Babington, Charles Cardale (DNB01)

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BABINGTON, CHARLES CARDALE (1808–1895), botanist and archæologist, was born at Ludlow on 23 Nov. 1808, His father, Joseph Babington (1768–1826), at the time of Charles's birth a physician, afterwards took holy orders. He had a fondness for botany, contributed to Sir James Edward Smith's ‘English Botany,’ and taught his son the elements of the science. The botanist's mother was Catherine, daughter of John Whitter of Bradninch, Devonshire. His grandfather was Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, near Leicester, and his pedigree starts from William de Babington of Babington Parva, now known as Bavington, near Hexham, in the thirteenth century (Collectanea Topographica, ii. 94, viii. 266, 313; Topographer and Genealogist, i. 137, 259, 333; Memorials of Charles Cardale Babington, 1897).

After some private tuition and two years (1821–3) at the Charterhouse, Babington was sent to a private school kept by William Hutchins at Bath, in which city his father had been compelled by bad health to settle. Before going up to Cambridge Babington came under the influence of William Wilberforce [q. v.], a friend of his father, as he afterwards came under that of Charles Simeon [q. v.] He entered St. John's College in October 1826, graduating B.A. in January 1830, and proceeding M.A. in March 1833. During his first term Spurzheim lectured at Cambridge, and a Phrenological Society was formed, of which Babington became a member, but it lasted only a few months; the botanical lectures of John Stevens Henslow [q. v.], which he attended from 1827 to 1833, and entomology, proved more attractive.

Babington's first published paper was on Cambridge entomology in the ‘Magazine of Natural History’ for 1829; he was one of the founders of the Entomological Society in 1833, earned the sobriquet of ‘Beetles Babington,’ and in his ‘Dytiscidæ Darwinianæ’ in the ‘Transactions of the Entomological Society’ for 1841–3 took part in the description of the ‘Beagle’ collections. A list of his entomological papers is given in Hagen's ‘Bibliotheca Entomologica’ (1862), i. 22, 23; but all were published before 1844, and his collection was presented to the university. In 1830 Babington became a fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, and he was for many years its secretary. In the same year he joined the Linnean Society, and paid the first of a long series of botanical visits to North Wales. In 1833, on the occasion of the first meeting of the British Association at Cambridge, he was secretary of the natural history section, and from that year until 1871 he was very rarely absent from the annual meetings of the association, acting as president of the section in 1853 and 1861, and as local secretary at the second Cambridge meeting in 1862.

Babington's first independent publication dealt with his favourite study of botany. It was his ‘Flora Bathoniensis’ which first appeared in 1834, a supplement being added in 1839. The critical notes and references to continental floras which this little work contains indicate the main characteristics of Babington's subsequent botanical work. In 1834 he made the first of many excursions into Scotland, and in 1835, with two Cambridge friends, Robert Maulkin Lingwood and John Ball [q. v. Suppl.], his first tour through Ireland. In this latter year he records in his journal the commencement of his magnum opus, the ‘Manual of British Botany,’ the first edition, of which did not, however, appear until 1843. In the interim, in 1837 and 1838, he visited the Channel Islands, and in 1839 published his account of their flora as ‘Primitiæ Floræ Sarnicæ.’ In 1836 he was one of the founders of the Ray Club, of which he acted as secretary for fifty-five years, and he was on the council of the Ray Society, to which the club to some extent gave rise in 1844. The influence of the successive editions of the ‘Manual’ upon field botany can hardly be over-estimated. Sir James Edward Smith's acquisition of Linné's herbarium, followed by the long isolation of England during the Napoleonic war, had left the botanists of the country wedded to the Linnæan system and ignorant of continental labours in systematic and descriptive botany. Babington, in the first four editions of his work, harmonised English work with that of Germany, and in the later editions also with that of France and Scandinavia, each edition being most carefully corrected throughout.

Babington's interest in archæology was second only to his love of botany. The full journals which he kept throughout his life, and which were afterwards published {Memorials, Journal, and Botanical Correspondence, Cambridge, 1897), are, like those of Ray, half botany, half archæology. To the publications of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, of which he was in 1840 one of the founders, he contributed more than fifty papers (op. cit. pp. 453-4); and having joined the Cambrian Archæological Association in 1850, he acted as chairman of its committee from 1855 to 1885. It was said of him and his cousin, Churchill Babington [q. v. Suppl.], Disney professor of archæology, that ‘either might fill the chair of the other.’ He was one of the ‘four members of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society’ who, in 1848, published an ‘Index to the Baker Manuscripts,’ and in the ‘Catalogue of Manuscripts’ in the Cambridge University Library, edited by Charles Hardwick (1821–1859) [q. v.] and Henry Richards Luard [q. v.], he undertook the heraldic and monastic cartularies; but, finding himself deficient in necessary mediæval scholarship, he made way, after the third volume, for George Williams (1814–1878) [q. v.] and Thomas Bendyshe. In 1851 he published, through the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, ‘Ancient Cambridgeshire; or, an Attempt to trace Roman and other ancient Roads through the County,’ of which a much-enlarged edition was published in 1883.

