Professor Clifford Allbutt, reviewing the practice of these North Italian surgeons of the thirteenth century, says :*
" They washed the wound with wine, scrupulously removing every foreign particle; then they brought the edges together, not allowing wine nor anything else to remain within—dry adhesive surfaces were their desire. Nature, they said, produces the means of union in a viscous exudation —or natural balm, as it was afterwards called by Paracelsus, Pare, and Wurtz. In older wounds they did their best to obtain union by cleansing, desiccation, and refreshing of the edges. Upon the outer surface they laid only lint steeped in wine. Powder they regarded as too desiccating, for powder shuts in decomposing matters; wine, after washing, purifying, and drying the raw surfaces, evaporates".
Theodoric wrote in 1266 on that question that so much disturbed the surgeons of the generations before ours, as to whether pjj^was a natural development in the healing of wounds or not. While laudable pus was for centuries after his time supposedly a scientific doctrine, Theodoric did not think so, and emphatically insisted that such teaching represented a great error. He said: " For it is not necessary, as Roger and Roland have written, as many of their disciples teach, and as all modern surgeons profess, that pus should be generated in wounds. No error can be greater than this. Such a practice is indeed to hinder nature, to prolong the disease, and to prevent the conglutination and consolidation of the wound." The italics in the word modern are mine, but the whole expression might well have been used by some early advocate of antisepsis, or even by Lord Lister himself. Just six centuries almost to the year would separate the two declarations, yet they would be just as true at one time as at another. When we learn that Theodoric was proud of the beautiful cicatrices which his father had obtained without the use of any ointment—pulcherrimas cicatrices sine unguento inducebat — then, further, that he impugned the use of poultices and of oils in wounds, while powders were too drying, and besides had a tendency to prevent drainage (the literal meaning of the Latin words he employs, saniem incarcerare, is to " incarcerate sanious material "), it is easy to understand that the claim that antiseptic surgery was anticipated six centuries ago is no exaggeration and no far-fetched explanation, with modern ideas in mind, of certain clever modes of dressing hit upon accidentally by medieval surgeons.
* " Historical Relations of Medicine and Surgery down to the Sixteenth Century." London, 1904.
After Bruno, who brought with him the methods and principles of surgery from the South of Italy, his contemporary of the North, Hugh of Lucca— Ugo da Lucca, or Luccanus, as he is also called— deserves to be mentioned. He was called to Bologna in 1214 as City Physician, and was with the regiment of crusaders from Bologna at Damietta in 1220. He returned to Bologna in 1221 and occupied the post of legal physician. The Civic Statutes of Bologna are, according to Gurlt, the oldest monument of legal medicine in the Middle Ages. Hugh seems to have been deeply intent on chemical experiments, and especially anodyne and anaesthetic drugs. He is said to have been the first to have taught the sublimation of arsenic. Like many another distinguished practitioner of medicine and surgery, he left no writings. All that we know of him and his work, and above all his technique, we owe to the filial devotion of his son Theodoric.
Anaesthesia is perhaps an even greater surprise in the Middle Ages than practical antisepsis. A great many of these surgeons of the time seem to have experimented with substances that might produce anaesthesia. Mandragora was the base of most of these anaesthetics, though a combination with opi^rp seems to have been a favourite. They succeeded apparently, even with such crude means, in producing insensibility to pain without very serious dangers. One of these methods of Da Lucca was by inhalation, and seems to have been in use for a full century. Guy de Chauliac describes the method as it was used in his day, and a paragraph with regard to it will be found in the chapter on Surgeons of the West of Europe. It is quite clear that the extensive operations which are described in their textbooks of surgery at this time could not possibly have been performed, only that the surgeons were able to secure rather a deep and prolonged insensibility to pain. With anaesthesia combined with antisepsis, it is easy to understand how well equipped the surgeons of this time were for the development of their speciality.
The fourth of these great surgeons at the North of Italy was William of Salicet. He was a pupil of Bruno of Longoburgo. Some idea of his practice as a surgeon may be obtained from even the first chapter of his first book. He begins with the treatment of hydrocephalus—or, as he calls it, " water collected in the heads of children newly born." He rejects opening of the head by incision because of the danger of it. He had successfully treated some of these difficult cases, however, by puncturing the scalp and membrane by a cautery, a very small opening being made and fluid being allowed to escape only drop by drop. William did not quote his predecessors much, but depended to a great extent on his own experience. He has many interesting details of technique with regard to the special subject of surgery of the nose, the ear, the mouth; and he did not even hesitate to treat goitre when it grows large, and says that if the sac is allowed to remain it should be thoroughly rubbed over on the inside with " green ointment." He warned " that in this affection many large bloodvessels make their appearance, and they find their way everywhere through the fleshy mass".
Very interesting development of surgery along a line where it would probably be least expected was in plastic surgery. In the first half of the fifteenth century the two Brancas, father and son, performed a series of successful operations for the restoration of the nose particularly, and the son invented a series of similar procedures for the restoration of mutilated lips and ears. The father seems to have built up the nose from other portions of the face, possibly using, as Gurlt suggests, the skin of the forehead, as the Indian surgeons had done, though without any known hint of their work. Fazio, the historian of King Alphonso I. of Naples, who died in 1457, describes the favourite operation of Antonio Branca, the son, who in order not to disfigure any further the face in these cases, made the new nose from the skin of the upper arm; and in anticipation of Tagliacozzi, who attracted much attention by a similar operation in the latter half of the sixteenth century, separated the new nose from the arm sometime during the third week. There is abundance of other evidence as to the Brancas' work from contemporary writers—for instance, Bishop Peter Ranzano the annalist, the poet Calenzio, and Alexander Benedetti, the physician and anatomist—so that there can be no doubt of the fact that this wonderful invention in surgical technique was actually made before the close of the Middle Ages.
It is interesting to realize that, while we hear much about the work of the Brancas, and from ecclesiastical authorities, there is no word of condemnation of the practice of restoring the nose or other facial features until much later in history. Tagliacozzi, who revived the operation of rhinoplasty just about the beginning of the seventeenth century, did not share so kind a fate. The latter Italian surgeon was roundly abused by some of his colleagues, even, it is said, by Fallopius and Pare, and bitterly satirized in Butler's i; Hudibras".
As late as 1788 (!) the Paris faculty interdicted face-repairing altogether. It is this sort of intolerance, on some superstitious ground or other, that is usually attributed to the Middle Ages. For such events the adjective medieval seems particularly adapted. As a matter of fact, we find comparatively little trace of such intolerance in medieval times; but it is comparatively easy to find the bitterest treatment of fellow-mortals for all sorts of foolish reasons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.