Adelbert von Chamisso

A Romantic Poet

Today is the birthday of French-German poet, naturalist, and botanist Adelbert von Chamisso ("Sha-ME-So").
Born into a French Noble family, Chamisso’s family fled to Germany after the French Revolution. Chamisso is remembered for a number of different accomplishments. His creativity was captured in a novella called Peter Schlemihl’s Wonderful History, published in 1814. The story is about a naturalist who travels around the world thanks to a pair of seven-league boots and who sells his shadow to the devil in exchange for a bottomless wallet. Seven-league boots were a common part of European folklore and allowed the wearer to walk seven times further than an average stride, making the wearer possess super-human speed.
Chamisso established himself as a Romantic poet with his poem Frauenliebe und leben, The poem’s English translation is A Woman's Love and Life and is actually a series of poems describing a woman’s love for a man from their first meeting, through their married life together and ultimately to the time after his death. Robert Schumann later set Chamisso's poem to music in his Opus 42. It takes a soprano opera singer 30 minutes to sing all the poems in the Opus from start to finish. 
After surviving the french revolution and the war between France and Prussia, Chamisso eagerly joined a round-the-world voyage aboard a Russian ship called the Rurik. It would be the greatest adventure of his life. The trip was financed by a Russian Count named Nikolay ("NEE-co-LIE") Rumyantsev ("Roo-myan-sev"), who was eager to find a route around North America by water - which would later be called the Northwest Passage. Chamisso was the ship’s naturalist, and Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz was the ship’s doctor and botanist.
When the Rurik ended up in the San Francisco Bay area in 1816, Chamisso and Eschscholtz ended up exploring in California for about a month. One of his discoveries was the California poppy, which he named Eschscholzia California after his friend, the botanist Johann Friedrich Von Eschscholz.
In return, Eschscholz named a bunch of plants after Chamisso - a little quid pro quo. The California Wild Rose (Rosa californica Chamisso and the California Blackberry (Rubus vitifolius Chamisso) are named for Chamisso.
In 1903, the botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon put forth a successful piece of legislation that nominated the golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica) as the state flower of California.
During his three year Journey on the Rurik, Chamisso collected over 12,000 species of plants. Today his collection is preserved at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg.
It was Chamisso who said,
“In pain, a new time is born.”

This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Adelbert von Chamisso
Adelbert von Chamisso

Leave a Comment