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A History of Science, Volume 2 by Henry Smith Williams

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clever impostors could thrive equally well without troubling to
study astronomy. The celebrated astrologers, however, were
usually astronomers as well, and undoubtedly based many of their
predictions on the position and movements of the heavenly bodies.
Thus, the casting of a horoscope that is, the methods by which
the astrologers ascertained the relative position of the heavenly
bodies at the time of a birth--was a simple but fairly exact
procedure. Its basis was the zodiac, or the path traced by the
sun in his yearly course through certain constellations. At the
moment of the birth of a child, the first care of the astrologer
was to note the particular part of the zodiac that appeared on
the horizon. The zodiac was then divided into "houses"--that is,
into twelve spaces--on a chart. In these houses were inserted the
places of the planets, sun, and moon, with reference to the
zodiac. When this chart was completed it made a fairly correct
diagram of the heavens and the position of the heavenly bodies as
they would appear to a person standing at the place of birth at a
certain time.

Up to this point the process was a simple one of astronomy. But
the next step--the really important one--that of interpreting
this chart, was the one which called forth the skill and
imagination of the astrologer. In this interpretation, not in his
mere observations, lay the secret of his success. Nor did his
task cease with simply foretelling future events that were to
happen in the life of the newly born infant. He must not only
point out the dangers, but show the means whereby they could be
averted, and his prophylactic measures, like his predictions,
were alleged to be based on his reading of the stars.

But casting a horoscope at the time of births was, of course,
only a small part of the astrologer's duty. His offices were
sought by persons of all ages for predictions as to their
futures, the movements of an enemy, where to find stolen goods,
and a host of everyday occurrences. In such cases it is more than
probable that the astrologers did very little consulting of the
stars in making their predictions. They became expert
physiognomists and excellent judges of human nature, and were
thus able to foretell futures with the same shrewdness and by the
same methods as the modern "mediums," palmists, and
fortune-tellers. To strengthen belief in their powers, it became
a common thing for some supposedly lost document of the
astrologer to be mysteriously discovered after an important
event, this document purporting to foretell this very event. It
was also a common practice with astrologers to retain, or have
access to, their original charts, cleverly altering them from
time to time to fit conditions.

The dangers attendant upon astrology were of such a nature that
the lot of the astrologer was likely to prove anything but an
enviable one. As in the case of the alchemist, the greater the
reputation of an astrologer the greater dangers he was likely to
fall into. If he became so famous that he was employed by kings
or noblemen, his too true or too false prophecies were likely to
bring him into disrepute--even to endanger his life.

Throughout the dark age the astrologers flourished, but the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the golden age of these
impostors. A skilful astrologer was as much an essential to the
government as the highest official, and it would have been a bold
monarch, indeed, who would undertake any expedition of importance
unless sanctioned by the governing stars as interpreted by these

It should not be understood, however, that belief in astrology
died with the advent of the Copernican doctrine. It did become
separated from astronomy very shortly after, to be sure, and
undoubtedly among the scientists it lost much of its prestige.
But it cannot be considered as entirely passed away, even to-day,
and even if we leave out of consideration street-corner
"astrologers" and fortune-tellers, whose signs may be seen in
every large city, there still remains quite a large class of
relatively intelligent people who believe in what they call "the
science of astrology." Needless to say, such people are not found
among the scientific thinkers; but it is significant that
scarcely a year passes that some book or pamphlet is not
published by some ardent believer in astrology, attempting to
prove by the illogical dogmas characteristic of unscientific
thinkers that astrology is a science. The arguments contained in
these pamphlets are very much the same as those of the
astrologers three hundred years ago, except that they lack the
quaint form of wording which is one of the features that lends
interest to the older documents. These pamphlets need not be
taken seriously, but they are interesting as exemplifying how
difficult it is, even in an age of science, to entirely stamp out
firmly established superstitions. Here are some of the arguments
advanced in defence of astrology, taken from a little brochure
entitled "Astrology Vindicated," published in 1898: It will be
found that a person born when the Sun is in twenty degrees
Scorpio has the left ear as his exceptional feature and the nose
(Sagittarius) bent towards the left ear. A person born when the
Sun is in any of the latter degrees of Taurus, say the
twenty-fifth degree, will have a small, sharp, weak chin, curved
up towards Gemini, the two vertical lines on the upper lip."[4]
The time was when science went out of its way to prove that such
statements were untrue; but that time is past, and such writers
are usually classed among those energetic but misguided persons
who are unable to distinguish between logic and sophistry.

In England, from the time of Elizabeth to the reign of William
and Mary, judicial astrology was at its height. After the great
London fire, in 1666, a committee of the House of Commons
publicly summoned the famous astrologer, Lilly, to come before
Parliament and report to them on his alleged prediction of the
calamity that had befallen the city. Lilly, for some reason best
known to himself, denied having made such a prediction, being, as
he explained, "more interested in determining affairs of much
more importance to the future welfare of the country." Some of
the explanations of his interpretations will suffice to show
their absurdities, which, however, were by no means regarded as
absurdities at that time, for Lilly was one of the greatest
astrologers of his day. He said that in 1588 a prophecy had been
printed in Greek characters which foretold exactly the troubles
of England between the years 1641. and 1660. "And after him shall
come a dreadful dead man," ran the prophecy, "and with him a
royal G of the best blood in the world, and he shall have the
crown and shall set England on the right way and put out all
heresies. His interpretation of this was that, "Monkery being
extinguished above eighty or ninety years, and the Lord General's
name being Monk, is the dead man. The royal G or C (it is gamma
in the Greek, intending C in the Latin, being the third letter in
the alphabet) is Charles II., who, for his extraction, may be
said to be of the best blood of the world."[5]

This may be taken as a fair sample of Lilly's interpretations of
astrological prophesies, but many of his own writings, while
somewhat more definite and direct, are still left sufficiently
vague to allow his skilful interpretations to set right an
apparent mistake. One of his famous documents was "The Starry
Messenger," a little pamphlet purporting to explain the
phenomenon of a "strange apparition of three suns" that were seen
in London on November 19, 1644---the anniversary of the birth of
Charles I., then the reigning monarch. This phenomenon caused a
great stir among the English astrologers, coming, as it did, at a
time of great political disturbance. Prophecies were numerous,
and Lilly's brochure is only one of many that appeared at that
time, most of which, however, have been lost. Lilly, in his
preface, says: "If there be any of so prevaricate a judgment as
to think that the apparition of these three Suns doth intimate no
Novelle thing to happen in our own Climate, where they were
manifestly visible, I shall lament their indisposition, and
conceive their brains to be shallow, and voyde of understanding
humanity, or notice of common History."

Having thus forgiven his few doubting readers, who were by no
means in the majority in his day, he takes up in review the
records of the various appearances of three suns as they have
occurred during the Christian era, showing how such phenomena
have governed certain human events in a very definite manner.
Some of these are worth recording.

"Anno 66. A comet was seen, and also three Suns: In which yeer,
Florus President of the Jews was by them slain. Paul writes to
Timothy. The Christians are warned by a divine Oracle, and depart
out of Jerusalem. Boadice a British Queen, killeth seventy
thousand Romans. The Nazareni, a scurvie Sect, begun, that
boasted much of Revelations and Visions. About a year after Nero
was proclaimed enemy to the State of Rome."

Again, "Anno 1157, in September, there were seen three Suns
together, in as clear weather as could be: And a few days after,
in the same month, three Moons, and, in the Moon that stood in
the middle, a white Crosse. Sueno, King of Denmark, at a great
Feast, killeth Canutus: Sueno is himself slain, in pursuit of
Waldemar. The Order of Eremites, according to the rule of Saint
Augustine, begun this year; and in the next, the Pope submits to
the Emperour: (was not this miraculous?) Lombardy was also
adjudged to the Emperour."

Continuing this list of peculiar phenomena he comes down to
within a few years of his own time.

"Anno 1622, three Suns appeared at Heidelberg. The woful
Calamities that have ever since fallen upon the Palatinate, we
are all sensible of, and of the loss of it, for any thing I see,
for ever, from the right Heir. Osman the great Turk is strangled
that year; and Spinola besiegeth Bergen up Zoom, etc."

Fortified by the enumeration of these past events, he then
proceeds to make his deductions. "Only this I must tell thee," he
writes, "that the interpretation I write is, I conceive, grounded
upon probable foundations; and who lives to see a few years over
his head, will easily perceive I have unfolded as much as was fit
to discover, and that my judgment was not a mile and a half from

There is a great significance in this "as much as was fit to
discover"--a mysterious something that Lilly thinks it expedient
not to divulge. But, nevertheless, one would imagine that he was
about to make some definite prediction about Charles I., since
these three suns appeared upon his birthday and surely must
portend something concerning him. But after rambling on through
many pages of dissertations upon planets and prophecies, he
finally makes his own indefinite prediction.

"O all you Emperors, Kings, Princes, Rulers and Magistrates of
Europe, this unaccustomed Apparition is like the Handwriting in
Daniel to some of you; it premonisheth you, above all other
people, to make your peace with God in time. You shall every one
of you smart, and every one of you taste (none excepted) the
heavie hand of God, who will strengthen your subjects with
invincible courage to suppress your misgovernments and
Oppressions in Church or Common-wealth; . . . Those words are
general: a word for my own country of England. . . . Look to
yourselves; here's some monstrous death towards you. But to whom?
wilt thou say. Herein we consider the Signe, Lord thereof, and
the House; The Sun signifies in that Royal Signe, great ones; the
House signifies captivity, poison, Treachery: From which is
derived thus much, That some very great man, what King, Prince,
Duke, or the like, I really affirm I perfectly know not, shall, I
say, come to some such untimely end."[6]

Here is shown a typical example of astrological prophecy, which
seems to tell something or nothing, according to the point of
view of the reader. According to a believer in astrology, after
the execution of Charles I., five years later, this could be made
to seem a direct and exact prophecy. For example, he says: "You
Kings, Princes, etc., ... it premonisheth you ... to make your
peace with God.... Look to yourselves; here's some monstrous
death towards you. ... That some very great man, what King,
Prince, . shall, I say, come to such untimely end."

But by the doubter the complete prophecy could be shown to be
absolutely indefinite, and applicable as much to the king of
France or Spain as to Charles I., or to any king in the future,
since no definite time is stated. Furthermore, Lilly distinctly
states, "What King, Prince, Duke, or the like, I really affirm I
perfectly know not"--which last, at least, was a most truthful
statement. The same ingenuity that made "Gen. Monk" the "dreadful
dead man," could easily make such a prediction apply to the
execution of Charles I. Such a definite statement that, on such
and such a day a certain number of years in the future, the
monarch of England would be beheaded--such an exact statement can
scarcely be found in any of the works on astrology. It should be
borne in mind, also, that Lilly was of the Cromwell party and
opposed to the king.

