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Blood money: Harvey's De motu cordis (1628) as an exercise in accounting


William Harvey's famous quantitative argument from De motu cordis (1628) about the circulation of blood explained how a small amount of blood could recirculate and nourish the entire body, upending the Galenic conception of the blood's motion. This paper argues that the quantitative argument drew on the calculative and rhetorical skills of merchants, including Harvey's own brothers. Modern translations of De motu cordis obscure the language of accountancy that Harvey himself used. Like a merchant accounting for credits and debits, intake and output, goods and moneys, Harvey treated venous and arterial blood as essentially commensurate, quantifiable and fungible. For Harvey, the circulation (and recirculation) of blood was an arithmetical necessity. The development of Harvey's circulatory model followed shifts in the epistemic value of mercantile forms of knowledge, including accounting and arithmetic, also drawing on an Aristotelian language of reciprocity and balance that Harvey shared with mercantile advisers to the royal court. This paper places Harvey's calculations in a previously underappreciated context of economic crisis, whose debates focused largely on questions of circulation.

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1 Harvey, William, Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus, Frankfurt, 1628, p. 43.

2 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 48.

3 Bylebyl, Jerome J., ‘The growth of Harvey's De motu cordis’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (1973) 47(5), pp. 427490, 433. For Bylebyl, Harvey built notably on the work of Colombo, who had treated the ‘left ventricle … as a complete functional analogue of the right ventricle’. As Bylebyl argued, this meant that in the context of a heart with an imperforate septum, systole pushed forth blood through the right heart and pulmonary circulation, and into the left heart and systemic circulation. This symmetry between right and left heart, and pulmonary and systemic circulations, pushed ‘a minority of late Renaissance physicians’ to begin to ‘approximate the modern concepts of the movement of blood through the hearts, lungs, and arteries’.

4 Robert Frank has provided a summary of the state of the literature, which, although published two decades ago, remains relevant: ‘Sometime about 1625 or 1626 Harvey seems to have realized – by what course of reasoning is still under scholarly debate – that his concepts of the heart's motion had an unforeseen, yet necessary, consequence: the blood of vertebrates must circulate throughout the body’. See Frank, Robert G., ‘Viewing the body: reframing man and disease in Commonwealth and Restoration England’, in Marshall, W. Gerald (ed.), The Restoration Mind, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997, pp. 65110, 71, original emphasis. Jerome Bylebyl demonstrated similarly that Harvey's description of the systemic circulation and his quantitative argument in particular emerged subsequent to the 1616 Prelectiones on anatomy, after Harvey began his career as a courtier; see Bylebyl, op. cit. (3), pp. 427–490, 439–440.

5 Jevons, F.R., ‘Harvey's quantitative method’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (1962) 36, pp. 462466; Kilgour, Frederick G., ‘William Harvey's use of the quantitative method’, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (1954) 26, pp. 462467.

6 Bylebyl, Jerome J., ‘Nutrition, quantification and circulation’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (1977) 51, pp. 369384; Shank, Michael H., ‘From Galen's ureters to Harvey's veins’, Journal of the History of Biology (1985) 18, pp. 331355.

7 Bates, Don, ‘Closing the circle: how Harvey and his contemporaries played the game of truth, part 1’, History of Science (1998) 36, pp. 213232; Bates, Closing the circle: how Harvey and his contemporaries played the game of truth, part 2’, History of Science (1998) 36, pp. 245267.

8 The possibility of economic metaphors – but not commercial ways of thinking – was suggested briefly in Webster, Charles, ‘William Harvey and the crisis of medicine in Jacobean England’, in Bylebyl, Jerome J. (ed.), William Harvey and His Age: The Professional and Social Context of the Discovery of the Circulation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 127, 27 n. 84. Various works on aquatic metaphors include Pagel, Walter, William Harvey's Biological Ideas: Selected Aspects and Historical Background, Basel: S. Karger, 1967, pp. 8290; French, Roger, William Harvey's Natural Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 357360; Pulkkinen, Jarmo, ‘The role of metaphors in William Harvey's thought’, in Zittel, Claus, Engel, Gisela, Nanni, Romano and Karafyllis, Nicole C. (eds.), Philosophies of Technology: Francis Bacon and His Contemporaries, Leiden: Brill, 2008, pp. 266273.

