Ambroise Paré (1510–90). Journeys in Diverse Places.
Vol. 38, pp. 50-58 of The Harvard Classics
Astonishing treatments and cures are related by Ambroise Paré, famed surgeon of the fifteenth century. One remedy, for instance, used to cure a distinguished nobleman, was red roses boiled in white wine, - and it was effective.
Battle of Saint Denis. 1567
AS for the battle of Saint Denis, there were many killed on both sides. Our wounded withdrew to Paris to be dressed, with the prisoners they had taken, and I dressed many of them. The King ordered me, at the request of Mme. the Constable’s Lady, to go to her house to dress the Constable: who had a pistol-shot in the middle of the spine of his back, whereby at once he lost all feeling and movement in his thighs and legs … because the spinal cord, whence arise the nerves to give feeling and movement to the parts below, was crushed, broken, and torn by the force of the bullet. Also he lost understanding and reason, and in a few days he died. The surgeons of Paris were hard put to it for many days to treat all the wounded. I think, mon petit maistre, you saw some of them. I beseech the great God of victories, that we be never more employed in such misfortune and disaster.
Voyage of the Battle of Moncontour. 1569
DURING the battle of Moncontour, King Charles was at Plessis-les-Tours, where he heard the news of the victory. A great number of gentlemen and soldiers retreated into the town and suburbs of Tours, wounded, to be dressed and treated; and the King and the Queen-mother bade me do my duty by them, with other surgeons who were then on duty, as Pigray, du Bois, Portail, and one Siret, a surgeon of Tours, a man well versed in surgery, who was at this time surgeon to the King’s brother. And for the multitude of bad cases we had scarce any rest, nor the physicians either.
M. le Comte de Mansfeld, Governor of the Duchy of Luxembourg, Knight of the Order of the King, was severely wounded in the battle, in the left arm, with a pistol-shot which broke a great part of his elbow; and he withdrew to Borgueil near Tours. Then he sent a gentleman to the King, to beg him to send one of his surgeons, to help him of his wound. So they debated which surgeon they should send. M. le Maréchal de Montmorency told the King and the Queen that they ought to send him their chief surgeon; and urged that M. de Mansfeld had done much toward the victory.
The King said flat he would not have me go, and wished me to stop with himself. Then the Queen-mother told him I would but go and come back, and he must remember it was a foreign lord, who had come, at the command of the King of Spain, to help him. Then he let me go, provided I came back very soon. So he sent for me, and the Queen-mother with him, and bade me go and find the Lord de Mansfeld, wherever he should be, to do all I could for him to heal his wound. I went to him, with a letter from Their Majesties. When he saw it, he received me with good-will, and forthwith dismissed three or four surgeons who were dressing him; which was to my very great regret, because his wound seemed to me incurable.
Now many gentlemen had retreated to Borgueil, having been wounded: for they knew that M. de Guise was there, who also had been badly wounded with a pistol-shot through the leg, and they were sure that he would have good surgeons to dress him, and would help them, as he is kindly and very generous, and would relieve their wants. This he did with a will, both for their eating and drinking, and for what else they needed: and for my part, they had the comfort and help of my art: some died, others recovered, according to their wounds. M. le Comte Ringrave died, who was shot in the shoulder, like the King of Navarre before Rouen. M. de Bassompierre, colonel of twelve hundred horse, was wounded by a similar shot, in the same place, as M. de Mansfeld: whom I dressed, and God healed. God blessed my work so well, that in three weeks I sent them back to Paris: where I had still to make incisions in M. de Mansfeld’s arm, to remove some pieces of the bones, which were badly splintered, broken, and carious. He was healed by the grace of God, and made me a handsome present, so I was well content with him, and he with me; as he has shown me since. He wrote a letter to M. le Duc d’Ascot, how he was healed of his wound, and also M. de Bassompierre of his, and many others whom I had dressed after the battle of Moncontour; and advised him to ask the King of France to let me visit M. le Marquis d’Auret, his brother: which he did.