After the death of Charles I., Lilly admitted that the monarch
had given him a thousand pounds to cast his horoscope. "I advised
him," says Lilly, "to proceed eastwards; he went west, and all
the world knows the result." It is an unfortunate thing for the
cause of astrology that Lilly failed to mention this until after
the downfall of the monarch. In fact, the sudden death, or
decline in power, of any monarch, even to-day, brings out the
perennial post-mortem predictions of astrologers.

We see how Lilly, an opponent of the king, made his so-called
prophecy of the disaster of the king and his army. At the same
time another celebrated astrologer and rival of Lilly, George
Wharton, also made some predictions about the outcome of the
eventful march from Oxford. Wharton, unlike Lilly, was a follower
of the king's party, but that, of course, should have had no
influence in his "scientific" reading of the stars. Wharton's
predictions are much less verbose than Lilly's, much more
explicit, and, incidentally, much more incorrect in this
particular instance. "The Moon Lady of the 12," he wrote, "and
moving betwixt the 8 degree, 34 min., and 21 degree, 26 min. of
Aquarius, gives us to understand that His Majesty shall receive
much contentment by certain Messages brought him from foreign
parts; and that he shall receive some sudden and unexpected
supply of . . . by the means of some that assimilate the
condition of his Enemies: And withal this comfort; that His
Majesty shall be exceeding successful in Besieging Towns,
Castles, or Forts, and in persuing the enemy.

"Mars his Sextile to the Sun, Lord of the Ascendant (which
happeneth the 18 day of May) will encourage our Soldiers to
advance with much alacrity and cheerfulness of spirit; to show
themselves gallant in the most dangerous attempt.... And now to
sum up all: It is most apparent to every impartial and ingenuous
judgment; That although His Majesty cannot expect to be secured
from every trivial disaster that may befall his army, either by
the too much Presumption, Ignorance, or Negligence of some
particular Persons (which is frequently incident and unavoidable
in the best of Armies), yet the several positions of the Heavens
duly considered and compared among themselves, as well in the
prefixed Scheme as at the Quarterly Ingresses, do generally
render His Majesty and his whole Army unexpectedly victorious and
successful in all his designs; Believe it (London), thy Miseries
approach, they are like to be many, great, and grievous, and not
to be diverted, unless thou seasonably crave Pardon of God for
being Nurse to this present Rebellion, and speedily submit to thy
Prince's Mercy; Which shall be the daily Prayer of Geo.

In the light of after events, it is probable that Wharton's stock
as an astrologer was not greatly enhanced by this document, at
least among members of the Royal family. Lilly's book, on the
other hand, became a favorite with the Parliamentary army.

After the downfall and death of Napoleon there were unearthed
many alleged authentic astrological documents foretelling his
ruin. And on the death of George IV., in 1830, there appeared a
document (unknown, as usual, until that time) purporting to
foretell the death of the monarch to the day, and this without
the astrologer knowing that his horoscope was being cast for a
monarch. A full account of this prophecy is told, with full
belief, by Roback, a nineteenth-century astrologer. He says:

"In the year 1828, a stranger of noble mien, advanced in life,
but possessing the most bland manners, arrived at the abode of a
celebrated astrologer in London," asking that the learned man
foretell his future. "The astrologer complied with the request of
the mysterious visitor, drew forth his tables, consulted his
ephemeris, and cast the horoscope or celestial map for the hour
and the moment of the inquiry, according to the established rules
of his art.

"The elements of his calculation were adverse, and a feeling of
gloom cast a shade of serious thought, if not dejection, over his

" 'You are of high rank,' said the astrologer, as he calculated
and looked on the stranger, 'and of illustrious title.' The
stranger made a graceful inclination of the head in token of
acknowledgment of the complimentary remarks, and the astrologer
proceeded with his mission.

"The celestial signs were ominous of calamity to the stranger,
who, probably observing a sudden change in the countenance of the
astrologer, eagerly inquired what evil or good fortune had been
assigned him by the celestial orbs.

'To the first part of your inquiry,' said the astrologer, 'I can
readily reply. You have been a favorite of fortune; her smiles on
you have been abundant, her frowns but few; you have had, perhaps
now possess, wealth and power; the impossibility of their
accomplishment is the only limit to the fulfilment of your
desires.' "

" 'You have spoken truly of the past,' said the stranger. 'I have
full faith in your revelations of the future: what say you of my
pilgrimage in this life--is it short or long?'

" 'I regret,' replied the astrologer, in answer to this inquiry,
'to be the herald of ill, though TRUE, fortune; your sojourn on
earth will be short.'

" 'How short?' eagerly inquired the excited and anxious stranger.

" 'Give me a momentary truce,' said the astrologer; 'I will
consult the horoscope, and may possibly find some mitigating

"Having cast his eyes over the celestial map, and paused for some
moments, he surveyed the countenance of the stranger with great
sympathy, and said, 'I am sorry that I can find no planetary
influences that oppose your destiny--your death will take place
in two years.'

"The event justified the astrologic prediction: George IV. died
on May 18, 1830, exactly two years from the day on which he had
visited the astrologer."[8]

This makes a very pretty story, but it hardly seems like occult
insight that an astrologer should have been able to predict an
early death of a man nearly seventy years old, or to have guessed
that his well-groomed visitor "had, perhaps now possesses, wealth
and power." Here again, however, the point of view of each
individual plays the governing part in determining the importance
of such a document. To the scientist it proves nothing; to the
believer in astrology, everything. The significant thing is that
it appeared shortly AFTER the death of the monarch.

On the Continent astrologers were even more in favor than in
England. Charlemagne, and some of his immediate successors, to be
sure, attempted to exterminate them, but such rulers as Louis XI.
and Catherine de' Medici patronized and encouraged them, and it
was many years after the time of Copernicus before their
influence was entirely stamped out even in official life. There
can be no question that what gave the color of truth to many of
the predictions was the fact that so many of the prophecies of
sudden deaths and great conflagrations were known to have come
true--in many instances were made to come true by the astrologer
himself. And so it happened that when the prediction of a great
conflagration at a certain time culminated in such a
conflagration, many times a second but less-important burning
took place, in which the ambitious astrologer, or his followers,
took a central part about a stake, being convicted of
incendiarism, which they had committed in order that their
prophecies might be fulfilled.

But, on the other hand, these predictions were sometimes turned
to account by interested friends to warn certain persons of
approaching dangers.

For example, a certain astrologer foretold the death of Prince
Alexander de' Medici. He not only foretold the death, but
described so minutely the circumstances that would attend it, and
gave such a correct description of the assassin who should murder
the prince, that he was at once suspected of having a hand in the
assassination. It developed later, however, that such was
probably not the case; but that some friend of Prince Alexander,
knowing of the plot to take his life, had induced the astrologer
to foretell the event in order that the prince might have timely
warning and so elude the conspirators.

The cause of the decline of astrology was the growing prevalence
of the new spirit of experimental science. Doubtless the most
direct blow was dealt by the Copernican theory. So soon as this
was established, the recognition of the earth's subordinate place
in the universe must have made it difficult for astronomers to be
longer deceived by such coincidences as had sufficed to convince
the observers of a more credulous generation. Tycho Brahe was,
perhaps, the last astronomer of prominence who was a
conscientious practiser of the art of the astrologer.



In the year 1526 there appeared a new lecturer on the platform at
the University at Basel--a small, beardless, effeminate-looking
person--who had already inflamed all Christendom with his
peculiar philosophy, his revolutionary methods of treating
diseases, and his unparalleled success in curing them. A man who
was to be remembered in after-time by some as the father of
modern chemistry and the founder of modern medicine; by others as
madman, charlatan, impostor; and by still others as a combination
of all these. This soft-cheeked, effeminate, woman-hating man,
whose very sex has been questioned, was Theophrastus von
Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus (1493-1541).

To appreciate his work, something must be known of the life of
the man. He was born near Maria-Einsiedeln, in Switzerland, the
son of a poor physician of the place. He began the study of
medicine under the instruction of his father, and later on came
under the instruction of several learned churchmen. At the age of
sixteen he entered the University of Basel, but, soon becoming
disgusted with the philosophical teachings of the time, he
quitted the scholarly world of dogmas and theories and went to
live among the miners in the Tyrol, in order that he might study
nature and men at first hand. Ordinary methods of study were
thrown aside, and he devoted his time to personal
observation--the only true means of gaining useful knowledge, as
he preached and practised ever after. Here he became familiar
with the art of mining, learned the physical properties of
minerals, ores, and metals, and acquired some knowledge of
mineral waters. More important still, he came in contact with
such diseases, wounds, and injuries as miners are subject to, and
he tried his hand at the practical treatment of these conditions,
untrammelled by the traditions of a profession in which his
training had been so scant.

Having acquired some empirical skill in treating diseases,
Paracelsus set out wandering from place to place all over Europe,
gathering practical information as he went, and learning more and
more of the medicinal virtues of plants and minerals. His
wanderings covered a period of about ten years, at the end of
which time he returned to Basel, where he was soon invited to
give a course of lectures in the university.

These lectures were revolutionary in two respects--they were
given in German instead of time-honored Latin, and they were
based upon personal experience rather than upon the works of such
writers as Galen and Avicenna. Indeed, the iconoclastic teacher
spoke with open disparagement of these revered masters, and
openly upbraided his fellow-practitioners for following their
tenets. Naturally such teaching raised a storm of opposition
among the older physicians, but for a time the unparalleled
success of Paracelsus in curing diseases more than offset his
unpopularity. Gradually, however, his bitter tongue and his
coarse personality rendered him so unpopular, even among his
patients, that, finally, his liberty and life being jeopardized,
he was obliged to flee from Basel, and became a wanderer. He
lived for brief periods in Colmar, Nuremberg, Appenzell, Zurich,
Pfeffers, Augsburg, and several other cities, until finally at
Salzburg his eventful life came to a close in 1541. His enemies
said that he had died in a tavern from the effects of a
protracted debauch; his supporters maintained that he had been
murdered at the instigation of rival physicians and apothecaries.

But the effects of his teachings had taken firm root, and
continued to spread after his death. He had shown the fallibility
of many of the teachings of the hitherto standard methods of
treating diseases, and had demonstrated the advantages of
independent reasoning based on observation. In his Magicum he
gives his reasons for breaking with tradition. "I did," he says,
"embrace at the beginning these doctrines, as my adversaries
(followers of Galen) have done, but since I saw that from their
procedures nothing resulted but death, murder, stranglings,
anchylosed limbs, paralysis, and so forth, that they held most
diseases incurable. . . . therefore have I quitted this wretched
art, and sought for truth in any other direction. I asked myself
if there were no such thing as a teacher in medicine, where could
I learn this art best? Nowhere better than the open book of
nature, written with God's own finger." We shall see, however,
that this "book of nature" taught Paracelsus some very strange
lessons. Modesty was not one of these. "Now at this time," he
declares, "I, Theophrastus Paracelsus, Bombast, Monarch of the
Arcana, was endowed by God with special gifts for this end, that
every searcher after this supreme philosopher's work may be
forced to imitate and to follow me, be he Italian, Pole, Gaul,
German, or whatsoever or whosoever he be. Come hither after me,
all ye philosophers, astronomers, and spagirists. . . . I will
show and open to you ... this corporeal regeneration."[1]

Paracelsus based his medical teachings on four "pillars"
--philosophy, astronomy, alchemy, and virtue of the physician--a
strange-enough equipment surely, and yet, properly interpreted,
not quite so anomalous as it seems at first blush. Philosophy was
the "gate of medicine," whereby the physician entered rightly
upon the true course of learning; astronomy, the study of the
stars, was all-important because "they (the stars) caused disease
by their exhalations, as, for instance, the sun by excessive
heat"; alchemy, as he interpreted it, meant the improvement of
natural substances for man's benefit; while virtue in the
physician was necessary since "only the virtuous are permitted to
penetrate into the innermost nature of man and the universe."

