Neurographia universalis: Hoc est, omnium corporis humani nervorum, simul & cerebri, medullæque spinalis descriptio anatomica.

Lyons: Jean Certe, 1685.

First edition, second issue (first issue, 1684), of this “detailed study of the nervous system that was regarded as the best account written in the seventeenth century … Vieussens was an untiring dissector, and his work revealed the structure and arrangement of the nervous system better than that of any predecessor, in addition to recording new and correct observations. For example, he showed that the spinal cord was an independent structure, not merely an appendage of the brain, and he first defined the centrum ovale. The book [Neurographia universalis], which is divided into three parts, discusses the brain, the spinal cord, and the nerves. It was based on 500 dissections of post-mortem material. The words ‘Editio nova’ on the title page indicate a new and original publication rather than a ‘new edition’ in the modern sense” (Lilly). “Vieussens’ research on the nervous system is of great importance. In Neurographia universalis (1684) he sought to continue the work of Thomas Willis, which he greatly admired. The first to make good use of Steno’s suggestion that the white substance in the brain should be studied by tracing the path of its fibers, Vieussens described the olivary nucleus and the centrum semiovale: the latter still bears his name. Moreover, his description of the fine structure of the cerebellum, including the discovery of the dentate nuclei, surpassed all previous publications on the subject. The most original part of the work concerns the paths of the peripheral nerves” (DSB). The fine engraved illustrations of his neurological treatise include two large folding plates of the nervous system (plates 28-29), printed from two impressions of a single plate, of which one is in reverse, presumably printed through an offset technique: the figure’s left side (on the viewer’s right), is an exact reverse image of the right side, including the captions and key-numbers. Vieussens was chief physician of the Hôtel-Dieu de St. Eloi for over 40 years, a post that permitted him to perform a large number of autopsies. Vieussens also did important work on the pathology of heart disease; these were undertaken in the last decade of his life and published in his Traite nouveau de la structure... du coeur (Toulouse 1715). The second issue of Neurographia universalis appears to be identical to the first except for the cancel title. ABPC/RBH list only three complete copies of either issue (Christie’s 2014, €3500, first issue, modern binding, portrait window mounted (supplied?); Sotheby’s 1989, £6800, second issue, one large plate torn and repaired; Swann 1975, $1500, second issue, Evans copy). The Norman copy (Christie’s 1998, $9775, first issue) lacked the leaf with the coat of arms and the portrait was supplied.

“The Neurographia Universalis, hoc est omnium corporis humani nervorum, simul et cerebri, medullaeque spinalis descriptio anatomica (“General Neurography, that is, the anatomical description of all the nerves of the human body, and also of the brain and spinal cord”) was published in Lyons in 1684 by the editor Joannes Certe. This edition was enriched by beautiful copper-plate illustrations created by Jacques Beaudeau, who was one of the foremost engravers in Montpellier. The treatise is divided into three parts: the first volume is dedicated to the brain, the second to the spinal cord, and the third to the nerves (both intracranial and peripheral). From a methodological point of view, Vieussens adopted the scraping method of dissection used by Willis, and improved the technique of Malpighi of boiling the brains, using oil instead of water. In Chapter 10 of the first volume titled “De distinctis duabus cerebri substantiis” (“the two distinct substances of the brain”), Vieussens clearly differentiated between white and gray matter, highlighting the different texture between the two: “The brain is composed of two substances, one different from the other: the gray and the white matter; the gray, if observed in its natural state or after boiling in water or oil, appears to be much softer than the white matter.” After heating the brains in oil, he was also able to demonstrate that “the white matter of the brain … is formed by innumerable fibers connected together, and arranged in multiple fascicles; this appears evident after it is boiled in oil.” In Chapter 11, “De cerebro stricte sumpto” (“the brain considered in strict sense”), Vieussens described the hemispheres and the convexity of the brain. He gave a detailed account of the corpus callosum (for which he proposed the name of “verum fornix”), identifying it as a white matter structure connecting the two halves of the brain. He then illustrated the centrum ovale, the oval-shaped white matter lying beneath the cortex and surrounding the corpus callosum and the ventricle walls, as demonstrated in “tabula VI” of the first volume. The introduction of the term “centrum ovale” is one of the legacies to the field of neuroanatomy left by Vieussens. The method followed by Vieussens in his description of the brain anatomy is of a “top to bottom” dissection. Starting from the plane of the centrum ovale, he pursued the dissection inferiorly, exposing the lateral ventricles (with the foramen of Monro, termed “vulva” by Vieussens), the septum pellucidum, the fornix, the third ventricle, and the thalami. At this level, Vieussens described the basal ganglia region, where he found tracts of white matter interspersed in the gray matter of the nuclei. Vieussens adopted the term “corpora striata” (striate bodies) because of the presence of white matter fibers. He distinguished between superior, middle, and inferior striate bodies, which possibly correspond to the caudate and lenticular nuclei. We note here that the terminology introduced by Vieussens regarding the basal ganglia is somewhat obscure, and perhaps for this reason it was not followed by other authors. Following the fibers caudally, Vieussens was able to demonstrate, for the first time, the continuity of the white matter through what is known today as the internal capsule, down to the pyramidal tracts and the brainstem. The later chapters of the first volume are dedicated to the cerebellum and to the so-called medulla oblongata, with the first description of the dentate nuclei, the pyramids, and the olivary nuclei. Vieussens, following Thomas Willis and contrary to modern terminology, used the term “medulla oblongata” to indicate the deep white matter of the hemi-spheres, the thalami, and brainstem.

