Haller, Albert De

, one of the most eminent physicians and philosophers of the eighteenth century, was born at Berne, Oct. 16, 1708. He was the son of Nicholas de Haller, an advocate of considerable distinction in his profession, who had a numerous family. Albert was the youngest of five sons. From the commencement of his education, he discovered a great capacity for literature of every kind; to forward the progress of his studies, his father took into his family a private tutor, named Abraham | Billodz; but such was the discipline employed by this pedagogue, that the accidental sight of him at any subsequent period of life, excited in Haller those painful recollections, of which all may have some idea who have been tutored with rigid severity. The progress of Haller’s studies, however, at the earliest periods of life, was rapid almost beyond belief. When other children were beginning only to read, he was studying Bayle and Moreri, and at nine years of age he was able to translate Greek, and was beginning to learn Hebrew. Not long after this, however, the course of his education was somewhat interrupted by the death of his father, which happened when he was in the thirteenth year of his age. After this he was sent to the public school at Berne, where he exhibited many specimens of early and uncommon genius. He was distinguished for his knowledge in the Greek and Latin languages, but principally for his poetical genius; and his essays of this kind, which were published in the German language, were read and admired throughout the whole empire.

In the sixteenth year of his age he began the study of medicine at Tubingen, under those eminent teachers Duvernoy and Camerarius; and continued there for the space of two years, when the reputation of the celebrated Boerhaave drew him to Leyden. Nor was this distinguished teacher the only man from whose superior abilities he had there an opportunity of profiting. Ruysch was still alive, and Albinus was rising into fame. Animated by such examples, he spent all the day, and the greatest part of the night, in the most intense study; and the proficiency which he made gained him universal esteem, both from his teachers and fellow-students. From Holland, in 1727, he came to England, where, however, his stay was but short, it being his intention rather to visit the illustrious men of that period than to prosecute his studies at London, and he formed connections with some of the most eminent of them. He was honoured with the friendship of Douglas and Cheselden, and he met with a reception proportioned nis merit from sir Hans Sloane, president of the royal society. After his visit to Britain he went to France, and ere, under those eminent masters, Winslow and Le Bran, with the latter of wbom he resided during his stay in Paris, be had opportunities of prosecuting anatomy which he bad not before enjoyed. But the zeal of our youno-ana. | tomist was greater than the prejudice* of the people at that period, even in the enlightened city of Paris, could admit of. An information being lodged against him to the police, for dissecting dead bodies, he was obliged to make a precipitate retreat to Basil, where he became a pupil to the celebrated Bernoulli!.

Thus improved and instructed by the lectures of the most distinguished teachers of that period, by uncommon natural abilities, and by unremitting industry, he returned to Berne in the twenty-sixth year of his age. Not long after this, he offered himself a candidate, first for the office of physician to an hospital, and afterward for a professorship. But neither the character which he acquired before he left his native country, nor the fame which he had accumulated abroad, were sufficient to combat the interest opposed to him. He was disappointed in both; and it was even with difficulty that he obtained in the following year the appointment of keeper to a public library at Berne. The exercise of this office, however, although ill suited to his great abilities, was agreeable to him, as it afforded him an opportunity for that extensive reading by which he has been so justly distinguished; nor did this neglect of his merit diminish his ardour, or detract from his reputation either at home or abroad. He was soon after nominated a professor in the university of Gottingen, by king George II. The duties of this important office, which he discharged with no less honour to himself than advantage to the public, afforded him an ample field for the exertion of those great talents he possessed. Extensively acquainted with the sentiments of others respecting the ceconomy of the human body, struck with the diversity of opinions which they held, and sensible that the only means of investigating truth was by careful and candid experiment, he undertook the arduous task of exploring the phenomena of human nature from the original source. In these pursuits he was no less industrious than successful, and there was hardly any function of the body on which his experiments did not reflect either a new or a stronger light. Nor was it long necessary for him, in this arduous undertaking, to labour alone. The example of the preceptor inspired his pupils with the spirit of industrious exertion. Zinn, Zimmerman, Caldani, and many others, laboured with indefatigable industry to prosecute and to perfect the discoveries of their great master. And the mutual exertions | of the teacher and his students not only tended to forward the progress of medical science, but placed the philosophy of the human body on a more sure, and an almost entirely new basis.

