Cover of Elementary Anatomy and Physiology, by Hitchcock & Hitchcock

“Elementary Anatomy and Physiology”, by Hitchcock & Hitchcock (Photo: Iñigo Mujika).

A few years ago my dear friend Heather from Hemet, California was working at an antique bookshop. When the shop closed down, the owner told her she could grab some books in compensation for the salary he owed her. Heather found an 1860 textbook on anatomy and physiology and sent it to me as a gift, thinking that I could be interested in comparing what was known back then with today’s knowledge. What a wonderful present you sent me, Heather!

Recently, I grabbed the book again and found some extremely interesting material that I would like to share with you. There is plenty of good material in the book, and I intend to reproduce it in several posts. Some of the contents I agree with, some I don’t, but the latter are interesting nonetheless.

“5. Man the Type of the Animal Kingdom.- Man stands at the head of the animal kingdom, both in the perfection of his bodily organization, and especially in the possession of reason and moral powers. His physical structure is the type or model for all other animals.”

This statement is a reflection of the anthropocentric views prevailing at the time the book was published. Interestingly, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was published a few months earlier (November 24, 1859). Darwin’s ideas on evolution would eventually put an end to the concept of humans representing the summit of a hypothetical evolutionary ladder, as discussed by Richard Dawkins in his wonderful 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design.

“273.-1. Muscles Need Use.- The muscles should be used. This is necessary to stimulate the blood vessels and lymphatics to a healthy action, so that the nutritious particles may be deposited in proper proportion, and the waste particles be removed; in other words, to promote the constant change which in all the organs of the body is so necessary for health. Their moderate use also promotes their growth and strength, while inaction causes them to dimisnish both in strength and size.”

Nowadays we would be speaking of anabolic/catabolic balance, of muscle hypertrophy and muscle atrophy, but the basic ideas about muscular training were out there in this 1860 textbook.


Hitchcock, E., Hitchcock, E., Jr. (1860). Elementary Anatomy and Physiology for Colleges, Academies and Other Schools. New York: Ivison, Phinney & Co.

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