[Index of Biographies]

Christoph Wilhelm Friedrich Hufeland (1762-1836)

[This is a draft of an article in The Dictionary of Eighteenth Century German Philosophers, 3 vols., edited by Manfred Kuehn and Heiner Klemme (London/New York: Continuum, 2010).]

Christoph Wilhelm Friedrich Hufeland was born 12 August 1762 in Langensalza into a medical family, both his father and grandfather having served as personal physician at the Weimar court.  His father, Johann Friedrich Hufeland (1730-87), was called to Weimar when Christoph was only three, and so he was raised in a culturally rich environment, inspired by Herder’s sermons and, as an adult, attending Goethe’s weekly “Friday Society” gatherings.  His childhood playmates included the future playwright August von Kotzebue (1761-1819).  After studies at Jena and Göttingen, Hufeland kept a private practice in Weimar for ten years (1783-93) before beginning a long teaching career at Jena (1793-1801) and Berlin (1801-36).  Despite a deepening blindness in old age, Hufeland remained active to the end, sending his Enchiridion medicum (1836) to the printer just days before his death at the age of seventy-four on 25 August 1836.

He was a gifted medical popularizer best known for his widely-translated book on prolonging one’s life (Makrobiotik, 1797); but he is also remembered for his pioneering work on pediatrics and child-rearing, public health, therapeutics, and medical education, and his discussion (in Makrobiotik) of the twenty-four hour cycle as a basic unit of biological chronometry, establishing him as an early founder of chronobiology.  In contrast to many of his peers, Hufeland’s deeply practical intuitions left him a confirmed eclectic and suspicious of all system-building.  In character, he was deeply pious, and was committed to his medical profession, setting up funds for needy physicians and their widows.

Hufeland had four sisters and one brother.  His older sister married a theology professor at Jena, and his younger brother, Friedrich Gottlob (1774-1839), studied medicine at Jena and later taught there and at Berlin.  A cousin, Gottlieb Hufeland [bio] (1760-1817), was professor of law at Jena and co-editor of the influential Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung.

Hufeland began his university studies at nearby Jena in the summer of 1780 (studying anatomy under Justus Christian Loder, 1753-1832), but after a year of what he felt was a mediocre program and a philandering student body, he left for Göttingen, spending two years with a medical faculty consisting of August Gottlieb Richter (1742-1812, surgery and ophthalmology), Ernst Gottfried Baldinger (1738-1804, clinical medicine), Johann Andreas Murray (1740-91, botany), Heinrich August Wrisberg (1739-1808, anatomy), Friedrich Gmelin (1748-1804, medicine and chemistry), and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach [bio] (1752-1840, medicine), but also attending physics lectures in the philosophy faculty under Georg Christoph Lichtenberg [bio] (1742-99), to whom he dedicated his medical bestseller, Makrobiotik.

Hufeland received his doctorate on 24 July 1783, but rather than embarking on a customary academic tour of Europe, he returned instead to Weimar in order to assume his ailing father’s medical practice.  Shortly after his arrival Hufeland was called to care for the local duke’s five-year old daughter, who unfortunately died soon afterward, and when the duke’s mother later fell ill, Hufeland was replaced by a professor of medicine from Jena, after which the mother regained her health.  These medical misfortunes cost Hufeland what had been his father’s position as personal physician (Leibarzt), leaving him instead at the lesser-rank of court physician (Hofmedicus).  Hufeland nevertheless counted among his patients such notables as Wieland [bio], Herder [bio], Goethe, and Schiller.  He also joined the Illuminati order at this time, having been introduced to freemasonry in Göttingen in 1783, and his deep aversion to Catholicism led him to work actively alongside Adolf Knigge (1752-96) and the order’s founder, Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830).

In the fall of 1792, Carl August, the duke of Sachsen-Weimar, was present at one of Goethe’s Friday Society meetings during which Hufeland read from a draft of his Makrobiotik.  This so impressed the duke that he was offered a medical professorship at Jena, and in the summer of 1793 began a highly successful eight year teaching career there, drawing large numbers of students (he reports 500 for his macrobiotic lectures, which would have been exceptional given Jena’s average enrollment of less than 900 students).

