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Haller, (Victor) Albrecht von

Haller, (Victor) Albrecht von

(b. Bern, Switzerland, 16 October 1708; d. Bern, 12 December 1777)

anatomy, physiology, botany, bibliography.

Haller’s family had been established in Bern since 1550. He was the fifth and last child of Niklaus Emanuel Haller, a jurist, and Anna Maria Engel. His mother died when he was young, and he was raised by his stepmother, Salome Neuhaus. The family was neither rich nor well-connected and had little political influence. Many of its members were reputed to be nervous, secretive, and eccentric.

Haller received his earliest education from a former pastor. Later, after his father’s death, he attended public school in Bern for a year and a half. A child whose health was delicate, he was precocious and gifted in languages. From 1722 to 1723 Haller lived in Biel in the house of his stepuncle Johann Rudolf Neuhaus, a physician who furthered his studies. Among other subjects, Neuhaus tried to instruct Haller in Cartesian philosophy, but Haller rejected it. At this time, however, he began to write poetry and decided to become a physician.

From January 1724 to April 1725 Haller studied medicine at Tübingen, where he learned the fundamentals of botany and anatomy from Johann Duvernoy. The fame of Hermann Boerhaave drew him to Leiden to continue his training; while there he also studied anatomy and surgery with Bernhard Siegfried Albinus. On 23 May 1727, at the age of eighteen, he graduated doctor medicinae—with a thesis proving that what had been called a salivary duct by Coschwiz was in reality a blood vessel.

In 1727–1728 Haller made an academic tour of London, Oxford, Paris, and Strasbourg that ended at Basel, where he studied advanced mathematics with Johann I Bernoulli in the spring and summer of 1728. During the following months he made an alpine journey to further his knowledge of botany. At the same time he began the botanical collection that was to form the basis for his massive work on the Swiss flora. His travels ended in Bern, which he left after only a few weeks in response to an invitation to lecture on anatomy at Basel during the winter of 1728–1729. He simultaneously began to conduct independent anatomical investigations.

Haller returned to Bern to practice medicine in 1729. He continued his anatomical studies, enlarged his herbarium, and gave private instruction, but he was unable to obtain a suitable appointment. Finally, in 1736, upon his own application, he was chosen professor of anatomy, surgery, and medicine at the new University of Göttingen.

In 1745, while still at Göttingen, Haller was elected a member of the cantonal council of Bern. Encouraged in his hope of having a political career, he visited Bern in the spring of 1753; he resigned his post at Göttingen and remained in Bern after having been selected for the office of Rathausammann. From 1758 to 1764 Haller lived at Roche as director of the Bern saltworks, then returned to Bern permanently. He combined his scientific and literary work with public service and was active both in political and administrative affairs, doing useful work for the school system, for orphans, and as a member of the sanitary council. In addition he codified the common law of the Aigle district and was later president of the Bern Oekonomische Gesellschaft.

Haller married three times; his wives were Marianne Wyss (d. 1736), Elisabeth Bucher (d. 1741), and Amalia Teichmeyer. Eight children survived to adulthood: two sons and a daughter from his first marriage, and two sons and three daughters from his third. A devoted Zwinglian, he was often tormented by doubts about the profundity of his own belief after the death of his first wife.

Until his thirtieth year Haller suffered constantly from headache; he was later to be plagued by gout, eye pain, dizziness, stomach distress, edema, inflammations of the bladder, a kidney pelvis, and despondency. He fought sleeplessness (probably caused by drinking inordinate amounts of tea) with opium, to which he became addicted—he later published a study of this illness. That he was in earlier times an active mountaineer may be seen from his alpine collecting trips; it was also during this period that he wrote the poetry (especially “Die Alpen,” of 1732) that brought him youthful fame. In his old age his weight—238 pounds—hindered his taking even easy mountain strolls.

Haller’s contemporaries found his character full of conflicting elements. He could be amiable and entertaining, but trivial matters caused him to lose his temper and become irritable and capricious. In both politics and religion Haller was intolerant and considered every expression of an opposing opinion a personal affront. Efficiency in his work was based on a sense of duty and personal ambition. Most of his co-workers found him petty and antisocial; he himself frequently bemoaned his shortcomings but was unsuccessful in overcoming them.

A list of Haller’s honors and memberships in scientific societies may be found in the catalog of the Haller Exhibition, held at Bern in 1877.

As an anatomist Haller was especially influenced by Albinus and Jacques Benigne Winslow; Boerhaave introduced him to botanical and physiological studies. Haller himself considered anatomy and physiology a unit, calling physiology “anatomia animata.” In his investigation of the nature of living substance, Haller drew upon Boerhaave’s theory of fibers as the basic structural element of the body. He then considered membranes as aggregates of fibers and stated that the cell tissue—which he named the tela cellulosa—is constituted of either or both of these units, occurring separately or together. He used this term further to designate the cavities present within the tissue itself, holding that they were interconnected, as could be demonstrated by the injection into them of air or liquid. From Haller’s account of the tela cellulosa it is apparent that it is in part identical with the loose connective tissue, although it also encompasses larger fiber bundles and muscles, carries the blood vessels, and acts as a sort of packing material to ease the mutual displacement of its parts. It is densified by the storage of fibers or membranes, which in turn shape the organs. For Haller the tela cellulosa is also the basis for the tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bones—as well as the soft tissues and organs—and thereby permits arguments for a general theory of tissues. As will be shown later he went beyond Boerhaave in demonstrating specific functions of muscle and nerve fibers, and by so doing was the first to correlate defined functions with specific structures (Rothschuh, 1953).

