An archive of 41 ALSs, all signed “Albert Schweitzer” or “A. Schweitzer,” sometimes adding “Dr” to his signature, each letter signed more than once, 57 pages in all. All the letters are to Charles R. Joy, Executive Director of the Unitarian Service Committee in Boston. The Africa of Albert Schweitzer by Charles R. Joy and Melvin Arnold was published jointly in 1948 by Harper & Brothers and Beacon Press, of which Arnold was the director. The pair had visited Dr. Schweitzer at his hospital at Lambaréné in 1947, where Joy took over 1,000 photographs. Related items not in Schweitzer’s hand or signed by him are also present.
Each letter is in French, with a few English and German words, some one-page and some multi-page, 8.5 x 11, and date from the 1940s–1950s. lightweight paper. A few letters have slightly tattered edges and tears. Some letters conclude in the left margin. Letters of more than a page were tied together with string at the upper left corner by Schweitzer. Also included in the count are some carbon copes of letters in Schweitzer’s handwriting. Most of the letters have English translations, some partial, and some just summarized.
Excerpts from selected letters:
October 19, 1946. Five pages, signed at the top right of the first page “Docteur Albert Schweitzer / Lambarene / French Equatorial Africa” and “Albert Schweitzer” at the conclusion. In part, “I opened one letter after the other in that mail and the last one was a small envelope from Port Gentil thinking it was probably from a native asking for medicine. To my stupefaction I read that it was from a new bank opening a branch in Pot Gentil…informing that they had 388,822 francs available for the hospital from the Unitarian Service Committee USA! It was the donation that you had told me about some time ago…I was relieved I could reimburse the other bank promptly and not worry about future difficulties…I had to buy cement to make a dock in front of the hospital for the boats to dock at low or high waters and in all seasons…In August and September 1925, 26 & 27, I became a mason when I was building the hospital…Now that the hospital construction has ended I can resume my work with patients. I am mainly taking care of phagedenic ulcer, heart patients, treatment of leprosies and urology. I also take care of maintaining the pharmacy in good order which takes a lot of my time and very necessary. We always have lots of patients. The two new doctors who came this spring are doing a good job and of course we continue doing a lot of surgery because of many cases of hernia and incarcerated hernias. With your donation I can even feed patients, one of the large daily expenses. Unfortunately bananas and manioc is more expensive than before. Rice is also much more expensive than last year and hard to find.”
August 1, 1947. Schweitzer thanks Joy for sending 25,000 francs from Leopoldville to the bank in Port Gentil for the hospital. He tells him that life was difficult for weeks after Joy left. He had to work at the hospital and in the garden to train Miss Hedi and Paulette; they all had to work quickly on the lower garden near the river to turn the ground and plan when water level was low. Schweitzer has news for Mr. Arnold about four animals: “In my room there is a new small antelope named Pamela. Leonie and Theodore are doing fine. The pelican salutes you.”
December 18, 1947. Three letters of this date, tied together with string, 5 pages in all. In part, (1) “I have written to my wife to tell her to ask you to send two or three packages for extremely needy people…Can you send them directly to the head of the ‘Vorsteher der Brudergemeinde’ Konigsfeld—Baden. French Occupation Zone. There are probably needy people in the Brudergemeinde. And with ties to the Unitarians…The sanitariums are reserved for French children which creates an animosity among the population…I would like people to know that we are trying to help them.” (2) “Doctor Brad is very busy at this time with about forty leprous who are treated with American medication requiring a lot of tests and notes to follow how each one is developing! He set up a hut in the forest to put some of them there. Dr. Kopp has a lot of operations to do but we all are doing rather well. There was at one time a mini antelope in the bedroom ‘Pamela.’ It is a special breed which does not grow higher than 35 centimeters very graceful and intelligent. Leonie and Theodore [animals] are also taking advantage of the change in my life. For weeks I could rarely take them out only at night. Now it is much more often.” (3) “I was saddened by the Christian Register where there is this phrase ‘The greatest soul in Christendom’…You cannot imagine how much I suffer when one talks about me this way…Nobody knows who we are in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ our savior. I know that I do not deserve such label. God gifted me with robust health, mental stability, and through the words of Christ I have known that I should use them for the Kingdom of God advent…How light is the cross that I bear to follow Christ…the cross consisting only of fatigue that I endure for charity sake…”
February 12, 1948. One page on an 8.25 x 5.25 sheet, signed ”A Schweitzer Lambarene.” In part, “Because of my exegesis knowledge I resolved the mystery about our friend Melvin Arnold. Explanation in Matthew 12, 43-45. Exorcising him and chasing the demon possessing him. The demon went back to America and possessed him again as it is not the sane atmosphere than at Lambarene.”
