Autobiographical Outline of Rudolf Virchow

Page 3 of 3

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   The number of medical students climbed from 98 (including
              42 non-Bavarians) in the summer of 1849 to 388
              (including 276 non-Bavarians) in the winter of 1854-55.
1851   With Scherer 1 and Eisenmann 2 took over the editing of the
              Canstattschen Jahresbericht 3 (continued up until now) .
1852   Sent by the Bavarian government because of a famine
              to the Spessart 4 (a wooded mountain district):
             & outline the emergency in Spessart, historically-geographically-
1854   Turned down a call to Zürich as Oberarzt 5  
            of the county hospital.
          Took over the editing of the complete Handbook of
          Special Pathology & Therapeutics, 6 collaboration with F. Vogel, Griess-
           inger, Hasse, Hebra, Bamberger, Friedreich, Pitha, Lebert
           & others, soon to be completed.
1855-56   Published the "Collected Essays for Scien-
           tific Medicine". 7 (The most important works, with the exception
           of those already published in the "Archives".)
1856   Called 8 back to Berlin as full professor of
             Pathol. Anatomy, General Pathology & Therapeutics,
            director of the Pathological Institute & practicing doctor
            in the Charité. Creation of the Pathol. Institute (for path.
            anatomy, path. physiology, & path. chemistry. Assistant
            Dr. F. Hoppe 9)
1857   Monograph in 4to. "Development of the Skull Base
        (Basis Cranii) in the Healthy & Diseased & Its influence
       on the Form of the Skull, Formation of the Face & Structure of the Brain". 10
1858   Lectures on Cellular Pathology. 11
              Eulogy for Johannes Müller.12
1859   Treatise on constitutional Syphilis.

Dr. Thor Jager's transcription of this page.

1.Johann Joseph von Scherer (1814-1869) studied medicine, chemistry, geology and mineralogy at the University of Würzburg where he graduated in 1836. He practiced medicine for only a couple of few years before focusing entirely on chemistry. Scherer spent time in Munich and Giessen before returning to Würzburg in 1842 as professor in organic chemistry. He eventually took professorships in the departments of general, inorganic, and pharmacological chemistry. He also became the director of the Medical Institute for Chemistry and Hygiene in Würzburg. Scherer’s main contributions to science and the Canstattschen Jahresbericht dealt primarily with biochemistry. Back

Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker, vierter Band, s.v. "Scherer, Johann Joseph von."

2. Gottfried Eisenmann (1795-1867) was a native of Würzburg famous for his medical writings and political activities. He originally began to study Law before switching to medicine. He graduated in 1819 and practiced medicine in Würzburg starting in 1822. The radical Eisenmann was active politically as early as 1818. He was imprisoned on a couple of occasions and was a target of the government’s harassment of the liberal opposition. He began his medical writings while in prison and continued this endeavor with first Canstatt and only later with Virchow and Scherer in Würzburg. Back

Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker, vierter Band, s.v. "Eisenmann, Gottfried."

3.The original publication of the Canstattschen Jahresbericht appeared in 1841 under the name Jahresberichtes über die Fortschritte der gesammten Medicin in allen Ländern published by Dr. Karl Friedrich Canstatt. In 1843, Eisenmann began to work with Canstatt on the publication and eventually took over as the sole editor. Canstatt died in March of 1850. When Eisenmann, Virchow and Scherer once again began publication in 1851 it appears they named the publication after its creator. Virchow mentions his invovlement on the editorial board for the Canstattschen Jahresbericht in a letter to his father dated December 20, 1851. In time, as Scherer and Eisenmann died Virchow continued editing with the assistance of Hirsch and then after 1893 by himself. The name of the series was changed to Jahresbericht über die Leistungen und Fortschritte in der gesammten Medicin and over time has come to be known by some simply as Virchows Jahresbericht. Back

Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker, vierter Band, s.v. "Canstatt, Karl Friedrich C.."; W. Becher, Rudolph Virchow, Eine biographische Studie (Berlin: Karger, 1891); J. Schwalbe, Virchow-Bibliographie, (Berlin: Reimer, 1901).

4.The Spessart forest region is located in southern Germany near Würzburg and Franfurt. In his report on the famine, Virchow’s tone is similar although less inflammatory than in his report on Upper Silesia. He reminiscently suggests that the only guarantees for the lasting health of a nation are education, wealth, and freedom. The original report was published in Gesammelte Abhandlungen aus dem Gebiete der öffentlichen Medicin und Seuchenlehre 1: 368-416. Back

5.The term "Oberarzt" is general and offers no further specific clues as to the nature of the job offer than we already know from Virchow’s letters. The English equivalent would resemble the concept of a medical director or a head physician or chief physician. From letters to Virchow’s father of 1852 and 1855, we learn that Virchow was offered various positions at the medical school in Zürich more than once. From the description, it seems that Zürich was very zealous in their attempts to attract him away from Würzburg. They wanted him at one time to fill the position previously occupied by Schönlein. Back

Rudolph Virchow, Briefe an seine Eltern, 1839 bis 1864, ed. M. Rabl (Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, 1907).

