Gaceta Médica de México. 2015;151 762 The professor and the seamstress: an episode in the life of Jacob Henle

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Gaceta Médica de México. 2015;151


The professor and the seamstress: an episode  

in the life of Jacob Henle

Carlos Ortiz-Hidalgo*

Department of Cell and Tissue Biology, Universidad Panamericana, Ciudad de México, México; Department of Surgical and Molecular Pathology, 

Centro Médico ABC, Ciudad de México, México




*Carlos Ortiz-Hidalgo

Departamento de Patología Quirúrgica y Molecular

Centro Médico ABC

Sur 136, 116

Col. Las Américas, C.P. 01120, Ciudad de México, México


Date of reception: 26-12-2014 

Date of acceptance: 07-01-2015



The story that is going to be told describes a pas-

sage in the life of a great character in the history of 

medicine, Friedrich Gustav Jacob Henle (1809-1885). 

Henle is known for his morphological studies, which 

led to incorporate his name to several structures of the 

human body. He is considered to be the creator of 

modern histology and one of the greatest anatomists 

of all times, whose impact on medicine, according to 

Newell, can be compared to that by Andreas Vesalius


Of his numerous morphological findings, perhaps the 

most widely known are Henle´s loop in the kidney and 

Henle’s internal root sheath of the hair follicle


, but 

there are more than 10 Henle eponyms (Table 1).



Contents available at 


Gac Med Mex. 2015;151:762-9


Jacob Henle was a great German anatomist and one of the most important histologists of all times. One of the most commonly 

used eponymous terms in renal histology is the loop of Henle, but many other anatomical and pathological findings are associated 

with his name. During his stay in Zurich he fell in love with Elise Egolff who worked as a maid and seamstress in the house of 

one of his friends. No one could ever imagine how the wide social chasm that separated the servant-girl and the professor could 

be bridged. Henle arranged for his sister Marie to educate Elise and give her social polish. In a short time Elise was transformed 

into a lady of the world. A year and a half later Jacob and Elise were married. This episode inspired the novelist Auerbach to 

write the novel “The Professor’s Wife”, and the play “Pygmalion” by George B Shaw. 

(Gac Med Mex. 2015;151:762-9)

Corresponding author: Carlos Ortiz Hidalgo,

KEY WORDS: Jacob Henle. Elise Egloff.

Henle was a student and close collaborator of Jo-

hannes Peter Müller (1801-1858); coworker of Rudolf 

Virchow (1821-1902), Theodor Schwann (1810-1882), 

Albert von Kölliker (1817-1905), Friedrich Schlemm 

(1795-1858), Moritz Heinrich Romberg (1795-1873), 

and Friedrich Sigmund Merkel (1845-1919) (who de-

scribed the Merkel cells, married Anna, Henle’s daugh-

ter, and succeeded him as anatomy professor at the 

University of Göttingen); he was teacher of Robert 

Koch (1843-1910) and Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried 

Waldeyer (1836-1921) and great friend of the musician 

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and of the polymath 

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)



A curious episode of Henle’s personal life was that 

of his first marriage with the seamstress and governess 

Elise Egloff (Fig. 1), a romance that inspired the novels 

C. Ortiz-Hidalgo:

The professor and the seamstress: an episode in the life of Jacob Henle


Bernard Shaw, was awarded with an Oscar. In 1964, 

a musical remake was produced, My Fair Lady, direct-

ed by George Cukor and with Rex Harrison and Audrie 

Hepburn on the leading roles (Fig. 2). The story of 

Eliza Doolittle resembles that of Elise Egloff, Jacob 

Henle’s first wife


Jacob Henle

Friedrich Gustav Jacob Henle was born on July 19



1809 in Fürth, a small Bavarian city, at 10 km from 

Nüremberg, in the bossom of a Jewish family. His fa-

ther, Wilhelm Henle, was a tradesman, and his mother

Helene Sophia Diespeck, the daughter of a rabbi from 



. In those times, many ecucated German 

Jews saw conversion to Catholicism as a route for 

social climbing and, for that reason Jacob decided to 

convert to Protestantism. He was a very brilliant stu-

dent, with ability to learn languages (he spoke German, 

English, French, Italian and Danish); he played the 

violin and the cello and sang very well. Music tied him 

in close friendship with Felix Mendelssohn, with whom 

he also shared his Jewish background. Thanks to his 

love for music he met Johannes Peter Müller, who be-

came his academic advisor. It was Müller who advised 

him to study medicine, and Jacob was admitted in the 

University of Bonn in October 1827 (at 18 years of age) 

