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AN AUTOBIOGRAPHIC SKETCH OTTO LOEWI, ?.?.* My Childhood and Education The background of a man's achievements is usually the most interesting part of his life story. An advantage of autobiography may be that its author reports more competently than others on his inner experience and its effects ; yet, even so, fiction may come into play because a retrospective report may not always truly reflect the past as it happened . Because of their fundamental and lasting influence on my intellectual and spiritual development I have to go back to the years I spent in the humanistic gymnasium in Frankfurt am Main, my native town. In my time, heavy emphasis was put on the study ofLatin (nine years) and Greek (six years). We were made familiar with more than the grammatical subtleties of these languages. Through reading and commenting on original texts, we also became acquainted with the civilizationofclassicalantiquity, which coveredalmost thewhole sphere ofhuman aspirations. This kind of study had unique and lasting value, not so .nuch by increasing factual knowledge, but by widening the horizon and encouraging the habit of independent thinking. At least equally important, it always seemed to me, is that during the formative * Department ofPharmacology, New York UniversityCollege ofMedicine, 550 First Avenue, New York 16, New York. years a young person spends a good part of study time on classical languages because they are not of immediate practical value and because the past has shown that this type of education usually favorably shaped the student's personality and influenced his whole attitude toward life. I was graduated from the gymnasium in 1891. One of my dearest memories from those school years is of the place where until 1890 we regularly spent our summer vacations. It was my father's estate, which consisted ofan old manor, a large, enchanting garden , and some vineyards. It was situated on a slope ofthe Haardt Mountains in thePalatinate, a wine district whose vintageshave deservedly been as famous as those from the vineyards on the Rhine. Each time I went there with my family my feelings for our country place were deepened. My memories of each detail are as vivid as if they were from yesterday and not seventy years ago. The Haardt was where I first picked a lily of the valley and plucked my first apricots from a tree. During the obligatory nine years thatI attended the gymnasium, I received poor marks in physics and mathematics. They were compensated by fairly good marks in the humanities. It was always understood that after graduation from the gymnasium I should study at a university. I was not one ofthose fortunate few who early display a definite talent which indicates the choice ofstudy. As a teenager I was already familiar with masterworks of the early Flemish painters through trips to Belgium. They deeply impressed me and caused me to become acquainted with works ofart, particularly paintings, whenever possible and to read relevant literature. In fact, my leaning to art became so strong that I wished to study the history ofart. The family, however, for practical reasons, was against this project and wanted me to study medicine. I gave in, and in the fall of 1891 went to Strassburg University . It ranked among the most excellent in Germany because after the Franco-German war Alsace-Lorrainehad become German, and Strassburg, its university, received all kinds of privileges to attract the very best scientists as professors. After my matriculation as a medical student, I began to attend regularly all the required preclinical lectures and courses. Right then and there I found out that a great scientist is not inevitably a good teacher. Consequently , I soon limited my attendance almost exclusively to the anatomy courses of Gustav Schwalbe, who was both an excellent scientist and a Orto Loewi · An Autobiographic Sketch Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Autumn i960 stimulating teacher. A good part of the time gained by playing hooky from medical courses I spent attending lectures at thephilosophical faculty —lectures covering the exact sciences as well as the humanities. I was particularly attracted by Georg Dehio, at that time the outstanding scholar of the history of German architecture. Another man who deeply impressed me was Wilhelm Windelband...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 3-25
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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