State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 86 December 2010


Walter Struve
'It gives me much pleasure, dear Sir Redmond': the State Library of Victoria's copy of Aroideae Maximilianae

Frontispiece to Aroideae Maximilianae.


'Atimeta filamentosa', plate 20 in Aroideae Maximilianae.

BOOKS HAVE THEIR own fates – Habent sua fata libelli - and, as Walter Benjamin elaborated in a short talk on book collecting first published in 1931, 'not only books but also copies of books have their fates'.1 This article outlines the story of a botanical book published in Vienna in 1879, a copy of which was presented by Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria,2 to Ferdinand von Mueller,3 who then – in April 18804 – donated it to the Public Library in Melbourne.5 The book is a study of Aroids – or Araceae – collected in Brazil in 1860 and then taken to Vienna, where Heinrich Schott, 'the foremost student of the Araceae',6 cultivated them at the Schönbrunn Gardens. The book's title page reads:
Aroideae Maximilianae. Die auf der Reise Sr. Majestät des Kaisers Maximilian I. nach Brasilien gesammelten Arongewächse, nach handschriftlichen Aufzeichnungen von H. Schott beschrieben von Dr. J. Peyritsch. Mit einem Titelbilde und 42 Tafeln in Farbendruck. Wien: Druck und Verlag von Carl Gerold's Sohn, 1879.7
Mueller described it as a 'magnificent' and 'splendid' work. In donating his copy, he wrote to Redmond Barry:8
It gives me much pleasure, dear Sir Redmond, to present to the grand Public Library, which you mainly created, the magnificent work of Brazilian Aroideae, presented to myself by the grace of the Emperor of Austria. To this princely gift attaches a particular deep and sad interest, as it [is] one of the many precious literary bequests of a Sovereign, celebrated for his patronage and cultivation of science.9
The celebrated Sovereign Mueller referred to was Ferdinand Maximilian (1832-67), Archduke of Austria and, for three fateful years, Emperor of Mexico.10 His reign ended with his execution by firing squad at Querétaro.11 One year later, the English publisher of Maximilian's Recollections wrote of him as 'one of the most gifted, genial, and chivalrous of princes .. . one who seemed destined, by his liberal and enlightened policy, to develop the wonderful resources of a great empire, and to advance the cause of civilisation over the world'.12
Maximilian's Recollections had been intended for his family and close friends. They consist of reflections on a series of travels, beginning with him at nineteen years of age and setting out from Trieste on the Austrian frigate, Novara. Fortunately for us, they extend to 19 January 1860, when Maximilian, now twenty-seven years of age, had recently arrived in Brazil, having sailed from Pula13 on the Austrian frigate, Elisabeth -'our travelling palace'14 – on 14 November 1859. The Elisabeth reached Bahia, on the north-east coast of Brazil, on 11 January 1860 from where Maximilian wrote:
This was one of those happy moments in which a new world, in the fullest sense of the word, opens before one; when one would wish to have a hundred eyes to take in the unknown wonders which are continually unfolding themselves on all sides, when in the midst of delight a feeling of sorrow arises that one cannot grasp everything, cannot preserve everything in remembrance. The mind, alas! can only transiently enjoy the beautiful picture; thus its reflection in written words is but as a faint photograph, founded indeed on truth, but weak and colourless compared with the original.15
Two botanical men – Heinrich Wawra16 and Franz Maly17 – accompanied Maximilian on this expedition, as did the artist Joseph Selleny,18 whose painting of a Brazilian forest scene with Araceae formed the frontispiece to Aroideae Maximilianae. Selleny's 'exquisite talent'19 is referred to by Maximilian in his Recollections and it is interesting to note that the artist has an Australian connection for he had been in Sydney in the previous year, on the Novara, as artist on its scientific voyage round the world. Maximilian was not on this voyage, but was its patron and had appointed its 'Scientific Commission' of seven men, including Selleny. The voyage was also under the 'benign patronage' of the now elderly Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859),20 a revered natural scientist whose monumental work, Kosmos (1845-62), has been described as 'the last great work of the last great universal man'.21
Maximilian's Recollections ended with the first eight days in Brazil, in forests near Ilhéus. From an outline of Wawra's life,22 one learns that Maximilian's party then made for Rio de Janeiro, and that Maximilian subsequently met with the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, who was his first cousin.23 The return voyage began on 8 February 1860 and reached Miramare – Maximilian's castle near Trieste – at the end of March. Wawra returned to Vienna in June to work on the botanical collections. By 1863 two volumes had been prepared for publication and were awaiting a third, descriptive volume that Maximilian had wished to write. The third volume, however, did not eventuate and Wawra's two volumes were published on their own in 1866.24
Johann Peyritsch,25 under whose editorship Aroideae Maximilianae was published thirteen years later (nearly twenty years after the expedition to Brazil) explained in his introduction that Wawra's task had been to cover the plants collected on the expedition, except for the Aroids. These were to receive special treatment in a study by Heinrich Schott, who, in 1860, was sixty-six years of age. In that year he published his Prodromus Systematis Aroidearum, based on forty years of work, as Mueller mentioned to Barry in his letter of April 1880.26 Schott – who had himself been on a scientific expedition to Brazil (1817-21) – threw himself into the new task. He was able to bring forty-five species to flower in Vienna and arranged for their careful documentation. The detailed thorough illustrations achieved have been described as 'among the best botanical illustrations existing, both from a scientific and from an artistic point of view'.27
Work was proceeding well and consideration was already being given to the printing of plates when Schott's death in March 1865 brought things to a halt. Maximilian asked Wawra to complete Schott's work, but the war of 1866 – when the Austrian Empire was attacked by both Prussia and Italy28 – left Wawra with no time.
Wawra suggested that Schott's work be handed to Theodor Kotschy.29 A start was made, but Kotschy died in June of that year. The work was then handed to Kotschy's colleague, Siegfried Reissek.30 Peyritsch later wrote that it was Reissek who – after Schott – did most to bring the book to completion. Reissek chose forty-two sets of drawings, as well as Selleny's painting, and arranged for two Viennese firms – Anton Hartinger & Sohn31 and Reiffenstein & Rösch32 – to produce colour plates. But Reissek then fell ill in 1868 and died in 1871.
Eduard Fenzl33 was the next person called upon. He made minor amendments to the text and it was then considered that 'Aroideae Maximilianae' had been rescued. It now became the task of August von Jilek,34 who had been Maximilian's personal physician, to smooth the path for the book's publication. Wawra was still unable to help, but recommended his friend Peyritsch to Jilek. Peyritsch then became the book's final editor. He worked on descriptions of each plant, using Schott's writings wherever he could, in particular Schott's Prodromus Systematis Aroidearum, and added bibliographic and geographical details. He referred also to recent work by Adolf Engler,35 who was later described as 'the second great monographer of Araceae'.36
And so, perhaps with even more layers of fate than Walter Benjamin had initially thought of in his address on book collecting, we have this 'magnificent' and 'splendid' work, Aroideae Maximilianae in the State Library of Victoria. Peyritsch saw it as a gift to the scientific world and also a memorial to Maximilian. Mueller in Melbourne saw fit to make a gift of his own copy to the Library so that it would be available 'in all futurity' to the Library's readers.


