Engelbert Kaempfer

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Engelbert Kaempfer (September 16, 1651November 2, 1716) was a German traveller and physician.

He was born at Lemgo in Lippe-Detmold, Westphalia, where his father was a pastor. He studied at Hameln, Lneburg, Hamburg, Lbeck and Gdansk, and after graduating Ph.D. at Krakw, spent four years at Knigsberg in Prussia, studying medicine and natural science. In 1681 he visited Uppsala in Sweden, where he was offered inducements to settle; but his desire for foreign travel led him to become secretary to the embassy which Charles XI sent through Russia to Persia in 1683. He reached Persia by way of Moscow, Kazan and Astrakhan, landing at Nizabad in Dagestan after a voyage in the Caspian Sea; from Shemakha in Shirvan he made an expedition to the Baku peninsula, being perhaps the first modern scientist to visit these fields of eternal fire. In 1684 he arrived in Isfahan, then the Persian capital. When after a stay of more than a year the Swedish embassy prepared to return, Kaempfer joined the fleet of the Dutch East India Company in the Persian Gulf as chief surgeon, and in spite of fever caught at Bander Abbasi he found opportunity to see something of Arabia and of many of the western coast-lands of India. In September 1689 he reached Batavia; spent the following winter in studying Javanese natural history; and in May 1690 set out for Japan as physician to the embassy sent yearly to that country by the Dutch. The ship in which he sailed touched at Siam, whose capital he visited; and in September 1690 he arrived at the coast of Nagasaki, the only Japanese port then open to foreigners. Kaempfer stayed two years in Japan, during which he twice visited Tokyo and the Shogun there. When he visited Buddhist monks in Nagasaki in February 1691, he was the first western scientist to describe the tree Ginkgo biloba, scientists at the time previously thought that all Ginkgo species were extinct. He brought some Ginkgo seeds back that was planted in the botanical garden in Utrecht and can still be seen today. During his stay in Japan, his adroitness, insinuating manners and medical skill overcame the habitual jealousy and reticence of the natives, and enabled him to elicit much valuable information. In November 1692 he left Japan for Java and Europe, and in October 1693 he landed at Amsterdam. Receiving the degree of M.D. at Leiden, he settled down in his native city, becoming also physician to the count of Lippe. He died at Lemgo.

The only work Kaempfer lived to publish was Amoenitatum exoticarum politico-physico-medicarum fasciculi V. (Lemgo, 1712), a selection from his papers giving results of his invaluable observations in Georgia, Persia and Japan. At his death the unpublished manuscripts were purchased by Sir Hans Sloane, and conveyed to England. Among them was a History of Japan, translated from the manuscript into English by J.G. Scheuchzer and published at London, in 2 vols., in 1727. The original German has never been published, the extant German version being taken from the English. Besides Japanese history, this book contains a description of the political, social and physical state of the country in the 17th century. For upwards of a hundred years it remained the chief source of information for the general reader, and is still not wholly obsolete. A life of the author is prefixed to the History. Kaempfer's original manuscripts are currently kept in the British Museum.

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ja:エンゲルベルト・ケンペル

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