Makers of British botany/William Henry Harvey 1811—1866

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Early influences—Natural History—his "pretensions" to science—choice of a profession—visit to London—early publication—South Africa—investigation of its flora—appointed Keeper of University Herbarium, Dublin—Algology with Mrs Griffiths—Phycologia Britannica—appointed to Professorship—visit to America—lectures and travels—Nereis Boreali-Americana—travels in the East—Australia—New Zealand—Fiji—return home—election to chair at Trinity College, Dublin—Phycologia Australica—marriage and death—Harvey's limitations—his reception of Darwinism—personal characteristics.


Among the many illustrious names that figure on the syllabus of the present course of lectures, that of Harvey is probably one of the less generally known. This is due for the most part to the fact that the subject to which the greater portion of his energies was devoted—the systematic study of seaweeds—occupies a somewhat remote niche in the edifice of botany. Also many years of his life were spent in collecting in distant regions; and his retiring disposition, and comparatively early death, contributed to the same result. In the scientific world of his day he avoided publicity, but laboured with indomitable zeal at his chosen subject, leaving behind him a series of splendidly illustrated descriptive works. For a glimpse of the man himself—his life, his aims, his thoughts—we have to rely almost entirely on a volume[1] consisting mainly of letters written to relations and to family friends, which was



Plate XVII


Makers of British botany, Plate 17 (William Henry Harvey).png



edited by his cousin, Mrs Lydia Fisher, and published a few years after his death. My indebtedness to this volume in what follows will be apparent.

William Henry Harvey came of the old Quaker stock that has given to Ireland several of her most enthusiastic naturalists. To this group belong Thomas Wright of Cork, Joseph Wright of Belfast, Greenwood Pim of Dublin; all of whom, immersed in affairs of business, devoted their leisure hours to science, and progressed far in the branches of zoology or botany to which they addressed themselves. Harvey's family belonged to Youghal, on the coast of Co. Cork. His father was a well-known merchant of Limerick, in which town he himself was born, the youngest of eleven children, just a hundred years ago in February 1811. Even as a child, his love of natural history made itself apparent, and fortunately his schooling tended to foster this taste. After a few years at Newtown near Waterford, he went to the historic school of Ballitore, in the county of Kildare. These Irish Quaker schools have long favoured the teaching of science, and Ballitore at that time was no exception. The head master was James White, a keen naturalist, and himself a writer on Irish botany[2]; and probably the encouragement that young Harvey received at Ballitore had much to do with the shaping of his life. At the age of fifteen, we find him writing of his collection of butterflies and shells, and already referring to the group in which he subsequently achieved his greatest fame:—

"I also intend to study my favourite and useless class, Cryptogamia. I think I hear thee say, Tut-tut! But no matter. To be useless, various, and abstruse, is a sufficient recommendation of a science to make it pleasing to me. I don't know how I shall ever find out the different genera of mosses. Lichens I think will be easy" (he little knew them!) "but fungi I shall not attempt; not at all from their difficulty, but only because they are not easily preserved. But do not say that the study of Cryptogamia is useless. Remember that it was from the genus Fucus that iodine was discovered."

Another letter of this period, written when he was sixteen, contains so quaint a description of himself that I am tempted to quote from it:—

"In person I am tall, and in a good degree awkward. I am silent, and when I do speak say little, particularly to people of whom I am afraid, or with whom I am not intimate. I care not for city sports, or for the diversions of the country. I am equally unknown to any healthful amusement of boys. I cannot swim nor skate. I know nothing of the delight of these, and yet I can amuse myself and be quite happy, seemingly without any one to share my happiness. My botanical knowledge extends to about thirty of the commonest plants. I am very fond of botany, but I have not much opportunity of learning anything, because I have only to show the plant to James White, who tells me all about it, which I forget the next minute. My mineralogy embraces about twelve minerals, of which I know only the names. I am totally unacquainted with foreign shells, and know only about two hundred and fifty native ones. As to ornithology, I have stuffed about thirteen birds. In chemistry I read a few books, and tried some experiments. In lithography I broke a stone and a printing press. These are my pretensions to science."

The reference to lithography is interesting, in view of the fact that he became later on one of the most exquisite delineators of plants, and with his own hand drew on stone the greater part of the splendid plates which enrich his works on Phanerogams and Algae. In his confession of ignorance of sports and pastimes, we already see the result of the want of robust health which followed him through life, and brought about his premature death; and in spite of which he performed such monumental work.