“Despite this accurate and precise anatomical description, the physiological explanation provided by Vieussens was still strongly influenced by the theories of the “animal spirit” of Galen. In Vieussens’ view, the structural organization of the white matter fibers, running from the centrum ovale to the medulla oblongata and the spinal cord, had the purpose of conveying the animal spirit. “It is possible to see how the animal spirit … which penetrates in the white matter fibers, moves from the anterior regions to the posterior; and through the tracts of white matter that run caudally from the posterior part of the centrum ovale … [the animal spirit] reaches inferiorly the posterior origins of the spinal nerves.” Thus, the intricate arrangements of the white matter fibers explain the different range of thoughts and emotions that the animal spirit can generate. “The white matter is formed by long and curved fibers, that are so mixed and interrelated that they take the form of a spongy body, that the animal spirit permeates in multiple, different and inexplicable ways; so that within it [the spirit] undergoes multiple, different and inexplicable emotions; because of their different arrangements, different thoughts are generated in the mind.”

“The Neurographia Universalis had a great impact on the study of neuroanatomy in Vieussens’ time. Along with Thomas Willis’ masterpiece, Cerebri anatome (published in 1664), it is considered one of the most complete and accurate descriptions of the nervous system from the 17th century. Many investigators continued Vieussens’ work. With a technical improvement, obtained by hardening the brain in an alcohol solution, Felix Vicq d’Azir (1748–1794) confirmed in his dissections many of Vieussens’ findings. D’Azir also provided a more detailed description of the centrum ovale, which he renamed “centrum semiovale.” More than a century after Vieussens’ work, Johann Christian Reil (1759–1813) introduced the term “corona radiata” to describe the centrum ovale. He clarified the relationship and the continuity between the fibers of the centrum ovale and the internal capsule and cerebral peduncles, at the same time describing the insula and the external capsule …

“One further legacy left by Raymond de Vieussens relates to the relationship between science and philosophy. The methods of Vieussens’ anatomical investigation have been improved on but remain comparable to postmortem dissections performed today. The methods available to him for analyzing the functional aspects of the [central nervous system] were vastly different from those that have been developed since. In parallel with this distinction between a comparatively stable technology of anatomical investigation and rapidly changing technology of functional investigation is the distinction between Vieussens’ anatomical and functional theories. His anatomical theories have been refined but remain broadly compatible with our modern interpretations. By comparison, his functional theories appear to have been surpassed from a modern perspective. In the past, medicine adopted a philosophical explanation for biological processes that could not be otherwise explained (for example, the “animal spirit” of Vieussens and Galen). The change in this viewpoint originated in technological development that only secondarily engendered a philosophical change, rather than the other way around. Vieussens lived in the 17th century, when the modern scientific method was at its very beginning. His interest was in an organ system in which the methods of investigation extend from arguably the most constant to the most changing over the intervening centuries …

