By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: William Harvey and the Discovery of the Circulation of the Blood
Author: Huxley, Thomas Henry, 1825-1895
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "William Harvey and the Discovery of the Circulation of the Blood" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.


By Thomas H. Huxley


I DESIRE this evening to give you some account of the life and labours
of a very noble Englishman--William Harvey.

William Harvey was born in the year 1578, and as he lived until the year
1657, he very nearly attained the age of 80. He was the son of a small
landowner in Kent, who was sufficiently wealthy to send this, his eldest
son, to the University of Cambridge; while he embarked the others in
mercantile pursuits, in which they all, as time passed on, attained

William Harvey, after pursuing his education at Cambridge, and taking
his degree there, thought it was advisable--and justly thought so, in
the then state of University education--to proceed to Italy, which
at that time was one of the great centres of intellectual activity in
Europe, as all friends of freedom hope it will become again, sooner or
later. In those days the University of Padua had a great renown;
and Harvey went there and studied under a man who was then very
famous--Fabricius of Aquapendente. On his return to England, Harvey
became a member of the College of Physicians in London, and entered into
practice; and, I suppose, as an indispensable step thereto, proceeded
to marry. He very soon became one of the most eminent members of the
profession in London; and, about the year 1616, he was elected by the
College of Physicians their Professor of Anatomy. It was while Harvey
held this office that he made public that great discovery of the
circulation of the blood and the movements of the heart, the nature of
which I shall endeavour by-and-by to explain to you at length. Shortly
afterwards, Charles the First having succeeded to the throne in 1625,
Harvey became one of the king's physicians; and it is much to the credit
of the unfortunate monarch--who, whatever his faults may have been,
was one of the few English monarchs who have shown a taste for art and
science--that Harvey became his attached and devoted friend as well
as servant; and that the king, on the other hand, did all he could to
advance Harvey's investigations. But, as you know, evil times came on;
and Harvey, after the fortunes of his royal master were broken,
being then a man of somewhat advanced years--over 60 years of age, in
fact--retired to the society of his brothers in and near London, and
among them pursued his studies until the day of his death. Harvey's
career is a life which offers no salient points of interest to the
biographer. It was a life devoted to study and investigation; and it
was a life the devotion of which was amply rewarded, as I shall have
occasion to point out to you, by its results.

Harvey, by the diversity, the variety, and the thoroughness of his
investigations, was enabled to give an entirely new direction to at
least two branches--and two of the most important branches--of what
now-a-days we call Biological Science. On the one hand, he founded
all our modern physiology by the discovery of the exact nature of the
motions of the heart, and of the course in which the blood is propelled
through the body; and, on the other, he laid the foundation of that
study of development which has been so much advanced of late years, and
which constitutes one of the great pillars of the doctrine of evolution.
This doctrine, I need hardly tell you, is now tending to revolutionise
our conceptions of the origin of living things, exactly in the same
way as Harvey's discovery of the circulation in the seventeeth century
revolutionised the conceptions which men had previously entertained with
regard to physiological processes.

It would, I regret, be quite impossible for me to attempt, in the course
of the time I can presume to hold you here, to unfold the history of
more than one of these great investigations of Harvey. I call them
"great investigations," as distinguished from "large publications." I
have in my hand a little book, which those of you who are at a great
distance may have some difficulty in seeing, and which I value very
much. It is, I am afraid, sadly thumbed and scratched with annotations
by a very humble successor and follower of Harvey. This little book is
the edition of 1651 of the 'Exercitationes de Generatione'; and if you
were to add another little book, printed in the same small type, and
about one-seventh of the thickness, you would have the sum total of the
printed matter which Harvey contributed to our literature. And yet
in that sum total was contained, I may say, the materials of two
revolutions in as many of the main branches of biological science. If
Harvey's published labours can be condensed into so small a compass, you
must recollect that it is not because he did not do a great deal more.
We know very well that he did accumulate a very considerable number of
observations on the most varied topics of medicine, surgery, and natural
history. But, as I mentioned to you just now, Harvey, for a time, took
the royal side in the domestic quarrel of the Great Rebellion, as it
is called; and the Parliament, not unnaturally resenting that action of
his, sent soldiers to seize his papers. And while I imagine they found
nothing treasonable among those papers, yet, in the process of rummaging
through them, they destroyed all the materials which Harvey had spent a
laborious life in accumulating; and hence it is that the man's work and
labours are represented by so little in apparent bulk.

