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Édouard Brissaud

Born  1852
Died  1909

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French physician and pathologist, born April 15, 1852, Besancon; died December 20, 1909.

Biography of Édouard Brissaud

Édouard Brissaud was taught neurology at the Salpêtrière by Jean Martin Charcot (1825-1893) and Charles Lasègue (1816-1883). His main interest was motion disturbances, and he published a textbook of the anatomy of the human brain which he himself illustrated.

Édouard Brissaud studied in Paris, became externe des hôpitaux in 1873, interne des hôpitaux in 1875, in 1878 preparator at Charcot’s at the laboratory of pathological anatomy. He received his doctorate in 1880 with a thesis on the permanent contractures in hemiplegia, in which he showed that hemiplegia due to pontile lesions may occasionally be of the spasmodic type.

In 1884 Brissaud became physician at the Bureau central - Médecin des hôpitaux, in 1886 professeur agrégé at the faculty. In 1887 the supplementary teaching of pathological anatomy was confided upon him, later he also taught internal medicine. In 1889 he became physician-in-chief at the Hôpital Saint Antoine, changing to the same position at the Hôtel-Dieu. From 1889 to 1892 he represented Charcot at the Salpêtrière and from 1893 to 1894 lectured on diseases of the nervous system at this institution. From 1899 he was professor of medical history, from 1900 professor of internal medicine.

With Pierre Marie Brissaud established the French journal of neurology, Revue neurologieque. He made a large number of observations on psychosomatic medicine, and agreed with Babinski - as opposed to the doctrine of Charcot - that it was impossible to separate between some form of hysteria and simulation: «a symptom that cannot be feigned is not a symptom of hysteria.» In 1899 he succeeded Jean Joseph Alexandre Laboulbène (1825-1898) in the chair of medical history, and was well liked among his student for his vivid descriptions and his talents for word plays.

Brissaud also ventured into the field of psychiatry and dwelt on folklore in medicine. He even developed a reputation as a medicological expert on conversion hysteria and his expert testimony prompted changes in the compensation laws of France in 1898.

Brissaud brought informality to the classroom and the laboratory. He even gave up the top hat, that symbol of professorial majesty. His verbal sallies brought delight to students. He described a patients with Parkinson’s tremor as «he mumbles an endless litany.»At the same time he emphasized honesty and ethics. ”Hypothesis,” he said in a lecture apropos the substantia nigra, ”is an honest euphemism for ignorance – the sort of ignorance that knows itself . . . surely the sort we may on occasion be permitted to brag about?”

Work, for him, seemed altogether effortless. He was a target for the cartoonist, who embellished his generous paunch to overflowing. It was not hard to see that culinary art was one of his chief diversions.

Brissaud died of a brain tumour at the early age of fifty-seven. He was operated in Paris by Sir Victor Horsley, but it was too late.

Considering himself a freethinker, it was Brissaud’s wish that he be buried without a religious ritual. This wish was not followed.

Brissaud was co-publisher of the Traité de médecine, published in 6 volumes from 1891 to 1893 in Paris; Pratique médico-chirurgicale, Paris, 1907, the Revue de médecine and the Revue neurologique.


  • Recherches anatomo-pathologiques et physiologiques sur la contracture permanente des hémiplégies. Thèse de Paris, 1880.
  • Paralysies toxiques. Paris, 1886.
  • Histoire des expressions populaires relatives à l’anatomie . . . la médecine.
    Paris, Chamerot, 1888. On folklore in medicine.
  • Histoire des expressions populaires relatives à la physiologie et à la médecine. Paris, 1888; 2nd edition, 1892.
  • Anatomie de cerveau de l’homme; morphologie des hémisphères cérébraux, ou cerveau proprement dit. Paris, Masson, 1893.
  • L’hygiène des astmathiques. Paris, 1896.
  • Leçons sur les maladies nerveuses. (Hôpital St.-Antoine, 1895-1896). Paris, 1899.

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