But the labours of Dr. Haller during his residence at Gottingen, were by no means confined to any one department of science. He was not more anxious to be an improver himself, than to instigate others to similar pursuits. To him, the anatomical theatre, the school of midwifery, the chirurgical society, and the royal academy of sciences at Gottingen, owe their origin. Such distinguished merit could not fail to meet with a suitable reward from the sovereign under whose protection he then taught. The king of Great Britain not only honoured him with every mark of attention which he himself could bestow, but procured him also letters of nobility from the emperor. The title, however, of baron de Haller, he never assumed, although it was often bestowed on him. On the death of Dillenius he had an offer of the professorship of botany at Oxford the states of Holland invited him to the chair of the younger Albinus and the king of Prussia was anxious that he should be the successor of Maupertuis at Berlin. Marshal Keith wrote to him in the name of his sovereign, offering him the chancellorship of the university of Halle, vacant by the death of the celebrated Wolff. Count Orlowr invited him to Russia, in the name of his mistress, the empress, offering him a distinguished place at St. Petersburgh. The king of Sweden conferred on him an unsolicited honour, by raising him to the rank of knighthood, of the order of the polar star; and the late Joseph II. emperor of Germany, honoured him with a personal visit.

Thus honoured by sovereigns, revered by men of literature, and esteemed by all Europe, he had it in his power to have held the highest rank in the republic of letters. Yet, declining all the tempting offers which were made to him, he continued at Gottingen, anxiously endeavouring to extend the rising fame of that medical school. But after seventeen years residence there, an ill state of health rendering him less fit for the duties of the important office which he held, he solicited and obtained permission from the regency of Hanover to return to his native city of Berne. His fellow-citizens, who might at first have fixed inm among themselves, with no less honour than advantage to their city, were now as sensible as others of his superior | merit. A pension was settled upon him for life, and he was nominated at different times to fill the most important offices in the state. These occupations, however, did not diminish his ardour for useful improvements. He was the first president, as well as the greatest promoter, of the economical society at Bern; and may he considered as the father and founder of the orphan hospital of that city. Declining health at length restrained his exertions in the more active scenes of life, and for many years he was confined entirely to his own house. But even this could not put a period to his studies; he continued his favourite employment of writing till within a few days of his death, and preserved his senses and composure to the last moment, meeting death with the calmness of a philosopher, and what is transcendently superior, the lively faith of a Christian. His last words were addressed to the physician who attended him. “My friend,” said he to M. Rosselet, u the artery no longer beats," and immediately he expired, at the age of sixty-nine years, on the 12th of December, 1777.

The personal character of this extraordinary man is universally acknowledged to deserve the highest praise. In conversation he was most agreeable. His elocution was free, strong, and concise; and his knowledge remarkably diversified. His immense reading, fertile and faithful memory, and sound judgment, gave satisfaction to men of all dispositions. He was superior to the affectation of wit, and equally disdained to make a parade of his knowledge. His disposition was gentle, and his heart replete with sensibility. All his writings are expressive of his love of virtue. Ever pure in his own morals, he beheld with regret the neglect of them in others; and sincerely lamented the influence which irregularities in private life seemed likely to produce on the manners of the state.

But his religious principles form his highest honour. Religion was the object of his most serious inquiries, even from his earliest youth, at which period it was his happiness to enjoy a religions education. His comprehensive mind, ever capable of a just mode of thinking, had beeo happily impressed with the grand idea of a God, the great origin of all beings, and with the belief of eternity, “that ancient source as well as universal sepulchre of worlds and ages, in which the duration of this globe is lost as that of a day, and the life of map. as a moment.” Persuaded of a | future life, he waited with confidence for that consummation which shall dissipate the mists of human wisdom, and display to us the universe such as it actually is, by the light of a new luminary, emanating from the Divinity himself. It was impossible that a spirit thus elevated, and constantly employed in researches after truth, could neglect to inquire into that most important one, the religion of his ancestors and of his country. Convinced of the reality of revelation, by diligently studying the scriptures, he could not behold with indifference any attacks on this fundamental law, this strongest bond of society; and at a time when other illustrious men prostituted their fame and talents in making dangerous attacks upon religion, he thought it his duty to enter the lists as her avowed champion and defender.

