closing years of the ancien régime.


1. “Observation,” in Encyclopédie, XI (1765), 313 (cited in Roger, Sciences de la vie, 632).

2.Ibid., 315.

3.Essaide former des bans médecins, 4.


I. Original Works. Menuret contributed some forty articles (signed either “M” or by his name; see Roger, Sciences de ia vie, p, (3l) to the Diderot-d’ Alembert Encyclopédie. Among these “Oeconomie animale” and “Observation” are of general interest; Albert Von Haller replied, under the same heading and in the Supplément to the Encyclopédic, to Menuret’s views on the animal economy. Other works by Menuret include Noureau traité du pouls (Amsterdam, 1767); Avis aux méres sur la petite vérole et la rougeole (Lyons, 1770); Essai sur l’action de l’air dans les maladies contatgieuses (Paris, 1781); Essai sur l’histoire mé-topogrophique de Paris (Paris, 1786; 2nd ed., rev. and enl., 1804); Essai sur les moyens de former des bans médecins (Paris, 1791; 2nded” 1814); and Discours sur la reunion de l’ utile á l’ agreéable, méme en médecine (Paris, 1809). Menuret also published reflections on the utilization of faltow lands and the implications for health of the salt tax (gabelle). He prepared two obituary notices; G. F. Venel (1777) and P. chappen (1810).

II. Secondary Literature. Henri Zeiller provides the unique but, regrettably, muddled catatog of medical contributors to the Encyclopédic: Les collaboratears médicaux de Encyclopédic de Diderot et d’Alembert (Paris, 1934); Zeiller wrongly reassigns the signature If from Menuret to the Dijon practitioner Hugues Maret. Biographical notices concerning Menuret are brief and provide few details; see F. L. Chaumeton, “Notice sur Jean Jacques Menuret de Chambaud,” in Journal universel des sciences médicales, 1 (1816), 384–390; M. de Cubières-Palmézeaux, “Lettre sur Jean Jacques Menuret de Chambaud,” in Journal général de médecine, 54 (1816), 415–429.

Reference to Menuret has virtually disappeared from modern historical literature. Exceptions are the invaluable accounts by Jacques Roger, Les sciences de la vie dans la pensée française du XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1963), 631–634, and “Méthodes et modèles dans la préhistoire du vitalisme française,” in Actes du XIIe Congrès international d’histoire des sciences (Paris, 1971), IIIB, 101–108. A roster of Menuret’s contributions to the Encyclopédie is given in R. N. Schwab and W. E. Rex, “Inventory of Diderot’s Encyclopédie,” in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 93 (1972), 216–127. For the context of Menuret’s theoretical work see Frédéric Bérard, Doctrine médicale de l’cole médicale de Montpellier, et comparaison de ses principes avec ceux d’autres écoles d’Europe (Montpellier, 1819), 3–77, and François Granel, “Théophile de Bordeu (1722–1776),” in Pages médico-historiques montpellié (Montpellier, 1964), 87–97.

William Coleman