Academic genealogies III

January 25, 2008

Welcome to “Academic Genealogy: The von Haller Edition”. In a series of previous posts (I, II) I have been exploring my academic genealogy, and one of the men I encountered was Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777), an eminent Swiss physician. Haller pursued studies in a variety of different fields at institutions across Europe, which intellectual promiscuity produces a substantial set of new genealogical branches for me to examine. In particular, I identified the following advisors and mentors:

  • In Tübingen: Johann Duvernoy (1691-1759) and Elias Camerarius (1673-1734)
  • In Leiden: Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738) and Bernhard Albinus (1697-1770)
  • In Paris: Henri François le Dran (1685-1770) and Jacob Winsløw (1669-1760)
  • In Basel: Johann Bernoulli (1667-1748)

In Academic genealogies II I discussed the Tübingen connections; the others are the subject of this post.

I am aware that the genealogical relationships can be quite confusing — and that is especially true of the tangled web I shall discuss today — so I have generated some helpful diagrams. This one shows the people I covered in previous posts; this one shows only those in Haller’s lineage. At the bottom of this post is a diagram showing the combination of the two.

Haller’s M.D. was earned in 1727 at Universiteit Leiden, working under Hermann Boerhaave. Let us begin there:

Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738): Boerhaave obtained an M.D. in 1693 from the University of Harderwijk. It was an inauspicious beginning, for the Dutch have a saying: “He’s from the University of Harderwijk” means that his scientific expertise is doubtful. How the institution earned its doleful reputation I don’t know, but it was certainly not on account of Boerhaave, who went on to a very distinguished career. He was given three professorships in Leiden, in medicine, botany, and chemistry, and he eventually became rector of the university. His lectures were very popular, and he received as guests such eminent figures as Linnaeus and Voltaire; his student Haller called him communis Europae praeceptor (the teacher of Europe). In his research, he established that smallpox was spread by contact, and in a work entitled De utilitate explorandorum in ageris excrementorum, ut signorum he pioneered the study of excrement for medical purposes. (No doubt he left aspects of the work to his students.) He also did valuable work in chemistry, discovering that water is a product of the combustion of alcohol, and carrying out some of the first calorimetric studies. By the end of his life, he was among the most famous medical men of Europe — so much so that, incredibly, the great Dr. Johnson actually wrote a laudatory biography about him! Today Leiden has a Boerhaave Museum.

Boerhaave’s academic lineage is long and distinguished; were we to follow it now, we would wander far before reaching the end. Let us postpone that journey to a later post, and consider Haller’s other academic mentors.

Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (1697-1770): Albinus was a noted anatomist at Universiteit Leiden, where he was a popular teacher, and eventally became rector. His most famous published work is Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani (1747), a monumental anatomical text that significantly advanced the art of anatomical illustration. His illustrator and collaborator was Jan Wandelaar (1690-1759), who was criticized for the sometimes whimsical background imagery he added to the anatomical drawings. To posterity, however, these additions are charming. (Numerous pages from the Tabulae can be viewed online. This one is especially endearing. Wandelaar sketched the rhinoceros in Amsterdam in 1741; it was the first living specimen to have been brought to Europe.) As a young man, Albinus studied first in Leiden, and then pursued medical studies in Paris under Jakob Winsløw and Sébastien Vaillant. His M.D. was awarded honoris causa in 1719 upon his return to Leiden. I shall treat Winsløw and Vaillant as his advisors.

Jacob Benignus Winsløw (1669-1760): Winsløw was a Danish anatomist. As a young man, he studied theology at the University of Copenhagen, but became interested in the natural sciences. He studied under Johannes de Buchwald, a barber-surgeon in Copenhagen, but, because he was averse to the sight of blood, he focused on anatomical studies instead of surgery. He won a royal scholarship to study medicine, and went first to Leiden and then to Paris, where he studied anatomy and surgery under Joseph-Guichard Duverney. Shortly after arriving in Paris, in 1699, Winsløw converted to Catholicism, losing his scholarship as a result. He was nevertheless able to continue his studies with Duverney, and earned an M.D. in 1705. He taught anatomy at the Académie des Sciences and the Jardin du Roi, and remained in Paris for the rest of his life, never returning to Denmark.

We will discuss both of Winsløw’s academic mentors in sequence.

Johannes de Buchwald (1658-1738): Buchwald is quite an obscure figure. My primary source for him is a biographical entry written in Danish. My Danish is next door to non-existent (I don’t even like danishes), but I have done my best. He lived first in Copenhagen, but went to Vienna to study medicine, and then to Paris to study surgery. In 1689 he returned to Copenhagen, where he became both barber and surgeon (Sweeney Todd, anyone?). In 1692 he made a grand tour of Italy with Frederick IV. From 1697-1700 he studied anatomy under Caspar Bartholin, after which he finally obtained, at the age of 42, an M.D. He had a successful, if modest, career thereafter.

