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Of the Vessels of Animal Bodies

The circulation of the blood, through the bodies of men and quadrupeds, and the apparatus by which it is carried on, compose a system, and testify a contrivance, perhaps the best understood of any part of the animal frame. The lymphatic vessels, or the nervous system, may be more subtile and intricate; nay, it is possible that in their structure they may be even more artificial than the sanguiferous; but we do not know so much about them.

The utility of the circulation of the blood I assume as an acknowledged point. One grand purpose is plainly answered by it; the distributing to every part, every extremity, every nook and corner of the body, thee nourishment which is received into it by one aperture. What enters at the mouth finds its way to the fingers’ ends. A more difficult mechanical problem could hardly, I think, be proposed, than to discover a method of constantly repairing the waste, and of supplying an accession of substance to every part of a complicated machine, at the same time.

This system presents itself under two views: first, the disposition of the blood-vessels, i.e. the laying of the pipes; and secondly, the construction of the engine at the centre, viz. the heart, for driving the blood through them.

I. The disposition of the blood-vessels, as far as regards the supply of the body, is like that of the water pipes in a city, viz. large and main trunks branching off by smaller pipes (and these again by still narrower tubes) in every direction, and towards every part in which the fluid, which they convey, can be wanted. So far the water pipes, which serve a town, may represent the vessels which carry the blood from the heart. But there is another thing necessary to the blood, which is not wanted for the water; and that is, the carrying of it back again to its source. For this office, a reversed system of vessels is prepared, which, uniting at their extremities with the extremities of the first system, collects the divided and subdivided streamlets, first by capillary ramifications into larger branches; secondly, by these branches into trunks; and thus returns the blood (almost exactly inverting the order in which it went out) to the fountain whence its motion proceeded. All which is evident mechanism.

The body, therefore, contains two systems of blood-vessels, arteries and veins. Between the constitution of the systems there are also two differences, suited to the functions which the systems have to execute. The blood, in going out, passing always from wider into narrower tubes; and, in coming back, from narrower into wider; it is evident, that the impulse and pressure upon the sides of the blood-vessel, will be much greater in one case than the other. Accordingly, the arteries which carry out the blood, are formed with much tougher and stronger coats, than the veins which bring it back. That is one difference: the other is still more artificial, or, if I may so speak, indicates, still more clearly, the care and anxiety of the artificer. Forasmuch as in the arteries, by reason of the great force with which the blood is urged along them, a wound or rupture would be more dangerous than in the veins; these vessels are defended from injury, not only by their texture, but by their situation; and by every advantage of situation which can be given to them. They are buried in sinuses, or they creep along grooves, made for them in the bones; for instance, the under edge of the ribs is sloped and furrowed solely for the passage of these vessels. Sometimes they proceed in channels, protected by stout parapets on each side; which last description is remarkable in the bones of the fingers, these being hollowed out, on the under side, like a scoop, and with such a concavity that the finger may be cut across to the bone, without hurting the artery which runs along it. At other times, the arteries pass in canals wrought in the substance, and in the very middle of the substance of the bone; this takes place in the lower jaw; and is found where there would, otherwise, be danger of compression by sudden curvature. All this care is wonderful, yet not more than what the importance of the case required. To those who venture their lives in a ship, it has been often said, that there is only an inch board between hem and death; but in the body itself, especially in the arterial system, there is, in many parts, only a membrane, a skin, a thread. For which reason, this system lies deep under the integuments; whereas the veins, in which the mischief that ensues from injuring the coats is much less, lie in general above the arteries; come nearer to the surface; are more exposed.

It may be farther observed concerning the two systems taken together, that though the arterial, with its trunks and branches and small twigs, may be imagined to issue or proceed, in other words, to grow from the heart, like a plant from its root, or the fibres of a leaf from its foot-stalk, (which, however, were it so, would be only to resolve one mechanism into another,) yet the venal, the returning system, can never be formed in this manner. The arteries might go on shooting out from their extremities, i.e. lengthening and subdividing indefinitely; but an inverted system, continually uniting its streams, instead of dividing, and thus carrying back what the other system carried out, could not be referred to the same process.

