Kaempfer, Engelbert

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Kaempfer, Engelbert

(b. Lemgo, Germany, 16 September 1651; d. Lemgo, 2 November 1716)

geography, botany.

Kaempfer’s father, Johannes Kemper (Engerlbert later changed the spelling of the family name) was a Lutheran minister, first pastor of the Nicolai church in Lemgo. His mother, Christine Drepper, the daughter of Kemper’s predecessor as pastor, died young; his father’s second wife, Adelheid Pöppelmann, nore him six more children. Kaempfer’s oldest bother, Joachim, who studied law in Leiden, later became city mayor of Lemgo.

Kaempfer felt an urge to travel from an early age, and this is reflected to some extent in his schooling. He attended the Latin schools of Lemgo (1665) and Hameln (1667), the Gymnasia of Lüneburg (1668–1670) and Lübeck (1670–1672), and the Athenaeum of Danzig (1672–1674), where his first book was published, Exercitatio politica de majestatis divisione (1673).

For his university studies, Kaempppfer went to Thorn (1674–1676); to Cracow (1676–1680), where he sutdied languages, history, and medicine, and obtained a master’s degree; and finally to Königsberg (1680–1681), where he studied physics and medicine. After completing his studies, he traveled by way of lemgo to sweden, where he lived in Uppsala and Stockholm until 1683.

His wish to undertake a great journey was fulfilled when he was invited to join the embassy sent by King Charles XI of Sweden to the shan of Persia; Ludwig Fabritius was the ambassador, Kaempfer his secretary and also physician to the embassy. The group left Stockholm in March 1683 and traveled via Helsingfors, Narva, Novgorod, Moscow, and saratov to Astrakhan, before crossing the caspian Sea and arriving at Isfahan, capital of persia, in March 1684.

During the journey through Persia, Kaempfer made several side trips. He climbed Mount Barmach (not identified, but possibly Mount Babadag, northwest of baku), and visited the “burning earth” (from oil or gas seepage) near Baku and the Apsheron peninsula. Obliged to wait with the embassy for a year and a half before being received at court, Kaempfer used this time to study the persian language, the geography of Isfahan and its surroundings, and the flora of the country. Wishing to continue his voyage instead of returning with the embassy, he joined the Dutch East India Company and was stationed as a physician at a Bandar Abbas, from which he explored the surrounding area. In 1688 and 1689, he served as ship physician traveling between Indian ports.

Kaempfer arrived in Java in October 1689. The following year, he was appointed to accompany the annual voyage to Japan of the East India Company as a physician. He remained in Nagasaki from September 1690 to October 1692 and twice accompanied the chief of the factory at Deshima on his embassy to Edo (now Tokyo). In Nagasaki he made a profound study of Japanese history, geography, customs, and flora. Soon after his return to Java in March 1693 he left for Holland, arriving there in October 1693.

Arrived in Holland, Kaempfer visited many prominent scientists and earned his doctorate in medicine at the University of Leiden. In 1694 he returned home to Lemgo, where he settled on the estate “Steinhof” in the neighboring village of Lieme. He intended to spend his remaining years writing about his ten-year travels; unfortunately, these plans were only partly realizwed. He was soon appointed court physician to Friedrich Adaolf, count of Lippe, and the post left him little free time. He held this position until his eath in 1716.

In December 1700, Kaempfer married maria Sophia Wilstach, who was much younger than he. The marriage, which was far from successful, may have hampered his literary production even more than did his occupation as court physician.