Caspar Bartholin the Younger (1655–1738): Bartholin the Younger (so called because he shared his name with his grandfather) apprenticed in Paris under Joseph-Guichard Duverney. He taught anatomy at Copenhagen, and late in life became involved in politics, becoming a supreme court judge and, later, Deputy of Finance. In 1731 the Bartholin family was raised to the nobility. The Bartholinsgade, a street in Copenhagen, is named for them. Caspar obtained his M.D. in 1678, under the watchful eye of his father, Thomas Bartholin.

Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680): Thomas Bartholin was a Danish physician, philosopher, and philologist. He taught philosophy and philology at the University of Copenhagen, but later became a member of the medical faculty, and eventually was recognized as the most eminent Danish physician of his day. He published the first full description of the human lymphatic system (1652), and pioneered the use of refrigeration anaethesia (cooling the flesh to reduce pain). In 1670 his family’s country home was destroyed by fire, taking his library of texts and manuscripts, and much of his wealth, with it. The Danish king then appointed him his personal physician, and gave him a stable income. The whole affair was documented in his book De bibliothecae incendio (1670). In 1673 he founded the first Danish scientific journal, Acta medica et philosophica hafniensa.

As a young man, Bartholin travelled from university to university, studying at Copenhagen, Paris, Leiden, Basel, Montpellier, and Padua. He studied a wide variety of subjects — philosophy, archaeology, law, philology, Arabic — but his main interests were medicine and anatomy. He was three years in Leiden as a pupil of Johannes Walaeus, and his time in Padua was spent working under Johann Vesling. He eventually acquired an M.D. degree in 1645 from Basel, where his official advisor was Johann Caspar Bauhin. Each of these three connections seems substantial enough to include in the family tree.

Johannes Walaeus (1604-1649): Walaeus was a Dutch physician who taught at Universiteit Leiden. He was involved in the controversy over William Harvey’s proposal that the blood circulates through the body. At first he opposed the theory, but changed his mind after seeing some experiments done, and is remembered for two letters he sent (to Thomas Bartholin, as it turns out) defending Harvey’s ideas. Walaeus studied at Leiden, but I have been unable to find the name of his advisor.

Johann Vesling (1598-1649): Born in Germany, Vesling travelled extensively through Egypt and Palestine studying the local flora. In 1632 we went to Padua where he became professor of anatomy, and later the director of the Paduan botanical gardens. Presumably he studied medicine or botany or both, and various sources have him enrolling at the universities in Vienna, Leiden, Venice, Padua, and Bologna, but so inconsistently that I don’t trust them. Pending further clarifications, this branch too comes to an end.

Johann Caspar Bauhin (1606-1685): Little information is available about him; he is nearly entirely overshadowed by his eminent father, Caspar Bauhin. The younger Bauhin succeeded his father in 1629 as professor of anatomy and botany in Basel, and became professor of the practice of medicine in 1660. As to his education, I have discovered that he studied in Paris, England, and the Netherlands, but no names have appeared.

Having exhausted Winsløw’s lineage through Johannes de Buchwald, we consider the line through Duverney:

Joseph-Guichard Duverney (1648-1730): Duverney was educated in Avignon, where he earned an M.D. in 1667. He moved to Paris and lived and taught there for the remainder of his career. He was an anatomical specialist; his major work was the first comprehensive treatise on the structure and function of the ear (Traité de l’organe de l’ouie, contenant la structure, les usages & les maladies de toutes les parties de l’oreille, 1683). He also studied animal anatomy, including a ground-breaking study of fish found off the coast of Brittany. He eventually became the dauphin’s tutor in natural philosophy, and entertained the court with his dissections. This wonderful report from a contemporary describes the eloquence with which Duverney conducted these public anatomical demonstrations:

“This eloquence consisted not only of clarity, order, seemliness, and all the cold perfections which dogmatic subjects require; there was a fire in his expressions, in his comportment, and even in his pronunciation, which would almost have been worthy of an orator. He was incapable even of announcing the discovery of a vessel, or of the new use of part of a vessel, with moderation; his eyes would shine with joy and his whole person would become excited; this warmth would communicate itself to his audience, or at least prevent it from sinking into an involuntary languor. One can add that he was young and had a fine figure; these small qualities had an effect on a certain number of women, who were themselves curious to hear him.” — from D.J. Sturdy, Science and Social Status: The Members of the Academie Des Sciences 1666-1750.

Duverney was a member of the Académie des Sciences from 1676. Unfortunately, I am unable to discover the names of his teachers during his medical studies in Avignon, so this branch ends.