It has been usual for modern infidels to associate with themselves, if at all possible, men of eminent literary talents, and it must be confessed, they have been often too successful, especially with medical professors and practitioners, but Haller disdained such an association. Of this we have a remarkable proof which occurred soon after he had published his discoveries relative to irritability. On this property of animated matter, the unprincipled La Mettrie, the Dr. Sangrado of his day, laid the foundation of a system of materialism; and he had the impudence to dedicate it to Haller, declaring that to him he owed the acquisition of the great truths which it contained. Haller considered what La Mettrie meant for jocularity, as a serious insult; and observed, with horror, that he was held up to Europe as a favourer of materialism, or at least as the inventor of principles which served as a basis for that doctrine. Neither the respect which he had constantly declared for Christianity, in all his works, nor his mode of life, so conformable to the precepts of the Gospel, seemed sufficient to secure him against this imputation. He complained of it bitterly, and La Mettrie, in his answer, assumed the same tone; and Haller had prepared to publish a long and serious refutation of the charge, when he was informed of the death of his antagonist, and discovered, that, deceived by an excess of delicacy, which was, doubtless, laudable, he alone had been made the dupe of La Mettrie’s irony.

Another trait of his character may here be introduced, which is of more importance than the institutors of wanton | experiments are disposed to allow. His humanity must have suffered in making experiments which could not be conducted without subjecting a great number 'of animals to most excruciating pains. This would have been purchasing an useless fact at too great a price. Haller perceived it, and the compassion he felt for the victims of his researches is often apparent in the narrative of his experiments. We behold him impressed with a kind of remorse, and omitting no occasion of expatiating on the utility which may be derived from them to mankind. He even seems desirous to believe that these animals suffer no pain, and is unwilling to renounce the opinion of Descartes. To such dilemmas may the best of men be reduced, when, from whatever motive, they are performing an action in itself wrong. We are willing, however, to believe, that he was as sparing as possible in such experiments.

In person Haller was tall and majestic, and of a serious and expressive countenance; he had at times an open smile, always a pleasing tone of voice, usually low, and seldom elevated, even when he was most agitated. He was fond of unbending himself in society, and was on those occasions remarkably cheerful, polite, and attentive; he would converse with the ladies on fashions, modes of dress, and other trifles, with as much ease as if he had never secluded himself from the world. Mr. Bonnet informed Mr. Coxe that Haller wrote with equal facility the German, French, and Latin tongues; that he was so well acquainted with all the European languages, except the Russian, Polish, and Hungarian, as to speak with the natives in their respective idioms. When he conversed on any science or subject of literature, his knowledge was so extensive, that he seemed to have made that his particular study. His profound erudition in every branch of science is well known to all who are conversant with his works: but the variety of his information, and the versatility of his talents, are thus delineated by Tscharner Lobrede, who was his particular friend “He possessed a fundamental knowledge of natural history was well read in history, both ancient and modern, universal and particular; and uncommonly versed in the state of agriculture, manufactures, trade, population, literature, and languages of the respective nations of Europe he had read with attention the most remarkable voyages and travels and was particularly | conversantin the late discoveries which tend to illustrate the geography of the globe. He had even perused many thousand novels and plays; and possessed such an astonishing memory, that he could detail their contents with the utmost precision. As it was his custom to make extracts, and to give his opinion of every book which came into his hands, as well for his own private use, as for the Gottingen Review (in which his department embraced history, medicine, anatomy, natural history, and several miscellaneous works, especially those which appeared in Italy), he read most new publications; and so eager was he usually in the perusal, that he laid them upon the table even when he was at dinner, occasionally looking into them, and marking those parts with a pencil which he afterward extracted or commented upon. He was accustomed to make his remarks on small pieces of paper, of different sizes, which he placed in order and fastened together; a method he learned from Leibnitz.” It may be added, as one weakness in this great character, that he was always impatient under sickness, as well from his extreme susceptibility of pain, as because he was precluded in that situation from his literary occupations. He was fond, therefore, of taking violent remedies, more calculated to remove the immediate effects of pain, and to check his disorder, than to cure it radically. In his latter years he accustomed himself to opium, which, Zimmerman informs us, he took in so large a dose as eight grains, and which operated as a temporary palliative, but increased his natural impatience. This restlessness of temper, which occasionally disturbed his tranquillity even in his younger clays, and in the full flow of his health and spirits, was considerably heightened by the advances of age, and the disorders which shattered his frame toward the close of his days.

