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Biography of Theodor Hermann

Meynert
Thanks to Theodor Hermann Meynert the Vienna School came to rival that
of the Salptrire and Queens Square. He inspired the work of Paul Emil
Flechsig (1847-1929), Karl Wernicke (1848-1905) and Auguste-Henri Forel
(1848-1931), and influenced Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). He may be seen as a
prophet of things to come.
Meynert was born in Dresden to a writer and an opera singer. The artistic
background and certain Bohemian characteristics never left him. The family
moved to Vienna when he was eight. Here he spent long and rather wild student
days (those were the days, remember?) and received his medical doctorate in
1861. Sobering down, and driven by an intense desire to emulate his teacher,
Karl von Rokitansky (1804-1878), he was habilitated as Dozent in 1865 and then
began lecturing on the anatomy and function of the brain. In 1866 he was named
prosector of the Wiener Landesirrenanstalt, and in 1870 was appointed director
of the psychiatric clinic and extraordinary professor of psychiatry. In 1873 he
became full professor of nervous diseases. From 1885 he held the title of
Hofrath. He was succeeded in the chair by Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902),
remembered for, among many things, coining the term sadism.
Meynert's main achievements were in research on the anatomy and the
physiology of the brain. He formulated a new theory of brain functions, which he
attempted to bring in accord with pathological observations. He is now chiefly
remembered for his 1869 description of dorsal tegmental decussation or "fountain
decussation".
Meynert ideas drew many visitors to Vienna even though he had the
reputation of being a poor teacher. Auguste-Henri Forel (1848-1931), who spent
seven months (1871-1872) with Meynert at the old insane asylum on
Lazarettgasse, had to hold back his great disappointment in Meynerts lectures
and laboratory. His department, Forel relates, was disorderly and filthy, not unlike
the Oriental Quarter of Vienna, and through it all romped Meynerts two children.

Bernard Sachs (1858-1944), as a novice attempting to learn neuroanatomy


in Meynerts laboratory in 1892, found it disconcerting that he had to struggle
alone with a series of brain sections for a month before the Master would show
the least interest in him. A very stormy day, said Sachs to Meynert on greeting
him one morning. I have not yet had time to think about it, was the reply; and
Sachs remarked to himself, That settled that. Meynert tried to be amiable to his
assistants, but was seldom cordial. Urbanity was a luxury in which his brilliant
mind would not allow him to indulge.
Meynert was described as a having a massive head surmounting a short
body, a sprawling bushy beard, and mane-like hair which had the habit of falling
down into his eyes. He had an expression of melancholy; his wife had died early,
and death had robbed him of his seventeen-year old son. Despite his troubles, or
perhaps because of them, there was robustness in his poetry, regarded highly by
the critics of that day. The same may be said about his drawings of the brain, to
be found in the Neurological institute of Vienna to this day.
Meynert was also active as a journalist, being editor of the Wiener
Jahrbcher fr Psychiatrie as well as co-publisher of the Archiv fr Psychiatrie
und Nervenkrankheiten (Berlin). With Max Leidesdorf (1818-1889) he was copublisher of Vierteljahrsschrift fr Psychiatrie (Neuwied and Leipzig). He was
one-year president of the Wiener Verein fr Psychiatrie und forensische
Psychologie.
The main function of the central organ is to transmit the fact of existence to
an ego gradually shaping itself in the stream of the brain . . . If we look upon the
cortex as an organ functioning as a whole then the information that it subserves
the processes of the mind is all that can be said . . . to think further about the
cortex is impossible and unnecessary . . . But our hope to understand eventually
the function of the hemispheres is raised again by the opposite assumption which
leads us straight to an organology of the central surface . . . Between these two
theoretical possibilities the facts have to decide.
Der Bau der Grosshirnsrinde und seine rtlichen Verschiedenheiten, nebst einem
pathologisch-anatomischen Corollarium.
Translated by Gerhardt von Bonin.