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Jean Baptiste Sжnac
(1693-1770)


Positions Held

Royal physician
Counsellor of state

Biographical

A French physician, nothing definite is known about Sénac from his birth to the date of publication of his first work in 1724, but it is said that at first, encouraged by his parents, he decided to study for the ministry. Later he changed his studies to medicine. There is no definite knowledge as to where or when Sénac studied medicine, and it was said that he received his Bachelor’s degree from the Faculty de Paris, but this was thought to be an error as his name did not appear in the 'Commentaries of the Faculty' or in Baron’s list of recipients of the Bachelor’s or Doctor’s degree of the Faculty.

Sénac, it is known, accepted the appointment of consulting physician to the King in 1738 and on his first publication he signed himself as a member of the faculty of the University of Montpellier, which Noж Legrand called the oldest university in Europe. According to Degris, it is believed that Sénac came to Paris when he was about thirty years of age. There, he published his first work in 1724, a translation of Holster’s Anatomy. In 1724 and 1725 he communicated before the Royal Academy of Sciences two memoirs On the Organs of Respiration and On Drowning. In 1724 he became an associate member of this academy.

In 1727 he published an appreciative account showing the different methods of the lithotomists entitled Discours sur la méthode de France et sur celle de M. Rau touchant I’opération de la taille. Sénac published many more interesting contributions, but none is as famous as his Traité de la structure du coeur of 1749.

Sénac moved to Versailles in 1733 where he became physician to the Royal House of Saint-Cyr and to the Royal Hospital of Versailles. In 1745 he cured the great French general, Maurice, comte de Saxe, of a serious disease and later accompanied him on his campaigns In 1751, after the death of Maurice, Sénac became chief physician to the duc d'Orléans and in 1752, after the death of Chicoyneau, he became chief physician to Louis XV. He treated the dauphin during his illness from smallpox in 1752, and again during the young man’s fatal illness from tuberculosis in 1765. In addition to the members of the court he numbered among his patients Madame do Pompadour.

In 1760 and again in 1761, Voltaire addressed two letters to Sénac. The first supported Sénac's memoir on a certain contagious disease which had devastated the country around Ferney, and the second was a missive of thanks to the 'chief physician' for his good work in aiding some people who lived close to a contaminated marsh. Louis XV appointed Sénac counsellor of state and superintendent of the mineral waters and medicinals of the kingdom.

Sénac's fame in cardiology rests| on his important work first published in 1749 in two volumes, Traité de la structure du coeur, de son action et de ses maladies. A second edition of this valuable work appeared in 1777, seven years after the author’s death. He died at the age of seventy-seven years, and was survived by two sons, one of whom, Gabriel Sénac de Meilhon (1736-1803), was a writer and was invited to Russia in 1792 by the Empress Catherine II, and the other of whom was a superintendent of agricultural revenues.

Place of birth: Lombez, Gascony
Place of death: Paris

 

 
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Sources

1. F.A. Willius; T.E. Keys. Cardiac Classics. St. Louis: The C.V. Mosby Company, 1941.

2. D. Hoefer, ed. Nouvelle Biographie Générale, vol. 43. Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1864
 

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