This bronze statue, which can be found on Place Montaud in the heart of the Bastide quarter, depicts one Joseph Marie Edouard Chabrely (1...

Dr Chabrely: La Bastide's unforgettable “médecin des pauvres”

This bronze statue, which can be found on Place Montaud in the heart of the Bastide quarter, depicts one Joseph Marie Edouard Chabrely (1835-1895), a doctor who was a cornerstone of this right-bank community in the 19th century.

For 39 years, Dr Edouard Chabrely provided the local working classes with medical care, paying close attention to each individual’s ailments and, according to the plaque in front of the statue, “knew the right remedy to heal each wound”. Chabrely was also a member of the local council until his death. By then he had earned not only plaudits but also various titles and honours, much to the embarrassment of this naturally humble man.

The Bordeaux-born doctor had graduated from the Faculté de Médecine de Paris in 1857, having submitted a 58-page thesis about human castration (“De la castration chez l’homme”). He then turned his back on the capital city's bright lights and moved back to Bordeaux to work alongside his father Bernard Auguste (1803-1864), who already practiced in the Bastide quarter. Whether Chabrely Junior’s research into castration proved useful during his subsequent years as a general practitioner is undocumented… Interestingly, Edouard’s eldest son, Pierre, was also destined to become a doctor, and was appointed deputy head of the clinic of Bordeaux’s Hôpital Saint-André in 1891. Sadly, Pierre died shortly afterwards and, understandably, Edouard was to be profoundly affected by this loss.

The statue looks across to the street which bears Dr Chabrely's name.
As well as having been appointed president of the Bordeaux Société de Médecine et de Chirurgie, Dr Chabrely had become a local councillor, his tenure coinciding with the philanthropic achievements of local dignitary Charles Cazalet (1858-1933). Cazalet was a successful wine trader who was seeking to give something back to the district where he was born and brought up. He founded a crèche, which has already been covered on the blog. Cazalet was also the secretary of a company that was set up in 1892, Œuvre des Bains-Douches à Bon Marché, and played a key role in making public showering facilities available to the masses.

Amongst other achievements, Dr Chabrely and Cazalet joined forces to oversee the development of the city’s first “Habitations à bon marché” affordable housing programme, resulting in the construction of a set of homes on Rue Jean Dollfus. Chabrely was one of a number of speakers at a major inaugural event held on the street on Sunday October 21st 1894.

These incredible pictures of the inauguration of the Dollfus housing programme feature in "La Bastide Bordeaux II", part of the excellent "Mémoire en Images" series. But which of the bearded gentlemen is Chabrely?
In his speech, the doctor saluted the homes which were irreproachable in terms of their construction, their furnishings and their hygienic amenities (“irréprochables au point de vue de la construction, des aménagements et de l'hygiène”). He also referred back to Cazalet’s achievements, stating that far from being pipedreams, these were endeavours that were visible, tangible and accessible to all, and that in cities throughout the land the time would come when workers would have the means to acquire their own home, as here in La Bastide. (“Ces choses ne sont pas des rêves, elles sont visibles, palpables, accessibles à tous, et quand l'heure sonnera où pareil mouvement s'organisera dans toutes les villes, où le travailleur pourra se promettre, rien qu'avec son salaire quotidien et sans augmenter ses dépenses, de devenir propriétaire de son « home », de sa maison, hygiénique et confortable, quand cette heure sonnera, les doctrines collectivistes auront vécu.”)

Rue Dollfus today, including a plaque which harks back to the spirit of the 1890s (plaque photo courtesy of Association Histoire(s) de la Bastide). 
Chabrely also called on the city to support similar projects to be rolled out on Cours le Rouzic, Avenue Thiers and around Rue Benauge. In addition, he requested the construction of a footbridge over the railway line to enable easy movement between the different quarters (which, when built, would drastically shorten the distances to be covered by patients from the poorer Queyries district in need of medical attention, say - the footbridge was dismantled in the 1980s).

Sadly though, the doctor was to die soon afterwards, in 1895, and would not witness the fruit of these policies. He did not bow out quietly though: Chabrely remained highly active up until his passing and on his last working day he tirelessly moved from door to door throughout La Bastide, tending to 75 patients!

