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François Vincent Raspail

François Vincent Raspail,Born on January 25, 1794 in Carpentras, Vaucluse, as the son of a Catholic believer and an innkeeper and freethinker, Raspail died at Arcueil near Paris on January 7, 1878 as dean of the chamber of deputies. He began his professional life as a self-taught botanist and chemist, turning later into a hygienist of national renown. But he also assumed the lifelong stance of a challenger to all men in power, be they monarchist politicians, university-trained scientist, physician- or pharmacist-members of the faculty, or policemen in the service of governments that restricted freedom of speech or assembly. The poor and humble formed his constituency and to them he preached a mixture of hygiene and socialism, an innovative sort of medical self-help with the motto "hygiene preserves from medicine." Over his family he exercised the tyranny of the patriarch; to his followers he turned into an apostle.

An early advocate of the microscope in the study of tissues, he focused on the cell which he perceived as a chemical laboratory. He practiced iodine staining and the frozen technique and belonged among the founders of the cell theory. (Essai de chimie microscopique, 1830; Nouveau système de chimie organique, 1833). The revolution of 1830 turned his attention to politics. Jailed as president of the Society of the Rights of Man, he tended sick fellow prisoners. He believed they were attacked by infinitely small parasites and he found in camphor an effective antidote. Once freed, he turned to compounding camphorated medications and published a Manuel annuaire de la santé that became a best seller for almost a century. He published a short-lived newspaper, Le Réformateur (1834-1835), then Histoire naturelle de la santé (1843), and defended several persons accused of murder with arsenic, among them Madame Lafarge.

An unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the republic, he came in fourth, with 36,900 votes (ahead of Lamartine). Earlier implicated in the demonstration of May 15, 1848, he was tried at Bourges and condemned to six years in prison. When his wife died in 1853, Napoleon III commuted the sentence to exile. Returning from exile in 1862, he was elected deputy from Lyon in 1869 and, under the Third Republic, became the symbol of republicanism. The longest boulevard in Paris carries his name.
Dora B. Weiner


Exposition Raspail: Catalogue raisonné rédigé par Simone Raspail, Lise Dubief, avec la collaboration de Marianne Carbonnier (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1978).

G. Duveau. Raspail. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948).

D. Ligou. Raspail ou le bon usage des prisons. (Paris: Martineau, 1968)

J. Poirier and C. Langlois. Raspail et la vulgarisation médicale. (Paris: Vrin, 1988)

J. Scoenfeld. Raspail et la médecine. (Paris: Les Trois Monts, 1933)

L. Velluz. Raspail un contestataire au XIXè mesiècle. (Pèrigueux: Franlac, 1974)

D.B. Weiner. Raspail Scientist and Reformer. (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1968)

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