Haller successfully employed injection techniques to investigate the distribution of blood vessels in the human body. In preparing his Icones anatomicae (1743) he used a decimalized system to number his observations in all cadavers examined. He obtained greater knowledge of the frequency of different variants and used the principle of greatest frequency as the anatomical norm.

Haller’s investigations of monsters and deformities led him to observations from which he was later able to make significant generalizations. Although he studied many birth defects with great thoroughness, one example will serve to illustrate the nature of his concerns.

Haller chose to study a pair of premature twins joined at the chest and upper abdomen. The infants shared the organs of this region—the liver, spleen, diaphragm, and heart—but possessed all other organs individually. Most important, each had a separate nervous system and was therefore theoretically capable of expressing his own will; since the single heart received blood from both bodies and redistributed it, thoroughly mixed, to each, Haller considered this evidence that the anima did not reside in the blood, as had been thought previously.

Haller also drew upon the heart shared by both infants to redefine the entire concept of monstrosity. Since the heart was considered to be the first organ formed, it was apparent that the twins represented one body, unified from its beginning, rather than the conjunction of two formerly separated bodies. Therefore, this twinning was not a deformity but perhaps a new type of living creature and a proof of the manner in which divine wisdom can realize new human forms that are complete in their own ways. Haller wondered, then, if the same might be true of all fetuses classified as deformed—if indeed they might not simply be indications of the number and variety of existing forms. He was so certain that these compound forms were a unit that he did not observe that they were unable to survive because the single heart was insufficient for two bodies. Haller thought that malformations were not invariably caused by fortuity but sometimes might be the result of diseases of the fetus; he held that external factors might act upon the fetus only in rare instances. Haller extended his studies of malformations to the question of whether true hermaphrodites could exist among humans (concluding that most instances of disturbed development of the external genitalia were simply occurrences of split urethra in male individuals).

From the comparative anatomical studies of men and animals he adduced that the functions of the parts of the animal body are fully ascertainable only if a complete description of all visible details of a number of species is available. From comparison it may be demonstrated that structures common to a number of species have a common function; if a species shows a divergent detail in a structure analogous to those found in other species, however, that structure may be expected to perform a specific function.

Haller often combined his anatomical observations with studies of physiological function, particularly in his important work on the heart, in which he examined both structure and activity exhaustively. His researches enabled him to demonstrate, for example, that there are more veins that open from the walls of the atria and their auricles into these cavities than A. C. Thebesius and Raymond Vieussens had realized. He characterized the atrioventricular valves as folds in the endocardium continuous to an atrioventricular ring. He described exactly the alternate contraction of the atria and the ventricles, based on his observation of the changing shape and color of the parts of the heart during different phases of its activity, and recognized that the coronary vessels fill up during the systolic contraction of the ventricles (which he confirmed experimentally).

He rejected earlier notions of the self-regulation of the heart. In opposition to Boerhaave, he stated that the flaps of the aorta do not cover the exit openings of the coronary vessels and therefore have no effect on the regular sequence of heartbeats. Haller chose instead to explain the regular activity of the heart by the pronounced irritability of its muscles, stimulated by the filling of each section with blood. By his thesis, the muscles of the veins entering the atria of the heart drive blood into these cavities and cause them to contract. The blood then enters the ventricles; these in turn contract while the atria—which, unstimulated, have relaxed—begin to fill again. This recognition of the mechanical automatism of the heart has been celebrated as one of Haller’s most important achievements (Rothschuh, 1953); with it, however, he restated rather than solved the problem, since he still could not account for the intensified irritability of the heart’s muscles. (This irritability could be accounted for only later, when it was recognized that the heart possesses a system peculiar to itself whereby impulses are produced and conducted.)

Although Haller was aware of the innervation of the heart by the vagus nerve and the sympathetic trunk, he did not observe any effect of them in his experiments. His investigations of the heart here reached their limit. He was satisfied with his finding, especially when it was shown that the heart can continue to beat for some time after it has been removed from the body; this alone sufficed to refute Stahl, who held that the soul caused the action of the heart.

