Dr. Albert Schweitzer, hero or zero?

I would definitely suspend judgement as long as no actual cite is given. People with agendas make up all kinds of shit about what famous people actually said.

I’m also puzzled as to why the alleged quote is attributed to Schweitzer “shortly before his death”, and uses (twice) the phrase “I have given my life to [help Africans]”, but is said to have appeared in From My African Notebook, which apparently was translated into English in 1939 from a German original, Afrikanische Geschicten, that as far as I can tell was published in 1936 or 1938.

Considering that Schweizer died in 1965 at the age of 90, could 1938 really be described as “shortly before his death”? If the alleged quote comes, on the other hand, from 1961 which really was shortly before his death, what book was it supposedly published in? I smell a large smelly rat.

[In preview: Yup, a large smelly racist rat. Thanks tom, and I trust we all apologize to Mr. Schweitzer for the large smelly racist rats out to damage his reputation.]

Thanks, Tom. Your efforts are much appreciated.

Good work, tom. I’m going to try e-mailing the people behind that Schweitzer page. It’s absurd that they couldn’t give a straightforward denial.

Thank you, Tom.

Excellent, thanks. One thing you might consider doing is informing Barbara. It would be nice to have this item on Snopes.

Good work tom ! Talk about fighting ignorance !

As mentioned, I have submitted a new “submission” to Snopes. I sure hope this trash gets more widely debunked.

Maybe we should also inform the Schweitzer people. They really need to spell out plainly that he didn’t write that. It should be the first sentence of the first paragraph of their response.

Although it seems extremely likely this is resolved, I’m not sure we can completely eliminate the possibility that the offending text was simply edited out of the version tomndebb found. I guess it was printed in 1961; would a publisher in that time have edited out stuff like the text in question?

That would explain why the Schweitzer people don’t flatly state that he didn’t say it.

1961 is the date of the fifth printing of the English translation by Russell, which was copyrighted in 1939. Under the terms of the copyright, I don’t think that the publisher would be allowed to excise portions of the published text without stating clearly that it was an abridged version.

If people are really still bothered by this, I can try at some point in the next couple weeks to get hold of a copy of Schweitzer’s Afrikanische Geschichten and see what he wrote in the original German, but please don’t make me do that unless you feel it’s really important.

As for why the Schweitzer site didn’t deny the authenticity of that “quote”, it looked to me as though their answer wasn’t really addressing the alleged quote at all. They just had some standard boilerplate response to the question “Was Schweitzer a racist?” and that’s what they put in the FAQ.

Actually, now that I read the FAQ item for myself at http://www.schweitzer.org/english/diverse/asefaq.htm#racist I’m leaning on the side that he said it, but it was edited from at least that 1961 version. The FAQ item is written by Lachlan Forrow MD, who wrote the foreward for at least this edition of ‘African Diary’, so it’s a pretty safe bet he’s familiar enough with the work to know if the quote was fraudulent or not. If the quote was false, I cannot imagine why he would not have flatly stated so instead of excusing it by saying things like “Albert Schweitzer was not a saint; Albert Schweitzer was a human being, a man who was shaped by his historical era but nonetheless transcended it.”

Note that I have no dog in race (pun not intended); my only familiarity with Schweitzer was his general reputation as a good guy and the use of his name in analogy, as in “He’s no Albert Schweitzer”. Before this thread, I didn’t know what he did specifically to earn his humanitarian reputation.

Oh, ginger snaps. Okay folks, can we reach a consensus here on what will settle the question of whether Schweitzer actually wrote this remark? If I read the German version and don’t find it, will we start wondering whether maybe it was just excised from that edition too?

Are we at least agreed that the alleged source of the alleged quote is the following?

If I find a copy of Afrikanische Geschichten as published in the original German, read it, and don’t find the alleged quote, will we all agree that the alleged ascription to Schweitzer is bullshit?

(Actually, it should be good enough to check a first edition of the English translation by Russell, since that’s where the remark in question is alleged to have been found.)

The actual quotation on the blog page (as quoted in the OP and confirmed by a visit to the blog) is

Note the dates on my reference.

Actually, as I noted, there are any number of selections from the book that would be viewed, particularly in the 21st century, as paternalistic. However, I doubt that a book printed in 1939 would be republished twice in the same year (copyright issues) once complete and once abridged, especially with no notation of abridgement.

Perhaps, but doesn’t that seem somewhat unlikely? What a howling error to use the quote as part of the question, where the answer is soley to defend Schweitzer, but not mention the quote is fabricated.

In any case, I found Dr. Lachlan’s email and asked for clarification. I’ll let you know what the answer is, if I get one.

Crap, he’s out of the office (in Japan) without email access until Thursday, Oct. 27. It’ll be a while, if I ever get an answer. And hopefully it won’t be more dancing.

Then how are we to interpret the statements, frequently accompanying that racist remark, that it was “from his 1961 book” and “what he said shortly before his death” (which occurred in 1965)?

None of that would apply to a quote appearing in 1938 but excised from the 1961 printing of the same text.

tomndebb, Kimstu, good point about the “from his 1961 book” text, I consider that evidence that the quote was fabricated. Of course it could simply a mistake about where exactly they got it from.

The primary reason I’m still leaning on the side of the quote being genuine is because

  1. I think it’s likely that Dr. Lachlan is familiar with the work, so he’d know if it was there
  2. His text in FAQ explains it away as him being “a man who was shaped by his historical era”, when it would have been far easier and truthful to simply point out it was fabricated.

IMHO, that’s stronger evidence towards the quote being genuine and not it that particular edition or copy.

Of course, maybe Dr. Lachlan just made a mistake and/or wrote some crappy text. Maybe he’ll get back to me and we’ll know for sure.

This has become a really interesting discussion now. Once you’ve determined that the hoofprints in the sand aren’t horses, the possibility of zebras opens up, as it were. Suppose, for example, that…

  1. …the Schweitzer site is itself run by white supremacists.

  2. …the date attributed is wrong, but the quote is indeed in the '39 version.

  3. …the quote is from another book.

  4. …the Schweitzer people themselves have not bothered reading the book.

  5. … Tom overlooked the text, or the text appeared in a preface or introduction in an earlier edition

As we search for answers, in the meantime, I’ll tell you what really bothers me about the quote being inauthentic. Mainly, it is so complicated. It isn’t just a one-liner about those god awful negroes — it is a thought-through developed paragraph with a topic sentence and dependent text. And it reads very much like other exerpts from the book that are found elsewhere in terms of style of writing (although that, in and of itself, isn’t that hard to do.) The quote may be made up, but whoever made it up was not an idiot.

It will be interesting to see what Barbara does with it because she usually researches pretty exhaustively. She’ll likely hunt down the 1939 edition. Hopefully, Revtim’s contact will turn up something as well.

Which, because of the way it was presented, is confusing.

I did e-mail the Webmaster last night, and I said more or less what Lib suggests - that it appears Schweitzer never said these words, and that they ought to begin their response to the issue with a simple and direct statement to that effect. The longer answer to the question of “was he a racist?” is interesting, but without a straightforward response it looks evasive. I am hoping, of course, that if any of us have got something wrong and Schweitzer did say those things, they’ll correct me. Of course, if he did say it they should put that in their first sentence, too.

Was this an email, or on the discussion board?

An e-mail for which I received an immediate return e-mail acknowledging my submission. I don’t know who Barbara is but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take that track as well.