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”Scientific news” in the letters from Peter Hernquist to Carl Linnaeus and Abraham Bäck

Appelgren, Lars-erik


In 1763 Carl Linnaeus and Abraham Bäck sent Peter Hernquist to the recently opened veterinary school in Lyon. Hernquist remained in France (in Lyon and Paris) until 1769. In his correspondence to his benefactors he tells them about his tough financial situation, the low level of education in the veterinary school in Lyon and the contempt associated with the veterinary profession. But he also brings what he himself calls ”Scientific news” (Swedish: “lärda nyheter”). To Bäck he sends news within medicine and to Linnaeus – not surprisingly – information on botanical and zoological matters. Examples of the latter are a genus of Agaricus (mushroom) which Hernquist found in some old mines and a new species of mites, Acari (genus Hydna) described by a Danish zoologist. Bäck was e.g. informed that Plantago minor is an excellent treatment for snake bites and further, outbreaks of glanders (caused by Burkholderia mallei) had been treated with acetic acid with fatal outcome. Also several plants such as Momordica elatarum and Cicuta gave no improvement. Hernquist, in despair, believes that there is no cure whatsoever for glanders. In the surgical faculty in Lyon Hernquist experienced ”l’anus artificiele”, i.e. a kind of colostomy made after a hernia with gangrenous intestinal changes. This stomy was held open in 4 years, but after treating the patient with a laxative the ingesta were pressed out the “normal” way and the intestine got totally congested. Hernquist also has thoughts on why mercury cannot heal “la gonorrhée” in Paris when it is possible in Germany: “equal diseases with equal visual circumstances cannot always be treated with the same drugs under different skies”. Hernquist’s “scientific news” in medicine were case studies and hearsays and were at this time generally accepted as “facts”, although an awareness of controlled studies was beginning to crop up, e.g. the first “controlled” clinical trial on scurvy by James Lind in 1747. 

References: Peter Hernquist to Carl Linnaeus, The Linnaean correspondence, letters L2336 to L4244 (consulted 27 Feb 2017) Dyrendahl I, Peter Hernquists brev till Abraham Bäck 1763-1792, KSLA, Stockholm, 1992.

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Titel: The XXVIth Nordic Medical History Congress