Zejszner (or Zeuschner), Ludwik

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(b. Warsaw, Poland, 1805; d. Cracow, Poland, 3 January 1871)

geology, paleontology, mineralogy.

Zejszner was descended from a family of German chemists who settled in the small town of Skwierzyna, near Poznań, at the beginning of the eighteenth century. There is no definite information on his early years, and even the date of his birth is uncertain. In 1822 he graduated from a lycée in Warsaw and then attended the University of Warsaw for two years. From 1824 to 1828 Zejszner studied in Berlin, where he attended the lectures of Hegel, Humboldt, and Ritter, and then at Göttingen. Early in 1829 he obtained a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg with a dissertation on the influence of chemical mixture on crystallization form. While in Germany he met the geologists Bronn, Leonhard, G. Rose, and Heinrich Steffens; and he maintained contact with them after returning to Poland. He also made geological observations, mainly on the occurrence of basalt, the results of which appeared in his first published treatise, O powstaniu i względnym wieku formacji bazaltowej (“On the Origin and Relative Age of Basalt Formation”; Warsaw, 1829). In this work Zejszner established the magma origin of these rocks—contrary to the opinions of the neptunists, which still prevailed in Poland at the time. After returning home he used a Polish spelling of his name, and the traditional one, Zeuschner, appeared only in works published in foreign languages.

On 7 January 1830 Zejszner was appointed to the chair of the newly established department of mineralogy at the University of Cracow. He subsequently organized instruction, founded a library and a collection of minerals, and in 1833 published a manual of mineralogy that was not based on Werner’s system. He also began geological surveys in the Cracow district and in the Carpathian Mountains.

Despite his achievements, Zejszner was obliged to resign his professorship in 1833, when the repressive measures that followed the collapse of the November Revolution (1830) reached Cracow. Because of his patriotism Zejszner was suspected of having imported and distributed materials published by Polish émigrés in Paris. He was a mining inspector in Cracow until 1837, when he moved to Warsaw and began conducting research privately and publishing the results.

The liberalization that began in Austria at the time of the revolutionary movement in 1848 made it possible for Zejszner to return to Cracow, which since 1846 had been incorporated into Galicia, the Austrian section of partitioned Poland. He built up the mineralogy department, which he again headed, and published Geologia do tatwego pojęcia zastosowana (“Comprehensible Geology”; Cracow. 1856), the first Polish lecture on geology. Ignacy Lukasiewicz, who later invented the kerosene lamp (1853) and a method of petroleum distillation, was one of his students.

The increase in German influence at the University of Cracow led Zejszner in 1857 to move to Warsaw, where a Polish university was being established. After lecturing on mineralogy for a year at the Academy of Medicine and Surgery, he entered the civil service, participating in explorations for salt and the compiling of a geological map of the kingdom of Poland. In 1861 he published a new and extensive manual of mineralogy, PoczĄtki mineralogii wedlug ukladu Gustawa Rose na krystailizaccji i skladzie chemicznym opartego (“Introduction to Mineralogy According to a System by Gustav Rose Based on Crystallization and Chemical Composition”; Warsaw, 1861). Following the collapse of the January Revolution in 1863, repressive measures were taken by the czar, and the remaining elements of Polish self-government were abolished. Depressed and ill, Zejszner left Warsaw and the civil service. In 1870 he moved to Cracow, where the following year he was murdered during a robbery attempt.

Zejszner was the first Polish geologist in the modern sense of the word. From the time he completed his university training until he died, he conducted field surveys and published the results. He investigated geological formations and the occurrence of useful minerals: he made thousands of barometric measurements at various places; and he studied the temperature of the springs in the Carpathian Mountains. Of his more than 200 works, the great majority are published results of field surveys and synthetic descriptions of Polish regions, Two periods may be distinguished. In the first (1829–1857) Zejszner investigated southern Poland, mainly the Carpathian Mountains. In the second (1858–1870), central Poland, particularly the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, was his area of concentration. Because of their great keenness of observation, his works still retain their validity.

Zejszner’s special regional works include geological maps and profiles. He published an unsigned geological map of the Tatras (Berlin, 1844) and prepared a manuscript of a detailed geological map of southern Poland, which has been lost. His paleontological works, which are mainly on the fauna of the Jurassic period, include an important Polish paleontology that could not be completed for lack of funds. After his death his outstanding geological collection was acquired by the Dzieduszycki Musum in Lvov (now the Musum of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian S.S.R.).

Zejszner’s participation in international conferences and such organizations as the Deutsche Geologische Gesellschaft and the Society of Naturalists in Moscow enabled him to meet most of the leading European geologists of the period. He traveled widely, and in Poland received many foreign geologists, including Murchison, with whom he went to the Świętokrzyskie and Carpathian mountains. He translated treatises by Davy and the geological part of Humboldt’s Kosmos into Polish. An active member of the scientific societies of Cracow and Pozna, he also participated in the activities of the scientists and writers who gathered in the editorial office of the periodical Biblioteka Worszawska. About a dozen species of animal and plant fossils were named for Zejszner by European paleontologists. In 1960 the Polish Geological Society established a prize in his name, to be awarded annually for the best published work by a young geologist.


I. Original Works. A list of Zejszner’s geological publications is in Regina Fleszarowa, Retrospektywna bibliografia geologiczna Polski (“Retrospective Geological Bibliography of Poland”), II (Warsaw, 1966), 416–433; and S. Czarniecki and Z. Martíni, Retrospektywna bibliografia… Uzupetnienia (“… Supplement” Warsaw, 1972), 186–187. The Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers lists 86 memoirs: VI, 496 (under Zeiszner) and 504–506 (under Zeuschner); VIII, 1300–1301; and XII, 802. See also Poggendorff, III, 1482, S. Czarniecki, Studia i materialy z dziejów nauki polskiej (“Studies and Materials for the History of Polish Science”), ser. C, fasc. 4 (Warsaw, 1961, 61–103, presents information on Zejszner’s unpublished diary and a reprint of his memoirs on his studies at Berlin in 1824.

II. Secondary Litertuyr. Fleszarowa (see above) cites biographies of Zejszner in Polish and other languages. S. Czarniecki presents a new critical analysis of his life and work in “Ludwik Zejszner,” in Wszechświat, fasc. 4 (1958), 93–96, 356–357. His geographical work is treated by A. Chlubińska in “Ludwik Zejszner jako geograf” (“Ludwik Zejszner as a Geographer”). in Kosmos, ser. A, 53 (1928), 245–286.

Stanislaw Czarniecki