In 1760, when this correspondence began, Albrecht von Haller, at the time the director of Bern’s saltworks in the Vaud, already enjoyed Europe-wide fame as a scientist and poet; the 20-year-old Genevan Horace-Bénédict de Soussure was just setting out on a distinguished career as a geologist, Alpine explorer, and conqueror of Mont Blanc.
The two men’s fascination with the Alps – their physical features, natural productions, and human inhabitants – is manifest in the correspondence, which continued until 1777 and comprised over 400 letters, 331 of which have survived in some form and are presented in this edition.
Botany and botanists are, understandably, leading topics. As one of the men who helped Haller revise his classic work on Swiss flora, Saussure received in Haller’s letters instructions on where to look for plants and how to preserve specimens.
Medicine is another frequent topic: Saussure consulted Haller about the maladies of various family members. The consultations include a meticulous medical history of his ailing mother and introduce many particulars about the diagnoses and treatments of the famous Genevan physician Théodore Tronchin.
The exchange of letters was at its most intensive in 1766-1767, during Geneva’s constitutional crises, in which Bern and Zurich, along with France, became mediating powers. The correspondents displayed a critical attitude toward the democratic developments in Geneva, which they blamed mainly on the ideas of Rousseau.
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