Haller’s studies of the structure of the blood vessels are similarly pioneering and incomplete, and it is perhaps especially striking that he seldom mentioned capillaries as such. He wrote instead of very small arteries that enter very small veins, permitting the passage of only one corpuscle at a time. (Haller observed this, for example, in the loops of fine vessels in a limb richly supplied with veins and arteries.) He also mentioned nets of such small veins and arteries, and thereby acknowledged the theory put forth by Leeuwenhoek and Malpighi concerning a closed circulatory pathway of the blood. At the same time, however, Haller also accepted the idea (based in part on some unsuccessful injection experiments) that tributaries of the small arteries empty into lacunae in the cell tissue, or into the fat and glandular ducts, or end as “evaporation vessels” in the membranes or in the lung.

Haller rejected the notion that red corpuscles can break down into smaller units and denied the existence of vessels of appropriately small size. He thus rejected Boerhaave’s conception of yellow globules and smaller entities, although he did not name Boerhaave in this context. Haller characterized lymph vessels as “backward flowing vessels filled with an almost pellucid liquid”; they originate in the cell tissue and are provided with a fine membrane and many small valves. He designated the lymph nodes as glands and considered them a tangle of lymphatic vessels, held together by loose cell tissue; their significance was not clear to him. (Peter Wobmann treats Haller’s hemodynamics in detail in “Albrecht von Haller, der Begründer der modernen Hämodynamik” [1967].)

Haller turned to mechanics to define the role of the motion of the blood in the production of heat. He attributed heat to the friction produced by the blood corpuscles rubbing against each other and against the walls of the blood vessels. This friction seemed to Haller to be so strong that his notion of it led him to deny the lentiform blood cells reported— correctly—by Leeuwenhoek; he thought blood cells subjected to such forces would be rounded off into spheres.

By careful observations Haller ascertained the effects of respiration on the motion of the blood in the veins. He recorded that during inhalation the blood is driven into the heart from the large veins in its near vicinity and in the lungs, thereby easing the flow of the blood (he did not, however, state that the blood is in reality sucked up, like air). During exhalation the blood wells up in the veins of the head, neck, chest, and abdomen, as may be seen most clearly in a dissected brain. Before Haller’s investigations these movements of the blood in the brain were interpreted as evidence of contractions of the dura mater, which was thought to pump nervous fluid through the body, in analogy to the distribution of the blood.

Haller’s concern with respiration did not end with his studies of its role in the motion of the blood. As early as 1729 he devoted his first independent anatomical researches to the structure of the human diaphragm. In 1733 he published his initial, imperfect work on this subject (imperfect because, for example, the tendons in the lumbar portion of the diaphragm are omitted in the illustration). By 1744, however, Haller had made repeated observations of the diaphragm and was able to supply the first accurate picture of it. He had also meanwhile been conducting experiments on animals to clarify its functions.

Haller was less successful in his interpretation of the role of the intercostal muscles in respiration, since he stated that both of these lifted the ribs and were therefore responsible for inspiration. On this point he became involved in a controversy with Georg Erhard Hamberger, whose functional analysis of the intercostal muscles was more nearly correct. Haller was no more fortunate in his explanation of the cause of the individual breath; unable to adduce anything demonstrable, he held the eliciting cause to be a sense of constriction resulting from the welling up and retention of the blood. Haller was right, however, in his assertion, which he demonstrated experimentally, that the pleural cavity contains no air—a discovery highly significant in understanding the process of breathing.

The results of Haller’s investigations of the nervous system were still more important. He was able to demonstrate (against the assertion of Thomas Willis) that the cerebellum is not a primary regulatory mechanism for heart activity and respiration, and likewise refuted the theory that the corpus callosum is the seat of the soul.

The most important aspects of Haller’s research were his findings on sensibility and irritability. Although the concept of irritability may be found earlier in the work of Francis Glisson and Giorgio Baglivi, Haller was responsible for its acceptance and wide dissemination. He came to study it through his work on the action of the heart; as early as 1740, in his notes to Boerhaave’s lectures, Haller had assumed that the cause of cardiac activity—still unknown—must lie within the structure of the heart itself, and he gradually came to attribute such activity to muscle irritability. He next established that every animal muscle fiber contracts upon stimulation and explained that the continuous function of the vital organs requires a continuous stimulus, even when the animal organs are in a resting state. Relying upon his experimental data, he then designated as irritable all the parts of the human or animal body that contract on external contact. He classified his data on a scale graduated from highly irritable (parts that reacted to slight contact) to slightly irritable (parts that required a strong external impression).

What Haller understood as irritability is, then, identical with the contractibility of muscle fibers; it can be provoked by mechanical, thermal, chemical, or electrical stimuli. The nerves play no intermediate role in this process. Haller expressly stated that the ordinary stimulation of the muscle fibers indeed could not depend on an electrical process in the nerves. Despite such limitations, Haller’s experiments and conclusions may well be taken as the basis for modern neurophysiology (Rudolph, 1967).

Haller’s observations on the sensibility of parts of the body were derived, like his observations on irritability, from extensive experiments on animals. He viewed irritability and sensibility as independent phenomena and approached sensibility as a property of tissues imbued with nerves. His experimental method was simple; having determined which part of the animal he wished to examine, he stimulated that part in any of a number of ways (ranging from simply blowing on it to applying heat or chemicals or inflicting a mechanical injury, as by cutting or tearing). If the animal responded by showing signs of pain or discomfort, he classified the part in question as sensitive.

