Aristide Caradja, Princeps Biologorum Romaniae

I did not meet the great, indefatigable entomologist Aristide Caradja (1861-1955), but everything I have found out about him from firsthand sources has helped me understand he was a unique personality, an absolutely fascinating man. It is undoubtedly an indirect kind of knowledge, but judging by his achievements and the respect some of his contemporaries had for him, I have no reason to think it would have been otherwise. I have used the phrase 'some of his contemporaries' because this prince, a descendant of two great, old aristocratic families that gave rules to the Romanian Principalities, was a recluse, finding refuge in the world of music and resting his eyes on the delicate forms and harmonious colours of butterflies. It is not easy to write about such a person. I will nevertheless try to do it because I think I have had the chance of a gradual familiarisation, by successive accumulation along some forty years, a familiarisation taking place in a more than favourable environment. Aristide Caradja had only one student, or rather, disciple: Aurelian Popescu-Gorj, whom he thought very highly of due to his passion for the world of butterflies and whom he agreed to guide, from a distance but constantly, since the summer of 1928, when they met on the Black Sea coast, until 1948, when old age forced the scholar to stop his scientific endeavours. I have been around this eminent naturalist quite a lot, I have sometimes accompanied him to the Danube Delta on nocturnal hunts for insects (Ernst Junger would have called them 'subtle'), and I have often heard him speak about his great master. These reminiscences under the dark canopy of the trees in the Letea forest, with the silent snakes of the creepers coming down the branches, and in the flickering and swaying light of a lantern, had an echo that has remained equally powerful despite the passing of time. It is an echo different from that of discussions held in a minuscule laboratory, overrun with entomological boxes, or in a flat. But they have all endured, joining others, with other rhythms or harmonies, since they were coming from other people. Professor Constantin Motaş was a close friend of Caradja's, visited him at his manor in Grumăzeşti and listened to his magnificent interpretation of Beethoven's sonatas, a composer for whom the entomologist, a former pupil of Hans von Bülow, had huge admiration. The two scientists had a very special relationship, based on mutual respect and appreciation. Besides the happy human contacts, I have also had the chance to have access to Aristide Caradja's great and famous butterfly collection, amazing not only for the variety and richness of its items, but primarily for its scientific value. The collection was for a long time hosted by the Grumăzeşti manor, not far from Tîrgu Neamţ, and got close to being destroyed in the Second World War. It was dramatically saved, and arrived in Bucharest at the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History in June 1944 on a gun carriage by order of General Pantazi, Minister of Defence, who thus answered the repeated pleas of Professor Constantin Motaş. The entomologic library of the great scientist accompanied the cabinets containing airtight display boxes with 120000 butterflies, in their great majority Microlepidoptera with fine, pennate wings. The minutes of the reception at the Bucharest institution were taken by the Inventorying and Evaluation Committee and bear the date of June 14, 1944. They were signed by Professor Constantin Motaş, in his capacity as Chair of the Committee, and by its members, Dr. Mircea Paucă, the then acting director of the Museum (Grigore Antipa had died of heart failure on March 9, 1944), Dr. Mihai Băcescu, head of department, and foreman Gheorghe Potişel. Very soon though Aristide Caradja's collection of Lepidoptera was in danger again. On August 23 and 24, 1944, the museum building was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe as part of the German retaliation against the former ally. The collection, however, escaped unharmed due to the fact that it had been stored in the basement. This is where all the museum pieces that could be salvaged ended up. Nobody could work on Aristide Caradja's collection for several years, until the rebuilding of the museum was completed. And there would have been a lot to do apart from the periodical work of cleaning and debugging. In a letter to the director of the GrigoreAntipaMuseum, dated June 18, 1944, Aristide Caradja pointed out the measures to be taken for the final ordering of the items as because of my various ailments and surgeries in the past years I have been unable to study the collection myself, as I would have liked to. That is why I am taking the liberty of suggesting the following instructions on the basis of which a specialist in Microlepidoptera will be able to order the entire collection. I have already conveyed all this to Mr Băcescu orally, but I had better put it in writing as well, since scripta manent. 1. I wish, and it is necessary, that the Microlepidoptera from China and Eastern Asia (containing thousands of "types") be a separate collection, according to the systemic arrangement I had already begun. But the material arrived from China was so rich that I found it impossible to continue the arrangement on my own. After 1932, the Microlepidoptera from China are ordered systemically according to their place of origin, and not in vertical rows (like the rest of the collection), but in horizontal ones. I have not labelled all the species that are in either the 'main' collection or in the China one – it would be the job of a specialist to identify them correctly. I have labelled only the new species, discovered and described in my papers, more specifically, only the first individual in each series (from the left)… For this work which requires both competence and patience, Aristide Caradja recommended Professor Doctor Martin Hering, from the BerlinUniversityMuseum. He had visited Grumăzeşti in 1938 and knew the collection very well, but the war was not over yet, and the complicated international situation that followed did not allow for a collaboration with foreign specialists. Aware of this, Aristide Caradja, who had by now moved to Bucharest, wrote to Professor Constantin Motaş on August 29, 1945, thanking him for the way in which he had