Rotterdam: Arnold Leers, 1648.
First edition of the Exercitationes, one of two issues published simultaneously (see below), of this rare and important work, a defence of his theory of the circulation of the blood against the Parisian physician Jean Riolan the younger. It is here bound after the first Rotterdam edition of De motu cordis itself, an important edition in its own right, as it contains a corrected text, with the preface by Zacharias Sylvius (1608-1664); it also contains the first edition of the substantial treatise by James de Back (1593-1657), Dissertatio de corde ... Annexa Appendix pro circulatione Harveiana. Keynes called the Exercitationes “one of [Harvey’s] major contributions to medical science” (Life, p. 327). They were appended to later editions of De motu, as here; as Keynes says in his Bibliography of William Harvey, “The two treatises have for too long been considered merely an appendix to De motu – they are far more important than this.” The only copy of the Exercitationes auctioned in the last forty years was the Haskell F. Norman copy, also bound with the Rotterdam edition of De motu (Christie’s, June 1998, $9200, re-sold at Sotheby’s PMM sale, October 1999, £6900).
❧Norman 1007 & 1010.
De motu cordis, first published in 1628, “is probably the most important book in the history of medicine. What Vesalius was to anatomy, Harvey was to physiology; the whole scientific outlook on the human body was transformed, and behind almost every important medical advance in modern times lies the work of Harvey” (Heirs of Hippocrates). The initial reaction to De motu in England was negative: in Brief Lives, Aubrey related, ‘I have heard him say, that after his book of the circulation of the Blood came out, that he fell mightily in his practice, and that ‘twas believed by the vulgar that he was crack brained; and all the physicians were against his opinion, and envied him; many wrote against him.’ On the Continent, however, the reaction was more favourable. As Gjersten remarks, “it was in Holland that Harvey received his earliest and most committed support” (Classics of Science, p. 178). Indeed, the first recognition of Harvey’s theory came from the extra-university circle around Sylvius and de Back in Rotterdam. “In 1648 Jacob de Back, physician-in-ordinary to Rotterdam, published his Dissertatio de corde, in which he argued that the heart was not the chief organ in the motion of the blood. ‘It performeth the office of a steward. The heart in the body of an animal has no rule or principality.’ De Back rightly regarded this as a correction of the De motu cordis, which he had read about 1633. Harvey might well have read de Back’s book before writing his letters to Riolan, in which he uses very similar words” (Webster (ed.), The Intellectual Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, p. 174).
“In 1649, after maintaining a twenty-one year silence against his detractors, Harvey published two essays addressed to Jean Riolan the younger, a Parisian professor of anatomy who had put forth a rival theory of the circulation in his Encheiridium anatomicum (1648). Harvey demolished Riolan’s arguments point by point in the first essay, and in the second essay refuted Descartes, who had denied Harvey’s claims about the movement of the heart” (Norman). Harvey’s first essay is a reply to Riolan’s Encheiridium, a copy of which he had presented to Harvey. In answer to Riolan’s doubts about how and why the blood passes from the arteries to the veins through the body tissues, Harvey speculated that the arterial blood pressure forces the blood into the tissues, and that the action of the body’s muscles then forces the blood into the smallest veins. To refute Riolan’s claim that there are connecting passages, or anastomoses, that let blood flow from the arteries under certain abnormal conditions, Harvey suggested an experiment based on a traditional method of slaughtering animals which involved the opening of a large artery and letting the animal’s blood drain as completely as possible. Harvey claimed that if the principal vein into the heart is tied off first, so that the blood cannot possibly enter the heart from the veins, then the animal’s arteries will drain, but the veins will not. Riolan, however, could not face such vivisectional techniques; others including Primrose, Parigiano and Leichner had argued that vivisectional experiments were unnatural and produced unnatural results.
When Harvey concluded this ‘exercise’ to Riolan with a formally polite tribute to Riolan and the Encheiridium, and put his name at its foot, it was probably as much as he intended to write. But before he sent it to the printer he read Riolan’s Opuscula Anatomica Nova (London, 1649), in which Riolan marshals his criticisms of Harvey at greater length and, at the same time, proposes his own new doctrine of the circulation of the blood, which he confidently asserts will leave the medicine of Galen in good repair. According to Riolan’s new doctrine, the blood which has been elaborated in the liver from the chyle (the old Galenic doctrine) is carried by the vena cava directly to the heart, where it is transformed into arterial blood. From the right ventricle it passes to the left through the minute openings in the middle septum and from the left ventricle into the aorta and its branches. When it has reached the outermost parts of the limbs, it returns through the veins which anastomose with the arteries. There is circulation only in the larger canals of the aorta and the vena cava which through their smaller branches supply nutriment to all parts of the body. The venous blood in the portal vein does not circulate, but flows back and forth, having as its companion the large coeliac vessel containing arterial blood which likewise does not circulate.
Harvey therefore took up his pen again and wrote a second exercise to Riolan. In contrast to the first exercise, which was largely a verbal argument, the second is heavily experimental, with new experiments, and Harvey’s deliberations about procedure in natural philosophy. Much of it is taken up with a history of the entire controversy over his doctrine of the circulation of the blood. Some scholars have suggested that this is based on notes he had made in 1641-1646 in response to earlier critics. “Harvey, in this second letter, seems almost to have forgotten Riolan and his tiresome quibbles. He was enjoying a temporary return to his old style of forceful statement supported by experimental, clinical and physiological experiences. It is one of his major contributions to medical science, and in the later pages he briefly recapitulated the theme of his former book De motu cordis. Near the end he referred to ‘that very acute and ingenious man, René Descartes,’ and his attempt to deny Harvey’s beliefs about the movement of the heart … In his concluding paragraph Harvey came back to Riolan, who had been so long in the background, and recommended him to try the simple experiment of ligating the portal vein, when he would find that exactly the same thing happened as when any other vein is tied – it will swell up below the ligature owing to the accumulation of blood flowing towards the liver, showing the absurdity of Riolan’s idea of a backward circulation in the portal system.
“With this parting shot, based, as always, on direct experiment, Harvey left his opponent. If this did not convince him, he must have thought, nothing would, and indeed it never did. Riolan remained to the end of his life unable to believe the evidence of his senses” (Keynes, Life, pp. 327-8).
“This work [Exercitationes] was published simultaneously by Roger Daniels in Cambridge and by Arnold Leers in Rotterdam. Keynes states that the Rotterdam edition has traditionally been assumed to be printed after the Cambridge one, although he could find no evidence to support the claim. A third and last separate edition was published in Paris in 1650; after this date, the Exercitationes duae appeared only as an appendix to De motu cordis” (Norman).
Keynes, Harvey 6 & 32; Life of Harvey, pp. 323-328; NLM/Krivatsy 5332 & 5340; Norman 1007 & 1010.
2 vols in one, 12mo, I pp [ii] 140 [2, errata]; II pp [xl, including engraved frontispiece] 215 [1, blank] 219 , with two engraved plates on pp 156-7 of theExercitatio; some very faint waterstaining on a few gatherings, a very attractive copy in contemporary limp vellum. Contemporary inscription on title ‘Ex lib. asceterii Rhed. Socii.’.