That concludes the branch of Albinus’ lineage that passes through Winsløw; next we consider the branch through Vaillant:

Sébastien Vaillant (1669-1722): Vaillant was a botanist. He first studied medicine in Pontoise, but moved to Paris in 1691 to studied botany under Joseph Pitton de Tournefort. He become professor at the Jardin du Roi, where he did important work on plant reproduction. It was he who first applied the terms “stamen” and “pistil” to plants. His major work, Botanicon Parisiense, was an illustrated study of Parisian flora. He died before its completion, and the work was finally published under the direction of his friend Hermann Boerhaave in 1727. It can be viewed online.

Since Vaillant’s teacher was Tournefort, whom we have already met, there is no need to pursue this branch any further. We return to Haller and examine those with whom he studied while in Paris. We already encountered Jacob Winsløw by another route, so let us consider Henri le Dran.

Henri François le Dran (1685-1770): le Dran was a French surgeon who taught at the Royal Academy of Medicine in Paris. He did pioneering research on cancer, proposing that it was an initially localized disease carried through the body by the lymphatic system, and advocating that it be treated surgically. He himself conducted such surgeries, and was regarded as one of the leading surgeons of the eighteenth-century. His best known published work is a surgical treatise called Traité des opérations de chirurgie (1749). From 1745 he was a member of the Royal Society of London. I have been unable to discover where le Dran completed his studies, nor with whom, so this branch terminates abruptly.

The last of Haller’s branches is short but distinguished! I’ll waste no time:

Johann Bernoulli (1667-1748): Johann Bernoulli was one of the many notable mathematicians in this famous family. His formal studies were in medicine, and he obtained an M.D. from Universität Basel in 1694. His passion, however, was mathematics, and particularly the calculus, in the development of which he and his older brother Jakob are considered important figures. In 1691 he solved the catenary problem. Several years later, he issued a public challenge for a solution to the brachistochrone problem, which asks for the shape of the curve along which a sliding bead will take the least time to travel between two points. He himself already had a solution in hand, but his challenge elicited correct solutions from some of Europe’s most eminent mathematicians: his brother Jakob, Guillaume de l’Hôpital, Gottfried Leibniz, and Isaac Newton. The methods employed to solve these problems were eventually incorporated, by Johann’s brilliant student Leonard Euler, into the calculus of variations. The technique usually called l’Hôpital’s rule is thought to have actually been the work of Johann. Late in his life, he became involved in a bitter priority dispute with his son Daniel over developments in hydrodynamic theory; posterity has given the palm to Daniel. It is Jakob Bernoulli who is usually cited as Johann’s academic mentor, and I shall follow that convention.

Jakob Bernoulli (1654-1705): As a young man, Jakob studied philosophy and theology, obtaining an M.A. in the former and a licentiate in the latter by 1676. After completing these studies, he went from Basel to Paris where for two years he studied with a group of Cartesian scholars led by Nicolas Malebranche. Throughout this period, however, he studied astronomy and mathematics on the side, and they were his deepest interests throughout his life. (It is worth noting that he was the first of the Bernoullis to study these subjects.) He made a number of important contributions to mathematics: with his brother he made a careful study of Leibniz’s calculus, which had been recently published, and together they were responsible for clarifying and popularizing many of Leibniz’s ideas; he studied infinite series, and proved that the harmonic series diverges; he studied differential equations, and developed the technique of separation of variables; he was the first to use the word “integral” in its modern mathematical sense. His most significant work was Ars Conjectandi, a study of probability theory published posthumously. In it, he developed a general theory of permutations and combinations, gave a proof of the binomial theorem, and made the first study of the Bernoulli numbers. When he died in 1705, his brother Johann succeeded him in the chair of mathematics at Universität Basel.

I now face a dilemma. A number of online sources list Leibniz as Jakob Bernoulli’s academic mentor, and this is a terribly tempting connection to make. Few figures of the modern era are more eminent. But while it is true that Bernoulli’s mathematical thinking was decisively affected by Leibniz’s works, I can find no evidence that he actually studied under, or, for that matter, even met Leibniz. Therefore, as much as I would like to, I cannot justify the link. I could follow the trail through Malebranche, but until I better understand the nature of that relationship, I hesitate. For the time being, then, this branch comes to an end.

Let me not end on a sad note, however, for having the Bernoullis is ample heritage — at least enough to find a good wife and possibly enough to produce fine children.

This diagram shows the entire lineage I have discussed so far in this series of posts.

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3 Responses to “Academic genealogies III”


  1. I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    - Randy Nichols.

  2. cburrell Says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Randy. I hope that you will find at least some of my web log interesting, at least some of the time. Welcome!


  3. [...] Lives of the Poets, The Lives of Eminent Persons (including his biography of my academic ancestor Hermann Boerhaave), Rasselas, essays from The Idler and The Rambler, his Preface to Shakespeare and Preface to the [...]


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