by James Brabazon ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 26, 1975
This is the kind of admirably assiduous biography that immediately attracts the word ""definitive"" based as it is on all the available works (now out of print) and Schweitzer's own autobiography. The most enthusiastic portraits date from the '40's--a time when Schweitzer was approaching canonization in the eyes of the whole world as ""the greatest soul in Christendom."" Brabazon's work, always just, is also positive--positive with the sobriety, sturdiness and severity of the man who pursued his own truth known as The Reverence for Life. The crucial conviction came to him at the age of nine when he first recognized the importance ""of things that have breath."" He was a shy, dreamy, somewhat prim (he renounced all games) and divided boy--divided by both the creativity and cruelty he found in nature as well as himself. But like his springy hair--""unruly without, unruly within""--he quickly acquired self-containment and after an early diffidence toward his schoolwork, went on to become a philosopher, a theologian, a musician and then a doctor. Unwed for many years (he attracted several women--whether he became involved remains open to speculation) he finally married Helene, the assistant who perhaps wanted primarily to get to Africa. Their first night there, by the way, they killed many spiders and cockroaches. On with his lifework--the missions, the travels, sermons, writings, tours. (Brabazon occasionally injects a cautionary word for our time--would that the young today had a leader of equal stature to share their cause.) But if Schweitzer seems inflexible (no sun helmets; decorous dress) Brabazon rarely faults him and sympathizes with Schweitzer's own admitted inability to identify with the Africans and make their cause his. Actually he felt that his ""primitifs"" were unready for the oncoming political emancipation. By the '50's he was accordingly to be attacked on several counts--as an archaic residual, as a self-centered bully, as a publicity seeker. Both the myth and the anti-myth endure, but after Brabazon's softening envoi, one is convinced that the ""Grand Docteur"" was a great man. . . . A fine work--perhaps more for the predisposed reader since Schweitzer, so much a part of his Swiss heritage of moral rectitude, is almost hobbled by his virtues--that extraordinary amalgam of common sense, practical knowledge, mysticism and, always, a withheld ""inwardness.
Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1975
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1975
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