Already Harvey's mind was quite made up as to what line in life he would prefer. He cannot hope, he says, to achieve success in commerce, by "buying cheap and selling dear." As regards professions, he is "neither fit to be a doctor nor a lawyer, lacking courage for the one, and face for the other, and application for both.... All I have a taste for is natural history, and that might possibly lead in days to come to a genus called Harveya, and the letters F.L.S. after my name, and with that I shall be content.... The utmost extent of my ambition would be to get a professorship of natural history."

His parents had thought of placing the boy with an eminent chemist in London, but his obvious antipathy to the prospect of city life led to his entering his father's office in Limerick instead. The quiet home life which ensued was well suited to his taste. All holidays were devoted to collecting. The family had a summer residence at Miltown Malbay, on the Atlantic coast, an excellent spot for Algae; and it was no doubt the time spent there that brought these plants prominently under his notice, and led to the noteworthy researches of later days. For the time, Mollusca still mainly occupied his mind, and in 1829, at eighteen years of age, we find him busily engaged in drawing the plates for a Testacea Hibernica—a book that never saw the light, though two years later he writes of being at work on his Bivalvia Hibernica, which was then half finished.

In the same year, he made his first excursion into "foreign parts" as he calls them, visiting Dublin, Liverpool, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. An account of a meeting of the Linnean Society, to which he was taken by his friend Bicheno, then secretary, and at which "if not edified I was amused," shows that the reverence he felt for science did not necessarily extend to constituted scientific authority. "The President wore a three-cocked hat of ample dimensions, and sat in a crimson arm-chair in great state. I saw a number of new Fellows admitted. They were marched one by one to the president, who rose, and taking them by the hand, admitted them. The process costs £25."

In 1831, his finding at Killarney of the beautiful moss Hookeria laetevirens, hitherto unknown in Ireland, led to the formation of one of the warmest and most valuable friendships of his life. He forwarded specimens, with a characteristic letter, to W. J. Hooker at Glasgow, and the kind and encouraging reply which he received led to further letters and eventually to an intimacy which seems to have been prized equally on both sides. Hooker recognized at once the extraordinary talent of the shy young man of twenty, lent him books, asked him to visit him, and congratulated him on his critical faculty, predicting for him a rapid advance to "the top of algologists." Another life-long friendship made about this time was with Mrs Griffiths of Torquay; and he numbered Greville and Agardh among his earliest correspondents. Already he was deep in his life-task of comparing and describing plants, working with the restless energy which characterised him. "I rise at five every morning," he writes, "and work till breakfast, examining or describing the Algae for the 'British Flora[3].' If I do five species a day I think it good work. This may seem slow, but there is much to be compared and corrected! for I differ from Dr Hooker on many species. Oh, impudence! oh, presumption!" In 1832 he undertook to do the Algae for J. T. Mackay's Flora Hibernica, which was published three years later; this was his most important contribution to the botany of his native land.

The death of his father in 1834 broke up Harvey's home life, and his strong desire to study the vegetation of distant countries led to enquiries as to the obtaining of an appointment in the Colonies. New South Wales was first thought of, but it was for the Cape that he started in the following year.

Asa Gray, a friend of many years' standing, tells, in a notice of Harvey in the American Journal of Science and Arts[4], a curious story as to the circumstances attending this momentous change in Harvey's life. The story is repeated in the notice of Harvey in Seemann's Journal of Botany[5], though not mentioned in the Memoir edited by his cousin. It seems that, as the result of Harvey's representations, he obtained through Mr Spring Rice, afterwards Lord Monteagle, the post of Treasurer at the Cape; but, by an accident, the appointment was made out in the name of an elder brother (Joseph Harvey); and an inopportune change of ministry occurring just at the time, frustrated all attempts at rectification. Be that as it may, Joseph Harvey sailed for South Africa in July 1835, taking his younger brother with him as assistant.