and graduated as a physician on April 4


 1832 with the 

thesis entitled De membrana Pupillari Aliisque Oculi 

Membranas Pellucentibus (About the pupillary mem-

brane and other translucid membranes of the eye). His 

interest for anatomy is evidenced in a letter he wrote to 

his parents: “I don’t know better nourishment for imag-

ination than the beautiful formation of the human body 

constructed by individual bones and muscles that I 

know very well, and that show a perfect assembly”



Table 1. Henle eponyms

–  External sphincter of the bladder (Henle’s sphincter)

–  Internal root sheath of hair (Henle’s layer)

–  Thin renal tubule (loop of Henle) 

–   Trachoma glands of Henle (conjunctival lymphoid 


–   Henle’s  membrane-lamina basalis choroidea (Bruchs 


–   Nervous  stratum (stratum nerveum) of Henle (retinal 

layer composed exclusively by cones and rods)

–  Henle’s fibers (photoreceptor internal fibers)

–  Henle’s layer (plexiform external layer of the retina)

–  Henle’s fiber layer of the macula lutea 

–  Henle’s ampulla (external half of uterine tube)

–  Henle’s layer of internal cremaster

–   Hassall-Henle warts (bodies) (small excrescences of the 

Descemet membrane of the cornea)

–   Henle’s fissure (fibrous tissue between cardiac muscle 


–   Henle’s ligament (tendons of the transverse muscle of 


–  Henle’s sheath (perineurium)

–  Vascular endothelium (of Henle)

–   Henle’s spine (suprameateal spine that serves as a 

landmark in the mastoid area)

– Henle’s demodex folliculorum

–  Henle’s internal cremaster

Regina, by Gottfried Keller (1819-1890), and die Frau 

Professorin  (The Professor’s wife), by Berthold Auer-

bach, published in 1846


, and the plays Dorf und 

Stadt  (Village and city), by Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer 

(1800-1868) and Pygmalion (based on the story by the 

Roman poet Ovidius The metamorphoses, where Pyg-

malion is presented as a sculptor in love of one of his 

sculptures), published in 1913 by George Bernard 

Shaw (1856-1950), who was awarded with the 1925 

Literature Nobel Prize. In George Bernard Shaw`s play, 

the central plot develops at Covent Gardens, London, 

around the florist Eliza Doolittle, whose manners and 

vulgar language stir the interest of phonetics professor 

Henry Higgins and his friend, colonel Pickering, with 

whom Higgins bets that he is able to teach the young 

girl good manners and to speak educately, and to 

make her pass for a high society lady in six months. 

Higgins manages to turn Eliza into an educated and 

refined woman, and ends up falling in love with her, 

the woman he has sculptured according to his wishes, 

as in the Pygmalion myth. This play was adapted to 

the movies in 1938, with Wendy M. Hiller (1912-2003) 

as the protagonist, and won the Oscar for best adapt-

ed script, which meant that for the first, and so far the 

only time in history, the winner of a Nobel Prize, George 

Figure 1. Jacob and Elise (c. 1846).

Gaceta Médica de México. 2015;151


At the University of Bonn, Henle was an active mem-

ber of the fraternity Burschenschaften, a type of asso-

ciation inspired by liberal and nationalistic ideas; Ja-

cob accepted the bravery and honor tests imposed by 

the fraternity and took part in combats putting his life 

at risk. Thanks to his anatomical works, we know that 

young Henle was very skilled with the knife at the dis-

secting room, but he did considerably less well when 

he engaged in duels, since once he received a wound 

to his right cheek that branded him for life; in photo-

graphs he appears almost always turning his face 

right, possibly to cover the wound. 