While at Jena, Hufeland turned down offers from Kiel, Leipzig, Padua, and St. Petersburg (here to serve as a personal physician to the Russian court), but in 1801 he accepted a similar call to Berlin as King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s personal physician, where he would also direct the College of Medicine and Surgery and act as supervising physician of the Charité, the largest hospital in Berlin and perhaps the leading teaching hospital in all Europe.  Overwork and lack of research time eventually led Hufeland to accept a teaching offer at Göttingen, but this move was blocked by the king, who instead built him a new house and insisted he remain in Berlin.  Napoleon’s advancing troops later caused the royal family to flee Berlin and, as personal physician, Hufeland accompanied them east to Memel (January 1807-January 1808) and then Königsberg (January 1808-December 1809), where he enjoyed the company of Kant’s old friends Johann Georg Scheffner [bio] (1736-1820) and Ludwig Ernst Borowski [bio] (1740-1831).

With the opening of the new university in Berlin in 1810, Hufeland was given the chair of “special pathology and therapy” and served as the first dean of medicine, teaching alongside his erstwhile friend Johann Christian Reil [bio] (1759-1813), who had been called from Halle to teach clinical medicine, and Carl Asmund Rudolphi (1771-1812), who taught anatomy.  Both Reil and Hufeland had been closely consulted by Wilhelm von Humboldt in the planning of the new medical faculty, and Reil’s emphasis on classical training initially took the upper-hand.  Hufeland’s emphasis on therapy, bedside doctoring, and the social dimensions of illness was not without effect, however, and among other things led to the opening of Berlin’s first polyclinic for the poor at the Charité.  The relationship with Reil became increasingly strained during their three years together at Berlin, even leading to blows between their respective students, and Hufeland’s autobiography (finished in 1831) leaves Reil wholly unmentioned.  Reil’s untimely death in 1813 allowed Hufeland to expand his clinic-based vision of medical education.

Among his many awards and honors, Hufeland was invited in 1790 into Germany’s oldest scientific society, the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, and into the Prussian Academy of Sciences at Berlin on 23 December 1800.  In 1809 he was raised to the nobility, and was made a Knight of the Order of the Red Eagle, 3rd Class.

Hufeland’s literary ambitions began with a long essay (published in 1784) criticizing Franz Anton Mesmer’s belief in animal magnetism and magnetic healing.  This essay’s positive reception encouraged Hufeland to pursue what was to become a highly successful writing career, authoring over 400 publications.  His doctoral work (1783) on the effect of electrical stimulation on dead and near-dead animals — a continuation of Lichtenberg’s work with electricity at Göttingen — combined several themes of popular interest in his day: electricity, its role and effects on living beings, and premature burial.  This last interest was the subject of several publications (1790, 1791, 1808) which led to the creation of Weimar’s (and Germany’s) first “waiting mortuary” in 1791, a place where recent corpses could be watched for signs of life or, more to the point, signs of putrefaction — the only certain indicator of death, according to Hufeland.  He also tested the effects of electrical and mechanical stimulation on Hedysarum gyrans, a plant known to respond vigorously to light, and from these studies concluded that irritability (Reizbarkeit) was the principle behind all life, and that every organic motion or power, from the unfolding of a seed to the workings of the mind, are simply variations of this one power (1790, 23-4).

This reduction of life to terms of irritability would gain currency in the latter half of the 1790s during the wave of Brownianism (followers of the Scottish physician John Brown, 1735-88) that swept across Germany and Italy, although Hufeland was actually among that movement’s more energetic critics (1795, 1799).  Brown understood life as a relation between irritable matter and stimulation, with health defined as a balance between these two factors.  Death or poor health resulted from either too much or too little stimulation — sthenia being the condition of overstimulation, asthenia the condition of understimulation (to be corrected by such drugs as wine, camphor, or opium), and indirect asthenia as an overstimulation so extreme as to nearly exhaust the body’s supply of irritability, leading to a weakness resembling direct asthenia in its symptoms, but requiring the very opposite treatment.  Hufeland incorporated Brown’s classification of illness in his two volume work on medical therapeutics (System of Practical Medicine, 1800-1805), although he rejected Brown’s system in its fundamentals, viewing life and good health as a spontaneous, original condition to be maintained through proper diet and lifestyle, rather than as something externally enforced through the manipulation of stimulation.  Brown’s disciples sacrificed observation and common sense for an overly simple theory, according to Hufeland, who often collided with them on his staff at the Charité.  He was rather more favorably disposed towards another scientific fashion of the day, Gall’s phrenology, which Hufeland viewed as empirically well-established and which “should be considered as forming one of the boldest and most important steps in the study of nature.”

