History of botany (1530–1860)/Book 1/Chapter 1

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History of botany, Book 1 by Julius von Sachs, translated by Henry E. F. Garnsey
Chapter 1
According to the Errata, the work "Chini" on page 18 should be "Ghini"; and the word "Schmiedel" on page 20 should be "Schmidel".


The Botanists of Germany and the Netherlands from Brunfels to Kaspar Bauhin[1].


When those who are accustomed to modern botanical literature take up for the first time the works of Otto Brunfels (1530), Leonhard Fuchs (1542), Hieronymus Bock (Tragus), or of the later authors Rembert Dodoens (Dodonaus), Charles de l'Ecluse (Carolus Clusius), Matthias de l'Obel (Lobelius, 1576), or even those of Kaspar Bauhin from the beginning of the 17th century, they are surprised not only by the strange form, the curious and unfamiliar accessories from which what is really useful must be laboriously extracted, but still more by the extraordinary poverty of thought which characterises these composers of usually very thick folios. If however instead of travelling backwards from the present time they pursue the opposite direction; if they have previously occupied themselves with the botanical views of Aristotle and the comprehensive botanical works of his disciple Theophrastus of Eresus, with Pliny's Natural History and the medical science of Dioscorides; if they have made themselves acquainted with the botanical literature of the middle ages and noted how it continually grows less and less valuable, and have proceeded through the works of Albertus Magnus, as prolix as they are deficient in ideas, to the 'Hortus Sanitatis' (Garden of Health), the popular work on natural history before and after 1500, and similar productions, then certainly they receive a very different and almost imposing impression even from the first herbals, those of Brunfels, Bock, and Fuchs. These books will appear to them almost modern in comparison with the last-named productions of medieval superstition, nor will they fail to perceive that a new epoch of natural science commenced with these men, and above all that they laid the foundations of modern botany. They give us, it is true, nothing but separate descriptions of the wild and cultivated plants of Germany, and these for the most part of common occurrence, arranged by Fuchs alphabetically, by Bock grouped under the heads of herbs, shrubs, and trees, and following one another under each head in the most motley order; it is true that these descriptions are so naive and inartistic as hardly to offer points of comparison with modern scientifically correct diagnoses; but the great point is, that they are taken from the plants as they lay before the writers, who had often seen and carefully examined them. Woodcuts are added to supply any defects in the description, and to give a clear idea of the plant intended by the name; and these figures, which always give the whole plant and were drawn immediately from nature by the hands of practised artists, are so true to nature that a botanist's eye at once recognises in every case the object meant to be represented. These figures and descriptions (the latter are wanting in Brunfels[2], 1530) would have rendered a great service to the science, even if they had not been as good as they are; for botanical literature had sunk so low, that not only were the figures embellished with fabulous additions, as in the 'Hortus Sanitatis,' and sometimes drawn purely from fancy, but the meagre descriptions of quite common plants were not taken from nature, but borrowed from earlier authorities and eked out with superstitious fictions. The powers of independent judgment were oppressed and stunted in the middle ages, till at last the very activity of the senses, resting as it does to a great extent on unconscious operations of the understanding, became weak and sickly; natural objects presented themselves to the eye even of those who made them their study in grotesquely distorted forms; every sensuous impression was corrupted and deformed by the influence of a superstitious fancy. In comparison with these perversions the artless descriptions of Bock appear suitable and true, and are refreshing from their immediate contact with nature; while in the more learned Fuchs criticism of other writers is already seen united with actual examination of natural objects. Great was the gain when men began once more to look at plants with open eyes, to take pleasure in their variety and beauty. It was not necessary for a while that they should speculate on the nature of plants, or the cause of plant-life; time enough for that when sufficient practice had been gained in the perception of their resemblances and differences.

The German fathers of botany connected their labours with the botanical literature of classical antiquity only so far as they sought to recognise in the plants of their own country those named by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Pliny and Galen. The attempt to do this indeed led to many mistakes, for the descriptions of the ancient botanists were very imperfect and often quite unserviceable for the recognition of the plants described. In this point therefore the compilers of herbals found no models worthy of imitation in the old writers. But in seeking to recover a knowledge of the medicinal plants of the Greek physicians[3], they were compelled to compare together a great variety of native plants, and thus to exercise and perfect the faculty of apprehending differences of form. This mode of proceeding, arising out of medical requirements, directed the attention entirely to the individual form, which was also the chief thing required in the interest of pure science, and much more was thus gained than if these men had only followed the philosophical writings of Aristotle[4] and Theophrastus[5]. The Greek authors built their views on the philosophy of botany on very weak foundations; scarcely a plant was known to them exactly in all its parts; they derived much of their knowledge from the accounts of others, often from dealers in herbs. From this scanty material and from various popular superstitions had Aristotle formed his views on the nature of plants, and if Theophrastus possessed more experimental knowledge, he still saw facts in the light of his master's philosophical doctrines. If we succeed in the present day in extracting much that is accurate from the writings of Aristotle and Theophrastus, it was nevertheless well that the first compilers of herbals ceased to pay attention to them, and occupied themselves with accumulating descriptions of individual plants worked out by themselves with all possible exactness. History shows that in this way a new science arose in the course of a few years, while the philosophical botany of Aristotle and Theophrastus has led to no important result. Moreover we shall see how even in the hands of a philosophically gifted and scholarly man like Cesalpino the teaching of Aristotle had only a mischievous effect on the study of plants.