It was with high hopes that the naturalist started for the Southern Hemisphere. At that time the flora of South Africa was but slightly known. About Cape Town itself and near other older centres of colonization, indeed, many plants had been collected, both by Dutch and English; but vast tracts of mountain and veldt, for a thousand miles to north and east, were still unexplored. He describes his excitement on landing, and how, after a sleepless night, he started off for the hills early next morning, to revel among strange Ericas, Polygalas, Lobelias, Diosmas, Proteas, and Ixias. He at once settled down to collecting with his usual method and energy. From four or five until nine every morning he was at work on the mountains or on the shore; after which several hours were devoted to preserving the material. Within a few weeks he was engaged on the description of new genera and species, and in three months his herbarium contained 800 species. Already schemes for organized work leading up to publication were in his mind; and it seemed as if his task lay open before him; but fate willed otherwise. His brother fell ill within a few months of his arrival, and a little later a return to Europe was ordered—to no purpose, as Joseph Harvey died on 26 April, a fortnight after sailing, and it was a sad home-coming which the naturalist, who had accompanied the invalid, experienced in the June following. He started again for South Africa a few weeks later, to take up his brother's duties as Colonial Treasurer; and remained there for three years, when severe illness, brought on by overwork, compelled a return home. But he came back, and resumed his strenuous life, spending his days in official duties and his nights at botany, until, in 1842, a complete break-down forced him to resign his post, and leave the country. Seven years of his life were thus devoted to South Africa, and, in spite of the serious inroads on his time and energy caused by two tedious voyages home, as well as by illness when at the Cape, a great amount of botanical work was accomplished. He arranged with collectors for the supply of plants from various parts of the country; he got the Government interested in the native flora, so that official papers were issued giving instructions for collecting and soliciting specimens; and Harvey himself devoted so much time to his hobby that he suggests that his title should be Her Majesty's Pleasurer-General, instead of Treasurer-General. Every month brought its quota of undescribed plants. "Almost every small package of specimens received from the Natal, or the Transvaal district," he writes[6], "contains not only new species, but new genera; and some of the latter are of so marked and isolated a character, as to lead us to infer in the same region the existence of unknown types that may better connect them with Genera or Orders already known." To produce system in this chaos he compiled and published his Genera of South African Plants (1838), the forerunner of the larger works which constitute his principal memorial in the domain of Phanerogamic Botany. But the uncongenial climate and the intense application were too great a strain on his health and he reached Europe in 1842, prostrated in both body and mind.

Nevertheless, the final year of his residence in Africa saw the production of the first of the series of works on seaweeds by which his name will ever be best known. His Manual of British Algae was issued by the Ray Society in 1841, its Introduction dated at Cape Town, October 1840—a modest octavo volume, characterized by the thoroughness which runs through all his work.

A period of convalescence and apathy followed his return, in which he wandered about Ireland, doing some desultory botanizing; after which he settled in his old home at Limerick, and again took up the uncongenial duties connected with the family business.

But soon a new prospect opened out. The retirement of William Allman left vacant the Chair of Botany in Dublin University. Harvey had little hesitation in applying for the post, to which, he points out to a friend, "a moderate salary and comfortable College-rooms are attached. It is an old bachelor place," he writes, "and would in many ways suit me very well. The only thing on the face of it disagreeable is the lecturing, but I don't think I should mind that much, as it is lawful to have the subjects for the class written down." Harvey's candidature was viewed favourably by the University authorities, but a difficulty arose, inasmuch as the School of Physic Act prescribed that the Professor of Botany should hold a medical degree, or the licence of the College of Physicians. To render him eligible, the degree of M.D. was at once conferred on Harvey honoris causa, but after a good deal of discussion this solution of the question was held to be inadmissible, and George James Allman was appointed to the vacant chair. Harvey, however, obtained the smaller appointment of Keeper of the University Herbarium, which had fallen vacant at about the same time owing to the death of Dr Thomas Coulter, the botanical explorer of Central Mexico and California.

Harvey now at last found himself in a congenial post, with a fair amount of leisure, and facilities for scientific work. He presented his herbarium of over 10,000 species to the University, which already possessed Coulter's extensive American collections. "I am as busy as a bee these times," he writes. "I rise at 5 a.m. or before it, and work till breakfast-time (half-past eight) at the 'Antarctic Algae[7].' Directly after breakfast I start for the College, and do not leave it till five o'clock in the evening. Again at plants till dusk. I am writing on the 'Antarctic Algae,' and arranging the Herbarium, and have been working at Coulter's Mexican and Californian plants." College vacations were now usually spent at Kew, staying with his best friend Sir William Hooker, and working hard in the Herbarium. On the way home from the first of these vacations, he went to Torquay, to spend some time with his old correspondent, Mrs Griffiths. They went out boating, he and the good lady of seventy-six years; and together they visited the only British habitat of Gigartina Teedii, six miles away, and gathered that coveted sea-weed in the spot where Mrs Griffiths had discovered it in 1811, the year in which Harvey was born.

Another very rare alga which he received about this time, to his great delight, was Thuretia quercifolia from Australia, one of the most remarkable of sea-weeds, bearing oakleaf-shaped red fronds, formed of a beautiful lace-like double network with regular hexagonal openings, which he was himself destined to collect in quantity some years later at Port Phillip, and to figure in his Phycologia Australica[8].

The circumstances under which this plant was found must have made Harvey's mouth water.

