A very clever and busy doctor and phylosopher

William Moffitt Harris – Part 10

In his Philosophy of Civilization Doctor Schweitzer summarized by saying: “A man is ethical when life, as such, is sacred to him; that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help”. Further on he says: “Reverence for Life does not allow the scholar to live for science alone, even if he is very useful to the community in so doing”. Then he continues: “It demands from all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others”. “You must give some time to your fellow men, even if it is a little thing; do something for those who have need of a man’s help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it”.

At the Syracuse, NY, University Libraries, visitors may see the main collection of Schweitzer’s books, notes, manuscripts, poems, hundreds of personal letters to his wife, their daughter Rhena, editors, friends, patients and visitors. In his one hundred and twenty three notebooks (1918 to 1965), carefully conserved there, Schweitzer also documented daily life at Lambarènè, commented on the diseases and stories of his patients and kept a close register of his accounts and visitors to the place. Two bags were always tied firmly to his waist, one for letters coming in and not yet answered along with half a dozen more recent newspapers, and the other for letters already answered onto which he clipped copies of his replies.

The money they needed to pay for the things ordered abroad, mostly from the United States, Holland, Austria, France, England and Germany, came from donors in these countries most of them wealthy and devoted Lutherans. Most of these people did the buying themselves as well as dispatching the goods to the mission. Schweitzer himself raised funds by travelling very often to Germany, England and Scotland,    Holland, Austria and France mainly, where he taught music, gave lectures, preached, fixed and played old church organs, clavichords, spinets, pianos, harpsichords, harmoniums and the like. At some localities only he was allowed to meddle with antique instruments which were out of tune. Besides fund-raising public concerts, many rich families held private recitals whereby he received generous help for his hospital. His sixteen books also brought in plenty of money as they sold well and were translated into many European languages especially after the Second World War.

On March 22, 1932 Schweitzer in Frankfurt, at the exact time of Goethe’s death, the most cherished son of the town, started his oration on the world’s situation and the coming dangers of the dictatorship that was being built up in Germany. During those sixty-five minutes before a dumbfounded and silent audience, he correctly prophesied what was to come and the causes of the catastrophe the world would witness. He kept on repeating the word grausig (gruesome, frightful) in his presentation, as related by Everett Skillings in the Postscript to Schweitzer’s book, Out of my Life and Thought.

“...Man’s ultimate redemption through beneficent activity…” the words of Goethe’s Faust, threads through this extraordinary man’s long, complex and sometimes curious life. With Faust himself he would say: “… I feel new strength for bolder toil… The Deed is everything, the Glory naught”.

As the New York Times puts it: “He drew deeply from music and philosophy of the 18th Century, especially Bach, Goethe and Kant. He was a child of the 19th Century accepting its creative comforts but rejecting its complacent attitudes towards progress. … He was a foe of materialism and of the Century’s criteria for personal success.