In his youth, during a residence of some time at Bienne in 1723, he composed several pieces in the epic, dramatic, and lyric styles, his genius being awakened by the romantic scenery of the country to poetical enthusiasm. At this period he was so entirely absorbed in his favourite study, that on a fire breaking out in the house in which he lived, he rushed into his apartment, and rescued his poetry from the flames, leaving his other papers, with little regret, to destruction. Afterward, when a more mature age had ripened his judgment, he was frequently heard to say that he had preserved from the flames those composition^ which | he then thought the finest productions of human genius, in order at a future period to consign them to destruction, as unworthy of his pen. In the sequel, however, he was more successful in his poetical effusions. In 1729 he composed his poem “On the Alps,” on which critics have been highly lavish of praise. He likewise wrote some ethic epistles on the “The Imperfection of human Virtue, on Superstition and Infidelity, the origin of Evil, and on the vanity of Honour;” also various “Satires,” “Doris 3” a pastoral on his first wife, and his much admired “Elegy on her death.*


These poems were translated into prose and verse by Mrs. Haworth, 1794, folio. The prosaic versions are much the best.

It is a convincing proof of Haller’s versatile genius and extraordinary mental powers, that be should have so eminently excelled in poetry, which, except in his early youth, he never considered otherwise than as an amusement, either to soothe him under afflictions, or to console him for the envy and neglect of his contemporaries. The soundest German critics place Haller among the most eminent of their poets: and consider sublimity as the grand characteristic of his writings. They acknowledge that he improved the harmony and richness of his native tongue; that he possessed the highest powers of invention and fancy; great originality both in his ideas and language; that he is the true colourist of nature that he sounded the depths of metaphysical and moral science and that he equally excels in picturesque descriptions, in soft and delightful imagery, in elevated sentiments, and philosophical precision. A few supercilious critics have reproached his poetry with occasional obscurities, and accuse him of having introduced a new language affectedly averse to the common modes of diction; but twenty-two successive editions of his German poems, and the translation of them into the principal languages of Europe, prove that they possess the great aim of poetry, that of pleasing and interesting the reader.

To his other writings he added, in the German tongue, “Letters to his Daughter, on the truth of the Christian Revelation,” which have been translated into English. He published also an extract from Ditton’s “Truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” which he acknowledges to have first cleared any doubts he might entertain on that subject. He avows at the same time tflat he received | infinite satisfaction from the study of the New Testament, because he was never more certain of holding converse with the Deity than when he read his will in that divine book. In 1775 he published, in German, “Letters concerning several late attempts of Free-thinkers yet living, against Revelation.” His own religious principles, it has been already remarked, were fixed; and having imbibed the system of Calvin, this was supposed to have occasioned some uneasiness and anxiety to him on his death, but he finally obtained consolation.

His scientific works form an imperishable monument to his memory. The most of his various dissertations on anatomical and physiological subjects, published during his residence at Gottingen, were collected, revised, and reprinted in 1751, under the title of“Opuscula Anatomica, de respiratione, de rnonstris, aliaque minora, quae recensuit, emendavit, auxit. Addidit alia inedita, et novas icones,” Gottingae, 8vo. The principal publications within the period just mentioned were, his great work on the botany of Switzerland, the first edition of which appeared in 1742, under the title of “Enurneratio methodica Stirpium Helvetise indigenarum, &c.” folio which, after undergoing considerable corrections and augmentations, was given under its perfect form, entitled “Historia Stirpium Helvetiae indigenarum,” in 1768, 3 vols. folio, with many plates. This admirable work, which was the most copious then published, was remarkably accurate in specific distinctions, and very full upon the economical and medicinal uses of the plants. The arrangement was peculiar to himself, and he shewed an unwillingness to adopt the improvements of Linnæus. His “Commentarii ad Hermanni Boerhaave Praelectiones Academicas, &c.” appeared in seven successive volumes, 8vo, between 1739 and 1744. Immediately after the death of his venerable preceptor Boerhaave in 1738, Haller undertook to publish his “Prelections,” from a ms copy of his own, collated with others. In 1743, he began to publish fasciculi of anatomical plates in folio, particularly relative to the blood-vessels in situ, which are among the most valuable of these helps to the study of the human frame. They were entitled “Iconum Anatomicarum, quibus praecipuae partes corporis humani delineate continentur, Fascic.” The plates amount to thirty-six in number. The first edition of his excellent little work “PrimsB Lmese Physiologic in usum Praelectionum Academicarum| was published in 1747, 8vo. It passed through many subsequent editions, and several translations, and is an outline of the system afterwards developed in his larger work. In 1751 he published at Amsterdam another work of great labour and research, viz. an edition of Boerhaave’s “Methodus Studii Medici,” with so many additions, that by much the greater part was his own; it may be considered as a prelude to his later “Bibliothecae.” He delivered two academical discourses in 1752, in which he proposed his peculiar opinions respecting the properties of sensibility and irritability in living bodies; they were written in French (of which language he had a perfect commarjd), under the title of “Dissertation sur les parties sensibles et irritables des Animaux,Lausanne, 12mo. Besides these works, he printed a catalogue of plants growing in the botanic garden, and in the district, of Gottingen; observations made in a journey to the Hercynian forest in 1738, and an “Iter Helveticum, anni 1739;” and likewise a number of botanical papers, which were collected in his “Opuscula Botanica,1749, 8vo, or contained in the memoirs of the Gottingen academy, and other periodical works.