For some time, Henle continued his studies in Hei-

delberg, where he had remarkable teachers, such as 

the great obstetrician Franz Naegele (1778-1851) and 

the anatomists Friedrich Arnold (1803-1890) and Frie-

drich Tiedemann (1781-1861), among others, but he 

returned to Bonn to work at Müller’s side, as he ex-

plains in a letter to his parents, “to work under Müller’s 

‘eye’ and be able to consult in case of doubt”.

When he completed his studies, Henle travelled to 

Paris with Müller to visit the zoologist Georges Cuvier 

(1769-1832), considered to be the father of compara-

tive anatomy. Subsequently, he returned to Germany 

and moved to Berlin (capital city of Prussia) to work 

under the guardianship of the Swedish-descendant 

German anatomist and father of helminthology Israel 

Karl Asmund Rudolphi (1771-1832) and Friedrich 

Schlemm (1795-1858). Rudolphi died a few months 

after Henle’s arrival, and was succeeded by his mentor 

Johannes P. Müller, which turned Müller into the central 

figure of Germanic medicine of those times. Müller 

appointed Henle as prosector, with a salary of 480 

thaler a year, and associate editor of Archiv für Anat-

omie, Physiologie, the most important journal until the 

appearance in 1847 of Virchows Archiv


. On this pe-

riod of his life, Henle met Schwann and Matthias Jakob 

Schleiden (1804-1881), authors of the cell theory


Schleiden and Schwann had noticed some character-

istics of the microscopic structure of animals and plants, 

in particular the presence of nuclei (previously described 

by the British botanist Robert Brown in 1831), and in 

1839 they indicated that the cell constituted the funda-

mental unit of living beings. Schwann and Schleiden 

were great friends, and Schwann tells that during a 

conversation with Schleiden in Berlin, he suggested 

the idea that would originate the cell theory: “One day 

that I was having dinner with Schleiden (October 1837), 

Figure 2. The My Fair Lady movie and the Pygmalion play.

C. Ortiz-Hidalgo:

The professor and the seamstress: an episode in the life of Jacob Henle


this illustrious botanist indicated to me the important 

function of the nucleus in the development of plant 

cells. I remembered having seen a similar organ in cells 

of the tadpole spinal chord, and on that moment I 

understood the importance my discovery would have 

if I managed to demonstrate that the nucleus of the 

spinal chord cells played the same role than the nu-

cleus of plants in the development of vegetals”



During his stay in Berlin, exactly on July the 2



Henle was arrested and sent to prison for four weeks 

for his history as a member of the Burschenschaften, 

and was not released until the intervention of Von Hum-

boldt and his mentor Müller. Once out of jail, Jacob 

was received with much affection by all his acquain-

tances in Berlin. People say that a lady approached 

and gave him a kiss when he was walking by the street, 

owing to the emotion she felt by seeing him walk free; 

Henle wrote his parents about the whole event and told 

them that, with that kind of awards, he would gladly 

spend another month in jail!