All his writings aim to promote progress in medicine, and to hold
before the physician a grand ideal of his profession. In this his
views are wide and far-reaching, based on the relationship which
man bears to nature as a whole; but in his sweeping condemnations
he not only rejected Galenic therapeutics and Galenic anatomy,
but condemned dissections of any kind. He laid the cause of all
diseases at the door of the three mystic elements--salt, sulphur,
and mercury. In health he supposed these to be mingled in the
body so as to be indistinguishable; a slight separation of them
produced disease; and death he supposed to be the result of their
complete separation. The spiritual agencies of diseases, he said,
had nothing to do with either angels or devils, but were the
spirits of human beings.

He believed that all food contained poisons, and that the
function of digestion was to separate the poisonous from the
nutritious. In the stomach was an archaeus, or alchemist, whose
duty was to make this separation. In digestive disorders the
archaeus failed to do this, and the poisons thus gaining access
to the system were "coagulated" and deposited in the joints and
various other parts of the body. Thus the deposits in the kidneys
and tartar on the teeth were formed; and the stony deposits of
gout were particularly familiar examples of this. All this is
visionary enough, yet it shows at least a groping after rational
explanations of vital phenomena.

Like most others of his time, Paracelsus believed firmly in the
doctrine of "signatures"--a belief that every organ and part of
the body had a corresponding form in nature, whose function was
to heal diseases of the organ it resembled. The vagaries of this
peculiar doctrine are too numerous and complicated for lengthy
discussion, and varied greatly from generation to generation. In
general, however, the theory may be summed up in the words of
Paracelsus: "As a woman is known by her shape, so are the
medicines." Hence the physicians were constantly searching for
some object of corresponding shape to an organ of the body. The
most natural application of this doctrine would be the use of the
organs of the lower animals for the treatment of the
corresponding diseased organs in man. Thus diseases of the heart
were to be treated with the hearts of animals, liver disorders
with livers, and so on. But this apparently simple form of
treatment had endless modifications and restrictions, for not all
animals were useful. For example, it was useless to give the
stomach of an ox in gastric diseases when the indication in such
cases was really for the stomach of a rat. Nor were the organs of
animals the only "signatures" in nature. Plants also played a
very important role, and the herb-doctors devoted endless labor
to searching for such plants. Thus the blood-root, with its red
juice, was supposed to be useful in blood diseases, in stopping
hemorrhage, or in subduing the redness of an inflammation.

Paracelsus's system of signatures, however, was so complicated by
his theories of astronomy and alchemy that it is practically
beyond comprehension. It is possible that he himself may have
understood it, but it is improbable that any one else did--as
shown by the endless discussions that have taken place about it.
But with all the vagaries of his theories he was still rational
in his applications, and he attacked to good purpose the
complicated "shot-gun" prescriptions of his contemporaries,
advocating more simple methods of treatment.

The ever-fascinating subject of electricity, or, more
specifically, "magnetism," found great favor with him, and with
properly adjusted magnets he claimed to be able to cure many
diseases. In epilepsy and lockjaw, for example, one had but to
fasten magnets to the four extremities of the body, and then,
"when the proper medicines were given," the cure would be
effected. The easy loop-hole for excusing failure on the ground
of improper medicines is obvious, but Paracelsus declares that
this one prescription is of more value than "all the humoralists
have ever written or taught."

Since Paracelsus condemned the study of anatomy as useless, he
quite naturally regarded surgery in the same light. In this he
would have done far better to have studied some of his
predecessors, such as Galen, Paul of Aegina, and Avicenna. But
instead of "cutting men to pieces," he taught that surgeons would
gain more by devoting their time to searching for the universal
panacea which would cure all diseases, surgical as well as
medical. In this we detect a taint of the popular belief in the
philosopher's stone and the magic elixir of life, his belief in
which have been stoutly denied by some of his followers. He did
admit, however, that one operation alone was perhaps
permissible--lithotomy, or the "cutting for stone."

His influence upon medicine rests undoubtedly upon his
revolutionary attitude, rather than on any great or new
discoveries made by him. It is claimed by many that he brought
prominently into use opium and mercury, and if this were
indisputably proven his services to medicine could hardly be
overestimated. Unfortunately, however, there are good grounds for
doubting that he was particularly influential in reintroducing
these medicines. His chief influence may perhaps be summed up in
a single phrase--he overthrew old traditions.

To Paracelsus's endeavors, however, if not to the actual products
of his work, is due the credit of setting in motion the chain of
thought that developed finally into scientific chemistry. Nor can
the ultimate aim of the modern chemist seek a higher object than
that of this sixteenth-century alchemist, who taught that "true
alchemy has but one aim and object, to extract the quintessence
of things, and to prepare arcana, tinctures, and elixirs which
may restore to man the health and soundness he has lost."


About the beginning of the sixteenth century, while Paracelsus
was scoffing at the study of anatomy as useless, and using his
influence against it, there had already come upon the scene the
first of the great anatomists whose work was to make the century
conspicuous in that branch of medicine.

The young anatomist Charles etienne (1503-1564) made one of the
first noteworthy discoveries, pointing out for the first time
that the spinal cord contains a canal, continuous throughout its
length. He also made other minor discoveries of some importance,
but his researches were completely overshadowed and obscured by
the work of a young Fleming who came upon the scene a few years
later, and who shone with such brilliancy in the medical world
that he obscured completely the work of his contemporary until
many years later. This young physician, who was destined to lead
such an eventful career and meet such an untimely end as a martyr
to science, was Andrew Vesalius (1514-1564), who is called the
"greatest of anatomists." At the time he came into the field
medicine was struggling against the dominating Galenic teachings
and the theories of Paracelsus, but perhaps most of all against
the superstitions of the time. In France human dissections were
attended with such dangers that the young Vesalius transferred
his field of labors to Italy, where such investigations were
covertly permitted, if not openly countenanced.

From the very start the young Fleming looked askance at the
accepted teachings of the day, and began a series of independent
investigations based upon his own observations. The results of
these investigations he gave in a treatise on the subject which
is regarded as the first comprehensive and systematic work on
human anatomy. This remarkable work was published in the author's
twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth year. Soon after this Vesalius was
invited as imperial physician to the court of Emperor Charles V.
He continued to act in the same capacity at the court of Philip
II., after the abdication of his patron. But in spite of this
royal favor there was at work a factor more powerful than the
influence of the monarch himself--an instrument that did so much
to retard scientific progress, and by which so many lives were
brought to a premature close.

Vesalius had received permission from the kinsmen of a certain
grandee to perform an autopsy. While making his observations the
heart of the outraged body was seen to palpitate--so at least it
was reported. This was brought immediately to the attention of
the Inquisition, and it was only by the intervention of the king
himself that the anatomist escaped the usual fate of those
accused by that tribunal. As it was, he was obliged to perform a
pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While returning from this he was
shipwrecked, and perished from hunger and exposure on the island
of Zante.

At the very time when the anatomical writings of Vesalius were
startling the medical world, there was living and working
contemporaneously another great anatomist, Eustachius (died
1574), whose records of his anatomical investigations were ready
for publication only nine years after the publication of the work
of Vesalius. Owing to the unfortunate circumstances of the
anatomist, however, they were never published during his
lifetime--not, in fact, until 1714. When at last they were given
to the world as Anatomical Engravings, they showed conclusively
that Eustachius was equal, if not superior to Vesalius in his
knowledge of anatomy. It has been said of this remarkable
collection of engravings that if they had been published when
they were made in the sixteenth century, anatomy would have been
advanced by at least two centuries. But be this as it may, they
certainly show that their author was a most careful dissector and

Eustachius described accurately for the first time certain
structures of the middle ear, and rediscovered the tube leading
from the ear to the throat that bears his name. He also made
careful studies of the teeth and the phenomena of first and
second dentition. He was not baffled by the minuteness of
structures and where he was unable to study them with the naked
eye he used glasses for the purpose, and resorted to macerations
and injections for the study of certain complicated structures.
But while the fruit of his pen and pencil were lost for more than
a century after his death, the effects of his teachings were not;
and his two pupils, Fallopius and Columbus, are almost as well
known to-day as their illustrious teacher. Columbus (1490-1559)
did much in correcting the mistakes made in the anatomy of the
bones as described by Vesalius. He also added much to the science
by giving correct accounts of the shape and cavities of the
heart, and made many other discoveries of minor importance.
Fallopius (1523-1562) added considerably to the general knowledge
of anatomy, made several discoveries in the anatomy of the ear,
and also several organs in the abdominal cavity.

At this time a most vitally important controversy was in progress
as to whether or not the veins of the bodies were supplied with
valves, many anatomists being unable to find them. etienne had
first described these structures, and Vesalius had confirmed his
observations. It would seem as if there could be no difficulty in
settling the question as to the fact of such valves being present
in the vessels, for the demonstration is so simple that it is now
made daily by medical students in all physiological laboratories
and dissecting-rooms. But many of the great anatomists of the
sixteenth century were unable to make this demonstration, even
when it had been brought to their attention by such an authority
as Vesalius. Fallopius, writing to Vesalius on the subject in
1562, declared that he was unable to find such valves. Others,
however, such as Eustachius and Fabricius (1537-1619), were more
successful, and found and described these structures. But the
purpose served by these valves was entirely misinterpreted. That
they act in preventing the backward flow of the blood in the
veins on its way to the heart, just as the valves of the heart
itself prevent regurgitation, has been known since the time of
Harvey; but the best interpretation that could be given at that
time, even by such a man as Fabricius, was that they acted in
retarding the flow of the blood as it comes from the heart, and
thus prevent its too rapid distribution throughout the body. The
fact that the blood might have been going towards the heart,
instead of coming from it, seems never to have been considered
seriously until demonstrated so conclusively by Harvey.