In 1755 he published his “Opuscula Pathologica, quibus sectiones cadaverum morbosorum potissimum continentur,” at Lausanne, 8vo. In the following year he printed “Deux Memoires sur le Mouvement du Sang, et sur les Effets de la Saignee, &c.” and a continuation of his inquiries respecting irritability and sensibility, entitled “Memoires sur la nature sensible et irritable des partes du Corps Animal,Lausanne, 4 vols. 12mo. He likewise sent to the press a collection of theses, under the title of “Disputationes Chirurgicae selects,” ibid. 1755 6, in 5 vols. 4to. Soon afterwards, his great work, “Elementa Physiologiae Corporis Humani,” began to make its appearance: the first volume, in 4 to, having been published at Lausanne in 1757, and the eighth and last in 1766. Such a vast collection of well-authenticated facts, with so much accurate description and truly scientific argumentation, so well arranged, was never perhaps brought together upon any subject; and of this the author’s own discoveries made a very conspicuous part. His other anatomical writings are principally comprised in his “Opera anatomica minora,” in 1762 68, 3 vols. 4to. He had published in 1758, “Deux Memoires sur la Formation du Cceur dans le Poulet, &c.” containing | the result of three years’ experiments at Berne, in which he traced, hour after hour, the developement of the parts of the chick in ovo, and especially of the heart. There are besides many separate tracts, which it would be tedious to enumerate.

But before we complete the catalogue of the labours of Haller in favour of medical science, we have to notice a series of volumes, which alone would have entitled him to the praise of a life well spent in the service of his profession. These were his “Bibliothecse,” containing a chronological list of every book, of every age, country, and language, respecting subjects connected with medicine, which had come to his knowledge, with brief analyses, and opinions. Of these he published the “Bibl. Botanica,1777, 2 vols. 4to; “Bibl. Chirurgica,1774, 2 vols. 4to “Bibl. Anatomica,1774, 2 vols. 4to “Bibl. Medicinæ Practicæ,1776—88, 4 vols. 4to. The third and fourth volumes of this last were published from his papers by Drs. Tribolet and Brandis.

Haller was three times married first to Marianne Wytsen, in 1731, who died in 1736; secondly to Elizabeth Buchers, in 1738, who died in childbed the same or the following year; both natives of Berne; and lastly in 1739, to Amelia Frederica Teichmeyer, a German lady, who survived him. He left eight children, four sons and four daughters, all of whom he lived to see established. His eldest son, Gotlieb Emmanuel, who was born in 1735, followed his father’s example in dedicating himself to the service of his country, and to the pursuits of literature, He was elected member of the great council, and obtained various employments under government, particularly the baillage of Nyon, in which situation he died in 1786. He distinguished himself as an author by various publications tending to illustrate the history and literature of Swisserland, and particularly by his “Swiss Library,” in 6 vols. 8vo, of which he lived to publish only the first Another valuable work of his was entitled " Cabinet of Swiss Coins and Medals. 1


Eloges Des Academiciens, vol. II. Coxe’s Travels in Swisserland, to which we are indebted for the greater part of the above article. — Henry’s Memoirs of Haller, 1783, 12mo.—Rees’s Cyclopædia,