The impact of Dutch Cartesian medical reformers in early Enlightenment German culture (1680-1720)
This study analyses the reception and influence of Dutch Cartesian medical reformers in German culture during the Early Enlightenment period. The impact of their proposed reforms, involving the rejection of traditional Galenic-Aristotelian theory and practice, and placing medicine in an essentially new, mechanistic scienceoriented Cartesian philosophical framework, is discussed in the context of the large number of German translations of their works, published often in several editions in various parts of Germany between the late 1680s and the early eighteenth century, and in relation to the wider context of social and cultural reform. The study opens with an examination of factors that facilitated the reception of Dutch medical ideas in Germany, such as the large number of German medical students studying in the Netherlands, the preponderant impact of the Dutch universities in the promotion of the ‘new’ philosophy and science during the second half of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, and the presence of physicians trained in the Dutch universities at the medical faculties of German Protestant universities, and as court, city, and army physicians. Supporting evidence is also drawn from the massive impact of Dutch publishing on the German book market, the proliferation of periodicals, book reviews and book production in Germany aimed at the general public in the vernacular. It is argued that the translated works of Comelis Bontekoe, Steven Blankaart, Heidentryk Overkamp and their Cartesian followers intensified debates about medical theory and practice and the new life-style issues of tea and coffee drinking and tobacco-smoking and considerably influenced their adoption in society. The concerns voiced by translators and influential German medical scholars, including Friedrich Hoffmann, Georg Ernst Stahl and Albrecht von Haller, show that their iatrochemical mechanist conception of how to preserve health, prevent illness and prolong life, and their advocacy of a virtual abolition of blood-letting and purging, contributed to a change in people’s perceptions of illness and attitudes to health care in some sections of society, and exerted a far greater impact on German medicine than has so far been recognized.