What I chiefly propose to do to-night is to lay before you an account of
the nature of the discovery which Harvey made, and which is termed the
Discovery of the Circulation of the Blood. And I desire also, with
some particularity, to draw your attention to the methods by which that
discovery was achieved; for, in both these respects, I think, there will
be much matter for profitable reflection.

Let me point out to you, in the first place, with respect to this
important matter of the movements of the heart and the course of the
blood in the body, that there is a certain amount of knowledge
which must have been obtained without men taking the trouble to seek
it--knowledge which must have been taken in, in the course of time,
by everybody who followed the trade of a butcher, and still more so by
those people who, in ancient times, professed to divine the course of
future events from the entrails of animals. It is quite obvious to
all, from ordinary accidents, that the bodies of all the higher animals
contain a hot red fluid--the blood. Everybody can see upon the surface
of some part of the skin, underneath that skin, pulsating tubes, which
we know as the arteries. Everybody can see under the surface of the skin
more delicate and softer looking tubes, which do not pulsate, which are
of a bluish colour, and are termed the veins. And every person who has
seen a recently killed animal opened knows that these two kinds of tubes
to which I have just referred, are connected with an apparatus which
is placed in the chest, which apparatus, in recently killed animals,
is still pulsating. And you know that in yourselves you can feel the
pulsation of this organ, the heart, between the fifth and sixth ribs. I
take it that this much of anatomy and physiology has been known from the
oldest times, not only as a matter of curiosity, but because one of the
great objects of men, from their earliest recorded existence, has been
to kill one another, and it was a matter of considerable importance to
know which was the best place for hitting an enemy. I can refer you to
very ancient records for most precise and clear information that one of
the best places is to smite him between the fifth and sixth ribs. Now
that is a very good piece of regional anatomy, for that is the place
where the heart strikes in its pulsations, and the use of smiting there
is that you go straight to the heart. Well, all that must have been
known from time immemorial--at least for 4,000 or 5,000 years before the
commencement of our era--because we know that for as great a period as
that the Egyptians, at any rate, whatever may have been the case with
other people, were in the enjoyment of a highly developed civilisation.
But of what knowledge they may have possessed beyond this we know
nothing; and in tracing back the springs of the origin of everything
that we call "modern science" (which is not merely knowing, but knowing
systematically, and with the intention and endeavour to find out
the causal connection of things)--I say that when we trace back the
different lines of all the modern sciences we come at length to one
epoch and to one country--the epoch being about the fourth and fifth
centuries before Christ, and the country being ancient Greece. It is
there that we find the commencement and the root of every branch of
physical science and of scientific method. If we go back to that time
we have in the works attributed to Aristotle, who flourished between 300
and 400 years before Christ, a sort of encyclopaedia of the scientific
knowledge of that day--and a very marvellous collection of, in many
respects, accurate and precise knowledge it is. But, so far as regards
this particular topic, Aristotle, it must be confessed, has not got very
far beyond common knowledge. He knows a little about the structure of
the heart. I do not think that his knowledge is so inaccurate as many
people fancy, but it does not amount to much. A very few years after his
time, however, there was a Greek philosopher, Erasistratus, who lived
about three hundred years before Christ, and who must have pursued
anatomy with much care, for he made the important discovery that there
are membranous flaps, which are now called "valves," at the origins
of the great vessels; and that there are certain other valves in the
interior of the heart itself.

Fig. 1.--The apparatus of the circulation, as at present known. The
capillary vessels, which connect the arteries and veins, are omitted, on
account of their small size. The shading of the "venous system" is given
to all the vessels which contain venous blood; that of the "arterial
system" to all the vessels which contain arterial blood.

I have here (Fig. 1) a purposely rough, but, so far as it goes,
accurate, diagram of the structure of the heart and the course of the
blood. The heart is supposed to be divided into two portions. It would
be possible, by very careful dissection, to split the heart down the
middle of a partition, or so-called 'septum', which exists in it, and to
divide it into the two portions which you see here represented; in which
case we should have a left heart and a right heart, quite distinct from
one another. You will observe that there is a portion of each heart
which is what is called the ventricle. Now the ancients applied the term
'heart' simply and solely to the ventricles. They did not count the rest
of the heart--what we now speak of as the 'auricles'--as any part of the
heart at all; but when they spoke of the heart they meant the left and
the right ventricles; and they described those great vessels, which we
now call the 'pulmonary veins' and the 'vena cava', as opening directly
into the heart itself.