Hufeland’s first book promoted the use of smallpox vaccines (1789), a rather more controversial practice than it is today since it killed about two percent of all who received it.  Hufeland introduced Edward Jenner’s much safer method of injecting cowpox virus, however, instead of a weakened smallpox virus, and in 1802 was able to establish a vaccination clinic in Berlin.  Hufeland’s interest in public health also led to his promoting the English practice of bathing in the sea, as well as to an investigation of German spas (1815).  The growing interest in educational reform and the emergence of a new understanding of children was reflected in his promotion of pediatrics as a special field of medicine (Good Advice for Mothers, 1799; Medical Handbook, 1836).  Hufeland also published widely on therapeutics and pharmacology, and during this time founded his highly successful journal on medical therapy (Journal der practischen Arzneykunde und Wundarzneykunst, 1795-1836, 1843).

Hufeland’s Makrobiotik, his masterpiece on preventive medicine, was first published in 1797, with a second edition appearing that same year, and eight official editions (as well as various pirated editions) appearing during his lifetime, along with several translations.  The organizing principle in Makrobiotik for understanding human life and health is no longer irritability, but rather life force (Lebenskraft), a term borrowed from Blumenbach.  This life force, according to Hufeland, is present in everything, although it is most easily detected in organic beings, where it is manifested as the ability to respond to external stimuli.  This force can be weakened or destroyed, as well as strengthened, through external influences; it is depleted through bodily exertion and increased with rest; and so on.  Hufeland sought here not just a longer and healthier life, but also a more ethical life — moral and physical health were seen as intertwined and flowing from the same source, both marked by an abundance of life force.  Illness was not to be cured so much as prevented by pursuing a proper diet and lifestyle.  Hufeland sent a copy of this work to Immanuel Kant, who responded quite favorably in an open letter that Hufeland published in his Journal and that forms the third part of Kant’s Conflict of the Faculties (1798) [writings].  This connection with Kant was perhaps nurtured by a philosophy colleague of Hufeland’s, Carl Christian Erhard Schmid [bio] (1761-1812), the first to lecture on Kant at Jena and who had just published a treatise on physiology that was well-received in the medical community: Physiologie philosophische bearbeitet (Jena, 1798).


Ideen über Pathogenie und Einfluss der Lebenskraft auf Entstehung und Form der Krankheiten, als Einleitung zu pathologischen Vorlesungen (Jena, 1795).

Die Kunst das menschliche leben zu verlängern (Jena, 1797).  A 2nd edition, as well as pirated editions, also appeared in 1797.  Title changed with 3rd ed.: Makrobiotik oder die Kunst das menschliche Leben zu verlangern (Jena, 1805).

System der practischen Heilkunde; ein Handbuch für academische Vorlesungen und für den practischen Gebrauch, 2 vols. (Jena, 1800-5).

Enchiridion medicum oder Anleitung zur medizinischen Praxis. Vermächtnis einer funfzigjährigen Erfahrung (Berlin, 1836).

Other Relevant Works

De usu vis electricae in asphyxia experimentis illustratum (Göttingen, 1783).

‘Mesmer und sein Magnetismus’ in Der Teutsche Merkur (Weimar, 1784), vol. 4, pp. 60-90, 161-78.

Bemerkungen über die natürlichen und künstlichen Blattern zu Weimar im Jahr 1788 (Leipzig, 1789).

[anon.] “Über die Bewegungen des Hedysarum gyrans und die Wirkung der Elektrizität auf dasselbe.” In: Magazin für das Neueste aus der Physik und Naturgeschichte (Gotha, 1790), vol. 2, pp. 5-27.

