Reviews of and Quotes From Dr. Schweitzer's Books

Here are my reviews of some of Albert Schweitzer's books. It is far from a comprehensive list of Schweitzer's books. All are English translations from French or German. Some of them are out of print, but generally can be found in a good research library or by a book search from a good used-book dealer. Also included here are reviews of compilations of his writings. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for reviews of books about Dr. Schweitzer and related information.

On The Edge Of The Primeval Forest and More From the Primeval Forest

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer

Translator: C. T. Campion

Reviewed Edition:  AMS Press Inc. (Reprint of the 1948 edition published by Macmillan)

Hardcover, 222 Pages

ISBN 0-404-14598-1


Table of Contents

On The Edge Of The Primeval Forest originally appeared in 1922, while its successor More From The Primeval Forest was published in 1931. In each book Schweitzer describes his medical, administrative, and construction work at Lambarene. He also gives his impressions of the native peoples and the white lumbermen he deals with. His descriptions of African peoples' customs, work habits, and social structures may be somewhat uncomfortable for modern readers. But it must be remembered that it was written early in the century, when Africans and Europeans were just beginning to interact socially. A European-style hospital in the middle of early twentieth-century Africa was bound to encounter conflicting social customs and mores. That the Europeans and Africans were able to deal so successfully with such conflicts is a tribute to each.

There are 35 black-and-white photographs of the hospital at Lambarene and its inhabitants included in this book. Most are of poor quality but nevertheless greatly help the reader relate to the circumstances described in the book. Unfortunately, as the book only covers the period up to 1927, most of Schweitzer's years in Lambarene are not included.

Quotes from On The Edge Of The Primeval Forest and More From the Primeval Forest

"Europeans will never be able to understand how terrible is the life of the poor creatures who pass their days in continual fear of the fetishes which can be used against them. Only those who have seen this misery at close quarters will understand that it is a simple human duty to bring to these primitive peoples a new view of the world which can free them from these torturing superstitions. In this matter the greatest sceptic, did he find himself out here, would prove a real helper of mission work."

"The greater the responsibility that rests on a white man, the greater the danger of his becoming hard towards the natives. We on a mission staff are too easily inclined to become self-righteous with regard to the other whites. We have not got to obtain such and such results from the natives by the end of the year, as officials and traders have, and therefore this exhausting contest is not so hard a one for us as for them. I no longer venture to judge my fellows after learning something of the soul of the white man who is in business from those who lay as patients under my roof, and whose talk has led me to suspect that those who now speak savagely about the natives may have come out to Africa full of idealism, but in the daily contest have become weary and hopeless, losing little by little what they once possessed of spirituality.

That it is so hard to keep oneself really humane, and so to be a standard-bearer of civilisation, that is the tragic element in the problem of the relations between white and coloured men in Equatorial Africa."

"If a child enters the world in our hospital its mother and itself are painted white all over face and body so as to make them look terrifying, a custom which is found in practice among almost all primitive peoples. The object is to either frighten or to deceive the evil spirits which on such an occasion have a special opportunity of being dangerous. I do not worry myself about this usage; I even say sometimes, as soon as the child is born: "Take care you don't forget the painting!" There are times when a little friendly irony is more dangerous to the spirits and the fetishes than zeal expended on a direct attack upon them. I venture to remind my readers that we Europeans, ourselves, have many customs which, although we never think about it, had their origin in heathen ideas."

"This inability to exert themselves and adapt themselves to difficult circumstances is typical of the natives of Equatorial Africa, and makes them pitiable creatures. There may be no vegetable food from the plantations, but they could secure animal food in the forest and in the open country. Twenty men armed with spears and bush-knives could surround a herd of wild pigs and bag one of them, for these animals are not so fierce as those of Europe. But the starving natives sit in their huts and wait for death just because it is famine time. One cannot say in this country: "Need stimulates invention." It has to be: "Need paralyses into idiocy."

"But while I am setting the piles I am allowed to discover that sympathy for the lower creatures can be aroused in even the most savage of the natives. Before the pile is lowered into the pit I look whether any ants, or toads, or other creatures have fallen into it, and if so, I take them out with my hands so that they may not be maimed by the pile, or crushed to death later by the earth and stones, and I explain why I do this to those who are standing by. Some smile in embarrassment; others pay no attention at all to what they have heard so often. But one day a real savage, who was working with me, was fetched to work in the plantation at cutting down the undergrowth. A toad being espied in it, his neighbor wanted to kill it with his bush-knife, but the first one seized his arm and unfolded to him and to a listening group the theory that the animals were, like ourselves, created by God, and that he will some day hold a great palaver with the men who torment or kill them. This savage was the very last on whom I should have expected my deeds and words to make any impression."

"We burden ourselves with some extra work out of compassion for the palm-trees, with which the site of our future home is crowded. The simplest plan would be to cut them all down. An oil-palm is valueless, there are so many of them. But we cannot find it in our heart to deliver them over to the axe just when, delivered from the creepers, they are beginning a new life. So we devote some of our leisure hours to digging up carefully those which are transplantable and setting them elsewhere, though it is heavy work. Oil-palms can be transplanted even when they are fifteen years old and are quite big.

That one should feel compassion for the animals my natives can understand. But that I should expect them to carry heavy palm-trees about, so that they may live instead of being cut down, seems to them a perverted philosophy."

"How can I describe my feelings when a poor fellow is brought me in this condition [with a strangulated hernia]? I am the only person within hundreds of miles who can help him. Because I am here and am supplied by my friends with the necessary means, he can be saved, like those who came before him in the same condition and those who will come after him, while otherwise he would have fallen victim to the torture. This does not mean merely that I can save his life. We must all die. But that I can save him from days of torture, that is what I feel as my great and ever new privilege. Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death himself."

"For the first time since I came to Africa my patients are housed as human beings should be. How I have suffered during these years from having to pen them together in stifling, dark rooms! Full of gratitude I look up to God who has allowed me to experience such a joy. With deep emotion, too, I thank the friends in Europe, in reliance upon whose help I could venture to move the hospital, and replace the bamboo huts with corrugated iron wards."

Table of Contents of On The Edge Of The Primeval Forest and More From the Primeval Forest

     On The Edge Of The Primeval Forest
  1. How I Came To Be A Doctor In The Forest. The Land and People Of The Ogowe
  2. The Journey
  3. First Impressions and Experiences
  4. July, 1913--January, 1914
  5. January to June, 1914
  6. Lumbermen And Raftsmen In The Primeval Forest
  7. Social Problems In The Forest
  8. Christmas, 1914
  9. Christmas, 1915
  10. The Mission
  11. Results And Conclusions
  12. More From The Primeval Forest
  13. The Voyage
  14. The First Months In Lambarene
  15. Late Autumn To Christmas, 1924
  16. Spring, 1925. More Building Needed
  17. Summer, 1925
  18. Autumn, 1925
  19. Autumn And Winter, 1925
  20. 1926
  21. 1927. In The New Hospital

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