Although Haller conducted a great many experiments in an effort to ensure the reliability of his conclusions, some of his interpretations of the data were erroneous. For example, he held that tendons, ligaments, and meninges were insensible and that they therefore contained no nerves—although he later granted that tendons might be provided with very small nerves, from which a weak response might be expected. More important, he declared the periosteum, pleura, peritoneum, intesline, and cornea of the eye to be insensitive.

Despite his occasional misinterpretation of the facts in hand, Haller set an important example for his followers in drawing his conclusions from experiments rather than analogies. Moreover, in extended form, his ideas concerning irritability and sensibility became the basis of a medical system and a buttress of vitalism. Bichat drew upon Haller in his classifications of vital properties.

Haller applied his experimental methods to his studies of embryological development as well. He came to these studies through his investigations of the human gonads (he gave the first correct description of the rete testis, to which the designation Halleri is added in his honor). He then took up the chief generative problem of his time: the origin of the new individual. Controversies abounded on many sides—some investigators held the male parent to be the more important in creating the embryo, and others championed the female; the question of spontaneous generation was undecided, and ovists and animalculists argued for completely opposing views. A fundamental opposition also existed between evolutionists (preformationists), who based their theories on the development of an organism already formed in the egg or the sperm, and epigenicists, who asserted the new formation of all parts of the embryo body.

Haller began systematic investigations on hatching chicken eggs and, following the example of Harvey, on mammals. He repeatedly attempted the necessary microscopic observations but met with considerable difficulty, in part because of his poor eyesight and in part because the methods used to prepare embryos for study often resulted in the formation of artifacts. He had particular trouble with the eggs on which he based much of his embryological theory; he was unable to distinguish clearly between the yolk membrane and the yolk sac (Cole, 1930), and he failed to see the infolding process typical of epigenesis (Needham, 1959). He thus became an adherent of the theory of the predominance of the egg and the development of the preformed embryo on stimulation by the sperm—a position that he maintained until the end of his life, even after Kaspar Friedrich Wolff’s demonstration (1768) that the intestinal tube of the developing chick emerges by folding out of an originally flat tissue area.

Of his conversion to evolutionism, Haller wrote, “It emerges sufficiently from my writings that I inclined toward the epigenetic theory, which seemed to me to agree better with the appearances. The latter, however, are so complicated and the evidence on both sides so disparate, that I hope for complete forbearance if I go over to the opposed opinion of the evolutionists” (Operum anatomici argumenti minorunm, II [1767], 406–407). His authoritative adherence to this theory presented an obstacle to the further development of embryology for some time afterward.

Although he chose to pay allegiance to an older and already unsatisfactory general theory, Haller made important specific discoveries in embryology. He was thus able to correct an error of Malpighi, who thought that he had observed a passageway connecting the right and left ventricles in the embryonic chick heart. He was further able to refute Jean Mery by showing that the blood flows from right to left through the foramen ovale in the interatrial septum; and he perceived correctly that the branches of the umbilical vein leading into the fetal liver correspond to the branches of the portal vein in later development. Although he based his theory of ossification on the false assumption that the cartilage is directly transformed into bone, he described with great accuracy the vascular system that supplies the bones. Indeed, Haller’s views on ossification were accepted until the advent of cell theory, although his finding that the periosteum—by which later workers (see especially Rita Schär) have established that he meant only its fibrous layer—has no bone-forming properties was frequently misunderstood.

Haller’s most important finding in embryology again shows his statistical bias; he was able to devise a numerical method to demonstrate the rate of growth of the fetal body and its parts. By this quantitative determination he showed that fetal growth is relatively rapid in its earlier stages but that the tempo gradually decreases. These observations were entirely new and remain fundamentally correct (Needham, 1959). Their significance seems to have eluded Haller, however, since he does not mention them in a list of his own original anatomical and physiological discoveries.

Despite his considerable effort in anatomy and physiology, Haller did not neglect the botanical observations that had likewise occupied him from his early years in Basel. Characteristically, he set himself to create a complete, encyclopedic science of Swiss flora. He thus addressed himself to the most important botanical problem of the time—a comprehensive nomenclature. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Haller rejected the idea of the constancy of species; he would accept a plant species as such only after he had compared a large number of typical examples in order to establish the degree of their potential variability. To the same end he also studied cultivated plants and controlled stages of development. Nonetheless, he had difficulty in placing related species within families, and he remained entangled in verbose descriptive names.

Although they never worked together, Haller discussed with Linnaeus the problem of a natural system for botanical classification. Indeed, Haller’s traditional orientation led him to reject the simplicity of Linnaeus’ sexual system of classification and the resulting binary nomenclature. In his independent search for some other system, Haller did meet with some success, particularly with his work on the cryptogams, published in his Enumeratio methodica stirpium Helvetiae indigenarum (1742), which was recognized even by Linnaeus.