9 Cook, Harold J., Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007. See also Harkness, Deborah, The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007; Schiebinger, Londa and Swan, Claudia (eds.), Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004; Kaye, Joel, Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century: Money, Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

10 Power, D'Arcy, William Harvey, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1897, p. 114.

11 Hofmann's critique of Harvey is summarized in French, op. cit. (8), pp. 92–93. Hofmann called Harvey a logistician (logist/a), a mere accountant who tricked his ‘ignorant’ spectators into believing they ‘have seen miracles’. Thomas Blount's 1661 Glossographia defined the logists as ‘ten men, elected out of the Tribes’ among the Athenians who ‘were to render an account of all such affairs as they had then adminstration of; They not only kept the moneys, but of all other matters appertained to the Kings revenue’. See Caspar Hofmann to William Harvey, undated, in Whitteridge, Gwyneth (ed.), William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood, New York: Elsevier, 1971, pp. 240241; Blount, Thomas, Glossographia, London, 1661.

12 The general thrust of other early critiques was broadly similar to Hofmann's, if less severe, as in Ole Worm's concern over the use of quantification in lieu of a lack of observable evidence; see Grell, Ole Peter, ‘In search of true knowledge: Ole Worm (1588–1654) and the new philosophy’, in Smith, Pamela H. and Schmidt, Benjamin (eds.), Making Knowledge in Early Modern Europe: Practices, Objects, and Texts, 1400–1800, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 214232, 232.

13 Harvey's use of mathematics constituted a transgression of disciplinary boundaries, reminiscent of those made by Kepler or Galileo, whose application of mathematics to astronomy was thought inappropriate. Like Galileo, Harvey made this transgression among royal patrons, where the lesser arts of accounting and arithmetic had different epistemic value; see Biagioli, Mario, Galileo, Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 3. On Kepler see Jardine, Nicholas, ‘The forging of modern realism: Clavius and Kepler against the sceptics’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science (1979) 10, pp. 141173. For one of the seminal studies on these disciplinary boundaries see Westman, Robert S., ‘The astronomer's role in the sixteenth century: a preliminary study’, History of Science (1980) 18, pp. 105147.

14 Examples include Thomas Hobbes describing a theory of philosophy in De corpore (1655) under the rubric ‘computatio sive logica’. The term computatio is generally construed as meaning ‘reckoning’, but having a philosophic use in some texts, such as De corpore.

15 Vickers, Brian (ed.), Francis Bacon: Major Works, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 302.

16 Milton, John, The Works: Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous, vol. 2, London, 1753, p. 498.

17 Milton, op. cit. (16), p. 498.

18 Milton, op. cit. (16), p. 498.

19 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 47.

20 Harvey, William, Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals: An Anatomical Essay (tr. Franklin, Kenneth J.), Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1957, p. 68.

21 Harvey, William, The Anatomical Exercises of Dr. William Harvey Professor of Physick, and Physician to the Kings Majesty, Concerning the motion of the Heart and Blood, London, 1653, p. 57.

22 Bates, Don, ‘Harvey's account of his discovery’, Medical History (1992) 36, pp. 361378, 367–368.

23 Lewis, Charlton T. and Short, Charles (eds.), A Latin Dictionary Founded on Andrews’ Edition of Freund's Latin Dictionary, Revised, Enlarged, and in Great Part Rewritten, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1879, p. 395; Latham, R.E. (ed.), Revised Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources, with Supplement, London: The British Academy, 1980, p. 102.

24 Niermeyer, J.F., van de Kieft, C. and Burgers, J.W.J. (eds.), Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus, 2nd edn, 2 vols., Leiden: Brill, 1976–2002, vol. 1, p. 305.

25 Niermeyer, op. cit. (24), vol. 1, p. 305.

26 Lewis and Short, op. cit. (23), p. 1525; see also ‘computation, n’, OED Online, June 2017, which includes the definitions ‘The action or process of computing, reckoning, or counting; arithmetical or mathematical calculation; an instance of this’, dated to the fifteenth century onwards, and ‘A computed number or amount, a reckoning’, dated first to 1586 and onward, and relating sometimes but not exclusively to money.

27 Lewis and Short, op. cit. (23), p. 1774.

28 William Harvey, Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (tr. Robert Willis), in The Works of William Harvey: Physician to the King, Professor of Anatomy and Surgery to the College of Physicians (ed. Willis, Robert), London: Sydenham Society, 1847, pp. 186, 53.

29 Mun, Thomas, England's benefit and advantage, London, 1698, p. 4.

30 Mun, op. cit. (29), p. 4.

31 Mun, op. cit. (29), pp. 4–7.

32 Finkelstein, Andrea, Harmony and the Balance: An Intellectual History of Seventeenth-Century English Economic Thought, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000, p. 5. Finkelstein likewise treats Malynes as distinct, as Malynes ‘actually belonged to the generation prior to that of his opponents’.

