Early life and education
Schlegel was born at Altenburg, the son of a brassfounder. His father collected butterflies, which stimulated Schlegel's interest in natural history. The discovery, by chance, of a buzzard's nest led him to the study of birds, and a meeting with Christian Ludwig Brehm.
Schlegel started to work for his father, but soon tired of it. He travelled to Vienna in 1824, where, at the university, he attended the lectures of Leopold Fitzinger and Johann Jacob Heckel. A letter of introduction from Brehm to Joseph Natterer gained him a position at the Naturhistorisches Museum.
One year after his arrival, the director of this natural history museum, Carl Franz Anton Ritter von Schreibers, recommended him to Coenraad Jacob Temminck, director of the natural history museum of Leiden, who was seeking an assistant. At first Schlegel worked mainly on the reptile collection and wrote Essai sur la Physionomie des Serpens (1837), but soon his field of activity extended to other zoological groups. It had been intended that Schlegel be sent to Java to join the Natural History Commission, but the untimely death of Temminck's intended successor, Heinrich Boie, prevented the realization of this project.
It was at this time that Schlegel met Philipp Franz von Siebold. They became firm friends and collaborated on Fauna Japonica (1845-1850).
Schlegel considered species as fixed, and consequently from the publication of On the Origin of Species until his death was strongly opposed to Darwin's theory. The English naturalist Charles Darwin knew of Schlegel’s opinions on species and evolution from remarks by his close friend, the British botanist and explorer Joseph Dalton Hooker: ‘I talked much with Schlegel, he is strongly in favour of a multiple creation & against migration’.
Director of the natural history museum
When Temminck died at the beginning of 1858, Schlegel succeeded him as director of the natural history museum, after having spent 33 years under his direction. Schlegel was particularly interested in Southeast Asia, and in 1857 sent his son Gustav to collect birds in China. Gustav arrived to find that Robert Swinhoe had gotten there first. In 1859, Schlegel sent Heinrich Agathon Bernstein to collect birds in New Guinea. After the death of Bernstein in 1865, he was succeeded by Hermann von Rosenberg.
Schlegel took on a young assistant, Otto Finsch. At the same time, he started to publish a scientific magazine, Notes from the Leyden Museum, as well as a vast work of 14 volumes, Muséum d'histoire naturelle des Pays-Bas (1862-1880). He employed three talented illustrators: John Gerrard Keulemans, Joseph Smit and Joseph Wolf.
Schlegel died on 17 January 1884 in Leiden.
Animal species named for Schlegel
In alphabetical order by common name:
- Eyelash viper (Bothriechis schlegelii), a pit viper
- False gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii), a crocodilian
- Giant sharkminnow (Osteochilus schlegelii), a fish
- Red-headed reed snake (Calamaria schlegeli), a nonvenomous snake
- Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli), a crested penguin
- Schlegel's adder (Aspidomorphus schlegelii), a venomous elapid snake
- Schlegel's beaked blind snake (Rhinotyphlops schlegelii), a nonvenomous burrowing snake
- Schlegel's forest skink (Sphenomorphus schlegeli), a lizard
- Schlegel's green tree frog (Rhacophorus schlegelii), a shrub frog
- "Herman Schlegel (1804 - 1884)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Hubrecht, A.A.W. (1884) Hermann Schlegel. De Gids 48: 539-540. http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_gid001188401_01/_gid001188401_01_0022.php#22
- Leeuwenburgh, B. 2009. Darwin in domineesland. Vantilt, Nijmegen: 80-81.
- Zijderveld, B. van. 2014. Een Duitse familie in Nederland (1804-1913). Carrièrisme en netwerken van Hermann Schlegel en zijn zonen Gustav en Leander . Van Gorcum, Assen: 111, 226-227. https://issuu.com/kvguitgeverij/docs/2141485_lr.
- Hooker, J .D. 1845. Letter to C.R. Darwin, 23 March 1845. Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 844. https://darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-844
- Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Schlegel", p. 235).
- Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (22 April 2013). The Eponym Dictionary of Amphibians. Exeter, England: Pelagic Publishing. p. 191. ISBN 978-1-907807-44-2.