Nor did Haller neglect his herbarium, which was enriched by specimens sent by numerous correspondents. Preserved in the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, this Swiss collection continues to aid science. Other of Haller’s plant collections have been maintained in Göttingen, where they have been recently examined and rearranged.

After completion of his collection of plants at Roche, Haller published a new edition of his major treatise on Swiss flora, Historia stirpium indigenarum Helvetiae inchoata (1768), which long remained a model study of this thoroughly investigated area. Haller provided a geographical description of the country, together with a survey of the changing vegetation cover as influenced by climate, and illustrated the work with extraordinarily beautiful plates. The book brought him universal recognition, and as a result several plants were named for him.

A later botanical work, the two-volume Bibliotheca botanica (1771–1772), is still useful and serves to illustrate yet another of Haller’s interests. Throughout his scientific career, Haller thoroughly studied everything that had been published on any given subject; it is therefore natural that he turned his systematizing instincts toward bibliography. His first such work was his annotation of his lecture transcripts of Boerhaave’s Institutiones medicae (1739). Although used as a kind of textbook of physiology, it soon became outdated and Haller therefore wrote his Primae lineae physiologiae (1747), which enjoyed great popularity for many years. His completion of Boerhaave’s Methodus studii medici (1751) contains many additions of a purely bibliographical nature—a 100-page listing of works on physics, a meager fifteen pages of works on chemistry, ninety-five pages of references on botany and pharmacy, and more than 300 pages of literature on anatomy and physiology. Haller here maintained the arrangement used by Boerhaave but was characteristically unsatisfied with it.

After returning to Bern, Haller began an eight-volume handbook of physiology, Elementa physiologiae corporis humani (1757). Certainly not the least important source of his immense knowledge of scientific literature had come from his numerous book reviews, especially for the Göttingische Zeitungen von gelehrten Sachen, a monthly journal which became well known under his direction (1747–1753) and to which he also contributed regularly in later years.

Haller planned a vast, comprehensive Bibliotheca medica. The completed parts list more than 50,000 titles; those marked with a small star were contained in Haller’s own library, which is thus easily reconstituted. The works also comprise a number of brief biographical notes on the authors listed and cite historically interesting relationships between authors and between works. That Haller occasionally referred to the unified work as his Historiae indicates the point of view from which he planned to compose it.

In his old age Haller also turned to fiction and wrote three philosophical romances—Usong (1771), Alfred (1773), and Fabius und Cato (1774)—in which he drew upon his political experience and expounded his ideas of government. He also wrote on theology; in particular he defended Christianity and polemicized against atheism.

The many controversies which accompanied Haller’s literary and scientific work throughout his life are intentionally omitted here. Although they may have been necessary to spur on the completion of his studies, they brought him much trouble and distress for he was unable to bear another’s error in silence.


I Original Works. A bibliography of Haller’s works is Susanna Lundsgaard-Hansen-von Fischer, “Verzeichnis der gedruckten Schriften Albreeht von Hallers,” Berner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, no. 18 (1959).

His most important works are Hermanni Boerhaave Praelectiones academicae in proprias institutiones reimedicae edidit..., 7 vols. (Göttingen, 1739–1744); Enumeratio methodica stirpium Helvetiae indigenarum (Göttingen, 1742); Icones anatomicae quibus praecipuae aliquae partes corporis humani delineatae proponuntur et arteriarum potissimum historia continuatur, 4 fascs, (Göttingen, 1743–1754); Primae lineae physiologiae in usum praelectionem aeademtcarum (Göfttingen, 1747 and later eds., of which the 1786 ed. is repr. with a new intro. by Lester S. King, New York-London, 1966); Opuscula botanica (Göuingen, 1749); Opuscula anatomica (Göttingen, 1751); Hermanni Boerhaave Methodus studii medici emaculata et accessionibus locupletata ab Alberto ab Haller (Amsterdam, 1751); “De partibus corporis humani sensilibus et irritabilibus,” in Commentarii Societatis Regiae Scientiarum Gottingensis, 2 (1753), 114–158, later separately pub., of which an English trans. of the 1755 ed. with intro. by Owsei Temkin is in Bulletin of the Institute of History of Medicine, 4 (1936), 651–699; Elementa physiologiae corporis humani, 8 vols. (Lausanne, 1757–1766); Opera minora emendata, aucta, et renovata, 3 vols. (Lausanne, 1763–1768); Historia stirpium indigenarum Helvetiae inchoata, 2 vols. (Bern, 1768); Bibliotheca botanica, 2 vols. (Zurich, 1771–1772); and Bibliotheca anatomica qua scripta ad anatomen et physiologiam, 2 vols. (Zurich, 1774–1777).

Haller’s MS remains are listed in Letizia Pecorella Vergnano, II fondo Halleriano della Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense di Milano. Vicende storiche e catalogo dei manoscritti, no. 8 in the series Studi e Testi, Istituto di Storia della Medicina (Milan, 1965), which includes references to MSS in the civic library of Bern and in the library of the University of Pavia.