The Journey to Flanders. 1569
M. LE DUC D’ASCOT did not fail to send a gentleman to the King, with a letter humbly asking he would do him so much kindness and honour as to permit and command his chief surgeon to visit M. le Marquis d’Auret, his brother, who had received a gunshot wound near the knee, with fracture of the bone, about seven months ago, and the physicians and surgeons all this time had not been able to heal him. The King sent for me and bade me go and see M. d’Auret, and give him all the help I could, to heal him of his wound. I told him I would employ all the little knowledge it had pleased God to give me.
I went off, escorted by two gentlemen, to the Chateau d’Auret, which is a league and a half from Mons in Hainault, where M. le Marquis was lying. So soon as I had come, I visited him, and told him the King had commanded me to come and see him and dress his wound. He said he was very glad I had come, and was much beholden to the King, who had done him so much honour as to send me to him.
I found him in a high fever, his eyes deep sunken, with a moribund and yellowish face, his tongue dry and parched, and the whole body much wasted and lean, the voice low as of a man very near death: and I found his thigh much inflamed, suppurating, and ulcerated, discharging a greenish and very offensive sanies. I probed it with a silver probe, wherewith I found a large cavity in the middle of the thigh, and others round the knee, sanious and cuniculate: also several scales of bone, some loose, others not. The leg was greatly swelled, and imbued with a pituitous humor … and bent and drawn back. There was a large bedsore; he could rest neither day nor night; and had no appetite to eat, but very thirsty. I was told he often fell into a faintness of the heart, and sometimes as in epilepsy: and often he felt sick, with such trembling he could not carry his hands to his mouth. Seeing and considering all these great complications, and the vital powers thus broken down, truly I was very sorry I had come to him, because it seemed to me there was little hope he would escape death. All the same, to give him courage and good hope, I told him I would soon set him on his legs, by the grace of God, and the help of his physicians and surgeons.
Having seen him, I went a walk in a garden, and prayed God He would show me this grace, that he should recover; and that He would bless our hands and our medicaments, to fight such a complication of diseases. I discussed in my mind the means I must take to do this. They called me to dinner. I came into the kitchen, and there I saw, taken out of a great pot, half a sheep, a quarter of veal, three great pieces of beef, two fowls, and a very big piece of bacon, with abundance of good herbs: then I said to myself that the broth of the pot would be full of juices, and very nourishing.
After dinner, we began our consultation, all the physicians and surgeons together, in the presence of M. le Duc d’Ascot and some gentlemen who were with him. I began to say to the surgeons that I was astonished they had not made incisions in M. le Marquis’ thigh, seeing that it was all suppurating, and the thick matter in it very fœtid and offensive, showing it had long been pent up there; and that I had found with the probe caries of the bone, and scales of bone, which were already loose. They answered me: “Never would he consent to it”; indeed, it was near two months since they had been able to get leave to put clean sheets on his bed; and one scarce dared touch the coverlet, so great was his pain. Then I said, “To heal him, we must touch something else than the coverlet of his bed.” Each said what he thought of the malady of the patient, and in conclusion they all held it hopeless. I told them there was still some hope, because he was young, and God and Nature sometimes do things which seem to physicians and surgeons impossible.
