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UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


Information on the UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


“Deafness, like gutta serena, is sometimes produced by inordinate seminal discharges” Antoine Saissy 1756-1822

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 22 September 2017

Saissy FrenchBorn on the 2nd of February 1756, in Mougins, near Grasse in Provence, Jean Antoine Saissy had originally intended to become a planter, but coming across some medical books, he determined on a medical career, travelling to Paris to study (Montain, p.8ff).  He was then twenty two years old, with only a village education, combined with his own book-learning (ibid.p.9).  From 1777 to 1782 he studied under various famous professors, including Chopart and Pelletan.  He went on to serve as a physician and surgeon major with the Compagnie royale d’Afrique on the Barbary coast.  He attended to a child of the ‘Dey of Constantinople’ (possibly an error for Bey of Constantin?), who wanted him to stay.  Saissy however, returned to France, and in 1789 (the English version says 1798 which seems to be an error) defended his thesis on inoculation for small pox before the ‘Chirugical College of Lyons,’ and became a Doctor of Medicine with the University of Valence.  He married the daughter of M. Thenance, a doctor who had invented some obstetric forceps, and devoted himself to that area of medicine for a time.  In 1810 he wrote an essay on Croup, one of the first to do so.

He seems to have been a polymath, in 1811 presenting at the Institut de France a ‘memoir’ on the extraction of light by the condensation of gas.  Quite what that means I am not sure.  He also worked on a study of hibernation, with dormice and marmots (ibid p.12 -13).

It was not until the last twelve years of his life that he devoted himself to diseases of the ear.  Weir and Mudry tell us that Saissy was “the first person to propose introducing a piece of catgut into an artificial perforation of the tympanic membrane to avoid its closure.”

In his introduction to deafness, he repeats this curious form of treatment;

A Bavarian bath-keeper, mentioned by Sckinkius,* devised a singular method of curing deafness.  He plunged the patient into a warm bath, to produce turgescence in the little veins which run behind the ear.  When these were sufficiently apparent he opened them with the point of a lancet and drew a considerable quantity of blood, to the great relief of the patients on whom he practised the evacuation.  This remedy may have some success in cases of sanguineous plethora of the organ of hearing. (p.24-5)

As his 4th of 15 listed causes of deafness, Saissy says

Deafness, like gutta serena, is sometimes produced by inordinate seminal discharges.  Sylvaticus cites a remarkable instance of deafness supervening upon excessive indulgence in venereal pleasures. (p.21)

In other words, it makes you deaf as well as blind!  I suppose that he is not thinking of veneral disease, which can have those effects.

Saissy died on the 5th of March, 1822.  He seems to have been rather forgotten but is deserving of better treatment than I have space or time to give him here.

head section LaissyAbove, the only illustration in his book, a section of the head showing it is a vertical section.

As an addendum, it is interesting to note the protection of copyright notice given by the U.S.A. in the front of the English translation from Maryland.

US copyright*Schenkius, a Swiss doctor (1530-98)

Saissy, J.A., Essai sur les maladies de l’oreille interne.  Paris, (1827) [first published in a briefer essay in 1819]

Saissy, Antoine, An Essay on the Diseases of the Internal Ear.  Baltimore, (translated, 1829)

Montain, Biographic Notice, in An Essay on the Diseases of the Internal Ear, p.9-15. 

Mudry, Albert.  The tympanostomy tube: An ingenious invention of the mid 19th century.  International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology Volume 77, Issue 2, February 2013, p. 153-157

Weir, Neil, & Mudry, Albert.  Otorhinolaryngology, An Illustrated History, 2013.


Andreas Elias Büchner – “the deaf person may hear very well, on holding, by the lower rim, a beer-glass, to the upper teeth”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 27 November 2015

Buchner 2Andreas Elias Büchner was a German doctor, born in Erfurt in 1701 and who died in Halle in 1769.  He was educated at the protestant school, then went on to study at the universities of Erfurt, Halle and Leipzig.  He became a member of the Prussian Academy of Science in 1738, and a professor at Halle University in 1744.  He was a follower of the Halle doctor and chemist, Friedrich Hoffmann.

