Biography of Benedict Stilling
Benedict Stilling was born in Kirchhain in Hessen-Nassau, and already at the age of six he had made up his mind to be a surgeon.. In 1828 he went to Marburg to commence his medical study, which he completed by receiving his medical doctorate in 1832. One year later he entered a position as assistant in Christoph Ullmann’s (1773-1849) surgical clinic, and published his famous papers on “Gefässdurchschlingung”. In it he indicates new methods of operative removal of thromboses. His religious confession prevented him from pursuing an academic career, but towards the end of the year 1833 he became the first Jewish civil servant in the principality of Hesse-Cassel by accepting the position of Landgerichts-Wundarzt (surgeon to the electoral law courts) in Kassel.
Seven years later, in 1840, because somebody thought he – a Jew – had risen to high, he was ordered to transfer to Eiterfeld (literally "Pusfield"), a mean burgh. Unwilling to comply, Stilling quit his job, and for the rest of his life devoted himself to his ever growing private practice. He first went to Paris to obtain contact with the most famous physicians of his time, among them Francois Magendie (1783-1855), and Jean Zuléma Amussat (1796-1856), who instructed him in the operations in the urethras He stayed in Paris for several years, only broken off by a journey to Nizza and other southern parts of Europe.
During his second stay in Paris, from 1843, he made friends with Claude Bernard (1813-1873), Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1894), Pierre François Olive Rayer (1793-1867), and Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893). In 1858 Stilling undertook a sustained educational journey to Italy, and, in 1869 another to London, Edinburgh, and finally Vienna. In between he always returned to Kassel, where he died in 1879. Following Prussia’s annexation of Hessen Stilling was appointed Geheimer Sanitätsrath.
Besides his important research in anatomy, above all in the field of the nerves and the brain, Stilling also achieved himself as a surgeon. In 1832 he homografted the cornea of a rabbit. In Paris he improved his knowledge of surgical treatment of the urine tract, and proved himself an exceptionally competent surgeon of gynaecology. He was the first to perform ovariotomy in Germany, and with great success at that, as he preferred the extraperitoneal method in order to avoid internal haemorrhages. His paper on this, Geschichte einer Exstirpation eines krankhaft vergrösserten Ovariums . . . received little notice. 10 years later, therefore, the English physician Edward Wilson Duffin (1800-1874) also invented this method (Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, XXXIV), claiming priority without receiving any protests.
In 1840 Benedikt Stilling published his most famous work, on neurology, in which he first discusses vasomotoric nerves, thus founding the teaching of the vasomotoric nervous system. he subsequently published numerous works on such themes. Of particular interest are his histological investigations of the Pons varoli and the structure of the cerebellum, as well as the microscopic build of the spine marrow and the nerves.
Benedict Stilling was the father of Jakob Stilling (1842-1915) and Heinrich Stilling (1853-1911).