…. as for burns caused by gunpowder, I have never found anything special that distinguishes their treatment from that of other burns.
I then told him [Sylvius]1 this story about a kitchen boy of monsieur le Marshal de Montejan who fell into a cauldron of almost boiling oil. When this happened I was sent for and at once went to ask an apothecary for the refrigerant medicines that one was accustomed to apply to burns. A good old village woman, hearing that I was speaking of this burn, advised me to apply, for the first dressing, (for fear that pustules or blisters would result), raw onions crushed with a little salt; I asked the old woman if she had used this in the past and she answered, in her dialect, ‘Yes, sir, by God’s faith’. Then I was agreeable to trying the experiment on this kitchen scullion; and, truly, the next day, the places where the onions had been had no blisters or pustules, and where they had not been all was blistered.
Some time later a German of the guard of the said seigneur de Montejan was very drunk and his flask 2 caught fire and caused great damage to his hands and face, and I was called to dress him. I applied onions to one half of his face and the usual remedies to the other. At the second dressing I found the side where I had applied the onions to have no blisters nor scarring and the other side to be all blistered; and so I planned to write about the effects of these onions.
Now, at that time I was very inexperienced because I had not yet seen the treatment of wounds made by the arquebus; it is true that I had read in the first book of Jean de Vigo3 about wounds in general, chapter 8, that wounds made by firearms are poisoned because of the powder and for their cure he commands that they be cauterized with oil of elderberry to which a little treacle4 should be added. Not to fail in the use of this burning oil and knowing that such treatment could be extremely painful for the wounded, I wanted to know before I used it how the other surgeons carried out the first dressing; this they did by applying the said oil as nearly boiling as possible to the wounds using tents and setons5 so I plucked up courage to do likewise.
At last I ran out of oil and was constrained to apply a digestive6 made of egg yolk, oil of roses and turpentine. That night I could not sleep easily thinking that by the default in cautery I would find the wounded to whom I had failed to apply the said oil dead of poisoning; and this made me get up at first light to visit them. Beyond my hopes I found those on whom I had put the digestive dressing feeling little pain from their wounds which were not swollen or inflamed, and having spent quite a restful night. But the others, to whom the said oil had been applied, I found fevered, with great pain and swelling around their wounds.
From then I resolved never again so cruelly to burn poor men wounded with arquebus shot.
Ambroise Paré (1510-1590)
A number of Paré’s works contain his portrait. This image of Paré aged 55, is taken from a digital copy of : Paré, A. 1573 Deux livres de chirurgie, de la génération de l’homme, & maniére d’extraire les enfans hors du ventre de la mére. Paris : chez André Wechel from the Gallica server, Bibliothéque Nationale de France and is reproduced with permission. The image has been lightly cleaned digitally to remove dust and scratch marks.
Title page of the second part of Vigo’s surgical treatise, Compendiosa, containing summaries of material dealt with at greater length in the first part, the Copiosa; French translation (1525) by Nicolas Godin of Vigo’s Latin text. This is almost certainly the edition to which Paré refers when he says he had read Vigo on the treatment of gunshot wounds before the campaign into northern Italy of 1537.
We have said in our copieuse [first part of the book on surgery] that the claws and teeth of beasts are venomous and that wounds made by firearms are infected with venom because of the powder and the treatment of the said wounds does not differ greatly. To come quickly to the treatment: if the wound is made by a horse, by a monkey or by a dog, or by a similar beast and given that the wound is large: one must cauterize the place with oil of elderberry with which should be mixed a little tiriaca galeni [treacle]. And, for wounds made by firearms it suffices to cauterize the place with oil of elderberry or with linseed oil ……….
Since it was his new method of treating gunshot wounds that made his international reputation, it is not surprising that the first English translation of any of Paré’s works was a version of his treatise on this subject translated by Walter Hammond, an English surgeon. Since Hammond mentions Paré’s ‘booke of voyages and travels’ which first appeared in the 1585 edition of the Oeuvres it is clear that the translation was made from one of the French editions of the work published between 1585 and 1614. The ‘man of wounds’ on the title page does not appear in any of Paré’s own works but versions of it appear in other works of the period on surgery. Hammond’s translation is now exceedingly rare; only two copies are known and one of these is imperfect. The image below is from the copy in the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford with whose permission it is shown here.
This translation, first published in 1634, went through a number of editions. It is unfortunate that this, the only fairly complete English edition of Paré’s works, was derived from the less than perfect Latin editions; though the title claims ‘compared with the French’ it seems that Johnson’s French was not equal to the task. In spite of this, the Jacobean English of the translation suits Paré’s often racy style very well and the book is in many ways delightful, if not always very accurate. It also contains Paré’s Apology and Treatise, his fascinating account of his travels and military adventures first published in the Oeuvres of 1585, translated from the French by George Baker. The image below is from the copy in the Library of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.
The editors are grateful to:
The Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris for permission to reproduce images from the digital copies of Nicolas Godin’s 1525 French translation of the surgical treatise of Giovanni de Vigo, and the portrait from Paré’s Deux livres de chirurgie, Paris 1573, both on the Gallica Server, BNF (http://gallica.bnf.fr/).
The Alfred Taubman Medical Library at the University of Michigan for the image of the title page’s of Paré’s Oeuvres (1575).
The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh for making available the portrait of Ambroise Paré (1510-1590).
The Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford for the image of the title page of Hammond’s Method of curing wounds made by gun-shot (1617).