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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78.1 (2004) 220-221

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Urs Boschung, Barbara Braun-Bucher, Stefan Hächler, Anne Kathrin Ott, Hubert Steinke, and Martin Stuber, eds. Repertorium zu Albrecht von Hallers Korrespondenz, 1724-1777. 2 vols. Studia Halleriana, nos. VII/1, VII/2. Basel: Schwabe, 2002. Vol. 1: xlviii + 634 pp.; vol. 2: 352 pp., with accompanying CD-ROM. Ill. €119.00, Sw. Fr. 198.00 (3-7965-1325-5).

Albrecht von Haller was not only one of the foremost life scientists and medical bibliographers of his day but also an indefatigable letter writer and collector. He corresponded with some 1,200 individuals, who wrote from roughly 450 different locations in Europe. Of the nearly 17,000 letters in the correspondence that have survived in some form, Haller's own account for barely one-fifth of the total, many having been lost or destroyed. More of his, however, have been published.

The correspondence covers a broad range of topics—from poetry to politics, botany to bookselling, farming to philosophy—but it is especially rich in material [End Page 220] for the history of medicine. About half of Haller's correspondents studied, practiced, or taught medicine at one time or another, in an age when medical consultations by letter were commonplace. Former students at the University of Göttingen, where Haller taught for seventeen years, often wrote to him about their study trips to the medical centers of Europe and about their subsequent careers. Reports on epidemics, postmortems, discoveries and disputes in the medical sciences, new materia medica and surgical techniques, and other matters of interest to physicians are central to many of the exchanges.

Until now the only printed inventory of Haller's correspondence was a small booklet published in 1937 but never widely distributed. One of the goals of the Haller Project, a collaborative venture of the Burgerbibliothek Bern and the Medizinhistorisches Institut of the University of Bern, was to make this vast collection of documents much more readily accessible to researchers. The sheer number and length of the letters rendered it impractical to undertake a complete edition (like that of, say, Voltaire's correspondence), or even to provide summaries of all of them. Instead, the present Repertorium offers for each correspondent the main themes of his (rarely her) exchange with Haller, followed by a chronological listing of all the letters. The information for every letter includes date, place of origin, language(s), length, current location of manuscript or best copy, and publication history (if any). Sidebars on the folio-size pages give concise biographies, which my spot checks found to be very reliable; it is indicative of the editorial team's thorough scholarship that some of the vitae are based on original archival research. The overall presentation is in German, but the introductory sections are in English translation as well. One of these tells how the great bulk of Haller's letter collection, long bound in sixty-four large volumes, came to be in Bern's Burgerbibliothek, where the letters were recently unbound, restored, and sorted alphabetically by author. Another section outlines, with the help of maps and charts, how the thematic and geographical foci of the correspondence changed over time.

For anyone studying Haller's life or thought, the Repertorium is obviously an invaluable reference tool. Scholars interested in specific topics or individuals will profit from a more selective use of it. All will welcome the indexes of persons, publications, place-names, and general subjects found in volume 2, which also contains lists of all the surviving letters both in chronological order and in alphabetical order by place of origin. The electronic version of the work, on the included CD-ROM, facilitates other searches and the downloading of information. In summary, this publication admirably fills a long-standing need for a comprehensive and detailed guide to a great eighteenth-century correspondence.

Otto Sonntag
New York University



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