What Erasistratus made out was that, at the roots of the aorta and
the pulmonary artery (Fig. 1) there were valves, which opened in the
direction indicated by the arrows; and, on the other hand, that at the
junction of what he called the veins with the heart there were other
valves, which also opened again in the direction indicated by the
arrows. This was a very capital discovery, because it proved that if
the heart was full of fluid, and if there were any means of causing that
fluid in the ventricles to move, then the fluid could move only in
one direction; for you will observe that, as soon as the fluid is
compressed, the two valves between the ventricles and the veins will be
shut, and the fluid will be obliged to move into the arteries; and,
if it tries to get back from them into the heart, it is prevented from
doing so by the valves at the origin of the arteries, which we now
call the semilunar valves (half-moon shaped valves); so that it is
impossible, if the fluid move at all, that it should move in any other
way than from the great veins into the arteries. Now that was a very
remarkable and striking discovery.

But it is not given to any man to be altogether right (that is a
reflection which it is very desirable for every man who has had the good
luck to be nearly right once, always to bear in mind); and Erasistratus,
while he made this capital and important discovery, made a very capital
and important error in another direction, although it was a very natural
error. If, in any animal which is recently killed, you open one of those
pulsating trunks which I referred to a short time ago, you will find, as
a general rule, that it either contains no blood at all or next to none;
but that, on the contrary, it is full of air. Very naturally, therefore,
Erasistratus came to the conclusion that this was the normal and natural
state of the arteries, and that they contained air. We are apt to think
this a very gross blunder; but, to anybody who is acquainted with
the facts of the case, it is, at first sight, an exceedingly natural
conclusion. Not only so, but Erasistratus might have very justly
imagined that he had seen his way to the meaning of the connection of
the left side of the heart with the lungs; for we find that what we now
call the pulmonary vein is connected with the lungs, and branches out in
them (Fig. 1). Finding that the greater part of this system of vessels
was filled with air after death, this ancient thinker very shrewdly
concluded that its real business was to receive air from the lungs, and
to distribute that air all through the body, so as to get rid of the
grosser humours and purify the blood. That was a very natural and very
obvious suggestion, and a highly ingenious one, though it happened to be
a great error. You will observe that the only way of correcting it was
to experiment upon living animals, for there is no other way in which
this point could be settled.

Fig.2,--The Course of the Blood according to Galen (A.D. 170).