been looking after the collection but also to à vous exprimer encore une fois ma reconnaissance, mais aussi mon désir que ce soit le jeune Aurelian Popescu que soit chargé de la mettre en ordre et de refondre la collection de Chinois… c'est en Aurelian Popescu que je mets ma confiance. La collection n'aura toute sa valeur que quand elle sera mise en ordre parfait… But the young naturalist Aurelian Popescu, who had done volunteer work at the Museum in the period 1937-1939, had been since 1944 a researcher at the Romanian Institute for Piscicultural Research, in charge of studying inland waters, and thus forced to limit his entomological preoccupations to the little free time his frequent field work left him. It was only on June 15, 1961 that he was hired as researcher at the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History, becoming the head of the Entomology department in 1965. In this capacity he could focus on studying and ordering the great collection of Aristide Caradja. Between 1948, when the Museum was reopened for the public, and 1961, there were few specialists showing interest in the riches gathered by Aristide Caradja. After 1961, the collection recovered its glamour and fame, drawing again the attention of specialists all over the world. In order to understand correctly the reasons for this interest, some details about Aristide Caradja and his collection are probably called for. Born in Dresden in 1861, Aristide was the seventh child of a well-off family of Greek extraction. His paternal ancestors had settled in Wallachia in the 17th century, some of them even reaching top positions in the principality. His mother also came from an illustrious family – Şuţu – of Phanariot descent. After completing his secondary education in Dresden, he followed the advice of his father and read law at the Law Faculty of Toulouse, but this was also the time when he developed a passion for natural sciences, a field in which he was going to acquire an impressive expertise. His first publication, on the butterflies from Haute Garonne, dates from 1891, but the rich Lepidoptera material (848 species) had been collected several years previously, during the time of his studies in France. That was the beginning of a collection that would go on growing for 56 years (1887-1943). 1887 was the year of the loss of his father and of his return to Romania, where he settled permanently at Grumăzeşti, in a manor situated in the middle of an immense forested park. He seldom travelled, but kept in permanent touch with great specialists in Microlepidoptera from London, Berlin, Bonn, Vienna, St Petersburg, Stockholm, etc., receiving from them a lot of materials which he studied, describing hundreds of new species. His collection was already significant at that point, but he went on enriching it by the acquisition of famous private collections, exchanges with great collectors, and acquisition of rare species, for which he never hesitated to pay considerable sums of money. Moreover, Aristide Caradja subsidised expeditions to Asia, Spitzbergen, North Africa, Spain, and South America, receiving in return collectable Microlepidoptera. Due to his reputation as a consummate specialist, several famous expeditions, such as those of Sven Hedin, Max Korb, Paul Chrétien, Karl Ribbe, sent him their Microlepidoptera materials for study. He was also commissioned to do the revision of the whole Microlepidoptera collection of the BritishMuseum, the biggest in the world. Millions of Microlepidoptera passed through his hands and before his eyes. From Hermann Hohne's Chinese collection alone, Caradja studied and classified 400,000 items. The papers published in the best known international reviews, as well as in the Romanian Academy Journal, brought him an enormous prestige. If in a first period (1891-1924) they were primarily interested in systematising, in the description of new species, Aristide Caradja moved on later towards trying to unravel the mystery of the origin and development of the Lepidoptera fauna. He turned from analyses to generalisations, using data offered by paleogeography and paleoclimatology to present new theoretical views on the biography and systemic organisation of Lepidoptera. He also studied the mechanisms of mutation. In Aristide Caradja's opinion, Central Asia was where the Lepidoptera colonisation of the Eurasian continent, of the whole world even, started. It is worth noting that Aristide Caradja was, at that moment, the best acquainted with the Asian Lepidoptera fauna. He studied the materials of the Hermann Hohne collection, gathered in China during the 1917-1923 expedition, describing 927 species, 271 of which were endemic and 91 new. Aristide Caradja's collection owes its great scientific value to the rich Microlepidoptera material gathered in various regions of China, which places it among the most important collections in the world, but also to the 3000 types, the items that enabled the description of the new species and that have a special scientific value. Besides Microlepidoptera, the collection also contains 5000 Macrolepidoptera, big diurnal butterflies that enchant the eye with their forms and colours. Among them, the famous Morpho, from the Amazonian jungles, Chrysiridia madagascariensis, considered the most beautiful butterfly in the world, and Ornithoptera, the bird-butterflies from Borneo. Aristide Caradja sacrificed his entire fortune and put a lot of work into his collection, but on its basis he could build an important scientific work, which revealed the profoundness and originality of his thinking. In 1937, Aristide Caradja published a philosophical synthesis entitled Meine Weltanschauung (My Conception of the Universe), which, as he confessed in a letter of January 28, 1938, to Aurelian Popescu, he had sent out into the world in the hope that with it I could help some people find a peace of mind similar to that I am enjoying now, after a lifetime of restlessness and doubts. He lived a long life – almost a century – he lived through adverse times, but also through serene moments, which he experienced with the wisdom of a philosopher. If Terentianus Maurus's aphorism (Habent sua fata libelli) has been repeatedly confirmed throughout the centuries, collections too, not only books, have their own destiny. Aristide Caradja's collection of Lepidoptera has so far had a happy destiny.

by Alexandru Marinescu