February 12, 1948. Two letters of this date, to Joy, tied together with string, 5 pages in all, one signed at the conclusion “A Schweitzer,” the other “Albert Schweitzer.” Each page is also signed by him in the upper right, one as “Dr Albert Schweitzer,” another as “Albert Schweitzer,” and three as “Dr A Schweitzer.” In part, (1) “I take the liberty to ask 2 packages for my previous student, pastor Emil Lind Johannesstrass 7. Speyer (Palasinat. Pfalz) Germany. French Occupation Zone. He was my student in Strasbourg in 1911 and one of the leaders of the liberal protestantism in the region. He did much for Lambarene for many years. He was relieved from his pastorate by the orthodox party. As you know there is an implacable dictatorship in many regions in Germany. He was regarded as a leader who had to be eliminated because he professed my ideas. He was incarcerated by the occupying authorities after being denounced for being friendly with the Nazi regime. They had to free him. He wrote me many devastated letters, he is faithful to liberal Protestantism and to me, and lives with his wife in depressing conditions. Then if you can send two packages to help, that would make him feel better.” (2) “I am very happy that Harper & Brothers are going to start reprinting ‘Quest for the Historical Jesus.’ This book means so much to me that I would like for the students…Very happy that you are publishing this spring the two texts on Goethe and ‘The Psychiatric Study of Jesus.’” Schweitzer had written both books about Jesus; Quest for the Historical Jesus was first published in German in 1906 and in English in 1910.
April 18, 1948. Five pages. Four pages are also signed by him in the upper right: first page as “Dr A Schweitzer, Lambarene / Afrique Equatoriale / Francaise,” the others as “A Schweitzer / Lambarene,” two as “Dr A Schweitzer / Lambarene,” and one as “Dr A Schweitzer.” In part, “A publication on A.S. in Alsace would require considerable preparation to be of value. It would necessitate that I travel with you and talk about a lot of things…Concerning the book ‘Wit and Wisdom of Schweitzer’…Those are my thoughts you will judge on your own, you are free to do so you know better than me what to do. I am touched by all the trouble you are going through for me. In my opinion this new Anthology will undermine the other one. It will be seen as the Anthology of the Anthology…it is already extraordinary that my still incomplete Anthology was published while I am alive.” Edited by Charles R. Joy, “Albert Schweitzer: An Anthology” was published in 1952. In 1947, what Schweitzer considers in this letter to be “incomplete,” Joy had published An Anthology, Edited By Charles R. Joy.
May 26, 1948. Five pages, signed “Albert Schweitzer” on fourth page with a one page postscript. Also signed “Dr A Schweitzer” on each page in the upper right. In part, “Of course you can translate the article ‘Souvenirs de Ernst Munch’ and ‘Goethe Penseur’ I have been too busy (with patients) to write you as I would wish…First of all the question of the publication of the Anthology the editor G. Payot in Paris (106 Bd St Germain). He asks me how one makes the contract. I wrote him that he would make the contract with you (or Beacon Press). Here is what I am proposing. It is he who will carry the expenses of the translation. Make a contract with him the way I do with all editors: not a set price but 10% of cost of volumes sold in bookstores. He will have to do the accounting each year…Maybe he will say the 10% is too much if he has to pay for translation. You can then lower to 8% but no more. You do not have to tell him that the translation fee will be used as a donation for my work. He does not need to know…It is legally important that the fees be paid to you (or Beacon Press). You (or Beacon Press) are free to make it a donation to my work every time it pleases you…I find a chapter ‘The Struggle of Equatorial Africa’ laying on my table for many days. I would like to revise it.”
July 12, 1948. Two letters, three pages in all, tied together with string. The first is one page headed “Business” signed “Dr A Schweitzer” in the upper right and “Albert Schweitzer” at the conclusion. In part, “Here initially the two addresses: 1) Industrial Sales Corporation New York NY 500 Fifth Avenue. This Society makes all the shipments to my address…the crates by boat and also sends me postal parcels. Addresses the crates to Société du Haut-Ogooué at Port Gentil with marking: for the hospital of the Dr Albert Schweitzer Lambarene…one can request all information from Doctor W. Zuckerman, formerly a doctor in the Belgian Congo. 2) My friend who deals with giving information on the USA medications is Doctor Ernest Bueding, Western Reserve University. School of Medicine. Department of Pharmacology Cleveland 6 Ohio.” The second letter, two pages, is headed “True letter / literary business.” One page is signed in upper right “Dr A Schweitzer” and the other “A Schweitzer” in the upper right and “Albert Schweitzer” as the conclusion. Schweitzer writes of Joy’s departure, and the emptiness in his room. In part, “You can figure the desolation of Caro [an animal] when he realizes that there would be no more Monsieur Joy (and many lamps and implements of photography…And now you are in Europe today and Lambarene with its white and black savages is nothing any more but one dream for you…” He tells Joy that he will be nostalgic for Lambarene with its silence, cricket sounds, and the slow paced life.
