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Haller–His Wonderful Acquirements as a Boy–His Travels—Professor at
Göttingen - His Labours-Doctrine of Irritability-New Definition of Life -Cullen-His Birth-place and Early Education Professor at Edinburgh -Sir James Mackintosh's Description of Edinburgh University-Cullen's Wisdom-Use and Abuse of Theory—Definition of Life-On Peruvian Bark --Denies its Specific Power—John Brown-Furore Excited by His DoctrinesBrunonian Riots at Göttingen-Brown's Career-Account of His SystemExcitability, Exhausted and Accumulated—His Theory of Life-Of HealthOf Disease--Of Treatment—His Prescriptions-His End.
As we approach the latter stages of our long journey, we encounter certain names wbich suggest the observation that giants are confined to no one period of history. An impartial survey of successive generations inevitably begets a conviction that there is no truth in the notion that the race of man developes itself at the expense of the individual members who compose it ; for in the whole range of men of prowess and renown in the domain of medicine, it would be difficult to select one equal in capacity and attainments to Haller, emphatically described by Cuvier
as "Anatomiste, botaniste, poète Allemand, savant presque universel.” 1
Albert Haller was born at Berne, on the 16th of October, 1708, of an ancient and respectable family. He distinguished almost from his infancy by his extraordinary powers of acquiring knowledge. At the age of four years, he used to expound passages of Scripture to his father's servants; at eight years old, he had written 2000 notices of the lives of persons he had read about ; at ten, he had made a vocabulary of the Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldee languages; at fifteen, he had composed tragedies, comedies, and an epic poem of 4000 verses, which he once risked his life to rescue from destruction, when his house was on fire, but which he afterwards himself committed to the flames when his judgment was more mature. His memory was most retentive. On one occasion he got nervous about it, thinking it impaired in consequence of a fall, and to test it went over the names of all the rivers in the world that fall into the sea. Having satisfied himself, by examining a map, that he had forgotten none, he was comforted. This was at a late period of life, when he was engaged in physiological studies.
At the age of fifteen, he went to the University of Tübingen; and at seventeen, to Leyden, where Boerhaave was in the full blaze of his popularity. The was entirely captivated by this great teacher, and terwards, as we have already had occasion to mention, he published, with Commentaries of his own, an edition of Boerhaave's Lectures. At the age of eighteen, in the year 1726, he took his degree ; and chose for the subject of his thesis, the supposed discovery of a new salivary duct, which he demonstrated to be only a blood vessel. He then visited the great seats of learning, and made
| Biograph. Universelle. Art. Haller.
· Leben von Hernn, von Haller, von 0. J. G. Zimmermann. Zurich, 1755.
the acquaintance of the most eminent men of his profession -in London, of Sir Hans Sloane and Cheselden ; in Paris, of Jusseau, Winslow, and Le Dran; while in Basle, he studied mathematics under Bernoulli. After this extensive tour, he returned to his native town of Berne, where he occupied the posts of Physician to the Hospital, and Principal Librarian in the Museum of Books and Medals. A star of such magnitude as Haller, was not likely to escape the notice of the Elector of Hanover, and King of England, George II., who had just instituted the University of Göttingen, in which he offered him the chair of medicine, anatomy, and botany. Haller accepted the post, and was duly installed as one of the many distinguished teachers in that “ famous university.” Here he pursued his career of almost superhuman activity; writing light reviews incessantly, to the total amount it is said of 12,000; publishing occasionally such works as the “Life of Alfred the Great,” showing great study of a remote and difficult period ; so that any one living in the literary world alone, would naturally have supposed that this Haller was nothing but a littérateur, and one unusually busy and productive; whereas the fact was, that these efforts, which would have exhausted ordinary men, were to him only relaxation from his real work, which consisted in profound and original researches in anatomy and physiology. In the latter department his discoveries were so important, and his method so new, that, as Hippocrates is called the father of medicine, Bacon the father of modern philosophy, Boyle the father of chemistry,—so Haller has been, and is still, honoured with the proud appellation of the father of physiology. In the words of Condorcet,'_"Haller was
aware that the science of physiology, long abandoned to the spirit of system, had become an object of distrust to
Éloge de M. de Haller,” Euvres complètes de Condorcet, t. I., p. 379.
natural philosophers, and it was with him a principal object to remove this prejudice. He hoped to render physiology a science as certain as any other physical science ; a science by means of which philosophers might acquire a knowledge of the constitution of man, and physicians find a basis upon which to found their practice. For this purpose it was necessary to establish the foundation of physiology upon the correct anatomy of man, as well as upon the comparative anatomy, which has so frequently revealed to us secrets respecting the animal economy that the study of man himself had failed to discover. It was necessary to banish from physiology both that kind of metaphysics which in all the sciences has long concealed real ignorance under scientific terms, and those mathematical and chemical theories rejected by mathematicians and chemists, and always employed with the greater confidence, and adopted with the greater respect, in proportion as teachers or their disciples have been ignorant of mathematics and chemistry. It was necessary to substitute, in place of all these systems, general facts ascertained by observation and experience, to have the prudence to be satisfied with these facts, and to submit to remain ignorant of their causes, and to know that in all the sciences there are limits beyond which it is doubtful whether the human mind can ever penetrate, and which it certainly can only pass by the aid of time and a long series of labours.”
His work on physiology is written in Latin ; it consists of eight thick quarto volumes, and the research displayed in it may be gathered from the list he gives at the end of books used in its composition. This catalogue occupies one hundred pages, and at the beginning he observes that he has omitted countless brochures, and has only enumerated as works referred to, those which he had in his own library! Had his book been nothing but a record of all facts and opinions known up to his time, it would have
been a work of the greatest value, and a monument of enormous knowledge. But it is far more than this; he has contributed original observations to almost every branch of physiology, and established a doctrine identified with his name, which has survived his decease, and continues to exert a powerful influence on medical speculation-being, indeed, the point of departure for most of the new systems of medicine. This doctrine is called “Irritability.”
After having for sixteen years discharged his duty in Göttingen, in the most brilliant style, having been enrolled a member of all learned societies, and honoured with the title of Baron by the Emperor Francis I., Haller returned, in 1753, to Berne, where the remainder of his life was spent in the same unremitting toil. He is said to have actually lived in his library, and to have pressed into his service his wife, his children, and all his friends, to enable him to accomplish the almost incredible tasks he had undertaken. He died on the 12th of December, 1777, aged sixty-nine years.
A glimpse at the scene of Haller's labours, given by one of the students of his university, is not without its interest. The writer is the Rev. A. Davidson ; his correspondent, Dr. Cullen :
“ There are in all thirty professors, ordinary and extraordinary. Several of them are very famous, and reckoned men of ability ; but all of them, excepting the professors of physic” (of whom Haller was one), “ teach in German. The students are about six hundred, made up of Danes, Swedes, Russians, and Germans of all the different sovereignties of the empire, but chiefly Hanoverians, Saxons, and Prussians. The British are exactly equal to the Muses in number, but are not reckoned their most assiduous votaries ; five are Scots, viz. Lord Sutherland and his companion Captain Grant, Lord Fincastle, Mr. Murray, nephew