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LAENNEC, René Theophile Hyacinthe (1781-1826)

De l’auscultation médiate, ou traité diagnostic des maladies des poumons et du cœur, fondé principalement sur ce nouveau moyen d'exploration. Tome Premier - Second.
Paris, J.-A. Brosson & J.-S. Chaudé, 1819.

First edition, first impression, with the original leaf (cancellandum) a*2 unsigned, and comma after ‘Corvisarto’, etc. (see Norman 1253) of this fundamental work in the history of medicine, which revolutionized the study of the diseases of the thoracic organs. This edition was printed in 2100 copies with a second impression of 1500 copies. The stethoscope, now the most familiar instrument used by the physician, was invented by Laennec. Originally simply a roll of stiff paper applied to the chest of the patient in order to amplify the sounds of the heart’s action, this simple invention effected the greatest advance in physical diagnosis between Auenbrugger’s percussion and Röntgen’s X-rays. Laennec soon replaced it with a tube of cedar wood, which is reproduced in one of the plates. Although his book met with a cold reception by his immediate colleagues, the first edition of 3500 copies was soon sold out. His foreign colleagues greeted his discovery with much enthusiasm and soon physicians from all over Europe crowded in the Necker Hospital to hear his ideas on auscultation. Remarkable as his invention was, what he did with it was even more important. While listening to the movements of the heart and the lungs, he learned to understand the significance of the various sounds, for which he created a terminology. In 1826 the second enlarged edition appeared, which is even more imporatnt. There he gives not only the physical signs, but the whole pathology, diagnosis and treatment of the diseases of the chest and heart. He virtually created the modern science of the respiratory organs and their diseases. His brilliant descriptions of bronchitis, pneumonia, gangrene and oedema of the lungs, emphysema, tuberculosis, cancer of the lung and other diseases, have in many respects remained unsurpassed until today.

Collation: Vol. I: pp (5), viii-xlviii, 456, (8), with 4 folding engraved plates, numbered i-iv; vol. II: pp xvi, 472.

Binding: Two volumes. Contemporary half calf, gilt, marbled boards with the gilt stamp of ‘Sv. Läkare Sällskapet’ on front covers.

Provenance: In 1819 the surgeon Carl Johan Ekström (enobled Ekströmer), who had just retired as librarian for the Swedish Society of Medicine (SLS), went on a study trip to Paris. There he visited Bichet, bookseller at Rue l’Ecole de Médecine, and ordered a number of books to be sent home to the new librarian. Among them was this copy of Laennec’s newly published work (at Francs 13/3) and also a stethoscope (at Francs 3). At a Tuesday meeting at the SLS in 1820 Laennec’s important observations were discussed with a demonstration of the new instrument.

References: Garrison & Morton 2673, 3219, 3614; Grolier, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine, 57; Norman 1253, 1254; Major, Classic, p 68; Printing and the Mind of Man 280; Lilly Library, Notable Medical Books, p 173; Willius & Keys, pp 323-82; Dibner, Heralds of Science 129; Hagelin, SLS, pp 142-43; Weber 121/188 (2005). Waller 5491.

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