Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78.1 (2004) 225-226
[Access article in PDF]
Klaus Pfeifer. Medizin der Goethezeit: Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland und die Heilkunst des 18. Jahrhunderts. Cologne: Böhlau, 2000. x + 293 pp. Ill. DM 58.00 (3-412-13199-7).
Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland was one of the most famous medical personalities in German medicine during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Born into a long-established family of physicians in Thüringen in 1762, he studied medicine in Jena and Göttingen, and held prestigious positions during his lifetime in the courts of Weimar and Prussia and in the universities and government ministries in Jena and Berlin. Best known as a scholar for his work Makrobiotik, oder Die Kunst, das menschliche Leben zu verlängern, and as a teacher for his development of clinical instruction, Hufeland was also personal physician to the families of such literary greats as Wieland, Herder, Schiller, and Goethe. To Klaus Pfeifer, "Goethe's time" was marked by great advances in the natural sciences, as well as the pursuit of deep connections between all bodies of knowledge. Hufeland, he sets out to show, captured this spirit: deeply committed to scientific research, he also nurtured friendships with poets, philosophers, and theologians. But it is Hufeland's understanding of the role of the physician that seems most to move Pfeifer, who ends his introductory chapter with Hufeland's dictum that "the best physician is someone who is simultaneously a friend" (p. x) (my translation).
Pfeifer, a practicing surgeon, shows his admiration for the man about whom he is writing throughout the book. Unfortunately, this has resulted in an absence of critical distance from his subject. Author of an earlier sketch of Hufeland's life (Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland: Mensch und Werk, 1968), Pfeifer explains his and the publisher's decision not simply to reissue that sketch, but rather to produce a lengthier study that would take into account the latest findings. The finished product does not, however, accomplish this goal. Indeed, it is unclear what the author means by the latest findings, since he shows no familiarity with recent work in German history or in the history of medicine. One result is that he casts Hufeland as part of a tradition that helped move medicine away from religion and speculative concepts to its modern foundations in science, an interpretation of turn-of-the-century German medicine that has been greatly revised by scholars over the past few decades. The book does include some interesting sections—such as the chapter on Hufeland's daily activities when he practiced private [End Page 225] medicine in Weimar—but on the whole, it is extremely disappointing. It contains many quotations but relatively few citations, so that the curious reader has no way of checking the author's sources. Moreover, the chapters often seem to be little more than one long list of facts, rather than a coherent narrative that helps the reader understand the many ways in which Hufeland's life stands as a mirror of his times.
Lively and informative works in the history of medicine have often been written by individuals other than trained historians. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. The book is poorly written and poorly edited. Several of the chapters run ten to fifteen pages without a single paragraph break. Böhlau Verlag has done Dr. Pfeifer a disservice by failing to copyedit this book more carefully.