Büchner’s book is on “An easy and very practicable method to enable deaf persons to hear: together with a brief account of, and some reflections and observations upon, the several attempts formerly made for the benefit of such persons.”

He says,

I shall relate the several means devised, in order to amend this sense, when impaired, or retrieve it, when intirely lost ; or by help of the other senses, and a tolerable degree of understanding in the patient, to render its loss, in some measure, more tolerable : and lastly, I shall select, among the several methods proposed, that, which to me appears, to be the easiest and most simple.  But, previous to this, I shall briefly explain the reasons of the principal defects of the sense of hrearing, both from their causes, and from the structure of the outer and inner ear ; and then more accurately determine the greater or less utility of the methods hitherto employed, in order to amend these defects. (p.iii-iv of English translation)

File:Andreas Elias Buchner.jpg

He discusses Amman’s oral method –

indeed, the accurate attention to, and careful imitation of, all the particular motions requisite to the articulation of sounds, constitute the whole of Amman’s method.  As in this, or in any other method of the same kind, the organs of hearing contribute nothing to the effect, it may indeed, be employed in all the defects and imperfections of the auditory organs, by which either deafness or a difficulty of hearing is produced.  This method, is however, subject to several considerable imperfections, which render it greatly inferior to the following methods, by which the auditory nerve itself is made at the same time to be affected. (p.20)

He discusses Sebastian Truchel’s ‘acoustic drum’ that he had demonstrated to the Royal Academy of Science in Paris in 1718 -“A person hard of hearing in both ears, may, by means of a semicircle of brass or silver, which goes round the hinder part of the head, under the hair or peruke, fasten two such drums to his ears” (p. 24-5).  He talks of other methods of ‘hearing’ vibration – “Conrad Victor Scheider, so celebrated for his description of the mucose glands of the nose, in his book, De ossibus temporum, published at Wittemburg in 1653, in 8vo, p. 43, relates the same thing of some peasants, who sticking their staves in the earth, held one end in their teeth” (p. 28).  Further on he says, “the deaf person may hear very well, on holding, by the lower rim, a beer-glass, to the upper teeth” (p.42).

His method of getting someone to ‘hear’ seems to have involved feeling vibrarions via some material – essentially using bone conduction.  The German original is much longer than the English version, so there may well be much more to it.

Andreas Büchner had a correspondence with Linnaeus.  In 1760, just after the book here was published, he wrote saying that he had not answered Linnaeus earlier as at the beginning of August, Austrian troops had invaded Halle and the surrounding country.  The summary of the letter tells us that they

“extorted a heavy tax, more than 300,000 imperial thalers, from the inhabitants, even the professors, before they left at the end of October.  About then, the painter and engraver Gottfried August Gründler had been taken ill and lain in bed for several weeks so that Büchner could not get the delineation of a Cancer [presumably a crab] that he wanted to send to Linnaeus.”

Büchner asked him for a specimen of particular butterfly that featured in the 10th edition of Systemma Naturae.  Buchner 1

On this page he discusses the history of deaf education, covering Peter Pontius, Paul Bonnet, John Wallis,  and so on.

I found very little on Andreas Elias Büchner on a brief search.  Perhaps he is a forgotten figure in the history of science, or perhaps he is only marginal.    If you have had an opportunity to read the original book in full, please make a comment.

Curiously there is a modern Andreas Büchner who works on hearing – an onomastic nominative determinism? http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/lary.23214/abstract

[Picture of Büchner from Wikimedia Commons]

Wikipedia entry

An easy and very practicable method to enable deaf persons to hear: together with a brief account of, and some reflections and observations upon, the several attempts formerly made for the benefit of such persons.  London, MDCCLXX. [1770]. Available from Eighteenth Century Texts, online.

Abhandlung von einer besonderen und leichten Art, Taube hörend zu machen : Nebst noch einigen andern vormals besonders bekannt gemachten Medicinischen Abhandlungen.  Published in Halle in two parts, 1759 & 1760

Zelle, Carsten, Experiment, Observation, Self-observation.  Empiricism and the ‘Reasonable Physicians’ of the Early Enlightenment. Zelle / Early Science and Medicine 18 (2013) 453-470.