Editions of Haller’s correspondence are Erich Hintzsche, ed., Albrecht von Haller-Giambattista Morgagni Briefwechsel 1745–1768 (Bern, 1964); Albrecht von Haller-Ignazio Somis Briefwechsel 1754–1777 (Bern-Stuttgart, 1965); and Albrecht von Haller-Marcantonio Caldani Briefwechsel 1756–1776 (Bern-Stuttgart, 1966); and Henry E. Sigerist, “Albrecht von Hallers Briefe an Johannes Gesner (1728–1777),” in Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Math-phys. Kl., n.s. 11 (1923), viii, 576. Editions of the notebooks of Haller’s student years are E. Hintzsche, ed., “Albrecht Halters Tagebuch seiner Studienreise nach London, Paris, Strassburg und Basel, 1727–1728,” in Berner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, n.s. 2 (1968), and “Albrecht Hallers Tagebücher seiner Reisen nach Deutschland, Holland und England, 1723–1727” in Berner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin and der Naturwissenschaften, n.s. 4 (197]).

II. Secondary Literature. On Haller and his work see Heinrich Buess, “Zur Entwicklung der Irritabilitätslehre,” in Festschrift für Jacques Brodbeck-Sandreuter (Basel, 1942), pp. 299–333; Michael Foster, Lectures on the History of Physiology During the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1924); Eduard Frey, “Albrecht von Haller als Lichenologe,” in Mitteilungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Bern, n.s. 21 (1964), 1–64; Baldur Gloor, “Die künstlerischen Mitarbeiter an den naturwissenschaftlichen und medizinischen Werken Albrecht von Hallers,” in Berner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, no. 15 (1958); Ernst Grünthal, Albrecht von Haller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe und ihre Nachkommen (Bern-Munich, 1965); Kurt Guggisberg, “Albrecht von Haller als Persönlichkeit,” in Berner Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Heimatkunde (1961), pp. 1–12; Erich Hintzsche, “Albrecht Hallers anatomische Arbeit in Basel und Bern 1728–1736,” in Zeitschrift für Anatomie und Entwicklungsgeschichte, 111 (1941), 452–460; “Einige kritische Bemerkungen zur Bio- und Ergographie Albrecht von Hallers,” in Gesnerus, 16 (1959), 1–15; “Neue Funde zum Thema: ‘L’homme machine’ und Albrecht Haller,” ibid., 25 (1968), 135–166; and “Boerhaaviana aus der Burgerbibliothek in Bern,” in G, A. Lindeboom. ed., Boerhaave and His Time (Leíden, 1970), pp. 144–164; Enrich Hintzsehe and Jörn Henning Wolf, “Albrecht von Hallers Abhandlung über die Wirkung des Opiums auf den menschlichen Körper in Berner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, no. 19 (1962); Erna Lesky, “Albrecht von Haller und Anton de Haen im Streit um die Lehre von der Sensibilitä,” in Gesnerus16 (1959), 16–46; B. Milt, “Empirie und das statistisch fundierte biologisch-medizinische Denken in der Geschichte,” ibid., 13 (1956), 1–28: Joseph Needham, A History of Embryology, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1959), pp. 193–204; K. E. Rolhschuh, Geschichte der Physiologie (Berlin-Göttingen-Heidelberg, 1953), pp. 76–80; G. Rudolph, “Hallers Lehre von der Irritabilität und Sensibilität,” in K. E. Rothschuh, ed., Von Boerhaave bis Berger (Stuttgart, 1964), pp. 14–34; and “L’irritabilité Hallérienne point de départ de la neurophysiologie,” in Actualités neurophysiologiques, 7th ser. (1967), 295–319; Rita Schär, “Albrecht von Hallers neue anatomisch-physiologische Befunde und ihre heutige Güiltigkeit” in Berner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, no. 16 (1958); Irmela Voss, Das pathologisch-anatomische Werk Albrecht v. Hallers in Göttingen (Göttingen, 1937); Peter Wobmann, “Albrecht von Haller, der Begründer der modernen Hämodynanlik,” in Archiv für Kreislaufforschung, 52 (1967), 96–128; Carlo Zanetti and Ursula Wimmer-Aeschlimann, “Eine Geschichte der An atomie und Physiologie von Albrecht von Haller,” in Berner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, n.s. 1 (1968); and Heinrich Zoller, “A l’occasion du 250e anniversaire de Albrecht von Haller. Quelques remarques sur son oeuvre botanique et ses collections,” in Bulletin du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 2nd ser., 30 (1958), 305–312; “Albrecht von Hallers Pflanzensammlungen in Göttingen, sein botanisches Werk und sein Verhältnis zu Carl von Linné,” in Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Math.-phys. Kl. (1958), 217–252; and “Albrecht von Haller als Botaniker,” in R, Blaser and H Buess, eds., Aktuelle Probleme aus der Geschichte der Medizin (Basel-New York, 1966), pp. 461–463.

