An Obituary (Translated by Philip Sharpe)
Carl Mez, a Life for Botany.
With 3 Illustrations
It had been planned for the 100th anniversary of Mez’ birthday to have had this printed in the previous issue. With the putting together of the dates and in particular the publication, unforeseen technical difficulties occurred, by reason of the fact that reference papers of those years are in Berlin and not all are available. I thank all the outside libraries that have assisted me with their material , in particular Goettingen and the University Library of Heidelberg. Frauelein Christa Bernhoff & Herrn Ernst Schumacher who immediately checked the documents and I thank them for the careful revueing of the lists with the publication. Dr Ludwig (Marburg) I thank for the loan of the ‘Botanischen Echo’. My particular thanks go to the grandson of Carl Mez, Dr Friedrich Ach (Frreiburg/Br) for the explanations of the many questions that were brought up in the compilation of the manuscript and as well as the loan of individual publications & the portrates Finally I thank Frauelein Helene Didlaukis for the careful work in drawing up of the Koenigsberg family tree.
The Life of Carl Mez
Carl Christian Mez was born on the 24 March 1866 in Freiburg in Breisgau. His mother, Eliza was from the Pfalz and his father, Carl, came from the Black Forest. On his
Fathers side of the family his forefathers go back in the Black Forest several generations. It must be mentioned here that the name Mez is also understood by non botanists all over the world by reason of the silk sewing machine MEZ AG Freiburg which goes back to the botanist Mez’s forefathers.It was in ca 1775 in Kandern (Black Forest) that his great grandfather, Carl Christian Mez, started with 3 weaving stools.By 1832 due to rising production it became so big that the simple rooms in Kandern did not suffice. As a result his grandfather as well as Carl Christian Mez, a well known reformer and politician (Frankfurt National Assembly 1848) found it necessary to start up in Freiburg. Early on the Mez AG was automated as well as the silk and artificial silk production at the sister work in Hamburg. Here the most modern synthetic material was produced.
In his parents house Carl Mez with his three sisters and a brother were brought up strictly evangelistic. From1872 – 74 he attended the evangelistic primary school in Freiburg. After that he went to a grammer School and finished in 1883 with his Abitur (Passing Out Certificate.Whilst at school he hinted that he had other interests and that he did not wish to take over his father’s sewing factory but would hand it over to his brother. His life’s work would be botanical. His uncle who was interested in natural history and with whom he frequently accompanied on botanical trips influenced him in his resolve.When in1881 the Association for Botany for the area Freiburg and Baden was founded, Mez immediately joined. Whilst still a student he produced his first scientific study concerning an Inula hybrid in his area in Information of this association. Although Mez’s scientific life was played out at the other end of Germany he remained true to this association to the end.
As regards Mez’s student years different dates have been taken into account when making this obituary. In consequence I am following his account of his life which is added to his dissertation. To begin with he studied 2 terms (1883 -4) at the Albert-Ludwig University in Freiburg/Br then he went to Berlin to the Friedrich-Wilhelm University for a term, returned until 1886 to Freiburg and finally again to Berlin, Here only his botanical teachers will be named; F. Hildebrand and Weismann in Freiburg, Ascherson, Eichler, Kny, Magnus and Schwendener in Berlin. Mez gained his doctorate in March 1888; his thesis is completed under the direction of Urban and deals with the morphology of the Lauraceae. After that Mez studied for a short time in Munich anatomy under Radlhofer
During the student period Mez had the opportunity to study the flora of his homeland. As expert botanist in 1885 he was entrusted with the reporting of the upper Rhein. Area for the Commission for the Flora of Germany. However, from 1889 his new working area made this impossible, so the Upper Rhein was from then on refereed by L. Klein. After the thesis a phase of his life began in which Mez worked on pure monographical and area geographically . At the botanical museums of Berlin and Breslau his excellent powers of observation of such extensive families as the Lauraceae (over 2000 species) Bromeliaceae (almost 2000 species) Myrsinaceae (almost 1000 species) and later the Gramineae (about 7000 species) which is absolutely essential and seldom reached by anybody. Only this wonderful power of observation and his excellent memory is to be thanked that in his whole life he recognized about 1200 species and described them. Mez would have liked to have turned to other families certainly and still greater numbers of species would have been described had it not been for appointments at various universities with other tasks to fulfill. Outstanding is also his remarkable knowledge of the Latin language. All the thick monographs are completed in Latin, although it was actually only necessary to describe the new taxa in Latin.The work on monographs was done on herbarium material as, contrary to many of his colleagues it was not possible for Mez to make world trips in order to observe plants in their natural locations and collect them. His few foreign trips (1906 to Petersburg 1926 to USA). He used solely to hold lectures.
