Makers of British botany/Introduction

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


The present volume represents in somewhat expanded form a course of lectures arranged by the Board of Studies in Botany of the University of London and delivered during the early part of 1911 in the Botanical Department of University College, London.

These lectures, which were ten in number, were widely attended by advanced and post-graduate students of the University and others interested in the subject.

The ten lectures comprised in the course were delivered by various botanists, the lecturer in each case being either a worker in the same field as, or in some other way having a special qualification to deal with, his allotted subject.

In view of the interest aroused by their delivery the hope found wide expression that the lectures might be issued in book form. At the time when the arrangements were being made for publication the University of London Press had not yet reached the publishing stage, so hospitality had to be sought elsewhere. That the book is issued from the Cambridge University Press is largely due to the good offices of Prof. A. C. Seward.

In consenting to publish The Makers of British Botany the Cambridge University Press suggested that some additional chapters should be prepared so that the work might be more fully representative. This has been done so far as was possible in the time available.

The sixteen chapters forming the book include (1) the ten lectures, which are printed essentially as they were delivered, (2) six additional chapters specially written under the circumstances just mentioned. As a rule each chapter will be found to deal with a single Botanist; with the exception of the first and last chapters. In the former Prof. Vines has linked together Morison and Ray, the founders of Systematic Botany in this country, whilst in the last Prof. Bayley Balfour has expanded what was originally intended as a sketch of his father, the late Prof. J. Hutton Balfour, into a very interesting account of his precedessors in the Edinburgh chair from the year 1670 almost down to the present time.

The subjects treated, the authors and the order of arrangement are as follows:—

Subject Born Died Author

*Robert Morison 1620 1683 } Prof. S. H. Vines, F.R.S.
*John Ray 1627 1705
*Nehemiah Grew 1641 1712 Mrs Arber
*Stephen Hales 1677 1761 Francis Darwin, F.R.S.
 John Hill 1716 1775 T. G. Hill
*Robert Brown 1773 1858 Prof. J. B. Farmer, F.R.S.
*Sir William Hooker 1785 1865 Prof. F. O. Bower, F.R.S.
*The Rev. J. S. Henslow 1796 1861 The Rev. Prof. Geo. Henslow
 John Lindley 1799 1865 Prof. Frederick Keeble
*William Griffith 1810 1845 Prof. W. H. Lang, F.R.S.
*Arthur Henfrey 1819 1859 Prof. F. W. Oliver, F.R.S.
*William Henry Harvey 1811 1866 W. Lloyd Praeger
 The Rev. Miles Berkeley 1803 1889 George Massee
 Sir Joseph Gilbert 1817 1895 Prof. W. B. Bottomley
*William Crawford Williamson 1816 1895 Dr D. H. Scott, F.R.S.
 Harry Marshall Ward 1854 1905 Sir William Thiselton-Dyer, K.C.M.G., F.R.S.
The Edinburgh Professors 1670 1887 Prof. I. Bayley Balfour, F.R.S.

* Was the subject of a lecture in the University Course.

The first three chapters deal with the founders of British Botany, Morison and Ray in the systematic field, Grew, the plant anatomist, and Hales the physiologist. These are pioneers and the names of Ray, Grew, and Hales must always remain illustrious in the annals of Botanical Science.

John Hill, with all his versatility, belongs to another plane, but his inclusion here is justified on historical grounds, by the prominent part he played in making known the method of the great Swedish systematist Linnaeus, a method which took deep root and gave an immense stimulus to systematic studies in this country. In Robert Brown we have the greatest botanist of his day, for thirty years keeper of the Botanical Department of the British Museum. It is doubtful if any greater intellect than Brown's has ever been devoted to the service of Botanical Science.

Sir William Hooker was the first Director of Kew, and under his genial administration the foundations of that great institution were most truly laid. Born under the star of Linnaeus, his own researches lay in the systematic field—more especially among the Ferns and Bryophytes.

