|1| Christian Rudolf Wilhelm Wiedemann was born on 7 November 1770 in Braunschweig, where his father was an extremely prosperous merchant and tobacco-wares manufacturer. His parents came originally from the territory of Hannover, and his father was a cultivated and devout man in every respect who oversaw his business with great prudence and steadfastness while combining cordial tenderness with unwavering seriousness in raising his children.
As a great aficionado and patron of the arts, he assembled the city’s most distinguished men in his house, where nonresident artists who happened to be staying in Braunschweig were also introduced and cordially received. In her own turn, his mother was a highly cultivated woman possessing excellent poetic talents, talents she also passed on to several of her children, especially W. Wiedemann himself. She combined, moreover, all the virtues of an excellent housewife in promoting both the physical and the intellectual well-being of her children.
W. Wiedemann was the second son among the family’s numerous children. He received his initial education from private tutors, then attended the Martini School in Braunschweig before entering the Collegium Carolinum there; he also attended Hildebrand’s surgical institute and prepared himself for university studies as well. He began attending the university in Jena in 1790, where he was particularly assiduous in attending Loder’s anatomical lectures while also participating in the lectures of the |2| famous Reinhold. He consistently pursued his studies with great diligence and indefatigable patience.
In addition to medicine, he also zealously studied mineralogy; and yet alongside these strenuous scholarly pursuits, he never neglected his favorite art form, namely, music. His violoncello accompanied him everywhere, and because he was constantly and enthusiastically trying to perfect his command of the instrument, he did indeed become a considerable proficient on it.
Young Wiedemann lived amid quite pleasant circumstances in Jena, being introduced into the homes of Loder, Schütz, and other private residences while simultaneously enjoying a quite broad circle of acquaintances among the younger scholars as well. His friends included not only Hufeland, who would later make such a name for himself as a physician, but especially also the jurist of the same name, who would later marry Wiedemann’s sister and with whom he was then wont to take modest journeys during academic breaks, for example, to Dresden, Saxon Switzerland, and parts of Bohemia, in part simply as recreation, and in part for mineralogical purposes.
From Jena he also made frequent excursions to nearby Weimar, where he had admittance to the house of Countess von Bernstorff, the patroness of the famous Bode, translator of Tristram Shandy. His friends at the time also included especially Novalis, the Englishman Latrohe, as well as Gumdt[?]. Although Wiedemann was considered a skilled and adroit fencer at the university, he never fought in a duel.
After three years of study, he attained his doctorate in Jena in 1793 and then moved to Berlin to continue his studies. A year later, he returned to Braunschweig in order to set out on a journey to England with his two childhood friends, Drs. Fischer and Roose, similarly for the sake of continuing his education.
He spent 14 months in England, in part in London, in part out in |3| the countryside, where he accompanied a close relative by the name of Raspe [Wiedemann’s mother’s maiden name] on various shorter trips to Wales, journeys the latter was undertaking at the behest of several local estate owners for the sake of seeking out various marble quarries and coal mines. By lingering for what were often lengthier periods among more cultivated circles on these estates, he had the opportunity to acquire complete proficiency in the English language. On returning to London, he found letters from his homeland awaiting him offering him the position of his former teacher Hildebrand at the surgical institute in Braunschweig; hence he returned and assumed this office in 1795.
In December of that same year, he became engaged to Louise Friederike Michaelis, a daughter of the Near Eastern scholar Johann David Michaelis from Göttingen; she and her mother had moved to Braunschweig to live there together with a married sister [Caroline].
Wiedemann made her acquaintance at the home of the Campes, with whom both families were acquainted. The wedding took place on 28 March 1796. Although the couple started out with precious little — Wiedemann had a salary of but 300 Gulden, his father added 100 Gulden, and his wife possessed just enough to cover her clothing and other modest needs —
Wiedemann worked incessantly. Although expensive social gatherings never took place in his house, a circle of intimate friends did often gather there quite serendipitously, including especially his colleagues Himly and Roose. The couple was also fortunate enough to be able to attend grand social gatherings at the homes of wealthy relatives without having to compensate by offering such gatherings themselves. Moreover, in Wiedemann’s own father’s house they were able to meet whatever distinguished nonresident guests happened to be staying in Braunschweig.
Wiedemann was highly successful as an anatomy instructor; several quite distinguished men came from his school who |4| owed him their initial education in this area, including [Johann Philipp] Horn [1774–1845], Lichtenberg, and [Christian August?] Barthels [1805–72] in Berlin, [Peter] Krukenberg [1788–65] in Halle, [Friedrich?] Hausmann [1782–1859] in Göttingen, [Adolf Christian Heinrich] Hencke [Henke?] [1775–1843], et al. All, moreover, always gratefully acknowledged their devotion to him, and it was with these young people that he first began to pursue zoology.
In the meantime, his own practice increasingly grew until in 1800 he received, at his own request, a travel stipend from the regnant duke to receive training in Paris [April–late September 1801] for the [lacuna]. In Paris he met with his friend Pfaff and Professor [Friedrich] Weber [1781–1823] from Kiel.
