FRERE JACQUES BEAULIEU: FROM ROGUE LITHOTOMIST TO NURSERY RHYME CHARACTER

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Abstract

Purpose

We discuss the history of Frere Jacques Beaulieu, a celebrated 17th century French lithotomist, and question the relationship of his name to a well-known nursery rhyme character.

Materials and Methods

We reviewed historical reports about Beaulieu and his career as a lithotomist. Nursery rhyme interpretations were also reviewed.

Results

Beaulieu was born in 1651 to a peasant family and learned the practice of lithotomy by apprenticeship. He was never formally ordained yet donned a monk habit and called himself Frere Jacques. He was the first person to use the lateral approach to perineal lithotomy and openly shared his surgical technique. His lithotomy procedure was observed by the high court in Paris on 3 separate occasions between 1697 and 1704. Unfortunately his patients had significant morbidity and mortality, and he was denied operating privileges. He performed approximately 5,000 lithotomies in 30 years and died in 1719 at age 68 years. The nursery rhyme "Frere Jacques" probably refers to a playful group of Jacobinic monks who often overslept. We found no direct association between Frere Jacques Beaulieu and the nursery rhyme character.

Conclusions

Beaulieu was an early urologist who was the first to describe the lateral approach to perineal lithotomy. Unlike other lithotomists of the 17th century, he openly shared his surgical techniques and stimulated others to refine the procedure. Regardless of the exact derivation of the nursery rhyme, the name Frere Jacques will always be remembered in song.

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