J. S. Henslow was for many years Professor of Botany at Cambridge, but it is his life as Rector of Hitcham in Suffolk that finds special prominence in the interesting Memoir which formed the subject-matter of his son's lecture. The account given of his educational methods will be read with interest in these days when "Nature Study" has been sprung on the world as a new thing.

John Lindley was a man of the most amazing energy and his scientific output was prodigious. Though he attained high distinction in many fields of Botany, being an accomplished Systematist and Palaeobotanist, probably his greatest service was on the scientific side of Horticulture. Considering the scale of production, the work of Lindley maintains a remarkably high level. It is recorded of him that he never took a holiday till he reached the age of 52. His was the dominant personality in Botany of the early and mid-Victorian era.

William Griffith had the energy and power of endurance of Lindley, under whose influence he came. Trained to the practice of medicine he took service under the East India Company where he was able to devote the priceless intervals between his official duties to botanical travel, collecting, and the morphological investigation of Indian plants. The results of his brief but remarkable career are embodied mainly in his voluminous illustrated notes which were published posthumously in 1852. The name of Griffith has been happily linked with that of Treub, his brilliant successor in our own times.

Arthur Henfrey belonged to a very different type. Compelled by ill-health to the life of a recluse, his short life was mainly devoted to making known in England the great discoveries of the Hofmeisterian epoch. To Henfrey belongs the credit of being the first of our countrymen to recognise the full significance of the new morphology, the general recognition of which, however, he did not live to see. Henfrey was an extremely competent all-round Botanist whose single-minded devotion to his subject should not be allowed to fall into oblivion.

William Henry Harvey is a representative of a numerous class among the followers of Botany in this country. A man of great personal charm and high culture, he was attracted into the subject from the love of collecting. His special field was that of the Marine Algae, in which he stood unrivalled. Harvey was an exquisite delineator of the seaweeds of which he was so enthusiastic a student. The memoir, based on his journals and letters, which was published shortly after his death, is a book well worth reading for its intimate sketches of the naturalists of his day and the vivid notes on his extended travels in the colonies and elsewhere.

Miles Joseph Berkeley, like his contemporary Harvey, was a cryptogamic botanist. He was a voluminous contributor to the systematic literature of the Fungi over a period of fifty years, as well as being a pioneer in the field of plant pathology. The systematic collections accumulated during his long life form one of the glories of the Kew Herbarium.

Sir Joseph Henry Gilbert's outlook on plants was entirely different from that of any of the foregoing. He regarded the plant essentially as the chemical offspring of the environment to which it was exposed. His life was devoted to the study of soils and crops in conjunction with Sir John Lawes. To these classic investigations carried out at Rothamsted, Gilbert brought the trained skill of the chemist.

William Crawford Williamson was a great all-round naturalist of the Victorian period whose work as a Zoologist gained him high distinction long before his attention became seriously concentrated upon his famous studies into the structure of the fossil plants of the Coal Measures. Though these researches were pursued without any marked contemporary encouragement, at any rate until the closing years of his life, the field in which Williamson was so enthusiastic a pioneer has since his time been generally recognised as of the first importance—more especially in its bearing upon the pedigree of the vegetable kingdom. To-day, no branch of Botany has more recruits or is more vigorously pursued in this country than that of Palaeobotany, and so long as the science remains will the memory of Williamson be green.

Harry Marshall Ward belongs to a generation younger than any of the foregoing. His student days coincided with the renaissance of Botany in England in the seventies of the last century, and coming under the influence of Huxley, Thiselton-Dyer, Vines and others, Ward early revealed himself as an ardent investigator. For twenty-five years he devoted his remarkable energies to a series of connected researches bearing broadly on the nutrition of the Fungi and allied organisms with especial reference to the relationships between host and parasite. The notice of his career which appears in this volume is from the pen of Sir William Thiselton-Dyer. Recently printed in the Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, we are indebted to the courtesy of the author and of the Council of the Royal Society for permission to include it here.

