Reviews of and Quotes From Books About Dr. Schweitzer

Here is my review of a book about Dr. Schweitzer. All the books I review are in English. Many of them are out of print, but generally can be found by a book search from a good used-book dealer. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for links to my reviews of books written by Dr. Schweitzer as well as other related information.

Albert Schweitzer The Story of His Life

Written By:  Jean Pierhal

Reviewed Edition:  Philosophical Library Inc., New York, 1957

Hardcover, 160 pages

No ISBN Shown


Table of Contents

True to its title, Albert Schweitzer The Story of His Life is a description of Schweitzer's life (through 1955); it describes the events in his life and how he produced his theological, musical and ethical works, but has very little to say about the works themselves. This is both the book's strength and and its primary weakness. This is not the book to read if you want to understand Schweitzer's views on Reverence for Life, Bach, or theology. On the other hand, it contains interesting and hard-to-find information on Schweitzer's life before he became famous. Many Schweitzer biographies seem to take their discussion of Schweitzer's life before 1950 directly from his own writings, notably Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, Out of My Life and Thought, and On the Edge of the Primeval Forest. Pierhal clearly uses these sources, but supplements them with additional information which I have not found elsewhere. I would have liked to see footnotes listing his sources, but this is not that sort of academic text.

Of particular interest is the discussion of the contributions and sacrifices made by Helene Schweitzer, Albert's wife. It should not be forgotten that when Albert sailed for the first time up the Ogowe River to begin the uncertain and extremely difficult task of running a hospital in the African jungle, he was not alone. Helene was with him, and worked alongside him then and frequently throughout their life together.

Quotes from Albert Schweitzer The Story of His Life

"'However do you manage to do so much?' his fellow students asked [Schweitzer while he was a college student].

Usually he only laughed. But if they pressed him, he showed them a poem cut out of a French calendar, which he had framed and hung up above his work table.

          Higher, ever higher,
          Let thy dreams and wishes rise,
          Let them mount like flame of fire,
          Upwards to the skies.

          Higher, ever higher,
          And when thy heaven is overcast,
          May thy star of faith aspire
          Till all is bright at last.

For more than sixty years this extract from a calendar was Schweitzer's inspiration. It is still to be found, faded, above his writing-desk in Gunsbach."

"'I simply can't understand the fact that we admired him so little. Many a time he had to defend himself with all his might.'

In these words Elly Heuss-Knapp, later the wife of the President of the German Federal Republic, described the attitude of his closest friends to Albert Schweitzer in those Strasbourg years when he was growing from youth to manhood."

"That not all new discoveries are good, that modern developments, in spite of the increase in knowledge and ability, do not always spell progress, but often imply retrogression and even decadence and imminent destruction, was a conviction which forced itself on the mind of Schweitzer during those last years of the nineteenth century. This view, so utterly opposed to the optimistic spirit of the time, with its delight in progress, first became fully clear and irresistible to him in the autumn of 1896, when, on his return from the Bayreuth festival, he stopped at Stuttgart in order to hear the new organ in what was then the 'Hall of Song'--an organ praised at the time as a masterpiece of contemporary organ-building.

But when Lang, the organist of the abbey church, introduced Schweitzer to this seventh wonder of the world he was shocked. The new instrument was indeed powerful and loud, but the effects of the various stops mixed together confusingly. Schweitzer's fine ear heard only a chaos of sound. 'The thin reedy sounds drown the full dispasons, just as the lean kine of Pharaoh ate up the fat kine,' he thought. 'A well-played organ should be like well cooked rice. Just as in a good dish of rice you can taste every granule, so you should be able to distinguish clearly every sound on a good organ.' What a horrible mess was served up from this instrument!"

"One day Schweitzer noticed that a certain young lady was always present both at his sermons and the subsequent discussions, and that, though apparently much stimulated by them, she never spoke.

'And what is your opinion of my sermons, Fraulein Bresslau?' Schweitzer inquired challengingly of this silent watcher.

'From the point of view of style they leave much to be desired,' she answered dryly. 'Your German sounds as clumsy as if it were literally translated from the French.'

So began the story of Albert Schweitzer and Helene Bresslau."

[From a letter Schweitzer sent to music critic Gustav von Lupke explaining his decision to found an African hospital] "... For me the whole of religion is at stake. For me religion means to be human, plainly human in the sense in which Jesus was. In the colonies things are pretty hopeless and comfortless. We--the Christian nations--send out there the mere dregs of our people; we think only of what we can get out of the natives ... in short what is happening there is a mockery of humanity and Christianity. If this wrong is in some measure to be atoned for, we must send out there men who will do good in the name of Jesus, not simply proselytising missionaries, but men who will help the distressed as they must be helped if the Sermon on the Mount and the words of Jesus are valid and right.

Now we sit here and study theology, and then compete for the best ecclesiastical posts, write thick learned books in order to become professors of theology ... and what is going on out there where the honour and the name of Jesus are at stake, does not concern us at all. And I am supposed to devote my life to making ever fresh critical discoveries, that I might become famous as a theologian, and go on training pastors who will also sit at home, and will not have the right to send them out to this vital work. I cannot do so. For years I have turned these matters over in my mind, this way and that. At last it became clear to me that the meaning of my life does not consist in knowledge or art but simply in being human and doing some little thing in the spirit of Jesus ... 'what you have done to the least of these my brethren you have done to me.' Just as the wind is driven to spend its force in the big empty spaces so must the men who know the laws of the spirit go where men are most needed."

"Thus the next afternoon four people sat around the tea table in Schweitzer's home on the St. Thomas Quayside: the two [missionaries] Morels, Schweitzer and Helene Bresslau (now back in Strasbourg). He had invited Helene ostensibly to play the part of hostess, but no doubt his real purpose was somewhat different: he wished to give her the opportunity of hearing for once from eye-witnesses of the difficulties of life in the tropics.

At the close of the afternoon, Frau Morel reported later to a friend, Schweitzer suddenly announced to the guests his engagement to Fraulein Bresslau. In view of Schweitzer's extreme reserve about private and personal matters, it is very probable that not only the Morels but also Helene herself heard then for the first time of this happy resolve by the man who was to be her future husband."

Table of Contents of Albert Schweitzer The Story of His Life

  1. The Happy Valley
  2. Boyhood Days
  3. On the Hard School Bench
  4. The Student and His Masters
  5. Nine Restless Years
  6. The Great Decision
  7. Professor Into Student
  8. Setting Out On A New Life
  9. Africa's Lessons
  10. Only Four Hands
  11. Forest Doctor
  12. Light in the Darkness
  13. War Years in the Primeval Forest
  14. A Very Different Europe
  15. Editor and Lecturer
  16. The Prose of Africa
  17. The Master Builder In The Wilderness
  18. An Oasis of Peace
  19. Halo of Glory

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