If the compilers of herbals did not aim at deducing general conclusions from their observations, yet the continually accumulating descriptions of individual forms gradually gave rise of themselves to perceptions of an abstract and more comprehensive character. The feeling for resemblance and difference of form especially was developed, and finally the idea of natural relationship; and though this idea was as yet by no means worked out with scientific precision, it was nevertheless, even in the indistinct form in which it appears in de l'Obel in 1576 and more clearly in Kaspar Bauhin in 1623, a result of the highest value, and one of which neither learned antiquity nor the middle ages had ever caught a glimpse. The perception of a natural affinity among plants could only be obtained from exact description a thousand times repeated, never from the abstractions of the Aristotelian school, which rested essentially on superficial observation. It appears then that the scientific value of the herbals of the 16th century lay mostly in the description of such plants as every botanist found in a somewhat limited portion of his native land, and considered worth his notice; at the same time the later compilers endeavoured to give a universal character to each herbal by admitting plants which had not been actually seen by the writer; each as far as possible gathered from his predecessors all that they had seen, and added what he had himself seen that was new; but in contrast with the previous centuries the peculiar merit of each new herbal was held to depend not on what the compiler had borrowed from his predecessors, but on what he had added from his own observation. Hence every one was anxious to introduce into his work as many plants unknown till that time or unnoticed as he possibly could, and the number of descriptions of individual forms mounted rapidly up; in Fuchs in 1542 we find about five hundred species described and figured, but in 1623 the number of species as enumerated by Kaspar Bauhin had risen to six thousand. As the botanists were spread over a large part of Germany, Fuchs in Bavaria and afterwards at Tübingen, Bock on the middle Rhine, Konrad Gesner at Zurich, Dodoens and de l'Obel in the Netherlands, a territory of considerable extent was thus examined; it was enlarged by the contributions which travellers brought or transmitted to the botanists, and de l'Écluse especially traversed a large part of Germany and Hungary and even of Spain, and eagerly collected and described the plants of those countries. During this period also the number of known plants was increased from Italy, partly by the exertions of Italian botanists, such as Mattioli, and partly by travelling Germans. The first flora of the Thüringer-Wald was written by Thal, but not published till after his death in 1588. Botanical gardens even, though in more modest form than in our day, were already helping in the 16th century to add to the knowledge of plants; the first were formed in Italy, as at Padua in 1545, at Pisa in 1547, at Bologna in 1567 under Aldrovandi, afterwards under Cesalpino. Soon similar collections of living plants were made in the north; in 1577 a botanic garden was founded at Leyden, over which de l'Ecluse long presided, in 1593 at Heidelberg and at Montpellier; in the course of the next century the number of these gardens was considerably increased.

The preserving of dried plants, the formation of the collections which we now call herbaria, dates from the 16th century; at that time however the word herbarium meant a book of plants. In this matter also the Italians led the way. According to Ernst Meyer, Luca Chini seems to have been the first who made use of dried plants for scientific purposes, and his two pupils Aldrovandi and Cesalpino are said to have formed the first herbaria in our sense of the word; one of the first collections of the kind, perhaps of the date of 1559, was the herbarium formed by Ratzenberger, which was discovered in the museum at Cassel a few years since and described by Kessler.

These are matters somewhat external to our immediate subject, but they show how lively an interest was taken in botany in the latter half of the sixteenth century; this is still more shown by the great number of books of plants, published with numerous and expensive plates and in some cases going through several editions. But the artistic and scientific value of the drawings, which were appended to the descriptions and in later herbals were reckoned by thousands, did not keep equal pace with their number; Fuchs' splendid figures remained unapproached, and gradually, as the distance from Dürer's time increased, the woodcuts grew smaller and poorer[6], and sometimes even quite indistinct. The art of describing on the contrary continually improved; the descriptions became fuller, and gradually a certain method appeared in assigning marks and in estimating their value; critical remarks on the identity or non-identity of species, the separation of forms previously considered to be alike, and similar matters occur more frequently. The descriptions in de l`Écluse may in fact claim to be called scientific; in Kaspar Bauhin they appear in the form of terse and methodical diagnoses.

The most remarkable thing to us in these descriptions from Fuchs and Bock to Bauhin is the striking neglect of the flowers and fruit. The earliest descriptions, especially those of Bock, endeavour to depict the form of the plant in words, to render directly the impression on the senses; special attention was paid to the shape of the leaves, the nature of the ramification, the character of the roots, the size and colour of the flowers. Konrad Gesner[7] was the only one who bestowed a closer attention on the flowers and parts of the fruits; he figured them repeatedly, and recognised their great value for the determination of affinity, as we learn from his expressions in his letters; but the much occupied and much harassed man died before he could complete the work on plants which he had long been preparing, and when in the 18th century Schmiedel published Gesner's figures, which meanwhile had passed through various hands, the work too long delayed remained useless to a science which had already outstripped it.

