Site display: Normal | Text Only

My Collection | About Us | Teachers

People

Select from the menus below to find out more about a particular person.

Thomas Sydenham (1624-89)

English physician Thomas Sydenham stressed the importance of bedside practice and observation. Sydenham was a zealous puritan. His studies at Oxford were cut short by the Civil War, during which he served with the parliamentary army. He was probably seriously injured during the war, which may have prompted his interest in medicine. Sydenham continued to work in government service after the war. He also pursued medical studies, possibly largely self-taught. Sydenham was finally licensed in 1663 and favoured practical experience over book learning. He rejected on religious grounds attempts such as pathological anatomy and microscopic analysis to uncover the hidden causes of disease. He argued God only gave man the ability to perceive the outer nature of things with his senses. Sydenham valued methodical observation and practical experience of medicine over a search for causes. He developed the concept of ‘species’ of disease to improve medical diagnosis by describing and classifying different illnesses. Sydenham’s classification of diseases was incorporated into learned medicine, especially by renowned medical scholars such as Herman Boerhaave.

 

Bibliography

H J Cook, ‘Sydenham, Thomas (bap. 1624, d. 1689)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26864, accessed 2 Oct 2009]

C Lawrence, ‘Thomas Sydenham’, in W F Bynum and H Bynum (eds), Dictionary of Medical Biography, Vol. 5 (Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 2007),  pp 1209-12

A J Cain, ‘Thomas Sydenham, John Ray, and Some Contemporaries on Species’, Archives of Natural History, 26/1 (1999), pp 55-83

Glossary:

Microscopy

The use of microscopes to study objects or samples. The three major types of microscopy are optical, electron and scanning probe microscopy.