HALLER, ALBRECHT VON (1708–1777), Swiss anatomist and physiologist, was born of an old Swiss family at Bern, on the 16th of October 1708. Prevented by long-continued ill-health from taking part in boyish sports, he had the more opportunity for the development of his precocious mind. At the age of four, it is said, he used to read and expound the Bible to his father’s servants; before he was ten he had sketched a Chaldee grammar, prepared a Greek and a Hebrew vocabulary, compiled a collection of two thousand biographies of famous men and women on the model of the great works of Bayle and Moreri, and written in Latin verse a satire on his tutor, who had warned him against a too great excursiveness. When still hardly fifteen he was already the author of numerous metrical translations from Ovid, Horace and Virgil, as well as of original lyrics, dramas, and an epic of four thousand lines on the origin of the Swiss confederations, writings which he is said on one occasion to have rescued from a fire at the risk of his life, only, however, to burn them a little later (1729) with his own hand. Haller’s attention had been directed to the profession of medicine while he was residing in the house of a physician at Biel after his father’s death in 1721; and, following the choice then made, he while still a sickly and excessively shy youth went in his sixteenth year to the university of Tübingen (December 1723), where he studied under Camerarius and Duvernoy. Dissatisfied with his progress, he in 1725 exchanged Tübingen for Leiden, where Boerhaave was in the zenith of his fame, and where Albinus had already begun to lecture in anatomy. At that university he graduated in May 1727, undertaking successfully in his thesis to prove that the so-called salivary duct, claimed as a recent discovery by Coschwitz, was nothing more than a blood-vessel. Haller then visited London, making the acquaintance of Sir Hans Sloane, Cheselden, Pringle, Douglas and other scientific men; next, after a short stay in Oxford, he visited Paris, where he studied under Ledran and Winslöw; and in 1728 he proceeded to Basel, where he devoted himself to the study of the higher mathematics under John Bernoulli. It was during his stay there also that his first great interest in botany was awakened; and, in the course of a tour (July-August, 1828), through Savoy, Baden and several of the Swiss cantons, he began a collection of plants which was afterwards the basis of his great work on the flora of Switzerland. From a literary point of view the main result of this, the first of his many journeys through the Alps, was his entitled Die Alpen, which was finished in March 1729, and appeared in the first edition (1732) of his Gedichte. This poem of 490 hexameters is historically important as one of the earliest signs of the awakening appreciation of the mountains (hitherto generally regarded as horrible monstrosities), though it is chiefly designed to contrast the simple and idyllic life of the inhabitants of the Alps with the corrupt and decadent existence of the dwellers in the plains.
In 1729 he returned to Bern and began to practise as a physician; his best energies, however, were devoted to the botanical and anatomical researches which rapidly gave him a European reputation, and procured for him from George II. in 1736 a call to the chair of medicine, anatomy, botany and surgery in the newly founded university of Göttingen. He became F.R.S. in 1743, and was ennobled in 1749. The quantity of work achieved by Haller in the seventeen years during which he occupied his Göttingen professorship was immense. Apart from the ordinary work of his classes, which entailed upon him the task of newly organizing a botanical garden, an anatomical theatre and museum, an obstetrical school, and similar institutions, he carried on without interruption those original investigations in botany and physiology, the results of which are preserved in the numerous works associated with his name; he continued also to persevere in his youthful habit of poetical composition, while at the same time he conducted a monthly journal (the Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen), to which he is said to have contributed twelve thousand articles relating to almost every branch of human knowledge. He also warmly interested himself in most of the religious questions, both ephemeral and permanent, of his day; and the erection of the Reformed church in Göttingen was mainly due to his unwearied energy. Notwithstanding all this variety of absorbing interests he never felt at home in Göttingen; his untravelled heart kept ever turning towards his native Bern (where he had been elected a member of the great council in 1745), and in 1753 he resolved to resign his chair and return to Switzerland.
The twenty-one years of his life which followed were largely occupied in the discharge of his duties in the minor political post of a Rathhausammann which he had obtained by lot, and in the preparation of his Bibliotheca medica, the botanical, surgical and anatomical parts of which he lived to complete; but he also found time to write the three philosophical romances—Usong (1771), Alfred (1773) and Fabius and Cato (1774),—in which his views as to the respective merits of despotism, of limited monarchy and of aristocratic republican government are fully set forth. About 1773 the state of his health rendered necessary his entire withdrawal from public business; for some time he supported his failing strength by means of opium, on the use of which he communicated a paper to the Proceedings of the Göttingen Royal Society in 1776; the excessive use of the drug is believed, however, to have hastened his death, which occurred on the 17th of December 1777. Haller, who had been three times married, left eight children, the eldest of whom, Gottlieb Emanuel, attained to some distinction as a botanist and as a writer on Swiss historical bibliography (1785–1788, 7 vols.).
Subjoined is a classified but by no means an exhaustive list of his very numerous works in various branches of science and literature (a complete list, up to 1775, numbering 576 items, including various editions, was published by Haller himself, in 1775, at the end of vol. 6 of the correspondence addressed to him by various learned friends):—(1) Anatomical:—Icones anatomicae (1743–1754); Disputationes anatomicae selectiores (1746–1752); and Opera acad. minora anatomici argumenti (1762–1768). (2) Physiological:—De respiratione experimenta anatomica (1747); Primae lineae physiologiae (1747); and Elementa physiologiae corporis humani (1757–1760). (3) Pathological and surgical:—Opuscula pathologica (1754); Disputationum chirurg. collectio (1777); also careful editions of Boerhaave’s Praelectiones academicae in suas institutiones rei medicae (1739), and of the Artis medicae principia of the same author (1769–1774). (4) Botanical:—Enumeratio methodica stirpium Helveticarum (1742); Opuscula botanica (1749); Bibliotheca botanica (1771). (5) Theological:—Briefe über die wichtigsten Wahrheiten der Offenbarung (1772); and Briefe zur Vertheidigung der Offenbarung (1775–1777). (6) Poetical:—Gedichte (1732, 12th ed., 1777). His three romances have been already mentioned. Several volumes of lectures and “Tagebücher” or journals were published posthumously.
See J. G. Zimmermann, Das Leben des Herrn von Haller (1755), and the articles by Förster and Seiler in Ersch and Gruber’s Encyklopädie, and particularly the detailed biography (over 500 pages) by L. Hirzel, printed at the head of his elaborate edition (Frauenfeld, 1882) of Haller’s Gedichte.