Boerhaave's doctrines were arranged into a "system" by Friedrich Hoffmann, of Halle (1660-1742), this system having the merit of being simple and more easily comprehended than many others. In this system forces were considered inherent in matter, being expressed as mechanical movements, and determined by mass, number, and weight. Similarly, forces express themselves in the body by movement, contraction, and relaxation, etc., and life itself is movement, "particularly movement of the heart." Life and death are, therefore, mechanical phenomena, health is determined by regularly recurring movements, and disease by irregularity of them. The body is simply a large hydraulic machine, controlled by "the aether" or "sensitive soul," and the chief centre of this soul lies in the medulla.
In the practical application of medicines to diseases Hoffman used simple remedies, frequently with happy results, for whatever the medical man's theory may be he seldom has the temerity to follow it out logically, and use the remedies indicated by his theory to the exclusion of long-established, although perhaps purely empirical, remedies. Consequently, many vague theorists have been excellent practitioners, and Hoffman was one of these. Some of the remedies he introduced are still in use, notably the spirits of ether, or "Hoffman's anodyne."
ANIMISTS, VITALISTS, AND ORGANICISTS
Besides Hoffman's system of medicine, there were numerous others during the eighteenth century, most of which are of no importance whatever; but three, at least, that came into existence and disappeared during the century are worthy of fuller notice. One of these, the Animists, had for its chief exponent Georg Ernst Stahl of "phlogiston" fame; another, the Vitalists, was championed by Paul Joseph Barthez (1734-1806); and the third was the Organicists. This last, while agreeing with the other two that vital activity cannot be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry, differed in not believing that life "was due to some spiritual entity," but rather to the structure of the body itself.
The Animists taught that the soul performed functions of ordinary life in man, while the life of lower animals was controlled by ordinary mechanical principles. Stahl supported this theory ardently, sometimes violently, at times declaring that there were "no longer any doctors, only mechanics and chemists." He denied that chemistry had anything to do with medicine, and, in the main, discarded anatomy as useless to the medical man. The soul, he thought, was the source of all vital movement; and the immediate cause of death was not disease but the direct action of the soul. When through some lesion, or because the machinery of the body has become unworkable, as in old age, the soul leaves the body and death is produced. The soul ordinarily selects the channels of the circulation, and the contractile parts, as the route for influencing the body. Hence in fever the pulse is quickened, due to the increased activity of the soul, and convulsions and spasmodic movements in disease are due, to the, same cause. Stagnation of the, blood was supposed to be a fertile cause of diseases, and such diseases were supposed to arise mostly from "plethora"--an all-important element in Stahl's therapeutics. By many this theory is regarded as an attempt on the part of the pious Stahl to reconcile medicine and theology in a way satisfactory to both physicians and theologians, but, like many conciliatory attempts, it was violently opposed by both doctors and ministers.
A belief in such a theory would lead naturally to simplicity in therapeutics, and in this respect at least Stahl was consistent. Since the soul knew more about the body than any physician could know, Stahl conceived that it would be a hinderance rather than a help for the physician to interfere with complicated doses of medicine. As he advanced in age this view of the administration of drugs grew upon him, until after rejecting quinine, and finally opium, he at last used only salt and water in treating his patients. From this last we may judge that his "system," if not doing much good, was at least doing little harm.
The theory of the Vitalists was closely allied to that of the Animists, and its most important representative, Paul Joseph Barthez, was a cultured and eager scientist. After an eventful and varied career as physician, soldier, editor, lawyer, and philosopher in turn, he finally returned to the field of medicine, was made consulting physician by Napoleon in 1802, and died in Paris four years later.
The theory that he championed was based on the assumption that there was a "vital principle," the nature of which was unknown, but which differed from the thinking mind, and was the cause of the phenomena of life. This "vital principle" differed from the soul, and was not exhibited in human beings alone, but even in animals and plants. This force, or whatever it might be called, was supposed to be present everywhere in the body, and all diseases were the results of it.