Schimper, Wilhelm Philipp (Guillaume Philippe)

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(b. Dossenheim, Alsace, France, 12 January 1808; d. Strasbourg, France “then part of Germany”, 20 March, 1880)


Schimper, the cousin of two notable botanists. Karl Friedrich (1803–1867) and Wihelm Schimper (1804–1878), and father of the plant geographer A. F. W. Schimper, was the son of Franz Schimper, Lutheran paster of Offweiler. From 1826 to 1833 he studied at Strasbourg University, first philosophy phiology, and mathematics, and later to please his father, theology. But from an early age he had been attracted to the study of natural history, in which he was encouraged by his cousins, the elder of whom often visited Offweiler. Soon after graduating, Schimper decided to devote his life to science and made a long journey in the Alps. studying plants and especially mosses, in which his interest was stimulated by the apothecary Philipp Bruch (1781–1847) of Zweibrücken, in 1835 Schimper was appointed assistant in the geological section of the Strasbourg Natural History Museum. He remained with this institution in various capacities throughout his life and eventually became its director.

In 1845 Schimper received a degree in natural sciences and in 1848 obtained a doctorate for his Recherches anatomiques sur les mousses. In 1849 he married Adèle B, Besson, of Swiss origin; they had two daughters and one son. The even course of his busy life was temporarily disrupted by the Franco-Prussian War, as a result of which Alsace was ceded to Germany. Faced with the painful choice of leaving his native province for a post in Paris or staying in Strasbourg, he decided to remain at the museum and to accept the chair of geology and paleontology at the reorganized German university.

With Bruch, Schimper in 1836 began publication of the Bryologia Europaea, his most famous work, which set a new standard in the description and delineation of mosses. Publication of this work (which appeared in parts) was continued by Schimper after Bruch’s death, for a time with the assistance of Theodor Gümbel. Among Schimper’s other publications on mosses, his study of the structure and development of the sphagna is particularly valuable. Although best known as a botanist, he also worked and wrote on zoology and geology. He made important contributions to paleobotany, especially on the Triassic flora of the Vosges. His work covered a vast field, but he was a supremely competent observer and describer rather than an originator of new ideas.

Schimper traveled extensively throughout his life and visited many European countries: one of his most productive journeys was to the Sierra Nevada in Spain (1847), from which he brought back specimens of a previously undescribed species of ibex as well as many interesting plants.

Schimper’s many-sided activity, maintained almost to the end of his life, was made possible by powers of physical endurance hardly suggested by his tall. emaciated figure and delicate appearance.


I. Original Works. Schimper’s principal writings are Bryologia Europaea seu genera muscorum Europaeorum monographice illustrata, 6 vols. (Stuttgart, 1836–1855), also Corollarium (1856) and Supplementum, 2 vols. (1864–1866), written with P. Bruch and T. Gümbel, reprinted and rearranged in 3 vols, with intro by P. A. Florschütz and W. D. Margadant (Amsterdam, 1971): Monographic des plantes fossiles du Grès Bigarré dea la chaine des Vosges (Leipzig, 1844); Recherches anatomiques sur les mousses (Strasbourg, 1848), reissued in Mémoires de la Société d’histoire naturelle de Strasbourg. 4 , no. 1 (1850), 1–69; Mémoire pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des sphaignes (Sphagnum L.) (Paris, 1857), reissued in Mémoires présentés par divers savants, Cl. sci. math. et phys., 15 (1858), 1–97, also published as Versuch einer Entwicklungs’geschichte der Torfmoose (Sphagnum und einer Monographie der in Europa vorkommenden Arten dieser Gattung (Stuttgart, 1858); Synopsis muscorum Europaeorum praemissa introductione de elementis bryologici tractante (Strasbourg, 1860; 2nd ed.,Stuttgari, 1876); Traité de palaeontologie végétale ou la flore du monde primutif dans ses rapports avec les formations gêologiques et la flore du monde actuel. 3 vols. and atlas (paris, 1869–1874); and Palaeophytologie, vol. 11 of K.a. von Zittel, ed.m Handbuch der Palaeontologie (Munich’Leipzig, 1879), completed by A. Schenk.

II. Secondary Literature. See “dBy” (Anton de Bary), “Wilhelm Philip Schimper”, in Botanische Zeitung, 38 , no. 26 (1880), 443–450; E. Desor, “Philipp Wilhelm Schimper”, in Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geologie und Palaeontologie, 2 (1880), 1–7; C.Grad, “Gullaume-Philippe Schimper, sa vie et ses travaux. 1808–1880”, in Bulletin de la Société d’histoire naturelle de Colmar, 20–21 (1880), 351–392; T. Gümbel, Dr. Philipp Wilhelm Schimper”, in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, XXXI (1890), 277–279; S.O. Lindberg, “W. Ph. Schimper”, in Meddelanden af Societas pro fauna et flora fennica, 6 (1881), 268; and W.D. Margadant and P. Florschütz, introduction to repr. of Bryologia Europaea (above).

P. W. Richards

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Schimper, Wilhelm Philipp (Guillaume Philippe)

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