On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, by William Harvey

Chapter X

The First Position: Of the Quantity of Blood Passing from the Veins to the Arteries. And that There is a Circuit of the Blood, Freed from Objections, and Farther Confirmed by Experiment

So far our first position is confirmed, whether the thing be referred to calculation or to experiment and dissection, viz., that the blood is incessantly poured into the arteries in larger quantities than it can be supplied by the food; so that the whole passing over in a short space of time, it is matter of necessity that the blood perform a circuit, that it return to whence it set out.

But if anyone shall here object that a large quantity may pass through and yet no necessity be found for a circulation, that all may come from the meat and drink consumed, and quote as an illustration the abundant supply of milk in the mammae — for a cow will give three, four, and even seven gallons and more in a day, and a woman two or three pints whilst nursing a child or twins, which must manifestly be derived from the food consumed; it may be answered that the heart by computation does as much and more in the course of an hour or two.

And if not yet convinced, he shall still insist that when an artery is divided, a preternatural route is, as it were, opened, and that so the blood escapes in torrents, but that the same thing does not happen in the healthy and uninjured body when no outlet is made; and that in arteries filled, or in their natural state, so large a quantity of blood cannot pass in so short a space of time as to make any return necessary — to all this it may be answered that, from the calculation already made, and the reasons assigned, it appears that by so much as the heart in its dilated state contains, in addition to its contents in the state of constriction, so much in a general way must it emit upon each pulsation, and in such quantity must the blood pass, the body being entire and naturally constituted.

But in serpents, and several fishes, by tying the veins some way below the heart you will perceive a space between the ligature and the heart speedily to become empty; so that, unless you would deny the evidence of your senses, you must needs admit the return of the blood to the heart. The same thing will also plainly appear when we come to discuss our second position.

Let us here conclude with a single example, confirming all that has been said, and from which everyone may obtain conviction through the testimony of his own eyes.

If a live snake be laid open, the heart will be seen pulsating quietly, distinctly, for more than an hour, moving like a worm, contracting in its longitudinal dimensions, (for it is of an oblong shape), and propelling its contents. It becomes of a paler colour in the systole, of a deeper tint in the diastole; and almost all things else are seen by which I have already said that the truth I contend for is established, only that here everything takes place more slowly, and is more distinct. This point in particular may be observed more clearly than the noonday sun: the vena cava enters the heart at its lower part, the artery quits it at the superior part; the vein being now seized either with forceps or between the finger and the thumb, and the course of the blood for some space below the heart interrupted, you will perceive the part that intervenes between the fingers and the heart almost immediately to become empty, the blood being exhausted by the action of the heart; at the same time the heart will become of a much paler colour, even in its state of dilatation, than it was before; it is also smaller than at first, from wanting blood: and then it begins to beat more slowly, so that it seems at length as if it were about to die. But the impediment to the flow of blood being removed, instantly the colour and the size of the heart are restored.

If, on the contrary, the artery instead of the vein be compressed or tied, you will observe the part between the obstacle and the heart, and the heart itself, to become inordinately distended, to assume a deep purple or even livid colour, and at length to be so much oppressed with blood that you will believe it about to be choked; but the obstacle removed, all things immediately return to their natural state and colour, size, and impulse.

Here then we have evidence of two kinds of death: extinction from deficiency, and suffocation from excess. Examples of both have now been set before you, and you have had opportunity of viewing the truth contended for with your own eyes in the heart.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38