On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals
~William Harvey~

“The heart, consequently, is the beginning of life; the sun of the microcosm, even as the sun in his turn might well be designated the heart of the world; for it is the heart by whose virtue and pulse the blood is moved, perfected, and made nutrient, and is preserved from corruption and coagulation; it is the household divinity which, discharging its function, nourishes, cherishes, quickens the whole body, and is indeed the foundation of life, the source of all action.”

“. . . I tremble lest I have mankind at large for my enemies, so much doth wont and custom become a second nature. Doctrine once sown strikes deep its root, and respect for antiquity influences all men. Still the die is cast, and my trust is in my love of truth and the candour of cultivated minds.”

William Harvey, one of history’s most ground-breaking physiologists, was born in 1578 in Folkestone, England, where, “as a child he is said to have played with the hearts of animals obtained at the local slaughterhouse,” (A History of the Life Sciences, Lois Magner, Marcel Dekker, 1979).
As an adult, Harvey earned a Bachelor of Arts from Caius College in Cambridge and then went on to study medicine at the University of Padua. He later returned to London, became a successful physician, was elected Fellow of the College of Physicians, became a professor of anatomy, and was the physician of the Biblical James I and Charles I, Kings of England.
The work for which Harvey is most widely renowned is his On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals. Published in 1628, this work contradicted the teachings of Galen, the physiological canon of the day. As a consequence of his controversial findings, Harvey’s medical practiced suffered as patients were leery of being treated by a doctor whom they deemed a quack. A clear example of the authoritative dogma that Harvey was up against is illustrated in the words of John Riolan, Anatomist of the University of Paris, when he said, “. . . one should not admit Galen to be wrong. Even if dissection revealed differences, one must presume that Galen had been right and that nature had changed since he wrote.” Nevertheless, even with all the criticism directed at him, Harvey remained a polite and respectful individual who would first listen patiently to his opponents, and then refute them with an overwhelming amount of observational evidence to the contrary.

Home Next