“Raymond de Vieussens was born in 1641 in the city of Le Vigan in southern France. There is, however, some uncertainty regarding his birth, with some authors citing 1635. He studied philosophy at Rodez in France before moving to Montpellier, where he embraced anatomical research and medicine. He completed his studies and graduated in medicine from the University of Montpellier in 1670. After graduation, he was appointed as physician to the Saint-Eloi hospital in Montpellier. There, he devoted “ten years of hard work” to the study of the nervous system that eventually led to the publication of the Neurographia Universalis in 1684. This first work was well accepted by the European medical community as one of the most complete descriptions of the nervous system of his time. It also brought Vieussens recognition both in France (where he was appointed a member of the Academy of Sciences of Paris) and abroad (he became a fellow of the Royal Society of London). A few years later, in 1688, he was introduced to King Louis XIV, whose long reign formed the background of Vieussens’ entire life. It seems that he was highly appreciated by the royal family. The king himself granted Vieussens an annual pension of 1000 livres, leaving him at the same time the freedom of continuing to practice the medical profession. A cousin of Louis XIV, the Duchess of Montpensier, appointed Vieussens as her personal physician. During the following years, Vieussens continued to work at Saint-Eloi Hospital, where he developed an interest in the study of heart anatomy and cardiology. This led to a series of important works. In 1705 he published the Novum vasorum corporis humani systema (“New vessels of the human body”), where he gave an accurate description of the lymphatic and blood vessels of the heart. In particular, he was the first to describe small ducts joining the ventricular cavities to the coronary vessels. Vieussens called these channels “ducti carnosi” (fleshy ducts); as we know today, these channels correspond to the capillaries of the coronary arteries. The other major work on cardiology was the Traité nouveau de la structure et des causes du mouvement naturel du Coeur (“New treatise on the structure of the heart and the causes of its natural motion”), published in 1715, one year before his death. In this work Vieussens described in detail the pericardium, coronary vessels, and muscle fibers of the heart. He also described clearly the clinical picture and the findings at autopsy of patients with mitral valve stenosis and aortic insufficiency. This account was one of the major contributions to the understanding of the pathophysiology of these two clinical conditions.

“Vieussens lived in 17th-century France when his country, under the rule of Louis XIV, became one of the leading powers in Europe. The historical period when Vieussens studied and worked was also marked by the birth of the scientific method as we conceive it today, based on the accurate observation of natural phenomena and the experimental reproducibility of these observations to explain the laws of nature. A generation before Vieussens, Galileo set the basis of modern physics, while William Harvey provided us with the method of physiology. A contemporary of Newton, Leibniz, and Locke, Vieussens shared the scientific spirit of his time.

“The Medical School of Montpellier, in southern France, is one of the most ancient medical schools in Europe, second only to the Schola Salernitana (School of Salerno) in Italy. Medicine was being taught in Montpellier as early as 1181, when Gilhem VIII, lord of the city, established the right of teaching medicine. It was in 1289 that the University of Montpellier was officially founded and recognized by Pope Nicholas IV with the bull “Quia sapientia.” The newly created university incorporated the Schools of Medicine, Theology, and Law and Letters. During the Middle Ages, the School of Medicine increased its reputation, combining the teaching of the Jewish and Arabic traditions and attracting students from all over Europe. Important figures of the time were Arnaud de Villeneuve (1240–1311), physician, alchemist, and theologian, and Gui de Chauliac (c. 1300–1368), physician, surgeon, and author of a well-known treatise on surgery in Latin titled Chirurgia Magna. During the Renaissance the faculty of medicine acquired more independence from the Church, coming progressively under the influence of the state and of the King of France. Possibly because of this autonomy, cadaver dissections were routinely carried out in Montpellier as part of the teaching of human anatomy. This is confirmed by the building in 1556 of the first anatomical amphitheater in France dedicated to the dissection of cadaveric specimens. The use of human cadavers for anatomical studies was a well-established practice in Montpellier, as witnessed by Vieussens himself. In the introduction to the Neurographia Universalis, Vieussens declared that the aim of his medical profession was to investigate the causes of diseases by means of “careful dissections of human cadavers, of which I had large availability” (Vergani et al.).

An ‘editio novissima’ was printed by Certe in 1716. There was a Frankfurt reprint in 1690 and an edition printed at Toulouse in 1775.

En Français dans le Texte 120; Garrison-Morton 1379; Heirs of Hippocrates 641; LeFanu, Notable Medical Books from the Lilly library, p. 95 (second issue); NLM/Krivatsy 12403 (second issue); Norman 2153; Osler 4171; Waller 9961; Wellcome V, p. 350 (second issue). Vergani et al., ‘Raymond de Vieussens and his contribution to the study of white matter anatomy,’ Journal of Neurosurgery 117 (2012), pp. 1070-1075.



Folio (335 x 223 mm) [20, including portrait and ] 1-252 [2:errata] mispaginations: 57 for 55. 22 engraved plates (16 folding) and 8 text engravings, numbered I-XXX in a single series. Portrait engraved by Mathieu Boulanger; plates engraved by Jean Beaudeau and Laurent Spirinx. Contemporary Dutch vellum. A very fine and unrestored copy.

Item #4911

Price: $18,500.00

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