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OKEN, Lorenz.

(1779 – 1851)

(Born: Bohlsbach near Offenburg, Gemany, 1 September 1779; Died: Zurich, Switzerland, 11 September 1851) German naturalist.

Born Okenfuß, the natural scientist changed his name to Oken "to avoid ridicule". The son of a farmer, Oken had studied medicine in Freiburg before transferring to Göttingen, where he qualified to lecture in 1805. He was summoned to Jena to take up the extraordinary professorship for medicine in 1807. He had, however, already discovered his special liking for philosophy and the sciences, and published a whole series of natural-philosophical and natural-historical works over the following years. In 1816 he was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Gießen. In the same year, he first published the periodical "Isis", which continued publication until 1848 and became the cause of much controversy. Oken wanted to establish "Isis" as a forum for all academic subjects (except theology and jurisprudence), and publicised his political views there. Calls for a ban on the publication were heard from several quarters, among others from Goethe who had a personal enmity with Oken. After Oken and two other professors from Jena had taken part in the Wartburgfest and reported the event in "Isis", Oken was forced to resign and the journal was banned in Jena. After a short stay in Basel in the winter term of 1821/22, Oken lived privately in Munich and continued to publish his magazine. In 1827, he was made a full professor of physiology at the University of Munich, but continued to involve himself in numerous disputes there and was forced to step down in 1832. The following year, he was offered a full professorship for natural history in Zürich which he held until his death. Oken's main work is considered to be the 13-volume "Naturgeschichte für alle Stände" (natural history for all social ranks), first published between 1833 and 1841.

Biographical references: ADB: 24, 216-26. DBA: I 915, 119-132; II 966, 199-210. DSB: 10, 194-6. Günther, Lebensskizzen der Professoren, 1858. Hamberger & Meusel, Gelehrte Teutschland, 1796-1834. Hirsch, Biographisches Lexikon, 1884-8. Poggendorff: 2, col. 319. Schrader, Biographisch Lexicon der Tierärtze, 1863. Wagenitz, Göttinger Biologen, 1988: 134. WBI.

1. German, 1809.
Grundzeichnung des natürlichen Systems der Erze. V. Jena in den Osterferien 1809. Jena, Friedrich Frommann, 1809.

4°: 40 p. Page size: 250 x 218 mm.

Very rare. Oken's attempt to create a new classification of ores. Unlike systems of the past, it does not rely simply on the chemical, crystallography, and physical characteristics, but also includes the nature of the ores formation in the classification. Goethe was not convinced of the theory, however, and authored his essay, "Natürliches System der Erze nach Oken" about it.

Bibliographical references: LKG: XII 180.

2. German, 1833-42.
Allgemeine Naturgeschichte für alle Stände von Professor Oken ; bearbeitet von F.A. Walchner. Stuttgart, Hoffman, 1833-1842.

[Title of the mineralogy volume reads:]

Allgemeine | Naturgeschichte | für | alle Stände, | von | Professor Oken. | [tapered rule] | Erster Band | Mineralogie und Geognosie | bearbeitet von | Dr. F.A. Walchner. | [tapered rule] | Stuttgart, | Hoffmann'sche Verlags=Buchhandlung. | 1839.

8 vols. in 14. [Vol 1: 1839] 860 p., 228 illus. (Mineralogie und Geognosie bearbeitet von F.A. Walchner). [Vol 2: 1839] iv, 386 p. (Botanik erster Band). [Vol 3.1: 1841] 702 p. (Botanik zweyten Bandes erste Abtheilung). [Vol 3.2: 1841] 704-1454 p. (Botanik zweyten Bandes zweyte Abtheilung). [Vol 3.3: 1841] 1455-2135, XXX p., 44 p., one folding table. (Botanik zweyten Bandes dritte Abtheilung.). [Vol 4: 1833] iv, 617 p. (Thierreich erster Band). [Vol 5.1: 1835] xiv, 538 p. (Thierreich zweiten Bandes erste Abtheilung). [Vol 5.2: 1835] 540-1050 p. (Thierreich zweiten Bandes zweite Abtheilung.) [Vol 5.3: 1836] 1052-1445 (i.e., 1845) p. (Thierreich zweiten Bandes letzte Abtheilung.) [Vol 6: 1838] 698 p. (Thierreich dritter Band.). [Vol 7.1: 1837] iv, 685 p. (Thierreich vierten Bandes erste Abtheilung). [Vol 7.2: 1838] viii p., 689-1432 p. (Thierreich, vierten Bandes zweyte Abtheilung). [Vol 7.3: 1839] 1434-1872 p. (Thierreich vierten Bandes dritte Abtheilung). [Vol 8: 1842] 468 p. (Universal-Register zu Okens allgemeiner Naturgeschichte). Includes bibliographies and indexes. [Atlas] 2°: [2] p., 73 plates (44 are handcolored and 29 b/w plates). Page size: Atlas, 335 x 265 mm.

Very scarce. From an early age, Oken took an active interest in all branches of natural history and human knowledge on which he authored many contributions. One of his major works is his Allgemeine Naturgeschichte (General Natural History) which he compiled with monumental diligence, bringing together his extensive knowledge of minerals, animals, and plants, that appeared in a series that extended to thirteen volumes over nine years. The series begins with a volume describing minerals that contains a good mineralogy, authored by Friedrich August Walchner. In the next volumes it goes into plants and animals, with the concluding sections being a description of humans. Oken provides a wonderful text, filled with many stories and knowledgeable details, in a manner not often encountered in books any more. The author was attempting to create a work that in historical retrospect can be called one of the first to be interpreted as a work of popular science. Oken invented the systems that arrange the minerals, plants, and animals that are described, as well as introducing a nomenclature to support it. His importance lies in the formation of fundamental concepts that guided his publications. For example, Oken postulated the existence of a primal slime from which all living things originated. His work has been assessed by historians and philosophers from then on.

An Atlas with illustrations for the text volumes was published in 1843. It contains the following plates: mineralogy 6 plates (2 hand-colored, 4 b/w all showing cross-sections!), plants 22 plates (20 colored, 2 b/w), anatomy 13 plates ( 0 colored, 13 b/w), zoology 21 plates (11 colored, 10 b/w), and supplement 11 plates (11 colored, 0 b/w), for a total of 73 plates of which 44 are handcolored and 29 b/w plates.

Contents: vol. 1. Bd. Mineralogie und Geognosie. vols. 2.-3. Botanik. vols. 4.-7. Thierreich. vol. 8. Universal register.

Bibliographical references: BL. NUC.