6.Handbuch der speciellen Pathologie und Therapie. Six volumes were eventually published from 1854-1876. From the forword contained in the first volume, we learn that Virchow was heavily involved with writing the first volume and assisting Ferdinand Enke in garnering support and collaborators for the project. Their goal was to publish a resource that covered pathological and therapeutic aspects of the existing specialties authored by reliable professionals of each respective specialty. Back

7.Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur wissenschaftlichen Medicin. This collection was dedicated to Froriep and the forward offers a short description of his significance and influence on Virchow’s early scientific work. The majority of the essays published come from Virchow’s early research dealing with phlebitis and blood. Other selections include works on gynecology, new-borns, pathologies of the skull and brain, and his essays on unifying scientific medicine. Back

8.In reading the letters to Virchow’s father of 1852-1856, one gets the feel that he always had it in his mind to someday return to Berlin. Virchow writes to his father-in-law on February 15, 1856 concerning the possibility of him once again finding a position at the Charité. In this letter, Virchow discusses the various supporters and obstacles in his path to receiving an official offer. Just two months later, Virchow informs his father in a letter that he had received his official appointment and was simply waiting the approval of the king. On June 4, 1856, Virchow writes that he was given the approval of the king and that he would be relieved in Würzburg and move to Berlin in October. Back

Rudolph Virchow, Briefe an seine Eltern, 1839 bis 1864, ed. M. Rabl (Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, 1907).

9. Felix Hoppe-Seyler (1825-1895) is considered the father of German physiological chemistry. Because both of his parents died before he was ten years old and being the tenth child, he was raised by his brother-in-law Dr. Seyler. He formally changed his name to Hoppe-Seyler in 1864. Hoppe-Seyler received his M.D. in Berlin in 1851. Virchow made Hoppe-Seyler his assistant at the Pathological Institute in Berlin (1856) where he was put in charge of the chemical laboratory for pathological chemistry. Hoppe-Seyler preferred scientific research to medical practice and also held positions in anatomy, applied chemistry, and physiological chemistry in Greifswald, Tübingen and Strasbourg respectively. Back

Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker, vierter Band, s.v. "Hoppe-Seyler, Felix."

10.Untersuchungen über die Entwickelung des Schädelgrundes im gesunden und krankhaften Zustande und über den Einfluss derselben auf Schädelform, Gesichtsbildung und Gehirnbau. Virchow first began studying the skull and skull development while researching cretinism during the early 1850’s. In his later years, he devoted increasing time more exclusively to anthropological studies of the skull and races. Ackerknecht expressed his opinion for the underlying reason of Virchow’s interest in anthropology and races as stemming from the coexistence of his polish ethnicity and within the German culture. Whether this is true or not we shall perhaps never know for certain. What is certain is that Virchow was cognizant of the fact that he was of Slavic descent. The family name of "Virchow" has Slavic origins and Virchow himself referred to his ancestral polish heritage in a letter to his father on February 22, 1842. Back

Rudolph Virchow, Briefe an seine Eltern, 1839 bis 1864, ed. M. Rabl (Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, 1907).

11.Die Cellularpathologie. This is the work for which Virchow is perhaps most remembered. His ideas about cellular pathology were originally given as lectures and later appeared in his Archiv. The concept that disease and pathological processes reside and can be appreciated at the cellular level helped to shape the direction of medicine science during his era and beyond. Back

12.Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858) is heralded as the father of the German scientific method in medicine. He had a profound and lasting influence on scientific thought not solely because of his work, but mainly due to his influence on the work of his many pupils. Müller was a pioneer in scientific thought and methodology. Although trained under the mystical natural-philosophical paradigm in medicine, he developed his own ideas on scientific research centered in empirical evidence and careful observation. He dedicated himself to uncovering true principles and ideas through experimentation not speculation. Müller was known for his appetite for knowledge and tireless work habits. Müller entered the University of Bonn in 1819 where he was exposed to the many speculative romantic theories prevalent in medicine. In 1822, he received his M.D. and went to Berlin where he established connections with Carl Rudolphi before returning to Bonn in 1824 as a lecturer in physiology and comparative anatomy. Müller ultimately returned to Berlin in 1833 as a professor of physiology and anatomy and remained there until his death in 1858. Throughout his life Müller endured bouts of depression and anxiety. It is postulated that he suffered from a bi-polar condition. Many of his associates maintained that his sudden death during the night of April 28, 1858 was a suicide.

Virchow was profoundly impacted by the influence of Müller. Müller served as a mentor to Virchow through medical school and beyond by helping to direct his researches. This is especially evident in Virchow’s follow-up on Müller’s investigations on tumors. It was largely through Müller that he was able to once again secure a post in Berlin as chair of pathological anatomy and the director of the new Pathological Institute after his time in Würzburg. Virchow was very aware of Müller’s huge contribution to medical science in shifting the ideas and methods of medical scientific investigation toward a more exact empirical method based on observable evidence. This influence is evident in the manner that Virchow conducted his research, and the work and research habits he exhibited. Portions of Virchow’s eulogy can be found in Walsh’s book Makers of Modern Medicine. Virchow had great respect and appreciation for Müller and the guidance he received from him. Back

Dictionary of Scientific Biography, s.v. “Müller, Johannes Peter.”; James J. Walsh, Makers of Modern Medicine (New York: Fordham University Press, 1915); Erwin H. Ackerknecht, Rudolph Virchow: Doctor, Statesman, Anthropologist (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1953).

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© 2000 University of Kansas Medical Center
Revised: April 13, 2000