At the doctor’s well-attended funeral, the Préfet of la Gironde saluted this man from the Bastide: “Né Bastidien, de vieille souche bastidienne, il est mort en bastidien fidèle” (Born to the Bastide of Bastide stock, he died a loyal Bastide man). One Albert Bureau read out a poem he had written in tribute to Chabrely, in which he referred to the doctor’s final battle with his own sickness: “Tu tombas aussi, toi, sur un champ de bataille, bravant tranquillement le Mal mystérieux, le Mal que, sans trembler, tu regardais en face.” (“You too fell on a battlefield, quietly defying the mysterious Evil, an Evil which, without trembling, you looked firmly in the eye.”) Bureau also evoked what he considered to be Chabrely’s “unblemished immortality” (“cette immortalité sans tache”). The poem can be read in full at the foot of this article.

Almost overnight (well, two days later), a street was re-named in his honour, and the community at large quickly came together to celebrate their doctor and influential councillor: Charles Cazalet formed and led the committee formed to fund the bust which was produced by the city of Bordeaux’s designated sculptor Gaston Veuvenot Leroux (1854-1942). Leroux has already featured on the blog: he contributed to the war memorial in Pessac, produced the statue of Rosa Bonheur on display in the Jardin Public and also the original version of the statue of another doctor, Jean Hameau, in La-Teste-de-Buch.

Unveiled on July 31st 1896, one year after the death of its subject, Leroux’s bronze portrayal of Dr Chabrely is eminently and instantly likeable, much like the subject matter himself must have been: the altruistic, witty, forward-looking, caring “médecin des pauvres” of the Bastide quarter.

Note: I am immensely grateful to Brigitte Charles and Michel Pionnier from Association Histoire(s) de la Bastide who uncovered much of the material which features in this article. I was in touch with them because the biographical information I initially had was sketchy at best and their input proved extremely valuable. They made it possible to fill in many of the blanks, and among the many treasures they passed on were the speeches delivered at the inauguration of the statue, and this, the poem written and read out by Albert Bureau at Dr Chabrely’s funeral:

À la mémoire du Docteur Edouard Chabrely

Voici venu le jour de l’hommage suprême
Que la Bastide, ému, rend solennellement
Au médecin qui fut, jusqu’à la tombe même,
Le modèle parfait du plus pur dévouement

Que ce spectacle est beau, touchant et grandiose !
Ah ! nous nous sentons tous, troublés rien qu’à le voir !
Et nous applaudissons à cette apothéose,
Glorification d’un homme de devoir.

Ô docteur, dans ton œuvre admirable, sublime,
Fécondé en résultats, quoique faite sans bruit,
Tu te montras loyal, généreux, magnanime ;
Mais tu ne devais pas en recueillir le fruit !

Pendant trente-huit ans, avec persévérance,
Tu pratiques l’amour des humbles, des petits ;
Et pour leur apporter la santé, l’espérance,
Pas un seul jour, tes pas ne furent ralentis.

Dans ce rôle, tu sus te hausser à la taille
Des soldats qu’ennoblit un trépas glorieux :
Tu tombas aussi, toi, sur un champ de bataille,
Bravant tranquillement le Mal mystérieux,

Le Mal que, sans trembler, tu regardais en face,
Alors qu’il s’agissait de sauver ton prochain ;
Le Mal qui, tout à coup, traîtreusement terrasse,
En aveugle parfois, le meilleur, le plus saint !

Tu compris aussitôt à cet instant si grave,
Qu’approchait à grands pas le fatal dénouement ;
Et pourtant, même alors, ô docteur, toujours brave,
Très calme, tu le vis venir stoïquement.

Toi qu’une vive foi consolait à cette heure,
Tu gardas jusqu’au bout cette sérénité
Et t’écrias, au seuil de la froide demeure :
« Seigneur, c’est la mort ? » Non, c’est l’immortalité !

Cette immortalité sans tache, qui consiste
À vivre dans le cœur de tes concitoyens ;
Car, pieux et profond, ton souvenir subsiste
Et restera toujours parmi les Bastidiens !

Toi que chacun de nous publiquement honore,
Nous ne pourrons jamais, ici, t’oublier, non !
Et lorsque dans longtemps, longtemps, longtemps encore,
Quelqu’un évoquera comme exemple, le nom

D’un homme qui donna, tout entière, son âme
Au devoir, vaillamment, noblement accompli,
De même qu’aujourd’hui, tout, bien haut, le proclame,
Les échos répondront : - LE DOCTEUR CHABRELY ! -

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