Blood Circulation in the body
(Exercitatio anatomica de circulatione sanguinis)
William Harvey
1649 AD

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Introduction:

  1. In 1649 AD, William Harvey discovered the blood circulatory system of the body. He notes that the mind, spirit and emotion cause physical changes in the body, sometimes causing death. "And what indeed is more deserving of attention than the fact that in almost every affection, appetite, hope or fear, our body suffers, the countenance changes, and the blood appears to course hither and thither. In anger the eyes are fiery and pupils contracted; in modesty the cheeks are suffused with blushes; in fear, and under a sense of infamy and of shame, the face is pale, but the ears burn as if for the evil they heard or were to hear; in lust how quickly is the member [penis] distended with blood and erected!" He gives a case story of a man who overcome with anger, hate and revenge, died: "I was acquainted with another strong man, who having received an injury and affront from one more powerful than himself, and upon whom he could not have his revenge, was so overcome with hatred and spite and passion, which he yet communicated to no one, that at last he fell into a strange distemper, suffering from extreme oppression and pain of the heart and breast, and . . . in the course of a few years . . . became tabid and died". Of course this is nothing new. Modern science recognizes how stress can cause heart attacks and drive one to insanity. However, the doctor contributed to the myth of hysteria by blaming the uterus for inducing insanity. Modern psychiatry retained hysteria until it was replaced in the first edition of the DSM-I in 1952 with "conversion reaction" and "somatization disorder." Here we have it's beginning stages of development by the myth that human females, like animals, go insane if they do not get sex when they need it: "All animals, indeed, grow savage when in heat, and unless they are suffered to enjoy one another, become changed in disposition. In like manner women occasionally become insane through ungratified desire, and to such a height does the malady reach in some, that they are believed to be poisoned, or moonstruck, or possessed by a devil." Equally quaky, is the idea that a woman who is suffering from "hysteria" needs to do "Hymeneal Exercises", whatever that is, or just get a husband to get enough sex to cure her mental illness: "That this Maid having remained a great while in the Hospital without being cured, Dr. Harvey, out of Curiosity, visited her sometimes; and suspecting her strange Distemper to be chiefly Uterine, and curable only by Hymeneal Exercises, he advised her Parents (who sent her not thither out of poverty) to take her home, and provide her a Husband, by whom, in effect, she was according to his Prognostic, and to many Men's wonder, cured of that strange Disease." (Blood Circulation in the body (Exercitatio anatomica de circulatione sanguinis), William Harvey, 1649 AD)
  2. "The body-mind relation especially the influence of the passions had long been discussed in medical literature within the ancient framework of humours. Harvey applying his new experimental and observational method to the same problems related them to the circulation of the blood. In De motu cordis (1628) he commented on the important influence of emotions on the heart : 'every affection of the mind that is attended with either pain or pleasure, hope or rear, is the cause of an agitation whose influence extends to the heart'. Twenty years later he elaborated this in the extract quoted in which he also referred to a collection of 'Medical Observations' which, had it been published, might have been the first psychosomatic casebook. In the second extract Harvey's observations on the connection between mind and generative system show how early in the history of psychiatry sexual disorders were considered causes of mental illness. For this reason he advised 'Hymeneal Exercises' for a girl suffering from hysterical anaesthesia as here reported by Robert Boyle. Harvey also observed two cases of pseudocyesis or phantom pregnancy; in one the delusion was accepted by the patient's sister and so gave rise to a folie a deux." (300 years of Psychiatry, Richard Hunter, 1963, p119)

Blood Circulation in the body (Exercitatio anatomica de circulatione sanguinis), William Harvey, 1649 AD

William Harvey (1578-1657)

MD Padua & Cantab., FRCP, physician to James I and Charles I, and to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London; discoverer of the circulation of the blood

  1. Exercitatio anatomica de circulatione sanguinis, 1649 Cambridge Translated by R. Willis in: The works of William Harvey, 1847 London, Sydenham Society pp. 127-9, 189-90
  2. Exercitationes de generation animalium, 1651 London Ibid., pp. 542-3, 528-9
  3. Robert Boyle : Some considerations touching the usefulnesse of experimental naturall philosophy, 1663 Oxford, Davis Part 2, pp. 72-3

PSYCHOSOMATIC MEDICINE

(Exercitatio anatomica de circulatione sanguinis, 1649 Cambridge Translated by R. Willis in: The works of William Harvey, 1847 London, Sydenham Society pp. 127-9, 189-90)

I was acquainted with another strong man, who having received an injury and affront from one more powerful than himself, and upon whom he could not have his revenge, was so overcome with hatred and spite and passion, which he yet communicated to no one, that at last he fell into a strange distemper, suffering from extreme oppression and pain of the heart and breast, and . . . in the course of a few years . . . became tabid and died . . . His friends thought him poisoned by some malesicent influence, or possessed with an evil spirit . . . In the dead body I found the heart and aorta so much gorged and distended with blood, that the cavities of the ventricles equalled those of a bullock's heart in size. Such is the force of the blood pent up, and such are the effects of its impulse .. . We also observe the signal influence of the affections of the mind when a timid person is bled and happens to faint: immediately the flow of blood is arrested, a deadly pallor overspreads the surface, the limbs stiffen, the ears sing, the eyes are dazzled or blinded, and, as it were, convulsed. But here I come upon a field where I might roam freely and give myself up to speculation. And, indeed, such a flood of light and truth breaks in upon me here; occasion offers of explaining so many problems, of resolving so many doubts, of discovering the causes of so many slighter and more serious diseases, and of suggesting remedies for their cure, that the subject seems almost to demand a separate treatise. And it will be my business in my 'Medical Observations', to lay before my reader matter upon all these topics which shall be worthy of the gravest consideration.