The article is dedicated to the memory of Dan Kahan (1936-2010), former Research Librarian at the State Library, who would gently encourage his younger colleagues to explore the State Library's wide-ranging collections. Last year he published a first volume of memoirs, Memories from a Foreign Country: growing up in Poland, 1936-1958 (Caulfield South, Vic: Makor Jewish Community Library), but sadly did not live to write an account of his Australian years.

Title-page of the State Library of Victoria's copy of Aroideae Maximilianae with inscription in top left corner noting that the book had been presented to the Library by Baron von Mueller on 19 April, 1880.


Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. by Hannah Arendt; translated by Harry Zohn, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968, p. 63.


Franz Joseph I (1830-1916), Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary.


Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller (1825-96), botanist and Australia's leading scientist of the nineteenth century'. See Regardfully Yours: selected correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller, vol. III: 1876-1896, ed. by R.W. Home [et al.], Bern: Peter Lang, 2006, p. 40. Rod Home and Sara Maroske kindly shared with me their vast knowledge of Ferdinand von Mueller and directed me to relevant correspondence.


The title page has two inscriptions (in different hands): 'Presented by Baron Ferd. von Mueller, April 19th 1880' and 'Entd. Stock Book, p. 265, May 1880'.


Now the State Library of Victoria.


Harald Riedl, 'Hermann Wilhelm Schott (1794-1865)', Taxon, vol. 14, no. 7, Sept. 1965, p. 209.


Aroideae Maximilianae. The Araceae collected on His Majesty, the Emperor Maximilian I's expedition to Brazil, described by Dr. J. Peyritsch from drawings by H. Schott. With a frontispiece and 42 colour plates. Vienna: Carl Gerold's Son, 1879.