Erich Hintzsche

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Haller, Albrecht Von (1708–1777)


HALLER, ALBRECHT VON (17081777), Swiss physician, anatomist, and poet. Haller was born in Bern, Switzerland, the youngest son of a lawyer. He began his medical studies in Tübingen in 1724, then moved to Leiden to continue his training under the famed Herman Boerhaave (16681738). After receiving his degree in 1727, Haller traveled in England, where he was enormously impressed with English science and literature; Paris, which he left in haste when pursued by authorities for dissecting cadavers in his rooms; and Basel, where he sojourned for two years, studying mathematics with the renowned Johann Bernoulli I (16671748) and teaching anatomy. Haller returned to Bern to practice medicine, but he was unsuccessful in obtaining an academic position and served as a librarian in the state library. During these early years Haller journeyed frequently through the Alps, collecting botanical specimens that led later to several publications on Swiss botany. Another result was Haller's most well-known poem, "Die Alpen"(1728), which was published in 1732 in Versuch Schweizerischer Gedichte, a collection of his poems that went through several editions.

When the University of Göttingen opened its doors in 1736, Haller was selected as professor of anatomy, surgery, and medicine. He remained at Göttingen for seventeen years, during which he published his most significant work in physiology, proposing the concept of muscular "irritability," in 1753. He developed one of the leading medical centers of Europe in Göttingen, was first president of its scientific society, and served as editor of an academic journal, in which he published some nine thousand book reviews.

One of Haller's greatest ambitions was to be elected to the ruling governing council (the "small council") in Bern, which would have catapulted him into the aristocracy. In 1753 he abruptly resigned his post in Göttingen to accept a minor administrative position in Bern. Named director of the saltworks in Roche five years later, Haller busied himself with public service but never advanced any further up the political scale.

Haller's scientific work continued to advance, however, particularly through his observations on chick development. These led in 1758 to his conversion to the theory of preexistence of germs (the idea that God had created all future organisms at once). Haller had previously supported the opposing theory of epigenesis (the theory of gradual development at each instance of reproduction). Over the next few years Haller published his masterful eight-volume Elementa physiologiae corporis humani (17571766; Elements of the physiology of the human body), which furthered his program of uniting anatomy and physiology under anatomia animata (living anatomy).

Haller has been characterized as "the last universal scholar" of the Enlightenment. As a scientist he contributed to medicine, physiology, anatomy, embryology, and botany. He wrote articles for over thirty academic journals and published poetry, three political novels, and works on political theory and religious apologetics. Never one to shy away from controversy, he was involved in numerous disputes in science and philosophy. Throughout his life Haller held fast to a Newtonian vision of nature deeply rooted in morality and religion and rejected the more radical facets of Enlightenment thought.

See also Anatomy and Physiology ; Boerhaave, Herman ; Enlightenment ; Scientific Revolution .


Primary Source

Haller, Albrecht von. The Natural Philosophy of Albrecht von Haller. Edited by Shirley A. Roe. New York, 1981. Collection of primary and secondary sources.

Secondary Sources

Toellner, Richard. Albrecht von Haller: Über die Einheit im Denken des letzten Universalgelehrten. Sudhoffs Archive Beihefte, no. 10. Wiesbaden, 1971.

Wiswall, Dorothy Roller. A Comparison of Selected Poetic and Scientific Works of Albrecht von Haller. Bern, 1981.

Shirley A. Roe

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Albrecht Von Haller

Albrecht Von Haller

The Swiss physician Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) conducted experiments in organic sensibility and irritability that are landmarks in the development of physiology.

Albrecht von Haller was born in Bern on Oct. 16, 1708. He lacked the strength to participate in the more ordinary pursuits of childhood and, under the guidance of a tutor, turned to scholarly activities. Among other things, he studied languages and wrote poetry. At 15 he entered the University of Tübingen to study medicine; he moved to the University of Leiden in 1725 and received a doctorate there in 1727.

For the next 2 years Haller studied in London and Paris and at the University of Basel. At Basel he became interested in botany, and studies started there culminated in the publication of a flora of Switzerland in 1742, Enumeratio methodica stirpium Helveticarum. More immediately, his botanical field studies in the Alps inspired him to write Die Alpen, his best-known poem, which was published in his Versuch Schweizerischer Gedichte in 1732. This poem introduced the concept of mountain beauty to the literary world. In 1729 he began medical practice in his native Bern. In 1736 he was appointed professor of anatomy, surgery, and botany at the newly founded University of Göttingen, where he stayed until 1753.

At Göttingen, Haller's interest turned to physiology, and in 1747 he authored the first textbook of physiology, Primae lineae physiologiae. His most important work was on the irritability and sensibility of organs. Although both concepts predated Haller, he was the first to demonstrate experimentally that sensibility (the ability to produce sensation) existed only in organs supplied with nerves, while irritability (a reaction to stimuli) was a property of the organ or tissue. His concept of irritability was particularly important in efforts to understand muscle physiology. His ideas were published in 1753 in De partibus corporis humani sensibilibus et irritabilibus.

