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SYDENHAM SOCIETY. The Works of William Harvey, M. D.,

Physician to the King, Professor of Anatomy and Surgery to the College of Physicians. Translated from the Latin, with a Life of the Author. By ROBERT Willis, M. D., Member

WILLIS of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of England, Corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Göttingen, &c. 8vo. pp. 624. London, 1847.


It was but right, that one of the earliest labours of the Sydenham Society should be directed to the preparation of a complete edition of the works of the great Englishman, whose discovery of the complete circulation of the blood has immortalized his name ; for whatever may be the disposition-and a proper one it is—to do justice to the predecessors of Harvey, it is pretty universally admitted, notwithstanding the views and arguments adduced by our learned and venerable friend, Dr. Cox, that the perfection of the great discovery was his; and when, it may asked, has a discovery of the kind ever been made de novo? Observation after observation has usually been registered for a long period; until ultimately some one has topped the pyramid, and completed the undertaking; whilst, as in the case of every great discovery or invention, the surprise has been, that so apparently simple a result should not have been attained by hundreds as well as by the • lucky'individual who made the last and most important step.

It was not—as we have previously said, when noticing this same subject—the person who first discovered the propulsive power of steam, or even he who first rudely applied it to the formation of an imperfect engine, that deserved the credit of that wonderful result of human ingenuity-the steam engine ; but the man who, like Watt, made it a master-piece of mechanism; or, like Fulton, showed that it could be applied so wonderfully and fearfully to the purposes of navigation.



The editor of the edition of Harvey's works, now before us, with much self-complacency-which is, indeed, too apparent throughout his preface-flatters himself, that he has " set his [Harvey's] claims to the whole and sole merit of the discovery of the circulation in a new and clearer light than they have yet been seen;" and that he has done “more than any preceding biographer in exhibiting his moral nature; for truly he was as noble in nature as he was intellectually great." p. viii.

Dr. Willis gives, at considerable length, the views of the predecessors of Harvey, as well as of his opponents—contemporaneous and others—on the great question of the circulation. His predecessors, doubtless, paved the way for the ultimate discovery ; and we would pause, therefore, before assenting to Dr. Willis's conclusion, that Harvey has “claims to the whole and sole merit of the discovery of the circulation.” Indeed, Dr. Willis is scarcely consistent on this point, for in alluding to the views of Fabricius of Acquapendente, who had given especial attention to the valves of the veins, he adds :

“ Fabricius could observe, and he could describe; but he wanted the combining intellect that infers, the imagination that leads to new ideas-to discovery. Though he did little himself, however, to advance the sum of human knowledge, he proved a tooth in the wheel that has since put in motion the whole machinery of medical science (?). He it was who sowed the seed, little dreaming of its kind, which, finding one spot of congenial soil, sprang up a harvest that has continued to nurture the world of physiological science to the present hour.”

We have looked carefully over the remarks of Dr. Willis on this formerly much contested subject : but we confess, with every disposition to render hiru ample justice, we cannot arrive at the conclusion, that he has “set Harvey's claims to the whole and sole merit of the discovery of the circulation in a new and still clearer light than they have yet been seen.” We are unable to discover the new, and it is not a more easy matter to detect the still clearer, for which he asks credit. The “excellent summary”-as he properly terms it-of the entire doctrine of the circulation by Dr. Freind in his Harveian oration, appears to us more novel, and at least as clear. To this Dr. Willis refers his reader for other information-adding, neither in the proper spirit of courtesy nor of philosophy

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“I pass by the sill-recurring denials by obtuse and ill-informed individuals, of the truth, or of the sufficiency of the evidence of the truth, of the Harveian circulation. Those who can not see, must, contrary to the popular adage, be admitted to be still blinder than those who will not see.

The following is Dr. Willis's conclusion :

“ Having now disposed of the claims that have been set up in behalf of one or another, as the discoverer of the circulation, and shown, we trust satisfactorily, that these are alike untenable, we should now proceed to discuss the question of cui bono?-but this meets us in so forbidding an aspect, brimful as is our mind with a sense of the all-importance of the knowledge we had froin Harvey, and seems so little to belong to our subject, that we gladly pass it by unnoticed ; though it be only to find ourselves encountered by that other topic, but little more congenial to our mood of mind and intimate persuasion-the merit of Harvey as a discoverer. Few, very few, have been found to question this; but as one man of undeniable learning and eminence in his profession,* has very strongly, it seems to us, been led to do so, it will not be impertinent if we cast away a few words on this matter.

