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Reviewed by:
  • Memoirs on Paris Hospitals
  • Colin Jones
Jacques Tenon. Memoirs on Paris Hospitals. Edited, with introduction, notes, and appendices, by Dora B. Weiner. Canton, Mass.: Science History Publications/U.S.A., 1996. xxxiii + 407 pp. Ill. $39.95.

The Parisian surgeon Jacques Tenon (1724–1816) is perhaps best known for the report on Parisian hospitals that he issued in 1788. Famously proposing that hospitals were in some sense a “measure of civilization,” constituting a yardstick of how different societies treated their poorer, needier, and sicker members, Tenon launched a coruscating critique of the hospitals of the French capital—notably its main hospital for the sick, the Hôtel-Dieu, a quarter of the persons admitted to which died in the institution, often from diseases contracted after entry.

A string of articles in the 1970s by Louis Greenbaum on the debate over the role of pre-Revolutionary French hospitals, plus the work of Michel Foucault and his collaborators in the edited volume Les machines à guérir aux origines de l’hôpital moderne (1979), have made Tenon and his views familiar to a wide historical audience. However, the exact contents of the report itself, not reissued since [End Page 502] 1788, have remained rather ill known. A new edition is therefore particularly welcome. It is surprising—but no less welcome—that this has been provided in English translation (a solid and dependable job, by Professor Weiner herself) rather than through the French original. The translation will allow Tenon a far wider readership among the Anglo-American academic community and burgeoning student historians of medicine. Dora Weiner’s useful introduction supplies the work with a helpful contextualization in terms of eighteenth-century science, medicine, and hospital reform, as well as Tenon’s own life and works, and there is a particularly helpful bibliography.

There is enough in Tenon’s text to cause involuntary shudders at appalling hospital conditions, but shining through the horrors is his precise, thoughtful, improvement-driven mind. Professor Weiner, doyenne of American historians of ancien régime and French Revolutionary medicine and psychiatry, is to be thanked for focusing our attention again on a text that stands not simply as a milestone in hospital history, but as a monument to the humane inclination of Enlightenment science.

Colin Jones
Warwick University

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pp. 502-503
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