Hermann Boerhaave

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Boerhaave, Hermann

(hĕr`män bo͞or`hävə), 1668–1738, Dutch physician and humanist. One of the most influential clinicians and teachers of the 18th cent., Boerhaave spent almost his entire life in Leiden, which became a leading medical center of Europe. Like Thomas Sydenham he helped to revive the Hippocratic method of bedside instruction; he further insisted on post-mortem examination of patients whereby he demonstrated the relation of symptoms to lesions. Boerhaave's syndrome, the spontaneous esophageal rupture, was named so because of his description of a Dutch admiral who overate and experienced a spontaneous rupture of the esophagus following vomiting. He thus instituted the clinico-pathological conference still in use today. Boerhaave's fame was enormous, extending far beyond Europe to China. Skilled as chemist, botanist, and anatomist, he adhered to no single tradition but combined the best features of the mechanistic and chemical schools in his own brand of eclecticism. His methods of instruction were spread throughout Europe by a host of students. Two of his writings, the Institutiones Medicinae (1708) and the Elementa Chemiae (1732) remained standard textbooks for decades.

Boerhaave, Hermann


Born Dec. 31, 1668, in Vorhout, near Leiden; died Sept. 23, 1738, in Leiden. Dutch physician, botanist, and chemist, Foreign member of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1731) and of the London Royal Society (1730).

Boerhaave studied in Leiden, where he defended his dissertation for a doctoral degree in philosophy in 1690. In 1693 he received the degree of doctor of medicine; in 1709 he became a professor at the University of Leiden. A talented physician and teacher, he created the first scientific clinic. Among his students were van Swieten and J. La Mettrie. Boerhaave was the first to use the thermometer and the magnifying lens in his medical research. He tried to correlate the results of anatomic and physiological research with practical experience, assigning first place to clinical practice. He described and classified new species of plants in a catalog published by the Leiden Botanical Garden in 1709. The textbook Foundations of Chemistry (vols. 1-2, 1732), in which Boerhaave systematized the chemical knowledge of his time, attained wide distribution. He showed that mercury does not change with prolonged heating (15 years) and repeated distillations (500 times). In contrast to iatrochemists, he considered chemistry to be an independent science; he opposed alchemy.


Institutiones medicae. Leiden, 1708.
Libellus de materia medica et remediorum formulis. Leiden, 1715.


Pogodin, S. A., and N. M. Raskin. “German Burgave.” Khimiia i zhizn ’, 1969, no. 11.
Metzger, H. Newton, Stahl, Boerhaave et la doctrine chimique. Paris, 1930.