And what indeed is more deserving of attention than the fact that in almost every affection, appetite, hope or fear, our body suffers, the countenance changes, and the blood appears to course hither and thither. In anger the eyes are fiery and pupils contracted; in modesty the cheeks are suffused with blushes; in fear, and under a sense of infamy and of shame, the face is pale, but the ears burn as if for the evil they heard or were to hear; in lust how quickly is the member distended with blood and erected!

HYSTERIA AND PSEUDOCYESIS

(Exercitationes de generation animalium, 1651 London Ibid., pp. 542-3, 528-9)

It is of the same significance in these animals [birds, many insects, fishes] when they conceive eggs, as it is in young women when their uterus grows hot, their menses slow, and their bosoms swell in a word, when they become marriageable; and who, if they continue too long unwedded, are seized with serious symptoms hysterics, furor uterinus, &c. or fall into a cachectic state, and distemperatures of various kinds. All animals, indeed, grow savage when in heat, and unless they are suffered to enjoy one another, become changed in disposition. In like manner women occasionally become insane through ungratified desire, and to such a height does the malady reach in some, that they are believed to be poisoned, or moonstruck, or possessed by a devil. And this would certainly occur more frequently than it does, without the influence of good nurture, respect for character, and the modesty that is innate in the sex, which all tend to tranquillize the inordinate passions of the mind .. .

In those pale virgins who labour under chronic maladies, and in whom the uterus is small and the catamenia stagnate, 'by coition', says Aristotle, `the excrementitious menstrual fluid is drawn downwards, for the heated uterus attracts the humours, and the passages are opened'. In this way their maladies are greatly lessened, seeing that want of action on the part of the uterus exposes the body to various ills. For the uterus is a most important organ, and brings the whole body to sympathize with it. No one of the least experience can be ignorant what grievous symptoms arise when the uterus either rises or falls down, or is in any way put out of place, or is seized with spasm how dreadful, then, are the mental aberrations, the delirium, the melancholy, the paroxysms of frenzy, as if the affected person were under the dominion of spells, and all arising from unnatural states of the uterus. How many incurable diseases also are brought on by unhealthy menstrual discharges, or from over-abstinence from sexual intercourse where the passions are strong ! .. .

I am acquainted with a young woman, the daughter of a physician with whom I am very intimate, who experienced in her own person all the usual symptoms of pregnancy; after the fourteenth week, being healthy and sprightly, she felt the movements of the child within the uterus, calculated the time at which she expected her delivery, and when she thought, from further indications, that this was at hand, prepared the bed, cradle, and all other matters ready for the event. But all was in vain. Lucina . . . tutelar deity of childbirth . . . refused to answer her prayers; the motions of the foetus ceased; and by degrees, without inconvenience, as the abdomen had increased so it diminished; she remained, however, barren ever after. I am acquainted also with a noble lady who had borne more than ten children, and in whom the catamenia never disappeared except as the result of impregnation. Afterwards, however, being married to a second husband, she considered herself pregnant, forming her judgment not only from the symptoms on which she usually relied, but also from the movements of the child, which were frequently felt both by herself and her sister, who occupied the same bed with her. No arguments of mine could divest her of this belief. The symptoms depended on flatulence and fat. Hence the best ascertained signs of pregnancy have sometimes deceived not only ignorant women, but experienced midwives, and even accurate physicians.

HYMENEAL EXERCISES

(Robert Boyle : Some considerations touching the usefulnesse of experimental naturall philosophy, 1663 Oxford, Davis Part 2, pp. 72-3)

Mr. Hollyer . . . told me, that among many Patients sent to be cured in a great Hospital [St. Thomas's] (of which he is one of the Chirurgions) there was a Maid of about eighteen Years of age, who, without the loss of motion, had so lost the sense of feeling in the external parts of her Body, that when he had, for tryal sake, pinn'd her Handkerchief to her bare Neck, she went up and down with it so pinn'd, without having any sense of what he had done to her. He added, That this Maid having remained a great while in the Hospital without being cured, Dr. Harvey, out of Curiosity, visited her sometimes; and suspecting her strange Distemper to be chiefly Uterine, and curable only by Hymeneal Exercises, he advised her Parents (who sent her not thither out of poverty) to take her home, and provide her a Husband, by whom, in effect, she was according to his Prognostic, and to many Mens wonder, cured of that strange Disease.

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