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Marie François Xavier Bichat Edit Profile

anatomist , pathologist , physiologist

Marie François Xavier Bichat was a French anatomist and pathologist; he is known as the father of histology.


Bichat was born at Thoirette in Jura, France. His father was Jean-Baptise Bichat, a physician who had trained at Montpellier and was Bichat's first instructor. His mother was Jeanne-Rose Bichat, his father's wife and cousin.


He was educated successively at the CollègeCollege de Nantua and the Jesuit Seminary of St. Irénée, Irenee, Lyon, returning home in 1789 to study anatomy under his father, who was a physician at Poincin.

His father, a physician, was his first teacher of anatomy. He studied anatomy and surgery at Montpellier and Lyons and later served as an assistant to P. J. Desault, a famous physician at the Hôtel-Dieu, a hospital in Paris.

At the same time Bichat attended lectures at Lyon, but was forced to leave because of the revolution.

He went to Paris in 1793 and studied surgery under Pierre J. Desault, who was pleased with his ability, took him into his home and later adopted him as his son.


He investigated the structure of the body generally, rather than studying particular organs as separate entities.

One of his most interesting works is Physiological Researches on Life and Death.

In this context it is interesting to note that Bichat refused all his life to make use of the most advanced experimental tool for anatomy, namely, the microscope.

During his short life of thirty-one years he published the following important works: TraitéTraite des membranes (1800; "Treatise on Membranes"), Recherches physiologiques sur la vie et la mort (1800; "Physiological Researches on Life and Death"), and Anatomie généralegenerale appliquéeappliquee àa la physiologie et àa la médicinemedicine (2 vols. , 1801; "General Anatomy Applied to Physiology and to Medicine").

He completed only two of the five volumes of his TraitéTraite d'anatomie déscriptivedescriptive (1801-1803; "Treatise of Descriptive Anatomy").

The other three were completed by M. F. R. Buisson and P. J. Roux and published in 1805.

His feverish activity weakened him, and in 1802, after a fall from the Hôtel-Dieu's staircase, he contracted a fever and died on July 22, only 31 years old.


  • Although working without the microscope, Bichat distinguished 21 types of elementary tissues from which the organs of human body are composed.

    He founded, with J. N. Corvisart des Marets, La Societe Medicale d' Emulation and in 1797 began giving a course of lectures in anatomy, physiology, and surgery.

    He was equally successful as an anatomist, physician, physiologist, and surgeon, carrying on simultaneously his teaching, dissecting, and extensive private practice.



Bichat rejected the iatrochemistry of the later Cartesians, which was still influential at the time.

In other words, he rejected the old theory that life is a collection of subtle fluids and maintained rather that life is a result of a combination of vitality and the vital functions of various tissues of the body.

His definition was that life consists of the sum of functions by which death is resisted.

He also rejected Stahl's animism, which maintains that there is a special "Spirit of Life. "

He stressed the general distinction between conscious and unconscious life in the body and divided the organism into two separate mechanisms which he designated the organic (vegetative) and relational (animal).

Bichat was a follower of Albrecht von Haller's special form of vitalism, according to which the body possesses some truly vital functions such as motion, communication, and sensibility, while other characteristics of the body are not vital.


Jean-Baptise Bichat

Jeanne-Rose Bichat