He lived with the former in the same hotel while visiting the various pedagogical institutes and hospitals associated with his field, worked with and at the home of [Georges] Cuvier [1769–1832] and made the acquaintance of several of the gentlemen employed at the Musée du Jardin des Plantes. Weber accompanied him on part of his journey through Switzerland. Here he was met by the famous mineralogist [Déodat Gratet de?] Dolommieux, who, outfitted with a large sack and armed with a mighty stone hammer, cried out to his companions: “Voilà! le vrai costume d’un mineralogue!” Soon after Wiedemann had returned in the autumn of 1801, the accoucheur in Braunschweig, Hofrath Sommer, died; Wiedemann took over his position, whereupon his income also increased.
Wiedemann remained in this sphere of activity for several years, and given his widespread private practice as well, he enjoyed universal respect and love. Although he had already earlier declined an appointment in Dorpat, he now received another offer from the newly established university in Würzburg. The reunion there with his brother-in-law Hufeland, with the brother-in-law of his wife, Schelling, the chance to teach at a rejuvenated university, and the pleasant climate all made the position quite desirable and attractive to Wiedemann. Indeed, his letter of acceptance was already written when he was summoned before the duke, who made him an offer so advantageous that it was impossible for him |5| to decline.
Soon thereafter, however, during the winter, Wiedemann became ill with a malicious contagious illness that forced him to abandon his private practice for the time being and then discouraged him from starting it up again. Hence he was eager to seize the opportunity when through Brandis he received an offer from the university in Kiel, where he was able to restrict his activities to the institute entrusted to him and to his teaching office. So he arrived in Kiel during the summer of 1805.
Because his health was still rather weak, and the institute assigned to him not yet ready, he easily received from the administration, as a benefit, permission to undertake a trip to the south of France while continuing to draw his full salary, albeit with the substitution of a young physician at his own cost, for which he chose the young Ryge. In Paris he renewed his acquaintance with Cuvier and established new contacts as well. He returned to Kiel in the summer of 1806 and began his career as an academic teacher and head of the institute for obstetrics, which he admirably guided over a series of years and in connection with which he won the love and devotion of all his students.
In 1808 he delivered the Queen of Denmark [Marie Sophie Friederike von Hessen-Kassel (1767–1852)], who at the time was residing in the Kiel castle, of a princess [Wilhelmine Marie of Denmark (1808–91)], the current wife of the Duke [Karl] of [Schleswig-Holstein-] Glücksburg [1813–78].
In 1811 he undertook yet another journey, this time to Italy, to completely stabilize his still inconstant health. A year later, he returned to Kiel completely recovered, devoting himself then with doubled zeal to his vocation. Physical exercise was one of his favorite pastimes, and he was well known as a skilled rider, swimmer, and ice skater. In the meantime, he had not given up his interest in zoology. He published several works in this and other branches of his scholarly field. In later years, he zealously studied entomology, |6| and bequeathed his mineral collection to the university in Kiel as the foundation for a larger collection.
Wiedemann never lost his interest in art and literature and never ceased studying living languages, notwithstanding his intellectual and physical energy increasingly waned during the last years of his life. To wit, in order to see and speak with his friend Himly, who happened to be in Kiel at the time, he made an overly hasty departure from a conference of physicians and natural scientists in Berlin, a conference in which he had overexerted himself through his own participation.
Although he succeeded in making it back to Kiel in time, the day after Himly’s departure he suffered a stroke-like attack that left him in a weakened condition that, to the very end of his life, was aggravated by ever more frequent strokes. One of Wiedemann’s friends, Dr. Becker,  expressed himself as follows in response to the obituary:
I was very close to the deceased for many years, and he was always quite kindly disposed toward me; hence it is a relationship much more intimate than that of mere kinship will always keep his memory dear to me. I also knew him, moreover, during the time when he was yet full of energy, when the cheerfulness and liveliness of his intellect and the rich, multifaceted education and cultivation he had acquired made any contact with him so extraordinarily gratifying and instructive etc.
Wiedemann was particularly closely acquainted with, besides Roose and Himly, also his student and successor in anatomy, Professor Heuer, as well as Professor Helwig and Kammerrath Volkmar, a mineraologist.
He was restlessly active in all his work, both at home and on his various journeys, e.g., in Paris with Cuvier. His company was equally welcome among scholars and non-scholars alike, among whom he provided entertainment with his humorous moods and often enough also his |7| poems of occasion, many of which also attest profound feeling. What he lacked was a certain knowledge of human nature, as a result of which he often became intimate with strangers more quickly than was perhaps advisable, something that later caused him considerable vexation. He could similarly easily be swayed by externalities and was excessively inclined to view everyone as being as honest, sincere, and loyal as he himself always was, something that often enough misled him into making perhaps overly hasty acquaintances.
[*] Seven-page typescript courtesy of Martin Reulecke, who relates that it was prepared probably sometime prior to World War II from a version of a Wiedemann biography in the possession of Claus Harms in Hannover at the time (below the title is written: “in the possession of Herr Dr. med. Claus Harms in Hannover, Hildesheimerstrasse 37, a great-grandson, grandson of his [Wiedemann’s] son Rudolf Wiedemann“). Back.
Translation © 2012 Doug Stott