Of this important and remarkable controversy over the valves in
veins, Withington has this to say: "This is truly a marvellous
story. A great Galenic anatomist is first to give a full and
correct description of the valves and their function, but fails
to see that any modification of the old view as to the motion of
the blood is required. Two able dissectors carefully test their
action by experiment, and come to a result. the exact reverse of
the truth. Urged by them, the two foremost anatomists of the age
make a special search for valves and fail to find them. Finally,
passing over lesser peculiarities, an aged and honorable
professor, who has lived through all this, calmly asserts that no
anatomist, ancient or modern, has ever mentioned valves in veins
till he discovered them in 1574!"[2]

Among the anatomists who probably discovered these valves was
Michael Servetus (1511-1553); but if this is somewhat in doubt,
it is certain that he discovered and described the pulmonary
circulation, and had a very clear idea of the process of
respiration as carried on in the lungs. The description was
contained in a famous document sent to Calvin in 1545--a document
which the reformer carefully kept for seven years in order that
he might make use of some of the heretical statements it
contained to accomplish his desire of bringing its writer to the
stake. The awful fate of Servetus, the interesting character of
the man, and the fact that he came so near to anticipating the
discoveries of Harvey make him one of the most interesting
figures in medical history.

In this document which was sent to Calvin, Servetus rejected the
doctrine of natural, vital, and animal spirits, as contained in
the veins, arteries, and nerves respectively, and made the
all-important statement that the fluids contained in veins and
arteries are the same. He showed also that the blood is "purged
from fume" and purified by respiration in the lungs, and declared
that there is a new vessel in the lungs, "formed out of vein and
artery." Even at the present day there is little to add to or
change in this description of Servetus's.

By keeping this document, pregnant with advanced scientific
views, from the world, and in the end only using it as a means of
destroying its author, the great reformer showed the same
jealousy in retarding scientific progress as had his arch-enemies
of the Inquisition, at whose dictates Vesalius became a martyr to
science, and in whose dungeons etienne perished.


The time was ripe for the culminating discovery of the
circulation of the blood; but as yet no one had determined the
all-important fact that there are two currents of blood in the
body, one going to the heart, one coming from it. The valves in
the veins would seem to show conclusively that the venous current
did not come from the heart, and surgeons must have observed
thousands of times the every-day phenomenon of congested veins at
the distal extremity of a limb around which a ligature or
constriction of any kind had been placed, and the simultaneous
depletion of the vessels at the proximal points above the
ligature. But it should be remembered that inductive science was
in its infancy. This was the sixteenth, not the nineteenth
century, and few men had learned to put implicit confidence in
their observations and convictions when opposed to existing
doctrines. The time was at hand, however, when such a man was to
make his appearance, and, as in the case of so many revolutionary
doctrines in science, this man was an Englishman. It remained for
William Harvey (1578-1657) to solve the great mystery which had
puzzled the medical world since the beginning of history; not
only to solve it, but to prove his case so conclusively and so
simply that for all time his little booklet must he handed down
as one of the great masterpieces of lucid and almost faultless

Harvey, the son of a prosperous Kentish yeoman, was born at
Folkestone. His education was begun at the grammar-school of
Canterbury, and later he became a pensioner of Caius College,
Cambridge. Soon after taking his degree of B.A., at the age of
nineteen, he decided upon the profession of medicine, and went to
Padua as a pupil of Fabricius and Casserius. Returning to England
at the age of twenty-four, he soon after (1609) obtained the
reversion of the post of physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital,
his application being supported by James I. himself. Even at this
time he was a popular physician, counting among his patients such
men as Francis Bacon. In 1618 he was appointed physician
extraordinary to the king, and, a little later, physician in
ordinary. He was in attendance upon Charles I. at the battle of
Edgehill, in 1642, where, with the young Prince of Wales and the
Duke of York, after seeking shelter under a hedge, he drew a book
out of his pocket and, forgetful of the battle, became absorbed
in study, until finally the cannon-balls from the enemy's
artillery made him seek a more sheltered position.

On the fall of Charles I. he retired from practice, and lived in
retirement with his brother. He was then well along in years, but
still pursued his scientific researches with the same vigor as
before, directing his attention chiefly to the study of
embryology. On June 3, 1657, he was attacked by paralysis and
died, in his eightieth year. He had lived to see his theory of
the circulation accepted, several years before, by all the
eminent anatomists of the civilized world.

A keenness in the observation of facts, characteristic of the
mind of the man, had led Harvey to doubt the truth of existing
doctrines as to the phenomena of the circulation. Galen had
taught that "the arteries are filled, like bellows, because they
are expanded," but Harvey thought that the action of spurting
blood from a severed vessel disproved this. For the spurting was
remittant, "now with greater, now with less impetus," and its
greater force always corresponded to the expansion (diastole),
not the contraction (systole) of the vessel. Furthermore, it was
evident that contraction of the heart and the arteries was not
simultaneous, as was commonly taught, because in that case there
would be no marked propulsion of the blood in any direction; and
there was no gainsaying the fact that the blood was forcibly
propelled in a definite direction, and that direction away from
the heart.

Harvey's investigations led him to doubt also the accepted theory
that there was a porosity in the septum of tissue that divides
the two ventricles of the heart. It seemed unreasonable to
suppose that a thick fluid like the blood could find its way
through pores so small that they could not be demonstrated by any
means devised by man. In evidence that there could be no such
openings he pointed out that, since the two ventricles contract
at the same time, this process would impede rather than
facilitate such an intra-ventricular passage of blood. But what
seemed the most conclusive proof of all was the fact that in the
foetus there existed a demonstrable opening between the two
ventricles, and yet this is closed in the fully developed heart.
Why should Nature, if she intended that blood should pass between
the two cavities, choose to close this opening and substitute
microscopic openings in place of it? It would surely seem more
reasonable to have the small perforations in the thin, easily
permeable membrane of the foetus, and the opening in the adult
heart, rather than the reverse. From all this Harvey drew his
correct conclusions, declaring earnestly, "By Hercules, there ARE
no such porosities, and they cannot be demonstrated."

Having convinced himself that no intra-ventricular opening
existed, he proceeded to study the action of the heart itself,
untrammelled by too much faith in established theories, and, as
yet, with no theory of his own. He soon discovered that the
commonly accepted theory of the heart striking against the
chest-wall during the period of relaxation was entirely wrong,
and that its action was exactly the reverse of this, the heart
striking the chest-wall during contraction. Having thus disproved
the accepted theory concerning the heart's action, he took up the
subject of the action of arteries, and soon was able to
demonstrate by vivisection that the contraction of the arteries
was not simultaneous with contractions of the heart. His
experiments demonstrated that these vessels were simply elastic
tubes whose pulsations were "nothing else than the impulse of the
blood within them." The reason that the arterial pulsation was
not simultaneous with the heart-beat he found to be because of
the time required to carry the impulse along the tube,

By a series of further careful examinations and experiments,
which are too extended to be given here, he was soon able further
to demonstrate the action and course of the blood during the
contractions of the heart. His explanations were practically the
same as those given to-day--first the contraction of the auricle,
sending blood into the ventricle; then ventricular contraction,
making the pulse, and sending the blood into the arteries. He had
thus demonstrated what had not been generally accepted before,
that the heart was an organ for the propulsion of blood. To make
such a statement to-day seems not unlike the sober announcement
that the earth is round or that the sun does not revolve about
it. Before Harvey's time, however, it was considered as an organ
that was "in some mysterious way the source of vitality and
warmth, as an animated crucible for the concoction of blood and
the generation of vital spirits."[3]

In watching the rapid and ceaseless contractions of the heart,
Harvey was impressed with the fact that, even if a very small
amount of blood was sent out at each pulsation, an enormous
quantity must pass through the organ in a day, or even in an
hour. Estimating the size of the cavities of the heart, and
noting that at least a drachm must be sent out with each
pulsation, it was evident that the two thousand beats given by a
very slow human heart in an hour must send out some forty pounds
of blood--more than twice the amount in the entire body. The
question was, what became of it all? For it should be remembered
that the return of the blood by the veins was unknown, and
nothing like a "circulation" more than vaguely conceived even by
Harvey himself. Once it could be shown that the veins were
constantly returning blood to the heart, the discovery that the
blood in some way passes from the arteries to the veins was only
a short step. Harvey, by resorting to vivisections of lower
animals and reptiles, soon demonstrated beyond question the fact
that the veins do carry the return blood. "But this, in
particular, can be shown clearer than daylight," says Harvey.
"The vena cava enters the heart at an inferior portion, while the
artery passes out above. Now if the vena cava be taken up with
forceps or the thumb and finger, and the course of the blood
intercepted for some distance below the heart, you will at once
see it almost emptied between the fingers and the heart, the
blood being exhausted by the heart's pulsation, the heart at the
same time becoming much paler even in its dilatation, smaller in
size, owing to the deficiency of blood, and at length languid in
pulsation, as if about to die. On the other hand, when you
release the vein the heart immediately regains its color and
dimensions. After that, if you leave the vein free and tie and
compress the arteries at some distance from the heart, you will
see, on the contrary, their included portion grow excessively
turgid, the heart becoming so beyond measure, assuming a dark-red
color, even to lividity, and at length so overloaded with blood
as to seem in danger of suffocation; but when the obstruction is
removed it returns to its normal condition, in size, color, and

This conclusive demonstration that the veins return the blood to
the heart must have been most impressive to Harvey, who had been
taught to believe that the blood current in the veins pursued an
opposite course, and must have tended to shake his faith in all
existing doctrines of the day.

His next step was the natural one of demonstrating that the blood
passes from the arteries to the veins. He demonstrated
conclusively that this did occur, but for once his rejection of
the ancient writers and one modern one was a mistake. For Galen
had taught, and had attempted to demonstrate, that there are sets
of minute vessels connecting the arteries and the veins; and
Servetus had shown that there must be such vessels, at least in
the lungs.

However, the little flaw in the otherwise complete demonstration
of Harvey detracts nothing from the main issue at stake. It was
for others who followed to show just how these small vessels
acted in effecting the transfer of the blood from artery to vein,
and the grand general statement that such a transfer does take
place was, after all, the all-important one, and the exact method
of how it takes place a detail. Harvey's experiments to
demonstrate that the blood passes from the arteries to the veins
are so simply and concisely stated that they may best be given in
his own words.

"I have here to cite certain experiments," he wrote, "from which
it seems obvious that the blood enters a limb by the arteries,
and returns from it by the veins; that the arteries are the
vessels carrying the blood from the heart, and the veins the
returning channels of the blood to the heart; that in the limbs
and extreme parts of the body the blood passes either by
anastomosis from the arteries into the veins, or immediately by
the pores of the flesh, or in both ways, as has already been said
in speaking of the passage of the blood through the lungs; whence
it appears manifest that in the circuit the blood moves from
thence hither, and hence thither; from the centre to the
extremities, to wit, and from the extreme parts back again to the
centre. Finally, upon grounds of circulation, with the same
elements as before, it will be obvious that the quantity can
neither be accounted for by the ingesta, nor yet be held
necessary to nutrition.