33 On the Aristotelianism of all three see Wennerlind, Carl, Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620–1720, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011, pp. 1743, esp. 43.

34 ‘Several treatises and notes relating to foreign exchanges, and to the balance of trade; 1622–23’, BL Add. MSS 34324, ff. 153–178, 153r.

35 ‘Several treatises and notes relating to foreign exchanges, and to the balance of trade; 1622–23’, op. cit. (34), f. 153r.

36 Malynes, Gerard, The maintenance of free trade, London, 1622, pp. 3234.

37 Though produced by a committee of merchants, this tract followed Mun's writings on the economy closely; see Supple, Barry, Commercial Crisis and Change in England, 1600–1642, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964, p. 269.

38 ‘Several treatises and notes relating to foreign exchanges, and to the balance of trade; 1622–23’, op. cit. (34), f. 155r.

39 ‘Several treatises and notes relating to foreign exchanges, and to the balance of trade; 1622–23’, op. cit. (34), f. 155r.

40 Thomas Mun, A discourse of trade, London, 1621, p. 20.

41 Mun, op. cit. (40), p. 20.

42 Mun, op. cit. (40), p. 20.

43 Mun, op. cit. (40), p. 20.

44 Mun, op. cit. (40), p. 27.

45 Yamey, Basil S., ‘Daniel Harvey's ledger, 1623–1646, in context’, Accounting, Business, & Financial History (2010) 20, pp. 163176; Yamey, Duplicate accounting records: historical notes’, Accounting History Review (2006) 16, pp. 447455.

46 John Williams to Daniel Harvey, 23 December 1645, loose scrap contained in ‘Ledger, Daniel Harvey and Company, 1623–1646’, LMA CLC/B/227/MS35025; ‘Subsidiary accounts of Daniel Harvey and company's agent in Rouen, 1631–1633’, LMA CLC/B/227/MS35025a.

47 ‘Subsidiary accounts of Daniel Harvey and company's agent in Rouen, 1631–1633’, LMA CLC/B/227/MS35025a.

48 A similar shorthand is described in later treatises on arithmetic; see, for example, Abram, John, A Complete Treatise on Practical Arithmetic: Containing, Besides the Common Rules, New Principles of Mental, Visual, and Expeditious Calculation, Canterbury: S. Prentice, 1842, pp. 121122.

49 Thomas, Keith, ‘Numeracy in early modern England: the Prothero Lecture’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1987) 37, pp. 103132, 111.

50 Dr. Wallis's Account of some Passages of his own Life’, in Hearne, Thomas (ed.), Peter Langtoft's Chronicle, Oxford: 1725, pp. cxl–clxx, cxlvii–cxlviii.

51 Hunt, Margaret, ‘Time-management, writing, and accounting in the eighteenth-century English trading family: a bourgeois enlightenment’, Business and Economic History (1989) 18, pp. 150159, 156–157.

52 Aubrey, John, Brief Lives, with an Apparatus for the Lives of Our English Mathematical Writers (ed. Bennett, Kate), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 198.

53 Feingold, Mordechai, The Mathematician's Apprenticeship: Science, Universities, and Society in England, 1560–1640, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 82, 114115.

54 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 43.

55 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 43.

56 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 43.

57 ‘Several treatises and notes relating to foreign exchanges, and to the balance of trade; 1622–23’, op. cit. (39), f. 169r.

58 See Mun, Thomas, England's Treasure by Forraign Trade, London, 1664, pp. 94104; Misselden, Edward, The circle of commerce, or the ballance of trade, London, 1623, p. 105.

59 Misselden, op. cit. (58), p. 16.

60 Misselden, op. cit. (58), p. 17.

61 Misselden, op. cit. (58).

62 Misselden, op. cit. (58), p. 69.

63 Misselden, op. cit. (58), p. 28.

64 Misselden, op. cit. (58), p. 28.

65 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 47.

66 Harvey, op. cit. (1), pp. 127–129, original emphasis.

67 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 130.

68 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 43.

69 Mun, op. cit. (58), p. 20.

70 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 42.

71 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 46.

72 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 46.

73 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 46.

74 Annals of the Royal College of Physicians, London: Royal College of Physicians of London, 1518–1915, vol. 3, p. 228/f. 72a and 72b; see also Cook, Harold J., ‘Policing the health of London: the College of Physicians and the early Stuart monarchy’, Social History of Medicine (1989) 2, pp. 134, 18.

