Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from F-J

Harvey, William (1578–1657) - BIOGRAPHY, MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES, CRITICAL RECEPTION

medical blood physician college

William Harvey achieved the greatest feat in physiology, biology, and medicine in the first half of the seventeenth century with his discovery of the circulation of the blood. He was born to well-to-do yeoman stock in Folkstone, Kent, as the eldest son of nine children. From ten to fifteen he attended the King’s School at Canterbury and then went to Cambridge. There he received the B.A., then moved on to Padua, where he received the best medical training Europe had to offer, studying with the comparative anatomist Fabricius of Aquapendente and his famous candlelit dissections in a theater hall that exists to this day. He earned his medical degree with special honors in 1602 and returned to England, where he soon began to practice under the College of Physicians in London.

Harvey’s career was advanced by his marriage to the daughter of the king’s physician, and his patients included such greats as Bacon* and Hobbes. By 1618, he was physician extraordinary to the king and attended him in his last illness, serving as personal physician to Charles until his removal to the Isle of Wight. The king was not only his patient but also his patron, providing much support.

Harvey was, of course, most familiar with Galen and the long line of medical authorities from classical times, but especially with Aristotle, whose suggestions about comparative anatomy and the combined studies of the physiology of animals and humans he took to heart in his meticulous evidencing of his famous theory. But he was also a scholar of Cicero and Virgil and other major classical authors. At the opening of his masterpiece, for example, he quotes Terence’s Andria concerning the fact that he was only an aid to future scientists. This was the characteristic modesty he often employed in the face of the objections of his Continental opponents, most of whom accepted his theory well before his death on 3 June 1657. His final years were marked by the pain of gout—to relieve which he would stand in freezing water—and stone and the political opprobrium of Cromwell’s government.

MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES

Like Copernicus,* Harvey may have been reticent to publish his findings. For example, although he lectured on the circulation of the blood at the College of Physicians as early as 1616, his major published work, Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus , did not appear until 1628 at Frankfurt am Main. In this, he demonstrated the movement of blood from the heart through the arteries and the return through the veins. This slim volume created a great uproar and no little hostility, which did not abate until the middle of the century. His final experiments had to do with uterine diseases, and his final published work, Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium (1651), is a study of the fertilization of eggs that required the invention of the microscope for proof.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Harvey met John Aubrey while Harvey was at Oxford after the King’s Battle at Edgehill. Aubrey includes a vivid description of Harvey in his Brief Lives , which allows us to see his dedication to both the king and science. He lived an austere life and donated his library to the College of Physicians, with which he had a long association. He was a lucky man, as I have noted, in that he saw his scientific theories accepted within his own lifetime. Because of the precision of his proofs, with Gilbert,* Harvey can be seen as the founder of modern science.

Hashemi, Faezeh (1962–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, CONTEMPORARIES, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY [next] [back] Harvey, William

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or