"Now let any one make an experiment on the arm of a man, either
using such a fillet as is employed in blood-letting or grasping
the limb tightly with his hand, the best subject for it being one
who is lean, and who has large veins, and the best time after
exercise, when the body is warm, the pulse is full, and the blood
carried in large quantities to the extremities, for all then is
more conspicuous; under such circumstances let a ligature be
thrown about the extremity and drawn as tightly as can be borne:
it will first be perceived that beyond the ligature neither in
the wrist nor anywhere else do the arteries pulsate, that at the
same time immediately above the ligature the artery begins to
rise higher at each diastole, to throb more violently, and to
swell in its vicinity with a kind of tide, as if it strove to
break through and overcome the obstacle to its current; the
artery here, in short, appears as if it were permanently full.
The hand under such circumstances retains its natural color and
appearances; in the course of time it begins to fall somewhat in
temperature, indeed, but nothing is DRAWN into it.

"After the bandage has been kept on some short time in this way,
let it be slackened a little, brought to the state or term of
middling tightness which is used in bleeding, and it will be seen
that the whole hand and arm will instantly become deeply suffused
and distended, injected, gorged with blood, DRAWN, as it is said,
by this middling ligature, without pain, or heat, or any horror
of a vacuum, or any other cause yet indicated.

"As we have noted, in connection with the tight ligature, that
the artery above the bandage was distended and pulsated, not
below it, so, in the case of the moderately tight bandage, on the
contrary, do we find that the veins below, never above, the
fillet swell and become dilated, while the arteries shrink; and
such is the degree of distention of the veins here that it is
only very strong pressure that will force the blood beyond the
fillet and cause any of the veins in the upper part of the arm to

"From these facts it is easy for any careful observer to learn
that the blood enters an extremity by the arteries; for when they
are effectively compressed nothing is DRAWN to the member; the
hand preserves its color; nothing flows into it, neither is it
distended; but when the pressure is diminished, as it is with the
bleeding fillet, it is manifest that the blood is instantly
thrown in with force, for then the hand begins to swell; which is
as much as to say that when the arteries pulsate the blood is
flowing through them, as it is when the moderately tight ligature
is applied; but when they do not pulsate, or when a tight
ligature is used, they cease from transmitting anything; they are
only distended above the part where the ligature is applied. The
veins again being compressed, nothing can flow through them; the
certain indication of which is that below the ligature they are
much more tumid than above it, and than they usually appear when
there is no bandage upon the arm.

"It therefore plainly appears that the ligature prevents the
return of the blood through the veins to the parts above it, and
maintains those beneath it in a state of permanent distention.
But the arteries, in spite of the pressure, and under the force
and impulse of the heart, send on the blood from the internal
parts of the body to the parts beyond the bandage."[5]

This use of ligatures is very significant, because, as shown, a
very tight ligature stops circulation in both arteries and veins,
while a loose one, while checking the circulation in the veins,
which lie nearer the surface and are not so directly influenced
by the force of the heart, does not stop the passage of blood in
the arteries, which are usually deeply imbedded in the tissues,
and not so easily influenced by pressure from without.

The last step of Harvey's demonstration was to prove that the
blood does flow along the veins to the heart, aided by the valves
that had been the cause of so much discussion and dispute between
the great sixteenth-century anatomists. Harvey not only
demonstrated the presence of these valves, but showed
conclusively, by simple experiments, what their function was,
thus completing his demonstration of the phenomena of the

The final ocular demonstration of the passage of the blood from
the arteries to the veins was not to be made until four years
after Harvey's death. This process, which can be observed easily
in the web of a frog's foot by the aid of a low-power lens, was
first demonstrated by Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694) in 1661. By
the aid of a lens he first saw the small "capillary" vessels
connecting the veins and arteries in a piece of dried lung.
Taking his cue from this, he examined the lung of a turtle, and
was able to see in it the passage of the corpuscles through these
minute vessels, making their way along these previously unknown
channels from the arteries into the veins on their journey back
to the heart. Thus the work of Harvey, all but complete, was made
absolutely entire by the great Italian. And all this in a single


The seventeenth century was not to close, however, without
another discovery in science, which, when applied to the
causation of disease almost two centuries later, revolutionized
therapeutics more completely than any one discovery. This was the
discovery of microbes, by Antonius von Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723),
in 1683. Von Leeuwenhoek discovered that "in the white matter
between his teeth" there were millions of microscopic
"animals"--more, in fact, than "there were human beings in the
united Netherlands," and all "moving in the most delightful
manner." There can be no question that he saw them, for we can
recognize in his descriptions of these various forms of little
"animals" the four principal forms of microbes--the long and
short rods of bacilli and bacteria, the spheres of micrococci,
and the corkscrew spirillum.

The presence of these microbes in his mouth greatly annoyed
Antonius, and he tried various methods of getting rid of them,
such as using vinegar and hot coffee. In doing this he little
suspected that he was anticipating modern antiseptic surgery by a
century and three-quarters, and to be attempting what antiseptic
surgery is now able to accomplish. For the fundamental principle
of antisepsis is the use of medicines for ridding wounds of
similar microscopic organisms. Von Leenwenhoek was only
temporarily successful in his attempts, however, and took
occasion to communicate his discovery to the Royal Society of
England, hoping that they would be "interested in this novelty."
Probably they were, but not sufficiently so for any member to
pursue any protracted investigations or reach any satisfactory
conclusions, and the whole matter was practically forgotten until
the middle of the nineteenth century.


Of the half-dozen surgeons who were prominent in the sixteenth
century, Ambroise Pare (1517-1590), called the father of French
surgery, is perhaps the most widely known. He rose from the
position of a common barber to that of surgeon to three French
monarchs, Henry II., Francis II., and Charles IX. Some of his
mottoes are still first principles of the medical man. Among
others are: "He who becomes a surgeon for the sake of money, and
not for the sake of knowledge, will accomplish nothing"; and "A
tried remedy is better than a newly invented." On his statue is
his modest estimate of his work in caring for the wounded, "Je le
pansay, Dieu le guarit"--I dressed him, God cured him.

It was in this dressing of wounds on the battlefield that he
accidentally discovered how useless and harmful was the terribly
painful treatment of applying boiling oil to gunshot wounds as
advocated by John of Vigo. It happened that after a certain
battle, where there was an unusually large number of casualties,
Pare found, to his horror, that no more boiling oil was available
for the surgeons, and that he should be obliged to dress the
wounded by other simpler methods. To his amazement the results
proved entirely satisfactory, and from that day he discarded the
hot-oil treatment.

As Pare did not understand Latin he wrote his treatises in
French, thus inaugurating a custom in France that was begun by
Paracelsus in Germany half a century before. He reintroduced the
use of the ligature in controlling hemorrhage, introduced the
"figure of eight" suture in the operation for hare-lip, improved
many of the medico-legal doctrines, and advanced the practice of
surgery generally. He is credited with having successfully
performed the operation for strangulated hernia, but he probably
borrowed it from Peter Franco (1505-1570), who published an
account of this operation in 1556. As this operation is
considered by some the most important operation in surgery, its
discoverer is entitled to more than passing notice, although he
was despised and ignored by the surgeons of his time.

Franco was an illiterate travelling lithotomist--a class of
itinerant physicians who were very generally frowned down by the
regular practitioners of medicine. But Franco possessed such
skill as an operator, and appears to have been so earnest in the
pursuit of what he considered a legitimate calling, that he
finally overcame the popular prejudice and became one of the
salaried surgeons of the republic of Bern. He was the first
surgeon to perform the suprapubic lithotomy operation--the
removal of stone through the abdomen instead of through the
perineum. His works, while written in an illiterate style, give
the clearest descriptions of any of the early modern writers.

As the fame of Franco rests upon his operation for prolonging
human life, so the fame of his Italian contemporary, Gaspar
Tagliacozzi (1545-1599), rests upon his operation for increasing
human comfort and happiness by restoring amputated noses. At the
time in which he lived amputation of the nose was very common,
partly from disease, but also because a certain pope had fixed
the amputation of that member as the penalty for larceny.
Tagliacozzi probably borrowed his operation from the East; but he
was the first Western surgeon to perform it and describe it. So
great was the fame of his operations that patients flocked to him
from all over Europe, and each "went away with as many noses as
he liked." Naturally, the man who directed his efforts to
restoring structures that bad been removed by order of the Church
was regarded in the light of a heretic by many theologians; and
though he succeeded in cheating the stake or dungeon, and died a
natural death, his body was finally cast out of the church in
which it had been buried.

In the sixteenth century Germany produced a surgeon, Fabricius
Hildanes (1560-1639), whose work compares favorably with that of
Pare, and whose name would undoubtedly have been much better
known had not the circumstances of the time in which he lived
tended to obscure his merits. The blind followers of Paracelsus
could see nothing outside the pale of their master's teachings,
and the disastrous Thirty Years' War tended to obscure and retard
all scientific advances in Germany. Unlike many of his
fellow-surgeons, Hildanes was well versed in Latin and Greek;
and, contrary to the teachings of Paracelsus, he laid particular
stress upon the necessity of the surgeon having a thorough
knowledge of anatomy. He had a helpmate in his wife, who was also
something of a surgeon, and she is credited with having first
made use of the magnet in removing particles of metal from the
eye. Hildanes tells of a certain man who had been injured by a
small piece of steel in the cornea, which resisted all his
efforts to remove it. After observing Hildanes' fruitless efforts
for a time, it suddenly occurred to his wife to attempt to make
the extraction with a piece of loadstone. While the physician
held open the two lids, his wife attempted to withdraw the steel
with the magnet held close to the cornea, and after several
efforts she was successful--which Hildanes enumerates as one of
the advantages of being a married man.

Hildanes was particularly happy in his inventions of surgical
instruments, many of which were designed for locating and
removing the various missiles recently introduced in warfare.

The seventeenth century, which was such a flourishing one for
anatomy and physiology, was not as productive of great surgeons
or advances in surgery as the sixteenth had been or the
eighteenth was to be. There was a gradual improvement all along
the line, however, and much of the work begun by such surgeons as
Pare and Hildanes was perfected or improved. Perhaps the most
progressive surgeon of the century was an Englishman, Richard
Wiseman (1625-1686), who, like Harvey, enjoyed royal favor, being
in the service of all the Stuart kings. He was the first surgeon
to advocate primary amputation, in gunshot wounds, of the limbs,
and also to introduce the treatment of aneurisms by compression;
but he is generally rated as a conservative operator, who favored
medication rather than radical operations, where possible.

In Italy, Marcus Aurelius Severinus (1580-1656) and Peter
Marchettis (1589-1675) were the leading surgeons of their nation.
Like many of his predecessors in Europe, Severinus ran amuck with
the Holy Inquisition and fled from Naples. But the waning of the
powerful arm of the Church is shown by the fact that he was
brought back by the unanimous voice of the grateful citizens, and
lived in safety despite the frowns of the theologians.

