Harvey, William

, an eminent English physician, who first discovered the circulation of the blood, was born of a. good family at Folkstone, in Kent, April 2, 156^. At ten years of age he was sent to the grammar-school at Canterbury, and at fourteen removed thence to Caius college, in Cambridge, where he spent about six years in the study of logic and natural philosophy, as preparatory to the study of physic. He then travelled through France and Germany, to Padua in Italy; where, having studied physic under Minadous, Fabricius ab Aquapendente, and Casserius, he was created doctor of physic and surgery in that university, 1602. He had a particular regard for Fabricius, often quotes him in terms of the highest respect; and declares, that he was the more willing to publish his book, “De Motu Cordis,” because Fabricius, who had learnedly and accurately delineated in a particular treatise almost all the parts of animals, had left the heart alone untouched. Soon after, returning to England, he was incorporated M. D. at Cambridge, and went to London to practise, and married. In 1604, he was admitted candidate of the college of physicians in London; and three years after fellow, and physician to St. Bartholomew’s hospital. In 1615, he was appointed lecturer of anatomy and surgery in that college; and the year after read a course of lectures there, the original ms. of which is extant in the British Museum, and is entitled, “Prcelectiones anatom. universal, per me Gulielmum Harvaeiunu medicum Londinensem, anat. & chirurg. professorem.” This appointment of lecturer was probably the more immediate cause of the publication of his grand discovery of the circulation of the I id. The date of this promulgation is not absolutely a -tained: it is commonly said that he first disclosed is opinion on the subject in 1619; but the index of his ms, containing the propositions on which the doctrine is founded, refers them to April 1616. Yet with a patience and caution, peculiarly characteristic of the sound | philosopher, he withheld his opinions from the world, until reiterated experiment had amply confirmed his doctrine, and had enabled him to demonstrate it in detail, and to advance every proof of its truth of which the subject is capable.

In 1628 he published at Francfort his “Exercitatio anatomicade motu cordis & sang inis;” dedicated to Charles I. There follows also another dedication to the college of physicians, in which he observes, thiit he had frequently before, in his “Anatomical Lectures,” declared his new opinion concerning the motion and use of the heart, and the circulation of the blood; and for above nine years had confirmed and illustrated it before the college, by reasons and arguments grounded upon ocular d moustration, and defended it from the objections of the most skilful anatomists. This discovery was of such vast importance to the whole art of physic, that as soon as men were satisfied, which they were in a tew years, that it could not be contested, several put in for the prize themselves, and a great many affirmed the disc very to be due to others. Some asserted, that father Paul was the first discoverer of the circulation, but being too much suspected for heterodoxies already, durst not make it public, for fear of the inquisition. Honoratus Faber professed himself to be the author of that opinion; and Vander Linden, who published an edition of Hippocrates, about the middle of the seventeenth century, took a great deal of pains to prove, that this father of physic knew the circulation of the blood, and that Harvey only revived it.*


In our time Dr. William Hunter seems to have stood alone in an attempt to depreciate the merit of Harvey as the discoverer of the circulation. See his “Two Introductory Lectures to his last course of Anatomical Leetures,” published in 1784, 4to.

But the honour of the discovery has been sufficiently asserted and confirmed to Harvey; and, says Freind, “as it was entirely owing to him, so he has explained it with all the clearness imaginable: and, though much has been written upon tuat subject since, I may venture to say, his own book is the shortest, the plainest, and the most convincing, of any, as we may be satisfied, it' we look into the many apologies written in defence of the circulation.

In 1632 he was made physician to Charles I. as he had been before to king James; and, adhering to the royal cause upon the breaking out of the civil wars, attended | his majesty at the battle of Edge-hill, and thence to Oxford where, in 1642, he was incorporated M. D. In 1645 the king procured him to be elected warden of Merton-college in that university but, upon the surrendering of Oxford the year after to the parliament, he left that office, and retired to London. In 1651 he published his book, entitled “Exercitationes de Generatione animalimn.” This is a curious work, and had certainly been more so, but for some misfortune, by which his papers perished, during the time of the civil wars. For although he had both leave and an express order from the parliament to attend his majesty upon his leaving Whitehall, yet his house, in London, was in his absence plundered of all the furniture; and his “Adversaria,” with a great number of anatomical observations, relating especially to the generation of insects, were taken away. This loss he lamented several years after in terms which show how he felt it.

In the following year, 1652, Harvey had the satisfaction of seeing his merits acknowledged by his brethren in an unusual and most honourable manner: by a vote of the college his bust in marble was placed in their hall, with a suitable inscription recording his discoveries. He returned this compliment, by presenting to the college, at a splendid entertainment to which he invited the members, an elegantly furnished convocation-room, and a museum filled with choice books and chirurgical instruments, which he had built, at his own expence, in their garden. On the resignation of Dr Prujeau, in 1654, Harvey was unanimously nominated to the presidency, but he declined the offer on account of his age and infirmities. He still, however, frequented the meetings of the college; and his attachment to that body was shewn more conspicuously in 1656, when, at the first anniversary feast instituted by himself, he gave up his paternal estate of fifty-six pounds per annum in perpetuity, for their use. The particular purposes of this donation were, the institution of an annual feast, at which a Latin oration should be spoken in commemoration of the benefactors of the college, a gratuity for the orator, and a provision for the keeper of his library and museum. His old age was afflicted with infirmities, especially with most excruciating attacks of the gout; but he lived to complete his eighty-eighth year, acCOrding to his epitaph, and expired on the 3d of June | 1658, in great tranquillity and self-possession. He was buried in the chapel of Hampstead, belonging to the church of Great Samfurd in Essex, where there is a monument erected over his grave with a Latin inscription.

The private character of this great man appears to have been in every respect worthy of his public reputation. Cheerful, candid, and upright, he lived on terms of great harmony with his friends and brethren, and exhibited no spirit of rivalry or hostility in his career. He spoke modestly of his own merits, and generally treated his controversial antagonists with temperate and civil language, often very different from their own. He wrote in a remarkably perspicuous Latin style, which is flowing and even eloquent where the subject allows of ornament. The college of physicians very properly honoured his memory by a splendid edition of all his works in quarto, 1766, to which a Latin life of the author was prefixed, elegantly written by Dr. Laurence. 1


Biog. Brit. Rees’s Cyclopedia. Some anecdotes of Harvey, by Aubrey, are given in the “Letters by eminent persons,” 18J3, 3 vols 8vo. Biog. Memoirs of Medicine.