But Babington was still pursuing his researches in natural history. In his Channel Island flora, Babington had evinced an interest in the critical study of brambles which resulted in his publishing in 1840, in the ‘Annals and Magazine of Natural History’—of which he had acted as an editor from 1842—and in a separate form, ‘A Synopsis of British Rubi,’ which was followed in 1869 by a more complete work, entitled ‘The British Rubi,’ which was issued at the cost of the University Press, and the revision of which occupied the last years of his life. The study of brambles brought Babington into daily fellowship with Fenton John Anthony Hort [q. v. Suppl.] In 1846 Babington made his only excursion beyond the limits of the British Isles, visiting Iceland for a few weeks, and it is characteristic of the thoroughness of his method that the list of plants published immediately afterwards in the ‘Annals’ was revised, with full references to other workers, in the Linnean Society's ‘Journal’ for 1870. In 1860 he published his ‘Flora of Cambridgeshire,’ which set the example of an historical examination of the earlier authorities; and, on the death of Professor Henslow in the following year, Babington succeeded him. By that time, wrote his friend, Professor J. E. B. Mayor (Memorials, p. xxi), ‘his name in Cambridge stood by metonymy for Botany in general. Thus when a weed began to choke the Cam… it was christened Babingtonia pestifera,’ Babington's lectures were on those mainly anatomical lines that are now considered out of date; and, though his classes dwindled, he had little sympathy with histological and physiological detail. After his health failed he gave up half his professional income to his deputy, but retained his chair in order to save the university chest the increased salary payable to his successor. One of his main interests was the improvement of the herbarium of the university, for which he secured the appointment of an assistant, and upon which he almost always spent more than the amount provided by the university. Essentially a field naturalist, he visited almost every part of the British Isles in his search for plants, and always preferred to share his pleasure with others, his most frequent companion from 1845 to 1885 being William Williamson Newbould [q. v.]

Babington had always had a strong interest in evangelical mission work, and after his marriage at Walcot, near Bath, on 3 April 1866, to Anna Maria, daughter of John Walker of the Madras civil service, this interest was intensified. The Church Missionary Society, the London City Mission, the Irish Church Missions, the Uganda, Zenana, and China Missions, the rescue work of Dr. Barnardo, and the protestant propagandism in Spain and Italy received their heartiest support. Jani Alii of Corpus Christi College, the Mohammedan missionary, looked upon the Babingtons' house as his home. In 1871 Babington practically founded a cottage home for orphan girls at Cambridge. In 1874 he published the ‘History of the Infirmary and Chapel of the Hospital and College of St. John the Evangelist at Cambridge,’ while the successive editions of the ‘Manual,’ numerous papers, and his journal showed that his interest in botany, and especially in brambles, continued unabated until the end. From 1886 to 1891 Babington annually visited Braemar. He died at Cambridge on 22 July 1895, and was buried in Cherry Hinton churchyard.

Babington was at his death the oldest resident member of the university, and the oldest fellow of the Linnean Society. He had been elected a fellow of the Geological Society in 1835, of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh in 1836, of the Society of Antiquaries in 1859, of the Royal Society in 1851, and of St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1882. The name Babingtonia was given to a genus of Restiaceæ by Lindley in 1842; but this is now merged in Linné's genus Baeckea. Species of Atriplex and Rubus, and a variety of Allium, however, bear the name Babingtonii. His portrait, by William Vizard, is in the hall of his college, and another is reproduced from a pencil sketch by Mrs. Hoare, taken in 1826, in the ‘Memorials.’ His herbarium of nearly fifty thousand sheets and sixteen hundred volumes of botanical works were bequeathed to the university. The Royal Society's Catalogue (i. 136–9, vii. 62, ix. 91) enumerates 132 papers by Babington published prior to 1882, and others are enumerated in the ‘Memorials.’

Babington's separate publications have already been mentioned in chronological order. The successive editions of his ‘Manual of British Botany’ were published in 1843, 1847, 1851, 1856, 1862, 1867, 1874, and 1881. Each was in one volume, 12mo, and consisted of a thousand copies. A ninth edition, under the editorship of Messrs. Henry and James Groves, is now in preparation.

[Memorials, Journal, and Botanical Corresp. of Charles Cardale Babington, Cambridge, 1897.]

G. S. B.