It will be gathered from the above remarks, that we find in these authors no approach to a system of morphology founded on a comparative examination of the parts of plants, and therefore no regular technical language. Still the more learned among them felt the necessity of connecting the words they used in describing a plant with a fixed sense, of defining their conceptions; and though their first efforts in this direction were weak, they deserve notice, because they show more than anything else how great has been the advance in the study of nature from the 16th century to the present day.

The first attempt to establish a botanical terminology is to be found as early as 1542 in the 'Historia Stirpium' of Leonhard Fuchs[8]. Four pages at the beginning of the work are thus occupied. A considerable number of words are explained in alphabetical order—the mode of arrangement which he followed also in describing his plants. It is difficult to give a clear idea of this the first botanic terminology by selected examples; yet the attempt must be made, because it is in this way only that we learn to see from what feeble beginnings the later scientific terminology and morphology has been developed. Thus we read: 'Acinus' denotes not merely, as many believe, the grains inside the grape, but the whole fruit, which consists of juice, of a fleshy portion with the stones ('vinaceis'), and of the outer skin. Galen is quoted as authority for the following explanation: 'Alae' are said to be the hollows (angles) between the stem and its branches (the leaves), from which new sprouts ('proles') proceed. 'Asparragi,' the germs of herbs which appear before the leaves and the first edible shoots are developed. 'Baccae' are smaller 'foetus' of herbs, shrubs, and trees, which appear separate and isolated on the plant, as for example laurel-berries ('partus lauri'), and differ from acini, inasmuch as these are more crowded together. 'Internodium' is that which lies between the articulations or knees. 'Racemus' is used for the bunch of grapes, but does not belong to the vine only, but also to the ivy and other herbs and shrubs which bear clusters of any kind. The majority of such explanations of names concern the forms of the stem and the branches, but the most remarkable thing about the whole list is, that it does not include the words flower and root; yet under the word 'julus' occurs the statement, that it is that which in the hazel 'compactili callo racematim cohaeret,' and may be described as a long worm borne on a special pendent stalk and coming before the fruit. Though the word flower is not explained, yet some parts of the flower are mentioned; thus it is said, 'stamina sunt, qui in medio calycis erumpunt apices, sic dicta quod veluti filamenta intimo floris sinu prosiliant.' The explanation of the word fruit may be added: 'Fructus, quod carne et semine compactum est; frequenter tamen pro eo, quod involucre perinde quasi carne et semine coactum est, accipi solet.'

Progress in this direction was slow but still recognisable. In the last edition of the 'Pemptades ' of Dodoens[9] of the year 1616, a folio volume of 872 pages, only one page and a third are devoted to the explanation of the parts of plants; but the selection of the words explained and the substance of the explanations hit the essential points better than in Fuchs. We find for instance: Root ('radix, ῥιςα') is the name given in the tree and in every other plant to the lower part, by which it penetrates into the earth and cleaves to it, and by which it draws its nourishment. This part, unlike the leaves which are usually deciduous, is common to all plants, a few only excepted which live and grow without roots, such as Cassytha, Viscum, and the plant called 'Hyphear,' Fungi, Mosses, and Fuci, all which are however usually reckoned among φὓτα. 'Caudex' is in trees and shrubs that which springs from the root and rises above the ground, and by which the nourishment is carried upwards; the same part is called in herbs caulis or cauliculus. Leaf ('folium') is in every plant that which clothes and adorns it, and without which trees and other plants appear naked. The definition of a flower would lose in a translation: 'flos, ἄνθος, arborem et herbarum gaudium dicitur, futurique fructus spes est; unaquaeque etenim stirps pro natura sua post florem partus ac fructus gignit.' The parts of the flower are with him the calyx ('calyx'), in which the blossom is at first enclosed and with which the 'foetus' is soon surrounded, stamens ('stamina') which arise like threads from the depth of the blossom and from the calyx, and 'apices' (anthers), certain thickish appendages on the summit of the stamens. 'Julus' (catkin) is that which hangs down round and long in place of the flower, as in the walnut, hazel, mulberry, beech, and other trees. 'Fructus' is that in which the seed is formed, but frequently it is itself the seed, as where the latter is not enclosed in anything else and is formed naked. We must not be led by these words to think of our Gymnosperms, but must understand that here, as with all botanists till the time of A. L. de Jussieu and Joseph Gärtner (1788), naked seeds mean dry indehiscent fruits.

De l'Obel, from whom especially we might have looked for similar explanations, has given none.

The absence of more profound comparative examination of the parts of plants, as shown in the examples of terminology here adduced, may serve as an additional support of the assertion, that natural affinity was not inferred from exact comparison of the form of organs, but was the result of a feeling arising from the likeness of habit directly apprehended by the senses, that is by the collective impression produced by the whole plant.

