French Physician, Surgeon, and Anatomist
The son of François Vieussens, a townsman of Vigan, France, Raymond Vieussens was best known for his advancements in the knowledge of the brain and spinal cord. He received his medical degree from the University of Montpellier in 1670, then became chief physician at Hôtel Dieu St.-Eloi, the main hospital in Montpellier. Thereafter he divided his career between Montpellier and Paris, but held no university appointment. In the late 1670s he married Elisabeth Peyret, by whom he had twelve children. Two of his sons and two of his sons-in-law became physicians.
Favored and protected by the French aristocracy, Vieussens became wealthy through the patronage of royals and nobles. He was the personal physician of the Marquis de Castries, the Archbishop of Toulouse, and the Duchess of Montpensier. Even though he never treated King Louis XIV (1638-1715), he received the titles of Royal Physician in 1688 and State Councillor in 1707.
Throughout his career he was not on good terms with the medical faculty at Montpellier, primarily because of his long and bitter dispute with Professor Pierre Chirac (1650-1732) about which of the two had first discovered an acidic salt in the blood. Also involved in this public controversy were the English physician Richard Lower (1631-1691), Guy Crescent Fagon (1638-1718), and William Briggs (1642-1704). The irony of the situation is that both Vieussens's and Chirac's results were incorrect.
As an anatomist, Vieussens was careful, observant, and generally accurate, but his physiological studies were suspect. Several dubious schools of physiological speculation held sway in the seventeenth century, and Vieussens was influenced by two of them—the dualistic iatromechanics of French scientist and philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) and the mystical iatrochemistry of Franciscus de le Boe Sylvius (1614-1672). Twenty-first-century readers may discount Vieussens's accounts of bodily processes and functions but still find lasting value in his accounts of bodily structures.
Vieussens's two main influences in the study of anatomy were English anatomist and physician Thomas Willis (1621-1675) and Danish anatomist Nicolaus Steno (1638-1686). All three were interested in the anatomy of the brain. Vieussens concentrated his anatomical research on the nervous and vascular systems.
Many neurological and cardiological features are named after him, including Vieussens's centrum (the white oval core of each hemisphere of the brain); Vieussens's valve (a sheet of thin white tissue in the brain); Vieussens's ventricle (one of the fluid-filled spaces in the brain); Vieussens's ansa (a loop in the ganglia around the subclavian artery); Vieussens's ganglion (a network of nerves between the aorta and the stomach); Vieussens's anulus, isthmus, or limbus (a ring of muscle in the right atrium of the heart); Vieussens's foramina (tiny openings in the veins of the right atrium of the heart); and Vieussens's veins (small veins on the surface of the heart).
In his major work, Neurographia universalis (General neurography) (1684), Vieussens was the first to describe the centrum ovale precisely; thus it is sometimes called Vieussens's centrum. Because Félix Vicq d'Azyr (1748-1794) achieved a more refined understanding of its structure, it is more often called the centrum semiovale, or Vicq d'Azyr's centrum. The beautifully executed copperplate illustrations make Neurographia universalis second in importance only to Willis's Cerebri anatome (Anatomy of the brain) (1664) among seventeenth-century books on neuroanatomy.
Vieussens's Novum vasorum corporis humani systema (New system of the vessels of the human body) (1705) is a classic of cardiology. It includes the earliest accurate descriptions of mitral stenosis, aortic insufficiency, aortic regurgitation, and several other heart diseases and circulatory disorders. Vieussens was also the first to describe the left ventricle and some of the blood vessels of the heart correctly.
The first part of Vieussens's Tractatus duo (Treatise on two subjects) (1688) discusses human anatomy; the second part discusses fermentation. Among his many other works are Epistola de sanguinis humani (A letter about human blood) (1698) and Deux dissertations (Two dissertations) (1698), both about blood; Dissertatio anatomica de structura et usu uteri ac placentae muliebris (Anatomical dissertation on the structure and use of the uterus and placenta in women) (1712); Traité nouveau de la structure de l'oreille (New treatise on the structure of the ear) (1714); Traité nouveau des liqueurs du corps humain (New treatise on human body fluids) (1715); and Traité nouveau de la structure et des causes du mouvement naturel du coeur (New treatise on the structure of the heart and the causes of its natural motion) (1715).
ERIC V. D. LUFT