Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689) is often referred to as the English Hippocrates because of the emphasis, in his medical practice and teachings, of the importance of bedside observation. His writings, controversial in his day, condemned theorizing in medicine and taught that the understanding of disease and its treatment should be based on observation of the evolution of signs and symptoms in groups of patients over time, and on the observed responses of patients to medicines and treatments. His importance in public health stems principally from his interest in classifying febrile diseases and his study of epidemic patterns of fevers in London over many years. He concluded that febrile diseases were not merely idiosyncratic humoral responses to environmental stimuli, but distinct species of disease whose expression was greatly dependent on atmospheric and seasonal influences.
In treatment, Sydenham avoided the heavy use of drugs characteristic of his time, challenged prevailing approaches to the treatment of smallpox, and was a strong advocate of physical exercise and diet as therapy. He was perhaps the first influential physician to embrace Peruvian bark (quinine) in the treatment of ague (malaria), and one of the first to treat anemia with iron. In spite of his opposition to academic theorizing and experimental approaches in medicine, he was close to many of English scientists of the time, including Robert Boyle, Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, and philosopher John Locke (also a physician), who was a devoted student of his medical teachings.
Sydenham's unconventional, even revolutionary, approach to medicine cannot easily be divorced from his involvement in the seventeenth-century Puritan rebellion against the British crown. The Sydenham family, Dorsetshire landowners, were strong supporters of Parliament and Cromwell in the English civil war of the 1640s. All five Sydenham brothers (Thomas was the youngest) and their father served as officers in Cromwell's rebel army. Thomas was wounded, two of his brothers were killed, their mother was murdered by Royalist troops, and the eldest brother, William, became a leading figure in Cromwell's protectorate. Sydenham's unpopularity with leading physicians during the period of Restoration in which he practiced may in part have been the consequence of his political history, as well as his lack of a full classical education, attributable to the interruption of his Oxford education by military service. His two major works, Methodis Curandis Febres (1666) and Observationes Medicae (1676), are thought to have been written in English and translated by a Latin scholar for publication.
Dewhurst, K. (1966). Dr. Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689): His Life and Original Writings. London: Wellcome Historical Medical Library.