Ambroise Paré - the Gentle Surgeon | Salisbury Cathedral

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Ambroise Paré - the Gentle Surgeon

A blog written by Jenny Mawer, Library Volunteer 

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Ambroise Paré - the Gentle Surgeon

Posted By : Emily Naish Sunday 2nd June 2019

A blog written by Jenny Mawer, Library Volunteer

I'd like to let you into the secret of a book I found in the Library, it is titled Les Oeuvres d'Ambroise Paré or in English - The Workes of that famous Chirurgion Ambroise Parey.  How I came across this book in the Library I cannot remember, but it is definitely once seen, never forgotten.  Not just for the book itself, how it looks and the content but also for how it came to be written and the implications for any of us undergoing any sort of medical treatment.

First of all something about Ambroise Paré and how he came to write this book... He was a Barber Surgeon in France and joined the army in 1536. He was persuaded to publish his first book about dealing with gunshot wounds in 1545.  Over the next 30 years he published 29 short books and 3 tracts on medical topics based on his personal experiences. They were compiled into one book published in 1575.

The title tells you that he wrote in French which was not usual as books of this type were normally written in Latin, in fact it was translated into Latin in 1582.  It was frequently reprinted and several editions appeared in German, Dutch and also in English.

The edition of Paré's book in in the Library is a copy of this compilation translated into English by Thomas Johnson in 1634 and published in one volume (dated 1649 on the spine binding).

Each of the 29 short books gives Paré's ideas for treating a particular medical problem and follows his philosophy of only using treatments which had been proved to be successful.  This philosophy developed from an experience in his first job as a war surgeon. In 1536, Paré ran out of the boiling oil which until then was used to seal soldier's wounds. Instead, he made a tincture of egg yolk, turpentine and oil of roses. The following morning he saw that the soldiers who had been treated with his tincture were much better than those who had been treated with boiling oil.  From then on his methods changed.

As you can see his books are illustrated in great detail with drawings of anatomy and the prosthetics he invented.


Paré's legacy to us all:- he believed in the art of gentle surgery and only using treatment methods which had been proved to be successful.  Thank you Paré for changing things.