visit william harvey

                           William Harvey and the

                     Reception of the Circulation Theory

                             By Jonathan Brower

March 15, 1995. A term paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements of History 105 Winter term 1996, Ronald Tobey Professor,
University of California, Riverside.


Galen's Scheme of the Blood Vessels

Harvey's Circulatory System

Portrait (1) of Harvey

Portrait (2) of Harvey

Portrait of Riolan

Early Modern Anatomical Dissection Theatre

[Image] William HarveyEndnote1, the great English physiologist, came along
at a time when the VesalianEndnote2 Tradition was fully accepted and
practiced by physiologists everywhere. In fact, he was practicing this
tradition when he "discovered" the circulation of the heart and the motion
of the blood. Harvey often performed dissections and vivisections of various
animals in order to verify the statements made in the accepted textbooks of
that time. He once said that he preferred to learn "not from books but from
dissections, not from the tenets of Philosophers but from the fabric of
Nature."Endnote3 Harvey may also have been interested in disproving all of
Galen'sEndnote4 theories, because of the fact that he was an Aristotelian.
In fact, it can be seen that Harvey was, in fact, trying to disprove Galen's
theories when he said that Galen's results in a certain experiment were
marred by the reaction of "the living body."Endnote5

[Image] Although Harvey was but a single AristotelianEndnote6 amongst a sea
of Galenists, there were still a few close friends and colleagues who
supported him in his work and his discovery of the motion of the heart and
blood. True, his allies were few, but without them, Harvey may never have
had the courage to publish his ideas. It cannot be denied that he had many
opponents. Due to the number of people who are involved when reporting on
the reception of Harvey's doctrine during his lifetime, it will be easiest
to consider them, whether ally or opponent, in chronological order.

[Image] In 1629, Robert Fludd accepted Harvey's doctrine. Fludd was a member
of a group known as the "Brothers of the Rosy Cross (Rosicrucians)Endnote7,"
which was a Protestant organization. "In Fludd's hands the essential feature
of Rosicrucian thinking was a rejection of school natural philosophy as
pagan and the adoption of a Mosaic, cabalistic and hermetic
philosophy."Endnote8 Fludd's philosophical and religious beliefs led him to
accept Harvey's theory of circulation. In fact, Fludd's book Medicina
catholica, which was printed in 1629, was the first publication to mention
Harvey's work.Endnote9

[Image] In 1630, James Primrose, a Galenic physician, published his book
entitled Exercitationes et animadversiones in librium G. Harveii de motu
cordis et circulatione sanguinis. This was to be the first opposing voice to
Harvey's doctrine.Endnote10 According to Primrose, Harvey had made an error
in estimating the amount of blood pumped by the heart in half an hour.
Another of his arguments was that "in the olden days patients were healed
without the knowledge of the circulation, and that therefore, this doctrine,
even if true, would be useless."Endnote11

[Image] Perhaps one of Harvey's greatest opponents was Caspar Hofmann. His
criticism of Harvey's doctrine in 1636 arose from the belief that the blood
was perfected or concocted in the heart. Hofmann said, "If Harvey's idea of
the circulation was correct, there would be many concoctions of the blood,
an unlikely phenomenon, especially if one upheld the philosophical principal
that in nature, simplicity and perfection remain inviolate."Endnote12 This
argument caused Harvey many problems for some time, because he was not able
to refute it at first. The reason for this was that he could not deny that
the blood was concocted in the heart, because this was a vital piece of his
theory of the motion of the blood within the heart.Endnote13

[Image] In 1637, the famous mechanist, René DescartesEndnote14 accepted
Harvey's doctrine, but he had a few important reservations.Endnote15
Descartes agreed with Harvey's ideas about the circulation of the blood,
because they agreed with his own ideas about man as a machine. He also did
not believe that the heart contracted, but rather that it expanded.
Descartes believed that the heart acted as a furnace; it heated up the blood
until it was gaseous, and it was recondensed into a fluid in the cool
lungs.Endnote16 From this time on, Descartes never stopped praising Harvey
and giving him credit for discovering the circulation of the blood.Endnote17

[Image] In 1648, Harvey's greatest opponent, Jean Riolan, published
Enchiridium anatomicum, in which he criticized Harvey's doctrine. Riolan was
a Regius Professor in Paris as early as 1613, so he had a lot of experience
before he tried to take on Harvey. However, it seemed that Riolan was no
match for Harvey intellectually, because Harvey was always able to refute
Riolan's claims successfully.Endnote18 Riolan continued to be a thorn in
Harvey's side until 1653, when he apparently gave up.