"My specimen," he writes, "was picked up by a lady who accidentally landed for a few hours in a little harbour, into which the ship put during a gale, and she describes the shore as covered with the most wonderful profusion of plants and animals. She got all the pocket handkerchiefs of the party and filled them with what came first to hand, and in this hasty way picked up sixty different kinds of sponges, forty of which are new species, and several Algae, among which was the above described beauty. Her husband (a captain) is going out again, and promises to gather all he can meet with. Don't I hope he may have a run in again in a squall!"

Harvey now commenced the publication of the first of his larger works on seaweeds—the classical Phycologia Britannica, a series of 360 coloured quarto plates, drawn on stone by his own hand, representing all the species then known to inhabit the British Isles, and accompanied by suitable letterpress: the whole taking five years to complete. This work represented an immense advance in the knowledge of British sea-weeds, and, by the beauty and excellence of its plates, did much to popularize the study of these interesting plants.

In the following year he began his Nereis Australis, or Algae of the Southern Ocean. This was the first fruits of a comprehensive scheme of publication, which in its entirety was to "form a compendious picture of the vegetation of the ocean," the Nereis Australis being followed by a similar Nereis Tropica and Nereis Borealis; but only a section of the scheme was carried out, and publication stopped with the issue of 120 pages of letterpress and fifty coloured plates, drawn as usual by Harvey himself. In 1849 he issued The Sea-side Book, a popular account of the natural history of the sea-shore, which ran through several editions.

About this time he secured an additional appointment which, while it added to his professional duties, also increased his opportunities for research. The Royal Dublin Society, founded in 1731 for the improvement of husbandry, manufactures, and other useful arts and sciences, and aided by considerable government funds, had long since embarked on comprehensive schemes for the development of both science and art. To its activity is due the foundation and building up of many of the leading educational institutions in Dublin—the National Museum, the National Library, the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin, the Metropolitan School of Art. The Society had established also professorships of zoology, botany, natural philosophy, chemistry, and so on. In 1848 the professorship of botany became vacant by the death of Dr Samuel Litton, and Harvey applied for the post. These appointments were made by the vote of the members at large, and strongly against his inclination, he had to enter on a personal canvass, of some experiences of which he gives a half humourous, half pathetic account in a letter to N. B. Ward, of "Wardian case" fame, who throughout life was one of his most regular correspondents. The issue was satisfactory, Harvey being elected by a three-fourths majority. This appointment placed him in control of the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens, of which Dr David Moore, so well known by his work on the Irish flora, was curator. It made him responsible besides for the delivery annually of courses of botanical lectures in Dublin, and also, at intervals, in selected towns in various parts of Ireland.

In the spring of 1849 Harvey accepted an invitation from the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University to deliver twelve lectures on botany at the Lowell Institute at Boston, and others at Washington. The subject he chose for the Boston course was a comprehensive survey of the plant-world, from the point of view of the "progressive organization of the vegetable entity." The cryptogams had a place of honour, four lectures being devoted to Algae: it is interesting to note that the Fungi, which he designates "the most aristocratic of Crypts—fruges consumere nati," he placed immediately below the Flowering Plants, for reasons which, no doubt, he gave in his discourses. He sailed from Liverpool in July. Ocean traffic had been revolutionized since his last voyage from the Cape; instead of a dawdling sailing-ship, a steamer transported him in ten days to Nova Scotia; and with some of the old excitement with which he had started on his first climb up Table Mountain, he rambled away into the dark spruce woods, through the rich undergrowth of Kalmias, Ledums and Andromedas, with Sarracenias and Orchids rising from among the Sphagnums in the damper spots. He dredged and shore-collected also, but the seaweed flora was not rich. Thence he passed to New York, which he describes as like twenty Birkenheads and a dozen Liverpools, with slices from London and Paris, all huddled together, and painted bright red, with green windows. He visited Niagara and Quebec, and then travelled to Boston, where he was welcomed by Asa Gray, who was his host during his stay.

The lectures were well attended, and Harvey seems to have been satisfied with them and with the reception which they received; a popular lecture on seaweeds at the Franklin Institute at Providence was largely attended. These discourses, and the introductions and conversations that ensued, had more than a passing interest, as recruits were enrolled for alga-collecting, who subsequently supplied valuable material for his work on North American seaweeds. He saw all that was best of scientific society in Boston and New York, and met many of the great men of that generation—Agassiz, Bailey, Dana, Longfellow, Leidy, Pickering, Prescott, Silliman, Daniel Webster, Oliver Wendell Holmes. Having fulfilled his engagements and revisited the family of his late brother Jacob in New York, he turned his face southward in January for a collecting tour along the Atlantic sea-board.

