Walch, Johann Ernst Immanuel

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(b. jena, Germany, 29 August 1725; d. Jena, 1 December 1778), theology, philology, paleontology.

Walch was the son of Johann Gottlob Walch, professor of theology at Jena, and Charlotte katharina Buddeus. He received private instruction at home until the age of seventeen, when he entered the University of Jena to study theology and philology. He received his master’s degree in 1745 and began lecturing on theology the following year. During 1747 and 1748 he traveled throughout Europe and met scholars from many universities. In 1750 he became assistant professor and in 1755 full professor of logic and metaphysics. Appointed professor of oratory and poetry in 1759, he was twice rector and eight times dean of the university, becoming privy councillor in Weimar in 1770. He declined appointments offered by several other universities.

Walch has been described as a friend of everything beautiful and good, a lecturer who aroused the enthusiasm of his large audiences, and a scholar who spent his life in the service of noble endeavor and scientific work. He was a member of many German and foreign scientific societies. Most of his scholarly publications concern the classical languages; and his work in this field has frequently been valuable in New Testament exegesis, his Introductio in linguam graecam being of especial importance. As crucial as these studies were for the advance of philology, however, they are rarely consulted nowadays.

The situation is different with regard to Walch’s paleontological works, which are of continuing value. How little progress the subject had made toward specialization at that time is confirmed by the disparate subjects that he was able to examine simultaneously. In his travels Walch had visited natural history collections and had begun to assemble one himself, composed primarily of rocks and fossils, for which he outlined an exact system that he published in 1761–1764. During this period a copperplate engraver in Nuremberg, Georg Wolfgang Knorr (1705–1761), had become famous for his magnificent illustrations, including some in the natural sciences, and had contributed to science even though he was not a scientist. Before his death he had published, with an unscientific text, the first part of a work on fossils. On behalf of Knorr’s heirs and using the plates Knorr had prepared, Walch continued its publication under its original title and later with the title Die Naturgeschichte der Versteinerungen (1762–1773; the index [1774] is by Johann Samuel Schröter).

In this work Walch presented the first comprehensive paleontology ordered according to the Zoological system; it is still occasionally consulted. For him the fossils were not—as had previously been assumed—evidence of the Flood but, rather, of the displacements of the seas. Moreover, in addition to a basic systematics of all the forms known to him, Walch provided a general paleontology (deposition, sedimentary facies, facies distribution), and a history of paleontology that is still worth reading. His recognition that fossils are members of a sequence linked by historical descent was a fundamental perception. Walch made the previously muddled study of fossils into a science.

In the journal Naturforscher, which he founded and which continued publication until 1804, Walch rounded out his chief work with many studies of particular problems and findings.


I. Original Works. Walch’s major publications are Commentationes quibus antiquorum christianorum doctorum de jureiurando sententia percensentur et deiudicantur (Jane, 1744); De vinculis Paulli apostoli (1746); Einleitung in die Harmonie der Evangelisten (1749); Marmor Hispaniae antiquum (Jena, 1750); Antiquitateas Herculanenses litterariae (Jena, 1750); Dissertationes in Acta Apostolorum (1756; 2nd ed., 1759; 3rd ed., 1761); De arte critica veterum Romanorum (Jena, 1757); Die Naturgeschichte de Versteinerungen zur Erläuterung der Knprroschem Sammlung con Merkwürdigkeiten der Natur, 3 vols. (Nuremberg, 1762-1774); Das Steinreich systematisch entworfen, 3 vols (Halle, 1762-1764); Iutroductio in linguam graecam (1763: 2nd ed., 1772); “Neue lithologische Entdeckungen,” in Schjröters Journal für die Liebhaber des Steinreichs1. no. 2 (1773), 310–320: and “Von dem Schwerdt-oder Sägefishch des Hern Bürgermeister Bauder in Altdorf.” ibid., 2 (1775), 376–378.

II. Secondary Literature. Biographical material is in von Dobschütz, “Johann Ernst Immanuel Walch,” in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, XL (Leipzig, 1896), 652–655. His importance as a paleontologist is treated in B. von Freyberg, Die geologische Erforschung Thüringens in älterer Zeit (Berlin, 1932); and “Johann Friedrich Bauder (1713–1791) und seine Bedeutung für die Versteinerungskunde in Francken,” in Geologische Blätter für Nordostt–Bayern…, 8 (1958), 76–106; and K. A. von Zittel, Geschichte der Geologie und Pal äontologie (Munich—Leipzig, 1899).

B. von Freyberg

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