And hence we are indebted, for the correction of the error of
Erasistratus, to one of the greatest experimenters of ancient or modern
times, Claudius Galenus, who lived in the second century after Christ. I
say it was to this man more than any one else, because he knew that the
only way of solving physiological problems was to examine into the facts
in the living animal. And because Galen was a skilful anatomist, and
a skilful experimenter, he was able to show in what particulars
Erasistratus had erred, and to build up a system of thought upon this
subject which was not improved upon for fully 1,300 years. I have
endeavoured, in Fig. 2, to make clear to you exactly what it was he
tried to establish. You will observe that this diagram is practically
the same as that given in Fig. 1, only simplified. The same facts may
be looked upon by different people from different points of view. Galen
looked upon these facts from a very different point of view from that
which we ourselves occupy; but, so far as the facts are concerned, they
were the same for him as for us. Well then, the first thing that Galen
did was to make out experimentally that, during life, the arteries are
not full of air, but that they are full of blood. And he describes a
great variety of experiments which he made upon living animals with the
view of proving this point, which he did prove effectually and for all
time; and that you will observe was the only way of settling the matter.
Furthermore, he demonstrated that the cavities of the left side of the
heart--what we now call the left auricle and the left ventricle--are,
like the arteries, full of blood during life, and that that blood was of
the scarlet kind--arterialised, or as he called it "pneumatised," blood.
It was known before, that the pulmonary artery, the right ventricle,
and the veins, contain the darker kind of blood, which was thence called
venous. Having proved that the whole of the left side of the heart,
during life, is full of scarlet arterial blood, Galen's next point
was to inquire into the mode of communication between the arteries
and veins. It was known before his time that both arteries and veins
branched out. Galen maintained, though he could not prove the fact, that
the ultimate branches of the arteries and veins communicated together
somehow or other, by what he called 'anastomoses', and that these
'anastomoses' existed not only in the body in general but also in the
lungs. In the next place, Galen maintained that all the veins of
the body arise from the liver; that they draw the blood thence and
distribute it over the body. People laugh at that notion now-a-days; but
if anybody will look at the facts he will see that it is a very probable
supposition. There is a great vein (hepatic vein--Fig. 1) which rises
out of the liver, and that vein goes straight into the 'vena cava' (Fig.
1) which passes to the heart, being there joined by the other veins
of the body. The liver itself is fed by a very large vein (portal
vein--Fig. 1), which comes from the alimentary canal. The way the
ancients looked at this matter was, that the food, after being received
into the alimentary canal, was then taken up by the branches of this
great vein, which are called the 'vena portae', just as the roots of a
plant suck up nourishment from the soil in which it lives; that then it
was carried to the liver, there to be what was called "concocted," which
was their phrase for its conversion into substances more fitted for
nutrition than previously existed in it. They then supposed that the
next thing to be done was to distribute this fluid through the body; and
Galen like his predecessors, imagined that the "concocted" blood, having
entered the great 'vena cava', was distributed by its ramifications all
over the body. So that, in his view (Fig. 2), the course of the blood
was from the intestine to the liver, and from the liver into the great
'vena cava', including what we now call the right auricle of the heart,
whence it was distributed by the branches of the veins. But the whole of
the blood was not thus disposed of. Part of the blood, it was supposed,
went through what we now call the pulmonary arteries (Fig. 1), and,
branching out there, gave exit to certain "fuliginous" products, and
at the same time took in from the air a something which Galen calls the
'pneuma'. He does not know anything about what we call oxygen; but it
is astonishing how very easy it would be to turn his language into the
equivalent of modern chemical theory. The old philosopher had so just
a suspicion of the real state of affairs that you could make use of his
language in many cases, if you substituted the word "oxygen," which we
now-a-days use, for the word 'pneuma'. Then he imagined that the blood,
further concocted or altered by contact with the 'pneuma', passed to
a certain extent to the left side of the heart. So that Galen believed
that there was such a thing as what is now called the pulmonary
circulation. He believed, as much as we do, that the blood passed
through the right side of the heart, through the artery which goes to
the lungs, through the lungs themselves, and back by what we call the
pulmonary veins to the left side of the heart. But he thought it was
only a very small portion of the blood which passes to the right side of
the heart in this way; the rest of the blood, he thought, passed through
the partition which separates the two ventricles of the heart. He
describes a number of small pits, which really exist there, as holes,
and he supposed that the greater part of the blood passed through these
holes from the right to the left ventricle (Fig 2).

It is of great importance you should clearly understand these teachings
of Galen, because, as I said just now, they sum up all that anybody knew
until the revival of learning; and they come to this--that the blood
having passed from the stomach and intestines through the liver, and
having entered the great veins, was by them distributed to every part of
the body; that part of the blood, thus distributed, entered the arterial
system by the 'anastomoses', as Galen called them, in the lungs; that
a very small portion of it entered the arteries by the 'anastomoses' in
the body generally; but that the greater part of it passed through the
septum of the heart, and so entered the left side and mingled with the
pneumatised blood, which had been subjected to the air in the lungs,
and was then distributed by the arteries, and eventually mixed with the
currents of blood, coming the other way, through the veins.

Yet one other point about the views of Galen. He thought that both the
contractions and dilatations of the heart--what we call the 'systole'
or contraction of the heart, and the 'diastole' or dilatation--Galen
thought that these were both active movements; that the heart actively
dilated, so that it had a sort of sucking power upon the fluids which
had access to it. And again, with respect to the movements of the pulse,
which anybody can feel at the wrist and elsewhere, Galen was of opinion
that the walls of the arteries partook of that which he supposed to be
the nature of the walls of the heart, and that they had the power of
alternately actively contracting and actively dilating, so that he is
careful to say that the nature of the pulse is comparable, not to the
movement of a bag, which we fill by blowing into it, and which we empty
by drawing the air out of it, but to the action of a bellows, which is
actively dilated and actively compressed.

Fig 3.--The course of the blood from the right to the left side of the
heart (Realdus Columbus, 1559).

