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Harvey's Opinion of Bacon-Van Helmont's Birthplace and Early PursuitsHe Studies Medicine-Galen fails him-Archæus-Gas-Blood-letting in Pleurisy-His Aversion to Blood-letting-Harvey-His Studies-Crack brained -Physician to Charles I.-Present at the Battle of Edgehill-His Discoveries -Galen's Notions about the Course of the Blood-Harvey Discovers the Circulation-His Description of it-He suggests the true theory of Respiration. As Abraham had two sons, the one the progenitor of that enduring race, whose wealth at the present day goes far to sustain the political systems of Europe; the other the father of the wandering tribes which have refused to enter within the pale of civilized life, and preserve till now the vagrant habits of the wild Ishmael,-so Bacon may be said to have had two successors, the one the child of the promise, transmitting the rich and prolific fruits of true philosophy to remotest times; the first to reveal the wonders disclosed to the eye freed from the distorting glasses of antiquated notions;-the other, the representative of Bacon's mysticism, and loose experimentation.
The name of the first is William Harvey; of the second, Johan Baptista van Helmont. Not that either of these were professed disciples of Bacon, although we think that the influence of the greatest English philosopher may be traced upon the greatest English physiologist. On this point we are at issue with Dr. Willis, the translator of Harvey's books, who, in the biographical sketch prefixed to that work, makes the following observations: "Harvey, besides being physician to the king and household, held the same responsible situation in the families of the most distinguished among the nobles and men of eminence of his time; among others, to the Lord Chancellor Bacon, whom Aubrey informs us 'he esteemed much for his wit and style, but would not allow to be a great philosopher. Said he to me, 'He writes philosophy like a Chancellor,' speaking in derision. Harvey's penetration never failed him the philosopher of fact cared not for the philosopher of prescription; he who was dealing with things, and through his own inherent powers exhibiting the rule, thought little of him who was at work upon abstractions, and who only inculcated the rule from the use he saw others making of it. Bacon has many admirers, but there are not wanting some in these present times, who hold with his illustrious contemporary, that he wrote philosophy like a Lord Chancellor.'" 1 reply to this singular passage, we would suggest that probably the gossiping Aubrey entirely misunderstood Harvey's expression, “He writes philosophy like a Lord Chancellor.” Perhaps he was not aware that among the learned men of his day he was called the chancellor of learning as well as of law, and most likely it was in this sense, and not in derision, that Harvey used the phrase. That "the philosopher of fact cared not for the philosopher of prescription," is a
The works of William Harvey, M. D., translated from the Latin, with a life of the author, by Robert Willis,
M.D., 1847. Printed for the Sydenham
gratuitous assumption, disproved by the high terms in which Harvey refers to Bacon, quoting an expression of his Organum: Wherefore, I think it advisable to state what fruits may follow our industry, and in the words of the learned Lord Verulam, to enter upon our second vintage.' We might quote many passages from Harvey's writings to show the respect he bore to Aristotle, and other "philosophers of prescription," as Dr. Willis contemptuously denominates Lord Bacon; but it will be more profitable, when we come to consider the method of research pursued by Harvey, to compare it with the rules laid down by Bacon.
In no sense can Van Helmont be considered as a disciple of Bacon. In common with Bacon, he represented one aspect of the spirit of his age; inasmuch as he was a mystic and experimenter, a man of great learning and keen insight, admirable for his boldness in rejecting the false although supported by all the authority of antiquity, and for exposing with much subtilty and wit the theories held in almost unquestioned reverence at the time he lived. His life was a romance, and more worthy of study and exposition, in my opinion, than that of his more famous predecessor Paracelsus, in as far as, while perhaps equally gifted with genius, he was a truer and better man.
Van Helmont was born at Brussels in the year 1577, seventeen years after Bacon. His parents were noble, and he was heir to great possessions. He pursued in Louvain the usual course of scholastic philosophy. Had he followed the common custom, he would then have taken his degree and left the university, as Bacon did. But, possessed by a noble ardour for learning, he became the pupil of a celebrated Jesuit, Martin del Reo, who gave instruction in all the knowledge of the age, not forgetting magic. The young student did not find in this course Harvey's Works, p. 270.
the satisfaction he craved, and gave himself to the examination of the doctrines of the Stoics, but found they too failed to satisfy his wants. Becoming accidentally acquainted with the writings of Thomas à Kempis and John Tauler, he from that day adopted what goes by the vague term of mysticism. That is, thoroughly convinced that there was a spiritual world in intimate and eternal union with the spirit of man; that this spiritual world was revealed to that human soul which submitted to receive it in humility; and that the doctrines of Christianity were not to be looked upon as a system of philosophy, but as a rule of life, he resolved to follow them to the letter. The consequence of this resolution was, that he devoted himself to the art of medicine, in imitation of the Great Healer of the body as well as of the soul; and as the prejudices of his time and country made his rank and wealth an obstacle to his entrance into the medical profession, he made over all his property, with its honours, to his sister; that, "laying aside every weight, he might run the race that was set before him."
He entered on his new studies with all the zeal of his character, and very soon had so completely mastered the writings of Hippocrates and Galen, as to excite the surprise of his contemporaries. But although styled a dreamer, and having a mind easily moved to belief in spiritual manifestation, he was not of a credulous nature in regard to matters belonging to the senses. And as he believed that Christianity was to be practised, and to be found true by the test of experiment, so he believed that the doctrines of Hippocrates and of Galen were to be subjected to a similar trial. An opportunity soon occurred to himself. He caught the itch and turned to Galen for its cure. Galen attributes this disease to overheated bile and sour phlegm, and says that it is to be cured by purgatives. Van Helmont, with the implicit faith
1 Sprengel, Vol. IV., p. 292.
of his simple nature, procured the prescribed medicines, and took them as ordered by Galen. Alas, no cure of the itch followed, but great exhaustion of his whole body:' so Galen was not to be trusted. This was a serious discovery; for if he could not trust Galen, by whom the whole medical world swore, to whom was he to turn? He turned to Paracelsus; and although disgusted with the extravagance of this illiterate and unscrupulous reformer, he found himself so far agreed with him, as to demand that Medicine should be reconstructed, since what was believed in as truth had turned out to be false; and so Van Helmont resolved to work out for himself a solution of the great problem to which he had devoted his life.
Van Helmont's system may be called spiritual vitalism. The primary cause of all organization was Archæus. By Archæus, man is much more nearly allied, he says, to the world of spirits and the Father of spirits, than to the external world. Archaus is the creative spirit which, working upon the raw material of water or fluidity, by means of "a ferment" excites all the endless actions which result in the growth and nourishment of the body. Thus, digestion is neither a chemical nor a mechanical operation; nor is it, as was then supposed, the effects of heat, for it is arrested instead of aided by fever, and goes on in perfection in fishes and cold-blooded animals; but, on the command of Archæus, an acid is generated in the stomach, which dissolves the food. This is the first digestion. The second consists in the neutralization of this acid by the bile out of the gall bladder. The third takes place in the vessels of the mesentery. The fourth goes on in the heart, by the action of the vital spirits. The fifth consists in the conversion of the arterial blood into vital spirits, chiefly in the brain. The sixth consists of the preparation of nourishment in the laboratory of each organ, during which
1 Van Helmont. Opera omnia. Ort. Med.