Discovery is of several, particularly of two kinds; one sensible or perceptive; the other rational or inductive; the former an act of simple consciousness through an impression made on one or more of the senses; the latter a conclusion come to by the higher powers of the understanding dealing with data previously acquired by the senses and perceptive faculties. We look through a telescope, for example, and we perceive a star which no one had seen before; we note the fact, and so become discovers of a new star. The merit here is not, surely, very great, though the added fact may be highly important. Again; one of the planets is subject to such perturbations in its course that to compose exact tables of its orbit is held impossible. These perturbations are referable to none of the known perturbating causes. A great astronomer suggests the influence of an exterior and unknown planet as their cause. A consummate mathematician and

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* Dr. William Hunter. Introductory Lectures, p. 59, (4to. London, 1784,) to which the reader is referred for a singularly inconsistent and extraordinary string of passages.

physical astronomer makes trial of this suggestion : he assumes the ascertained perturbations as elements; he comjines these under the guidance of knowledge and reason, and at length he says, that if the course suggested be well founded, there or thereabouts it must exist ; and lo! on turning the far-seeing tube to the point in space he had indicated, there in verity gleams a new world, then first seen, though launched by God from eternity to circle on the verge of our creation; and he who bade us look, became the discoverer of a new planet. Who will dispute the merit here? Truly, man does show the God within him when he nises his faculties-God-like in themselves in such God. like fashion. But Harvey's merit, according to our idea, was of the self-same description in another sphere. The facts he used were familiarly known, most of them to his predecessors for nearly a century, all of them to his teachers and immediate contemporaries; yet did no one, mastering these facts in their con. nection and sequence, rising superior to prejudice, groundless hypothesis and erroneous reasoning, draw the inference which now meets the world as irresistible, until the combined mind of Harvey gave it shape and utterance. To our apprehension Harvey was as far above his fellows, as the eye of poetic intelligence, which exultingly absorbs the beauties of the starry sky, and the green earth, is above the mere physical sense which distinguishes light from dark. The late Dr. Barclay, a fervent ad. mirer of Harvey, whose name he never uttered without the epithet immortal, has put the question of Harvey's merit both happily and eloquently, and it affords us pleasure to quote the passage from the writings of our old and honoured teacher in anatomy. “The late Dr. Hunter," says Dr. Barclay,* " has rather invidiously introduced Harvey along with Copernicus and Columbus, to show that his merit as a discoverer was comparatively low. But what did Copernicus, and what did Columbus ? Not in possession of more numerous facts than their contemporaries, but endowed with nobler and more vigorous intellects, the one developed the intricate system of the heavenly bodies, aud the other discovered an unheard of continent. Was it not in the same way, by the exertion of superior intellect, that Harvey made his immortal discovery? I know not what has happened in the world unseen; but if I may judge from the records of history and the annals of fame, the spirit of Bacon, the spirits of Columbus, Copernicus and Newton, have not been ashamed 10 welcome and associate with the congenial spirit of Harvey." To this fine passage there is little to be added : Harvey's discovery

* On the Arteries, Introduction, p. 9.

was of the rational and inductive, and therefore higher class, according to our estimate; it was made in virtue of the intellectual powers which peculiarly distinguish man in a state of the highest perfection.”

The volume before us, after the Preface, Life of William Harvey, and his last will and testament, contains “ An anatomical disquisition on the motion of the heart and blood of animals;" — “ The first anatoinical disquisition on the circulation of the blood, addressed to John Riolan;" _“A second disquisition to John Riolan; in which many objections to the circulation of the blood are refuted;”—“Anatomical exercises on the generation ofanimals; 10 which are added essays on parturition; on the membranes and fluids of the uterus, and on conception ;-Anatomical examination of the body of Thomas Parr ; concluding with sundry letters on matters of science, addressed to Dr. Caspar Hofmann, Paul Marquerd Slegel, John Nardi, R. Morison, John Daniel Horst and others."

The works of Harvey were written originally in Latin ; but most of them were rendered into English; so imperfectly, however, in some cases, that Dr. Willis says he undertook the task of translating them anew. The “masterwork” of Harvey on the motion of the heart and blood, he found to “ have been translated by one but little conversant with the subject,” and “that it was both extremely rebutting (?) in point of style, and full of egregious errors," so that “nothing short of an entirely new translation could do justice to this adınirable treatise, or secure for it, at the present day, the attention it deserved."

The work on generation he likewise translated over again, as well as that on the anatomy of Parr. The letters have never appeared in English before.

We have not had time to compare Dr. Willis's version with the original, in order to decide whether he has avoided the charges he has laid against his predecessors. It becomes him, however, to have been extremely cautious; and we cannot avoid thinking that the fact of bis having entirely retranslated works which had been generally received as correct versions of the original, savours not a little of the self-complacency to which

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