Marie François Xavier Bichat

Marie François Xavier Bichat

Born November 14, 1771(1771-11-14)
Died July 22, 1802(1802-07-22) (aged 30)
Nationality French
Fields anatomy
Known for histology

Marie François Xavier Bichat (November 14, 1771 – July 22, 1802), French anatomist and physiologist, was born at Thoirette (Jura).

Bichat is best remembered as the father of modern histology and pathology. Despite the fact that he worked without a microscope he was able to advance greatly the understanding of the human body. He was the first to introduce the notion of tissues as distinct entities. He maintained that diseases attacked tissues rather than whole organs.


Early life

His father, a physician, was Bichat's first instructor. He entered the college of Nantua, and later studied at Lyon. He made rapid progress in mathematics and the physical sciences, but ultimately devoted himself to the study of anatomy and surgery under the guidance of M. A. Petit (1766–1811), chief surgeon to the Hotel-Dieu at Lyon.

The revolutionary disturbances compelled him to flee from Lyon and take refuge in Paris in 1793. There he became a pupil of P. J. Desault, who was so impressed with his genius that he took him into his house and treated him as his adopted son. For two years he took active part in Desault's work, at the same time pursuing his own research in anatomy and physiology.

Major publications

The sudden death of Desault in 1795 was a severe blow to Bichat. His first task was to discharge the obligations he owed his benefactor, by contributing to the support of his widow and her son, and by completing the fourth volume of Desault's Journal de Chirurgie to which he added a biographical memoir of its author.

His next objective was to reunite and digest in one body the surgical doctrines which Desault had published in various periodical works. Of these he composed, Œuvres chirurgicales de Desault, ou tableau de sa doctrine, et de sa pratique dens le traitement des maladies externes (1798–1799), a work in which, although he professes only to set forth the ideas of another, he develops them with the clearness of one who is a master of the subject. In 1797 be began a course of anatomical demonstrations, and his success encouraged him to extend the plan of his lectures, and boldly to announce a course of operative surgery.

In the following year, 1798, he gave in addition a separate course of physiology. A dangerous attack of haemoptysis interrupted his labors for a time; but the danger was no sooner past than he plunged into new engagements with the same ardour as before. He had now scope in his physiological lectures for a fuller exposition of his original views on the animal economy, which excited much attention in the medical schools at Paris.

Sketches of these doctrines were given by him in three papers contained in the Memoirs of the Société Médicale d'Émulation, which he founded in 1796, and they were afterwards more fully developed in his Traité sur les membranes (1800).[1] His next publication was the Recherches physiologiques sur la vie et la mort (1800), and it was quickly followed by his Anatomie générale (1801), the work which contains the fruits of his most profound and original researches. He began another work, under the title Anatomic descriptive (1801–1803), in which the organs were arranged according to his peculiar classification of their functions, but lived to publish only the first two volumes.


Bichat died at the age of 31 from a fever following an unexplained fall down a set of stairs. He is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery.


A large bronze statue of Bichat, work of the famous sculptor David D'Angers, was erected in 1857 in the main courtyard (“Cour d’honneur”) of the “René Descartes University” in 12, rue de l'Ecole de Médecine, Paris, thanks to the support of the members of the Medical Congress of France, which took place in 1845. On the pedestal can be read the following inscription: A Xavier Bichat. Le Congrès Médical de France de 1845.

Bichat's career is enthusiastically recounted in George Eliot's 1872 novel, Middlemarch. His name is also one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.


  1. ^ Elaut, L. (July 1969). "The theory of membranes of F. X. Bichat and his predecessors". Sudhoffs Archiv (West Germany) 53 (1): 68–76. ISSN 0039-4564. PMID 4241888. 

External links

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