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Medieval Surgery

Even this brief account of the surgeons who taught and studied at the
medieval universities demonstrates what fine work they did. It is surely
not too much to say that the chapter on university education mainly
concerned with them is one of the most interesting in the whole history
of the universities. Their story alone is quite enough to refute most of
the prevalent impressions and patronizing expressions with regard to
medieval education. Their careers serve to show how interested were the
men of many nations in the development of an extremely important
application of science for the benefit of suffering humanity. Their work
utterly contradicts the idea so frequently emphasized that the great
students of the Middle Ages were lacking in practicalness. Besides,
they make very clear that we have been prone to judge the Middle Ages
too much from its speculative philosophies. It has been the custom to
say that speculation ruled men's minds and prevented them from making
observations, developing science, or applying scientific principles.
There was much speculation during the Middle Ages, but probably not any
more in proportion than exists at the present day. We were either not
acquainted with, or failed to appreciate properly, until comparatively
recent years, the other side of medieval accomplishment. Our ignorance
led us into misunderstanding of what these generations really did. It
was our own fault, because during the Renaissance practically all of
these books were edited and printed under the direction of the great
scholars of the time in fine editions, but during the eighteenth century
nearly all interest was lost in them, and we are only now beginning to
get back a certain amount of the precious knowledge that they had in the
Renaissance period of this other side of medieval life. We have learned
so much about surgery because distinguished scholars devoted themselves
to this phase of the history of science. Doubtless there are many other
phases of the history of science which suffered the same fate of neglect
and with regard to which the future will bring us equally startling
revelations. For this reason this marvellous chapter in the history of
surgery is a warning as well as a startling record of a marvellous epoch
of human progress.

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