July 29, 1948. Three pages signed in the upper right of each page, once as “Dr Albert Schweitzer,” once as “Albert Schweitzer,” and, on the third page, “A Schweitzer” on top and “Albert Schweitzer” at the conclusion. In part, “I have in front of me the long letter of June 16th…in which you speak about the imperialism of which I showed in my revision texts…Alas, dear friend, what road are you following! What would Mr. [President] Truman and Eleanor [Roosevelt] think upon learning that you have abdicated non imperialism which is so dear to Americans to succumb to imperialism which infected you in Lambarene.” Referring to Melvin Arnold of the Beacon Press, Schweitzer writes, “He does not need to borrow my imperialism because he was infected a long time ago by an acute literary imperialism to which I owe to be portrayed as Olympian in your preface on Goethe.” Schweitzer describes a pelican with a broken leg and not able to fly anymore. He also describes how he was probably injured by a native woman wanting to take a fish away from him. Schweitzer writes of “the remarkable American medicine Lomine” treating 60 leprous in his hospital.
August 18, 1948. Three pages to Joy signed in the upper right of each page, once as “Dr A Schweitzer,” twice as “A Schweitzer,” signing “Albert Schweitzer” at the conclusion of the second page. Schweitzer has added a lengthy “Postscript” on the third page. In part, “I write to you on the question of a translator for the French edition of the Anthology. When I wrote the first time to [editor in Paris] Payot I told him that I hoped to have a translator in which I could also write…I contacted my nephew…I did not know that you have somebody in sight that you know well…I now always feel like a locomotive pulling a train with too heavy merchandise.”
December 5, 1948 (from his home in Gunsbach, Alsace). Four pages. After thanking Joy and Arnold for the copy of The Africa of Albert Schweitzer that he found on his table, in part, “My dear, for you and Mr. Arnold when you will leave this earth we will play tam-tam in the village for each of you eight straight evenings around the hospital and a good number of leprous will praise you and light a candle in the Catholic Mission Church.” Schweitzer is working on a preface for a book on eschatology which he feels is getting too long, noting, “I am not a coachman who reins a horse but I put a bridle on his neck and let it gallop as he pleases even if he begins with its back legs a little gallop—that way it is fine, 2/3 is already accomplished…I was with friends in Zurich the day of the U.S. Presidential election. They were all saying: Truman does not have a chance. Gallup and all the American journalists think so. Then I said: “Truman will be elected! Then they laughed. How do you know that? Then I said: Because the American people will be reasonable to acknowledge that this man worked hard, that he succeeded in many difficult situations, that he knew to surround himself with remarkable collaborators (that they would not want losing by choosing another President).”
February 26, 1950. “The German text of your book the Africa of Dr. Schweitzer is in the hand of Hans Martin—He and the German editor found like me that The Africa of Albert Schweitzer cannot be translated into German. ‘Das Afrika Albert Schweitzer’ does not say the same. We have changed the title to ‘Bei Albert Schweitzer in Africa’ I think that you agree.—The French edition of the Anthology must soon be finished.”
May 5, 1950. Schweitzer has not answered Joy’s letter because, in part, “I was in distress because of all the hospital work not allowing me to write even to fill out the paperwork for new collaborators arrival for purchases. I was drowning…My 75 birthday fell at the most difficult time of my stay. At last things are better since the end of February…All day long I am downstairs at the hospital to watch over the service and train three doctors in details and I am even more tired than before—my eyes and my hands are getting tired more quickly than before…I have not read Joseph Collomb’s book [La Vie Ardente d'Albert Schweitzer published in Paris]. It is terrible to become a legend while still living and my life does not lend to it at all…There is a relationship between your work with disaster children in Europe and mine with blacks and also a relationship between us.”
June 25, 1950 & June 27, 1950. Two one page letters tied together with string. In part, “During the works in the garden near the river I thought I was near you as in the scene you describe in the Africa of Doctor Albert Schweitzer. A funny thing we see almost no parrots this year. The pumps require much more my attention to work than during your stay. They are even more worn out…What memories…” Second letter, in part, “Concerning the organ works I beg of you not to do it. I could not let publish these 40 year old writings without being precise about the new organ making tendencies…” He says that nobody would understand if his simple old writing is published. He would be embarrassed.
August 16, 1950. “I do not understand your letter…it must be a question of the book Music of Albert Schweitzer. You write that it will not be possible to publish it without the writings on the organ and you say that you will have to pay for parts already printed. I feel bad about that and if I can save the situation by giving you permission to publish my writing on Deutsche und Franzosische Orgelbaukunst [The Art of German and French Organ Builders] in the first edition .”
October 3, 1950. I“Deutsche und Franzosische Orgelbaukunst I cannot judge, if your translation comprises the technical expressions with the construction of organ. I hope that you had a competent musician who has helped you.”
October 18, 1950. “Do you have the authorization of Breitlopf & Hartel to reproduce Deutsche und Franzosische Orgelbaukunst in your book?…”
April 22, 1958. On the second sheet of a 1.5 page Autograph Letter Signed “Ali Silver,” Schweitzer’s secretary, Albert Schweitzer has handwritten a 19 line letter in German to Joy, not translated, signing it “Albert Schweitzer.” In overall fine condition. A fascinating insight into the mind and life of the Nobel Prize-winning doctor. RR Auction COA.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.