[Image] In 1655, Harvey's work was accepted by a pupil of Caspar Hofmann's,
Helvius Dieterich.Endnote19 This is ironic, considering that Hofmann himself
never fully accepted Harvey's ideas. In this same year, Thomas Winston, who
was a lecturer at Gresham College and a colleague of Harvey's, failed to
mention or assist in demonstrating Harvey's doctrine.Endnote20 This was an
open act of denial, because of the fact that Winston and Harvey had worked
together for years as members of the esteemed College of Physicians; by not
helping Harvey to prove his theory, Winston was, in effect, showing that he
did not accept it as true.

[Image] It is evident, from looking at the responses to Harvey's doctrine
during his lifetime that it must have remained controversial until well past
the date of his death in 1657. He was finally laid to rest at Hempstead
Church, which was near Winslow Hall, the manor that Eliab Harvey had chosen
to make the family centre. "In 1655 Eliab Harvey built a chapel on the north
side of Hempstead Church with a vault below."Endnote21He had built this so
that all of the bodies of the members of the family could lie there
together, and monuments to them could be displayed on the walls of the
chapel above.Endnote22 It is here that one of the greatest physiologists of
all times has found his final resting place.



The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, ver. 7.05 [CD-ROM] (Novato, CA:
Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995). The English physician William Harvey, b.
Apr. 1, 1578, d. June 3, 1657, theorized and confirmed the way in which
blood circulates in the human body, thus disproving Galenic views and
becoming the founder of modern physiology. Experimentally he proved his
theory on the pathway of blood flow and proved that blood is impelled
mechanically by a "pumplike" heart. Harvey also measured the amount of blood
in the circulatory system in any given unit of time--one of the first
applications of quantitative methods in biology. His experiments were
published in On the Motions of the Heart and Blood (1628), which became a
classic in the field of science.


The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, ver. 7.05 [CD-ROM] (Novato, CA:
Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995). Andreas Vesalius, b. Dec. 31, 1514, d.
Oct. 15, 1564, was the Flemish anatomist and physician whose pioneering
dissections of human cadavers and careful descriptions of human anatomy
helped establish modern observational science. He is often called the father
of anatomy. His major work, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Structure of
the Human Body), a beautifully illustrated text of human anatomy, was
published in 1543. Vesalius was physician to the Holy Roman emperor Charles
V and to Philip II, king of Spain.


Robert G. Frank, Jr., "The Image of Harvey," William Harvey and His Age: The
Professional and Social Context of the Discovery of the Circulation
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 136.


The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, ver. 7.05 [CD-ROM] (Novato, CA:
Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995). The Greek physician Galen, AD 130-200,
did notable work in the field of human anatomy despite being confined to
dissecting animals such as pigs, dogs, and goats. He identified numerous
muscles for the first time and showed the importance of the spinal cord,
noting the resulting paralysis when the cord was cut at different levels.
Galen was also the first to consider the pulse a diagnostic aid. His
physiological theories include concepts of blood formation, digestion, and
nerve function. His written treatises survived as the medical authority
until the 16th century, when Andreas Vesalius and, later, William Harvey
amended Galen's theories with their discoveries.


Jerome J. Bylebyl, "The Medical Side of Harvey's Discovery: The Normal and
the Abnormal," William Harvey and His Age: The Professional and Social
Context of the Discovery of the Circulation (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1979), 33.


The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, ver. 7.05 [CD-ROM] (Novato, CA:
Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995). With the possible exception of Plato,
Aristotle, 384-322 BC, is the most influential philosopher in the history of
Western thought. Logic into the present century was basically Aristotelian
logic. The study of the natural sciences was dominated by Aristotle until
early modern times, and modern physics was developed in reaction to the
Aristotelian tradition. His metaphysics continues to be the subject of
philosophical debate, although his ethics now constitutes that part of his
philosophy which appeals most to contemporary philosophers. Aristotle's
influence extends far beyond philosophy, however. For example, Aristotle was
the founder of biology; Charles Darwin regarded him as the most important
contributor to the subject. Aristotle's poetics, the first formal work of
literary criticism (see criticism, literary), had a strong influence on the
theory and practice of modern classical drama. Aristotle's immense influence
is due primarily to the fact that he seemed to offer an all-encompassing
system, which, although lacking in certain respects, was as a whole
formidably imposing and unrivaled in its comprehensiveness.