Apart from Kaempfer’s doctoral dissertation, which contained observations made during his travels, only one book resulting from his journeys was published during his lifetime Amoenitatum exoticarum (1712). In this work Kaempfer presents his observations on Persia and adjacent countries; information on Japanese paper-making and a brief discussion of Japan; a number of discussions on various topics of natural history; a long chapter on the date palm; and, finally, a catalog of Japanese plants that must have been intended as a prodromus for a more complete flora of Japan. The description of the nearly 500 plants is often brief and cryptic. In most cases, Kaempfer gives the Japanese names, both kun and on readings, and in many cases the Chinese characters of these names. (In Japanese, a Chinese character has at least two pronunciations, analogous to Latin and vernacular names in Western usage. The on reading is associated with the old Chinese pronunciation, while the kun is the true Japanese pronunciation.) But, because of his orthography of Japanes names and his imperfect rendering of Chinese characters, it is difficult to] determine the identity of many plants. This is probably the reason why the work did not attract much attention at the time: Linnaeus in his Species plantarum (1753) mentions only a few of them. Attempts at identifying Kaempfer’s plants have been made by Karl Peter Thunberg, J. G. Zuccarini, and the Japanes scientist Ishida Chō and Katagiri Kazuo.

After Kaempfer’s death, his manuscripts passed into the hands of Sir Hans Sloane, who had the German manuscript on Japan translated and published. The resulting History of Japan (1727) was for more than a century the chief source of Western knowledge of the country. It contains the first biography of Kaempfer, an account of his journey, a history and description of Japan and its fauna, a description of Nagasaki and Deshima; a report on two embassies to Edo with a description of the cities which were visited on the way; and six appendixes, on tea, Japanese paper, acupuncture, moxa, ambergris, and Japan’s seclusion policy.

It is regrettable that Kaempfer did not document more of his experiences and observations and that so few of those that were documented appeared in print. But even the small portion of his work that was published is sufficient to insure Kaempfer the gratitude of the Orientalist, and the student of Tokugawa Japan.


I. Original Works. After Kaempfer’s death, his MSS were bought by Sir Hans Sloane; they are now in the British Museum. For an index see E. J. L. Scott, Index to the Sloane Manuscripts in the British Museum (London, 1904), p. 286, Karl Meier Lemgo, a lifelong student of Kaempfer’s career, mentions on p. 42 of his 1960 book a holograph flora of Persia, which is not mentioned by Scott. A holograph copy of the German was later found in Germany in the estate of a niece of Kaempfer; the MS served ass the basis for the German edition of this book, which therefore contains Kaempfer’s own text.

Among Kaempfer’s published works see Exercitatio politica de Majestatis divisione (Danzig, 1673); Decas miscellanearum observationem (Leiden, 1694).

Amoenitatum exoticarum politico-physico-medicarum, fasciculi V, etc. (Lemgo, 1712). The five parts are: Relations de aulae Persiae statu hodiernis; Relations et observationes historico-physicas de rebus variis; Observationes physico-medicas curiosas; Relations botanicohistoricas de plame dactylifera in Perside cressantel; and Plantarum Japonicarum, quas regnum peragranti solum natale consiciendas objectit, nomina et characteres sinices, intermixtis, pro specimine, quarandam plenis descriptionibus, unà cum iconibus.

Geschichte und Beschreibung von Japan, Aus den Originalhandschriften des Verfassers herausgegeben von Christian Wilhelm Dohm, 2 vols. (Lemgo, 1777–1779); facsimile repr. (Stuttgart, 1964); the Geschichte is translated into English by J. G. Scheuchzer as The History of Japan, etc., 2 vols. (London, 1727); 2nd ed., T. Woodward and C. Davis, eds., 2 vols. (London, 1728), with additional material trans, from the Amoenitatum; 3rd ed., 3 vols. (Glasgow, 1906). There are abstracts of his trans. in several later works. The French trans. is Histoire naturelle, civile et ecclesiastique de l’empire du Japan, 2 vols. (The Hague, 1729); 2nd ed., 3 vols. (The Hague, 1732); and the Dutch trans., De beschrijving van Japan etc. (The Hague, 1729).The French and Dutch trans. are based on the English, since the original German text came into print only fifty years later, For complete titles, additional bibliographical data, and early authors discussing Kaempfer, see Cordier’s Bibliotheca Japonica.

