Send to

Choose Destination
J Hist Neurosci. 2003 Dec;12(4):350-67.

Thomas Willis's practice of paediatric neurology and neurodisability.

Author information

Child Development Centre, Northampton General Hospital, Northampton, UK.


Thomas Willis (1621-1675) is regarded as a founder of modern clinical neuroscience. He conceived the word "neurology" and left a body of work that defined mid-seventeenth-century medicine. Recent interpretations of Willis's work have led to a growing appreciation of his significant contributions to paediatric neurology, a speciality founded properly some three centuries after his death. This paper presents abstracts and plates taken from Willis's major published works, together with student notes by John Locke (1632-1704) and Robert Boyle (1627-1691) taken from lectures delivered by Willis in Oxford in the 1660s. The material embraces a wide variety of conditions now managed within modern paediatric neurology and neurodisability. In several cases, these are the first descriptions recorded in the medical literature. Willis fused astute history taking and clinical observation (sometimes supported by subsequent post-mortem studies) into a structured medical intervention. Willis's practice was state of the art, being based on acceptance of Harvey, a traditional Galenic infrastructure, iatrochemistry and Gassendi's "psychology". Although Willis's discoveries became a cornerstone of modern medical science, his medical practice did not lead to any therapeutic advances. However, up to the mid-eighteenth century his works were internationally accepted for their practical usefulness. The corpus of material left by Willis affords a fascinating insight into the clinical rationale of a seventeenth century physician in his management of paediatric cases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Taylor & Francis
Loading ...
Support Center