After brief stays at Wilmington and Charleston, where he did a little botanizing, and sent to Kew a box-full of Dionaea, he arrived by boat at Key West one Sunday midnight in pouring rain, to spend the remaining hours of darkness in wandering about seeking a lodging. But by morning his fortunes had mended, and he spent a busy and pleasant month there, collecting by day, dodging mosquitos by night, and living mainly upon turtle and roast turkey, more ordinary foods being scarce. He made large collections of Algae, almost every day bringing to him new and beautiful forms. He had hoped to have the company of Prof. Bailey on this trip, but illness prevented this, and he had to carry out his work alone.

March saw him back in Charleston, where he attended the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Then to Washington, where he delivered four lectures at the Smithsonian Institution. At Charleston he again met Agassiz, and once more records the profound impression which the American zoologist produced upon him. "His fine thought," he writes, "of reforming the classifications of animals by a more intimate study of their young in the various stages from embryonic life to full development, grows apace; and if he lives to bring out his conception of a system based upon this, it will not only crown his memory for ever, but be the greatest step of the present age in zoological science... He is certainly a man of extraordinary genius, great energy, and with the most rapid inductive powers I have ever known. I could not help saying to myself, as I sat and listened, Well, it is pleasant to be hearing all this, as it is uttered, and for the first time. If one lives to be an old man, one will have to say, 'I remember to have heard Agassiz say so and so,' and then every one will listen, just as we should do to a person who had conversed with Linnaeus or Cuvier." We must remember that this appreciation of Agassiz's ideas was written nine years before the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, and at a time when American men of science were much interested in a controversy as to whether mankind are all descended from Adam and Eve, or from several separate creations in different parts of the world. One of his last letters written on American soil contains a note on another subject, significant in the light of subsequent events. "I have been twice at sittings of the Senate, and have heard a good sensible speech on the Union question, which is now agitating folk here... The bone of contention is Slavery."

The spring of 1850 saw him once again settled in Dublin, with a great accumulation of work on hand. Part of the summer was spent in collecting Algae on the coast of Antrim; and he met again his friends Asa Gray and his wife, who were visiting Europe. Another acquaintance made at this time, which ripened into a warm friendship, was the result of the finding by Mrs Alfred Gatty, well-known as a writer of fiction, of the Chrysymenia orcadensis of Harvey at Filey, in fruit for the first time—the examination of which convinced Harvey that the Orkney plant was only a variety of Chrysymenia rosea (Lomentaria rosea Thuret). Mrs Gatty became a useful ally in the collecting of seaweeds, and a valued friend; Harvey's influence is seen in her British Seaweeds; published in 1863.

The year 1851 saw the completion of the Phycologia Britannica, and he at once set to work on his Nereis Boreali-Americana, published in three parts in the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge—a work of 550 quarto pages containing an account of all the known species of North American Algae, and 50 coloured plates, lithographed as usual with his own hand—a fine piece of work, and one which has not yet been superseded. This was a time of strenuous labour, for already he was planning a still more extended foreign tour; but he found time in the autumn of 1852 for a trip to Switzerland with Sir William Hooker and other friends.

In August, 1853, Harvey set out on the most extended scientific expedition of his life. So far his collecting had been done in Europe, South Africa, and North America. Now he was to visit the Indian Ocean and Australasia, and to investigate their seaweed flora, as yet but little known.

A short stay was made in Egypt, and a sea-shore ramble at Aden yielded Padina pavonia and a few other seaweeds, but otherwise he made no stop till Ceylon was reached. There he travelled a good deal, but seaweed collecting was not so successful as he had hoped. Some of the places explored proved unproductive, and the prevalence of the monsoon rendered collecting difficult or impossible. But the last three weeks, spent at Belligam Bay and Point de Galle, yielded excellent results, and he proceeded to Singapore en route for Albany, with a collection of about 5000 specimens of Algae.

