Virey, Julien-Joseph

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(b. Hortes, Haute-Marne, France, 22 December 1775; d. Paris, France, 9 March 1846), natural history, philosophy of nature, pharmacy, anthropology, hygiene, psychology, physiology.

After serving an apprenticeship in pharmacy with an uncle in Langres, Virey entered military service in 1794 as pharmacist third class. Except for a few brief tours of duty, notably with the Army of the Rhine, his military career was spent at the Val-de-Grâce hospital in Paris, where from 1804 until his retirement in 1813, he was acting chief pharmacist, In 1814 Virey obtained an M. D. degree from the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, and in 1823 he was elected to the Academy of Medicine. He lectured on natural history at the Athénée de Paris in 1814-1815; and for some time after 1830 he represented the Haute-Marne in the Chamber of Deputies.

A remarkably prolific author, Virey produced works encompassing a wide range of interests. His Traité de pharmacie (1811) enjoyed considerable authority during the first half of the nineteeth century, appearing in several edtions. His Historie naturelle des médicamens, des alimens et des poisons (1820), as well as his numerous descriptive articles on natural products and natural history, demonstrated a high level of practical expertise. Virey also produced a large body of philosophical writings dealing with natural philosophy, anthropology, social hygiene, psychology, and physiology.

Vitalism and teleology are basic components of Virey’s natural philosophy and are elaborated at lengthg in his De la puissance vitale (1823) and Philosophie de l’histoire naturelle (1835). An “intelligence formatrice” directs the organization of life forms, and variations in fixed species are oscillations around primordial types; modification of species can come about only through cosmic change. In his L’art de perfectionner l’homme (1808), a work on mental health, Virey attempted to refute the sensationalism of Condillac and the materialism of Cabanis and his fellow ldéologues. Virey’s lectures at the Athénée de Paris, published in 1822 as Histoire des moeurs et de l’instinct des animaux, sought to demonstrate how instinct and intelligence are related to the structures and functions of nervous systems. Considerable effort and erudition went into his Histoire naturelle du genre humain (1801); 2nd ed., 1824), a work typical of early nineteenth-century anthropology in its generalizations on types of man, customs, religion, psychology, language, infancy, women, and social organization. The status of women in socirty received extended treatment in De la femme, sous ses rapports physiologique, moral et littéraire (1823). Virey’s last major work. De la physiologie dans ses rapports avec la philosophie (1844), attempted to construct a metaphysical foundation for physiological psychology.

But perhaps the two most significant philosophical studies undertaken by Virey concerned circadian rhythms and social hygiene. In his M.D. thesis, Ephémérides de al vie humaine (1814), Virey likened the daily-recurring physiological cycles in man to “une sorte d’horloge vivante” and speculated on how diurnal states of health are affected by periodic exogenous phenomena. Although some of the ideas developed in this work had already been discussed by Erasmus Darwin and others, his treatment of this subject nevertheless remains fresh and innovative. In Hygiène philosophique (1828), Virey explored in an original, if speculative manner the influence of social, as well as political, institutions and events on the health of individuals and nations.


I. Original Works. There is no complete bibliography of Virey’s publications. The most comprehensive is A. C. P. Callisen, Medicinishces Schriftsteller-Lexicon, XX (Copenhagen, 1834), 158–177, and XXXIII (Altona, 1845), 159–162. Some other listings are Catalogue général des livres imprimés de la Bibliothèque nationale, CCXI (Paris, 1972). 1036-1044; Exposé des tracaux de J.-J. Viery, dans les sciences philosophiques (Paris, 1842); Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office, XV (Washington, D.C., 1894), 768, and 2nd ser., XX (Washington, D.C., 1915), 265; J. M. Quérard, La France littéraire, X (Paris, 1839), 232–235; and Royal Society, Catalogue of Scientific Papers, VI, 166–172.

Virey wrote hundreds of articles, the bulk of them appearing in Journal de pharmacie, on the editorial board of which he served, and in the Dictionnaire des sciences médicales, 60 vols. (Paris, 1812-1824). Among the publications to which he contributed prominently were the first two eds. of Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle…, 24 vols. (Paris, 1803-1804) and 36 vols. (Paris, 1816-1819); and to the Dictionnaire de la conversation et de la lecture, 52 vols. (Paris, 1832-1839).

II. Secondary Literature. See an unsigned obituary in Archives générales de médecine, 4th ser., 11 (1846), 116–119; Alex Berman, “Romantic Hygeia: J. J. Viery (1775-1846), Pharmacist and Philosopher of Nature,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 39 (Mar.-Apr. 1965), 134–142; Biographie universelle et portative des contemporains, ou dictionnaire historique des hommes morts depuis 1788 jusqu’à nos jours…, V (Paris, 1834), 875–876; Maurice Bouvet, “Les origines de l’hôpital du Val-de-Grâce et ses premiers pharmaciens (de 1793 à 1815),” in Revue d’histoire de la pharmacie, 7 (1939), 136–145; J. H. Réveillé-Parise. “Galerie médicale (no. xxvii). Virey (Julien-Joseph),” in Gaszette médicale de Paris, 3rd der., 1 (1846), 847–851: [Claude Lachaise], under pseudonym C. Sachaile, Les médecines de Paris jugés par leurs oeuvres… (Paris, 1845), 628–629; E. Soubeiran, “Discours prononcé par M. Souberian, aux funérailles de M. Virey,” in Journal de pharmacie et de chimie, 3rd ser., 9 (1846), 277–282.

Virey’s vitalism, as propounded in his De la puissance vitale (1823), is discussed in J. P. Damiron, Essai sur l’histoire de la philosophie en France au XIXe siècle, 3rd ed., II (Paris, 1834), 25–39.

Alex Berman