II. The next thing to be considered is the engine which works this machinery, viz. the heart. [Pl. XVII. fig. 1.] For our purpose it is unnecessary to ascertain the principle upon which the heart acts. Whether it be irritation excited by the contact of the blood, by the influx of the nervous fluid, or whatever else be the cause of its motion, it is something which is capable of producing, in a living muscular fibre, reciprocal contraction and relaxation. This is the power we have to work with; and the inquiry is, how this power is applied in the instance before us. There is provided, in the central part of the body, a hollow muscle, invested with spiral fibres, running in both directions, the layers intersecting one another; in some animals, however, appearing to be semicircular rather than spiral. By the contraction of these fibres, the sides of the muscular cavities are necessarily squeezed together, so as to force out from them any fluid which they may at that time contain: by the relaxation of the same fibres, the cavities are in their turn dilated, and, of course, prepared to admit every fluid which may be poured into them. Into these cavities are inserted the great trunks, both of the arteries which carry out the blood, and of the veins which bring it back. This is a general account of the apparatus: and the simplest idea of its action is, that, by each contraction, a portion of blood is forced by a syringe into the arteries; and, at each dilation, an equal portion is received from the veins. This produces, at each pulse, a motion, and change in the mass of blood, to the amount of what the cavity contains, which, in a full-grown human heart, I understand, is about an ounce, or two table-spoons full. How quickly these changes succeed one another, and by this succession how sufficient they are to support a stream or circulation throughout the system, may be understood by the following computation, abridged from Keill’s Anatomy, p.117. ed. 3: “Each ventricle will at least contain one ounce of blood. The heart contracts four thousand times in one hour; from which it follows, that there pass through the heart, every hour, four thousand ounces, or three hundred fifty pounds of blood. Now the whole mass of blood is said to be about twenty-five pounds; so that a quantity of blood, equal to the whole mass of blood, passes through the heart fourteen times in one hour; which is about once every four minutes.” Consider what an affair this is, when we come to very large animals. The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the water-works at London bridge; and the water roaring in its passage through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity, to the blood gushing from the whale’s heart. Hear Dr. Hunter’s account of the dissection of a whale:—”The aorta measured a foot diameter. Ten or fifteen gallons of blood are thrown out of the heart at a stroke with an immense velocity, through a tube of a foot diameter. The whole idea fills the mind with wonder45.”

The account which we have here stated, of the injection of blood into the arteries by the contraction, and of the corresponding reception of it from the veins by the dilation of the cavities of the heart, and of the circulation being thereby maintained through the blood-vessels of the body, is true, but imperfect. The heart performs this office, but it is in conjunction with another of equal curiosity and importance. It was necessary that the blood should be successively brought into contact, or contiguity, or proximity, with the air. I do not know that the chemical reason, upon which this is necessity is founded, has been yet sufficiently explored. It seems to be made to appear, that the atmosphere which we breathe is a mixture of two kinds of air; one pure and vital, the other, for the purposes of life, effete, foul, and noxious: that when we have drawn in our breath, the blood in the lungs imbibes from the air, thus brought into contiguity with it, a portion of its pure ingredient, and at the same time, gives out the effete or corrupt air which it contained, and which is carried away, along with the halitus, every time we respire. At least, by comparing the air which is breathed from the lungs by comparing the air which is breathed from the lungs with the air which enters the lungs, it is found to have lost some of its pure part, and to have brought away with it an addition of its impure part. Whether these experiments satisfy the question, as to the need which the blood stands in of being visited by continual accesses of air, is not for us to inquire into, nor material to our argument: it is sufficient to know, that in the constitution of most animals, such a necessity exists, and that the air, by some means or other, must be introduced into a near communication with the blood. The lungs of animals are constructed for this purpose. They consist of blood-vessels and air-vessels, lying close to each other; and wherever there is a branch of the trachea or windpipe, there is a branch accompanying it of the vein and artery, and the sir-vessel is always in the middle between the blood-vessels46. The internal surface of these vessels, upon which the application of the air to the blood depends, would, if collected and expanded, be, in a man, equal to a superficies of fifteen feet square. Now, in order to give the blood in its course the benefit of this organization, (and this is the part of the subject with which we are chiefly concerned,) the following operation takes place. As soon as the blood is received by the heart from the veins of the body, and before that is sent out again into its arteries, it is carried by the force of the contraction of the heart, and by means of a separate and supplementary artery, to the lungs, and made to enter the vessels of the lungs; from which, after it has undergone the action, whatever it be, of that viscus, it is brought back by a large vein once more to the heart, in order, when thus concocted and prepared to be thence distributed anew into the system. This assigns to the heart a double office. The pulmonary circulation is a system within a system and one action of the heart is the origin of both.

For this complicated function, four cavities become necessary; and four are accordingly provided: two, called ventricles, which send out the blood, viz. one into the lungs, in the first instance; the other into the mass, after it has returned from the lungs: two others also, called auricles, which receivethe blood from the veins; viz. one, as it comes immediately from the body; the other, as the same blood comes a second time after its circulation through the lungs. So that there are two receiving cavities, and two forcing cavities. The structure of the heart has reference to the lungs; for without the lungs, one of each would have been sufficient. The translation of the blood in the heart itself is after this manner. The receiving cavities respectively communicate with the forcing cavities, and, by their contraction, unload the received blood into them. The forcing cavities, when it is their turn to contract, compel the same blood into the mouths of the arteries.


45Dr. Hunter’s account of the dissection of a whale. Phil. Trans.
46Keill’s Anat. pg. 121.

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