Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 11.djvu/535

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503
HARVEY

however, the office of consiliarius, which he again held in the two following years. He had already enriched the college with other gifts besides the honour of his name. He had raised for them "a noble building of Roman architecture (rustic work with Corinthian pilasters), comprising a great parlour or conversation room below and a library above"; he had furnished the library with books, and filled the museum with "simples and rarities," as well as with specimens of instruments used in the surgical and obstetric branches of medicine. At last he determined to give to his beloved college his paternal estate at Burmarsh in Kent. His wife had died some years before, his brothers were wealthy men, and he was childless, so that he was defrauding no heir when, in July 1656, he made the transfer of this property, then valued at £56 per annum, with provision for a salary to the college librarian and for the endowment of an annual oration, which is still given on the anniversary of the day. The orator, so Harvey orders in his deed of gift, is to exhort the fellows of the college "to search out and study the secrets of nature by way of experiment, and also for the honour of the profession to continue mutual love and affection among themselves." Harvey, like his contemporary and great successor Sydenham, was long afflicted with gout, but he preserved his activity of mind to an advanced age. In his eightieth year, on the 3d of June 1657,[1] he was attacked by paralysis, and though deprived of speech was able to send for his nephews and distribute his watch, ring, and other personal trinkets among them. He died the same evening, "the palsy giving him an easy passport," and was buried with great honour in his brother Eliab's vault at Hempstead in Essex, "annorum et famæ satur."

Aubrey, to whom we owe most of the minor particulars about Harvey which have been preserved, says—"In person he was not tall, but of the lowest stature; round faced, olivaster complexion, little eyes, round, very black, full of spirits; his hair black as a raven, but quite white twenty years before he died." The best portrait of him extant is by Cornelius Jansen in the library of the College of Physicians, one of those rescued from the great fire, which destroyed their original hall in 1666. It has been often engraved, and is prefixed to the fine edition of his works published in 1766.

Harvey's Work on the Circulation.—In estimating the character and value of the discovery announced in the Exercitatio de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis, it is necessary to bear in mind the previous state of knowledge on the subject. Aristotle taught that in man and the higher animals the blood was elaborated from the food in the liver, thence carried to the heart, and sent by it through the veins over the body. His successors of the Alexandrian school of medicine, Erasistratus and Herophilus, further elaborated his system, and taught that, while the veins carried blood from the heart to the members, the arteries carried a subtle kind of air or spirit. For the practical physician only two changes had been made in this theory of the circulation between the Christian era and the 16th century. Galen had discovered that the arteries were not, as their name implies, merely air-pipes, but that they contained blood as well as vital air or spirit. And it had been gradually ascertained that the nerves (νεῠρα) which arose from the brain and conveyed "animal spirits" to the body were different from the tendons or sinews (νεῠρα) which attach muscles to bones. First, then, the physicians of the time of Linacre knew that the blood is not stagnant in the body. So did Shakespeare and Homer, and every augur who inspected the entrails of a victim, and every village barber who breathed a vein. Plato even uses the expression τό αιμα κατά πάντα τά μέλη σφοδρως περιφερέσθαι. But no one had a conception of a continuous stream returning to its source (a circulation in the true sense of the word) either in the system or in the lungs. If they used the word circulatio, as did Cæsalpinus,[2] it was as vaguely as the French policeman cries "Circulez." The movements of the blood were in fact thought to be slow and irregular in direction as well as in speed, like the "circulation" of air in a house, or the circulation of a crowd in the streets of a city. Secondly, they supposed that one kind of blood flowed from the liver to the right ventricle of the heart, and thence to the lungs and the general system by the veins, and that another kind flowed from the left ventricle to the lungs and general system by the arteries. Thirdly, they supposed that the septum of the heart was pervious and allowed blood to pass directly from the right to the left side. Fourthly, they had no conception of the functions of the heart as the motor power of the movement of the blood. They doubted whether its substance was muscular; they supposed its pulsation to be due to expansion of the spirits it contained; they believed the only dynamic effect which it had on the blood to be sucking it in during its active diastole, and they supposed the chief use of its constant movements to be the due mixture of blood and spirits.

Of the great anatomists of the 16th century, Sylvius (In Hipp. et Gal. Phys. Partem Anatom. Isagoge) described the valves of the veins; Vesalius (De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1542) ascertained that the septum between the right and left ventricles is complete, though he could not bring himself to deny the invisible pores which Galen's system demanded. Servetus, in his Christianismi Restitutio (1553), goes somewhat further than his fellow-student Vesalius, and says—"Paries ille medius non est aptus ad communicationem et elaborationem illam; licet aliquid resudare possit;" and, from this anatomical fact and the large size of the pulmonary arteries he concludes that there is a communication in the lungs by which blood passes from the pulmonary artery to the pulmonary vein—"Eodem artificio quo in hepato fit transfusio a vena portæ ad venam cavam propter sanguinem, fit etiam in pulmone transfusio a vena arteriosa ad arteriam venosam propter spiritum." The natural spirit of the left side and the vital spirit of the right side of the heart were therefore, he concluded, practically the same, and hence two instead of three distinct spiritus should be admitted. It seems doubtful whether even Servetus rightly conceived of the entire mass of the blood passing through the pulmonary artery and the lungs. The transference of the spiritus naturalis to the lungs, and its return to the left ventricle as spiritus vitalis, was the function which he regarded as important. Indeed a true conception of the lesser circulation as a transference of the whole blood of the right side to the left was impossible until the corresponding transference in the greater or systemic circulation was discovered. Servetus, however, was the true predecessor of Harvey in physiology, and his claims to that honour are perfectly authentic and univer sally admitted.[3]

The way then to Harvey's great work had been paved by the discovery of the valves in the veins, and by that of the lesser circulation,—the former due to Sylvius and Fabricius, the latter to Servetus,—but the significance of the


  1. This is the date usually given according to the college annals. Granger's Biographical History of England makes it June 30; Hamey, a contemporary, June 15; while Dr Lawrence, following the inscription on the tomb, gives June 3, 1658.
  2. Indeed the same word, περίοδος αίματος, occurs in the Hippocratic writings, and was held by Van der Linden to prove that to the father of medicine himself, and not to Columbus or Cæsalpinus, belonged the laurels of Harvey.
  3. Realdus Columbus (De Re Anatomica, 1559) formally denies the muscularity of the heart, yet correctly teaches that blood and spirits pass from the right to the left ventricle, not through the septum,