Most people are fascinated with how the blood circulates through the body. It was this inquisitiveness and fascination of the circulatory system that led William Harvey to discover one of the greatest mysteries of the human/animal body—the blood and its vascular functions. William Harvey was a famous 17th century English physician, who dedicated his life in the anatomical study of the circulatory system. With a number of best-selling publications such as 'An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals' and 'Essays on the Generation of Animals' to his credit, William Harvey was known as the father of the 'vascular' and 'circulatory' system. Though he had to confront a lot of criticism for his works, Harvey's findings paved a new path in the fields of embryology and modern medicine. In order to prove that his works made sense, Harvey experimented on live animals and even on executed criminals. When people began to realize that his findings were in fact true, his fame spread through the world, making him one of the most widely recognized physicians. Read on to learn more about him.
Early Life And Childhood
William Harvey was born on 1 April 1578 in Folkestone, Kent, England. He was the eldest of the seven children born to Tom Harvey. Harvey studied BA at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge in 1597. He then decided to study medicine at the University of Padua in Italy, which was considered to be one of the best medical schools in the world at the time. Here, Harvey studied under a renowned anatomist Hieronymus Fabricius, who was involved in the research of the function of valves in veins. Learning and studying under a mastermind like Fabricius stimulated Harvey’s interest in exploring more about circulatory system. Harvey graduated with an honors degree in 1602, and returned to England to begin medical practice.
After establishing himself in London, Harvey joined the College of Physicians on October 5, 1604. His career was enhanced with the marriage to Elizabeth Browne, the daughter of Elizabeth I’s physician, the same year. He was elected as a fellow member of the College of Physicians on June 5, 1607, and also accepted a position at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he would work for the rest of his life in 1609. He lived the life of a general physician, attending to patients and prescribing medications on a regular basis.
In 1615, Harvey began to work on the theory of the circulatory system. He identified the role of the heart as a vital organ that helps in processing and pumping the blood to the rest of the body. It was at this time, that Harvey had the second breakthrough in his career as a college lecturer. He was accorded the office of Lumleian lecturer, founded by a Dr. Caldwell and Lord Lumley in 1583. It was through this period that he studied, researched and focused on the subject of anatomy, and even decided to educate his students about the wonders of the human body.
In 1616, Harvey began lecturing at various colleges and universities and spoke about the role of heart in propelling blood in a circular motion around the body, cleansing it of impurities, processing it naturally and pumping it to all the vital organs in the body again. In order to enhance and support his theory, Harvey carefully studied the functions of the blood and heart in live animals. He even furthered his research by dissecting dead animals. Harvey published his first findings in a book called ‘An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals’. This book not only earned him great criticism around the world, but was also received with great curiosity and interest in England.
Before Harvey conducted his dissertations, people generally believed that food was converted into blood in the liver and then was consumed as fuel by the body, as originally stated by Galen, to which Harvey disagreed. It was this incongruity that led Harvey to dissect executed criminals and dead animals in the first place, disapproving Galen’s theories on blood-flow. Through his careful and detailed research, it was proved that the body made new blood on a regular basis, and expelled the old, forcing the new blood through the arteries and sending the blood back to the heart through veins.
In 1628, Harvey formally published and presented another set of findings in a publication called ‘The Anatomical Essay on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals’, which gave a thoroughly detailed account on how the circulatory system functioned. He also published a treatise ‘De Motu Cordis’, on the circulation of blood. It was after this work that Harvey gained a lot of criticism from his contemporaries and even lost a few of his regular patients in the process.
Study On Embryology
Harvey wanted to expand his experimental horizons and furthered his research into a novel department called ‘Embryology’- the study of embryos. Harvey was the first man in the world to suggest that humans and other mammals reproduced via a certain fertilization process that required male gametes (sperm) and female gametes (eggs). His works on embryology were viewed with great skepticism and it took two centuries for his successors to realize that his accounts were actually true! Nonetheless, after a series of publications and evidence, Harvey won enough publicity—both, positive and negative, and credibility during his lifetime. He published his findings in a book called ‘Essays on the Generation of Animals’. He studied and researched on all these aspects while working as a Luleian lecturer for the Royal College of Physicians.
The third breakthrough came in his life when he was appointed personal physician to Elizabeth’s successor James I and to James’ son, Charles. It was at this point that Harvey began researching on the circulatory system, and the king and his son supported this research. After a brief illness and the death of King James I, Harvey became the personal physician to Charles.
Harvey was known to be quiet an eccentric man. There are reports that he loved darkness, suffered from insomnia and often thought in silence. Harvey married Elizabeth Browne in 1604. The duo had no children.
Death And Legacy
Towards the end of his life, Harvey decided to return to his brothers. After retiring, he spent most of his time reading literature. Harvey died in Roehampton on June 3, 1657. It is believed that he died due to the cerebral artery malfunction. He was buried in Hampstead, Essex. All of his works exist today, and he is considered to be one of the greatest gifts to the world of medicine.