The first work in Australia was done in the extreme southwest. Here he gathered seaweeds assiduously in King George's Sound, but the ground proved rather poor, though one welcome storm brought him a rich harvest, of which he preserved 700 specimens in one day. He moved on to Cape Riche, to the eastward, travelling through the bush on foot, and thus making intimate acquaintance with the interesting vegetation as well as the fauna of the district traversed. Cape Riche proved poor also, and he went northward to Perth, where he met James Drummond, the pioneer of West Australian botany, formerly of the Botanic Garden at Cork, and the discoverer of Spiranthes Romanzoffiana in the British Islands. At Perth he struck good ground. "This place is an excellent locality for Algae," he writes, "I am daily finding fresh ones, and have the prospect of a good harvest of novelty and interest... The days are too short for my work. My best collections are made at Garden Island, nine miles distant. I have been twice landed for a two hours' walk, and on both occasions collected so much that it took three days to lay them on paper." Rottnest Island also proved highly productive, and he gives a very attractive picture of the great rock-pools on the limestone reefs, filled with brilliant seaweeds, many of them undescribed. Here he lived in the deserted convict establishment, and amassed a large and valuable collection.

Thence he went to Melbourne, where he collected at several points about Port Phillip, notably on Phillip Island; after which he sailed for Tasmania, where at Georgetown he had a month's successful work with the Rev. J. Fereday, himself an enthusiastic student of botany, seaweeds included. Passing through Hobart, he obtained permission to visit Port Arthur, at that time a great convict station, for which he sailed on March 1, 1855, passing the grand basaltic headlands of Cape Raoul and Cape Pillar. At Port Arthur amid exquisite natural surroundings marred by the presence of chained prisoners, armed warders, and sentry-lines of fierce dogs, he worked successfully, doing much shore-collecting, and dredging with the aid of a crew of convicts and armed guards. After a little rather unsuccessful collecting at Sydney and Newcastle he sailed for New Zealand, where he spent a few weeks at Auckland. While the terrestrial flora proved highly interesting to him, he found the shore poor in Algae; but he enlisted a useful recruit for collecting, in Mr Knight, Auditor-General, who undertook to collect and send him further material.

The 26th July, 1851, found him at Tonga Taboo, in the Friendly Islands, revelling in his first glimpse of nature in mid-Pacific. The fringing reef proved somewhat disappointing, for amid the multitudinous and many-coloured animal forms only a few green Algae were to be found. Harvey spent six months in the Pacific, visiting island after island according as the mission boats supplied a means of transport, collecting seaweeds and a good many marine animals. At that time social conditions in the South Seas were very different from what they are now. The adjoining Fiji Island group, for instance, was still in a savage state: the captain of the mission vessel told Harvey how, only four years before, he had seen one hundred human bodies laid out for a great feast, and cannibalism was still a habitual practice there; but the Friendly Islands, though but recently in a similar condition, seem already to have deserved their name, and Harvey's experiences of the natives, with whom he was much in contact, appear to have been of the pleasantest description; in Fiji also, where several weeks were spent, the founding of a Christian mission (permitted only two years before after eighteen years' refusal) had already greatly altered local practices; devil-worship and cannibalism were rapidly dying out. Harvey, applying at the mission station for a responsible guide, was furnished with a man entitled "Koroe," which, it appeared, was an honourable title "something equivalent to a C.B. in England," and bestowed only on a person who had committed at least five murders. Harvey returned to Sydney, and thence to Europe by Valparaiso and Panama, having a severe bout of fever on the way. He reached home in October, 1856, after an absence of over three years.

Here an important change of life awaited him. G. J. Allman succeeded to the Natural History chair in Edinburgh, rendered vacant by the death of Edward Forbes, and Harvey was elected to the chair in Trinity College, Dublin, the difficulties which led to his rejection twelve years earlier being not raised on this occasion, though the law remained the same. At the same time, the incorporation of the several Dublin Society professorships in the newly founded Museum of Irish Industry (now the Royal College of Science for Ireland), gave him additional work, as his post was converted into a Natural History and Economic chair. However, the considerable increase of lecturing and teaching thus brought upon him did not prevent his pushing on vigorously with the now large arrears of phycological work. His first action was to finish and publish the third and last section of the Nereis Boreali-Americana and then bring to a conclusion his enumeration of the seaweed flora of North America. This was accomplished in 1858, and in the same year he began the publication of the results of his work in Australia. The Phycologia Australica, which was issued in parts during the ensuing five years, ran to five volumes, each containing sixty coloured plates, and descriptions of all the species known from Australasian waters. In the year following the launching of this work, he commenced the publication of two important treatises on the phanerogamic flora of South Africa. In the first of these, the well-known Flora Capensis, he had the co-operation of Dr O. W. Sonder of Hamburg. This extensive work he did not live to complete; the third volume, which ran as far as the end of the Campanulaceae, being published the year before his death. The other work was his Thesaurus Capensis, a series of plates of rare or interesting South African plants, designed to supplement and illustrate the unillustrated Flora; of this he lived to issue only two volumes, each containing one hundred plates.