“Mr. Greaterick stroked him again, rubbed his Body all over with Spittle” – An account of Mr. Greaterick and his Miraculous Cures.

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 25 September 2015

Lincolnshire born Henry Stubbe or Stubbes (1632-76) grew up in Ireland after his ‘anabaptistically inclined’ father was expelled from his living as Rector of Partney.  His mother took him to London in 1641 after the rising, and he attended Westminster School where he excelled at languages.  The OED entry says “Stubbe’s sharp tongue and conceit often caused him to be ‘kick’d and beaten’ by his fellow students and, on one occasion at least, publicly whipped in the college’s refectory ” (ODNB).  After his BA and then serving in the Parliamentary army for two years, Stubbes returned to Oxford and was was appointed deputy keeper of the Bodleian Library (ibid).  Around this time he became friends with various luminaries of the time including Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Willis, a founder member of the Royal Society.  After studying medicine and writing The Indian Nectar, or, A Discourse Concerning Chocolata (1662), he eventually settled in Warwickshire.  It was there that he came across Valentine Greaterick or  Greatrakes and wrote a book about him.  The Miraculous Conformist, or An account or severall Marvailous Cures performed by the stroaking of the Hands of Mr. Valentine Greaterick, with a Physicall Discourse thereupon, in a Letter to the Honourable Robert Boyle Esq. (1666).  Greaterick 0 001

This book, which begins with an address to Willis, has really very little to do with deafness, apart from this short gem, which probably explains why Selwyn Oxley added it to the collection –

I saw him put his Finger into the Eares of a man who was very think of Hearing; and immediately he heard me when I asked him very softly severall questions. I saw another whom he had touched three Weeks agoe for a Deadnesse in one Eare, who I had known to be so many years: I stopped the other Eare very close, and I found him to hear very well, as we spoke in a tone no way raysed beyond our ordinary conversation.(p.6)

Greaterick was a ‘stroker’, using his hands to rub the body of the patient and effect a ‘cure’ by rubbing the sickness out, perhaps through the toes.  Stubbes was at pains to say that any cures were through God and not the devil, and that Greaterick prayed – “I observed that he used no manner of Charmes, or unlawful words; sometimes he Ejaculated a short prayer before he cured any, and always after he had done he bad them give God the Praise.” (p.8).  People noticed that he smelt fragrant, and “Dean Rust observed his Urine to smell like Violets, though he had eat nothing that might give it that scent.” (p.11).

the notion I have concerning Mr. Greatericks is the most facile, for I imagine no more to be in him, than a particular Temperament, or implanted Ferment, which upon his touching and stroking shall so farre invigorate the blood, spirits, and innate temperament of the part (Nature being only oppressed) that they performe their usuall duties: This being done, it is Nature Cures the Diseases and distempers and infirmities, it is Nature makes them fly up and down the Body so as they do: they avoyd not his Hand, but his Touch and stroke so invigorateth the parts that they reject the Heterogenous Ferment, ’till it be outed the Body at some of those parts he is thought to stroke it out at.

Considering that our life is but a Fermentation of the Blood, nervous Liquor, and innate constitution of the parts of our Body, I conceive I have represented those hints and proofs which may render it imaginable that Mr. Greatericks by his stroking may introduce an oppressed Fermentation into the Blood and Nerves, and resuscitate the oppressed Nature of the parts. (p.14)

It is easy to laugh now but these were days before modern medicine when any attention for a desperate person from someone who might effect a treatment would be welcome.  However I cannot resist a few more examples.  Greaterick is supposed to have cured, in the presence of Lord Conway, a boy of fourteen of leprosy.

Mr. Greaterick stroked him again, rubbed his Body all over with Spittle.  My Lord ordered the Boy to return, if he were not Cured: but he came no more (p.28).

We are not told whose saliva, but anyway the dice are loaded – he should have had the boy return if cured.

A woman of Worcester having a paine driven into those parts which modesty would not permit her to let Mr. Greaterick stroke: she went away as if she had been cured, but is since sick of an intolerable pain there.  Such consequences are usuall, when the Disease is not stroked out (p.29).

