1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 36

What this meant was that while Phillip was distracted with his book, Robert finished grinding up the green vitriol, and having time on his hands, did a little experimenting of his own. Phillip was deeply into Dr. Harvey’s discussion of the evidence for his new theory that rather than being made in the liver, that blood actually circulated through the body when a panic laden scream from Robert burst through his reader’s trance. He looked up in time to see Robert grabbing a flask emitting a red vapor and dashing outside with it. Phillip dropped the book onto the bench top and gave chase.

By the time he caught up with Robert he’d already thrown the glass flask away. It shattered on the stone wall, splashing whatever the liquid was all over some willow branches from which the bark had been removed. Almost immediately the willow branches started to blacken. “What did you do that for?” Philip demanded. Unfortunately he didn’t stop there and wait for an answer. He exploded with more questions. “What did you do? What was in the flask?”

Robert stammered that he didn’t know and Philip went bombastic. “What do you mean you don’t know?” he demanded. He glanced at the smoking wood. He had to know what had caused that. “Haven’t I told you to record everything?” he shouted.

Phillip was normally mild-mannered, but right now he was overly excited and coming over as aggressive. Robert panicked and ran, leaving Phillip to shout curses at his rapidly disappearing back. When Robert disappeared from view Phillip walked over to where the flask had broken and examined the damage. The burns on the wood suggested the liquid had probably been acidic. He hurried back into the laboratory for some Litmus Paper.

The liquid tested positive for acid, leaving Phillip with a problem. He’d never seen any of his acids affect a piece of willow wood quite like that. He broke off a few lengths and retired into his laboratory. At the bench where Robert had been working he laid down the wood and studied the flasks Robert could have used. Nothing leapt out at him, so he carefully tested a little of each container on a piece of wood.

All that managed to confirm was that none of the acids he made was as strong as the acid Robert had created. That meant it had probably been a combination, just like how aqua regia, a combination of aqua fortis and acidum salis, was much stronger than the individual acids used to create it.

While he experimented Phillip went back to chewing on his roast duck. It was cold now, but he was used to eating cold food.

It was late, and his candles had burned low before Phillip discovered a combination that yielded a red vapor such as he’d seen coming from Robert’s flask. The beaker was hot to the touch, which might explain why Robert had thrown his flask once he got outside. Phillip dripped a few drops onto a piece of willow and waited to see what happened.

Phillip stared at the black marks that appeared where the drops had fallen in disbelief. A quick re-examination of his notes confirmed that all he’d done was add concentrated Oil of Vitriol to concentrated aqua fortis. Neither of the acids individually was as strong as the new combination, but aqua fortis was just Oil of Vitriol and saltpetre. How was it possible to make something stronger than aqua fortis by simply adding more Oil of Vitriol?

It was a question that Phillip decided would have to wait for another day as the candles started spluttering. He added his latest thoughts to his notes of his experiments before pinching the wicks out and fell into his bed, his mind awhirl as he tried to explain what he’d seen.


The next day Phillip returned to reading Dr. Harvey’s book. The mathematical argument was compelling. If a heart did pump about one and a quarter drachm of blood with each beat of the heart, and if a heart were to beat two thousand times an hour, then, in the course of a day the heart would pump sixty thousand drachm of blood a day. That was, as Dr. Harvey claimed, more than five hundred pounds of blood that the liver would have to produce every day. Phillip nodded his agreement with Dr. Harvey’s conclusion. There was certainly no way his liver was producing five hundred pounds of anything — he was sure he would have noticed if it did.

He laid down the book. It was all very well reading about Dr. Harvey’s theory, but Phillip liked to see his own proofs. The first thing to do was check the claimed volumes for a heart. Phillip dressed for a visit to the local butcher.


Phillip’s initial tests with human sized animal hearts tended to confirm Dr. Harvey’s numbers, so he moved on to the next stage. He could have tied off veins and arteries, like Dr. Harvey had, to show that veins flowed into the heart while arteries flowed out, but he preferred a much more direct approach. He bought a live pig.

It wasn’t a very large pig, because Phillip was operating alone he’d settled for an animal of less than thirty pounds, but he still dosed it with Laudanum to calm it down before he tied it down to a heavy work table. Even after a heavy dose of Laudanum it still struggled and squealed when he cut it open. Phillip bound the pig’s snout with rags to quieten it before going on to cut through the ribs to gain access to the animal’s beating heart.

He stared at the beating heart in wonder for a while before using his thumb and forefinger to pinch off in turn the veins and arteries leading in and out of the organ. By this simple expedient he was able to confirm Dr. Harvey’s contention that veins let blood into the heart while arteries let the blood out. His final test was to cut the Pulmonary artery and measure the blood being pumped out.

He counted off ten heartbeats as blood squirted into a small flask. He put that to one side before slicing through the remaining veins and arteries connected to the heart so he could remove the organ. He held it in the sunlight streaming in through the window so he could examine the still beating heart more closely. It was a suitable size for the pig, which meant it was considerably smaller than the other hearts he’d examined, so he was going to have to measure the volume of blood it could hold. He set to doing that.

A couple of days later

As a trained surgeon Phillip had the skills and the tools to butcher the pig, but it would have taken time he could better spend on his research, so he’d had the dead pig collected by the local butcher, who had cut it up and was now in the process of making ham, sausage, and bacon from it. He’d already delivered some pork chops and Phillip was chewing on one of them when there was a knock at the door. “Coming,” he called. He grabbed a cloth and wiped his hands clean as he hurried to the door. He pulled it open to reveal not one, but both local vicars — Rev Edmund Garwood from the parish of Hessle and Rev William Wilkinson from the parish of Kirk Ella.

“Mr. Garwood, Mr. Wilkinson, how can I be of assistance?” he asked.

Edmund turned to William. Their eyes met before they turned Phillip. “There is a story going around the parishes that you have been engaging in witchcraft and devil worship,” Edmund said.

“That’s preposterous!” Phillip said.

“We’re sure it is, Dr. Gribbleflotz,” William said, “but you have been observed cutting the still beating heart out of a living animal, and in the eyes of some of the locals, that signifies devil worship.”

“Who could have seen that?” Phillip demanded. Someone would have had to been looking through the windows of his laboratory to do that.

“You admit it?” Edmund asked.

“Of course,” Phillip said. He noticed the wide-eyed looks he was getting and remembered the claim of devil worship. “But it’s not devil worship,” he said. “I was merely conducting a scientific experiment.”