Sir Redmond Barry (1813-80), judge, and President of the Trustees of the Public Library and prominent in all aspects of cultural, civic and philanthropic activity in Melbourne from the time he arrived in the colony in 1839 until his death some forty years later. See Ann Galbally, Redmond Barry: an Anglo-Irish Australian, Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1995.


Ferd. von Mueller to His Honor Sir Redmond Barry K.C.M.G., L.L.D., President of the Trustees of the Public Library, 17 April 1880 (transcription provided by the Mueller Correspondence Project, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne).


Ferdinand Maximilian was Franz Joseph I's younger brother; in 1857 he married Maria (Marie) Charlotte (1840-1927), daughter of the Belgian monarch, Leopold I.


Much has been written on Maximilian and the Mexican disaster. A wealth of insights can be found in studies of the French painter, Edouard Manet (1832-83) and his works on Maximilian's execution (three large paintings, an oil sketch and a lithograph); see, for example, John Elderfield, Manet and the Execution of Maximilian, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2006.


Richard Bentley's introduction to Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico, Recollections of My Life, vol. 1, London: Richard Bentley, 1868, p. iii.


On the southern tip of the Istria peninsular. In the nineteenth century, Pula (then Pola) became the Austrian Empire's key naval base. It is now part of Croatia.


Recollections of My Life, vol. 2, 1868, p. 283.


Recollections of My Life, vol. 3, 1868, p. 97.


Heinrich Wawra Ritter von Fernsee (1831-87), physician in the Austrian Navy and botanist.


Franz Maly (1823-91), gardener and botanist.


Joseph Selleny (1824-75), landscape painter and lithographer.


Recollections of My Life, vol. 3, 1868, p. 388.


See John Fletcher,'Karl Scherzer and the Visit of the "Novara" to Sydney, 1858', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 71, pt. 3, Dec. 1985, pp. 189-190; John Fletcher, 'The "Novara" in Sydney, November-December 1858: On unlocking a Time-Warp', Australian Library History in Context, ed. by W. Boyd Rayward, Kensington, NSW: School of Librarianship, University of NSW, 1988, pp. 8-9; John Fletcher, 'Joseph Selleny (1824-1875)', The Dictionary of Australian Artists: Painters, Sketchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870, ed. by Joan Kerr, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 712-714 (also available on-line at; and Michael Organ, '"Osterreich in Australien": Ferdinand von Hochstetter and the Austrian Novara Scientific Expedition, 1858-9', Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 12, no. 1, June 1998, p. 1.


Douglas Botting, Humboldt and the Cosmos, London: Michael Joseph, 1973, p. 260.


Ernst Wunschmann, 'Heinrich Wawra Ritter von Fernsee', Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, vol. 41, 1896, pp. 272-276.


Richard Blaine McCornack, 'Maximilian's Relations with Brazil', The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 32, no. 2, May 1952, p. 175.


Heinrich Wawra Ritter von Fernsee, Botanische Ergebnisse der Reise Seiner Majestät des Kaisers von Mexico Maximilian I nach Brasilien (1859-60), 2 vols, Vienna: Ceroid, 1866.


Johann Josef Peyritsch (1835-89), botanist and physician.


Ferd. von Mueller to Sir Redmond Barry, 17 April 1880, op. cit. In this letter Mueller mentioned also – 'in all due modesty' – that he had been among those to whom Schott had dedicated this 'celebrated' work (Schott's dedication had listed 24 distinguished botanists).


Harald Riedl, op. cit., p. 210.


For an outline of this war, see Geoffrey Wawro, The Austro-Prussian War: Austria's war with Prussia and Italy in 1866, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.


Theodor Kotschy (1813-66), botanist and explorer.


Siegfried Reissek (1819-71), botanist.


Anton Hartinger (1806-90), painter and pioneer in chromolithography.


A firm founded and run by Gottlieb Benjamin Reiffenstein (1822-85), painter and lithographer.


Eduard Fenzl (1808-79), botanist.


August von Jilek (1819-98), physician and lecturer in oceanography at the Austrian Marine Academy in Pola (now Pula, Croatia).


Heinrich Gustav Adolf Engler (1844-1930), botanist.


Josef Bogner, 'History of Araceae', Aroideana, vol. 20, 1997, p. 41. On the previous page, Bogner had written: 'Modern systematic studies of the Araceae began with the work of the Austrian botanist and gardener Heinrich Wilhelm Schott'.