Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Hieronymus Gaubius

Hieronymus David Gaubius. Via Wikimedia.

Born in Germany near Heidelberg as the son of a cloth merchant, Hieronymus David Gaubius (1705–1780) was one of the many students of the renowned Herman Boerhaave. He became his immediate successor and like him had studied medicine in the Netherlands at the University of Harderwijk, which charged low fees but did not have a great reputation and was said to have low standards. Gaubius continued his studies at the University of Leiden, from where he received his medical degree in 1725 with a thesis on what is now called psychosomatic medicine.

After graduation, Gaubius pursued further medical training in Paris, practiced medicine in Amsterdam and Deventer, and also became interested in chemistry. In 1731 his old teacher Boerhaave invited him to return to Leiden as lecturer in chemistry. Two years later he was appointed full professor of medicine and chemistry, succeeding Boerhaave in his role of attracting students to Leiden as one of the most prestigious centers of learning medicine in Europe.

Gaubius was a highly respected teacher, clinician, and investigator. A prolific writer, he published books and articles on a variety of subjects. He emphasized the importance of bedside medicine, of eliciting the patient’s history, conducting a thorough physical examination, and paying particular attention to emotional factors. He presciently stressed the importance of chemical reactions in the causation of disease, this at a time when knowledge about chemistry was still nascent, hydrogen having been isolated in 1766, nitrogen in 1772, oxygen in 1774, and chlorine in 1774. Based on what knowledge was available at the time, he believed that all body fluids should be investigated for their constituents’ parts and chemical composition, wondering, for example, what was the difference between blood in its fluid state and that after it had clotted.1 Also, like his teacher Boerhaave, he postulated that there was evidence for the closest “consent” between mind and body in the physiological and psychological manifestations of the emotions, and that the “passions” could cause, arrest, or cure many diseases, including asthma, impediments of vision, convulsions, stomach upsets, cancer, and insanity.2

Gaubius expounded his views of blending chemistry, psychology, and medicine in his Institutiones Pathologiae Medicinalis in 1751. In 1764 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1771 he was the first to isolate menthol, a natural compound found in peppermint oil and used in a variety of medical formulations.

Further reading

  1. Ruben Verwaal. “The Nature of Blood: Debating Haematology and Blood Chemistry in the Eighteenth-Century Dutch Republic.” Early Science and Medicine 22 (2017): 271-300.
  2. Kathleen Grange. “Pinel and eighteenth-century psychiatry.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, September/October 35, no. 5 (1961): 442-453.

GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief

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