Birthplace: Folkestone, Kent, England
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Andrew Churchyard, Hempstead, Essex, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: Discovered circulation of blood
The discoverer of the circulation of the blood, was born at Folkstone, in Kent, on the 1st of April 1578. His father was a yeoman; and five of his brothers were merchants of weight and substance, magni et copiosi, in the city of London, while the sixth sat as member of parliament for Hythe.
After six years' attendance at the grammar school at Canterbury, Harvey being then sixteen years of age, was entered at Caius College, Cambridge. He took his first degree in arts in 1597, and having selected physic for his profession, left Cambridge about the year 1590, and proceeded to the University of Padua, then the most celebrated school of medicine in the world. Having passed five years at that school in attendance on the lectures of Fabricius de Aquapendente, Julius Casserius, and other eminent men who then adorned that university, he obtained his diploma as doctor of medicine in 1602. He returned to England in the same year; and after receiving his doctor's degree from his original university, Cambridge, settled in London as a physician. In 1609 he was appointed physician to St. Bartholemew's Hospital, and in 1615 Lumleian Lecturer at the College of Physicians -- an office then held for life; and it is generally supposed that in his first course of lectures (spring of 1616) he expounded those original and complete views of the circulation of the blood with which his name is indelibly associated. It was not until the year 1628 that he gave his views to the world at large, in his celebrated treatise Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis, having then, as he states in the preface, for nine years or more gone on demonstrating the subject in his college lectures, illustrating it by new and additional arguments, and freeing it from the objections raised by the skilful among anatomists.
In his treatise Harvey proves (1) that it is the contraction, not the dilatation, of the heart which coincides with the pulse, and that the ventricles as true muscular sacs squeeze the blood which they contain into the aorta and pulmonary artery; (2) that the pulse is not produced by the arteries enlarging and so filling, but by the arteries being filled with blood and so enlarging; (3) that there are no pores in the septum of the heart, so that the whole blood in the right ventricle is sent to the lungs and around by the pulmonary veins to the left ventricle, and also that the whole blood in the left ventricle is again sent into the arteries, around by the smaller veins into the vena cava, and by them to the right ventricle again -- thus making a complete "circulation"; (4) that the blood in the arteries and that in the veins is the same blood; (5) that the action of the right and left sides of the heart, auricles, ventricles and valves, is the same, the mechanism in both being for reception and propulsion of liquid and not of air, since the blood on the right side, though mixed with air, is still blood; (6) that the blood sent through the arteries to the tissues is not all used, but that most of it runs through into the veins; (7) that there is no to and fro undulation in the veins, but a constant stream from the distant parts towards the heart; (8) that the dynamical starting-point of the blood is the heart and not the liver.
In one point only was the demonstration of the circulation incomplete. Harvey could not discover the capillary channels by which the blood passes from the arteries to the veins. This gap in the circulation was supplied several years later by the great anatomist Marcello Malpighi, who in 1661 saw in the lungs of a frog, by the newly invented microscope, how the blood passes from the one set of vessels to the other. Harvey saw all that could be seen by the unaided eye in his observations on living animals; Malpighi, four years after Harvey's death, by another observation on a living animal, completed the splendid chain of evidence.
Shortly after Harvey's election as Lumleian Lecturer (in 1617 or 1618), he was appointed physician extraordinary to James I, and in the beginning of 1630 was engaged "to accompany the young Duke of Lennox in his travels beyond seas." In 1632, he was formally chosen physician to Charles I; and in 1633 we find that his absence, "by reason of his attendance on the king's majesty", from St. Bartholomew's Hospital was complained of, and that Dr. Andrews was appointed his substitute, "but without prejudice to him in his yearly fee or in any other respect" -- which shows the esteem to which he was held. We learn from Aubrey that he accompanied Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, in his embassy to the emperor in 1636; and during this journey he was publicly demonstrated to Caspar Hofmann, the distinguished professor at Nuremburg. and one of the chief opponents of his views, the anatomical particulars which made the circulation of the blood a necessary conclusion -- a demonstration which, it was reported, was satisfactory to all save Hofmann himself, who still continued to urge futile objections. He attended the king in his various expeditions, and was present with him at the battle of Edgehill (October 23, 1642). "During the fight", says Aubrey, "the Prince and Duke of York were committed to his care. He told me that he withdrew with them under a hedge, and tooke out of his pockett a booke, and read. But he had not read very long before a bullet of a great gun grazed on the ground neare him, which made him remove his station." He accompanied the king after the battle to Oxford, where, according to the same authority, "he came several times to our college (Trinity), to George Bathurst, B.D., who had a hen to hatch eggs in his chamber, which they opened dayly to see the progress and way of generation"; and where the honorary degree of Doctor of Physic was conferred on him in the December of that year. In 1645 he as, by the king's mandate, elected warden of Merton College; but on the surrender of Oxford to the parliament in July 1646, he left the university, and returned to London. He was now 68 years of age, and seems to have withdrawn himself from practice, and from all further participation in the fortunes of his royal master. During the remainder of his life, he was usually the guest of one or other of his brothers, now men of wealth and high standing in the city; and it was at the country house of one of them that Dr. Ent visited him at Christmas 1650, and after "many difficulties" obtained from him a manuscript of his work on the generation of animals, which was published in the following year, under the title of Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium, quibus accedunt quaedam de Partū, de Membranis ac Tumoribus Uteri, et de Conceptione.
From this period to the time of his death, the chief object which occupied his mind was the welfare and improvement of the College of Physicians, to the buildings of which he erected a handsome addition at his own cost. In 1654 he was elected, in his absence, president of the college, but he declined the office on account of his age and infirmities. In July 1656, he resigned his Lumleian lectureship, which he had held for more than forty years; and in taking leave of the college, presented it to his patrimonial estate at Burmarsh, in Kent, then valued at £56 per annum. He did not long survive, but, worn down by repeated attacks of gout, died at London on the 3rd of June, 1657, and was buried in a vault at Hempstead, in Essex, which his brother Elia had built.
Father: Thomas Harvey (businessman)
Brother: John Harvey
Brother: Eliab Harvey
Wife: Elizabeth Browne
High School: King's School, Canterbury
University: BA, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University (1597)
Medical School: MD, University of Padua (1602)
Royal College of Physicians Fellow
Risk Factors: Gout
Is the subject of books:
Harvey's Views on the Use of the Circulation of the Blood, 1915, BY: John G. Curtis
The Life of William Harvey, 1966, BY: Sir Geoffrey Keynes
Author of books:
Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (1628)
Exercitatio Anatomica de Circulatione Sanguinis (1649)
Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium (1651)
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