In a book like the present, the work of a large number of distinct contributors, it is evident that no continuous or homogeneous treatment of the history and progress of Botany in this country is possible. Judged even as a series of essays or studies of representative men, The Makers of British Botany will not escape criticism, so long as special reference to the work of Priestley, Cavendish and Sénébier finds no place in its pages, not to mention such obvious omissions as Knight, Daubeny and Bentham. These omissions have not been deliberate and it will no doubt be possible to repair them should a second edition of the work be called for. The case of Charles Darwin is different. Apart from the work for which he is most famous, Darwin was a great investigator of the movements of plants and of the biology of flowers. As this aspect of Darwin's work has received adequate treatment in the recent centenary volume published by the Cambridge University Press[1], it has not seemed necessary on the present occasion to traverse the ground again.

The reader of The Makers of British Botany will judge, and we think rightly, that Botany has had its ups and downs in this country. At the end of the seventeenth century England was contributing her full share to the foundation and advancement of the subject. In the field of Systematic Botany Ray, at any rate, left his permanent influence as a taxonomist, whilst in Plant Anatomy, the offspring of the newly invented microscope, Grew divided the honours with his brilliant contemporary Malpighi. A few years later Stephen Hales was carrying out the famous experiments which are embodied in his Vegetable Staticks, entitling him to be justly regarded as the Father of plant physiology. Notwithstanding so admirable a beginning, the next century was almost a blank. The essay on John Hill serves to illustrate the sterility of this period. The dominant influence in Botany in the eighteenth century was that of Linnaeus, whose genius as a taxonomist gave the most wonderful impulse to the study of Botany that it has ever received. Shorn of its accumulated dead-weight of nomenclature, the simplified Botany of Linnaeus took deep root in this country and here for a century it reigned supreme as a source of inspiration. Fed on unlimited collections of plants from all parts of a growing Empire, it is hardly surprising that a great British school of Systematic Botany led by Robert Brown, the Hookers, Lindley and Bentham should have arisen. What is remarkable is the almost exclusive persistence of this branch of Botany for more than a generation after the establishment and recognition of other departments on the continent of Europe. Whilst we made a shrine for the Linnaean collections, so far as we were concerned Grew and Hales might never have lived; even the rational and scientific morphology created by Hofmeister in the forties of last century failed to deflect us from our course!

It was only in the later seventies that the New Botany came to England, whither it was imported from Germany. For a while, as was to be expected, our Universities were kept busy in training students in the modern work and in the conduct of investigations in the fields thus opened. With acclimatisation certain distinctive branches which may be regarded as characteristic have come to the front. These include more especially the study of anatomy in its phylogenetic aspects with which is closely linked that of the palaeozoic fossils, so richly represented in some of our coal-fields as to constitute a virtual monopoly. The present wide-spread revival of interest in palaeobotany is in no small measure attributable to Williamson, who, in spite of discouragement, kept the subject alive till the modern movement was firmly enough established to take up his work. Another productive field has been that of the nuclear cytology of both higher and lower plants, whilst physiology, especially on the chemical side, has attained pre-eminence. On present indications it is to be expected that in the near future physiology will receive much more attention than hitherto, partly as an inevitable reaction from the field of pure structure, and partly because of its fundamental importance in relation to agriculture. Nor is this the only branch that should be greatly stimulated by the forward movement in Agriculture that is now just beginning to be felt. The science of plant breeding, too long neglected by the countrymen of Darwin, has been pursued with much success for a decade, and has already reached the "producing stage" in respect of new and improved races of agricultural plants.

The youngest branch of Botany is Ecology or the study of vegetation in relation to habitat—particularly soil in its widest sense. This department deals with the recognition and distribution of the different types of plant community in relation to topography and the factors—chemical, physical and biologic—which determine this distribution. Ecology has the great merit of taking its followers into the field, where they are confronted with a wide range of problems not hitherto regarded as strictly within the province of the botanist. At the same time it exacts the most critical acquaintance with the minutiae of the taxonomist, so that a new sphere of usefulness is opened to the systematist. Ecology should have a great part to play in helping to break down the frontiers which have too long tended to separate Botany from the other sciences, and the maintenance of which is not in the true interests of the subject.