Schreibers, Karl (or Carl) Franz Anton von

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(b. Pressburg, Hungary [now Bratislava, Czechoslovakia], 15 August 1775; d, Vienna, Austria, 21 May 1852)


Schreibers came from a noble family that had supplied numerous civil servants and scientists to the Austrian Empire. His father, Joseph Ludwig von Schreibers, was in the military administration; and the family moved to Vienna when Schreibers was a boy. After graduating from the Gymnasium, he entered the University of Vienna and was soon attracted to natural science and medicine. In 1793 he published a two-volume work on mollusks. Five years later he received the M. D. degree and began to practice medicine with his uncle, Johann Ludwig von Schreibers.

Although Schreibers used and campaigned for inoculation against smallpox, he did not remain in the medical profession for long. He made an extensive study tour through most of western Europe; and in 1800 he was named professor at the University of Vienna, becoming director of both the zoological and the mineralogical museums there in 1806. Schreibers proved to be an effective museum organizer, improving the museums and enlarging the collections, partly through expeditions, notably to Brazil (1817–1822). In 1809 he was put in charge of removing the Vienna treasury and archives from the reach of the advancing French army, and in 1815 he led the Austrian commission to retrieve the art treasures confiscated by the French during the Napoleonic Wars.

The author of many scientific papers and a large general work on meteorites, Schreibers was active mainly in zoology. Especially in his younger days he readily adopted new ideas and put them to effective use. He was the first to teach Cuvier’s system of comparative anatomy in German, and even after he had left the University of Vienna he remained an important teacher and adviser to younger scientists. Schreibers made notable contributions to ornithology and entomology, and was an expert on arachnids. His main field, however, was reptiles and amphibians, and he considerably extended the knowledge of the central European faunas. Schreibers’ best-known work in this field was his description of the salamander Proteus anguinus, a blind white amphibian that lives only in dark caves. Schreibers understood the biological importance of the find, which was the introduction to a long series of studies on cave faunas and their development and distribution.

In 1848 the zoological and mineralogical museums caught fire during a thunderstorm; and Schreibers, who lived in the museum buildings, lost not only the collections and the library, but also his private library, manuscripts, and other belongings. He tried to rebuild the museums, but his age prevented it. He was obliged to retire and died shortly afterward. Screibers was a highly respected scientist who received a number of titles and decorations, both for his work with the museums and for his scientific achievements. His most lasting works are the large monographs on the fauna of Austria and his investigations of Proteus.


I. Original Works. Schreibers’ writings include Versuch einer vollstándigen Conchylienkenntniss nach Linne’s System, 2 vols. (Vienna, 1793); “A Historical and Anatomical Description of a Doubtful Amphibious Animal of Germany Called by Laurenti Proteus anguinus,” in Philosophicl Transactions of the Royal Society (1801), 241–264; Nachrichten von den Kaiserlichen Naturforschern in Brasilien, 2 vols. (Brünn [Brno], 1818–1820); and Beiträge zur Geschichte und Kenntniss meteorische Stein- und Metalmassen (Vienna, 1820).

II. Secondary Literature. See A. F. G. Marshall, “Nekrolog des K. K. Hofrathes Carl, Ritter von Schreibers,” in Verhandlungen der Zoologisch-botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien, 2 (1852), 46–51; and C. von Wurzbach, “Carl Franz Anton, Ritter von Schreibers,” in Biographisches Lexicon der Kaiserthum Osterreich, XXXI (Vienna, 1876), 283–287.

Nils Spjeldnaes

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Schreibers, Karl (or Carl) Franz Anton von

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