Written By: Hermann Hagedorn
Reviewed Edition: Macmillan Company, New York, 1949
No ISBN shown
Hardcover, 221 pages
Table of Contents
According to the dust cover of Prophet in the Wilderness , Hermann Hagedorn was a well-known poet as well as biographer. He uses a poet's imagination to relate the story of Albert Schweitzer, and is able to draw the reader into Schweitzer's world. This is especially true of his descriptions of Schweitzer in Europe prior to his first trip to Africa in 1913. Turn-of-the-twentieth-century Europe was a much different place than it is today; materially, socially, philosophically, and politically different. Hagedorn, writing just after World War II for an American audience, was able to place Schweitzer in context, giving more meaning to Schweitzer's life and thought.
Hagedorn had an extensive correspondence with Albert Schweitzer, and also exchanged mail with Helene. He apparently met them in Europe and developed a friendship. He clearly admired Schweitzer greatly, and this is reflected in his writing. While Prophet in the Wilderness is not the best biography of Albert Schweitzer, it is a warm, eloquent, and intelligent account of Schweitzer's life and thought through the mid-1940s.
"[Schweitzer] burns like Francis of Assisi, and he looks like Josef Stalin--or did until Stalin went western and reduced his luxuriant mustache. His great muscular frame, the masterful nose, the broad forehead, the unruly hair, the large, humorous mouth, keep the moustache in proportion; and the wide-set eyes make it irrelevant. The eyes are black wells of concentrated sorrow and compassion, faintly lighted by hope. What he sees is tragic and terrifying, but he knows that above the dark canopy there are stars; and there are flowers where he goes which he will greet as a child might greet them, with simple gaiety. He is a great laugher."
[Regarding Schweitzer's evaluation of the widespread belief in the nineteenth century that Western civilization was progressing and would continue to improve.] "The unanimity of judgment impressed the young student of theology but did not convince him. Since he had emerged from the shelter of the parsonage at Gunsbach and the school-inspector's flat at Mulhouse, to mingle in the larger world of Strasbourg and Paris, he had become conscious of misgivings concerning the general conviction that mankind was constantly advancing from the good to the better, from the better to the best. Here and there in the press he noted inhumane ideas advanced by public men, and waited expectantly for their indignant repudiation by the public; and waited in vain. No one seemed to be shocked any more when governments and nations proposed and did things which a gneration earlier would have seemed intolerable. 'Expediency' was the new word on everybody's lips. Justice--the high passion of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century--seemed to have few friends and these only lukewarm."
[During World War I] "The natives asked simple, penetrating questions. How was it possible that the white men who had brought them the gospel of Love should so far forget the commands of the Lord Jesus as to be at each other's throats?
For such questions Schweitzer had no answer, and he made no effort to extenuate and explain. Mankind was face to face with something 'terrible and incomprehensible,' he would say. He felt nauseated when he read magazines from Europe declaring that there must always be war in order that the 'noble thirst for glory' in the hearts of men might not be unassuaged; and thanked God every morning, as he strode down the hill to the hospital, that, in such times, it was given to him to save life rather than destroy it."
[Following two years in Europe during the late 1920s] "Schweitzer was conscious as never before of a mission, of which his work in Africa, his books, his lectures and his music, all, were the multiple experession. The mission was definite--and clear: to wake men's sleeping souls and make them think."
"To a friend who asked him whether he were happy, Schweitzer answered, 'Yes, when I am working, and getting somewhere. As an individual I have really ceased to exist, and I don't know personal happiness any more.'
An echo of the elegiac yet challenging words rang through a talk he gave to the boys in an English school: 'I don't know what your destiny will be. But one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve."
[Discussing Reverence for Life] "Was not this the answer?--that man must, indeed, destroy life, but destroy it only to preserve or to advance life in its higher forms. Man must live daily from judgment to judgment, deciding each case as it arises, as wisely and mercifully as he may, with no hope of an easy conscience."
Table of Contents of Prophet in the Wilderness
There are 14 unnamed chapters, plus a chapter of acknowlegments and references.
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