Alfred Brehm was the son of Christian Ludwig
Brehm and his second wife Bertha. Christian Ludwig Brehm, was a minister and ornithologist who
published papers on birds and had an extensive collection of more than 9000 birds.
Alfred’s interest in zoology, grew, but his first choice of a career was
as an architect. He studied architecture from 1844 to 1846, but stopped after two semesters when
ornithologist Johann Wilhelm von Müller, was looking for help for an expedition
to Africa. Brehm joined the expedition on 31 May 1847 as a secretary and
assistant to von Müller. The expedition took him to Egypt, the Sudan,
and the Sinai Peninsula; his discoveries were significant and Alfred was made
a member of the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, at age 20.
In May 1861 Alfred Brehm married his cousin
Mathilde Reiz, with whom he had five children. He wanted to travel, in 1862 he
accepted the invitation of Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to
accompany him on a trip to Abyssinia. Afterwards, Brehm travelled to
Africa as well as to Scandinavia and Siberia. His essays and
expedition reports on the animal world were well received. As a result, he was
commissioned by the editor of the Bibliographisches Institut, Herrmann
Julius Meyer, to write a large multivolume work on the animal world. This book
became known worldwide as Brehms Tierleben. In English the title
was, Brehm's Life of Animals.
Brehms Tierleben was one of
the first modern popular zoological treatises. First published in German as a six-volume
work that was completed in 1869 it was published by the Bibliographisches
Institut of Herrmann Julius Meyer with illustration directed by Robert Kretschmer. The second edition completed in 1879 had ten volumes. It
was translated into several European languages.
The first edition: Illustrirtes Thierleben. Eine
allgemeine Kunde des Thierreichs. By Alfred Edmund Brehm, Eduard Oskar
Schmidt, and Ernst Ludwig Taschenberg. Six volumes. Hildburghausen, Bibliographisches
The second edition: Brehms Tierleben. Allgemeine
Kunde des Tierreichs. By Alfred Edmund Brehm, Eduard Oskar Schmidt, and
Ernst Ludwig Taschenberg.. This edition was expanded to 10 volumes Leipzig, Bibliographisches
Institut, 1876–1879; reprinted 1882–1884.
The third edition: Brehms Tierleben. Allgemeine
Kunde des Tierreichs. By Alfred Edmund Brehm, Oskar Boettger, Wilhelm
Haacke, Eduard Pechuël-Loesche, W. Marshall, Eduard Oskar Schmidt, and Ernst
Ludwig Taschenberg. 3rd ed. 10 vols. Leipzig, Wien, Bibliographisches
The volumes were illustrated by Gustav Mützel, August Specht, Friedrich Specht, and Robert Kretschmer as well as other artists.
Brehm's life was busy, filled with writing,
scientific expeditions, and lecture tours. Yet, in 1862, he accepted the post
of first director of the Zoological Garden of Hamburg and kept this
position until 1867. Afterwards he went to Berlin, where he opened
an aquarium. He remained with the aquarium until 1874. In the winter of
1883 to 1884 Brehm planned a lecture tour to the US. Shortly before his
departure, his four children contracted diphtheria. Since he could not
afford to break his contract, Brehm, a widower since 1878, went ahead with his
tour. At the end of January he received
word of his youngest son's death. After the hardship of this news Brehm
relapsed into malaria, which he had caught in Africa in his expedition
days. On 11 May 1884, he came back to Berlin. In order to find peace, he
returned in July to his hometown of Renthendorf, where he died on 11 November
1884. The Brehm Memorial Museum is located there.
Below two plates with the title Flugdrache, illustrating the gliding agamid lizards of the genus Draco.