Stubbe later fell out with the nascent Royal Society – “Not only did Stubbe believe that the protagonists’ claims regarding the utility of science were vastly exaggerated, but he was convinced that their inflammatory rhetoric seriously threatened the humanist culture of the universities, the erudite foundations upon which protestantism rested, as well as the medical profession.” (ODNB)  Stubbes, who clearly had a talent for controversy, drowned in a shallow River near Bath, as his friend Anthony Wood wrote, “‘his head being then intoxicated with bibbing, but more with talking, and snuffing of powder’” (quoted in ODNB).

Below, Greaterick stokes Lord Arlington – click for a larger image.

Greaterick 1 001Mordechai Feingold, ‘Stubbe , Henry (1632–1676)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26734, accessed 25 Sept 2015]

Carl B. Estabrook, ‘Stubbes , Henry (1605/6–1678)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26735, accessed 25 Sept 2015]

Syphilis and Deafness – “A Tragic Case”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 25 January 2013

Treponema pallidum is the bacterium that causes syphilis.  Until 1905 there was no effective treatment.  It is not always sexually transmitted and can be congenital as seems to be the case in the paragraph  below.  It can cause deafness, but whether the deafness in this example was a result of syphilis or from some other cause we cannot of course say.

In the memoirs of Fred Gilby we come across the following story (dated ca. 1889), entitled ‘A Tragic Case’;

Here I may tell […]about the saddest case I have ever come across, and I am now looking back over something like fifty years and more, – there was, in the Bow and Bromley Workhouse Infirmary a poor deaf and dumb woman, her husband was the same and they had deaf and dumb children – so far the case was distressing enough – – (we will not disclose the name.  It would be unkind to the children who are now living).  Then this poor creature began to develop syphilitic symptoms in the wrists and ankles, and one by one her arms and legs had to be amputated.  I remember that at the last she was reduced to catching a piece of slate pencil which dangled from above, between her teeth and then writing with it upon a slate – the slate of course had been fixed at a convenient angle.  We however could be understood by her easily enough through the sign language which she could see us using.  Her faith held out to the end.  The sins of her parents had indeed been visited upon her.  She was mercifully taken not long after.  R.I.P.  Quite an appreciable proportion of deaf people owe their affliction to the disease indicated. We veil it under the name of Hutchinsonian symptoms. If the reader wishes to pursue the subject further he should read Dr. Kerr Love’s Lectures on Deaf Mutism procurable from the National Institute for the Deaf.  I have come across some who refused to believe that this disease is ever inherited among the deaf.  A member of the committee of a school for the deaf in the north of England denied it with his heart, while the head master of the school quietly pointed out to me a score of such cases.

The ‘Hutchinsonian symptoms’ are named after Sir Jonathan Hutchinson. He “was the first to describe his triad of medical signs for congenital syphilis: notched incisor teeth, labyrinthine deafness and interstitial keratitis” (Wikipedia).  The discovery of penicillin greatly reduced the disease in the 1940s but the last decade has seen it begin to increase again. There is increasing concern in medical circles about the overuse of antibiotics which are our only effective tools against many diseases that are now becoming resistant through their wasteful or pointless overuse.

In his book The Diseases of the Ear, regarding hereditary syphilis, Toynbee says that deafness from that had at Guy’s Hospital

furnished more than one twentieth of the aural patients. […] The patients present the now familiar aspect of hereditary syphilis and have, in every case I have met with, suffered from impaired vision before the deafness has arisan.  This makes its appearance generally between the 10th and 16th year; about, but not precisely coinciding with, the perion of puberty.  The great majority of cases that I have seen have been in females.  […] I know of no other affection, except fever, which in a person under 20 brings on a deafness so prapid or nearly complete. (Toynbee, p.461)

Of course we are talking about “the poorer classes of the community” here (ibid).  He adds later, “In the wealthier ranks the symptoms are often much lkess marked” (p.462)!

[Post updated 24/11/2016 with Toynbee quotes]

F.W.G. Gilby, Seventy-two years among the deaf and dumb

Dr. Kerr Love,  Lectures on Deaf Mutism

Jospeh Toynbee, The Diseases of the Ear, their Nature, Diagnosis and Treatment. 1868 edition

Mary Ingle Wright, The pathology of  deafness, MUP 1971