William Harvey (1578-1657)
Valentine's Day is only five days away as this story is being written. On Valentine's day we think of hearts and love. For centuries, our culture has used the heart as the symbol of love and even of other feelings. Love songs speak of the heart. We speak of "broken hearts." We even speak of having the "heart of a lion."
We all know better. All the heart does is pump blood. This notion that the heart is the seat of love and even of the soul goes back thousands of years. William Harvey came along and proved what the heart really does, but old myths die hard. Even when we see the myths for what they are, we still cling to them.
William Harvey was born in Folkestone, England. Not much else is known about his childhood, although it is a good bet that his family was "upper class." Harvey went to King's School at Canterbury. When he was 16, he went to college at Cambridge and was awarded a scholarship. Even then, Harvey was interested in eventually training physicians and Cambridge had a special emphasis in that area. After graduating with a B.A. degree, he went to the most famous medical school in Europe at that time, the University of Padua, in Italy. Although he had a degree from Cambridge, his most important preparation for the discoveries he would later make was the two and a half years of training he received under a tutor named Fabricius in Italy. There, he used direct observation of dissected animals to look for the truth.
Harvey received his medical degree from Padua and returned to England and practiced medicine in and around London. Back in England, he quickly established himself as a physician of great competence. He also had great political connections. This was the Elizabethan age, and Harvey married the daughter of the Queen's physician. Harvey had a huge practice and was physician to many famous people, including Sir Francis Bacon and the Royal family. Harvey also realized his dream of teaching anatomy to medical students. Among the things he taught medical students was the notion that anatomy "deals with the uses and actions of the parts [of the body] by eyesight inspection and by dissection." In other words, the truth is in the body, not necessarily in the books or in what supposedly learned men tell you.
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