Dr William Harvey (1578 -1657) William Harvey was born in Folkestone on 1 April 1578. Thomas and Joan Harvey had 9 children, William being the eldest of 7 boys. According to the record in the Cathedral Library in Canterbury, he was baptised in the Parish Church on April 6 1578. Harvey’s father was a prosperous yeoman-farmer and business man, a jurat (the Kentish equivalent of an alderman) and four times Mayor of Folkestone. From the town and port, he organised a postal and goods carrying service which made him a wealthy man, and enabled most of his sons to follow in his footsteps. Five of Harvey’s brothers became merchants and citizens of London while John Harvey, William's immediate junior, became MP for Hythe and later Sandwich. William Harvey's gifts led him in a completely different direction. In 1588 at the age of 10, he became a fee paying scholar at King's School in Canterbury, having passed the entrance examination in reading and writing in both English and Latin. By 1593 he was a student at Caius College, Cambridge and had won the Mathew Parker Scholarship for medicine - this meant an award of £3.0.8d for 6 years study and lodging. It is not known why Harvey decided to pursue a career in medicine but from Cambridge he went abroad, in the quest for more advanced medical knowledge. At that time, in the early 17th century, there were many European Universities with celebrated reputations for medical excellence. William chose to enrol as a student of the famous anatomist Fabricus of Acquapendente who was based in Padua, and at age 21 he left England for Italy. He was immediately elected leader of the English students at the University and settled down to Italian life for the next 2 years. He took and obtained his doctorate (with high distinction) at Padua in 1602 after which he returned to England to resume his studies at Cambridge. Harvey soon gained his MD and by 1604 had both married (Elizabeth Browne) and moved to London to set up practice. He first became a member of the College of Physicians and was then elected one of its Fellows in 1607. Harvey's meteoric rise within the medical establishment saw him quickly become physician to St Bartholomew's Hospital where, in 1616, he also attained the title of Lumleian lecturer in anatomy at the College. Such rapid promotion to a position of practising physician at one of the major London hospitals and lecturer on anatomy at the prestigious College, illustrates Harvey’s great ability. It is not surprising that royal recognition followed and he was appointed Physician Extraordinary to King James 1 in 1618 and later as Physician-in-Ordinary to Charles 1 in 1631. With royal patronage, Harvey became a popular and prosperous physician consulted by Royal courtiers and Kentish gentry alike. He could well have relaxed into his comfortable lifestyle, resting on his not inconsiderable laurels but, by temperament, Harvey seems to have been the true scholar and the fame and prestige he had attained did not completely satisfy his ever inquiring mind. He made time to pursue his investigations, observations, experimentations and recordings of his medical findings. He was fascinated by the workings of the human body and made a study of the "circulation" of the blood. Harvey had learned the traditional theory of the movement of the blood in the human body and its relationship to the heart but whether or not this accepted theory was accurate, posed a difficult problem for him. No one previously had envisaged a different system of blood movement and if Harvey had his own new theory about the circulation of the blood in the human body, what proof could he offer? He found the solution in the vivisection of reptiles, such as frogs and snakes. He also made good use of royal permission to examine the hearts of dying animals which had been hunted in Windsor Forest. His numerous post- mortems and experiments led him to formulate a theory on the "circulation" of the blood, and in 1616 he gave his first dissertation, although his most famous work "On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals" was not published until 1628. It is difficult to comprehend the impact Harvey's modest book had on the minds of his contemporaries. This was a totally new concept and one that was, at first, difficult to accept. In spite of the initial disbelief and some considerable prejudice, Harvey's new theory was eventually received and acknowledged in all the Universities of the world - even if it took some 20 or so years to do so. Civil war in mid 17th century England meant that Harvey withdrew with the Court from London to Oxford. He was made Warden of Merton College, Oxford in 1642 but it was only 4 years later, at age 66, that he resigned and withdrew from practice to concentrate on his private research work. In 1651 the second of his books, "On the Generation of Animals", was published together with an essay, "On Parturition", which was the first original English work on Midwifery. In 1654 Harvey presented the College of Physicians with a new building and was also elected President. He gracefully declined the honour because of his age and infirmities and was instead appointed Consilliari. His wife had already passed away and as there had been no offspring, he went to live with one or other of his brothers. He died 3 years later at the age of 79 and was buried in Hempstead, Essex in 1657. William Harvey's contributions to medicine were immense. He introduced the experimental and observational approach to solving scientific problems and made tremendous contributions to comparative anatomy and physiology (including embryology) as well as to clinical medicine, surgery and obstetrics. William Harvey was an original thinker and true innovator and, although most of his original work has been lost through a series of mishaps and accidents, his two remaining published works are truly remarkable especially when judged against the prevalent reliance in ancient authority and the ignorance of the times.
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