Hoeven, Jan Van Der

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Hoeven, Jan Van Der

(b. Rotterndam, Netherlands, 9 February 1801; d. Leiden, Netherlands, 10 March 1868)

comparative anatomy, natural history, anthropology.

Van der Hoeven was the youngest son of Abraham van der Hoeven, a merchant, and the former Maria van der Wallen van Vollenhoven. After his father’s death in 1803, his mother married Martinus Pruys, a physician, in 1810. In 1826 van der Hoeven married Anna van Stolk; they had seven children, of whom only a son and two daughters survived him.

Van der Hoeven’s work closely reflects the cultural climate of the Netherlands in the first half of the nineteenth century. In all his works he tried to show how the infinite wisdom of the Creator is reflected in the harmony of His creatures; his anthropomorphic viewpoint starts from the assumption that man is the most perfect creature on earth—his body is the vehicle most able to carry his soul, the medium through which he obtains knowledge of his creator. Nevertheless, van der Hoeven must be considered as one of the greatest zoologists of his time: recognition of his merits is reflected by his membership in more than forty scientific academies and learned societies.

In 1819 van der Hoeven entered the University of Leiden and in 1822 obtained the Ph.D. with a dissertation on the comparative anatomy of the bony skeleton of fishes, particularly of the skull. Two years later he received the M.D. with a dissertation on diseases of the ear.

In 1822 van der Hoeven began his scientific career as honorary custodian of the Rijksmuseum voor Natuurlijke Historie; after having finished his studies, he journeyed Paris, where he met Cuvier and Latreille, and to Frankfurt, where he met S. T. Sömmering. When he returned to the Netherlands, he established himself as a consulting physician in Rotterdam; soon afterward he began teaching botany at a school of pharmacy, founded and directed by apothecaries, and in 1825 he was appointed lecturer in physics of the Bataafsch Genootschap. As professor of zoology at the University of Leiden, a position he held from 1826 until his death, he lectured on comparative anatomy and general zoology, anthropology (from 1830), and geology and mineralogy (from 1839). His lectures in zoology appeared in his more or less introductory Tabula regni animalis (1856), and in his Handboek der Dierkunde. Unlike most textbooks of the time, the Handboek starts with the lower animals and progresses to the vertebrates in order to illustrate the increasing complexity of form and function; the book’s methodology is that of comparative anatomy, whereas its emphasis is on general biological principles. Thus, each taxonomic section is preceded by an introduction in which the characteristics of its members are considered. The Handboek shows van der Hoeven’s extensive knowledge of the various animal phyla, particularly the vertebrates and the insects.

In the last phase of his life van der Hoeven summarized the best of his knowledge in his Philosophia zoologica (the title recalls Linnaeus’ Philosophia botanica), an attempt to present concisely and aphoristically the contents and general principles of zoology. Separate sections deal with form, structure, and function; comparative anatomy; embryogenesis and metamorphosis; classification; and geographical distribution.

Another field of van der Hoeven’s activity was the natural history of man, on which he lectured in alternate years. His special area of interest was the morphology of the skull, which he investigated by quantitative techniques. He studied skulls of a wide variety of races and possessed a great private skull collection; his catalog of the collection (1860) describes 171 skulls and 39 casts. His classic work on the morphology of the Negro (1842) contains much information on the skull. The central questions considered in this study were whether all human races belong to one species and whether all human beings stem from a single pair. To answer these questions van der Hoeven made a study of the hereditary variations and linguistic differences of the human races. These studies led him to the assumption that there must have been more than one center of human origin. In 1862 he devoted a special work to linguistic aspects of these studies.

For van der Hoeven, Cuvier was the first zoologist to have systematized all known zoological facts, and in his lectures on mineralogy and geology he showed himself to be an adherent of Cuvier’s theory of catastrophism. He supposed that several creations took place in various places and at various times and that the flora and fauna of many islands were created separately (1861).

