Conrad Gessner (//; Latin: Conradus Gesnerus[lower-alpha 1] 26 March 1516 – 13 December 1565) was a Swissphysician, naturalist, bibliographer, and philologist. Born into a poor family in Zürich, Switzerland, his father and teachers quickly realised his talents and supported him through university, where he studied classical languages, theology and medicine. He became Zürich’s City Physician, but was able to spend much of his time on collecting, research and writing. Gessner compiled monumental works on bibliography (Bibliotheca universalis 1545–1549) and zoology (Historia animalium 1551–1558) and was working on a major botanical text at the time of his death from plague at the age of 49. He is regarded as the father of modern scientific bibliography, zoology and botany. He was frequently the first to describe species of plants or animals in Europe, such as the tulip in 1559. A number of plants and animals have been named after him.
Conrad Gessner was born on 26 March 1516, in Zürich, Switzerland, the son of Ursus Gessner, a poor Zürich furrier. His early life was one of poverty and hardship, but Gessner’s father realized his talents, and sent him to live with and be schooled by a great uncle, who grew and collected medicinal herbs for a living. Here the boy became familiar with many plants and their medicinal purposes which led to a lifelong interest in natural history.
Gessner first attended the Carolinum in Zürich, then later entered the Fraumünster seminary. There he studied classical languages, appearing as Penia (Poverty) in Aristophanes‘ Plutus, at the age of 15. In school, he impressed his teachers so much that a few of them helped sponsor him so that he could further his education, including arranging a scholarship for him to attend university in France to study theology (1532–1533) at the age of 17. There he attended the University of Bourges and University of Paris. But religious persecution forced him to leave Paris for Strasbourg, but being unable to secure employment, returned to Zürich. One of his teachers in Zürich acted as a foster father to him after the death of his father at the Battle of Kappel (1531), another provided him with three years of board and lodging, while yet another arranged his further education at the upper school in Strasbourg, the Strasbourg Academy. There he broadened his knowledge of ancient languages by studying Hebrew. In 1535, religious unrest drove him back to Zürich, where he made what some considered an imprudent marriage at the age of 19, of a woman from another poor family who had no dowry. Although some of his friends again came to his aid, he was appointed to obtaining a teaching position for him, this was in the lowest class and attracted a stipend barely more than a pittance. However he then obtained paid leave of absence to study medicine at the University of Basel (1536).
Throughout his life Gessner was interested in natural history, and collected specimens and descriptions of wildlife through travel and extensive correspondence with other friends and scholars. His approach to research consisted of four main components: observation, dissection, travel to distant lands, and accurate description. This rising observational approach was new to Renaissance scholars because people usually relied completely upon Classical writers for their research. He died of the plague, the year after his ennoblement on 13 December 1565.