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AUENBRUGGER, Leopold (1722–1809)

Inventum novum et percussione thoracis humani ut signo abstrusos interni pectoris morbos detegendi.
Vindobonæ, typis Joannis Thomæ Trattner, 1761.

First edition, first issue, without the errata on F8 verso (last page). ”This small book is one of the greatest of all medical classics and contains the results of Auenbrugger’s experiences with a new method of physical diagnosis – thoracic percussion” (Heirs of Hippocrates). Leopold Auenbrugger was born in Graz, Austria. His father was an inn-keeper and according to an old tradition, young Leopold, having to find the level of the wine in his father’s casks by thumping the barrel – ”casks as long as they are empty are resonant everywhere, but when they are filled lose their resonance in proportion as the volume of air they contain is diminished”. Applying the same technique to the human chest, he noticed that different sounds – tympanitic, dull, or obscure – were produced when there was underlying disease of the heart or lungs in the interior of the chest. Auenbrugger studied medicine at the University of Vienna, where he was a pupil of Gerhard van Swieten. From 1751 to 1762 he was connected with the Spanish Military Hospital in Vienna, the largest and finest in the Austrian capital. In 1754 he first noted the difference in sounds produced by striking the wall of the chest in various places. He was undoubtedly aided in developing this diagnostic technique by his musical knowledge (he was an accomplished musician and wrote the libretto to Antonio Salieri´s opera Der Rauchfangkehrer / The Chimney-Sweep, performed in Vienna in 1781). He verified his diagnosis by experiments on cadavers and by postmortems. After seven years of research, he published his results in 1761, in a small book of 95 pages. Although his discovery was extremely important, the book attracted little attention from the medical community. Even his own teacher, professor van Swieten, for whom Auenbrugger had the highest respect, was not impressed by the remarkable new aid to diagnosis. Later Maximilian Stoll described the method in his publications and systematically taught it at the bedside and in 1770 the book was translated into French by Roziere de la Chassagne, Auenbrugger’s work seems, however, to have been practically unknown until Jean Francois Corvisart revived the discovery in his well-known translation into French, which was published in 1808, forty-seven years after its first appearance. With Corvisart’s own volumnious commentaries (a book of 440 pages) the news of Auenbrugger’s classic discovery was quickly carried throughout the medical world. Auenbrugger’s Inventum novum, published when he was thirty-nine, did not make him famous until he was eighty-six. Although modern methods, including X-rays, have to a great extent replaced manual percussion, Auenbrugger’s discovery remains one of the milestones in the history of medicine.

Collation: Pp. [1-11] 12-95, [1] blank.

Binding: Entirely untrimmed with the original blank wrappers preserved. Bound in later marbled cloth, dark green morocco spine label with gilt title (Gustaf Hedberg).

References: Garrison-Morton 2672; Grolier, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine, 45; Norman 81; Lilly Library, Notable Medical Books, p 127; Willius & Key, pp 190-213 Major, Classic Descriptions (1932) p. 525; Osler 1863; Heirs of Hippocrates 954; DSB, I, pp 332-33. Waller 519.

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