Passing to the consideration of the attempts in systematic botany made by the Germans in this period, the chief thing to notice is, that the division into the main groups of trees, shrubs, undershrubs, and herbs was the one generally adopted; these groups were borrowed from antiquity and were maintained even by the special systematists, from Cesalpino to the beginning of the 18th century; nor was any change made in principle when these four groups were reduced to three or two (trees and herbs). It was moreover considered to be self-evident that trees were the most perfect plants. Hence when relationship is spoken of in subsequent remarks, it must be understood that this holds good only within the groups just mentioned. The classifications of the German and Dutch botanists not only sprang from the describing of individual plants, but they were originally in a certain sense identical with it. In undertaking to describe individual forms, the first task was to separate those which closely resembled one another, for the resemblance of systematically-allied plants is often so great, that to distinguish them specifically requires consideration and careful comparison. The resemblance is more obvious than the difference. There are moreover many plants which are entirely distinct from one another in their inner nature, but which appear strikingly alike if we regard the impression produced immediately on the senses, and the converse of this statement is equally true. Hence the attempt to circumscribe and fix individual forms in the act of describing was at once found to involve difficulties, the solution of which leads directly to the conception of some kind of arrangement. A comparison of the herbals of Fuchs and Bock up to Kaspar Bauhin shows very plainly how these difficulties were gradually overcome, how the describing of single species led necessarily, and without the intention of the describer, to considerations of a distinctly systematic character. Where the species in a group of forms, which we now designate as a genus or family, closely resemble each other in habit, there arose of itself the instinctive feeling that such forms belong to one another. This feeling asserted itself in words when, as was done from the first, a number of such forms were without conscious reflection designated by the same name; thus, to mention one of many examples, we find Bock applying the name Wolfsmilk, Euphorbia, not to one species of the genus, but to several, which he then distinguishes by epithets (common, least, cypress, sweet). The customary mode of expression in the herbals is very instructive on this point; there are, they say, two or more of this or that plant which have not been hitherto distinguished. But this feeling of connection and similarity of kind was produced not only by forms that were closely allied, but also by such as belong to extensive groups of the system; thus the words moss, lichen, fungus, alga, fern, had long served to include a great number of distinct forms, though the separation of these groups had nowhere in truth been carried out with logical precision.

These remarks are important as serving to show in the most decisive manner the incorrectness of the assertion, that the study of organisms sprang from the recognition of individual species; that it is this which is directly given, and that without it no advance in the science is possible. The historical fact rather is, that descriptive botany began often, perhaps most often, not with species but with genera and families, that very often at first whole groups of forms were conceived of as unities, which had to be divided later and of set purpose into separate forms; and up to the present day one part of the task of the systematist is to undertake the splitting up of forms previously regarded as identical. The notion that the species is the object originally presented to the observer, and that certain species were afterwards united into genera, is one that was invented in post-Linnaean times under the dominion of the dogma of the constancy of species; it happened so sometimes, but just as often the genus was the object first presented, and the task of the describer was to resolve it into a number of species. In the 16th century the conception neither of genus or species had yet been defined; for the botanists of that period genera and species had the same objective reality. But, in the process of continually making the descriptions of individual plants more exact, forms once separated were united, and those before assumed to be identical were separated, till it gradually became apparent that both operations must be pursued with system and method. It cannot therefore be exactly said that somebody first established the species, another the genus, and a third person again the larger groups. It is more correct to say that the botanists of the 16th century carried out this process of separation up to a certain point without intending it, and in the effort to give the greatest possible preciseness to their descriptions of individual forms. It lay therefore in the nature of the case, that those groups which we call genera and species should first be cleared up, and we find in fact at the end of this period in Kaspar Bauhin the genera already distinguished by names, if not by characters; the species by names and characters. Together with these smaller groups, many more comprehensive ones, which we now designate families, were also marked off and supplied with names, which are still in use. The 16th century established the groups and names of Coniferae, Umbelliferae, Verticillatae (Labiatae), Capillares (Ferns), and others. It is true that the determination of the limits of these groups by distinct marks was not yet attempted, but the plants belonging to these groups were again and again treated of in special chapters or ranged in due succession one after another. But as long as this was done to some extent without design, and the real meaning of this relationship was not yet recognised, other considerations of very various kinds influenced the composition of the books and disturbed the natural arrangement. The feeling for natural affinity supplants all other considerations in de l'Obel first, and after him much more completely in Kaspar Bauhin.

Enough perhaps has now been said to render the main result of the botanical efforts of the period, which we are considering, intelligible to the reader; but a clear view of the method of describing plants at that time, and of the way in which systematic botany came into being, can only be shown by examples; and if we proceed to give some here, it is with the purpose with which figures copied as exactly as possible from nature are added to treatises on natural history, because a real understanding is only to be gained in this way. The botanical literature of the 16th century is so different from that of the 19th, that a very indistinct idea of it could be obtained from a statement of results expressed in modern terms.

