A French ‘Indianist’ Doctor
Professor Jean LAPRESLE, the last of the great French Neurologists and/or Neuro-Pathologists
[Feb. 3, 1921 – Dec. 2, 2000]
An Indianist (‘Indophile’ is too meek a word for him) in his own right, he
visited the Southern States, especially Tamil Nadu
and Kerala, twice a year, for decades and came to
love the people and place to such an extent that there was little worth knowing
about the place and its history or culture that he couldn’t hold forth upon. He
read the Bhagavad Gita, the
Upanishads, Naipaul and Rushdie, and constantly plied
every Indian he happened to come across - clients and callers alike - at every
opportunity, with pressing questions about the country right up to his last
days. His Indian interlocutors never failed to be filled with admiration for
his vast and consuming knowledge of the area. His thirst for
Professor Marie-Germaine Bousser whose eloquent and touching eulogy of her mentor (on May 4, 2001 at the Société Médicale des Hôpitaux de Paris) featured in this volume talks of his intimate knowledge and appreciation of Asian art and culture.
“ In love with Asia as a whole, India was nevertheless his country of choice. "Eternal India, Mother of all Wisdom" is how he referred to the sub-continent in his farewell oration as President of the Society for Neurology in 1985. He has been to India some fifteen times: athwart Jaisalmer and Konarak, down Kashmir to Kerala, with a preference however for Southern India where the exuberance he encountered enchanted him." .
Page One of Professor Marie-Germaine's "eulogy"
Page Two of Professor Bousser's "Eulogy"
To corroborate this particular fascination for Dravidians and to testify to his enormous 'neurological and extraneurological' knowledge, she cites an apposite anecdote: "One of his friends, Professor Wadia from Bombay, told me recently: 'I really liked having Jean Lapresle pay us a visit, for I always learnt something more about my own country.'"
His one wish to serve as a consultant after retirement – without remuneration, of course – in Tamil Nadu never came to pass.
“There’s nothing more restful than to slump into an easy chair along a Kerala beach and listen to the wind rustling the palm fronds, the distant chatter of fisher-folk mixed with the sound of swooping gulls and tumbling waves - all gently wafting up the hotel verandah.”
A fleeting cataclysmic gasp would slip through imperceptibly parted lips. Then without heaving a longing sigh, his eyes would let escape in that instant – in that infinitely suffering lapse of a moment – a pipe-dream of an experience that might have come true in a distant though then fast-drifting-apart past.
A towering lifelong bachelor of distinguished bearing and manners and whose perhaps “only” non-professional diversion, one might rightly divine, was Indian !
Professor Jean Lapresle
brilliant career-data: [I owe the
details of his bio-data to his twin brother Dr. Claude Lapresle and to his brilliant
student Professor Marie-Germaine BOUSSER,
Head, Department of Neurology, Hôpital Lariboisière, 2, rue
Professor Jean Lapresle passed away on December 2nd
After graduating in
1946, he went on to obtain his Doctor of
Medicine degree in 1950. His dissertation, La porphyrie aiguë intermittente. Etude anatomo-clinique
was published in the same year by the Librarie Arnette,
By 1961, he became Professor (agrégé) of Neurology and
Psychiatry and was made a full
professor without a chair in
Among his distinctions:
Médaille d’Honneur (Medal of Honour) des Epidémies (1948)
Médaille d’Argent (Silver Medal) of the Faculty of Medicine,
Prix Pierre Marie (Pierre Marie Prize) of the
Prix Robert Bing of the
of the VIth International Congress of Neuropathology,
Member (1970-74) and Vice-President (1974-78) of the Executive Committee of the International Society of Neuropathology
Visiting Fellow in
He also undertook
Technical Cooperation Missions to
By 1984, he had already published, both under his own signature and those of his collaborators, some 196 research papers in scholarly journals, with a predilection for the Revue Neurologique. Cf. Notice sur les Titres et Travaux Scientifiques du Professeur Jean Lapresle. Paris : Masson, 1984, 16p.
Professor Lapresle’s contributions to his specialties, according to his own classification, come under three headings:
1. Thoroughly researched themes (etudes approfondies):
a) his inaugural dissertation, followed up by neuro-psychiatric manifestations of porphyries;
b) cerebral lesions of intoxication oxycarbonée;
c) neuro-muscular and psychiatric determinations of maladies de collagèneé périartérite noueuse, dermatomyosite et polymyosite, lupus érythémateux aigu disséminé and more generally neuro-muscular pathology, especially taken on from the biopsy of muscles which is his very special contribution in neurological practice;
d) atrophies cérébelleuses, dégénérescences spino-cérébelleuses, névrites hypertrophiques primitives.
2. Articles based on clinical and /or anatomical observations which form a corpus of didactical material.
3. Articles which constitute a field of personal research which contribute towards a better understanding of certain facts, such as, in the realms of
a) classification of méningiomes;
b) les douleurs médullaires de type spino-thalamique observées après cordotomie antéro-latérale ;
c) le syndrome thalamique à topographie chéiro-orale et les syndromes thalamiques focaux ;
d) la dystasie aréflexique héréditaire de Roussy-Lévy ;
e) les ramollissements de la moelle ;
f) pathologie du fuseau neuro-musculaire ;
g) étude ultrastructurale des lésions élémentaires du muscle et du nerf périphérique ;
h) le couple olivo-dentelé et la voie dento-olivaire ;
i) l’hypotrophie musculaire en clinique neurologique ;
j) pathologie vasculaire des nerfs crâniens.
T. Wignesan – August 1st., 2004 – Paris