There is a partial Japanese trans. by the Nagasaki interpreter Shitsuku Tadao (dates unknown), Sakoku Ron (“Essay on National Isolation”) Kyõowa 1 (1801). This book served as the basis for a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the national isolation policy by Kurosawa Okinamaro (1795–1859), Ijin Kyõfu Fu (“Thoughts on Fear of Foreigners”), Kaei 3 (1850). Another partial trans. was made by Kure Shũzõ (1865–1932): Kemperu Edo Bakufu Kikõo (“Journal of a Trip to the Court in Edo”).

According to Meier Lemgo, a Japanese trans. was published in 1937 and a copy given to the museum in the city of Lemgo by Shigetomo Koda. I have not succeeded in identifying this book.

A number of Kaempfer’s drawings of Japanese plants, which are in the Sloane collection, were published by Joseph Banks as Icones selectae plantarum, quas in Japanica collegit et delineavit Engelbertus Kaempfer, ex architypis in Musea Brittannica asservatis (London, 1791).

II. Secondary Literature. Authors who have attempted to identify Kaempfer’s plants include J. P. Thunberg, “Kaempferus illustratus I,” in Nova acta Regiae Societatis scientiarum upsaliensis3 (1780), 196–209; “Kaempferus illustratus II,” ibid., 4 (1783), 31–40; Flora JApanica etc. (Leipzig, 1784), containing a repr. of Kaempferus illustratus, pp. 371–391; J. G. Zuccarini, “Weitere Notitzen über die Flora von Japan etc., “in Gelehrte Anzeigen, 18 (1844), 430–472; Ishida Chõ and Katagiri Kazuo Kemperu no shokubutsu Kenkyū (“Kaempfer’s Research on Japanese Botany”), in Rangaku Shiryõ Kenkyũ Kai (Society for Research on Dutch Studies), Report no. 98, 18 November 1961.

With the publications during the last thirty-five years of Meier Lemgo, previous literature on Kaempfer has become obsolete. Meier Lemgo’s works on Kaempfer include Engelbert Kämpfer: Seltsames Asien (Detmold, 1933), containing trans, of selected chs. from the Amoenitatum; Engelber Käampfer, der erste Deutche Forschungsreisende 1651–1716. . . (Stuttgart, 1937), with a 2nd, corrected and augmented ed. entitled Engelber Kaempfer erforscht das seltsame Asien (Hamburg, ca. 1960); “Ueber die echte Mumie,” in Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin, 30 (1937), 62–77; “Das Stammbuch Engelbert Kaempfers,” in Mit-teilungen aus der Lippischen Geschichte und Landeskunde,21 (1952), 192– 200, The Stammbuch, a liber amicorum which Kaempfer carried on his travels to collect mottoes and signatures of interesting people he met, is now in the Lippische Landesbibliothek in Detmold,

Also by Lemgo, see “Aus E. Kaempfers Leben und Forschung,” ibid., 26 (1957), 264–276; “Die Wirkung und Geltung Engelbert Kaempfers bei der Nachwelt,” ibid., 34 (1965), 192–228; “Die Briefe Engelbert Kaempfers,” in Abhandlungen. Mathematisch-naturwissenchaftliche Klasse. Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz,9 (1965), 265–314; “Engelbert Kaempfer, 1651–1716,” Mitteilungen aus dem Engelbert-Kaempfer-Gymnasium, Lemgo, no. 15 (1967), Die Reisetagebücher Engelbert Kaempfers (Wiesbaden, 1968). Excerpts from Kaempfer’s letters and diaries, as well as excerpts from the Amoenitatum, are preserved inn the Sloane collection.

A novel based on Kaempfer’s life is H. S. Thielen. Der Medicus Engelbert Kaempfer entdeckt das unterhimmliche Reich (Leipzig, ca. 193.5). This book contains both Dichtung and Wahrheit.

Peter W. Van Der Pas