FELTZ (Felx, Fels, Felts), CHARLES-ELEMY-JOSEPH-ALEXANDRE-FERDINAND, surgeon major; b. c. 1710 in Germany, son of Elemy-Victor Feltz, a doctor, and Marie-Ursule Mouthe; d. 9 March 1776 at or near Blois, France.
Charles-Elemy-Joseph-Alexandre-Ferdinand Feltz landed in New France in 1738 as a recruit. He probably already had some experience as a surgeon, since the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu of Montreal selected him “to take care of the ailing inhabitants in their hospital.” In September 1740 he was called to Quebec and succeeded Michel Bertier* as surgeon to the Hôtel-Dieu and surgeon-major of the town. Governor Charles de Beauharnois* hoped to get him the latter position permanently, but the home authorities appointed Antoine Briault. Fortune nevertheless favoured him. The surgeon-major of Montreal, Joseph Benoist, who was old and crippled, retired from professional practice, and with Intendant Hocquart’s support Feltz obtained the post. He returned to Montreal with his commission as surgeon-major at the beginning of August 1742.
The surgeon’s prospects quickly improved. He soon moved into his own house on Rue Notre-ame and shortly after acquired a second property, with a garden and orchard, in the faubourg d’Ailleboust. He bought a piece of land in the faubourg Saint-Laurent, subdivided it into lots, and sold about 20 of them between 1754 and 1759. All these investments brought good returns, and Feltz profited from similar transactions in the fief of La Gauchetière, near Montreal. With the income he was able to buy two-thirds of the fief of Île Saint-Paul (Île des Sœurs) from Jean Le Ber de Senneville on 11 Aug. 1758.
His professional practice made him even wealthier. Every year he was paid 1,008 livres tournois as surgeon-major of Montreal and 300 “for his calls and trips to treat the Indians.” As surgeon of the Hôtel-Dieu of Montreal until 1760, and the Hôpital Général from 1747 to 1766, Feltz regularly received fees from these institutions. He also had an income from selling medicaments. In his consulting room he kept more than 1,000 livres’ worth of remedies including poudre divine, vitriol, and the famous theriac, a current panacea. The Seven Years’ War gave new impetus to this lucrative business.
Ferdinand Feltz had a way of life that matched his fortune. He not only had a maidservant but also owned slaves, and although his wealthiest colleagues were content with two, or even one, he had to have ten. He associated with the socially prominent. Madame Bégon [Rocbert*] used to meet him at receptions where the “gentlefolk” of the town congregated. On Twelfth Night he entertained Charles Le Moyne* de Longueuil and Jean-Victor Varin de La Marre at his home, and François-Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil found refuge under his roof after a quarrel with his brother, Governor Rigaud de Vaudreuil. Mother d’Youville [Dufrost] took him into her confidence and made a friend of him.
On 4 Nova 1741 Feltz had married Marie-Ursule, daughter of François Aubert* de La Chesnaye, in Quebec. This marriage had probably facilitated his entry into the inner circle of Montreal society. When he married Cécile Gosselin, widow of merchant Charles-Dominique Douaire de Bondy, on 16 Feb. 1757 in Lachine, he gained new and equally useful connections.
Feltz’s competence as a surgeon and physician was valued by the people about him. He treated several prominent members of the colony’s “high society.” Madame Bégon, who was at times sceptical of his diagnoses and admitted that she did not believe all his “charades,” nevertheless turned to him for treatment. Like the majority of his profession, Feltz made frequent use of blood-lettings and enemas. Sometimes his treatment was less conventional-for example he used toads to try to relieve a sore on Mother d’Youville’s knee. But what largely established his reputation was his prescription for curing ulcers, a secret which surgeons Louis-Nicolas Landriaux and Pierre-Joseph Compain* inherited when he left. Finally, his well-informed opinion was sought when nurses had to be chosen for foundlings, and he was called on to adjudicate disputed bills of certain of his colleagues.
Feltz, who had received his naturalization papers on 3 Feb. 1758, thought of leaving for France after the conquest, but the authorities in Britain ordered him to remain to take care of the sick and wounded soldiers hospitalized in Montreal. In June 1766 James Murray gave him a certificate acknowledging his services, and at the end of August he left Canada for good. In France he continued to practise in the region of Blois until his death ten years later.
Ferdinand Feltz, a jovial character who at times liked to make fun of the failings of his fellow citizens, attained a prosperity which came to few in his profession, thanks to good marriages and his skill as a practitioner and businessman. He remains one of the most interesting figures in the medical annals of the French régime.
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