Carl Scherzer

Karl Ritter von Scherzer (1821 – 1903) was born May 1821 in Vienna. Scherzer‘s true occupation remains a mystery, but he was never a physician. He worked a stint as a printer in both Leipzig and Paris and his participation in the 1848 revolution resulted in temporary exile. Scherzer spent three years in North America with Moritz Wagner from 1852 to 1855. It was during this trip that in 1854 Scherzer encountered several colonial manuscripts in the municipal library and in the library of the Universidad de San Carlos including three of Ximénez’s works: an incomplete Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Gvatemala, a vocabulary, and an untitled volume “de mayor interés.” He made or had a copy made of the material that came to be known as “Popol Vuh” and published it in Vienna in 1857 as Las Historias del Origen de Los IndiosScherzer’s edition was the first in print and his introduction contained a detailed inventory of the full volume that served as his source. His Spanish edition credits him as “Dr. Carl Scherzer” which gave rise to Jack Himelblau’s misstatement that Scherzer was a physician. There is no record of Scherzer having received any medical education nor practiced medicine. There are some vague suggestions in the record that Scherzer represented himself as a lawyer.

Scherzer’s travels with Wagner also formed the basis for his 1855 work, Sprachen der Indianer Central-Amerika’s während seinen mehrjährigen Reisen in den verschiedenen Staaten Mittel-Amerika’s aufgezeichnet und zusammengestellt. About the same time that he published Las Historias del Origen de Los Indios in 1857, he also published an account of his American travels as Wanderungen durch die mittelamerikanischen Freistaaten, Nicaragua, Honduras und San Salvador or Travels in the Free States of Central America: Nicaragua, Honduras, and San Salvador. This travelogue reads much like a personal diary.

In 1856 Scherzer boarded the Novara circumnavigation expedition and published his experiences in three volumes. He led an exploration to Eastern Asia and served as Austrian consul to Izmir, London, Geneva, and Leipzig. Scherzer died February 1903 in Gorizia. However, well before Scherzer’s death, Brasseur appropriated Ximénez’s writings for a different purpose, namely, to prove the origin of the Indians in accordance with his literal Biblical worldview.

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