In 1753 Haller returned to Bern. He took a position with the Swiss state service and then, from 1758 until 1764, was resident manager of the Bernese saltworks. His detailed, eight-volume compendium of information on physiology, Elementa physiologiae corporis humani, appeared between 1759 and 1766.

On Dec. 12, 1777, Haller died. His influence as a teacher and his publications, numbering in the thousands, guided development in physiology for a century. His research method laid the lasting foundations of experimental physiology.

Further Reading

There are several biographical sketches of Haller. These vary in their usefulness, but a good introduction is the chapter on Haller in Henry Sigerist, The Great Doctors (trans. 1933). Arturo Castiglioni, A History of Medicine (trans. 1941; rev. ed. 1947), and Ralph Hermon Major, A History of Medicine (vol. 2, 1954), discuss Haller and his work and are recommended for historical background.

Additional Sources

Haller, Albrecht von, The natural philosophy of Albrecht von Haller, New York:Arno Press, 1981. □

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Haller, (Victor) Albrecht von

Haller, (Victor) Albrecht von

Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) was one of the great heroic figures of early biology. He is considered the father of neurology, the study of the nervous system. Born in Bern, Switzerland, Haller was not a healthy child, but he displayed great intellectual talents at an early age. He wrote scholarly articles at the age of eight and by the age of ten had completed a Greek dictionary. Haller enrolled as a medical student at the University of Leyden and earned his degree at the age of 19. Haller began his own medical practice in 1729 at the age of 21, and continued in private practice until 1736. He was then appointed Professor of Anatomy, Botany, and Medicine at the newly created University of Gottingen.

Haller Studies Nerves and Muscles

Haller had interests and talents in a wide range of fields, but he is probably best known for his work on nerves and muscles. When he began his research, little was known about the structure and function of nerves or about their control of muscles. A popular theory of the time held that nerves were hollow tubes through which a spirit or fluid flowed. Haller rejected this idea, however, since no one had ever been able to locate or identify such a spirit or fluid.

Instead, Haller concentrated on two specific reactions that seemed to involve the nerves: irritability and sensibility. By irritability Haller meant the contraction of a muscle that occurs when a stimulus is applied to the muscle, such as when one feels pain from a hot object, and the muscles move one's arm, leg, etc., away from the heat. Haller found that irritability increases when the stimulus is applied to the nerve connected to a muscle, so he concluded that the stimulus was transmitted from the nerve to the muscle.

In his study of sensibility, testing to see which body tissues could "feel," Haller found that ordinary tissue does not respond to stimuli, but that nerves do. He showed that stimuli applied to nerve endings traveled through the body, into the spinal column, and eventually into the brain. By removing certain parts of the brain, he was then able to show how each part affects specific muscular actions.

Haller continued his research at Gottingen until 1753, when he returned to Bern. He spent the remaining twenty years of his life in research, writing, and government service until he died in Bern on December 17, 1777.

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Haller, Karl Christoph Joachim, Freiherr von Hallerstein

Haller, Karl Christoph Joachim, Freiherr von Hallerstein (1774–1817). German architect. A pupil of David Gilly, he was one of the first (with T. Allason and C. R. Cockerell) to discover the entasis on Greek columns. With Foster, Jakob Linckh (1786–1841), and Cockerell he discovered the Aegina marbles (1811), and helped to survey the temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae. He submitted a design for the Walhalla, near Regensburg (1814–15), consisting of a massive series of battered platforms, a propylaeum with three pylon-towers, and a Greek Revival temple on top, obviously inspired by F. Gilly's monument to Frederick the Great (1797). His unrealized proposals for the Munich Glyptothek (Sculpture Gallery—1814) combined Greek and Egyptian elements. Leo von Klenze built both projects to his own designs, retaining Haller's platform idea at Walhalla.


Colvin (1995);
Watkin & and Mellinghoff (1987)

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Haller, Albrecht von

Albrecht von Haller (äl´brĕcht fən hä´lər), 1708–77, Swiss scientist and writer. He had already won distinction as botanist and poet when he was appointed (1736) professor of anatomy, medicine, and botany at the Univ. of Göttingen. There he carried on the research in experimental physiology for which he is especially famed and on which he based his theory of the irritability (known today as contractility) of muscle tissue, set forth in A Dissertation on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals (1732, tr. 1936). He returned (1753) to his native Bern, where he continued his research and took part in public affairs. Among his voluminous writings are Elementa physiologiae corporis humani (8 vol., 1757–66); noted bibliographies in anatomy, surgery, botany, and medicine; and a volume of poems, Versuch schweizerischer Gedichte (1732).

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Haller, Albrecht von

Haller, Albrecht von (1708–77) Swiss biologist, physician, and poet. As a botanist he was celebrated for his descriptions of alpine flora, and as a poet for The Alps (1729), with its glorification of the mountains. In 1736, he researched the properties of muscle tissue, and his resulting treatise (1757–66) laid the foundations of modern neurology and physiology.

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