- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Bénédict Augustin Morel

Born  1809-11-22
Died  1873-03-30

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French psychiatrist, born November 22, 1809, Vienna; died March 30, 1873, Saint-Yon.

Biography of Bénédict Augustin Morel

In 1860 Bénédict Augustin Morel introduced the term dementia praecox to refer to a mental and emotional deterioration beginning at the time of puberty. The disorder was renamed schizophrenia in 1908 by the Swiss psychologist Eugen Bleuler (1857–1939)

Morel was born in Vienna to French parents. He studied in Paris, and while a student earned his living teaching English and German. He obtained his doctorate in 1839 and in 1841 became assistant to the psychiatrist Jean Pierre Falret (1870–1854) at the Salpêtrière. Falret is remembered for describing manic-depressive psychoses i 1854.

During 1843 to 1845 travelled in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, in particularly studying their lunatic asylums. In 1848 he was appointed director of the lunatic asylum Asile d'Aliénés de Maréville at Nancy. of Maréville, where he introduced important reforms for the improvement of the situation of the mentally ill, particularly regarding the use of restraining methods. At Maréville asylum he studied the mentally retarded, searching their family histories and examining such influences as poverty and early physical illnesses.

In 1856 he became director of the asylum at Saint-Yon (Seine-Inférieure), and made a scientific journey to England in order to study no-restraint methods. Following his return he became a member of a Paris commission set down to investigate the causes of struma/goitre and cretinism, and to find a therapy for the cure of these disturbances.

Morel was a friend of the physiologist Claude Bernard and an admirer of Charles Darwin’s work on evolution. In 1859, Morel, impressed with Darwin, formulates the theory of "degeneration" of mental problems from early life to adulthood. Morel saw mental deficiency as the end stage of a process of mental deterioration that included mental illness. He articulated his theory of mental illness in Traité des maladies mentales (1860) in which he coined the term démence-precoce to refer to mental degeneration. Morel sought explanation for mental illness in heredity, although he later came to believe that external agents such as alcohol and drugs could also afflict the course of mental deterioration.


  • Questions sur les diverses branches des sciences médicales.
    Doctoral thesis. Paris, 1839.
  • Études historiques; origines de l’école psychique allemande.
    With Ernest-Charles Lasègue (1816–1883).
    Annales medico-psychologiques, Paris, 1844-1845.
  • Traité des maladies mentales.
    2 volumes; Paris, 1852-1853; 2nd edition, 1860.
    In the 2nd edition he coined the term démence-precoce to refer to mental degeneration.
  • Pathologie mentale en Belgique, en Hollande et en Allemagne.
    Annales medico-psychologiques, Paris, 1845-1846.
  • Influence de la constitution géologique du sol sur la production du crétinisme.
    Paris, 1855.
  • Traité des dégéneréscences physiques, intellectuelles et morales de l’espèce humaine.
    1 volume and atlas. Paris, Baillière, 1857.
    The main support for the theory of mental illness as regression which dominated psychiatric practice for several decades. Morel described and illustrated the nature, causes, and signs of human degeneration. He focused on physical signs but also included various intellectual and moral deviations. This led to the classification of criminals and geniuses as types of degenerates or deviates along with the insane and neurotic. Morel emphasised the hereditary factor and his work helped bring about a de-emphasis of therapeutic work in the psychiatry of his time. The atlas reproduces by lithography some of the earliest photographs of the insane.
  • Mélanges d’anthropologie pathologique. Rouen, 1859.
  • Souvenirs scientifiques d’un voyage dans le midi de la France. Rouen, 1860.
  • Le no-restraint ou de l’abolition des moyens coercitifs dans le traitement de la folie. Paris, 1861.
  • Du goître et du crétinisme, étiologie, prophylaxie etc. Paris, 1864.
  • Traité de médecine légale des aliénes.
    Volume 1: Historique depuis les temps anciens jusq’u nos jours. Paris, 1860.
  • De la formation des types dans les variétés dégénérées.
    Volume 1; Rouen, 1864.

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