Dillenius, John James (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 15
Dillenius, John James

by George Simonds Boulger
Johann Jakob Dillenius in later editions.

DILLENIUS, JOHN JAMES, M.D. (1687–1747), botanical professor at Oxford, was born in 1687 at Darmstadt. The name of his family had formerly been Dill and Dillen (Pulteney, Progress of Botany, ii. 154). He was educated at the university of Giessen, where he seems to have taken the degree of M.D. He became a member of the Academia Curiosorum Germaniæ, and contributed several papers, mostly botanical, to their ephemerides. In 1719 he published ‘Catalogus Plantarum sponte circa Gissam nascentium,’ enumerating 980 species of the higher plants, 200 of ‘mosses’ and 160 fungi from the immediate environs of Giessen. The work also contained many descriptions of new genera and sixteen plates drawn and engraved by the author. It attracted much attention, and Dillenius was persuaded by Consul William Sherard to come to England in August 1721. He stayed with William Sherard at Oxford and afterwards in London, and with James Sherard, the consul's brother, at Eltham, but had lodgings of his own in London, these in 1728 being in Barking Alley. His first work in England was the third edition of Ray's ‘Synopsis Stirpium Britannicarum’ (1724), to which he added many species and twenty-four plates of rare plants. In 1728 Consul Sherard died, bequeathing his herbarium and library and 3,000l. to Oxford University, to provide a salary for the professor of botany, on condition that Dillenius should be the first professor. In 1732 Dillenius, who was foreign secretary of the Royal Society 1728–47, published the ‘Hortus Elthamensis,’ fol. pp. 437, illustrated by 417 drawings of plants etched with his own hand, of which Linnæus wrote ‘est opus botanicum quo absolutius mundus non vidit.’ In 1735 Dillenius was admitted M.D. of Oxford, from St. John's College, and in the summer of the following year Linnæus spent a month with him at Oxford, after which the Swedish naturalist dedicated his ‘Critica Botanica’ to the Oxford professor. After assisting in the preparation of the catalogue of Dr. Shaw's oriental plants, Dillenius completed his greatest work, the ‘Historia Muscorum,’ 4to, 1741, pp. 552, illustrated by eighty-five plates; and he prepared at least two hundred and fifty coloured drawings of fungi, which, however, were never published. He was somewhat corpulent, and in March 1747 was seized with apoplexy, from which he died on 2 April. He was buried at St. Peter's-in-the-East, Oxford. A portrait of him is preserved at the Oxford Botanic Garden, which was engraved in Sims and König's ‘Annals of Botany,’ vol. ii., and Linnæus commemorated him in the genus Dillenia. His drawings, manuscripts, books, and mosses were purchased from his executor, Dr. Seidel, by his successor, Dr. Humphrey Sibthorp, and added to the Sherardian Museum, where they now are.

[Pulteney's Sketches of the Progress of Botany, ii. 153–84; Rees's Cyclopædia; Druce's Flora of Oxford, pp. 381–5.]

G. S. B.