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Charles Patin, the Rebel Physician

André J. Fabre                                June 2014 


Charles Patin was the son of a famous physicians in seventeenth century, Guy Patin, Dean of Paris Faculty of Medicine. 

Childhood and College years

 Charles received from his parents a "grand style"  education : at age 3, he could read, at age 6, he had learnt Latin, Greek, English, Italian and Spanish. Following the steps of his father he began  to read in Plutarch's "Parallel Lives" .

Charles started his studies, once more as his father, at the Jesuit College of Beauvais where, at the age of 14 years, he could hold a public conference on  philosophy.

During a trip to Strasbourg in 1662 he met Jacob Spon[1], son of a great physician friend of  his father. After that, Jacob came to Paris to stay for a while in Patin's  family.

Charles began his studies at the Law school and received, right after, a chair at the Parliament in Paris. However, his idea was to follow his father's example  and he finally decided to be physician. 

A brilliant career in Paris School of Medicine 

Patin had at once, in this field,  the most brilliant career : at age 25 yrs, he was given the charge of the Anatomy courses at the Paris Faculty of Medicine, and the following year, the courses of Internal Medicine. 

The dangers of censored books 

All was going to change in 1666 when Charles started an unfortunate controversy with Denis de Sallo, the almighty editor of "Journal of the Learned[2] " an  influential paper sponsored by the powerful  minister of Louis XIV, Jean-Baptiste Colbert.

In 1666, the coach where Charles and his father had taken place was arrested by Royal police and, after a seach, a whole array of forbidden books was found in the trunks, among which : "Love Story of Gaul" from  Bussy-Rabutin, the so-called "devil of  Roissy"[3], "Provincial Letters" of Pascal, highly suspect of Calvinist sympathies ... and the "Book of Pantagruel" ..from the ill-famed  physician monk Rabelais.

Making his case worse, Charles, who had been  sent to Flanders in 1667 with mission to confiscate and destroy all "'blasphemous works" from Netherlands, deviated knowingly his mission. The point of non-return was crossed and  the Lord Chancellor could not do anything else than  bring the case to the Tribunal du Châtelet : it was enough, as everybody knew,  to be sent to the galleys and Charles had no other choice than exile.

On the run all over Europe[4] 

Thus began a long journey through Europe. It was an exile, but, truly speaking, a golden exile since Charles, keen numismatist and bibliophile, could, at the same time, complete his valuable collections.

He went first to London[5], "this great city known all over the world", "impossible to figure out the number of persons living there and the amount of treasures spread all over the City"

Thereafter, he went to Germany, visiting Heidelberg [6], "beautifully mediocre " . There he wad offered in vain, an official protection from the Great Elector. Then came Augsbourg[7], and Berlin[8], Weimar[9], Ulm[10], Nuremberg[11]("City of beauty : everyboy has been there and loves Nuremberg"), Munich, "well built, well populated, and rather opulent " [12], Mayence[13] , Manheim[14] and Leipzig[15]

After that Patin traveled to Netherland[16], where he enjoyed the "soothing atmosphere of tolerance", Amsterdam,  Dresde[17], Constance[18], La Haye[19] ,Delft[20] and Utrecht [21].

In Austria[22] Patin visited Salzbourg [23] then Vienna[24] where he was presented to the Emperor. Following after :  Tirol [25], Bohemia with a visit to the magnificent Prague [26] and Hungary [27]

Switzerland was  the elective country of Charles who enjoyed his visit to  Bern[28], Baden[29] , Zurich [30], Bâle[31]. Most interesting was Geneva[32], high place of the reformed religion.

Last step of this Europe's "Grand tour" was  Venice in 1672, then Padua, "haven of intellectual tolerance

Far from Paris, a safe refuge in Padua 

Charles was most warmly welcomed in the Republic of Venice, only too happy to show its independence from the "ukases" of the "Roi soleil".