After Galen's time came the collapse of the Roman Empire, the extinction
of physical knowledge, and the repression of every kind of scientific
inquiry, by its powerful and consistent enemy, the Church; and that
state of things lasted until the latter part of the Middle Ages saw the
revival of learning. That revival of learning, so far as anatomy
and physiology are concerned, is due to the renewed influence of
the philosophers of ancient Greece, and indeed, of Galen. Arabic
commentators had translated Galen, and portions of his works had got
into the language of the learned in the Middle Ages, in that way;
but, by the study of the classical languages, the original text became
accessible to the men who were then endeavouring to learn for themselves
something about the facts of nature. It was a century or more before
these men, finding themselves in the presence of a master--finding that
all their lives were occupied in attempting to ascertain for themselves
that which was familiar to him--I say it took the best part of a hundred
years before they could fairly see that their business was not to follow
him, but to follow his example--namely, to look into the facts of nature
for themselves, and to carry on, in his spirit, the work he had begun.
That was first done by Vesalius, one of the greatest anatomists who ever
lived; but his work does not specially bear upon the question we are
now concerned with. So far as regards the motions of the heart and the
course of the blood, the first man in the Middle Ages, and indeed the
only man who did anything which was of real importance, was one Realdus
Columbus, who was professor at Padua in the year 1559, and published a
great anatomical treatise. What Realdus Columbus did was this; once
more resorting to the method of Galen, turning to the living animal,
experimenting, he came upon new facts, and one of these new facts was
that there was not merely a subordinate communication between the blood
of the right side of the heart and that of the left side of the heart,
through the lungs, but that there was a constant steady current of
blood, setting through the pulmonary artery on the right side, through
the lungs, and back by the pulmonary veins to the left side of the heart
(Fig.3). Such was the capital discovery and demonstration of Realdus
Columbus. He is the man who discovered what is loosely called the
'pulmonary circulation'; and it really is quite absurd, in the face of
the fact, that twenty years afterwards we find Ambrose Pare, the great
French surgeon, ascribing this discovery to him as a matter of common
notoriety, to find that attempts are made to give the credit of it to
other people. So far as I know, this discovery of the course of the
blood through the lungs, which is called the pulmonary circulation, is
the one step in real advance that was made between the time of Galen
and the time of Harvey. And I would beg you to note that the word
"circulation" is improperly employed when it is applied to the course of
the blood through the lungs. The blood from the right side of the
heart, in getting to the left side of the heart, only performs a
half-circle--it does not perform a whole circle--it does not return
to the place from whence it started; and hence the discovery of the
so-called "pulmonary circulation" has nothing whatever to do with that
greater discovery which I shall point out to you by-and-by was made
by Harvey, and which is alone really entitled to the name of the
circulation of the blood.

If anybody wants to understand what Harvey's great desert really was,
I would suggest to him that he devote himself to a course of reading,
which I cannot promise shall be very entertaining, but which, in this
respect at any rate, will be highly instructive--namely, the works of
the anatomists of the latter part of the 16th century and the beginning
of the 17th century. If anybody will take the trouble to do that which
I have thought it my business to do, he will find that the doctrines
respecting the action of the heart and the motion of the blood which
were taught in every university in Europe, whether in Padua or in Paris,
were essentially those put forward by Galen, 'plus' the discovery of the
pulmonary course of the blood which had been made by Realdus Columbus.
In every chair of anatomy and physiology (which studies were not then
separated) in Europe, it was taught that the blood brought to the liver
by the portal vein, and carried out of the liver to the 'vena cava'
by the hepatic vein, is distributed from the right side of the heart,
through the other veins, to all parts of the body; that the blood of the
arteries takes a like course from the heart towards the periphery; and
that it is there, by means of the 'anastomoses', more or less mixed up
with the venous blood. It so happens, by a curious chance, that up to
the year 1625 there was at Padua, which was Harvey's own university, a
very distinguished professor, Spigelius, whose work is extant, and who
teaches exactly what I am now telling you. It is perfectly true
that, some time before, Harvey's master, Fabricius, had not only
re-discovered, but had drawn much attention to certain pouch-like
structures, which are called the valves of the veins, found in the
muscular parts of the body, all of which are directed towards the heart,
and consequently impede the flow of the blood in the opposite direction.
And you will find it stated by people who have not thought much about
the matter, that it was this discovery of the valves of the veins which
led Harvey to imagine the course of the circulation of the blood. Now
it did not lead Harvey to imagine anything of the kind. He had heard
all about it from his master, Fabricius, who made a great point of
these valves in the veins, and he had heard the theories which Fabricius
entertained upon the subject, whose impression as to the use of the
valves was simply this--that they tended to take off any excess of
pressure of the blood in passing from the heart to the extremities; for
Fabricius believed, with the rest of the world, that the blood in the
veins flowed from the heart towards the extremities. This, under the
circumstances, was as good a theory as any other, because the action of
the valves depends altogether upon the form and nature of the walls
of the structures in which they are attached; and without accurate
experiment, it was impossible to say whether the theory of Fabricius
was right or wrong. But we not only have the evidence of the facts
themselves that these could tell Harvey nothing about the circulation,
but we have his own distinct declaration as to the considerations which
led him to the true theory of the circulation of the blood, and amongst
these the valves of the veins are not mentioned.