The sixteenth century cannot be said to have added much of
importance in the field of practical medicine, and, as in the
preceding and succeeding centuries, was at best only struggling
along in the wake of anatomy, physiology, and surgery. In the
seventeenth century, however, at least one discovery in
therapeutics was made that has been an inestimable boon to
humanity ever since. This was the introduction of cinchona bark
(from which quinine is obtained) in 1640. But this century was
productive of many medical SYSTEMS, and could boast of many great
names among the medical profession, and, on the whole, made
considerably more progress than the preceding century.

Of the founders of medical systems, one of the most widely known
is Jan Baptista van Helmont (1578-1644), an eccentric genius who
constructed a system of medicine of his own and for a time
exerted considerable influence. But in the end his system was
destined to pass out of existence, not very long after the death
of its author. Van Helmont was not only a physician, but was
master of all the other branches of learning of the time, taking
up the study of medicine and chemistry as an after-thought, but
devoting himself to them with the greatest enthusiasm once he had
begun his investigations. His attitude towards existing doctrines
was as revolutionary as that of Paracelsus, and he rejected the
teachings of Galen and all the ancient writers, although
retaining some of the views of Paracelsus. He modified the
archaeus of Paracelsus, and added many complications to it. He
believed the whole body to be controlled by an archaeus influus,
the soul by the archaei insiti, and these in turn controlled by
the central archeus. His system is too elaborate and complicated
for full explanation, but its chief service to medicine was in
introducing new chemical methods in the preparation of drugs. In
this way he was indirectly connected with the establishment of
the Iatrochemical school. It was he who first used the word
"gas"--a word coined by him, along with many others that soon
fell into disuse.

The principles of the Iatrochemical school were the use of
chemical medicines, and a theory of pathology different from the
prevailing "humoral" pathology. The founder of this school was
Sylvius (Franz de le Boe, 1614-1672), professor of medicine at
Leyden. He attempted to establish a permanent system of medicine
based on the newly discovered theory of the circulation and the
new chemistry, but his name is remembered by medical men because
of the fissure in the brain (fissure of Sylvius) that bears it.
He laid great stress on the cause of fevers and other diseases as
originating in the disturbances of the process of fermentation in
the stomach. The doctrines of Sylvius spread widely over the
continent, but were not generally accepted in England until
modified by Thomas Willis (1622-1675), whose name, like that of
Sylvius, is perpetuated by a structure in the brain named after
him, the circle of Willis. Willis's descriptions of certain
nervous diseases, and an account of diabetes, are the first
recorded, and added materially to scientific medicine. These
schools of medicine lasted until the end of the seventeenth
century, when they were finally overthrown by Sydenham.

The Iatrophysical school (also called iatromathematical,
iatromechanical, or physiatric) was founded on theories of
physiology, probably by Borelli, of Naples (1608-1679), although
Sanctorius; Sanctorius, a professor at Padua, was a precursor, if
not directly interested in establishing it. Sanctorius discovered
the fact that an "insensible perspiration" is being given off by
the body continually, and was amazed to find that loss of weight
in this way far exceeded the loss of weight by all other
excretions of the body combined. He made this discovery by means
of a peculiar weighing-machine to which a chair was attached, and
in which he spent most of his time. Very naturally he
overestimated the importance of this discovery, but it was,
nevertheless, of great value in pointing out the hygienic
importance of the care of the skin. He also introduced a
thermometer which he advocated as valuable in cases of fever, but
the instrument was probably not his own invention, but borrowed
from his friend Galileo.

Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood laid the
foundation of the Iatrophysical school by showing that this vital
process was comparable to a hydraulic system. In his On the
Motive of Animals, Borelli first attempted to account for the
phenomena of life and diseases on these principles. The
iatromechanics held that the great cause of disease is due to
different states of elasticity of the solids of the body
interfering with the movements of the fluids, which are
themselves subject to changes in density, one or both of these
conditions continuing to cause stagnation or congestion. The
school thus founded by Borelli was the outcome of the unbounded
enthusiasm, with its accompanying exaggeration of certain
phenomena with the corresponding belittling of others that
naturally follows such a revolutionary discovery as that of
Harvey. Having such a founder as the brilliant Italian Borelli,
it was given a sufficient impetus by his writings to carry it
some distance before it finally collapsed. Some of the
exaggerated mathematical calculations of Borelli himself are
worth noting. Each heart-beat, as he calculated it, overcomes a
resistance equal to one hundred and eighty thousand pounds;--the
modern physiologist estimates its force at from five to nine


But while the Continent was struggling with these illusive
"systems," and dabbling in mystic theories that were to scarcely
outlive the men who conceived

them, there appeared in England--the "land of common-sense," as a
German scientist has called it--"a cool, clear, and unprejudiced
spirit," who in the golden age of systems declined "to be like
the man who builds the chambers of the upper story of his house
before he had laid securely the foundation walls."[1] This man
was Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689), who, while the great Harvey was
serving the king as surgeon, was fighting as a captain in the
parliamentary army. Sydenham took for his guide the teachings of
Hippocrates, modified to suit the advances that had been made in
scientific knowledge since the days of the great Greek, and
established, as a standard, observation and experience. He cared
little for theory unless confirmed by practice, but took the
Hippocratic view that nature cured diseases, assisted by the
physician. He gave due credit, however, to the importance of the
part played by the assistant. As he saw it, medicine could be
advanced in three ways: (1) "By accurate descriptions or natural
histories of diseases; (2) by establishing a fixed principle or
method of treatment, founded upon experience; (3) by searching
for specific remedies, which he believes must exist in
considerable numbers, though he admits that the only one yet
discovered is Peruvian bark."[2] As it happened, another equally
specific remedy, mercury, when used in certain diseases, was
already known to him, but he evidently did not recognize it as

The influence on future medicine of Sydenham's teachings was most
pronounced, due mostly to his teaching of careful observation. To
most physicians, however, he is now remembered chiefly for his
introduction of the use of laudanum, still considered one of the
most valuable remedies of modern pharmacopoeias. The German gives
the honor of introducing this preparation to Paracelsus, but the
English-speaking world will always believe that the credit should
be given to Sydenham.


We saw that in the old Greek days there was no sharp line of
demarcation between the field of the philosopher and that of the
scientist. In the Hellenistic epoch, however, knowledge became
more specialized, and our recent chapters have shown us
scientific investigators whose efforts were far enough removed
from the intangibilities of the philosopher. It must not be
overlooked, however, that even in the present epoch there were
men whose intellectual efforts were primarily directed towards
the subtleties of philosophy, yet who had also a penchant for
strictly scientific imaginings, if not indeed for practical
scientific experiments. At least three of these men were of
sufficient importance in the history of the development of
science to demand more than passing notice. These three are the
Englishman Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the Frenchman Rene
Descartes (1596-1650); and the German Gottfried Leibnitz
(1646-1716). Bacon, as the earliest path-breaker, showed the way,
theoretically at least, in which the sciences should be studied;
Descartes, pursuing the methods pointed out by Bacon, carried the
same line of abstract reason into practice as well; while
Leibnitz, coming some years later, and having the advantage of
the wisdom of his two great predecessors, was naturally
influenced by both in his views of abstract scientific

Bacon's career as a statesman and his faults and misfortunes as a
man do not concern us here. Our interest in him begins with his
entrance into Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took up the
study of all the sciences taught there at that time. During the
three years he became more and more convinced that science was
not being studied in a profitable manner, until at last, at the
end of his college course, he made ready to renounce the old
Aristotelian methods of study and advance his theory of inductive
study. For although he was a great admirer of Aristotle's work,
he became convinced that his methods of approaching study were
entirely wrong.

"The opinion of Aristotle," he says, in his De Argumentum
Scientiarum, "seemeth to me a negligent opinion, that of those
things which exist by nature nothing can be changed by custom;
using for example, that if a stone be thrown ten thousand times
up it will not learn to ascend; and that by often seeing or
hearing we do not learn to see or hear better. For though this
principle be true in things wherein nature is peremptory (the
reason whereof we cannot now stand to discuss), yet it is
otherwise in things wherein nature admitteth a latitude. For he
might see that a straight glove will come more easily on with
use; and that a wand will by use bend otherwise than it grew; and
that by use of the voice we speak louder and stronger; and that
by use of enduring heat or cold we endure it the better, and the
like; which latter sort have a nearer resemblance unto that
subject of manners he handleth than those instances which he

These were his opinions, formed while a young man in college,
repeated at intervals through his maturer years, and reiterated
and emphasized in his old age. Masses of facts were to be
obtained by observing nature at first hand, and from such
accumulations of facts deductions were to be made. In short,
reasoning was to be from the specific to the general, and not
vice versa.

It was by his teachings alone that Bacon thus contributed to the
foundation of modern science; and, while he was constantly
thinking and writing on scientific subjects, he contributed
little in the way of actual discoveries. "I only sound the
clarion," he said, "but I enter not the battle."

The case of Descartes, however, is different. He both sounded the
clarion and entered into the fight. He himself freely
acknowledges his debt to Bacon for his teachings of inductive
methods of study, but modern criticism places his work on the
same plane as that of the great Englishman. "If you lay hold of
any characteristic product of modern ways of thinking," says
Huxley, "either in the region of philosophy or in that of
science, you find the spirit of that thought, if not its form,
has been present in the mind of the great Frenchman."[2]

Descartes, the son of a noble family of France, was educated by
Jesuit teachers. Like Bacon, he very early conceived the idea
that the methods of teaching and studying science were wrong, but
be pondered the matter well into middle life before putting into
writing his ideas of philosophy and science. Then, in his
Discourse Touching the Method of Using One's Reason Rightly and
of Seeking Scientific Truth, he pointed out the way of seeking
after truth. His central idea in this was to emphasize the
importance of DOUBT, and avoidance of accepting as truth anything
that does not admit of absolute and unqualified proof. In
reaching these conclusions he had before him the striking
examples of scientific deductions by Galileo, and more recently
the discovery of the circulation of the blood by Harvey. This
last came as a revelation to scientists, reducing this seemingly
occult process, as it did, to the field of mechanical phenomena.
The same mechanical laws that governed the heavenly bodies, as
shown by Galileo, governed the action of the human heart, and,
for aught any one knew, every part of the body, and even the mind

Having once conceived this idea, Descartes began a series of
dissections and experiments upon the lower animals, to find, if
possible, further proof of this general law. To him the human
body was simply a machine, a complicated mechanism, whose
functions were controlled just as any other piece of machinery.
He compared the human body to complicated machinery run by
water-falls and complicated pipes. "The nerves of the machine
which I am describing," he says, "may very well be compared to
the pipes of these waterworks; its muscles and its tendons to the
other various engines and springs which seem to move them; its
animal spirits to the water which impels them, of which the heart
is the fountain; while the cavities of the brain are the central
office. Moreover, respiration and other such actions as are
natural and usual in the body, and which depend on the course of
the spirits, are like the movements of a clock, or a mill, which
may be kept up by the ordinary flow of water."[3]

In such passages as these Descartes anticipates the ideas of
physiology of the present time. He believed that the functions
are performed by the various organs of the bodies of animals and
men as a mechanism, to which in man was added the soul. This soul
he located in the pineal gland, a degenerate and presumably
functionless little organ in the brain. For years Descartes's
idea of the function of this gland was held by many
physiologists, and it was only the introduction of modern
high-power microscopy that reduced this also to a mere mechanism,
and showed that it is apparently the remains of a Cyclopean eye
once common to man's remote ancestors.