Harvey's home life, which for several years had been very lonely, was transformed in 1861, when, at the age of fifty, he was married to Miss Phelps of Limerick, whom he had long known. But almost immediately afterwards the shadow of death appeared, haemorrhage from the lungs warning him that his newly found happiness might not endure. After a summer spent at his favourite Miltown Malbay, on the wild coast of Clare, he was able to resume his college duties and his work on Flora Capensis. Although he never fully recovered his health, he laboured diligently at the works he had in hand. He had a noble example of continued devotion to science in his old friend Sir William Hooker, whom he again visited, on returning from a tour on the Continent, in the autumn of 1863, to find him, in his seventy-ninth year, finishing off the last volume of his Species Filicum, and "already beginning to nibble at another book." This was a further work on ferns, the Synopsis Filicum, on which Hooker was busily engaged until within a few days of his death in the summer of 1865; it was completed by J. G. Baker and published three years later. During the winter of 1865, Harvey himself became seriously ill, and, an immediate change to a mild climate being recommended, he and his wife went to stay at Torquay with Lady Hooker, and there he died on 15th May, 1866.

Harvey was only fifty-five years of age when he died, but he had won for himself a foremost place among systematic botanists. Life, as Lubbock has said, is measured by thought and action, not by time; and according to this standard, Harvey's life-cup was already full and running over. He had used to the utmost the gifts which he possessed. The capital with which he entered on his career comprised a critical eye, a deft hand, and that scientific enthusiasm without which no botanist ever travels far. On the other side of the account, he had two serious deterrants, a rather delicate body, and a complete absence of scientific training. "Apropos of dissection," he writes to Hooker in his younger days, "I am a miserable manipulator, and should be very grateful for a few lessons." From the beginning he had a shrewd perception of what lay within his reach, and what was beyond it. "The extent to which I mean to go in botany," he wrote at twenty-one years, "is to know British plants of all kinds as well as possible; to know Algae of all countries specially well; to collect all foreign Cryptogamia that may fall in my way, and to know them moderately well... My reason for choosing the Algae is pure compassion; they being sadly neglected by the present generation, though at a former time they were in high favour."

In the letters written even in boyhood we see foreshadowed the direction and extent of his future researches. "Exactly what he determined in youth to accomplish," says Dr John Todhunter in his Preface to Harvey's Memoir, "he accomplished; the work which he took upon himself to do he did, honestly and thoroughly; the fame which he desired to achieve, he achieved." He saw that his strength lay in discrimination, description, and illustration, and to these—the necessary census task which forms the groundwork on which great theories may be built up—he confined himself.

The latter years of his life fell within that stimulating period which followed the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. But in the battle of giants which ensued he took no part. His attitude, indeed, was rather that of an amused spectator; and in the letters which are available, his references to the great controversy of the day, and allied topics, are mostly in a playful vein. "I do not know how cats purr," he writes to his friend Mrs Gatty, "and am glad you asked... Have you never felt a something stop your own windpipe when pleased or grieved, when suddenly affected either way? Tis the first gurgle of a purr; you were a cat once, away in the ages, and this is a part of the remains." Almost his only contribution to the literature of natural selection was a "serio-comic squib," which was read before the Dublin University Zoological and Botanical Association on 17 February, 1860 and subsequently printed for private circulation, entitled "A Guess as to the Probable Origin of the Human Animal considered by the light of Mr Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection, and in opposition to Lamarck's notion of a Monkey Parentage." Darwin thought this production a little unworthy of the author. "I am not sorry for a natural opportunity of writing to Harvey," he says, "just to show that I was not piqued at his turning me and my book into ridicule, not that I think it was a proceeding that I deserved, or worthy of him[9]."

Similarly, Harvey rejoices over Charles Kingsley's Water Babies, and especially over the sly fun which is poked at Darwinism, and also at certain types of men of science.

Only once did he enter the lists with a serious criticism, when, in the Gardeners' Chronicle[10], he cites the case of a monstrous Begonia in objection to Darwin's views. Harvey, indeed, did not like the new theory. "I am fully disposed to admit natural selection as a vera causa of much change," he writes, "but not as the vera causa of species." Further than this he could not go, though much impressed with the arguments drawn from geographical distribution. "I heartily wish we were nearer in accord," writes Darwin at the end of a long letter to Harvey, "but we must remain content to be as wide asunder as the poles, but without, thank God, any malice or other ill-feeling[11]."

