Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/711

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
691
SKETCH OF JOHN GUNDLACH.

SKETCH OF JOHN GUNDLACH.
By JUAN VILARÓ, M. D., A. M., Ph. D.,
PROFESSOR OF NATURAL HISTORY, HAVANA UNIVERSITY.

THE words by which Sir William Jardine characterized Alexander Wilson may be equally well applied, with a slight change, to Gundlach, the Cuban naturalist. He "was the first who truly studied the birds of Cuba in their natural abodes from real observation; and his work will always remain an ever-to-be-admired testimony of enthusiasm and perseverance." Gundlach studied with equal completeness all the land and river fauna of Cuba and that of the sea, except the fishes, on which Poey was engaged.

John Christopher Gundlach was born July 17, 1810, at the University of Marburg, Hesse Cassel, where his father, Dr. John Gundlach, was Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. When the father died he left his five children a good name and a noble example; and the mother received a pension.

These resources, however, were not sufficient for so numerous a family. Great sacrifices were necessary if so many children were to be fittingly educated. The young students were compelled to devote their leisure moments to work, instead of the exercises of pleasure and recreation which were the privilege of their fellows. Henry became a doctor of medicine; Conrad, a Protestant minister; William, a guardian of the forests; and John accustomed himself, to use his own words, to "accept destiny in whatever shape it might present itself," and to do much while he spent little. He was in his ninth year when his elder brother returned from Cassel with a ready and practical knowledge of taxidermy. He used to watch the brother's work, closely and quietly following all the processes of his preparations. The boy was an industrious collector of insects all the while; and in the study and classification of his collections enjoyed the counsel and assistance of naturalists, who were glad to give him their encouragement. Those fruitful collecting excursions were the pastime of his youth. About this time the young man suffered a serious disaster from the accidental discharge of a shotgun, by which his nose was shattered, and he was permanently deprived of the sense of smell. The misfortune, however, had one comforting compensation, in that the student was thereby enabled to deal with subjects in extreme stages of decomposition as easily as if they had been entirely fresh. He gained an extensive reputation as a taxidermist, a practical demonstration of which was the fact that a captain residing in Marburg intrusted him with the preparation and mounting of his valuable collection of birds.