In 1838, Henle submitted a work to the University of 

Berlin applying for a teaching position, Symbolae ad 

Anatomiam Villorium Intestinalium Imprimis Eorum Ep-

ithelii et Vasorum Lacteorum (Contribution to intestinal 

villi anatomy with special reference to the epithelium 

and lymph or lacteal vessels), where he described his 

observations on the intestinal internal surface (epithe-

lium) and the lymphatic vessels. The important contri-

bution of this work was the discovery that the internal 

surface of the intestine was lined by epithelial cells, a 

discovery that led him to study the surface of different 

organs of the body, and observed everything was lined 

by epithelium. The concept of epithelial tissue is one 

of Henle’s most relevant contributions to histology. He 

described that all mucous membranes were covered 

by a thin layer of cells, rather than by “coagulated 

mucus”, as then it was assumed. In 1838, in an article 

entitled “Ueber die Ausbreitung des Epithelium im 

menschlichen Körper” (On the distribution of epithelia 

in the human body), he established the characteristics 

of epithelia and divided them in three types: Pflasterep-

ithelium  (squamous epithelium), Cylinderepithelium 

(columnar epithelium) and Flimmerepithelium (ciliary 

epithelium); in addition, he correctly indicated that cil-

ia were nothing else than modifications of the cell 

membrane. As he illustrated in his book, this epithelial 

tissue was not only present in the gastrointestinal tract, 

but also lined serous cavities, the cerebral ventricles, 

the blood vessels, the larynx and the pharynx



It is possible that due to his incarceration Henle was 

not happy in Berlin, and in the spring of 1840, just 

after having celebrated his 31


 birthday, he was ap-

pointed anatomy professor and director of the Institute 

of Anatomy of the recently founded University of Zu-

rich. The great anatomist Albert von Kölliker (1817-

1905) (he had been his student in Berlin and, among 

many other contributions, he demonstrated the conti-

nuity of axons with the neuronal body) became his 

prosector. In Zurich he published, in 1841, the famous 

general anatomy text Allgemeine Anatomie, which was 

the first book dedicated to histology, where Schleiden 

and Schwann’s recently described cell theory was pre-



 (Fig. 3). This book served as an introduction 

to pathology as well. In the preface, Henle indicates: 

“Tissue physiology is the foundation of general and 

rational pathology, which tries to understand the mor-

bid process and symptoms as necessary reactions of 

organic matter, endowed with peculiar powers that are 

non-transferrable to external abnormal influences”.

At the University of Zurich, Karl von Pfeufer (1806-

1869) was appointed head of the Department of Inter-

nal Medicine, and soon Henle and Pfeufer became 

inseparable friends and academic collaborators. Both 

Figure 3. Cover of the book Allgemeine Anatomie (General ana-

tomy), published in Zurich in 1841. It was the first text dedicated to 

histology, where Schleiden and Schwann’s then recently described 

cell theory was presented.

Gaceta Médica de México. 2015;151


founded the so-called school of rational medicine and, 

in 1862, the journal Zeitschrift für rationelle Medizin 

(Journal of Rational Medicine) became one of the most 

important of the 19




. These close friends were 

invited to Heidelberg, and both accepted the invitation, 

and therefore Henle continued his studies on histology 

research at the University of Heidelberg (1844-1852). 

Subsequently, he was appointed professor at the Uni-

versity of Göttingen (1852-1885), where he stayed for 

33 years. There, he directed the Institute of Anatomy 

and died at the age of 76 years, being a professor and 

head of the Department of Anatomy and Physiology.

It is difficult to decide which Henle’s most important 

contribution was, since he studied practically the entire 

anatomy and development of the human body, but pos-

sibly the best known eponym is Henle’s loop of the kid-



. In January 1862, Henle presented before the Sci-

entific Society of Göttingen his findings on the fine 

structure of the kidney. In this manuscript entitled Zur 

Anatomie der Niere, he indicated that there were two 

types of tubules in the renal medulla: one was the al-

ready known papillary tubule of Bellini, and the other 

were tubules of smaller diameter that were lined by a plain 

squamous epithelium and ran parallel to the collecting 

ducts and returned forming a “lasso” or “loop” towards 

the medulla (Fig. 4). Henle could not show the connec-

tion of these newly described tubules with the rest of 

the collecting system, but three years later, Franz Sch-

weigger-Seidel (1834-1871), a German physiologist 

born in Weißenfels, associated these Henle’s tubules 

in continuity with the rest of the renal tubular system 

(Schweigger-Seidel’s name is not applied to any renal 

structure, but the periarteriolar sheath that covers the 

penicillate arteries of the spleen bears his name)


More than 100 yars had to elapse for Henle’s loop 

function to become known and be incorporated to the 

concept of countercurrent multiplier mechanism that 

allows for an adequate osmotic means to be provided 

in order to concentrate the urine.

Another important contribution of Henle was the dis-

covery of the presence of microorganisms in sick ani-

mals’ secretions. Henle proposed the term contagion 

as the infection mechanism in the book Pathologische 

Untersuchungen (Pathological investigations), pub-

lished in Berlin in 1840


, but he failed to demonstrate 

the presence of these microorganisms as a direct 

cause of any disease. Many years later, one of his 

students, Robert Koch, a student of the University of 

Figure 4. Cover of the book Zur Anatomie der Niere, published in 1862, where Henle described the loop that bears his name.

