Leiden University, founded in 1575, is the oldest University in the Netherlands. It quickly became a highly respected educational institution throughout Europe thanks to its association with eminent scholars such as the anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus and the physician and botanist Paul Hermann. It was known as a centre of excellence for medicine and the anatomical theatre, physic garden and library were all established by 1600.
Johan van Heurne – or Johannes Heurnius – (1543–1601) was a physician and natural philosopher. Born at Utrecht in the Netherlands, he studied at Leuven and Paris before going on to the University of Padua to study medicine where he graduated MD in 1566.
He initially worked as a physician in Utrecht but in 1581 he became professor of medicine at Leiden University. He was an early exponent of anatomical demonstrations and practical teaching of clinical medicine at the bedside. His ideas on teaching were passed on through his physician son Otto van Heurne. After his father's death, Otto published Johan’s lectures of theory and practice of medicine in the Opera Omnia.
Botanist, chemist and physician Herman Boerhaave (1668 – 1738) is known as the founder of clinical teaching. He was born in Voorhout near Leiden and he studied philosophy and medicine at both Leiden and Harderwijk.
Boerhaave spent his whole professional life at Leiden University where he worked as professor of botany, chemistry and medicine, and where he also acted as rector. He furthered Johan van Heurne’s method of bedside teaching based on the old Hippocratic system of observation and examination. His brilliant reputation spread throughout Europe, elevating even further the reputation of the University. Although the discovery of urea in urine has been widely attributed to Hilaire M. Roule in 1773, there is evidence that Boerhaave used a procedure to isolate urea which, in his Elementia Chemiae of 1732, he referred to “the native salt of urine”.
‘Boerhaave syndrome’ is a rare condition where the oesophagus is spontaneously ruptured following severe vomiting. Boerhaave first noted this condition in 1724 when treating Baron Jan von Wassenaer, Grand Admiral of the Dutch Fleet who vomited after a meal and later died.
Museum Boerhaave in Leiden is named after Herman Boerhaave. It has an extensive collection of scientific instruments and apparatus, specimens in jars, anatomical books and drawings, and portraits of eminent scientists and physicians.
'An account of the life and writings of Herman Boerhaave', second edition. London : Printed for Henry Lintot, 1746.
Physician Archibald Pitcairne (1652-1713) was born in Edinburgh and studied law, mathematics and medicine at both Edinburgh and Paris, before graduating in medicine from the University of Rheims in 1680. He returned to Edinburgh and attended regular meetings with other eminent physicians such as Robert Sibbald, where new scientific breakthroughs were discussed. The men in this group went on to establish the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1681.
The mathematician David Gregory (1659–1708) was his closest friend and the pair regularly discussed medicine and mathematics in their shared lodgings. In 1687 Gregory received a copy of Newton's Principia and Pitcairne found in Newton's work, and in the work of iatromechanist Lorenzo Bellini, a way to explain mechanical philosophy with physiology and medicine.
Pitcairne moved to Leiden in April 1692 to take up the Chair of the practice of medicine at the University and he visited Newton in Cambridge on the way. In his inaugural lecture, Pitcairne claimed that he would free medicine by linking it to the natural philosophy of Newton. His lectures and dissertations made a strong impression on his students, among whom were Richard Mead and George Cheyne.
By 1693 Pitcairne had moved back to Edinburgh where he concentrated on his practice. His views on religion and politics were outspoken – he was an Episcopalian who satirized the ruling Presbyterians and supported the Jacobites. However he acquired a great reputation as the eminent physician in Scotland at that time.
Pitcairn’s Leiden lectures from 1692–3 were collected and published by the apothecary John Quincy as Elementa medicinae in 1717, and translated into English in the following year.
'Elementa medicinæ', by Archibald Pitcairn. Hagæ Comitum : Apud Henricum Scheurleer, 1718. The signature on the title page is "Di Giorgio Bonelli" who was a probable former owner of this copy. Giorgio Bonelli was an eighteenth century Italian physician and botanical illustrator.