To restore the warmth and nourishment of the body, general frictions must be made with hot cloths, above, below, to right, to left, and around, to draw the blood and the vital spirits from within outward… . For the bedsore, he must be put in a fresh, soft bed, with clean shirt and sheets… . Having discoursed of the causes and complications of his malady, I said we must cure them by their contraries; and must first ease the pain, making openings in the thigh to let out the matter… . Secondly, having regard to the great swelling and coldness of the limb, we must apply hot bricks round it, and sprinkle them with a decoction of nerval herbs in wine and vinegar, and wrap them in napkins; and to his feet, an earthenware bottle filled with the decoction, corked, and wrapped in cloths. Then the thigh, and the whole of the leg, must be fomented with a decoction made of sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, flowers of chamomile and melilot, red roses boiled in white wine, with a drying powder made of oak-ashes and a little vinegar and half a handful of salt… . Thirdly, we must apply to the bedsore a large plaster made of the desiccative red ointment and of Unguentum Comitissœ, equal parts, mixed together, to ease his pain and dry the ulcer; and he must have a little pillow of down, to keep all pressure off it… . And for the strengthening of his heart, we must apply over it a refrigerant of oil of water-lilies, ointment of roses, and a little saffron, dissolved in rose-vinegar and treacle, spread on a piece of red cloth. For the syncope, from exhaustion of the natural forces, troubling the brain, he must have good nourishment full of juices, as raw eggs, plums stewed in wine and sugar, broth of the meat of the great pot, whereof I have already spoken; the white meat of fowls, partridges’ wings minced small, and other roast meats easy to digest, as veal, kid, pigeons, partridges, thrushes, and the like, with sauce of orange, verjuice, sorrel, sharp pomegranates; or he may have them boiled with good herbs, as lettuce, purslain, chicory, bugloss, marigold, and the like. At night he can take barley-water, with juice of sorrel and of water-lilies, of each two ounces, with four or five grains of opium, and the four cold seeds crushed, of each half an ounce; which is a good nourishing remedy and will make him sleep. His bread to be farm-house bread, neither too stale nor too fresh. For the great pain in his head, his hair must be cut, and his head rubbed with rose-vinegar just warm, and a double cloth steeped in it and put there; also a foreheadcloth, of oil of roses and water-lilies and poppies, and a little opium and rose-vinegar, with a little camphor, and changed from time to time. Moreover, we must allow him to smell flowers of henbane and water-lilies, bruised with vinegar and rose-water, with a little camphor, all wrapped in a handkerchief, to be held some time to his nose… . And we must make artificial rain, pouring water from some high place into a cauldron, that he may hear the sound of it; by which means sleep shall be provoked on him. As for the contraction of his leg, there is hope of righting it when we have let out the pus and other humors pent up in the thigh, and have rubbed the whole knee with ointment of mallows, and oil of lilies, and a little eau-de-vie, and wrapped it in black wool with the grease left in it; and if we put under the knee a feather pillow doubled, little by little we shall straighten the leg.
This my discourse was well approved by the physicians and surgeons.
The consultation ended, we went back to the patient, and I made three openings in his thigh… . Two or three hours later, I got a bed made near his old one, with fair white sheets on it; then a strong man put him in it, and he was thankful to be taken out of his foul stinking bed. Soon after, he asked to sleep; which he did for near four hours: and everybody in the house began to feel happy, and especially M. le Duc d’Ascot, his brother.
The following days, I made injections, into the depth and cavities of the ulcers, of Ægyptiacum dissolved sometimes in eau-de-vie, other times in wine. I applied compresses to the bottom of the sinuous tracks, to cleanse and dry the soft spongy flesh, and hollow leaden tents, that the sanies might always have a way out; and above them a large plaster of Diacalcitheos dissolved in wine. And I bandaged him so skilfully that he had no pain; and when the pain was gone, the fever began at once to abate. Then I gave him wine to drink moderately tempered with water, knowing it would restore and quicken the vital forces. And all that we agreed in consultation was done in due time and order; and so soon as his pains and fever ceased, he began steadily to amend. He dismissed two of his surgeons, and one of his physicians, so that we were but three with him.
Now I stopped there about two months, not without seeing many patients, both rich and poor, who came to me from three or four leagues round. He gave food and drink to the needy, and commended them all to me, asking me to help them for his sake. I protest I refused not one, and did for them all I could, to his great pleasure. Then, when I saw him beginning to be well, I told him we must have viols and violins, and a buffoon to make him laugh: which he did. In one month, we got him into a chair, and he had himself carried about in his garden and at the door of his château, to see everybody passing by.