Descartes was the originator of a theory of the movements of the
universe by a mechanical process--the Cartesian theory of
vortices--which for several decades after its promulgation
reigned supreme in science. It is the ingenuity of this theory,
not the truth of its assertions, that still excites admiration,
for it has long since been supplanted. It was certainly the best
hitherto advanced--the best "that the observations of the age
admitted," according to D'Alembert.

According to this theory the infinite universe is full of matter,
there being no such thing as a vacuum. Matter, as Descartes
believed, is uniform in character throughout the entire universe,
and since motion cannot take place in any part of a space
completely filled, without simultaneous movement in all other
parts, there are constant more or less circular movements,
vortices, or whirlpools of particles, varying, of course, in size
and velocity. As a result of this circular movement the particles
of matter tend to become globular from contact with one another.
Two species of matter are thus formed, one larger and globular,
which continue their circular motion with a constant tendency to
fly from the centre of the axis of rotation, the other composed
of the clippings resulting from the grinding process. These
smaller "filings" from the main bodies, becoming smaller and
smaller, gradually lose their velocity and accumulate in the
centre of the vortex. This collection of the smaller matter in
the centre of the vortex constitutes the sun or star, while the
spherical particles propelled in straight lines from the centre
towards the circumference of the vortex produce the phenomenon of
light radiating from the central star. Thus this matter becomes
the atmosphere revolving around the accumulation at the centre.
But the small particles being constantly worn away from the
revolving spherical particles in the vortex, become entangled in
their passage, and when they reach the edge of the inner strata
of solar dust they settle upon it and form what we call
sun-spots. These are constantly dissolved and reformed, until
sometimes they form a crust round the central nucleus.

As the expansive force of the star diminishes in the course of
time, it is encroached upon by neighboring vortices. If the part
of the encroaching star be of a less velocity than the star which
it has swept up, it will presently lose its hold, and the smaller
star pass out of range, becoming a comet. But if the velocity of
the vortex into which the incrusted star settles be equivalent to
that of the surrounded vortex, it will hold it as a captive,
still revolving and "wrapt in its own firmament." Thus the
several planets of our solar system have been captured and held
by the sun-vortex, as have the moon and other satellites.

But although these new theories at first created great enthusiasm
among all classes of philosophers and scientists, they soon came
under the ban of the Church. While no actual harm came to
Descartes himself, his writings were condemned by the Catholic
and Protestant churches alike. The spirit of philosophical
inquiry he had engendered, however, lived on, and is largely
responsible for modern philosophy.

In many ways the life and works of Leibnitz remind us of Bacon
rather than Descartes. His life was spent in filling high
political positions, and his philosophical and scientific
writings were by-paths of his fertile mind. He was a theoretical
rather than a practical scientist, his contributions to science
being in the nature of philosophical reasonings rather than
practical demonstrations. Had he been able to withdraw from
public life and devote himself to science alone, as Descartes
did, he would undoubtedly have proved himself equally great as a
practical worker. But during the time of his greatest activity in
philosophical fields, between the years 1690 and 1716, he was all
the time performing extraordinary active duties in entirely
foreign fields. His work may be regarded, perhaps, as doing for
Germany in particular what Bacon's did for England and the rest
of the world in general.

Only a comparatively small part of his philosophical writings
concern us here. According to his theory of the ultimate elements
of the universe, the entire universe is composed of individual
centres, or monads. To these monads he ascribed numberless
qualities by which every phase of nature may be accounted. They
were supposed by him to be percipient, self-acting beings, not
under arbitrary control of the deity, and yet God himself was the
original monad from which all the rest are generated. With this
conception as a basis, Leibnitz deduced his doctrine of
pre-established harmony, whereby the numerous independent
substances composing the world are made to form one universe. He
believed that by virtue of an inward energy monads develop
themselves spontaneously, each being independent of every other.
In short, each monad is a kind of deity in itself--a microcosm
representing all the great features of the macrocosm.

It would be impossible clearly to estimate the precise value of
the stimulative influence of these philosophers upon the
scientific thought of their time. There was one way, however, in
which their influence was made very tangible--namely, in the
incentive they gave to the foundation of scientific societies.


At the present time, when the elements of time and distance are
practically eliminated in the propagation of news, and when cheap
printing has minimized the difficulties of publishing scientific
discoveries, it is difficult to understand the isolated position
of the scientific investigation of the ages that preceded steam
and electricity. Shut off from the world and completely out of
touch with fellow-laborers perhaps only a few miles away, the
investigators were naturally seriously handicapped; and
inventions and discoveries were not made with the same rapidity
that they would undoubtedly have been had the same men been
receiving daily, weekly, or monthly communications from
fellow-laborers all over the world, as they do to-day. Neither
did they have the advantage of public or semi-public
laboratories, where they were brought into contact with other
men, from whom to gather fresh trains of thought and receive the
stimulus of their successes or failures. In the natural course of
events, however, neighbors who were interested in somewhat
similar pursuits, not of the character of the rivalry of trade or
commerce, would meet more or less frequently and discuss their
progress. The mutual advantages of such intercourse would be at
once appreciated; and it would be but a short step from the
casual meeting of two neighborly scientists to the establishment
of "societies," meeting at fixed times, and composed of members
living within reasonable travelling distance. There would,
perhaps, be the weekly or monthly meetings of men in a limited
area; and as the natural outgrowth of these little local
societies, with frequent meetings, would come the formation of
larger societies, meeting less often, where members travelled a
considerable distance to attend. And, finally, with increased
facilities for communication and travel, the great international
societies of to-day would be produced--the natural outcome of the
neighborly meetings of the primitive mediaeval investigators.

In Italy, at about the time of Galileo, several small societies
were formed. One of the most important of these was the Lyncean
Society, founded about the year 1611, Galileo himself being a
member. This society was succeeded by the Accademia del Cimento,
at Florence, in 1657, which for a time flourished, with such a
famous scientist as Torricelli as one of its members.

In England an impetus seems to have been given by Sir Francis
Bacon's writings in criticism and censure of the systern of
teaching in colleges. It is supposed that his suggestions as to
what should be the aims of a scientific society led eventually to
the establishment of the Royal Society. He pointed out how little
had really been accomplished by the existing institutions of
learning in advancing science, and asserted that little good
could ever come from them while their methods of teaching
remained unchanged. He contended that the system which made the
lectures and exercises of such a nature that no deviation from
the established routine could be thought of was pernicious. But
he showed that if any teacher had the temerity to turn from the
traditional paths, the daring pioneer was likely to find
insurmountable obstacles placed in the way of his advancement.
The studies were "imprisoned" within the limits of a certain set
of authors, and originality in thought or teaching was to be
neither contemplated nor tolerated.

The words of Bacon, given in strong and unsparing terms of
censure and condemnation, but nevertheless with perfect
justification, soon bore fruit. As early as the year 1645 a small
company of scientists had been in the habit of meeting at some
place in London to discuss philosophical and scientific subjects
for mental advancement. In 1648, owing to the political
disturbances of the time, some of the members of these meetings
removed to Oxford, among them Boyle, Wallis, and Wren, where the
meetings were continued, as were also the meetings of those left
in London. In 1662, however, when the political situation bad
become more settled, these two bodies of men were united under a
charter from Charles II., and Bacon's ideas were practically
expressed in that learned body, the Royal Society of London. And
it matters little that in some respects Bacon's views were not
followed in the practical workings of the society, or that the
division of labor in the early stages was somewhat different than
at present. The aim of the society has always been one for the
advancement of learning; and if Bacon himself could look over its
records, he would surely have little fault to find with the aid
it has given in carrying out his ideas for the promulgation of
useful knowledge.

Ten years after the charter was granted to the Royal Society of
London, Lord Bacon's words took practical effect in Germany, with
the result that the Academia Naturae Curiosorum was founded,
under the leadership of Professor J. C. Sturm. The early labors
of this society were devoted to a repetition of the most notable
experiments of the time, and the work of the embryo society was
published in two volumes, in 1672 and 1685 respectively, which
were practically text-books of the physics of the period. It was
not until 1700 that Frederick I. founded the Royal Academy of
Sciences at Berlin, after the elaborate plan of Leibnitz, who was
himself the first president.

Perhaps the nearest realization of Bacon's ideal, however, is in
the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, which was founded in 1666
under the administration of Colbert, during the reign of Louis
XIV. This institution not only recognized independent members,
but had besides twenty pensionnaires who received salaries from
the government. In this way a select body of scientists were
enabled to pursue their investigations without being obliged to
"give thought to the morrow" for their sustenance. In return they
were to furnish the meetings with scientific memoirs, and once a
year give an account of the work they were engaged upon. Thus a
certain number of the brightest minds were encouraged to devote
their entire time to scientific research, "delivered alike from
the temptations of wealth or the embarrassments of poverty." That
such a plan works well is amply attested by the results emanating
from the French academy. Pensionnaires in various branches of
science, however, either paid by the state or by learned
societies, are no longer confined to France.

Among the other early scientific societies was the Imperial
Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg, projected by Peter the
Great, and established by his widow, Catharine I., in 1725; and
also the Royal Swedish Academy, incorporated in 1781, and
counting among its early members such men as the celebrated
Linnaeus. But after the first impulse had resulted in a few
learned societies, their manifest advantage was so evident that
additional numbers increased rapidly, until at present almost
every branch of every science is represented by more or less
important bodies; and these are, individually and collectively,
adding to knowledge and stimulating interest in the many fields
of science, thus vindicating Lord Bacon's asseverations that
knowledge could be satisfactorily promulgated in this manner.


We have now to witness the diversified efforts of a company of
men who, working for the most part independently, greatly added
to the data of the physical sciences--such men as Boyle, Huygens,
Von Gericke, and Hooke. It will be found that the studies of
these men covered the whole field of physical sciences as then
understood--the field of so-called natural philosophy. We shall
best treat these successors of Galileo and precursors of Newton
somewhat biographically, pointing out the correspondences and
differences between their various accomplishments as we proceed.
It will be noted in due course that the work of some of them was
anticipatory of great achievements of a later century.