Fuchs, Historia Stirpium, 1542.

The common plant now known as Convolvulus arvensis is there called Helxine cissampelos, and is described in the following manner:

'Nomina.—'Ελξινᾑ κισσάμπελος Graecis, Helxine cissampelus et Convolvulus Latinis nominatur. Vulgus herbariorum et officinae Volubilem mediam et vitealem appellant, Germani Mittelwinden oder Weingartenwinden. Recte autem Cissampelos dicitur, in vineis enim potissimum nascitur et folio hederaceo. Convolvulus vero quod crebra revolutione vicinos frutices et herbas implicet.

Forma.—Folia habet hederae similia, minora tamen, ramulos exiguos circumplectentes quodcumque contigerint. Folia denique ejus scansili ordine alterna subeunt. Flores primum candidos lilii effigie, dein in puniceum vergentes, profert. Semen angulosum in folliculis acinorum specie.

Locus.—In vineis nascitur, unde etiam ei appellatio cissampeli, ut diximus, indita est.

Tempus.—Aestate, potissimum autem Julio et Augusto mensibus, floret.'

Hieronymus Bock[10] at page 299 of his 'Herbal,' published at Strassburg in 1560, describes the same plant and Convolvulus sepium as follows:

'Of the white wind-bell.

'Two common wind-plants grow everywhere in our land with white bell-flowers. The larger prefers to dwell by hedges, and creeps over itself, twists and twines, etc. The little wind- or bell-flower (Convolvulus arvensis) is like the large one with its roots, round stems, leaves and bell-flowers, in all things smaller, thinner, and shorter. Some flowers on this plant are quite white, some of a beautiful flesh colour, painted with reddish brown streaks. It grows in dry meadows, in herb- and onion-gardens, and does harm therein, because with its creeping and twining it oppresses other garden herbs, and is also bad to exstirpate, because the thin white rootlets make their way deep downwards, spread very widely, and are continually putting forth new and young clusters like hops.'

Then follows a long paragraph on the names, that is, a critical review of the opinions of different writers on the question, which of Dioscorides' or Pliny's names should be applied to the plant described. 'I must think,' says Bock, 'that this flower is a wild sort, Scammonia Dioscoridis (but harmless), which herb Dioscorides also calls colophonia, dactylion, apopleumenon, sanilum, and colophonium,' and so on. Then follows a chapter on its virtue and effect externally and internally.

As regards the arrangement of the 567 species described by Bock, he divides his book into three parts, the first and second containing the smaller herbs, the third the shrubs and trees. In each part closely allied plants are generally described in larger or smaller numbers one immediately after another, though the compiler is all the time under the influence of very various considerations, and follows no general principle. For instance, our Convolvulus stands in the midst of a number of other very different plants, which either climb as the ivy, or twine with tendrils as Smilax; then follows Lysimachia Nummularia, which simply runs along the ground, then the hop, Solanum Dulcamara, Clematis, Bryonia, Lonicera, and different Cucurbitaceae; immediately after come the Burdocks, Teasels, and Thistles, and these are followed by some Umbelliferae. The whole work is conceived in a similar spirit; the feeling for relationship is clearly to be traced within very narrow circles, but it finds imperfect expression and is frequently disturbed by reference to biological habit; this appears especially in the beginning of the third part, which treats of shrubs generally, shrubs which form hedges, and trees, 'as they grow in our German land'; the first chapter is on the fungi which grow on trees, the second on some mosses, and these are followed immediately by the mistletoe. Then come the heather and some smaller shrubs, and finally larger and the largest trees. The chapter on Fungi under the section 'Of names' contains a statement of views on the nature of fungi, such as are often repeated even into the 17th century: 'Mushrooms are neither herbs nor roots, neither flowers nor seeds, but merely the superfluous moisture of the earth and trees, of rotten wood and other rotten things. From such moisture grow all tubera and fungi. This is plain from the fact that all the above-mentioned mushrooms, those especially which are used for eating, grow most when it will thunder or rain, as Aquinas Ponta says. For this reason the ancients paid peculiar regard to them, and were of opinion that tubera, since they come up from no seed, have some connection with the sky; Porphyrius speaks also in this manner, and says that fungi and tubera are called children of the gods, because they are born without seeds and not as other kinds.'

We pass over Valerius Cordus, Conrad Gesner, Mattioli[11] and some other unimportant writers, and turn to Dodoens, de l'Écluse, and Dalechamps, in whom a marked tendency to orderly arrangement appears, though the principle of arrangement in all three lies essentially in points external and accidental, and above all in the relations of the plant-world to mankind. Within the divisions thus artificially formed a constantly increasing attention is paid to natural affinities, but at the same time allied forms are separated without scruple in deference to the artificial principle of classification. It can also be plainly seen, that these writers think more of giving some order to their matter than of discovering the arrangement that will be in conformity with nature. It is impossible to give the reader a good idea of these classifications in our scientific language; it would be necessary to transcribe them. For brevity's sake we will here quote de l'Écluse only[12] the best of the three writers named above. In his 'Rariorum plantarum historia,' which appeared as early as 1576, but which lies before the writer of these pages in the edition of 1601, the first book treats of trees, shrubs, and undershrubs; the second of bulbous plants; the third of sweet-smelling flowers; the fourth of those without smell; the fifth of poisonous, narcotic, and acrid plants; the sixth of those that have a milky juice, and of Umbelliferae, Ferns, Grasses, Leguminosae, and some Cryptogams.

