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Albrecht von Haller (October 16, 1708–December 12, 1777) was a Swissmarker anatomist, physiologist, naturalist and poet.


Early life

He was born of an old Swiss family at Bernemarker. Prevented by long-continued ill-health from taking part in boyish sports, he had the more opportunity for the development of his precocious mind. At the age of four, it is said, he used to read and expound the Bible to his father’s servants; before he was ten he had sketched a Chaldee grammar, prepared a Greek and a Hebrew vocabulary, compiled a collection of two thousand biographies of famous men and women on the model of the great works of Bayle and Moréri, and written in Latin verse a satire on his tutor, who had warned him against a too great excursiveness. When still hardly fifteen he was already the author of numerous metrical translations from Ovid, Horace and Virgil, as well as of original lyrics, dramas, and an epic of four thousand lines on the origin of the Swiss confederations, writings which he is said on one occasion to have rescued from a fire at the risk of his life, only, however, to burn them a little later (1729) with his own hand.

Medicine

Illustration from C.J.
Rollinus in Haller's book Icones anatomicae from 1756
Haller's attention had been directed to the profession of medicine while he was residing in the house of a physician at Bielmarker after his father's death in 1721. While still a sickly and excessively shy youth, he went in his sixteenth year to the university of TĂĽbingenmarker (December 1723), where he studied under Elias Rudolph Camerarius Jr. and Johann Duvernoy. Dissatisfied with his progress, he in 1725 exchanged TĂĽbingen for Leiden, where Boerhaave was in the zenith of his fame, and where Albinus had already begun to lecture in anatomy. At that university he graduated in May 1727, undertaking successfully in his thesis to prove that the so-called salivary duct, claimed as a recent discovery by Georg Daniel Coschwitz (1679-1729), was nothing more than a blood-vessel.

Haller then visited Londonmarker, making the acquaintance of Sir Hans Sloane, William Cheselden, John Pringle, James Douglas and other scientific men; next, after a short stay in Oxfordmarker, he visited Parismarker, where he studied under Henri François Le Dran and Jacob Winslow; and in 1728 he proceeded to Baselmarker, where he devoted himself to the study of higher mathematics under John Bernoulli. It was during his stay there also that his interest in botany was awakened; and, in the course of a tour (July/August, 1728), through Savoy, Baden and several of the cantons of Switzerland, he began a collection of plants which was afterwards the basis of his great work on the flora of Switzerland. From a literary point of view the main result of this, the first of his many journeys through the Alps, was his poem entitled Die Alpen, which was finished in March 1729, and appeared in the first edition (1732) of his Gedichte. This poem of 490 hexameters is historically important as one of the earliest signs of the awakening appreciation of the mountains, though it is chiefly designed to contrast the simple and idyllic life of the inhabitants of the Alps with the corrupt and decadent existence of the dwellers in the plains.

In 1729 he returned to Berne and began to practise as a physician; his best energies, however, were devoted to the botanical and anatomical researches which rapidly gave him a European reputation, and procured for him from George II in 1736 a call to the chair of medicine, anatomy, botany and surgery in the newly founded University of Göttingenmarker. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1743, a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1747, and was ennobled in 1749.

The quantity of work achieved by Haller in the seventeen years during which he occupied his Göttingen professorship was immense. Apart from the ordinary work of his classes, which entailed the task of newly organizing a botanical garden (the Alte Botanische Garten der Universität Göttingenmarker), an anatomical theatre and museum, an obstetrical school, and similar institutions, he carried on without interruption those original investigations in botany and physiology, the results of which are preserved in the numerous works associated with his name; he continued also to persevere in his youthful habit of poetical composition, while at the same time he conducted a monthly journal (the Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen), to which he is said to have contributed twelve thousand articles relating to almost every branch of human knowledge. He also warmly interested himself in most of the religious questions, both ephemeral and permanent, of his day; and the erection of the Reformed church in Göttingen was mainly due to his unwearied energy.

Notwithstanding all this variety of absorbing interests he never felt at home in Göttingen; his untravelled heart kept ever turning towards his native Berne (where he had been elected a member of the great council in 1745), and in 1753 he resolved to resign his chair and return to Switzerland.

Later life

The twenty-one years of his life which followed were largely occupied in the discharge of his duties in the minor political post of a Rathausmann which he had obtained by lot, and in the preparation of his Bibliotheca medica, the botanical, surgical and anatomical parts of which he lived to complete; but he also found time to write the three philosophical romances Usong (1771), Alfred (1773) and Fabius and Cato (1774),in which his views as to the respective merits of despotism, of limited monarchy and of aristocratic republican government are fully set forth.

About 1773 the state of his health meant he withdrew from public business. He supported his failing strength by means of opium, on the use of which he communicated a paper to the Proceedings of the Göttingen Royal Society in 1776; the excessive use of the drug is believed, however, to have hastened his death.

Haller, who had been three times married, left eight children, the eldest of whom, Gottlieb Emanuel, attained to some distinction as a botanist and as a writer on Swiss historical bibliography (1785-1788, 7 vols).

See also:

Importance for Homoeopathy

Albrecht von Haller is quoted in the footnote to paragraph 108 in the Organon of Medicine, the principal philosophical work by the founder of Homoeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann. In this paragraph, Hahnemann describes how the curative powers of individual medicines can only be ascertained through accurate observation of their specific effects on healthy persons:

"Not one single physician, as far as I know, during the previous two thousand five hundred years, thought of this so natural, so absolutely necessary and only genuine mode of testing medicines for their pure and peculiar effects in deranging the health of man, in order to learn what morbid state each medicine is capable of curing, except the great and immortal Albrecht von Haller. He alone, besides myself, saw the necessity of this (vide the Preface to the Pharmacopoeia Helvet., Basil, 1771, fol., p. 12); Nempe primum in corpore sano medela tentanda est, sine peregrina ulla miscela; odoreque et sapore ejus exploratis, exigua illiu dosis ingerenda et ad ommes, quae inde contingunt, affectiones, quis pulsus, qui calor, quae respiratia, quaenam excretiones, attendum. Inde ad ductum phaenomenorum, in sano obviorum, transeas ad experimenta in corpore aegroro," etc. But no one, not a single physician, attended to or followed up this invaluable hint."

The quotation from von Haller may be translated from the Latin as follows: "Of course, firstly the remedy must be proved on a healthy body, without being mixed with anything foreign; and when its odour and flavour have been ascertained, a tiny dose of it should be given and attention paid to all the changes of state that take place, what the pulse is, what heat there is, what sort of breathing and what exertions there are. Then in relation to the form of the phenomena in a healthy person from those exposed to it, you should move on to trials on a sick body..."

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