“Die Ungewißheit des Todes und das einzige untrügliche Mittel, sich von seiner Wirklichkeit zu überzeugen und das Lebendigbegraben unmöglich zu machen.” In: Der Neue Teutsche Merkur (Weimar, 1790), Heft 2, pp. 11-39.

“Neuere Beyspiele von der Möglichkeit, auch in unsern Zeiten lebendig begraben zu werden; und Nachricht von der nun wirklichen Errichtung eines Leichenhauses in Weimar.” In: Der neue Teutsche Merkur (Weimar, 1791), Heft 3, pp. 125-38.

Gemeinnützige Aufsätze zur Beförderung der Gesundheit, des Wohlseyns und vernünftiger medicinischer Aufklärung (Leipzig, 1794).

‘Ueber menschliches Leben, seine fysische Natur, seine Hauptmomente, Organe, Ursach seiner langen Dauer, Einfluß der menschlichen Seele und Vernunft auf die Lebensdauer. (Eine Vorlesung.)’, in Der neue Teutsche Merkur, Heft 1 (1795), pp. 133-59.

“Erste Beurteiling des Brownschen Systems bei seiner Erscheinung in Teutschland.” In: Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, vol 1 (1795).

Ueber die Natur, Erkenntnissmittel und Heilart der Skrofelkrankheit; eine von der Kaiserlichen Academie der Naturforscher gekrönte Preisschrift (Jena, 1795).

Bemerkungen über das Nervenfieber und seine Complicationen in den Jahren 1796, 1797, und 1798 (Jena, 1799).

Bemerkungen über die Brownsche Praxis (Tübingen, 1799).

Guter Rath an Mütter über die wichtigsten Puncte der physischen Erziehung der Kinder in den ersten Jahren (Berlin, 1799).

“Bemerkungen über Galls Gehirnorganenlehre.” In: Journal der practischen Arzneykunde und Wundarzneykunst, vol. 21 (1805), part 3, pp. 114-158.

Der Scheintod, oder Sammlung der wichtigsten Thatsachen und Bemerkungen darüber (Berlin, 1808).

Über die Kriegspest alter und neuer Zeit, mit besonderer Rücksicht auf die Epidemie des Jahres 1813 in Teutschland (Berlin, 1814).

Praktische Uebersicht der vorzüglichsten Heilquellen Teutschlands nach eignen Erfahrungen (Berlin, 1815).

Die Schutzkraft der Belladonna gegen das Scharlachfieber zu fernerer Prüfung aufgestellt (Berlin, 1826).

Eine Selbstbiographie, ed. by Alexander Göschen, in Göschens deutsche Klinik (Berlin, 1863).  Hufeland's autobiography was written in 1831 but left unpublished.  A more available edition is: Brunn, Walter von, ed., Hufeland, Leibarzt und Volkserzieher.  Selbstbiographie von Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (Stuttgart, 1937). [online]

(editor), Journal der practischen Arzneykunde und Wundarzneykunst (1795-1836, 1843); in 1808 the name changed to Journal für practische Heilkunde.

Further Reading

ADB, vol. 13, pp. 286-96 (Ernst Gurlt).

DBE, vol. 5, p. 215 (Peter Schneck).

Hamberger (1797), vol. 3, pp. 457-60; (1801), vol. 9, pp. 636-7; (1805), vol. 11, p. 387; (1810), vol. 14, pp. 205-6; (1821), vol. 18, pp. 229-30; (1831), vol. 22, pp. 869-72.

NDB, vol. 10, pp. 1-7 (Markwart Michler).

Neuer Nekrolog der Deutschen, 1836 (Weimar, 1838), pp. 530-50.

Neumann, Josef N., “Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836).” In: Dietrich von Engelhardt and Fritz Hartmann, (eds.), Klassiker der Medizin (München, 1991), vol. 1, pp. 339-59.

Pfeifer, Klaus, Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland. Mensch und Werk (Halle, 1968).

—, Medizin der Goethezeit: Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland und die Heilkunst des 18. Jahrhunderts (Köln, 2000).

[Index of Biographies]