Billeder på siden

operation Archæus, present everywhere, is itself regenerated, and superintends the momentary regeneration of the whole frame. If for digestion we substitute the word nutrition, we cannot fail to be struck by the near approach to accuracy in this description of the succession of processes by which it is brought about.

Van Helmont's pathology was quite consistent with his physiology. As life and all vital action depended upon Archæus, so the perturbation of Archaus gave rise to fevers, and derangements of the blood and secretions. Thus, gout was a disease not confined to the part in which it showed itself, but was the result of Archaus.

It will be seen that by this theory the entire system of Galen was nonsuited. There is no place for the elements and the humours. Indeed, Van Helmont denied the existence of four elements. He threw out fire as an element altogether, and reverted to the notion of Thales, that out of fluidity, with the assistance of Archaus acting by means of a ferment, all matter received its form. He was the first to use the word Gas,' and to distinguish between different kinds of gases.

Given such a theory of disease as he advocated, one would be puzzled to construct for it a corresponding system of therapeutics. It is plain, that if disease did not arise from an excess of either black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, or blood, it would not answer to use the great remedies of his day -purgatives, derivatives, and blood-letting. Rejecting the maxims, he rejected the practice of Galen, and his objections founded on the futility of the system, even now adhered to, are unanswerable following passages are upon


The etymology of Gas has been much discussed, and it is usual to derive it from Geist. It seems to me to be a word invented, not derived. The reader of Van Helmont will find a number of new words, such

as Blas, Gas, &c. When he uses them for the first time, he describes their meaning, as if they were arbitrary symbols, which I believe them to be.

[ocr errors]

the treatment of pleurisy :-"You adopt venesection, and endeavour by means of Revulsion to withdraw the blood from the vena azygos, as if it contained the disease." Again, they call the process derivation-draining off,— when they open a vein, which is supposed to feed or conduct to the affected part. Alas! how fertile are the schools in words and technicalities which, viewed by the light of nature, are simply ridiculous! For, granted that the vein at the elbow should part with every drop of its blood, and the vena azygos be thereby emptied-yet the schools ought to know that there would immediately ensue an equal redistribution of blood throughout the veins; so that, although the ⚫ vein which was opened were entirely emptied, which is impossible, there straightway would occur an equalization of the blood through the whole web of the veins. Whence it is quite clear that the talk about revulsion and derivation is mere drivel; for even if you concede their assumed effects, all that they really produce will be a trifling delay."

A few lines further on he exclaims :-" Wholly irrational is the technical treatment-the usual routine. No doubt you can lessen, nay, even arrest the flow of a rushing stream in a specific direction, if you make a lateral opening in one of its banks, and thus effect a nearer and steeper descent towards the lower levels. But what earthly good do you gain by getting rid of so many ounces of blood, and at the same time causing a vast loss of vital power? For is it not the fact, that the moment you close the vein which you have opened, the blood will flow again to its appointed place-must flow, so long as the cause of its movement exists? Were it not better to attack the fountain-head, seeing that venesection in pleurisy will not suffer us to cherish any hope, except that which springs from exhausted powers?

"Nature, it is true, missing sadly her wonted strength, and bankrupt in blood, will not manifest the abnormal

symptoms so long as her weakness remains; and, like a penitent, ashamed of the recent stormy swelling, may begin to think of the propriety of concocting pus, as soon as possible, out of extravasated blood. But the desired effects would follow more naturally and more propitiously, if you retained the blood in which the life-that is, the vital power-resides. For Nature, the only healer of disease, is emphatically life, and when that goes, the physician can only shrug his shoulders.'


These are strong expressions to come from a master in Israel. They read like the fierce denunciations of some outlaw, such as Paracelsus. "With pleasure," says Sprengel, "does the lover of truth hang over the writings of the man who, however much he adhered to the mysticism of his age, yet exposed innumerable theoretical and practical errors, and expounded principles which later physicians ignorantly regarded as the fruits of after discoveries. By the incorruptible tribunal of History will the chaplet of merit be awarded to this forgotten physician of the olden time." 2 He has had, like other bold innovators, to wait about two hundred years for this justice. By his contemporary, Guy Patin, he was represented as having died. raving mad, from his aversion to blood-letting. Van Helmont's son, however, Francis Mercius, who attended his father on his death-bed, says, that this report of his being a victim to his horror of bloodshed, is entirely false and calumnious.1

Deprived of the dangerous weapons then in use for combating disease and human life, Van Helmont had recourse naturally to the new medicines, mercury and antimony, and also used wine and opium largely, with what success we are not informed; and, indeed, his thera

1 Opera omnia, p. 387.

2 Sprengel, Vol. IV., p. 316. 3 Lettres de Guy Patin, Vol. I., p. 14. Cologne, 1691.

See the Introduction, written by his son, to his "Opera omnia," which he edited.

peutic doctrines are chiefly interesting in their negative relations. In these alone have they survived historically. He died in 1644, in the sixty-seventh year of his age, bequeathing to his son all his writings, none of which were published in his lifetime.

[graphic][merged small]

While Van Helmont was the exponent of the speculation of his age, in the direction both of vitality and chemistry, William Harvey served himself heir to the land of promise pointed out by Lord Bacon, in the kingdom of simple observation and direct experiment. His life presents a great contrast to that of his contemporary. Van Helmont was a brilliant meteor, a gasiform body shooting across the planet's orbit-dazzling, but soon lost to view; Harvey, a planet moving in steady radiance," without haste and without rest," and contributing for ever and for ever his proper tones to the everlasting music of the spheres.

1 From a picture by Rennel, in the collection of Dr. Mead.

The incidents of his life are of the most common-place. His father, Thomas Harvey, was an opulent yeoman of Kent. His mother was "a godly, harmless woman; a chaste, loving wife; a charitable, quiet neighbour; a comfortable, friendly matron; a provident, diligent housewife; a careful, tenderhearted mother." So runs the epitaph written by her son.' He was born at Folkestone, in the year 1578, one year after Van Helmont, and eighteen years after Lord Bacon. At the age of sixteen, he went to Cambridge; and three years afterwards, took the degree of B.A. He then began his

medical studies at the famous University of Padua, under Fabricius of Aquapendente, for whom he entertained the highest respect, and who put him on the sure path of his great discovery. After having spent between three and four years at Padua, he returned to England and took his degree of M.D. at Cambridge. Five years afterwards, he was admitted as a Fellow of the College of Physicians. At the age of thirty-one he was appointed Physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital; and in the year 1615, when thirty-seven years of age, he began his course of lectures upon the motions of the blood. There is no report of these lectures, but it is believed they contained the substance of what he published thirteen years afterwards, in Latin, of which the English translation is "An Anatomical Disquisition on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals.” This book, which is a milestone on our road, bears date 1628. It is dedicated to King Charles I., who took a deep interest in Harvey's discovery, and five years afterwards appointed him physician to his royal person. This was some recompense for the treatment he received from his colleagues on account of the novelty of his views. "I have heard Harvey say," writes Aubrey, "that after his book on the circulation of the blood came out, he fell

1 Harvey's Life, p. xviii., Note.

« ForrigeFortsæt »