Biography of Karl Ludwig Johann / Биография Карла Людвига Иоганна
Karl Ludwig GIESECKE (1761–1833), later known as Sir Charles Lewis GIESECKE the Dublin-based Professor of Mineralogy, was a pioneer geological explorer of Greenland in the years 1806–1813. After an early career in the late 18th Century centred around the Viennese theatre he eventually became a mineral dealer, and travelled extensively in Germany and Scandinavia. He obtained approval from the Danish king to explore the geology of the Faeroe Islands and Greenland.
It was in Greenland that he became effectively stranded for seven years partly as a result of the Napoleonic wars. In Greenland he explored and assessed the mineral resources, in particular cryolite, and located and collected many new mineral species. Although principally a mineralogist he interpreted Greenland geology using Wernerian principles. He later distributed his minerals around various important European mineral collections, especially those in Dublin, Copenhagen, Vienna and Graz. Studies of his scientific activities and of his early field work in Greenland are important and supportive of his reported claim made in Vienna in 1818 that he contributed significantly to the text or libretto of MOZART’s celebrated opera, ‘The Magic Flute’.
The illustration presented in figure 1 is of Sir Charles Lewis GIESECKE (1761–1833) painted by the famous Scottish portraitist Sir Henry RAEBURN in late 1813 or early 1814 immediately after his arrival in the British Isles. It is a picture of a distinguished and highly respected academic professor of mineralogy who at the time of the painting was approaching the peak of his scientific work and achievements. From the evidence of the portrait alone, however, it is difficult to envisage why there have been some commentators in the past (non-scientists it must be said) who have given GIESECKE at best a ‘mixed press’, and one in particular who on occasion described him as a liar and a swindler.
Partly this is because GIESECKE had two careers, firstly as an actor and writer for the stage until his midthirties (in the late 1790s), and secondly as a mineral dealer and mineralogist until his death at the age of 71. Detailed information on the quality of the achievements from his first career is not always easily available, although many points of past disputation have been subsequently clarified by discoveries of letters, newspaper reviews, articles, and comments from other parties.
The man who eventually became known as Karl Ludwig GIESECKE was born as Johann Georg METZLER in Augsburg on the 6 April 1761. He was the second son an Augsburg protestant master tailor named Johann Georg METZLER, and his wife Sibylla Magdalena GOETZ. The precise identification of GIESECKE’s family origins only became known with certainty in 1910 with the publication of biographical details by the Danish geologist STEENSTRUP (1910). In fact it was the chance discovery of a letter from GIESECKE’s sister to the Danish authorities written in 1810 and enquiring about the welfare of her brother whom she knew to be in Greenland, that GIESECKE’s relationship with the Augsburg METZLERs was firmly established.
Before the publication of the 1910 account there had been much confusion about his precise origins and identification for several reasons; (1) his early adoption of a pseudonym, (2) his travels and frequent change of location, and (3) because of his adoption of two totally unrelated careers. The confusion was compounded by GIESECKE’s apparent reluctance ever to discuss his earlier career on the stage after he became established as the professor of mineralogy to the Royal Dublin Society. The attitude of contemporary academic scientists to the stage is encapsulated by the remarks of Ignaz von BORN on hearing that his scientific protege Friedrich KEPPNER (1745–1820) had done the reverse of GIESECKE by leaving a very promising scientific career for the theatre. BORN’s comments are paraphrased as follows ‘Mr Keppner has sacrificed all for the theatre. A theatrical poet will surely not provide a permanent living for an honest man’ (RIEDL-DORN, 1987, 1991).
Although little is known of his early life it is clear that the young METZLER was a bright and intelligent schoolboy. This is apparent from the comments of his schoolmaster at the St Anna Gymnasium Augsburg, Hieronymus Andreas MERTENS, who gave him an excellent commendation before he went to Goettingen University in 1781. This laudation was copied by the young GIESECKE into his autograph album (Stammbuch) which is one of two such books now preserved in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. At Goettingen University GIESECKE studied law in the years 1781–83.
It was while he was a student at Goettingen that GIESECKE took an early interest in mineralogy by attending some of the lectures of the famous German naturalist BLUMENBACH; this we learn from GIESECKE’s application for the Dublin professorship in 1813. Reverting to the two albums, we also know that the young METZLER had adopted his pseudonym (both first names as well as surname) as early as September 1781 because the introductory page to the album gives his name in Latin as Carolus Ludovicus METZLER cognomine GIESECKE. After his appointment to the Dublin professorship and his becoming a Member of the Danish Order of the Dannebrog in 1814 (later raised to Commander in 1817), he occasionally called himself Karl Ludwig METZLER von GIESECKE.
It is not known why GIESECKE chose these pseudonyms. Before the STEENSTRUP account it was commonly believed that he had adopted his mother’s maiden name, but this obviously was not the case. Despite some later views that he may have had a patron named GIESECKE who might have provided some funding for his university education, it seems more likely that, given his subsequent first career and as an artistically-inclined young man, he may well have been an admirer of the Klopstockian poet and writer Nicolaus Dietrich GIESEKE. This is partly supported by some of the early entries in his album from his stays in Bremen which definitely have a Klopstockian, sentimental flavour to them (see WATERHOUSE, 1936).
GIESECKE’s autograph albums provide the main source of information about his subsequent movements. One of the albums (Album 3) was purchased in 1909, while the other (Album 5) was donated by the Misses HUTTON of London in the same year. From the albums we can follow GIESECKE’s travels reasonably well from the spring of 1781 to the spring of 1783, but there are only three entries for 1784, one for 1785, and one for 1786. Then follows the first great gap until the spring of 1793, when a single entry shows that GIESECKE was in Dresden.
The second great gap begins here and continues until October 1799, when a Swede and two Danes (all medical men) wrote their names in Album 3 in Vienna. From September 1800 the autographs are numerous and we can follow GIESECKE virtually from day to day, and certainly from week to week (WATERHOUSE, 1936). Because of the numbering of the two preserved albums, WATERHOUSE (1936, 1970) commented on the possibility that there was originally a total of five albums. WATERHOUSE also surmised that Albums 1 and 2, if they ever existed, were confined entirely to GIESECKES’s schooldays, but that Album 4 may have covered the two great gaps mentioned above. If so, it is likely to have recorded his career as an actor, librettist and writer, together with the signatures and comments of MOZART, SCHIKANEDER, SCHACK, GERL and other well-known personalities of the time he spent in Vienna.
In connection with Album 4, WATERHOUSE (1970) had contact with Professor G. RADDATZ of Berlin and Herr Gerd IBBLER of Augsburg who reported a record of proceedings against GIESECKE for non-payment of rent in the municipal archives of Vienna.
It is known that GIESECKE left SCHIKANEDER’s company in August 1800, but it now seems that he left clandestinely. RADDATZ and IBBLER reported to WATERHOUSE (1970) that the Viennese records show that in 1801 distraint was levied on such effects as GIESECKE had left behind for non-payment of a year’s rent. Professor RADDATZ found a catalogue of the books and papers sold, amongst them ‘An album with some pictures…’ (Ein Stammbuch mit einigen Gemaelden…). It seems possible therefore that Album 4 may still exist forgotten in some attic, or in some private or public library in Vienna or elsewhere.