A similar arrangement is found in Dalechamps[13]; that of Dodoens in his 'Pemptades' is more perplexed and unnatural; but the design in both of them is evidently much the same as that of de l'Écluse. This design is best seen from the introductory observations to each book; de l'Écluse, for instance, says at page 127, 'Having treated of the history of trees, shrubs, and under-shrubs, and put these together in the preceding book, we will now in this second book describe such plants as have a bulbous or tuberous root, many of which attract and delight the eyes of all persons in an extraordinary degree by the elegance and variety of their flowers, and which therefore ought not to have the lowest place assigned to them among garland-plants ('inter coronarias'). We will begin with the plants of the lily kind, on account of their size and the beauty of their flowers, etc. etc.' The introductions to the several books of the 'Pemptades' of Dodoens are more learned and more diffuse. It is plain that the composers of these works had no thought of arranging their matter on the principles of a true natural system, but were only anxious to give some kind of order to their descriptions of individual plants. Hence their divisions do not appear under the names of classes and subdivisions ('genera majora et minora,' as they would have been called at that time), but they are sections of the whole work kept as symmetrical as was possible. If we would discover in these works whatever may really lay claim to systematic value, we must not rely on the sections as they are typographically distinguished, but must observe within each of them the order in which the plants are given, and then it becomes apparent that within the frame once established forms naturally allied are, as far as may be, grouped together. For instance, we find in the second book of de l'Écluse's work first of all a long list of true Liliaceae and Asphodeleae, Melanthaceae, and Irideae described in unbroken succession; then comes Calamus, and then without any explanation a number of the Ranunculaceae, among which the genera Ranunculus and Anemone are very well distinguished; but then follows the genus Cyclamen with several species, and next a number of Orchideae, in the middle of which appear Orobanche and Corydalis, followed by Helleborus niger, Veratrum album, Polygonatum, and others. So it is in the other sections, though in general the species of a genus stand together, and even the genera of a family are not unfrequently united; but with all this there are no proper breaks, because other considerations are perpetually disturbing the feeling for natural relationship. The descriptions of de l'Écluse are generally commended, and they deserve to be commended for their fulness of detail and their attention to the structure of the flowers, though he, like de l'Obel and Dodoens, describes the leaves more minutely than any other part of the plant.

With de l'Obel[14], as has been already observed, the feeling for natural affinity declares itself for the first time so decidedly as to outweigh if not entirely to set aside all other considerations. The fact is disclosed to us in the preface to his 'Stirpium adversaria nova' of 1576, where these words occur: 'proinde adversariorum voce novas veteribus additas plantas et novum ordinem quadantenus innuimus. Qui ordo utique sibi similis et unus progreditur ducitque a sensui propinquioribus et magis familiaribus ad ignotiora et compositiora, modumque sive progressum similitudinis sequitur et familiaritatis, quo et universim et particulatim, quantum licuit per rerum varietatem et vastitatem, sibi responderet. Sic enim ordine, quo nihil pulchrius in coelo aut in sapientis animo, quae longe lateque disparata sunt unum quasi fiunt, magno verborum memoriae et cognitionis compendio, ut Aristoteli et Theophrasto placet.'

We must not indeed expect to find that de l'Obel really produced a natural system of plants; but his 'Observationes' still more than his 'Adversaria' attest his efforts to arrange plants according to their resemblances in form; and in these efforts he is guided not by instinct merely and the general habit, but mainly and with evident purpose by the form of the leaves; thus beginning with Grasses, which have narrow, long, and simple leaves, he proceeds to the broader-leaved Liliaceae and Orchideae; then passing on to the Dicotyledons he exhibits the main groups in fairly well limited masses. Still the Ferns appear in the middle of the Dicotyledons on account of the form of their leaves, while on the other hand, the Cruciferae, Umbelliferae, Papilionaceae and Labiatae remain but little disturbed in their continuity by secondary considerations. The progress of botanical science in the period which we have been considering reaches its highest point in the labours of Kaspar Bauhin[15], as regards both the naming and describing of individual plants and their classification according to likeness of habit. In Bauhin all secondary considerations have disappeared; his works may be called botanical in the strict scientific meaning of the word, and they show how far it is possible to advance in a descriptive science without the aid of a general system of comparative morphology, and how far the mere perception of likeness of habit is a sufficient foundation for a natural classification of plants; it was scarcely possible to make greater advances on the path pursued by the botanists of Germany and the Netherlands.