75 White, Stephen D., Sir Edward Coke and the ‘Grievances of the Commonwealth’, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1979, pp. 9597.

76 TNA SP 14/135, f. 118 .

77 Brenner, Robert, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550–1653, London: Verso Books, 2003, pp. 113184, esp. 140–148.

78 Keynes, Geoffrey, The Life of William Harvey, Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 1966, p. 187.

79 See note 8 above regarding the possibility of economic or aquatic metaphors, which were suggested by Webster and others.

80 Harvey, op. cit. (1), pp. 2, 42.

81 Misselden, op. cit. (58), p. 2.

82 Misselden, op. cit. (58), p. 3.

83 Hill, Christopher, ‘William Harvey and the idea of monarchy’, Past & Present (1964) 27, pp. 5472; Whitteridge, Gwyneth, ‘William Harvey: a royalist and no parliamentarian’, Past & Present (1965) 30, pp. 104109; Hill, Christopher, ‘William Harvey (no parliamentarian, no heretic) and the idea of monarchy’, Past & Present (1965) 31, pp. 97103.

84 Rose, Jacqueline, ‘Kingship and counsel in early modern England’, Historical Journal 54(1) (2011), pp. 4771, 53.

85 Harvey, op. cit. (1), pp. 2, 42; Misselden, op. cit. (58), p. 142.

86 Pagel, Walter, New Light on William Harvey, New York: S. Karger, 1976, pp. 1419; Bylebyl, op. cit. (3).

87 Graham, Peter, ‘Harvey's De motu cordis: The rhetoric of science and the science of rhetoric’, Journal of the History of Medicine (1978) 33, pp. 469476.

88 Wear, Andrew, ‘William Harvey and the “way of the anatomists”’, History of Science (1983) 21, pp. 223249, 223–224.

89 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation (ed. Barnes, Jonathan), vol. 2, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995, pp. 17291867, 1788 (Arist. NA V.5, 1133a7–20).

90 Wennerlind, Carl, Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620–1720, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011, p. 34.

91 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, op. cit. (89), p. 1789 (Arist. NA V.5, 1133a13–14); see also Aristotle, Politics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, op. cit. (89), pp. 1986–2129, 1998 (Pol. I.12, 1259a10–12).

92 Sharpe, Kevin, Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 289.

93 Malynes wrote that ‘Money then (as the Bloud in the bodie) containeth the Soule which infuseth life; for if Money be wanting, Trafficke doth decrease’; see Malynes, Gerard, Lex mercatoria, London, 1622, p. 253. In the context of a longer section on trade, Misselden similarly stressed the life-giving qualities of blood/money: ‘the Hepatitis of this great Body of ours being opened, & such profusions of the life blood let out’; see Misselden, Edward, Free trade, or the meanes to make trade florish, London, 1622, p. 10.

94 Davanzati, Bernardo, A discourse upon coins by Signor Bernardo Davanzati, a gentleman of Florence, being publickly spoken in the academy there, anno 1588 (tr. Toland, John), London, 1696, p. 18. See also Davanzati, Lezione delle monete, in Scrittori classici italiani di economia politica, Parte Antica, vol. 2, Milan: 1804, pp. 3638.

95 Davanzati, A discourse upon coins, op. cit. (94), p. 18.

96 This assertion might call to mind Joel Kaye's recent work on balance in the late medieval period, in which Galen figured prominently. Galen may have played some role in shifting Harvey's thinking about circulation, but one critical difference is that Kaye describes the ‘potentially subversive recognition’ of ‘systemic self-ordering’, which challenges precisely the kind of centralized – that is, monarchical – order that Harvey and the merchants advocated. See Kaye, op. cit. (9), pp. 6–7.

97 Brenner, op. cit. (77), p. 651.

98 Harvey, op. cit. (1), p. 58.

For comments that improved the paper immensely, I wish to thank the two anonymous reviewers. For support and guidance, my thanks most of all to Matthew L. Jones; thanks also to Carl Wennerlind, Harold Cook, Pamela Smith, Deborah Valenze, Evan Haefeli, Melissa Borja, Tamara Tweel, Jessica Adler, Joanna Dee Das, Adrian Randall, Alexandra Borst, the ‘Researching the Archives’ seminar at the Folger Shakespeare Library, audiences at the 3-Societies Meeting and the Philadelphia Area Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and the editors and staff at BJHS.

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