In Padua, Charles was given at the University,  charge of the courses on Avicenna's pharmacopoeia. Then in 1676, he was appointed coordinator of all cultural institutions in Padua, and in 1683, named professor of surgery. The following year, he was given the chair of Medicine.

Patin was elected in 1678 as member of the prestigious Paduan Academy[33], known all over  Europe as "Academia dei Ricoverati" and received in high ceremony, from the Doge Alvise Contarini, the title of "Knight of San Marco".

In Padua, Charles published many books mostly in Latin [34] but, also, a numismatics Treatise [35] and the account of his many travels in Europe.

In fact, the most remarkabe book of Patin  was written under the transparent pen name of Nicolas Venette :  " Portrait of conjugal love[36] " Among the best chapters : "Parts of men and women in use for generation", "Natural proportion and defects of the genitals of men and women", "Defects of natural parts in men and women", " Remedies to corrects the defects of natural parts of men and womene, "Praise of virginity ", Remedies to tame the temperament of lovers" and,  mostly documented""Remedies to bring back virginity to a girl"

 Everybody will agree : the works  of Charles Patin, although three centuries old,  are still fully  relevant…

When, in 1681, Louis XIV offered, on a purely diplomatic basis, his  royal pardon,  Charles Patin replied, with some insolence : "What's all that about, I was not aware to be a criminal ...  ""

In fact, for Charles Patin, there was never return to France : he died in Padua, at the age of 60, of a "choking heart attack."

Amazing destiny for this great physician who had to get away from France to be fully recognised to his real value 

A family of brilliant non conformists 

The key to this  highly paradoxical situation can be found, without any doubts, in the strong personality of the  Patin family :

Guy, the father (1601-1672), despite of his high social position (Dean of the Faculty of Medicine from 1650 to 1652 and Professor in the College de France) was seen by all contemporaries as a "strongly non conformist character"". According to one of his frieds[37],  "he was all theater from head to feet ... His hat, his collar, his doublet, his shoes, everything on him was insult ing the fashion "à la mode" and also the most common vanity. He was at the same time, Cicero on his face but Rabelais in his soul…. ".

In fact, despite all appearances, father and son had many things in common, and, first of all, a great intelligence. Guy Patin has left a fascinating correspondence, showing "grand style " in literature, much in advance on his time, thus the letters from Guy Patin to Gabriel Naudé, famed librarian of Bibliothèque Mazarine[38] in Paris. Indeed, Guy was precursor of all the 18th century "libertine" philosophers, from Crebillon to Laclos.

The wife of Charles Patin, Madeleine Homanet (1610–1682), in contrast of her husband,   intended only  to be a "moralist writer" : she published in 1680 a book called "Christianism and Moral Reflections on the Epistles of St. Paul"[39], dedicated to the Archduchess Eleanor of Austria. She ended up, as her husband, member of the Academy of Recoverati

Charles' daughters, Charlotte-Catherine and Gabrielle-Charlotte were known in all Padua as the "two brainy sisters" : in 1685, Gabrielle, the youngest, was elected as her two parents, to the Academy : she began her speech with…  a panegyric of Louis XIV ...

As said in Shakespeare : "It's good to have a short memory because it keeps life fresh"[40]... 


Charles Patin (1633 - 1693) was a French physician and numismatist,  son of Guy Patin, headmaster of the Faculté de médecine in Paris, and a friend of Jacob Spon (1647-1685), foundator of archeology.

Trained by his father, Charles after a law degree went to medicine and ended up at the chair of Anatomy in Paris and later, in Padua,  the chair of Surgery  

He remains famous to have taken a refuge in Italy, rebel against the "Roi soleil"  after the so-called "scandal of censored books".


 Guillemain , "Les recherches numismatiques de Charles Patin d'après ses lettres à Jacob Spon" in Quaderni per la Storia dell’Università di Padova, t. 29, 1996, pp. 45-58

Jestaz Laure, Thèse de l’École des Chartes (2001)

Vapereau Gustave, Dictionnaire universel des literatures (Ed. Hachette, Paris, 1876, p. 1554.)