The descriptions of species in the 'Prodromus Theatri Botanici' of Kaspar Bauhin (1620) notice all obvious parts of the plant with all possible brevity and in a fixed order; the form of the root, height and form of the stem, characters of the leaves, flowers, fruit, and seed are given in concise sentences seldom occupying more than twenty short lines; the description of a single species is here in fact developed into an art and becomes a diagnosis.

A still higher value must be set on the fact, that in Kaspar Bauhin the distinction between species and genus is fully and consciously carried out; every plant has with him a generic and a specific name, and this binary nomenclature, which Linnaeus is usually thought to have founded, is almost perfectly maintained by Bauhin, especially in the 'Pinax'; it is true that a third and fourth word is not unfrequently appended to the second, the specific name, but this additional word is evidently only an auxiliary. It is remarkable on the other hand, that he has added no characters to the names of the genera; it is only from the name that we know that several species belong to one genus; we might almost believe that the characters of the genus are intended to be supplied by the strange etymological explanation appended in italics to the generic name. These fanciful etymologies maintained themselves to the end of the 17th century, when Tournefort did battle with them; they were an evil which sprang in a great measure from Aristotelian and scholastic modes of thought, and from the belief that it was possible to conceive of the nature of a thing from the original meaning of its name.

Nothing shows better the earnestness of Bauhin's research than the fact, that he devoted the labour of forty years to his 'Pinax,' in order to show how each one of the species given by him was named by earlier botanists. The example already given from Fuchs shows how many names a plant had received by the middle of the 16th century; even in Dioscorides and Pliny we find a whole row of names given for a single plant, and the botanists of Fuchs' time used their utmost endeavours to attach the names in Dioscorides and other ancient writers to particular plants found in central Europe. Dioscorides, Theophrastus, and Pliny either add no descriptions to the names of their plants, or they describe them in so unsatisfactory a manner, that it was a very difficult task for the science of that day, as it is still for us, to recognise the plants of the ancient writers; hence arose such a confusion of names that the reader of a botanical work can never be sure whether the plant of one author is the same as that of another with the same name. A description of a plant is therefore usually accompanied in the 16th century by a critical enquiry how far the name used agrees with that of other authors. Kaspar Bauhin sought to put an end to this condition of uncertainty by his 'Pinax,' in which he showed in the case of all species known to him what were the names given to them by the earlier writers, and he has thus enabled us to see our way through the nomenclature of the period of which we are speaking; the 'Pinax' is in a word the first and for that time a completely exhaustive book of synonyms, and is still indispensable for the history of individual species—no small praise to be given to a work that is more than 250 years old.

It would not have been unsuitable to the purpose of the author of the 'Pinax,' if he had allowed himself to give the plants in alphabetical order, but instead of this we find a careful arrangement according to natural affinities. This directly proves what is also confirmed by the 'Prodromus,' that Bauhin regarded such an arrangement as of the greatest importance. In this point, as in others, he goes far beyond his predecessors; he pursues the same method as de l'Obel had pursued forty years before, but he carries it out more thoroughly. At the same time he shares with his predecessors the peculiarity of not distinguishing the larger groups, which with some exceptions answer to our present families, by special names or by descriptions; it is only from the order in which the species follow one another that we can gather his views on natural relationship. It follows therefore that the natural families, so far as they are distinguishable in Bauhin's works, have no sharp bounding lines; we might almost conclude that he purposely avoided assigning such limits, that he might be able to pass without interruption from one chain of relationship to another.

Like de l'Obel, Bauhin proceeds in his enumeration from the supposed most imperfect to the more perfect forms, beginning with the Grasses and the majority of Liliaceae and Zingiberaceae, passing on to dicotyledonous herbs, and ending with shrubs and trees.

The Cryptogams that were known to him stand in the middle of the series of dicotyledonous herbs, between the Papilionaceae and the Thistles, the Equisetaceae being reckoned among the Grasses. On the great distinction between Cryptogams and Phanerogams the views of Bauhin were evidently less clear than those of many of his predecessors; but it will not seem strange that he should place some Phanerogams, as for instance the Duckweeds, among the Cryptogams and the Salviniaceae among the Mosses, and unite the Corals, Alcionieae, and Sponges with the Seaweeds, when we consider that it was not till the middle of the 18th century that more correct views arose in respect to these forms, and that Linnaeus himself could not decide whether the Zoophytes should be excluded from the vegetable kingdom and ranked with animals. The knowledge of plants in the scientific sense of the word was till the beginning of the 19th century limited to the Phanerogams; and in speaking of principles and methods in descriptive botany before that time we must think only of the Phanerogams, or at most of the Phanerogams and the Ferns. The methodical examination of the Cryptogams belongs to quite recent botanical research. The matter is here alluded to only in connection with the fact, that it is from the works of Kaspar Bauhin, a writer of ability, in whom the first period of scientific botany culminates, that we most clearly see how great the advance has been since his time.

