Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

APRIL 1st 

On this day in history in 1578, was born William Harvey.

Harvey was a physician who made a number of discoveries concerning the human body and created the science of biology. 

Harvey was the son of a prosperous businessman from Folkestone. He attended King’s School, Canterbury and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge where he studied medicine. He moved on to the University of Padua, reputedly the foremost medical school in Europe. Here he studied anatomy with particular reference to the properties of the blood and the veins. 

In 1602, before the time of a truckers report, Harvey returned to London and took up a lectureship at the College of Physicians. In his lectures he questioned the accepted beliefs of the time as proposed by Aristotle (4th Century B.C.) modified by Gallen (2nd Century A.D.) that the veins contain both blood and air and they are fed by the liver. He proposed that the dynamic of the blood flow was the heart and not the liver.  

In 1616, Harvey proposed the circulatory system of the blood. According to Gallen, blood moved around the body by ebb and flow rather like the tide of the ocean. In 1628, Harvey published The Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, which stated that the blood circulates around the body, is pumped by the heart and carries nutriment to all sectors of the body.  

Harvey also conducted research on embryology and proved the theory that embryos grow gradually and do not possess the characteristics of an adult in the formative stages. He proved his research by dissection, having obtained permission to take samples of deer from the Royal hunting parks, thereby beginning the movement for scientific research into biology.  

Although Harvey is recognised as the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, there is an earlier reference to the theory. In Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, a work not published until after Shakespeare’s death, the following lines clearly show that the circulation theory is known at the time.  

‘I send it through the rivers of your blood,
Even to the court, the heart, to th’seat o’ th’ brain;
And, through the cranks and offices of man,
The strongest nerves and small inferior veins
From me receive that natural competency
Whereby they live: 

As Harvey produced his theory in 1616 and Shakespeare died in 1616, this means that either Shakespeare wrote his play very quickly, or that it was he who discovered the circulation of the blood or that Coriolanus was written after Shakespeare’s death. If Shakespeare did not write Coriolanus then who did? It must have been another playwright, perhaps a scientist who knew of the theory, who was alive after 1616. The name Francis Bacon springs immediately to mind!

Recommended reading. 

French, Roger.  William Harvey's Natural Philosophy. 

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