C. Ortiz-Hidalgo:

The professor and the seamstress: an episode in the life of Jacob Henle


Göttingen, made Henle’s prophecy on the bacterial 

theory fruitful. On December the 6


 1841, while he was 

working at the University of Zurich, he presented, be-

fore the Natural Sciences Society of Zurich, the descrip-

tion of Demodex foliculorum, a mite that lives in hair 

follicles. These observations were published in the local 

newspaper (!), and possibly for this reason this discov-

ery remained unnoticed for a long time


. According to 

many of his students, Henle’s Annual report, which was 

duly published from 1856 to 1871, was eagerly awaited. 

This manuscript covered the most important advances 

on pathology, histology and special and general anat-

omy. These yearly publications became famous for their 

comments, and some say that early spring every year, 

when the reports appeared, many scientists of that time 

trembled as they went through the pages looking for 

Henle’s comments on their investigations



Henle had a disagreement with his teacher Müller 

with regard to the use of the microscope. Henle claimed 

that the use of this instrument should be mandatory for 

medicine students for microscopic anatomy recogni-

tion. Conversely, Müller considered tat the microscope 

should be used only for research. It took a couple of 

years for Henle to convince the entire medical commu-

nity of that time on the convenience of mandatory use 

of the microscope, and Purkinje in Poland and Henle 

in Germany established the subject of microscopy (his-

tology) in the medical curriculum.

The professor and the seamstress

When Jacob decided to move from Germany to Swit-

zerland, he surely did not imagine that destiny was 

waiting right across the border. Upon his arrival to 

Zurich, Jacob fell in love with the daughter of a captain 

of the army, who immediatelly accepted his marriage 

proposal, but a few days later the lady broke his heart, 

since Henle found out that she had accepted his pro-

posal only to make her former fiancee jealous and this 

way conquer him back. The lady had taken advantage 

of Henle, she had applied him one of the oldest tricks 

in love issues. Heartbroken, Jacob took refuge in his 

studies and in music, and learned to play the cello


During his stay in Zurich, Henle met Elise Egloff, the 

governess of the house he lived in, home of Carl Jacob 

Löwig (1803-1890), a German chemist, discoverer of 



. Chronics say that Elise trembled with joy 

whenever she served Jacob at table and listened with 

emotion, behind the kitchen closed door, when he 

raised his voice in song or played the violin. One day, 

Mrs. Löwig saw Elise almost with tears of passionate 

rapture listening Henle sing, and she immediately in-

formed Jacob that Elise was in love with him. Jacob 

then confessed that he was also very fond of Elise; he 

even said that the first time he laid eyes on her he had 

a deep love sensation and wrote: “And there occurred 

the most ludicruous thing that could ever happen to a 

wordly cavalier in a relationship of this kind. I interest-

ed myself not only in the girl’s beauty but also in her 

soul”. A few years before, he had written his parents 

that as soon as he completed his studies “he would 

look for a good job (…) and marry a young, beautiful, 

intelligent and rich young girl, who spoke French, 

played the piano and knew how to ride horses”. How-

ever, Cupid tied Jacob with Elise.

Elise Egloff was born in Tägerwilen, Switzerland, on 

January 21, 1821


. She was raised at her grandfather’s 

home, Hans Jakop Egloff and, after his death, Elise 

learned needlework and worked as a seamstress before 

she started working as a governess with the Löwig fam-



. At 21 years of age, when she met Jacob, she was 

a very beautiful young girl


. When Elise noticed she was 

in love with Jacob Henle, she could not bear the fact of 

not being able to engage in a sentimental relationship 

with him due to sociocultural differences (he was al-

ready a professor and she, a maid), and she decided 

to leave the Löwig’s home and work as a seamstress. 

Henle looked for her, found her, and told her that, since 

they came from socially different worlds, their love was 

impossible. However, in spite of having agreed not to 

see each other again, their mutual passion swept them 

closer and closer together, and Henle insisted on vis-

iting the place where Elise mended clothes.

The cultural abyss that divided them was wide, and 

due to the prejudices of the epoch, it was highly un-

likely for them to be able to establish a sentimental 

relationship. Given that Jacob used to visit Elise fre-

quently, social rumors started spreading on the possi-

ble relationship of the professor and the seamstress, 

and German society of those days was ready to com-

pletely engulf them. However, as we will see, the way 

Jacob and Elise confronted the situation was the per-

fect shield against those social prejudices.


