Ernest-Charles Lasègue

Born 1816
Died 1883

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French internist, born September 5, 1816, Paris; died March 20, 1883, Paris.

Biography of Ernest-Charles Lasègue

As a student in Paris, Ernest-Charles Lasègue shared rooms with Claude Bernard in the Latin quarter where they were often short of money to pay the rent, as their francs often went for the purchase of guinea pigs and rabbits with which to experiment.

Lasègue had first embarked on the study of philosophy, hearing a lecture by Armand Trousseau (1801-1867) at the Hôpital Necker, he changed to clinical medicine. He subsequently became Trousseau's favourite pupil and close collaborator, and on the occasion of Trousseau's death in 1867, he delivered a eulogy which remains to this day one of the finest orations in the French language.

He registered at the Faculté de Médecine in 1839 and obtained his doctorate in Paris in 1847. In 1848, on the assignment of the French government, he went to Southern Russia to investigate a cholera epidemic raging there. In 1853 he won his agrégation on the basis of a thesis on general paralysis. The same year he became editor of the medical part of the Archives générales de médecine, as co-editor with Francois Louis Isidore Valleix (1807-1855) and François Anthime Eugène Follin (1823-1867).

Lasègue was physician at the Salpêtrière, Pitié and Necker hospitals and was Trousseau's Chef de Clinique from 1852 to 1854.

In 1862, 1865, and 1866 Lasègue lectured on diseases of the brain and nerves, and in 1869 became professor of clinical medicine at the Hôpital Necker, holding this tenure until his death. He was a beloved teacher and a prolific medical writer covering a broad spectre of medical themes. However, psychiatry was his forte. He was particularly interested in psychosomatic disease and was forever after malingerers, varying his tests and traps.

Lasègue had a celebrated exchanged with Virchow. He criticised Rudolf Virchow's Cellularpathologie (1858), stating that disease of the cells was only a fragment of pathology. Virchow replied that the only critics he worried about were competent ones and that thus far he had not heard from them. Lasègue's retort was that innovators like Virchow were like knights who feel they are fastest in the saddle because they have sharp spurs.

He was versatile in almost every field of medicine, indeed a "universal specialist".

He was also an extremely witty man who took great pains in understanding his patients and their history, and also a friend of the arts and a man free from all outward formalities. In defending a broad education based on the humanities, he stated that the time given to these studies is like that which the soldier spends on making his armour shine. He died of diabetes at the age of sixty-seven.

"Go back in the history of the patient, and if you search you will find the 'ictus' which suddenly destroyed his mental balance. From then on, the brain is like a piano from which certain keys have been removed and which, therefore, produces only imperfect and dissonant chords."
Lasègue's advice to his listeners when confronted by a psychotic individual.

"Pathologists have long known . . . that rheumatic fever 'licks at the joints, but bites at the heart'"
Quoted by Alvin R. Einstein in Annals of Internal Medicine, 1964, 61: 27.

Lasègue published 115 works, of which 18 were written with Armand Trousseau.

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