Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/April 1876/Museum Godeffroy

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



IN one of the quarters of the "old city" in Hamburg, untouched by the great fire of 1842, is a little square around which crowd tall, narrow buildings with high, pointed roofs. The quaint architecture, the flat barges in the canal, and the queer trucks with harness enough on each horse to stock a team of four, remind one of the middle ages; but the busy railway-station near by and the forest of shipping on the Elbe bearing the flags of every civilized nation tell us that this is the great commercial port of Northern Europe. Here lives Herr Cæsar Godeffroy, one of the merchant-princes of Hamburg, whose ships for half a century have been sailing over every ocean. His great wealth has been expended liberally and in many ways, as Hamburgers all bear witness. But in one unique method Herr Godeffroy has long been doing a great work for science in Europe—a work that has made his name honored among the savants of Germany. This is the originating and sustaining an immense museum, now called after his name; an establishment which has for its object the collection and distribution of zoölogical material, especially in the department of the invertebrates.

Herr Godeffroy had a deep love for the beautiful and rare in Nature, and his captains brought to him contributions from all seas. This plan he encouraged, and finally enjoined it upon them, furnishing them before each departure with nets, dredges, casks of alcohol, and other equipments for collecting largely wherever they went. Most of his ventures were among the South-Sea Islands, and thence came to him splendid crustaceans, mollusks, star-fishes, sea-eggs, holothuria, corals, sponges, sea-fans, and the like. The collection as received increased so overwhelmingly in quantity and variety (for this systematic and princely research had developed a marvelous wealth of new forms), that Herr Godeffroy determined to make it available to science in the fullest manner possible. So he gave up one of his warehouses, fitted it up from cellar to garret for the storage and handling of this material, and engaged curators to assort and put in shape for permanent preservation the fresh arrivals. Specialists were also enlisted to work up each department, identifying the old and describing the new. Thus some of the most distinguished German naturalists were employed in this great storehouse of Nature's wonders. Some of them even found here opportunities for wider comparison of species than in the Royal Museums at home.

In other cases material was sent to the highest authorities in the various classes. Profs. Kölliker and Spengel, for example, have worked up the mammals; Sharpe (of the British Museum) and Drs. Hartlaub, Finsch, and Gräffe, the birds; Prof. Peters, the amphibians; Dr. Günther, the fishes; Semper, the insects; Dunker, Monson, Martens, and Garret, the mollusks; Lütken, the echinoderms; Dr. Kirchenpauer, Kölliker, and Semper, the cœlenterates; and Dr. Ehlers, the protozoans.