Phonetically reading

In 1844, Henle was invited to work at the University 

of Heidelberg and thought that he could bring Elise 

along – who already possessed more charm and beau-

ty than many a high-born dame – and educate her to 

Gaceta Médica de México. 2015;151


become his wife. He then spoke with his sister Marie, 

told her that he had fallen in love with a good young 

girl, although not cultivated enough to become his wife, 

and asked for help to educate her. In the spring of 

1844, Henle brought Elise to Marie’s home in the city 

of Traben-Trarbach and, aided by her husband 

Mathieu, Marie educated Elise. While Mathieu taught 

her classic poetry, Marie instructed her in music, piano, 

drawing and in the intricacies of social intercourse. 

Some of the letters sent by Elise to Jacob have been 

preserved. In one of them, dated on February 6



and entitled “Most venerable Herr Professor”, she nar-

rates her stay at his sister house and tells him how 

much she misses him. In these letters of that “socio-

cultural training” period, currently in possession of one 

of Jacob’s granddaughters, Lizzie Marie Stein, one can 

notice the progressive change in the writing style and 

spelling; in the first ones, there are different spelling 

and stylistic mistakes, and those written years later 

show much better style


 (Fig. 5). 

In a year and a half Elise was transformed from a 

humble seamstress into a lady of the world who moved 

amid general approbation in various social circles. On 

October 1845, Jacob and Elise met after one and a 

half year, and Jacob was amazed with the transforma-

tion. On December 1845 Jacob sent a letter to his fa-

ther that read: “Now I am engaged to a young girl from 

Tägerwilen that I met in Zurich. She is orphan and poor, 

but beautiful and brave, and her name is Elise Egloff. 

She has been living for a year with my sister, who has 

helped her to acquire a good German education, since 

she was not educated enough for Swiss standards, 

given my high academic rank”.

The engagement was announced on the first months 

of 1846, and on March of that same year, young, beau-

tiful, and now educated Elise Egloff, of 25 years of age, 

became Elise Henle, the professor’s wife (Frau Profes-

sor), who then was 35 years old. They married in Trier, 

the oldest city of Germany, located on the right bank 

of the Moselle river, and spent their honeymoon in Vi-

enna, where they were greeted by the foremost medi-

cal men of the day, including Carl von Rokitansky 

(1804-1878), who were impressed by Elise’s charm 

and beauty. On their way back to Heidelberg, Jacob 

and Elise attended a theater play in Weimar. The Grand 

Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Charles Frederick 

(1783-1853), who was among the audience, had some-

one sent to inquire who Henle’s beautiful companion 

was. This situation did not upset Jacob, but on the 

contrary, he was flattered. When the play concluded, 

they were invited by the Grand Duke to have a glass 

Figure 5. Oldest known letter from Elise Egloff, dated on February 



 1843; it reads: “Most venerable Herr Professor”.

of wine and Elise also captivated the ladies of royalty 

without any of them suspecting that some years before 

she might have well been their seamstress


Unfortunately, the Henle-Egloff marriage lasted a lit-

tle less than three years, since Elise contracted pulmo-

nary tuberculosis and died at 5 in the afternoon of 

February 21


 1848 at 27 years of age in Jacob’s arms. 

They had two children: Carl, who was born in Decem-

ber 1846, and Elise, born in January 1848. Society 

criticized Henle, saying that Elise’s intense sociocultur-

al change would have favored the progression of the 

disease. Merkel (his son-in-law) stated: “It is highly 

possible, even probable, that the strong emotion and 

the powerful spiritual work of the last two years have 

accelerated the disastrous outbreak of suffering”


Elise was buried in the Mount of Heidelberg cementery, 

in the presence of professors Reinhard Blum and Lud-

wig Hausser, both Jacob’s colleagues at the University 

of Heidelberg. Henle could not attend his wife’s funeral 

due to an ailment. It appears that the Henle-Egloff 

couple lived very happily. Chronics say that Elise, in 

addition to beauty, had an extraordinary energy, very 

good attitude and great capacity to happily enjoy life, 

an emotion that she shared and knew how to spread 

to her family. One year after Elise’s death, Henle trav-

elled to Coblenz to visit his father and there he met a 

friend of her sister Helene, Marie Richter, the daughter 

of a Prussian army officer, and Jacob fell in love once 

C. Ortiz-Hidalgo:

The professor and the seamstress: an episode in the life of Jacob Henle


more. A few months later they got married and had four 

children: Adolf, who became a surgeon, Anna, who 

married Friedrich Merkel, Sophie and Emma. His chil-

dren were brought up in Göttingen, where Henle was 

appointed professor in 1852 and where he worked for 

the rest of his professional carreer.


