Primæ Liniæ Physiologiæ - Basic Physiology (1751)
Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777)
Albrecht von Haller or Albertus de Haller was a Swiss anatomist, physiologist, botanist, literary man, a giant of the 18th century. He is considered as one of the most accomplished men in history of science. Born in Bern, Switzerland, he lost his father at the age 13. At age 16 he enrolled at University of Tubingen (Germany) but subsequently moved to the University of Leiden (Holland) to study with the famous Dutch botanist and chemist, Herman Boerhaave and anatomist Bernhard Albinus, both at the peak of their career. Haller graduated from Leiden at age 21. As a life-long student, he continued his education at University of Gottingen, obtaining his doctorate in 1752 at age 44. But by this time he has published extensively and travelled widely throughout Europe and the UK.
His iconoclastic approach to understanding basic human physiology led to major works. The volume in our collection was originally published in 1747. Some of his other works extend to 8 volumes, each (Icones Anatomicae (1743-1756), or Elementa Physiologiae Corporis Humanis (1757-1766), the latter a continuation of the work described in Primæ Liniæ Physiologiæ.
With his scientific reputation for iconoclastic work soaring, he was inducted in both the Royal Society of London in 1743 and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 1747. After a lengthy chairmanship at University of Gottingen, in 1753 he returned to Bern, Switzerland.
The work in our collection is a prime example of the meticulous and original nature of Haller’s thinking. Hallers’ “greatest contribution to physiology was his demonstration that irritability is a specific property of all muscle tissue and that sensibility is the exclusive property of nervous tissue” states Heirs of Hippocrates, in describing what the current volume holds. Spread across 571 pages, the text written in Latin is a detailed approach to understanding the structure and function of the human body. He devotes section (p 37, Chapter IV) to blood circulation, the movement of the blood through the arteries and veins. William Harvey’s seminal discovery done in 1628 was not widely accepted and Malpighi’s discovery of the capillaries in 1667 was not widely known. Chapter V is dedicated to the structure and function of the heart. Other chapters are dedicated to secretion, nutrition, respiration, voice and speech, sense of touch, taste (p 279-287), olfaction (287-294), hearing, vision, etc. The brain is extensively covered in chapter 12 and muscle movements in the following chapter. No other work has been so detailed and inclusive to cover the basic structure and function of human physiology. No wonder he was called “the father of modern physiology.”
Editorial note: Andrew I Spielman. In part based on Heirs of Hippocrates, 1980, p 248.