Since the end of the 1970s, studies on the life and work of the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854) have established themselves as an important concentration within the history of medicine and the history of science. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Schelling’s Naturphilosophie exerted an influence on younger physicians difficult to imagine today, and was the subject of heated debates in literary as well as academic circles. In 1802, he was granted the title “Doctor Medicinae” from the medical and surgical faculties of the Bamberg medical school, and he remained until 1808 the undisputed leader of what in German-language literature is known as “Romantic medicine.”
Werner Gerabek’s postdoctoral thesis at the medical faculty of the University of Würzburg, focusing on Schelling’s fruitful period in Würzburg (1803–6), offers the most complete examination of his contribution to medicine to date. Schelling’s most important discussions of medicine stem from his time in Würzburg [End Page 158] (as Horst Fuhrmans recognized in his seminal 1962 study Schelling: Briefe und Dokumente ). 1 The formation of his ideas is well reflected in his substantial correspondence with physicians and scientists, and came to a head with the publication of the Jahrbücher der Medizin als Wissenschaft in 1805–8.
Gerabek first sketches Schelling’s path to Würzburg: his appointment as part of a radical reorganization of the Bavarian university system, a result of the influence of the French Revolution, which included an annexation of Würzburg by Bavaria; the literary squabbles and social gossip that poisoned the academic environment; and finally his premature departure from Würzburg, which meant the end of all plans up to that point. Gerabek then turns to the medical theories propagated by Schelling and his circle, with the obvious intent of disproving the cliché that “romantic” medicine was hostile to empirical medicine. Romantic medicine sought, on the contrary, to find confirmation of its philosophical positions in the results of empirical medicine.
Unfortunately, there are important aspects of Gerabek’s work that leave something to be desired. A summary of all relevant literature was necessary; but aside from two interesting sections on the relationship of Schelling’s natural philosophy to Gall’s phrenology (pp. 376–87), and on mesmerism (pp. 93–105), the study merely reflects the current state of research. The page-long citations often make the text unnecessarily difficult. Clearly the greatest weakness, however, is Gerabek’s failure to unearth new sources, in spite of his claim at the beginning of the work that his study was “primarily the result of analysis of primary sources used systematically for the first time” (p. 31). A cursory examination of his citations reveals that most of the “new” primary sources are actually found either in works by Fuhrmans (1962–75), Tilliette (1974–88), and Pareyson (1977), or in special studies on the history of the University of Würzburg. The only truly new sources are, first, one of the several resignation letters that Schelling submitted, from April 1806 (pp. 422–24), and second, the statistics on the numbers of students from 1804–6 (pp. 145–47), which would have been more useful if reproduced in their entirety. In light of the extensive research performed, it is especially surprising that Schelling’s unpublished material in Berlin, the largest collection of letters to the philosopher, forms a notable omission.
In conclusion, Gerabek’s work is to be recommended as an introduction to the field of medicine of the Romantic Era. The bibliography is carefully compiled and contains many new titles. Overall, however, the study must be considered a missed opportunity to produce the seminal work on Schelling’s contribution to medicine.
1. Horst Fuhrmans, Schelling: Briefe und Dokumente (Bonn: Bouvier, 1962), vol. 1, pp. 287–88.