Thus it will be seen that Harvey took but little part in influencing the thought of his time; the materials for his work were gathered not from his own creative brain, nor from the thoughts of other men, but direct from Nature's storehouses; his study was the far-stretching shore, his companions

his duty the describing with pen and pencil the harvest of the sea. In his works, he rises above mere technical description of the species with which he is dealing. His mind is filled with the beauty and wonder of plants; and he strives to impress the reader with the deep interest of the study of botany. He endeavours always to popularize his favourite pursuit by means of pleasant general introductions, and to promote a better knowledge of seaweeds or of flowering plants by appealing to his readers to collect, and by giving instructions for the gathering and preserving of specimens.

He derived a peculiar satisfaction from the thought that, at his post at Trinity College, Dublin, he was building up a great permanent collection that would be useful to future generations of botanists. "Here," he writes, "I sit like a turnspit roasting the meat, and when I am gone I suppose another dog will be put in my place. The Herbarium will not be broken up. I am content, for I seem to be working for some little purpose. I should just like to leave it in better order—to get through the arrears—and to return borrowed specimens." It was the same thought that prompted him to the publication of the great descriptive works which his rapidity and skill with pen and pencil enabled him to complete despite frequent intervals of illness. He devoted himself to his task with intense application. "Twenty minutes," he writes from South Africa in the middle of the stifling summer, "is my fair allowance for a drawing, with all its microscopical analysis."

From his letters, and from the reminiscences of persons who remember him, one gathers that Harvey was a very lovable sort of man. Shy and retiring, and diffident as to his own powers, with a deeply affectionate nature, he was equally prone to singing the praises of his friends, and to disparaging himself. "If I lean to glorify any one," he writes to William Thompson of Belfast, "it is Mrs Griffiths, to whom I owe much of the little acquaintance I have with the variations to which these plants [the seaweeds] are subject, and who is always ready to supply me with fruits of plants which every one else finds barren. She is worth ten thousand other collectors." Writing of Harveya, a genus of South African Scrophularineae which Hooker had just named in his honour, he comments, "'Tis apropos to give me a genus of Parasites, as I am one of those weak characters that draw their pleasures from others, and their support and sustenance too, seeing I quickly pine, if I have not some one to torment." He in his turn loved to commemorate his friends, or others in whom he felt an interest, by naming after them new genera of plants—Apjohnia, Areschougia, Ballia, Backhousia, Bellotia, Bowerbankia, Drummondita, Curdiea, Greyia, Mackaya, and many others. The names of some of his favourite authors are similarly enshrined, as Crabbea, Evelyna. Indeed, when at Niagara he saw an inscription to a young lady who fell over the cliff when gathering flowers—

Miss Ruggs at the age of twenty-three
Was launched into eternity,

he comments "Poor thing! I must call a plant after her—Ruggia would sound well." He had indeed a love of all living things. Writing to Mrs Gray on the death of her favourite dog, he tells how he felt so ashamed of being so deeply moved when in South Africa by the death of his pet ostrich, that he foreswore any similar entanglement, and kept his vow ever since. Of serious griefs he had many; the death of several beloved brothers and sisters who predeceased him, would have been well nigh intolerable to him but for the profound religious feeling which sustained and helped him throughout life, and which robbed death of all its terrors.

I cannot do better than conclude with some words in which Asa Gray summed up Harvey's work and character shortly after his decease[12]: "He was a keen observer and a capital describer. He investigated accurately, worked easily and readily with microscope, pencil, and pen, wrote perspicuously, and where the subject permitted, with captivating grace; affording, in his lighter productions, mere glimpses of the warm and poetical imagination, delicate humour, refined feeling, and sincere goodness which were charmingly revealed in intimate intercourse and correspondence, and which won the admiration and the love of all who knew him well. Handsome in person, gentle and fascinating in manners, genial and warm-hearted but of very retiring disposition, simple in his tastes and unaffectedly devout, it is not surprising that he attracted friends wherever he went, so that his death will be sensibly felt on every continent and in the islands of the sea."


  1. Memoir of W. H. Harvey, M.D., F.R.S., with selections from his journal and correspondence. London, 1869.
  2. An essay on the indigenous grasses of Ireland. 8vo. Dublin, 1808.
  3. Published as Vol. V, Part I, of Smith's English Flora.
  4. Vol. XLII. p. 274, 1866.
  5. Vol. IV. p. 236, 1866.
  6. Flora Capensis, Vol. I. p. 8*.
  7. The algae of Beechey's Voyage.
  8. Vol. I., plate XL.
  9. Darwin's Life and Letters, Vol. II. p. 314.
  10. For 1860, pp. 145-146.
  11. More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. I. p. 166.
  12. American Journal of Science and Arts, Vol. XLII. p. 277.