The villagers of two or three leagues round, now they could have sight of him, came on holidays to sing and dance, men and women, pell-mell for a frolic, rejoiced at his good convalescence, all glad to see him, not without plenty of laughter and plenty to drink. He always gave them a hogshead of beer; and they all drank merrily to his health. And the citizens of Mons in Hainault, and other gentlemen, his neighbours, came to see him for the wonder of it, as a man come out of the grave; and from the time he was well, he was never without company. When one went out, another came in to visit him; his table was always well covered. He was dearly loved both by the nobility and by the common people; as for his generosity, so for his handsome face and his courtesy: with a kind look and a gracious word for everybody, so that all who saw him had perforce to love him.
The chief citizens of Mons came one Saturday, to beg him let me go to Mons, where they wished to entertain me with a banquet, for their love of him. He told them he would urge me to go, which he did; but I said such great honour was not for me, moreover they could not feast me better than he did. Again he urged me, with much affection, to go there, to please him: and I agreed. The next day, they came to fetch me with two carriages: and when we got to Mons, we found the dinner ready, and the chief men of the town, with their ladies, who attended me with great devotion. We sat down to dinner, and they put me at the top of the table, and all drank to me, and to the health of M. le Marquis d’Auret: saying he was happy, and they with him, to have had me to put him on his legs again; and truly the whole company were full of honour and love for him. After dinner, they brought me back to the Château d’Auret, where M. le Marquis was awaiting me; who affectionately welcomed me, and would hear what we had done at our banquet; and I told him all the company had drunk many times to his health.
In six weeks he began to stand a little on crutches, and to put on fat and get a good natural colour. He would go to Beaumont, his brother’s place; and was taken there in a carrying-chair, by eight men at a time. And the peasants in the villages through which we passed, knowing it was M. le Marquis, fought who should carry him, and would have us drink with them; but it was only beer. Yet I believe if they had possessed wine, even hippocras, they would have given it to us with a will. And all were right glad to see him, and all prayed God for him.
When we came to Beaumont, everybody came out to meet us and pay their respects to him, and prayed God bless him and keep him in good health. We came to the château, and found there more than fifty gentlemen whom M. le Duc d’Ascot had invited to come and be happy with his brother; and he kept open house three whole days. After dinner, the gentlemen used to tilt at the ring and play with the foils, and were full of joy at the sight of M. d’Auret, for they had heard he would never leave his bed or be healed of his wound. I was always at the upper end of the table, and everybody drank to him and to me, thinking to make me drunk, which they could not; for I drank only as I always do.
A few days later, we went back; and I took my leave of Mdme. la Duchesse d’Ascot, who drew a diamond from her finger, and gave it me in gratitude for my good care of her brother: and the diamond was worth more than fifty crowns. M. d’Auret was ever getting better, and was walking all alone on crutches round his garden. Many times I asked him to let me go back to Paris, telling him his physician and his surgeon could do all that was now wanted for his wound: and to make a beginning to get away from him, I asked him to let me go and see the town of Antwerp. To this he agreed at once, and told his steward to escort me there, with two pages. We passed through Malines and Brussels, where the chief citizens of the town begged us to let them know of it when we returned; for they too wished, like those of Mons, to have a festival for me. I gave them very humble thanks, saying I did not deserve such honour. I was two days and a half seeing the town of Antwerp, where certain merchants, knowing the steward, prayed he would let them have the honour of giving us a dinner or a supper: it was who should have us, and they were all truly glad to hear how well M. d’Auret was doing, and made more of me than I asked.
On my return, I found M. le Marquis enjoying himself: and five or six days later I asked his leave to go, which he gave, said he, with great regret. And he made me a handsome present of great value, and sent me back, with the steward, and two pages, to my house in Paris.
I forgot to say that the Spaniards have since ruined and demolished his Château d’Auret, sacked, pillaged, and burned all the houses and villages belonging to him: because he would not be of their wicked party in their assassinations and ruin of the Netherlands.
I have published this Apologia, that all men may know on what footing I have always gone: and sure there is no man so touchy not to take in good part what I have said. For I have but told the truth; and the purport of my discourse is plain for all men to see, and the facts themselves are my guarantee against all calumnies.