Fig. 4.--The circulation of the blood as demonstrated by Harvey (A.D.

Now then we may come to Harvey himself. When you read Harvey's treatise,
which is one of the most remarkable scientific monographs with which I
am acquainted--it occupies between 50 and 60 pages of a small quarto in
Latin, and is as terse and concise as it possibly can be--when you come
to look at Harvey's work, you will find that he had long struggled with
the difficulties of the accepted doctrine of the circulation. He had
received from Fabricius, and from all the great authorities of the day,
the current view of the circulation of the blood. But he was a man
with that rarest of all qualities--intellectual honesty; and by dint of
cultivating that great faculty, which is more moral than intellectual,
it had become impossible for him to say he believed anything which he
did not clearly believe. This is a most uncomfortable peculiarity--for
it gets you into all sorts of difficulties with all sorts of
people--but, for scientific purposes, it is absolutely invaluable.
Harvey possessed this peculiarity in the highest degree, and so it was
impossible for him to accept what all the authorities told him, and he
looked into the matter for himself. But he was not hasty. He worked at
his new views, and he lectured about them at the College of Physicians
for nine years; he did not print them until he was a man of fifty
years of age; and when he did print them he accompanied them with a
demonstration which has never been shaken, and which will stand till the
end of time. What Harvey proved, in short, was this (see Fig. 4)--that
everybody had made a mistake, for want of sufficiently accurate
experimentation as to the actual existence of the fact which everybody
assumed. To anybody who looks at the blood-vessels with an unprejudiced
eye it seems so natural that the blood should all come out of the liver,
and be distributed by the veins to the different parts of the body, that
nothing can seem simpler or more plain; and consequently no one could
make up his mind to dispute this apparently obvious assumption. But
Harvey did dispute it; and when he came to investigate the matter he
discovered that it was a profound mistake, and that, all this time, the
blood had been moving in just the opposite direction, namely, from the
small ramifications of the veins towards the right side of the heart.
Harvey further found that, in the arteries, the blood, as had previously
been known, was travelling from the greater trunks towards the
ramifications. Moreover, referring to the ideas of Columbus and of Galen
(for he was a great student of literature, and did justice to all his
predecessors), Harvey accepts and strengthens their view of the course
of the blood through the lungs, and he shows how it fitted into his
general scheme. If you will follow the course of the arrows in Fig. 4
you will see at once that--in accordance with the views of Columbus--the
blood passes from the right side of the heart, through the lungs, to the
left side. Then, adds Harvey, with abundant proof, it passes through the
arteries to all parts of the body; and then, at the extremities of their
branches in the different parts of the body, it passes (in what way he
could not tell, for his means of investigation did not allow him to say)
into the roots of the vents--then from the roots of the veins it goes
into the trunk and veins--then to the right side of the heart--and then
to the lungs, and so on.

That, you will observe, makes a complete circuit; and it was precisely
here that the originality of Harvey lay. There never yet has been
produced, and I do not believe there can be produced, a tittle of
evidence to show that, before his time, any one had the slightest
suspicion that a single drop of blood, starting in the left ventricle of
the heart, passes through the whole arterial system, comes back through
the venous system, goes through the lungs, and comes back to the place
whence it started. But that is the circulation of the blood, and it was
exactly this which Harvey was the first man to suspect, to discover, and
to demonstrate.