Waquet Françoise, "Guy et Charles Patin, père et fils, et la contrebande du livre à Paris au XVIIe siècle"; Journal des savants, 1979, n°2. pp. 125–48.





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[1] Spon, Jacob (1647-1685), was pionneer in archeology. He published  "Recherches curieuses d'antiquité" (Lyon 1683) and, in 1678 "Voyage d'Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grèce et du Levant"

[2] "Journal des Scavants"  avait été fondé en 1665 par de Sallo : c'est le plus ancien journal littéraire d'Europe

[3] Roger de Rabutin, comte de Bussy, called "Bussy-Rabutin" :  "Histoire amoureuse des Gaules" (Ed. P. Jannet, Paris, 1856)

[4] Charles Patin has published a book on his travels in Europe : "Relations historiques et curieuses de voyages en Allemagne, Angleterre, Hollande, Bohême, Suisse, etc" (Ed.Claude Muguet, Lyon, 1674)

[5] Id.  Londres  (page 167)

[6] Id.  Heidelberg (page 136)

[7] Id. Augsbourg (page 56)

[8] Id.  Bavière (page  90 et Berlin  (page 205)

[9]  Id.  Weimar (page  199)

[10]  Id. Ulm ( page  53)

[11] Id.  Nuremberg  (page  187)

[12] Id. Munich  (page  79)

[13] Id.  Mayence  (page 144)

[14] Id.  Mahneim  (page 139)

[15] Id.  Leipzig  (page 200)

[16] Id. Amsterdam  ( page  195)

[17] Id.  Dresde ( page  21)

[18] Id.  Constance  (page  246)

[19] Id.  La Haye  page 165)

[20]  Id.  Delft  page 165)

[21] Id.  Utrecht  53)

[22]  Id.  Autriche  (page  27)

[23]  Id. Salzbourg ( page 234

[24] Id.  Vienne  (page 223

[25] Id.  Tirol  (page 77

[26]  Id.  Prague  (page 218)

[27] Id.  Hongrie  (page 247)

[28] Id.  Bohème (page 32)

[29] Id.  Baden  (page 254)

[30] Id.  Zurich (page  255)

[31]  Id.  Bâle  (page 08)

[32] Id.  Geneva  (page 170)

[33] "Galilean Academy of Arts and Sciences" better known as "Accadémia dei Ricoverati"  in référence to Boèce : "Bipatens animis asylum "

[34] "Quod medico chirurgo liceat absque artis dedecore bestiis etiam mederi oratio habita in archilyce",oublished in France as "Recherces anatomiques sur les causes et le siège des maladies "(Ed. Bechet; Paris, 1824)

[35]  Patin, Charles : "Introduction à l'histoire, par la connaissance des mèdailles"  (Ed. Jean Du Bray, et R. de Ninville, 1665). See also, from Guillemain "J. "Les recherches numismatiques de Charles Patin à travers ses lettres à Jacob Spon" (in Quaderni per la Storia dell’Università di Padova, t. 29, 1996, pp. 45-58)

[36] Patin, Charles : "La Génération de l’homme ou Tableau de l’amour conjugal"(Ed. Claude Joly, Cologne, 1694).

[37] Vigneul Marville,  pen name of  a french Carthusian monk,  Dom Bonaventure d'Argonne (1634-1704)

[38] "Naudaeana et Patiniana, ou, Singularitez Remarquables, recording conversations between Patin and his great friend Gabriel Naudé, librarian of the Bibliothèque Mazarine" was, edited by Jean-Aymar Piganiol de La Force and published in Paris, 1701; a revised edition with a Preface by Pierre Bayle appeared in Amsterdam, 1703

[39] Madeleine Patin, " Réflexions morales et chrétiennes" 1680."

[40] William Shakespeare, "Much Ado About Nothing", 1598-99, Act V, scene 2, line 76

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Date de dernière mise à jour : 15/06/2014

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