Natural Sciences:

The natural sciences are concerned with natural objects that are
characterized by the fact that they are subject to change. Change is
therefore the basic phenomenon with which physics has to deal. Hence
Aristotle's work in physics is devoted to an analysis of change and a
discussion of its presuppositions. According to Aristotle every change
involves three factors: (1) a feature or form that exists as a result of
change; (2) the earlier absence of this form; and (3) the matter that was
always there but which, as a result of the change, is now characterized by
the form in question. In the case of a statue the three factors are the form
of the statue; its previous lack of form; and the material from which it was

Aristotle ties the notions of matter and form to other notions. Thus he
explains that if matter becomes an F the matter is F potentially (that is,
is capable of being an F), whereas the form is the actuality in virtue of
which it is now an actual F. Matter and form are the material and the formal
cause, respectively, of what comes to be. A cause is a factor, and a true
statement about that factor helps to explain the being of what is caused.
Aristotle distinguishes four kinds of causes. If a house comes into being,
its efficient cause is the builder, its formal cause the structure by virtue
of which it is a house, its material cause the matter that has received this
structure, and its final cause the end or purpose for which houses exist,
namely the protection of people and property. Because motion, due to its
continuity, has no end, presupposes a location, seems to presuppose a void,
and takes time, Aristotle also discusses these notions in detail. He denies
the existence of a void and considers the continuity of motion at length.
Finally, he argues that there would be no motion at all unless there is
first a force of movement that is itself unmoved--namely God.

The form of an object helps to account for its behavior. Aristotle calls the
forms of living things "souls," which are of three kinds: vegetative
(plants), sensitive (animals), or rational (human beings). Because Aristotle
believed that the soul is merely a set of defining features, he did not
regard the body and the soul as two separate entities that mysteriously
combine to form an organism. Hence it is not clear what he had in mind when
he described an active intellect whose activity is presupposed by the
activity of the human mind and that is supposed to be able to exist
independently of the body.

Most of Aristotle's work in biology was devoted to zoology. In Aristotle's
study of biology the doctrine of TELEOLOGY is particularly prominent. This
doctrine, that the form of natural objects is determined by their final ends
or purposes, has frequently been misunderstood as an assertion that there is
a universal design in nature. Aristotle simply insists that the structure
and the behavior of things also has to be understood as contributing to
their individual being and function.


The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, ver. 7.05 [CD-ROM] (Novato, CA:
Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995). Rosicrucians are members of a worldwide
esoteric society whose official emblem combines a rose and a cross. The
society was apparently founded in Europe in medieval times and was given
impetus by the publication of Fama fraternitatis (Account of the
Brotherhood, 1614) and the Confessio fraternitatis (Confession of the
Brotherhood, 1615). These pamphlets were probably written by the Lutheran
pastor Johan Valentin Andrea (1586-1654). They describe the initiation into
the mysteries of the east (particularly of ancient Egypt) of Christian
Rosenkreuz, who was allegedly born in 1378 but is presumed to be an
allegorical figure. In the 18th century several Rosicrucian groups were
active in Russia, Poland, and Germany. The movement has close links with

The first Rosicrucian society in the United States was founded in
Pennsylvania in 1694. The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis has
headquarters in San Jose, Calif. Founded in 1909 by H. Spencer Lewis, AMORC
is an international fraternal order that operates through a system of lodges
and fosters the Rosicrucian philosophy of developing humankind's highest
potentialities and psychic powers.


Roger French, William Harvey's Natural Philosophy (Cambridge: The Cambridge
University Press, 1994), 124.


Gwenneth Whitteridge, William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood (New
York: American Elsevier Inc., 1971), 150.


Geoffrey Keynes, Life of William Harvey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966),


Kenneth J. Franklin, William Harvey: Englishman (Oxford: Blackwell
Scientific Publications, 1957), 58.


Audrey Davis, Circulation Physiology and Medical Chemistry in England
1650-1680 (Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press, 1973), 99.


Ibid., 100.


The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, ver. 7.05 [CD-ROM] (Novato, CA:
Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995). The French philosopher René Descartes,
b. Mar. 31, 1596, d. Feb. 11, 1650, was one of the most important and
influential thinkers in human history and is sometimes called the founder of
modern philosophy. Writing at the beginning of the scientific revolution, he
made major contributions to both philosophy and mathematics. His principal
philosophical work, Meditations on First Philosophy, was first published in
1641, the year before Galileo Galilei died and Isaac Newton was born. One of
his two main aims in philosophy was to provide a conceptual foundation for
the new mechanical physics based on the Copernican system, which tried to
explain everything in the created world external to human beings solely by
the shapes, sizes, and motions of bodies. Because he lived at a time when
traditional ideas were being questioned, he also sought to devise a method
for reaching the truth. This concern and his method of systematic doubt had
an enormous impact on the subsequent development of philosophy.

Gwenneth Whitteridge, William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood (New
York: American Elsevier Inc., 1971), 151.

Gwenneth Whitteridge, William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood (New
York: American Elsevier Inc., 1971), 151.

Geoffrey Keynes, Life of William Harvey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966),