But this was by no means the only thing Harvey did. He was the first
who discovered and who demonstrated the true mechanism of the heart's
action. No one, before his time, conceived that the movement of the
blood was entirely due to the mechanical action of the heart as a pump.
There were all sorts of speculations about the matter, but nobody had
formed this conception, and nobody understood that the so-called
systole of the heart is a state of active contraction, and the so-called
diastole is a mere passive dilatation. Even within our own age that
matter had been discussed. Harvey is as clear as possible about it. He
says the movement of the blood is entirely due to the contractions of
the walls of the heart--that it is the propelling apparatus--and all
recent investigation tends to show that he was perfectly right. And from
this followed the true theory of the pulse. Galen said, as I pointed
out just now, that the arteries dilate as bellows, which have an active
power of dilatation and contraction, and not as bags which are blown
out and collapse. Harvey said it was exactly the contrary--the arteries
dilate as bags simply because the stroke of the heart propels the blood
into them; and, when they relax again, they relax as bags which are no
longer stretched, simply because the force of the blow of the heart
is spent. Harvey has been demonstrated to be absolutely right in this
statement of his; and yet, so slow is the progress of truth, that,
within my time, the question of the active dilatation of the arteries
has been discussed.

Thus Harvey's contributions to physiology may be summed up as follows:
In the first place, he was the first person who ever imagined, and still
more who demonstrated, the true course of the circulation of the blood
in the body; in the second place, he was the first person who ever
understood the mechanism of the heart, and comprehended that its
contraction was the cause of the motion of the blood; and thirdly, he
was the first person who took a just view of the nature of the pulse.
These are the three great contributions which he made to the science of
physiology; and I shall not err in saying--I speak in the presence of
distinguished physiologists, but I am perfectly certain that they will
endorse what I say--that upon that foundation the whole of our knowledge
of the human body, with the exception of the motor apparatus and the
sense organs, has been gradually built up, and that upon that foundation
the whole rests. And not only does scientific physiology rest upon
it, but everything like scientific medicine also rests upon it. As
you know--I hope it is now a matter of popular knowledge--it is the
foundation of all rational speculation about morbid processes; it is
the only key to the rational interpretation of that commonest of
all indications of disease, the state of the pulse; so that, both
theoretically and practically, this discovery, this demonstration of
Harvey's, has had an effect which is absolutely incalculable, and the
consequences of which will accumulate from age to age until they result
in a complete body of physiological science.

Fig.5.--The junction of the arteries and veins by capillary tubes,
discovered by Malpighi (A.D. 1664).

I regret that I am unable to pursue this subject much further; but there
is one point I should mention. In Harvey's time, the microscope was
hardly invented. It is quite true that in some of his embryological
researches he speaks of having made use of a hand glass; but that
was the most that he seems to have known anything about, or that was
accessible to him at that day. And so it came about, that, although he
examined the course of the blood in many of the lower animals--watched
the pulsation of the heart in shrimps, and animals of that kind--he
never could put the final coping-stone on his edifice. He did not know
to the day of his death, although quite clear about the fact that
the arteries and the veins do communicate, how it is that they
communicate--how it was that the blood of the arteries passed into the
veins. One is grieved to think that the grand old man should have gone
down to his tomb without the vast satisfaction it would have given to
him to see what the Italian naturalist Malpighi showed only seven years
later, in 1664, when he demonstrated, in a living frog, the actual
passage of the blood from the ultimate ramifications of the arteries
into the veins. But that absolute ocular demonstration of the truth of
the views he had maintained throughout his life it was not granted to
Harvey to see. What he did experience was this: that on the publication
of his doctrines, they were met with the greatest possible opposition;
and I have no doubt savage things were uttered in those old
controversies, and that a great many people said that these new-fangled
doctrines, reducing living processes to mere mechanism, would sap the
foundations of religion and morality. I do not know for certain that
they did, but they said things very like it. The first point was to
show that Harvey's views were absolutely untrue; and not being able to
succeed in that, opponents said they were not new; and not being able to
succeed in that, that they didn't matter. That is the usual course with
all new discoveries. But Harvey troubled himself very little about these
things. He remained perfectly quiet; for although reputed a hot-tempered
man, he never would have anything to do with controversy if he could
help it; and he only replied to one of his antagonists after twenty
years' interval, and then in the most charming spirit of candour and
moderation. But he had the great satisfaction of living to see his
doctrine accepted upon all sides. At the time of his death, there
was not an anatomical school in Europe in which the doctrine of the
circulation of the blood was not taught in the way in which Harvey had
laid it down. In that respect he had a happiness which is granted to
very few men.

I have said that the other great investigation of Harvey is not one
which can be dealt with to a general audience. It is very complex, and
therefore I must ask you to take my word for it that, although not so
fortunate an investigation, not so entirely accordant with later results
as the doctrine of the circulation; yet that still, this little treatise
of Harvey's has in many directions exerted an influence hardly less
remarkable than that exerted by the Essay upon the Circulation of the

And now let me ask your attention to two or three closing remarks.

