Meyer, Christian Erich Hermann von

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(b. Frankfurt, Germany, 3 September 1801; d. Frankfurt, 2 April 1869)


Meyer came from on old Frankfurt family; his father was a lawyer and later mayor of Frankfurt. Meyer was born with clubfeet, which handicapped his movement. He was educated in Frankfurt, then he worked for a year in a glasswork and for three years as an apprentice in a banking house. From 1822 to 1827 he studied finance and natural science, especially geology and mineralogy, at Heidelberg, Munich, and Berlin, where he met Hegel and Humboldt. On returning to Frankfurt he devoted all his time and energy to paleontology, publishing numerous works in rapid succession, visiting museums and collections, and attending professional congresses. He soon became a known and respected paleontologist, who received material for study and publication from all of Germany and neighboring countries.

In 1837, Meyer entered the financial administration of the Bundestag—the parliament of the German Confederation, which was then under Austrian leadership; in 1863 he became its director of finances. Consequently, from 1837 he could carry out his paleontological studies only during his spare time. Nevertheless, in 1860 he rejected an appointment as professor at the University of Göttingen in order to maintain his scientific independence. Meyer never married. He was sociable, had charming manners, and was respected and loved by his fellow citizens for his sincerity and civic service.

The main subject of Meyer’s scientific studies was the fossil vertebrates. His chief work in this field is the four-volume Fauna der Vorwelt, which contains 132 plates of outstanding drawings done by Meyer himself. In these books Meyer described vertebrates—chiefly from Germany—of the Miocene, Jurassic, Triassic, Permian, and Carboniferous. He also wrote articles for journals; 103 of his paleontological writings were published in Palaeontographica, which he founded in 1846 with Wilhelm Dunker.

Meyer considered all classes of vertebrates—fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals—and was, in fact, one of the most distinguished vertebrate paleontologists of his time in Europe. He also published studies on the crustaceans, the crinoids, the Asterozoans, and the cephalopods. His descriptions are characterized by great accuracy, by clarity of expression, and by first-rate drawings. Meyer produced no original theories, no ingenious hypotheses; yet he did not lose sight of the broader connections among his detailed studies. He repeatedly criticized Cuvier’s law of correlation and, as early as 1832, wrote a survey of the vertebrates then known, their stratigraphic distribution, emergence, and evolution.


I. Original Works, Meyer’s books include Palaeologica, zur Geschichte der Erde und ihrer Geschöpfe (Frankfurt, 1832); Die fossilen Zähne und Knochen und ihre Ablagerung in der Gegend von Georgensgmünd in Bayern (Frankfurt, 1834); Beiträge zur Paläontologie Württemberg’s, enthaltend die fossilen Wirheltbierreste aus den Triasgebilden mit besonderer Rücksicht auf die Labyrinthodonten des Keupers (Stuttgart, 1844), written with T. Plieninger; Zur Fauna der Vorwelt: Erste Abtheilung. Fossile Säugetiere, Vögel und Reptilien aus dem Molasse-Mergel von Oeningen (Frankfurt, 1845); Zweite Abtheilung. Die Saurier des Muschelkalks mit Rücksicht auf die Saurier aus Buntem Sadstein und Keuper (Frankfurt, 1847–1855); Dritte Abtheilung. Saurier aus dem Kupferschiefer der zechsteinformation (Frankfurt, 1856); and Vierte Abtheilung. Reptilien aus dem lithographischen Schiefer in Deutschland und Frankreich.(Frankfurt, 1860).

Among his articles are “Reptilien aus der Steinkohlen-formation in Deutschland,” in Palaeontographica, 6 (1856–(1858), 59–219; “Reptilien aus dem Stubensandstein des obern Keupers,” ibid., 7 (1861), 253–346; and “Studien über das Genus Mastodon,” ibid., 17 (1867–1870), 1–72.

II. Secondary Literature. On Meyer or his work, see T. H. Huxley, “The Life of Hermann Christian Erich von Meyer. The Anniversary Address of the President,” in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London,26 (1870), xwiv–xxvi; F. von Kobell, “Nekrolog auf Hermann v, Meyer,” in Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissensehaften zu Müinehen, 1 (1871), 403–407; M. Pfannenstiel, “Unbekannte Briefe von Sir Charles Lyell an Hermann von Meyer,” in Bulletin of the Geologic Institution of the University of Uppsala, 40 (1961), 1–15; J. J. Rein, “Dr. Christian Erich Hermann von Meyer. Eine biographische Skizze,” in Bericht der Senckeubcrgischen naturforschenden Gesellsehaft in Frankfurt a. M. (1868–1869), report of the anniversary of 30 May 1869, pp. 13–17; W. Struve, “H. von Meyer und die Senckenbergische Paläontologie,” in “Zur Geschichte der paläozoologisch-geologischen Abteilung des Natur-Museums und Forschungs-Inslituts Senckenberg,” in Senckenbergiana lethoea, 48 (1967), 64–75; and C. A. ZitteK Denkschrift auf Christ. Erich Hermann von Meyer (Munich, 1870), with complete bibliography.

Heinz Tobien

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Meyer, Christian Erich Hermann von

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