After this general period we now follow Carl Mez and his life. Close after the thesis theme began the work on the American Lauraceae and which was followed on in the Botanical Museum Berlin. At that time a change in the directorship had occurred: 1887 the famous A.W.Eichler famed through his Flower Diagrams had unexpectedly at the age of 48 died of leukemia and in 1889 was taken over by A Engler in the meantime it had been directed by various commissioners. This change in management also changed the future life of Mez. Although he enjoyed work on monographs the work load that he was now required to fulfill made him feel that he was unable to deal with it, With no more ado he resolved to go to Breslau,
In Breslau under the directorship of Prantl he was able to continue his morphological and monographical studies in a quieter atmosphere. His habilitation thesis falls somewhat out of place, as the work dealt with Cordieae ( to the Boraginaceae) which he never worked on again. In 1890 he became lecturer at the university of Breslau.
Also in 1889 he married the artist Therese Amalie Jensen, daughter of the poet Wilhelm Jensen and the highly talented artist Marie Jensen-Bruehl. The young wife of Mez had lively creative connections to botany: she painted the same plants in oil that the scientist Mez took with him through his life. Many illustrated pictures that Mez required for his lectures emanated from her hand. great mycology work, that was not published for which she did the illustrations.
In Breslau mostly cryptogamy was the main interest. In consequence Mez turned his interest to mycology as well as the plant families already worked on.,also a very difficult plant group which accompanied him further through his life. After Prantl’s death (1893) his responsibity was the practical handling of questions .Here in Breslau he worked as advisor on the study of sewerage. The microscopic studies concerned with the work induced him to reshape the work The Microscope and its Use which Hager had founded and during the next 20 years he kept up the latest scientific studies.
His practical field of work received a somewhat different face, as in 1900 (according to other sources already in 1899 as Extraordinary Professor for Systematic Botany and Pharmacology he was called to Halle/Saale. Here at first he worked on a pharmacological investigative book.. After that mycology became the centre point in his life and he occupied himself with the house dry rot. The Haller years also brought Mez’s first meeting with physiological-ecological problems in particular questions regarding the house water balance and the freezing of plants. What caused his interest to this direction of work was the culture of the Bromeliaceae, which indeed was his favourite plant family
In 1908 his senior chef Noll was replaced by Klebs and with that began again a time of harassment for Mez and impossible cooperation. Still this forced labour did not last long, because in 1910 Mez was called to Koenigsberg, East Prussia as replacement for Luersen as Professor of Plant Physiology where he also took over the directorship of the Botanical Gardens With his monographical work he had for a long time recognised the inadequency. of the recognized plant systems. By reason of time spent with Cohn in Breslau his interest for this had been further strengthened . But up till now Mez had not been able to work in this area. The ordinariate in Koenigsberg permitted him now to fulfill his long cherished wish. The appointment as physiologist made it possible to combine taxonomy and physiology that is in the serological and method of examination and to reach new phylogenetical view points.
