Correspondence  |   October 2009
Wren, Boyle, and the Origins of Intravenous Injections and the Royal Society of London
Author Notes
  • Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. (Dagnino)
Article Information
Correspondence   |   October 2009
Wren, Boyle, and the Origins of Intravenous Injections and the Royal Society of London
Anesthesiology 10 2009, Vol.111, 923-924. doi:10.1097/ALN.0b013e3181b56163
Anesthesiology 10 2009, Vol.111, 923-924. doi:10.1097/ALN.0b013e3181b56163
To the Editor:—
I read with great interest the note on Anesthesiology Reflections by Bause,1 where he writes that in 1659 the future Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Boyle pioneered intravenous therapy, adding that by November 1660 both were meeting with 10 other scientists; gatherings that would lead to the formal chartering of the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. I would like to comment briefly on the accuracy or precision of three aspects: The date of the pioneering intravenous injections; the credit for this invention, as the paragraph suggests coauthoring; and the origins of the Royal Society of London.
Most authors agree that the first experiments on intravenous injections took place sometime in 1656, in Boyle’s quarters on High Street at Oxford, United Kingdom, and all agree in attributing to Wren the idea and execution.2–5 Indeed, while Boyle, Wilkins, and Wren were discussing the action of poisons, the latter made the claim that he could easily contrive a way to convey any liquid poison into the mass of blood. Boyle provided a large dog, and summoned Willis and Bathurst to assist, presumably because more hands were needed to hold down the animal. Wren would later describe this in a letter, probably addressed to William Petty in Ireland, where he states that “I Have Injected Wine and Ale in a liveing Dog into the Mass of Blood by a Veine, in good Quantities, till I have made him extremely drunk, but soon after he Pisseth it out.” It is perhaps interesting to add that the dog survived, grew fat, and was later stolen from his owner. Boyle himself attributed authorship to Wren when he later commented on this and other ensuing experiments of the same kind.6,7 
As to the seminal meetings, some authors trace the Royal Society’s origins back to 1645, to Gresham College in London, United Kingdom, others to Wadham at Oxford somewhat later, while still others propose a more eclectic interpretation.8 These informal meetings, for which apparently no records were kept, were held regularly and with great enthusiasm. Remarkably, they united Royalists and Parliamentarians alike, despite the troubled times during the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth, the Protectorate, and the Restoration, when many of them lost or won their academic appointments, properties, and even liberty as a result of their allegiances. Surely, the main reason for this success is that recalled by John Wallis in 1678: “We barred all Discourses of Divinity, of State-Affairs, and the News (other than what concern’d our business of Philosophy confining ourselves to Philosophical Inquieries, and such as related unto; as Physick, Anatomy, Geometry, Astronomy, Navigation, Staticks, Mecanicks, and Natural Experiments.”9 The fact that many meetings were held or ended at a coffee house or pub must also have helped. Wren and Boyle, along with Wilkins, Willis, Wallis, Bathurst, and others, had been meeting regularly at Oxford for at least 5 yr before that gathering on November 28, 1660.
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.
Bause GS: Boyle, a most skeptical chemist. Anesthesiology 2009; 110:610Bause, GS
Anonymous: An account of the rise and attempts, of a way to conveigh liquors immediately into the mass of blood. Philos Trans R Soc London 1665–1666; 1:128–30
Jardine L: On a grander scale, The outstanding life of Sir Christopher Wren. New York, Harper Collins, 2002, pp 122–3Jardine, L New York Harper Collins
Tinniswood A: His invention so fertile, A life of Christopher Wren. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp 36–7Tinniswood, A Oxford Oxford University Press
Davies CSL: The youth and education of Christopher Wren. Engl Hist Rev 2008; 123:300–27Davies, CSL
Bennet JA: A Study of parenthalia, with two unpublished letters of Sir Christopher Wren. Ann Sci 1973; 30:129–47Bennet, JA
Bergman NA: Early intravenous anesthesia: An eyewitness account. Anesthesiology 1990; 72:185–6Bergman, NA
Frank RG Jr: John Aubrey, F.R.S., John Lydall, and science at Commonwealth Oxford. Notes Rec R Soc Lond 1973; 27:193–217Frank, RG
McKie D: The origins and foundation of the Royal Society of London. Notes Rec R Soc Lond 1960; 15:1–37McKie, D