Friedrich Wilhelm Felix von Bärensprung

Born 1822
Died 1864

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German physician, born March 30, 1822, Berlin; died August 26, 1864, Hornheim near Kiel.

Biography of Friedrich Wilhelm Felix von Bärensprung

Friedrich Wilhelm Felix von Bärensprung was the son of the mayor – Oberbürgermeister – of Berlin. After attending the Realgymnasium in Cologne he entered the University of Berlin in the autumn of 1840. At Easter time 1843 he moved on to Halle an der Saale where he passed the state examination and obtained his medical doctorate with a dissertation on microscopical images of skin tumours and neuromas. He then moved to Prague for further education in pathology, and besides this he concerned himself with entomology.

In 1845 he entered a position as assistant physician in Peter Krukenberg’s (1788-1865) internal clinic in Halle. The following year he passed the state examination for obstetrics and in 1847 settled as a practitioner in Halle. In 1848 he was habilitated for internal medicine at the University of Halle with a treatise on the treatment of syphilis. Both his doctoral dissertation and his Habilitationsschrift witnessed his skills and interest in the study of skin diseases.

During the years following his habilitation he lectured on pathology, epidemiology, and the effects of toxic substances.

In 1848 he went to Upper Silesia in order to study an epidemic of exanthemic typhus. His comments on the people of the region would be considered politically incorrect today, as they were "a sluggish Slav tribe" kept down in "stupidity and superstition" by the Catholic clergy and "cheated by Jews". However, his comments on the outbreak provided new knowledge about the differentiation of various typhoid diseases. For a period he had the leadership of children’s hospital in Loslau-Oberschlesien.

After this he first continued as an assistant to Krukenberg, but in 1850 he founded a private clinic in Halle which soon enjoyed a high reputation. The same year he married. In Halle, too, he was active as a physician during several typhus epidemics. His book about this contains observations critical of society. He therefore welcomed building projects that would save the poor among the population from living in "old and filthy quarters infected with vermin". He also advocated the establishment of day nurseries and children's homes, in order to contain the raging epidemics of scrofulosis and tuberculosis.

In 1853 Bärensprung accepted an invitation to become head physician in the department of syphilitics at the Berlin Charité. From 1857 he was professor extraordinary at the Berlin University. Besides his former department also received a second department for diseases of the skin. He subsequently published a number of books on syphilis and diseases of the skin. In 1858 he turned down an invitation from the University of Dorpat, hoping to fulfil his ambitions of becoming head of a medical unit in Germany. This, however, he was never to achieve.

His works were hotly disputed by other specialists. From the early 1950's he regularly published research reports on themes like manifestations of syphilis, the incubation time for smallpox and numerous skin diseases, as well as statistical reports. Besides this he worked on an Atlas of skin diseases which was published posthumously in 1867.

Already in the early 1860s he became ill, and it may have been his illness and his eccentric behaviour that brought him into frequent polemics with other physicians. Occasioned by an injury to the finger, his disease – dementia paralytica – broke out in full and he had to be taken to the mental asylum Hornheim near Kiel, which he was never again to leave. He had a short relapse which enabled him to complete his work on hereditary syphilis, but it did not last. On August 26, 1864, while on a walk to Kiel, he fell into the sea and was brought up dead.

Bärensprung was one of the most talented and versatile of nineteenth-century dermatologists.

Bärensprung’s works on entomology were published in the Berliner entomologische Zeitschrift, 1857, 1858, 1860.

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