Vieussens, Raymond

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(b. Vigan, Lot, France, ca. 1635; d. Montpellier, France, 16 August 1715,) anatomy, medicine.

Vicussens’ father, François Vieussens, is known to have been a bourgeois of Vigan despite his descendants’ claims to be of the nobility and their assertion that Raymond Vieussens was the son of a lieutenant-colonel Alexandre-Gaspard, seigneur of Vieussens, who died at the siege of Barcelona. Vieussens never signed his name with the particle, but it is joined to his name in the posthumous editions of his writings.

Vieussens studied medicine at Montpellier, where he was awarded the doctorate on 9 October 1670, when he was about thirty-five, a surprisingly late age; the absence of information concerning his early years, however, precludes our ascertaining why he did not receive it earlier. In any case, at the time of his graduation he was already well-known, for almost immediately he was named physician at the Hôtel Dieu St.-Éloi, then the leading hospital of Montpellier. Vieussens subsequently became chief physician there and apparently retained that post for the rest of his life. Between 1679 and 1697 twelve children were born to him and his wife, Elisabeth Peyret.

On several occasions Vieussens left Montpellier for long periods to treat important people in Paris. The publication of his books on the nervous system (1684) and on fermentation (1688) made Vieussens famous. To reward him for his writings the king granted him the title of royal physician and an annual pension of 1,000 livres. Although he never treated the king, he was personal physician to the duchess of Montpensier, the Grande Mademoiselle, from 1690 until her death in 1693. Vieussens was elected to the Académie des Sciences in 1699 as correspondent of P. S. Régis, and on 15 February 1708 he was promoted to associate anatomist. In 1707 the king named his councillor of state. Although prominent in scientific medicine at Montpellier, Vieussens spent his entire career—except for his studied—outside the city’s university and sometimes even in opposition to its professors. He founded a virtual dynasty of physicians: two of his sons became royal physicians, and two of his daughters married physicians. His grandson Daniel prepared the posthumous edition of his Histoire des maladies internes.

From the time he entered St.-Éloi, Vieussens divided his time and interest between medical practice and anatomical research. The regulations then in effect allowed him, as chief physician of the hospital, to perform a large number of autopsies. Like most of the anatomists of the time, he was as much concerned with what was called normal anatomy as with pathological changes. The study of pathological morphology, however, still lacked a satisfactory unifying theory. In this respect it is significant that while Vieussens sought quick publication of the results of his anatomical research, a large portion of his pathological observations, some of them very original, was not made public until long after his death.

Vieussens’ research on the nervous system is of great importance. In Nevrographia universalis (1684) he sought to continue the work of Thomas Willis, which he greatly admired. The first to make good use of Steno’s suggestion that the white substance in the brain should be studied by tracing the path of its fibers, Viueussens described the olivary nucleus and the centrum semiovale: the latter still bears his name. Moreover, his description of the fine structure of the cerebellum, including the discovery of the dentate nuclei, surpassed all previous publications on the subject. The most original part of the work concerns the paths of the peripheral nerves. Vieussens also studied the structure of the ear and angiology. The weak point of his work on the nervous system is his tendency to conjoin his correct morphological observations with quite fantastic physiological explanations. In his speculations on physiology. Vieussens drew inspiration from both the mechanistic philosophy of Descartes and the iatrochemical ideas of F. de la Boë (Sylvius). He believed that he had demonstrated the existence of the nervous fluid.

One of Vieussens’ major areas of study was fermentation. He investigated the chemical composition of the blood with great fervor but an equal lack of success. The discovery of an acidic salt in the blood was the source of a long and painful public polemic with the Montpellier professor Pierre Chirac, who claimed to be the first to have extracted this substance from the blood. The priority dispute was particularly unfruitful in that the discovery was erroneous. Nevertheless, until the end of his life Vieussens considered his chemical research on the blood to be his most important work.

Vieussens greatly underestimated the significance of his cardiological observation, which, in the judgment of posterity, were a truly pioneer effort. Most of his studies on the physiology and pathology of the heart and of the circulation were undertaken during the last decade of his life. While the experimental portion of the work was not published until 1755, in the posthumous Expériences et réflexions…, the clinical and anatomicopathological observations were published during his lifetime in two cardiological treatises, the more important of which is Traité nouveau de la structure et des causes du mouvement naturel du coeur (1715). By injecting mercury into various vessels and internal organs of living animals and fresh human cadavers, Vieussens was able to trace the exact course of the blood’s flow in different parts of the body. He confirmed the hypothesis that there is a continuous vascular pathway between the arterial and venous vessels. In cardiac pathology, he was the first to describe mitral stenosis and aortic insufficiency on the basis of both clinical and anatomicopathological observation. Vieussens had already noted that a disease of the aorta manifests itself by a characteristic pulse, which was rediscovered a century later by D. J. Corrigan, whose name it now bears.


I. Original Works. Vieussens’ principal works are Nevrographia universalis (Lyons, 1684), also in French (Toulouse, 1774); Tractatus duo, primus: De remotis et proximis mixti principiis in ordine ad corpus humanum spectatis, Secundus: De natura, differentiis, subjectis, conditionibus et causis fermentationum (Lyons, 1688); Epistola de sanguinis humani cum sale fixo (Leipzig, 1698); Novum vasorum corporis humani systema (Amsterdam, 1705), also in French (Toulouse, 1774); Nouvelles découvertes sur le coeur (Toulouse, 1706); Traité nouveau de la structure de l’oreille (Toulouse, 1714); Traité nouveau de la structure et des causes du mouvement naturel du coeur (Toulouse, 1715); Traité nouveau des liqueurs du corps humain (Toulouse, 1715); Expériences et réflexions sur la structure et l’usage des Viscères, suivies d’une explication physico-méchanique de la pulpart des maladies (paris, 1755); and Histoire des maladies internes, 3 vols. (Toulouse, 1774-1775).

II. Secondary Literature. The best biography is L. Dulieu, “Raymond Vieussens,” in Monspeliensis Hippocrates, 10 , no. 35 (1967). 9–26. A general account can be found in C. E. Kellet, “Life and work of Raymond Vieussens,” in Annals of Medical History, 3rd ser., 4 (1942), 31–53. Vieussens’s neurological work is discussed in B. Sachs. “Raymond de Vieussens, Noted Neuro-Anatomist and Physician of the XVIIth Century.” in Proceedings of the Charaka Club, 3 (1910), 99–105; and in E. Clarke and C. D. O’Malley, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1968), 584–591, 636–641. For his cardiological discoveries, see J. J. Philipp, “Raymond Vieussens und J. M. Lancisi’s Verdienste um die Lehre von den Krankheiten des Herzens,” in Janus (Breslau). 2 (1847), 580–598; E. Schroer, Die Förderung der Kenntnisse der Herzkrankheiten durch Vieussens und Sénac (Düsseldorf. 1937); and C. E. Kellet, “Raymond Vieussens on Mitral Stenosis,” in British Heart Journal, 21 (1959), 440–444.

M. D. Grmek

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Vieussens, Raymond

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