HARVEY, William (1578-1657)

Exercitationes de generatione animalium. Quibus accedunt quaedam de Partu: de Membranis ac humoribus Uteri: & de Conceptione.

Published: Amstrodami [Amsterdam]: apud Joannem Janssonium

Date: 1651

12mo. [2 (engraved title leaf)], [34], [2 (blank)],415, [1 (blank)], [4]pp., contemporary calf, double blind fillet border on sides, flat spine panelled by double gilt fillets, red morocco title label, tiny nick at foot of rear joint, else fine copy in its original binding.

Engraved title signed in its upper margin "Johns Vesey .." (bit faded) and "Knapton"

Keynes Bibliography Harvey, 37 Heirs to Hippocrates, 272 Garrison & Morton, 467 Wellcome III, p.220 "The most important book on the subject to appear during the 17th century" (Garrison-Morton) "After the publication of De motu cordis, Harvey turned his attention to the study of generation. Even if Harvey had not discovered the circulation of the blood, his remarkable work on embryology would have placed him in the front ranks of biological scientists. Without benefit of the compound microscope, his work was necessarily limited; nevertheless, nothing comparable had been done since Aristotle. His disbelieved the previous-held doctrine of 'preformation' of the fetus [sic], maintaining instead that it proceeds from the ovum by gradual building up of its parts. Always slow to publisize his findings, Harvey was only after some years persuaded by his friend Sir George Ent, to put them into print. The first edition was published in London in 1651, followed by three Amsterdam editions of the same year ... The Elzevir edition is believed to be the first of the three Amsterdam editions ... This may be the second of the three .. and was published by Joannes Jannson. This copy contains the engraved title page showing Jove seated on a pedestal holding an egg in his hands. He has raised the upper half of the egg with his right hand to reveal animals, insects, and plants springing forth from the lower half. At his side is an eagle clutching thunderbolts in its talons" [Heirs to Hippocrates] The Exercitationes was the product of at least twenty years of investigation into animal generation (or reproduction in modern parlance). Joseph Needham in his A History of Embryology (1934, 1959) summarises Harvey's principal achievements in the book as: [1] his doctrine of omne vivum ex ovo (all life comes from the egg) which was the first definite statement against the idea of spontaneous generation. His denial of the possibility of generation from excrement and from mud, and demonstration that even worms have eggs; [2] His identification of the citricula as the point in the yolk from which the embryo develops and the blastoderm surrounding the embryo; [3] his destruction once and for all the Aristotelian (semen-blood) and Epicurean (semen-semen) theories of early embryogeny; and [4] his settlement of the long controversy about which parts of the egg were nutritive and which was formative, by demonstrating the unreality of the distinction. These discoveries make him one of the founding fathers of embryology and have probably an equal claim to greatness as his discovery of the circulation of the blood. His De Motu Cordis (1628) brought such renown "that his later contributions to science have been somewhat neglected" [Keynes].


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