  1. Kurt Sprengel in his 'Geschichte der Botanik,' i. 1817. and Ernst Meyer in his 'Geschichte der Botanik,' iv. 1857 have described the connection between the first beginnings of modern botany and the general state of learning in the 15th and 16th centuries; a particularly interesting notice of Valerius Cordus from the pen of Thilo Irmisch will be found in the 'Prüfungsprogramm' of the Schwarzburg gymnasium of Sondershausen for 1862. Here, as throughout, the present work will be confined to the investigation and description of the development of strictly botanical ideas.
  2. Otto Brunfels, born at Mainz before the year 1500, was at first a student of theology and a monk; becoming a convert to Protestantism he was actively engaged at Strassburg first as a teacher and afterwards as a physician; he died in 1534.
  3. Beside the herbals mentioned in the text, which may be regarded as scientific works on botany, a considerable number of books on the signature of plants were written in the 16th and I7th centuries in the interests of medicine or medical superstition. It was believed that certain external marks and resemblances between parts of plants and the organs of the human body indicated the plants and the parts of them which possessed healing virtues. Pritzel mentions by name twenty-four works of the kind, which appeared between 1550 and 1697. The herbals also noticed the signatures, and even Ray has an enquiry into the subject.
  4. The fragments of Aristotelian botany which have come down to us are to be found translated from Wimmer's edition in Ernst Meyer's 'Geschichte der Botanik,' i. p. 94.
  5. Ernst Meyer (Geschichte der Botanik) gives a full account of Theophrastus, who was born at Lesbos A.C. 371 and died A.D. 286. An edition of his work 'De historia et de causis plantarum' was published by Theodor Gaza in 1483. See also Pritzel's 'Thesaurus literarum botanicarum.'
  6. See L. C. Treviranus in his work, 'Die Amvendung des Holzschnitts zur bildlichen Darstellung der Pflanzen,' Leipzig, 1855. and Choulant 'Graphische Incunabeln,' Leipzig, 1858.
  7. Konrad Gesner, born in Zurich in 1516, became after many vicissitudes of fortune Professor of Natural History in his native town, and died there of the plague in 1565. See Ernst Meyer, 'Geschichte der Botanik,' iv.
  8. Leonhard Fuchs, born at Membdingen in Bavaria in 1501, was a student of the classics under Reuchlin in Ingolstadt in 1519, and became Doctor of Medicine in 1524. Owing to his conversion to Protestantism he led an unsettled life for some years, but was finally made Professor of Medicine in Tubingen in 1535, and died there in 1566. See Meyer, 'Geschichte der Botanik,' iv.
  9. Rembert Dodoens (Dodonaeus), born at Malines in 1517, was a physician, and a man of varied culture; he published a number of botanical works, some of them in Flemish, after 1552, and finally in 1583 his 'Stirpium Historiae Pemptades vi' (Antwerp). From 1574 to 1579 he was physician to the Emperor Maximilian II. In 1582 he became Professor in Leyden and died in 1585. See Ernst Meyer, 'Geschichte der Botanik,' iv. p. 340.
  10. Hieronymus Bock (Tragus) was born at Heiderbach in the Zweibrücken in 1498; he was destined to the cloister, but embraced Protestantism and became a schoolmaster in Zweibrücken and superintendent of the Prince's garden; he was afterwards preacher in Hornbach, where he practised also as a physician and pursued his botanical studies; he died in 1554. See Ernst Meyer, 'Geschichte der Botanik,' iv. p. 303.
  11. Pierandrea Mattioli, who was born at Siena in 1501 and died there in 1577, was for many years physician at the court of Ferdinand I. He wrote rather in the interests of medicine than of botany; his herbal, originally a commentary on Dioscorides, was gradually enlarged and went through more than sixty editions and issues in different languages. See Meyer, 'Geschichte der Botanik,' vi.
  12. Charles de l'Écluse (Carolus Clusius) was born in Arras in 1526. His family suffered from religious persecution in France, and he spent the greater part of his life in Germany and the Netherlands; in 1573 he removed to Vienna by the invitation of Maximilian II; in 1593 he became professor in Leyden and died there in 1609. See Meyer, 'Geschichte der Botanik,' iv, who gives full information respecting the eventful life of this distinguished man.
  13. Jacques Dalechamps, a native of Caen, who died in 1588, was a philologist rather than an original investigator of nature, as is remarked by Meyer in his 'Geschichte der Botanik,' vi. p. 395.
  14. Mathias de l'Obel (Lobelius), the friend and fellow-countryman of Dodoens and de l'Écluse, was born at Lille in 1538 and died in England in 1616. A full account of this botanist will be found in Meyer.
  15. Kaspar Bauhin was horn at Basle in 1550, and like his elder brother John studied under Fuchs; he collected plants in Switzerland, Italy, and France, and became professor in Basle; he died in 1624. Some account is given of him and of his brother by Haller in the preface to his 'Historia Stirpium Heletiae' (1768), and by Sprengel in his 'Geschichte der Botanik,' i. p. 364 (1818).