If you look back upon that period of about 100 years which commences
with Harvey's birth--I mean from the year 1578 to 1680 or thereabouts--I
think you will agree with me, that it constitutes one of the most
remarkable epochs in the whole of that thousand years which we
may roughly reckon as constituting the history of Britain. In the
commencement of that period, we may see, if not the setting, at any rate
the declension of that system of personal rule which had existed under
previous sovereigns, and which, after a brief and spasmodic revival in
the time of George the Third, has now sunk, let us hope, into the limbo
of forgotten things. The latter part of that 100 years saw the dawn
of that system of free government which has grown and flourished, and
which, if the men of the present day be the worthy descendants of Eliott
and Pym, and Hampden and Milton, will go on growing as long as this
realm lasts. Within that time, one of the strangest phenomena which I
think I may say any nation has ever manifested arose to its height and
fell--I mean that strange and altogether marvellous phenomenon, English
Puritanism. Within that time, England had to show statesmen like
Burleigh, Strafford, and Cromwell--I mean men who were real statesmen,
and not intriguers, seeking to make a reputation at the expense of the
nation. In the course of that time, the nation had begun to throw off
those swarms of hardy colonists which, to the benefit of the world--and
as I fancy, in the long run, to the benefit of England herself--have
now become the United States of America; and, during the same epoch,
the first foundations were laid of that Indian Empire which, it may be,
future generations will not look upon as so happy a product of English
enterprise and ingenuity. In that time we had poets such as Spenser,
Shakespere, and Milton; we had a great philosopher, in Hobbes; and we
had a clever talker about philosophy, in Bacon. In the beginning of the
period, Harvey revolutionized the biological sciences, and at the end of
it, Newton was preparing the revolution of the physical sciences. I know
not any period of our history--I doubt if there be any period of the
history of any nation--which has precisely such a record as this to
show for a hundred years. But I do not recall these facts to your
recollection for a mere vainglorious purpose. I myself am of opinion
that the memory of the great men of a nation is one of its most precious
possessions--not because we have any right to plume ourselves upon their
having existed as a matter of national vanity, but because we have a
just and rational ground of expectation that the race which has brought
forth such products as these may, in good time and under fortunate
circumstances, produce the like again. I am one of those people who
do not believe in the natural decay of nations. I believe, to speak
frankly, though perhaps not quite so politely as I could wish--but I
am getting near the end of my lecture--that the whole theory is a
speculation invented by cowards to excuse knaves. My belief is, that so
far as this old English stock is concerned it has in it as much sap
and vitality and power as it had two centuries ago; and that, with due
pruning of rotten branches, and due hoeing up of weeds, which will grow
about the roots, the like products will be yielded again. The "weeds"
to which I refer are mainly three: the first of them is dishonesty, the
second is sentimentality, and the third is luxury. If William Harvey had
been a dishonest man--I mean in the high sense of the word--a man who
failed in the ideal of honesty--he would have believed what it was
easiest to believe--that which he received on the authority of his
predecessors. He would not have felt that his highest duty was to know
of his own knowledge that that which he said he believed was true, and
we should never have had those investigations, pursued through good
report and evil report, which ended in discoveries so fraught with
magnificent results for science and for man. If Harvey had been a
sentimentalist--by which I mean a person of false pity, a person who
has not imagination enough to see that great, distant evils may be much
worse than those which we can picture to ourselves, because they
happen to be immediate and near (for that, I take it, is the essence of
sentimentalism)--if Harvey had been a person of that kind, he, being
one of the kindest men living, would never have pursued those researches
which, as he tells us over and over again, he was obliged to pursue in
order to the ascertainment of those facts which have turned out to be of
such inestimable value to the human race; and I say, if on such grounds
he had failed to do so, he would have failed in his duty to the human
race. The third point is that Harvey was devoid of care either for
wealth, or for riches, or for ambition. The man found a higher ideal
than any of these things in the pursuit of truth and the benefit of his
fellow-men. If we all go and do likewise, I think there is no fear for
the decadence of England. I think that our children and our successors
will find themselves in a commonwealth, different it may be from that
for which Eliott, and Pym, and Hampden struggled, but one which will be
identical in the substance of its aims--great, worthy, and well to live

[Footnote 1: A Lecture delivered in the Free Trade Hall, November 2nd,

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "William Harvey and the Discovery of the Circulation of the Blood" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.