Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Vilnius (Lithuania)
Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences,
Department of Scholarly Information, Vilnius (Lithuania)
Carol Eduard von Eichwald (1795–1876): An Early Pre-Evolutionist at Vilnius University
Carol Eduard von Eichwald earned his international scientific fame in geology and palaeontology for his discoveries of Jurassic system deposits and his early pre-evolutionist investigations of the chronology of organic life. He organized the first Vilnius University natural sciences expedition around Lithuania, Volhynia and Podolia, and discovered deposits of the Jurassic system at Papilė, a town near the Venta River in Lithuania. The results of the expedition were published in 1830. Eichwald’s idea of evolutionism was clearly presented in the so-called “Eichwald’s tree of life” (1829).
Carol Eduard von Eichwald (1795–1876) was born in Mitau (now Jelgava, Latvia) into a noble family. After graduating from Mitau gymnasium he studied medicine in Berlin and natural history in Paris, and then toured Europe making the acquaintance of leading naturalists. Eichwald earned his doctorate in philosophy degree at Vilnius University in 1819 with a dissertation on a sea fish – Selachis Aristotelis. In order to teach at Dorpat (Tartu) University, he had to get his habilitated doctor degree. He did so in 1821 by writing a dissertation about the animal kingdom’s boundaries and its evolutionary stages.
Eichwald first worked as a physician in Aispute (Latvia) from 1819–1821; lectured at the University of Dorpat (Tartu) from 1821–1823; at the University of Kazan from 1823–1829; at Vilnius University and the Vilnius Medical-Surgical Academy from 1829–1837; and finally at the St. Petersburg Medical-Surgical Academy from 1838–1851. During his stay in Vilnius, he organized expeditions in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine to collect flora, fauna and fossils and published several indexes of the natural resources of those countries. His most important work is the Zoologia specialis quam expositus animalibus… (Vilnae, 1829–1831). There he describes the animal kingdom in an ascending order from the lowest (Heterozoa) to the highest (Mammalia). He represents this biodiversity as a “tree of life”, with a human on the top. This figure demonstrated some pre-evolutionary ideas in biology that appeared 30-years prior to Darwin.
The paper will present several episodes from the scientific life of Eichwald: as curator of the Museum of Zootomy at the Imperial Vilnius Medical-Surgical Academy and as author of a catalogue of that museum (Vilnius, 1835).