ROBERT BOYLE (1627-1691)

Some of Robert Boyle's views as to the possible structure of
atmospheric air will be considered a little farther on in this
chapter, but for the moment we will take up the consideration of
some of his experiments upon that as well as other gases. Boyle
was always much interested in alchemy, and carried on extensive
experiments in attempting to accomplish the transmutation of
metals; but he did not confine himself to these experiments,
devoting himself to researches in all the fields of natural
philosophy. He was associated at Oxford with a company of
scientists, including Wallis and Wren, who held meetings and made
experiments together, these gatherings being the beginning, as
mentioned a moment ago, of what finally became the Royal Society.
It was during this residence at Oxford that many of his valuable
researches upon air were made, and during this time be invented
his air-pump, now exhibited in the Royal Society rooms at
Burlington House.[1]

His experiments to prove the atmospheric pressure are most
interesting and conclusive. "Having three small, round glass
bubbles, blown at the flame of a lamp, about the size of
hazel-nuts," he says, "each of them with a short, slender stem,
by means whereof they were so exactly poised in water that a very
small change of weight would make them either emerge or sink; at
a time when the atmosphere was of convenient weight, I put them
into a wide-mouthed glass of common water, and leaving them in a
quiet place, where they were frequently in my eye, I observed
that sometimes they would be at the top of the water, and remain
there for several days, or perhaps weeks, together, and sometimes
fall to the bottom, and after having continued there for some
time rise again. And sometimes they would rise or fall as the air
was hot or cold."[2]

It was in the course of these experiments that the observations
made by Boyle led to the invention of his "statical barometer,"
the mercurial barometer having been invented, as we have seen, by
Torricelli, in 1643. In describing this invention he says:
"Making choice of a large, thin, and light glass bubble, blown at
the flame of a lamp, I counterpoised it with a metallic weight,
in a pair of scales that were suspended in a frame, that would
turn with the thirtieth part of a grain. Both the frame and the
balance were then placed near a good barometer, whence I might
learn the present weight of the atmosphere; when, though the
scales were unable to show all the variations that appeared in
the mercurial barometer, yet they gave notice of those that
altered the height of the mercury half a quarter of an inch."[3]
A fairly sensitive barometer, after all. This statical barometer
suggested several useful applications to the fertile imagination
of its inventor, among others the measuring of mountain-peaks, as
with the mercurial barometer, the rarefication of the air at the
top giving a definite ratio to the more condensed air in the

Another of his experiments was made to discover the atmospheric
pressure to the square inch. After considerable difficulty he
determined that the relative weight of a cubic inch of water and
mercury was about one to fourteen, and computing from other known
weights he determined that "when a column of quicksilver thirty
inches high is sustained in the barometer, as it frequently
happens, a column of air that presses upon an inch square near
the surface of the earth must weigh about fifteen avoirdupois
pounds."[4] As the pressure of air at the sea-level is now
estimated at 14.7304 pounds to the square inch, it will be seen
that Boyle's calculation was not far wrong.

From his numerous experiments upon the air, Boyle was led to
believe that there were many "latent qualities" due to substances
contained in it that science had as yet been unable to fathom,
believing that there is "not a more heterogeneous body in the
world." He believed that contagious diseases were carried by the
air, and suggested that eruptions of the earth, such as those
made by earthquakes, might send up "venomous exhalations" that
produced diseases. He suggested also that the air might play an
important part in some processes of calcination, which, as we
shall see, was proved to be true by Lavoisier late in the
eighteenth century. Boyle's notions of the exact chemical action
in these phenomena were of course vague and indefinite, but he
had observed that some part was played by the air, and he was
right in supposing that the air "may have a great share in
varying the salts obtainable from calcined vitriol."[5]

Although he was himself such a painstaking observer of facts, he
had the fault of his age of placing too much faith in hear-say
evidence of untrained observers. Thus, from the numerous stories
he heard concerning the growth of metals in previously exhausted
mines, he believed that the air was responsible for producing
this growth--in which he undoubtedly believed. The story of a
tin-miner that, in his own time, after a lapse of only
twenty-five years, a heap, of earth previously exhausted of its
ore became again even more richly impregnated than before by
lying exposed to the air, seems to have been believed by the

As Boyle was an alchemist, and undoubtedly believed in the
alchemic theory that metals have "spirits" and various other
qualities that do not exist, it is not surprising that he was
credulous in the matter of beliefs concerning peculiar phenomena
exhibited by them. Furthermore, he undoubtedly fell into the
error common to "specialists," or persons working for long
periods of time on one subject--the error of over-enthusiasm in
his subject. He had discovered so many remarkable qualities in
the air that it is not surprising to find that he attributed to
it many more that he could not demonstrate.

Boyle's work upon colors, although probably of less importance
than his experiments and deductions upon air, show that he was in
the van as far as the science of his day was concerned. As he
points out, the schools of his time generally taught that "color
is a penetrating quality, reaching to the innermost part of the
substance," and, as an example of this, sealing-wax was cited,
which could be broken into minute bits, each particle retaining
the same color as its fellows or the original mass. To refute
this theory, and to show instances to the contrary, Boyle, among
other things, shows that various colors--blue, red, yellow--may
be produced upon tempered steel, and yet the metal within "a
hair's-breadth of its surface" have none of these colors.
Therefore, he was led to believe that color, in opaque bodies at
least, is superficial.

"But before we descend to a more particular consideration of our
subject," he says, " 'tis proper to observe that colors may be
regarded either as a quality residing in bodies to modify light
after a particular manner, or else as light itself so modified as
to strike upon the organs of sight, and cause the sensation we
call color; and that this latter is the more proper acceptation
of the word color will appear hereafter. And indeed it is the
light itself, which after a certain manner, either mixed with
shades or other-wise, strikes our eyes and immediately produces
that motion in the organ which gives us the color of an

In examining smooth and rough surfaces to determine the cause of
their color, he made use of the microscope, and pointed out the
very obvious example of the difference in color of a rough and a
polished piece of the same block of stone. He used some striking
illustrations of the effect of light and the position of the eye
upon colors. "Thus the color of plush or velvet will appear
various if you stroke part of it one way and part another, the
posture of the particular threads in regard to the light, or the
eye, being thereby varied. And 'tis observable that in a field of
ripe corn, blown upon by the wind, there will appear waves of a
color different from that of the rest of the corn, because the
wind, by depressing some of the ears more than others, causes one
to reflect more light from the lateral and strawy parts than
another."[7] His work upon color, however, as upon light, was
entirely overshadowed by the work of his great fellow-countryman

Boyle's work on electricity was a continuation of Gilbert's, to
which he added several new facts. He added several substances to
Gilbert's list of "electrics," experimented on smooth and rough
surfaces in exciting of electricity, and made the important
discovery that amber retained its attractive virtue after the
friction that excited it bad ceased. "For the attrition having
caused an intestine motion in its parts," he says, "the heat
thereby excited ought not to cease as soon as ever the rubbing is
over, but to continue capable of emitting effluvia for some time
afterwards, longer or shorter according to the goodness of the
electric and the degree of the commotion made; all which, joined
together, may sometimes make the effect considerable; and by this
means, on a warm day, I, with a certain body not bigger than a
pea, but very vigorously attractive, moved a steel needle, freely
poised, about three minutes after I had left off rubbing it."[8]


Working contemporaneously with Boyle, and a man whose name is
usually associated with his as the propounder of the law of
density of gases, was Edme Mariotte (died 1684), a native of
Burgundy. Mariotte demonstrated that but for the resistance of
the atmosphere, all bodies, whether light or heavy, dense or
thin, would fall with equal rapidity, and he proved this by the
well-known "guinea-and-feather" experiment. Having exhausted the
air from a long glass tube in which a guinea piece and a feather
had been placed, he showed that in the vacuum thus formed they
fell with equal rapidity as often as the tube was reversed. From
his various experiments as to the pressure of the atmosphere he
deduced the law that the density and elasticity of the atmosphere
are precisely proportional to the compressing force (the law of
Boyle and Mariotte). He also ascertained that air existed in a
state of mechanical mixture with liquids, "existing between their
particles in a state of condensation." He made many other
experiments, especially on the collision of bodies, but his most
important work was upon the atmosphere.

But meanwhile another contemporary of Boyle and Mariotte was
interesting himself in the study of the atmosphere, and had made
a wonderful invention and a most striking demonstration. This was
Otto von Guericke (1602-1686), Burgomaster of Magdeburg, and
councillor to his "most serene and potent Highness" the elector
of that place. When not engrossed with the duties of public
office, he devoted his time to the study of the sciences,
particularly pneumatics and electricity, both then in their
infancy. The discoveries of Galileo, Pascal, and Torricelli
incited him to solve the problem of the creation of a vacuum--a
desideratum since before the days of Aristotle. His first
experiments were with a wooden pump and a barrel of water, but he
soon found that with such porous material as wood a vacuum could
not be created or maintained. He therefore made use of a globe of
copper, with pump and stop-cock; and with this he was able to
pump out air almost as easily as water. Thus, in 1650, the
air-pump was invented. Continuing his experiments upon vacuums
and atmospheric pressure with his newly discovered pump, he made
some startling discoveries as to the enormous pressure exerted by
the air.

It was not his intention, however, to demonstrate his newly
acquired knowledge by words or theories alone, nor by mere
laboratory experiments; but he chose instead an open field, to
which were invited Emperor Ferdinand III., and all the princes of
the Diet at Ratisbon. When they were assembled he produced two
hollow brass hemispheres about two feet in diameter, and placing
their exactly fitting surfaces together, proceeded to pump out
the air from their hollow interior, thus causing them to stick
together firmly in a most remarkable way, apparently without
anything holding them. This of itself was strange enough; but now
the worthy burgomaster produced teams of horses, and harnessing
them to either side of the hemispheres, attempted to pull the
adhering brasses apart. Five, ten, fifteen teams--thirty horses,
in all--were attached; but pull and tug as they would they could
not separate the firmly clasped hemispheres. The enormous
pressure of the atmosphere had been most strikingly demonstrated.

But it is one thing to demonstrate, another to convince; and many
of the good people of Magdeburg shook their heads over this
"devil's contrivance," and predicted that Heaven would punish the
Herr Burgomaster, as indeed it had once by striking his house
with lightning and injuring some of his infernal contrivances.
They predicted his future punishment, but they did not molest
him, for to his fellow-citizens, who talked and laughed, drank
and smoked with him, and knew him for the honest citizen that he
was, he did not seem bewitched at all. And so he lived and worked
and added other facts to science, and his brass hemispheres were
not destroyed by fanatical Inquisitors, but are still preserved
in the royal library at Berlin.

In his experiments with his air-pump he discovered many things
regarding the action of gases, among others, that animals cannot
live in a vacuum. He invented the anemoscope and the air-balance,
and being thus enabled to weight the air and note the changes
that preceded storms and calms, he was able still further to
dumfound his wondering fellow-Magde-burgers by more or less
accurate predictions about the weather.

Von Guericke did not accept Gilbert's theory that the earth was a
great magnet, but in his experiments along lines similar to those
pursued by Gilbert, he not only invented the first electrical
machine, but discovered electrical attraction and repulsion. The
electrical machine which he invented consisted of a sphere of
sulphur mounted on an iron axis to imitate the rotation of the
earth, and which, when rubbed, manifested electrical reactions.
When this globe was revolved and stroked with the dry hand it was
found that it attached to it "all sorts of little fragments, like

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