VII. FROM PARACELSUS TO HARVEY

In watching the rapid and ceaseless contractions of the heart, Harvey was impressed with the fact that, even if a very small amount of blood was sent out at each pulsation, an enormous quantity must pass through the organ in a day, or even in an hour. Estimating the size of the cavities of the heart, and noting that at least a drachm must be sent out with each pulsation, it was evident that the two thousand beats given by a very slow human heart in an hour must send out some forty pounds of blood—more than twice the amount in the entire body. The question was, what became of it all? For it should be remembered that the return of the blood by the veins was unknown, and nothing like a "circulation" more than vaguely conceived even by Harvey himself. Once it could be shown that the veins were constantly returning blood to the heart, the discovery that the blood in some way passes from the arteries to the veins was only a short step. Harvey, by resorting to vivisections of lower animals and reptiles, soon demonstrated beyond question the fact that the veins do carry the return blood. "But this, in particular, can be shown clearer than daylight," says Harvey. "The vena cava enters the heart at an inferior portion, while the artery passes out above. Now if the vena cava be taken up with forceps or the thumb and finger, and the course of the blood intercepted for some distance below the heart, you will at once see it almost emptied between the fingers and the heart, the blood being exhausted by the heart's pulsation, the heart at the same time becoming much paler even in its dilatation, smaller in size, owing to the deficiency of blood, and at length languid in pulsation, as if about to die. On the other hand, when you release the vein the heart immediately regains its color and dimensions. After that, if you leave the vein free and tie and compress the arteries at some distance from the heart, you will see, on the contrary, their included portion grow excessively turgid, the heart becoming so beyond measure, assuming a dark-red color, even to lividity, and at length so overloaded with blood as to seem in danger of suffocation; but when the obstruction is removed it returns to its normal condition, in size, color, and movement."[4]

This conclusive demonstration that the veins return the blood to the heart must have been most impressive to Harvey, who had been taught to believe that the blood current in the veins pursued an opposite course, and must have tended to shake his faith in all existing doctrines of the day.

His next step was the natural one of demonstrating that the blood passes from the arteries to the veins. He demonstrated conclusively that this did occur, but for once his rejection of the ancient writers and one modern one was a mistake. For Galen had taught, and had attempted to demonstrate, that there are sets of minute vessels connecting the arteries and the veins; and Servetus had shown that there must be such vessels, at least in the lungs.

However, the little flaw in the otherwise complete demonstration of Harvey detracts nothing from the main issue at stake. It was for others who followed to show just how these small vessels acted in effecting the transfer of the blood from artery to vein, and the grand general statement that such a transfer does take place was, after all, the all-important one, and the exact method of how it takes place a detail. Harvey's experiments to demonstrate that the blood passes from the arteries to the veins are so simply and concisely stated that they may best be given in his own words.

"I have here to cite certain experiments," he wrote, "from which it seems obvious that the blood enters a limb by the arteries, and returns from it by the veins; that the arteries are the vessels carrying the blood from the heart, and the veins the returning channels of the blood to the heart; that in the limbs and extreme parts of the body the blood passes either by anastomosis from the arteries into the veins, or immediately by the pores of the flesh, or in both ways, as has already been said in speaking of the passage of the blood through the lungs; whence it appears manifest that in the circuit the blood moves from thence hither, and hence thither; from the centre to the extremities, to wit, and from the extreme parts back again to the centre. Finally, upon grounds of circulation, with the same elements as before, it will be obvious that the quantity can neither be accounted for by the ingesta, nor yet be held necessary to nutrition.

"Now let any one make an experiment on the arm of a man, either using such a fillet as is employed in blood-letting or grasping the limb tightly with his hand, the best subject for it being one who is lean, and who has large veins, and the best time after exercise, when the body is warm, the pulse is full, and the blood carried in large quantities to the extremities, for all then is more conspicuous; under such circumstances let a ligature be thrown about the extremity and drawn as tightly as can be borne: it will first be perceived that beyond the ligature neither in the wrist nor anywhere else do the arteries pulsate, that at the same time immediately above the ligature the artery begins to rise higher at each diastole, to throb more violently, and to swell in its vicinity with a kind of tide, as if it strove to break through and overcome the obstacle to its current; the artery here, in short, appears as if it were permanently full. The hand under such circumstances retains its natural color and appearances; in the course of time it begins to fall somewhat in temperature, indeed, but nothing is DRAWN into it.