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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.