Thomas Sydenham

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Sydenham, Thomas,

1624–89, English physician, called "the English Hippocrates." He studied at Oxford and Montpellier, and practiced in London. His conceptions of the causes and treatments of epidemics and his classic descriptions of gout, smallpox, malaria, scarlet fever, hysteria, and chorea established him as a founder of modern clinical medicine and epidemiology. He advocated direct observation instead of theorizing to determine the nature of disease and introduced the use of such drugs as cinchona bark (containing quinine) in treating malaria, and laudanum in treating other disorders.


See studies by J. F. Payne (1900) and D. Riesman (1926); K. Dewhurst, Dr. Thomas Sydenham, 1624–1689: His Life and Original Writings (1966).

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Sydenham, Thomas


Born Sept. 10, 1624, in Wynford Eagle, Dorset; died Dec. 29, 1689, in London. British physician; one of the founders of clinical medicine.

Sydenham studied at Oxford and Montpellier, practiced in London, and became a doctor of medicine in 1676. He gave classical descriptions of scarlet fever, chorea, gout, and many other diseases as specific nosological forms. Sydenham popularized the use of quinine in treating malaria. He rejected both the legacy of medieval scholastic medicine and the dogmatic systems of iatrophysics and iatrochemistry.

Sydenham regarded disease as a process, as “an effort of Nature, who strives with might and main to restore the health of the patient by the elimination of morbific matter.” He sought to understand the body’s self-healing potential, particularly the beneficial role of fever. His innovative views earned him the name of “the English Hippocrates.” Sydenham’s system of practical medicine based on the observation of patients greatly influenced many physicians of the second half of the 17th and the 18th century, including H. Boerhaave, J. Locke, and the British physician R. Bright, the founder of nephrology.


Methodus curandifebres, propriis observationibus. London, 1666.
Observationes medicae circa morborum acutorum historiam et curationem. London, 1676.
Opera universa. London, 1685.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.