This plan, most liberally sustained, has resulted in giving the Godeffroy Museum a high place among the cabinets of Europe for its many type-specimens and novelties. The duplicates were freely distributed to institutions of science in the Fatherland, and to many specialists beyond it. This munificence in thus aiding investigators is a theme of praise among professional zoölogists on the Continent. Many of the discoveries among the lower forms of marine life which have enriched German science during the last two decades may be credited to the Hamburg storehouse. Rarely have wealth and liberality been combined in a way more grateful to working naturalists; and never did science indirectly receive greater material benefit from one not himself an investigator. For Herr Godeffroy is a merchant, spending most of his time in his counting-room and at the Bourse, and superintending cargoes which unite Hamburg with nearly every part of the world. He visits his museum for an hour or two as a weekly recreation, looking over the beautiful forms, and hearing from his corps of workers their most noteworthy observations. It is a phenomenon too rare in America; nor is it common even in more intellectual Europe to find commerce and science thus sharing the attention of the same mind. A Berlin naturalist, who was in a position to know, told the writer that Herr Godeffroy had for many years in the early part of his enterprise expended not less than from six to eight thousand thalers each year in procuring and working up his natural history material. It was perhaps to lessen the burden of this outgo by an income, and to make the institution in part self-supporting and therefore more permanent, that in 1865 (?) the founder decided to offer for sale to European naturalists his stores of duplicate material already acquired and daily coming in. For this purpose a carefully-prepared catalogue of the Museum Godeffroy was issued, with a detailed list of the species in classified order, giving the author and locality, and the catalogue number which follows the specimen when it goes forth. This catalogue is in itself an almost exhaustive list of marine invertebrates in the regions which the Godeffroy collectors have visited; and what gives it peculiar value is its reliable indication of the locality of the specimen, coming as it does from a trained collector sending direct to the establishment. The fifth catalogue, issued in 1874, is a pamphlet of 252 pages, and notes, in close print, the name, author, locality, and price, in Prussian currency, of about 9,600 species of insects, crustaceans, mollusks, echinoderms, coelenterates, and protozoans, besides several hundred vertebrates. Much of this invertebrate material is in alcohol. The skillful use of this, by both collector and curator, has allowed the preservation of a large series of forms which are seldom offered for sale at a natural history establishment. Such are beautiful coral-polyps and other zoophytes, physalias, velellas, pyrosomes, salpidæ, ascidians, holothurians, arachnidæ, minute crustaceans, polyzoöans, tunicates, and many other forms of extremest interest to the student, but heretofore rarely obtainable. In a word, the Museum Godeffroy, as now conducted, is a vast storehouse of material available for the cabinets and laboratories of working naturalists and teachers of comparative zoölogy in all parts of the world. It affords a splendid opportunity to our college professors to obtain those forms so needed in a systematic course of zoölogical lectures or in rounding out the ordinal divisions in their museums.

It may be wondered that so little has been known of this Hamburg "Zoölogical Comptoir" in America. The reason is to be found in the extreme (we had almost said unfortunate) delicacy of Herr Godeffroy, who has never been willing in any way to publish this as a commercial establishment; even the catalogue gives only on one page, accidentally as it were, the facts that the objects are for sale.

The enterprise is carried on purely in the interests of scientific discovery at a yearly expense, beyond returns, of several thousand dollars. The staff of collectors, equipped and kept in the field, is very large. Among those specially engaged at present are the following:

Herr Hildebrand is dredging in the southern part of the Red Sea and along the east coast of Africa, and interior in the Somali land, a region whose fauna is little known. Herr Darnel is at work in Eastern Australia, having passed through Queensland and penetrated three hundred miles into the interior, obtaining strange forms of mollusks and that strangest of fishes—the Ceratodus Fosteri. Six of these fishes, about two feet long, have been secured by him, and six German museums have got these ichthyological treasures at two hundred Prussian thalers each. Also in Australia. Frau Dietrich, a second Madame Pfeiffer, for the last ten years has been traveling and collecting for the Godeffroy Museum. Her collections of insects are astonishing in the number of new forms brought to light. In the rapturous South-Sea Islands—Samoa, Viti, Pelew, Society, Marshall, and others—Herr Kubarz and Dr. Garret have resided for more than ten years, cruising from island to island and making magnificent collections of polyps, echinoderms, mollusks, and crustaceans. The observations of these educated naturalists are familiar to the readers of the "Transactions" of the German zoological societies. For a long time the discoveries of this large party of expert collectors were thus freely contributed to the various scientific publications of Germany and Great Britain, But in 1873 Herr Godeffroy commenced the Journal of the Museum Godeffroy, a thick quarto issued in four yearly parts. This journal contains the elaborate report of distinguished naturalists on the series of specimens submitted to them. Thus Milne Edwards, of the Garden of Plants at Paris, has described the crustaceans; and Lütken, of Copenhagen University, the echinoderms; and Dr. Günther, the celebrated ichthyologist of the British Museum, the fishes. The Journal is profusely illustrated with colored cuts, and takes high rank for its beauty and scientific value.

Such is the remarkable Museum Godeffroy. As a storehouse of material for the benefit of working naturalists it stands unique; and as an auxiliary to the purest, highest research, it is one of the signs of the times that wealth is not absorbed in material interests; that commerce counts it an honor to contribute to original investigation. May the number of such men increase, and such institutions multiply!