On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, William Harvey
On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals
William Harvey
3:52 h Science Lvl 10.46
William Harvey was an English physician who made influential contributions in anatomy and physiology. He was the first known physician to describe completely, and in detail, the systemic circulation and properties of blood being pumped to the brain and the rest of the body by the heart. Published in 1628 in the city of Frankfurt, the 72-page Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus contains the mature account of the circulation of the blood. Opening with a dedication to King Charles I, the quarto has 17 chapters which give a clear and connected account of the action of the heart and the consequent movement of the blood around the body in a circuit. Having only a tiny lens at his disposal, Harvey was not able to reach the adequate pictures that were attained through such microscopes used by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek; thus he had to resort to theory – and not practical evidence – in certain parts of his book.

On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals

William Harvey

Translated by Robert Willis

Introductory Note

William Harvey, whose epoch-making treatise announcing and demonstrating the ejaculation of the blood is here printed, was born at Folkestone, Kent, England, April 1, 1578. He was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge; and studied medicine on the Continent, receiving the degree of M.D. from the University of Padua. He took the same degree later at both the English universities. After his return to England he became Fellow of the College of Physicians, physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and Lumleian lecturer at the College of Physicians. It was in this last capacity that he delivered, in 1616, the lectures in which he first gave public notice of his theories on the circulation of the blood. The notes of these lectures are still preserved in the British Museum.

In 1618 Harvey was appointed physician extraordinary to James I,and he remained in close professional relations to the royalfamily until the close of the Civil War, being present at thebattle of Edgehill. By mandate of Charles I, he was, for a shorttime, Warden of Merton College, Oxford (1645-6), and, when he wastoo infirm to undertake the duties, he was offered the Presidencyof the College of Physicians. He died on June 3, 1657.

Harvey’s famous “Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis etSanguinis in Animalibus” was published in Latin at Frankfort in1628. The discovery was received with great interest, and in hisown country was accepted at once; on the Continent it won favormore slowly. Before his death, however, the soundness of hisviews was acknowledged by the medical profession throughoutEurope, and “it remains to this day the greatest of thediscoveries of physiology, and its whole honor belongs toHarvey.”



I have already and repeatedly presented you, my learned friends, with my new views of the motion and function of the heart, in my anatomical lectures; but having now for more than nine years confirmed these views by multiplied demonstrations in your presence, illustrated them by arguments, and freed them from the objections of the most learned and skilful anatomists, I at length yield to the requests, I might say entreaties, of many, and here present them for general consideration in this treatise.

Were not the work indeed presented through you, my learned friends, I should scarce hope that it could come out scatheless and complete; for you have in general been the faithful witnesses of almost all the instances from which I have either collected the truth or confuted error. You have seen my dissections, and at my demonstrations of all that I maintain to be objects of sense, you have been accustomed to stand by and bear me out with your testimony. And as this book alone declares the blood to course and revolve by a new route, very different from the ancient and beaten pathway trodden for so many ages, and illustrated by such a host of learned and distinguished men, I was greatly afraid lest I might be charged with presumption did I lay my work before the public at home, or send it beyond seas for impression, unless I had first proposed the subject to you, had confirmed its conclusions by ocular demonstrations in your presence, had replied to your doubts and objections, and secured the assent and support of our distinguished President. For I was most intimately persuaded, that if I could make good my proposition before you and our College, illustrious by its numerous body of learned individuals, I had less to fear from others. I even ventured to hope that I should have the comfort of finding all that you granted me in your sheer love of truth, conceded by others who were philosophers like yourselves. True philosophers, who are only eager for truth and knowledge, never regard themselves as already so thoroughly informed, but that they welcome further information from whomsoever and from wheresoever it may come; nor are they so narrow-minded as to imagine any of the arts or sciences transmitted to us by the ancients, in such a state of forwardness or completeness, that nothing is left for the ingenuity and industry of others. On the contrary, very many maintain that all we know is still infinitely less than all that still remains unknown; nor do philosophers pin their faith to others’ precepts in such wise that they lose their liberty, and cease to give credence to the conclusions of their proper senses. Neither do they swear such fealty to their mistress Antiquity, that they openly, and in sight of all, deny and desert their friend Truth. But even as they see that the credulous and vain are disposed at the first blush to accept and believe everything that is proposed to them, so do they observe that the dull and unintellectual are indisposed to see what lies before their eyes, and even deny the light of the noonday sun. They teach us in our course of philosophy to sedulously avoid the fables of the poets and the fancies of the vulgar, as the false conclusions of the sceptics. And then the studious and good and true, never suffer their minds to be warped by the passions of hatred and envy, which unfit men duly to weigh the arguments that are advanced in behalf of truth, or to appreciate the proposition that is even fairly demonstrated. Neither do they think it unworthy of them to change their opinion if truth and undoubted demonstration require them to do so. They do not esteem it discreditable to desert error, though sanctioned by the highest antiquity, for they know full well that to err, to be deceived, is human; that many things are discovered by accident and that many may be learned indifferently from any quarter, by an old man from a youth, by a person of understanding from one of inferior capacity.

My dear colleagues, I had no purpose to swell this treatise intoa large volume by quoting the names and writings of anatomists,or to make a parade of the strength of my memory, the extent ofmy reading, and the amount of my pains; because I profess both tolearn and to teach anatomy, not from books but from dissections;not from the positions of philosophers but from the fabric ofnature; and then because I do not think it right or proper tostrive to take from the ancients any honor that is their due, noryet to dispute with the moderns, and enter into controversy withthose who have excelled in anatomy and been my teachers. I wouldnot charge with wilful falsehood any one who was sincerelyanxious for truth, nor lay it to any one’s door as a crime thathe had fallen into error. I avow myself the partisan of truthalone; and I can indeed say that I have used all my endeavours,bestowed all my pains on an attempt to produce something thatshould be agreeable to the good, profitable to the learned, anduseful to letters.

Farewell, most worthy Doctors, And think kindly of your



As we are about to discuss the motion, action, and use of the heart and arteries, it is imperative on us first to state what has been thought of these things by others in their writings, and what has been held by the vulgar and by tradition, in order that what is true may be confirmed, and what is false set right by dissection, multiplied experience, and accurate observation.

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