A short beak in his scientific work occurred in the First World War. His love of his homeland caused him to report as volunteer for the army. Three years as Captain he fought on the Eastern front. The loss of the war caused Mez great troubles. Also family occurrences brought bitter sadness for Mez. His only son Carl Christian. A medical and chemist student died suddenly of septicaemia that he probably caught whilst having anatomical lessons. In addition one of his three daughters died unexpectedly. His dear wife contracted an incurable disease whereby she suffered nearly 20 years.
The 20’s were the most fruitful for Mez. It is remarkable how he managed to fulfill all these tasks.To the usual scientific work came a time consuming work for which he sacrificed himself out of pure willingness to assist for which no material gain for himself occurred.At that time there was a paucity of publications. He decided to publish two new botanical magazines. In 1922 he published the Botanische Archiv, 1925 the Botanische Echo.The publication was financially possible through a small donation of 50 dollars from the German American Freundschaft to the Koenigsberg University. The Botanische Archiv stood open for the whole area of botany. The manuscripts for the first 20 volumes (1922-1927) were done by the self sacrificing Mez mostly alone with the typewriter and were duplicated by the lithograph.The Botanische Echo is a reference many papers of which were written by Mez himself. The only volume appeared (1925-1927) in the same
way as was the Archiv and in portions as gratis supplements delivered with the Archiv
As thanks for his incomparable work on 29th December 1927 a particular honour from the Emergency Action Orgnisation for German Science From 1928 from volume 21 onwards the Botanical Archive appeared in normal print.Mez did not remain the sole editor.As joint editor came his earlier student, now assistant and best friend Ziegenspeck? And from the agricultural department his colleague Mitscherlich. The Botanische Echo did not appear any more as independent work but in the form of a book review, immediate part of the Archiv, Until vol 39 (1939) Mez remained joint publisher of this magazine.
We must at this point discuss a few things about the direction of work, namely about the serodiagnostic. According to Mez’s interpretation the relationship of plants depends ultimately on the likeness or difference of the plant’s protein. As a result of numerous serologishen reactions the whole of the plant kingdom was worked through. The result was the Koenigsberg Serodiagnostic Family Tree, which in 1926 appeared in large size 1.5 X 2m. A few refinements were rectified later. A simplified family tree for the angiosperms. I have given on page 403 again, in place of the family names I have summarized and as far as possible used customary names. .
An obituary hardly seems to be the right place to discuss all the hostilities brought on to himself through his method of work. The hardest critics were Gilg & Schuerhoff (1929) which led to many botanists dismissing serology without any further ado . However, the working area of serology has not disappeared from botany. As in every scientific area the newer methods were brought in. A detailed compilation of newer serological experiences is given by Jensen (1962) who also in an earlier work ?(1965) the systematic placing of the Didiereaceae within the Centrospermae near to the Portulacaceae confirmed through serological investigation what Rau (1961} had already proposed on hand morphological characteristics .
As the Koenigsberger Family Tree was more or less finished Mez worked to a great extent on monographs.. From the bigger works at this time, unfortunately only the Bromeliaceae of the Pflanzenreich (1934-35) got published. About the same time the extensive work for Pflanreich- Panicoideae (considerably more than 2000 typewritten sheets) was finished. The work on the above mentioned great fungus work was possibly already completed.earlier.As a result the compilation of the publication actually gives an incomplete picture of the work of this famous botanist, After his retirement as Eremite
Professor in 1935 Mez moved back to Freiburg / Br. with his very ill wife. Whilst many botanists, even when old, are still in the position unhindered to publish further this was not granted to Mez. After a restless working life there followed serious illnesses and fateful blows. In 1937 his first wife died. In 1939 he married a pastor’s daughter Dorothea Ibing and through her loving care his health once again improved. However a stroke from which he never recovered properly, finished his work as a botanist. Still a few painful years followed until on the 15th January 1944 he shut his eyes for ever. Through that he was spared seeing his life’s work that he had built up in Koenigsberg with patience and hard work in one night of bombing in September 1944 be completely destroyed.
An Obituary (Translated by Philip Sharpe)