Accordingly, van der Hoeven’s train of thought was at variance with any idea of evolution; most phenomena of living nature were not to be explained by theories but were immediately connected with the origin of life itself. As such, we must accept creation, although we cannot explain it. It is easier to understand that an animal was created with eyes, he stated, than to suppose that it originated from an eyeless ancestor; the first human being must have been created an adult in body and mind, for were it created a child, whose bodily and mental faculties developed gradually, it is not understandable how it could live for more than one day without the help of Providence (1860).

Van der Hoeven was also a prolific popularizer of science. He wrote a popular zoology text for young people (1868) and a natural history of the animal kingdom (1857) for a wider audience in order to demonstrate how the perfection of the Creator is reflected in his creatures, to contribute to the glory of God, and to promote useful knowledge of nature.


I. Original Works. Before 1850 van der Hoeven published the following works; Responsio ad quaestionem, abordine disciplinarum mathematicarum et physicarum anno 1819 proposita: Quaeritur, quis sit usus, qualesque dignitas anatomes comparatae in stabiliendis regni animalium divisionibus? (Ghent, 1820), also in Annales Academiae Gandavensis (1821); “Responsum ad quaestionem: Quaeritur brevis et distincta expositio fabricae et functionis organi auditus in homine?,” in Annales Academiae Rheno-Trajectinae (1822); Dissertatio philosophical inauguralis de sceleto piscium (Leiden, 1822), his doctoral thesis; “Redevoering over de stelling van Herder, dat de mensch een middelwezen is onder de dieren dezer aarde,” in Vaderlandsche letteroefeningen, 2 (1822), 1–13; “Mémoire sur le genre Ornithorhynque,” in Nova acta Academia Leopoldina Carolina, 9 , pt. 2 (1823), 351 ff., and 12 , pt. 2 (1825), 869; “Disputatio de causarum finalium doctrina, ejusque in zoologia usu,” in Provinicaal Utrechts Genootschap vankunsten en wetenschappen, n.s. 3 (1824), 1–81; Dissertatio pathological de morbis aurium auditisque (Leiden, 1824), his M.D. thesis; “Redevoering over de oorspronkelijke aarde en hare omwentelingen, zooals wij die kennen uit den tegenwoordigen toestand onzer planeet,” in Magazin voor wetenschappen, kunsten en letteren,3, no. 2 (1824); Tabula regni animalis, quam secundum alteram enchiridii sui zoölogici editionem in auditore usum scripsit (Leiden, 1828; 2nd ed., 1856), Dutch trans. as Tafel van het dierenrijk, met bijvoeging der kenmerken van de klassen en orden (Leiden, 1829); Icones ad illustrandas coloris mutationes in Chamaeleonte (Leiden, 1831); Beknopte handleiding tot de natuurlijke geschiedenis van het dierenrijk (Haarlem, 1835), also in 2nd ed. with an atlas (Haarlem, 1864); 3rd ed. with new title: Leerboek der dierkunde ten dienste van het middelbaar onderwijs (Leiden, 1868); “Essai sur les dimensions de la tête osseuse, considérées dans leurs rapports avec l’histoire naturelle du genre humain,” in Annales des sciences naturelles, 2nd ser., 8 (1837), zoology, 116–124; Lets over den grooten zoogenoemden salamander van Japan (Leiden, 1838); Recherches sur l’histoire naturelle et l’anatomie des Limules (Leiden, 1838); Bijdragen tot de natuurlijke geschiedenis van den negerstam (Leiden, 1842); Oratio de aucta et emendata zoologia post Linnaei tempora (Leiden, 1843); “Bijdragen tot de kennis van de Lemuridae of Prosimii,” in Tijdschrift voor Natuurlijke Geschiedenis en Physiologie,11 (1844), 1–48, also published separately (Leiden, 1844); Schets van de natuurlijke geschiedenis van den mensch, ten dienste zijner lessen ontworpen (Leiden, 1844); Herinneringen aan eene reis naar Stockholm ter gelegenheid van de vergadering der Scandinavische natuuron-derzoekers in Julij 1842 (Amsterdam, 1845), first published as a series of essays in Vaderlandsche letteroefeningen; Redevoeringen en verhandelingen (Amsterdam, 1846); also available in German as Ergebnisse der Naturforschung für das Leben. Vorträge und Abhandlungen von J. van der Hoeven (Berlin, 1848); Beweging en verandering, dienstbaar tot instandhouding (Leiden, 1848); Gaan wij eene nieuwe barbaarsheid tegemoet? Eene voorspelling van Niebuhr (Leiden-Amsterdam, 1849); Handboek der Dierkunde, 2 vols. (1st ed., Rotterdam, 1828–1833; 2nd ed., Amsterdam, 1849–1855); 2nd ed. trans. into German by F. Schlegel (vol. I) and R. Leuckart (vol. II) as Handbuch der Zoologie (Leipzig, 1850–1856), vol. II with additional material by Leuckart, trans. by Jan van der Hoeven (the son) as Bijvoegsels en aanmerkingen behoorende tot het Handboek der dierkunde (Amsterdam, 1856); 2nd Dutch ed. also trans. into English by W. Clark, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1856–1858).

