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Chamfort, doctor of morals : the maxim and the medical\ud aphorism in late eighteenth-century France

By D. McCallam


The increasing prestige of medicine as a science, accompanied by the social rise of the doctor, in eighteenth-century France is well documented. What I would like to argue here, however, is that there exists a correspondence between the establishment of medicine as an independent field of study in eighteenth-century France and the increasing use and influence of an autonomous form of medical discourse, namely, the aphorism, in this period. This is not so much a question of the language used by the more renowned doctors of the day but of a form of discourse deeply imbued and associated with medical practice. (It is nonetheless true that certain famous physicians combined medical and literary roles. For instance, Theophile Bordeu intervenes significantly in Diderot's Le Reve d'Alembert, and Vicq d'Azyr, Marie-Antoinette's doctor, was elected to the Académie Française in 1788 in a sort of social consecration or medical discourse, implicitly incorporating his medical figure and figures into the socio-linguistic norms of 'le bon usage’ promoted by the Académie itself.) Yet what interests me particularly here is the insinuation of the medical aphorism itself into other fields of late eighteenth-century discourse, notably those of literature and politics, the traditional domains of the maxim

Publisher: British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Year: 2002
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