Antoine Louis

Born 1723
Died 1792

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French surgeon and physiologist, born February 13, 1723, Metz; died May 20, 1792.

Biography of Antoine Louis

The son of a military surgeon, Antoine Louis made his first medical experiences under the direction of his father, who was Chirurgien-major in the local military hospital. He received a position as a surgeon with a regiment already in 1743. He then went to Paris, achieving a position as Gagnant-maîtrise at the Salpêtrière through concours. Because of his extraordinary results in competitions set up by Academy of Surgery in 1744 and 1746 he was elected member i 1746.

Louis was in the forefront of the struggle to free the surgeons from the grasp of the domineering physicians. A leading advocate of the Paris surgeons, he wrote some of the most devastating polemics against the Paris medical faculty.

In 1749 he completed his service at the Salpêtrière, a division of the Hôpital Général, and was legally entitled to automatic reception into the College of Surgery. He instead asked to become the first surgical candidate to sustain a public examination and to present in Latin his thesis on whether the transmission of malaria was hereditary. Louis’ dissertation Positiones anatomicae et chirurgicae . . . (1749) was the first in Latin at the College of Surgeons for one hundred years, making him Maître de chirurgie. This symbolic act was a moment of triumph for surgeons because it demonstrated that surgeons were as liberally educated, especially in Latin, as their physician peers.

In 1750 he was appointed professor of physiology, holding that tenure for 40 years. From 1857 he worked for a short time as surgeon at the Hôpital de la Charité, but abandoned his position due to conflicts with the brothers who were in charge of the hospital. In 1760 Louis participated in two military campaigns as Chirurgien-major consultant to the army of the upper Rhine. In 1764, following the retirement of Savour-François Moran (1697-1773), he was appointed lifetime secretary to the Académie royale de Chirurgie, an appointment which proved his outstanding position, and contributed greatly to the society's success. In 1775 Louis was appointed surgeon to the Charité.

Besides all this he found time to concern himself with the invention and improvement of various instruments. Shortly before his death, with Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), he began construction of the executing machine that now bears the name of his co-inventor.

Although he authored many books, including numerous surgical treatises, he is best remembered as a learned historian, and editor, and a critic. Louis was also a pioneer of French medical jurisprudence and in 1749 presented a classic discussion of the differential signs of murder and suicide in cases of hanging.

Besides his own works, he also published the surgical aphorisms of Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738). He was also the biographer of several famous surgeons who died in his lifetime. Upon his death he left two packages of manuscripts.

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