After 1850 van der Hoeven wrote “Bijdragen tot de ontleedkundige kennis aangaande Nautilus Pompilius, vooral met betrekking tot het mannelijk dier,” Verhandelingen der K. nederlandsche akademie van wetenshappen, Afdeeling natuurkunde,3 , no. 7 (1856), also trans. into German in Archiv für Naturgeschichte,1 (1857), 77 ff.; into French in Annales des sciences naturelles, Zool. sec., 4th ser. (1856), 290 ff.; and into English in Annals and Magazine of Natural History (1856), 58 ff.; Natuurlijke geschiedenis van het dierenrijk, vol. III of J. A. Uilkens, De volmaakheden van den Schepper in tzijne schepselen beschouwd, ter verheerlijking van God en tot bevordering van nuttige natuurkennis (Leeuwarden, 1857); “Over de opvolging en ontwikkeling der dierlijke bewerktuiging op de oppervlakte onzer planeet in de verschillende tijdperken van haar bestaan,” in Album der Natuur (1858), 33–48, also in De verspreiding en bewerktuiging der dieren (Leiden, 1858), also in English in Annals and Magazine of Natural Science, 3rd ser., 14 (1861), 209–221; Berigt omtrent het mij verleende ontslag als opperdirecteur van ’s Rijks Museum van Natuurlijke Historie (Leiden-Amsterdam, 1860); Catalogus craniorum diversarum gentium quae collegit (Leiden, 1860); Over natuurkundige theoriën omtrent de verschijnselen van het leven, en bepaaldelijk over Darwin’s theorie aangaande het ontstaan der soorten door W. Hopkins (Haarlem, 1860); “De geographische verspreiding der dieren; eene schets,” in Album der natuur (1861), 368–375, also in De verspreiding en bewerktuiging der dieren (Leiden, 1861), 1–26; “Over de taal en de vergelijkende taalkennis, in verband met de natuurlijke geschiedenis van den mensch,” in Album der natuur (1862), 80–94; Philosophia zoologica (Leiden, 1864), trans. into Italian by M. Lessona and T. Salvadori as Filosofia zoologica (Genoa, 1866–1867); “Considérations sur le genre Ménobranche et sur ses affinités naturelles,” in Archives néerlandaises des sciences exactes et naturelles, 1 (1866), 1–16; Ontleeden dierkundige bijdragen tot de kennis van Menobranchus, den Proteus der meren van Noord-Amerika (Leiden, 1867); and “De werken Gods. Eene reisherinnering,” in Album der natuur (1867), 308–311.

II. Secondary Literature. See C. P. L. Groshans, “Levensbericht van Jan van der Hoeven,” in Levensberichten der afgestorvene medeleden van de Maatschappij der Nederlandsche Letterkunde (Leiden, 1870), pp. 52–121; P. Harting, “Levensbericht van Jan van der Hoeven,” in Jaarboek der K. akademie van wetenschappen (1868), pp. 1–34, with a fairly complete bibliography of van der Hoeven’s publications; and C. J. van der Klaauw, Het hooger onderwijs in de zoölogie en zijne hulpmiddelen te Leiden (Leiden, 1926), esp. pp. 8–20, 64–94.

Pieter Smit