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Auguste Nélaton

Born  1807
Died  1873

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French physician and surgeon, born June 17, 1807, Paris; died September 21, 1873, Paris?

Biography of Auguste Nélaton

Auguste Nélaton, a contemporary and colleague of Joseph-François Malgaigne (1806-1865) at the Hôpital St. Louis, was considered one of the finest surgeons in France in his time. He was born in Paris an began his medical studies there in 1828, receiving his medical doctorate in 1836 with a dissertation on tuberculosis in the skeleton. All his subsequent university career was passed at Paris.

Nélaton was attached to the Hôpital St. Louis and became professeur agrégé in 1839 after the publication of his "Traité des tumeurs de la mamelle". In 1850 he participated, unsuccessfully, in a concours for the chair of operative surgery. The following year, however, he was appointed professor of clinical surgery with a thesis which attracted wide attention and was translated into German the following year.

After many years in the Hôpital Saint-Louis as a colleague of Malgaigne, Nélaton changed to the Hôpital des cliniques.

After his appointment to the faculty he received several posts of honour. In 1863 he became a member of the Académie de médecine, in 1867 member of the institute, and in 1868 was appointed Imperial Senator. Nélaton enjoyed the reputation of an remarkably competent teacher as well as a dextrous surgeon. He laid down his professorship in surgery in 1867, the same year he became personal surgeon to Napoleon III.

As a member of the surgical staff of the St. Louis Hospital, he devised a number of original surgical procedures and operations, was the first to suggest the ligature of both ends of arteries in primary and secondary haemorrhage, and developed several phases of plastic surgery. He became very papular when he used his porcelain-tipped bullet probe to find a bullet in the foot of Garibaldi, the Italian freedom hero. The operation, however, he left to his colleagues. Only few of his achievements, most of them in surgery, have been left us by himself. He was a pioneer of ovariotomy in France and first described retro-uterine haematocele and improved the treatment of naso-pharyngeal tumours. Some of his suggestions with regard to operations were important advances in abdominal and pelvic surgery. He was, lastly, noted as a great teacher of surgery and a consummate operator.

Nélaton was a modest and generous man whose mild personality endeared him to his patients, students and friends.

Nélaton was no genius, but an excellent operator and teacher, always reliable and never improvising his diagnosis or treatment, always evaluating in accordance with strictly scientific methods. At the height of his career he was recognized as the foremost French surgeon of his day. Unlike Dupuytren he never strived for supremacy, thus having many friends.

Julius Leopold Pagel (1851-1912), the German historian of medicine, in his "Biographical Dictionary of Prominent Physicians of the Nineteenth Century", says of Nélaton: "He was a man of very clear judgment, of ripe experience, of solid wisdom, and deservedly occupies a place as one of the greatest of French surgeons of the nineteenth century."

Nélaton was not a prolific writer and left few written works.

His son was the surgeon Charles Nélaton (1851-1907).


  • Recherches sur l’affection tuberculeuse des os. Doctoral thesis; Paris, 1836.
  • Traité des tumeurs de la mamelle. 1839, 4.
  • Éléments de pathologie chirurgicale.
    5 volumes; Paris, Germer-Baillière, 1844-1860. Volume 5, was worked over by his assistant, Jean Alexandre Jamain (1816-1862). In volume 2, page 46, is to be found the description of Nélaton's disease/tumour; on pp 441-442, he describes the line named for him and Roser. Completely revised edition in 1872.
  • Leçons sur l’hématocèle rétro-utérine.
    Gazette des hôpitaux, Paris, 1851, 24: 573;
    Gazette des hôpitaux, Paris, 1852, 25: 45-46, 66-67.
    In this article Nélaton first describes hydrocele now called H. intraperitonealis.
  • De l’influence de la position dans les maladies chirugicales.
    Thesis for professor of clinical surgery. Paris, Germer-Baillière, 1851. German translation by Hugo Hartmann, Grimma 1852.
  • Parallèle des divers modes opératoires dans le traitement de la cataracte.
    Concours thesis for the chair of operative medicine.
  • Eléments de pathologie chirurgicale.
    5 vols. Paris 1844-1859.
    The five-volume Eléments de pathologie chirurgicale is Nélation's major work and includes virtually all of his surgical innovations and discoveries. Nélaton also contributed to Rapport sur les progrès de la chirurgie en France. 1867. Obituaries:
  • Jean-Casimir-Félix Guyon (1831-1920) in Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société de chirurgie, 1876; 2: 76.
  • Jules Béclard (1818-1887) in Mémoires de l’Académie de médecine, 1879; XXXII: XXXIII.
  • de Valcourt:
    Garibaldi et Nélaton. Chronique médicale, Paris, 1913; 20: 23.

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