Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Pierre Joseph Desault

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DESAULT, PIERRE JOSEPH (1744-95), a distinguished French anatomist and surgeon, was born at Magny-Vernais, a village of Franche-Compte, in 1744. He was descended of humble parents, and received the early part of his education in a school of the Jesuits, being destined for the church. His own inclination, however, tended to the study of medicine; and, after learning something from the barber-surgeon of his native village, he was at length settled as an apprentice in the military hospital of Belfort. Here he acquired some knowledge of anatomy and military surgery ; and, having previously made considerable progress in mathematical studies, he applied this knowledge, after the example of Borelli and others, to the investigation of physiological subjects. He early translated Borelli s De Motu Animalium, and added notes and illustrations, which, although founded on wrong principles, gave undeniable proofs of zeal and industry. He went to Paris when about twenty years of age, and opened a school of anatomy in the winter of 1766, which was soon attended by about 300 pupils, a great proportion of whom were older than himself. His success excited the jealousy of the established teachers and professors, who, although he was patronized and protected by some surgeons of great eminence, would have obliged him to renounce public teaching, had he not resorted to the expedient of adopting the name of another as a sanction to his proceed ings. In 1776 he was admitted a member of the corpora tion of surgeons ; and so limited were his finances at this time, that he was allowed to pay his fees at his own con venience. He successively held the positions of honour in the corporation and academy of surgery; and in 1782 he was appointed surgeon-major to the hospital Dela CJiarite. Desault was now regarded as one of the first surgeons of Paris. He succeeded to the next vacancy at the Hotel Dieu ; and, after the death of Moreau, almost the whole surgical department of that hospital was intrusted to him. He instituted a clinical school of surgery there on a liberal and extensive plan, which attracted a great concourse of students, not only from every part of France, but also from other countries. He frequently had an audience of about 600 ; and most of the surgeons of the French army derived their knowledge from his lectures. He introduced many improvements into thtt practice of surgery, as well as in the construction of various surgical instruments. In 1791 he published a work entitled Journal de Chirurgerie, edited by his pupils, which was a record of the most interesting cases that had occurred in his clinical school, with the remarks which he had made upon them in the course of his lectures. But in the midst of his valuable labours he became obnoxious to some of the Revolutionists, and he was, on some frivolous charge, denounced to the popular sections. After being twice examined, he was seized on the 28th May 1793, while delivering a lecture, carried away from his theatre, and committed to the prison of the Luxembourg. In three days, however, he was liberated, and permitted to resume his functions. When the school of health was established, he was appointed clinical professor for external maladies ; and it was through his means that the Eveche^ was converted into an hospital for surgical operations. He died on the 1st June 1795 of an ataxic fever, which he had caught two days previously while attending the dauphin in the Temple. An opinion was prevalent among the populace that he was poisoned because he had refused to do anything against the dauphin s life. The autopsy which was held went to dis prove the story, but it shows the opinion the public enter tained of Desault s integrity. A pension was settled on his widow by the republic. The only work of which he is the sole author is entitled Traite des Maladies Chirurgicales t et des Operations qui leur conviennent, in 2 vols. 8vo. See Petit s loge de Desault (Lyons, 1795).