As previously mentioned, in 1845, Berthold Auer-

bach knew about the story of Jacob and Elise and 

wrote the work entitled Die Frau Professorin (The pro-

fessor’s wife)


. In 1847, Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer read 

Auerbach’s novel and wrote a play that was very suc-

cessful. Auerbach protested arguing plagiarism, and 

tried unsuccessfully to sue Pfeiffer for copyright in-

fringement. In spite of this issue, the play contributed 

to the popularity of Jacob and Elise’s story, who per-

sonally met Auerbach. After Elise’s decease, Jacob 

and Berthold further strehgthened their friendship, 

since Auerbach had lost his wife in childbirth around 

that same time. However, when Henle knew that the 

story of the novel Auerbach had written was based on 

the intimacy of his marriage, the friendship was broken, 

since he felt betrayed when he knew that his friend had 

taken advantage of a very intimate and personal situ-

ation and wrote: “I was really surprised by the way he 

[Auerbach] used my tragic marriage for his work”.

Jacob Henle was a great human being and, as a teach-

er, he was highly appreciated and loved by his students. 

He was a brilliant speaker, and some of his former stu-

dents used to say that his lessons were entertaining, 

stimulating, a taste of wisdom seasoned with varied pro-

posals on the function and origin of different human tis-

sues, with a highly unique touch of humor


. Henle’s 

highly productive and plentiful academic work can be 

divided in four periods: the Berlin period (1834-1840), the 

Zurich period (1840-1844), the Heidelberg period (1844-

1852) and the final Göttingen period (1852-1885).

His family life was very quiet and he had many 

friends, who gathered at his place to sing and play the 

piano and the violin. Numerous students shone around 

Henle, including Emil Du-Bois Reymond, Ernst Wilhelm 

von Brücke (1819-1892), Albert von Kölliker, Theodor 

Langhans, Friedrich Merkel and Wilhelm Waldeyer, 

who payed him tribute for his retirement and told him: 

“Most respected professor, please accept our sincere 

gratefulness for all you have been for science and for 

us. We congratulate you for this great day we celebrate 

and want to express our wishes that you may have 

many more days of true happiness and may plenty 

beneficial activity be granted to you”. Unfortunately, 

these wishes didn’t come true, since Jacob Henle died 

on May the 13


 1885 of a renal sarcoma with metas-

tases to the vertebrae at 76 years of age


. There is a 

street in Göttingen with his name: Jakob-Henle-Straße, 

and another in his native town Fürth.

There was no part of the human body that old Jacob 

(der alte Jakop), as his students used to call him, did not 

explore under the microscope and, with no doubt, Hen-

le is the greatest histologist of all times. He also made 

incursions in comparative anatomy, in the anatomical 

structure of different animals and in anthropology. He 

wrote the biographs of three of his friends, Albrecht von 

Haller, Ernst Heinrich Weber and Theodor Schwann, and 

had his last work published in 1844, on the human nail 

and the horse’s hoof. Henle elevated anatomy to an 

unprecedented degree of perfection, which has served 

as the basis to all contemporary investigators of morpho-

logical sciences. As written by American poet Henry 

Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) in A psalm of life:

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again. 


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the internal root sheath. Am J Dermatopathol. 2001;23(6):549-51.

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Oxford University Press Inc; 2007. p. 42-75.

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spleen of guinea hen. Acta Biol Hung. 1994;45(2-4):375-86.

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Anatom und das Nähmädchen. Eine Geschichte in Briefen. 2004.

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Briefen. Zürich (u.a.): Züst; 1937.

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eponyms. [Internet] Consultado en diciembre de 2014. Disponible en:

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