An introduction to physiological and systematical botany/Preface

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After the many elementary works on Botany which have appeared in various languages, any new attempt of the same kind may, at first sight, seem unnecessary. But when we consider the rapid progress of the science within a few years, in the acquisition and determination of new plants, and especially the discoveries and improvements in vegetable physiology; when we reflect on the view with which those fundamental works of Linnæus, the basis of all following ones, were composed, and to whom they were addressed, we must be aware of their unfitness for purposes of general and popular utility, and that something else is wanting. If we examine the mass of introductory books on botany in this light, we shall find them in some cases too elaborate and intricate, in others too obscure and imperfect: they are also deficient in that very pleasing and instructive part of botany, the anatomy and physiology of plants. There are indeed works, such as Rose's Elements of Botany, and Darwin's Phytologia, with which no such faults can be found. The former is a compendium of Linnæan learning, the latter a store of ingenious philosophy; but they were designed for philosophers, and are not calculated for every reader. Linnæus and his scholars have generally written in Latin. They addressed themselves to physicians, to anatomists, to philosophers, little thinking that their science would ever be the amusing pursuit of the young, the elegant and the refined, or they would have treated the subject differently. It appears to me, therefore, that an introductory publication is still desirable in this country, on an original plan, easy, comprehensive, and fit for general use, and such were the reasons which first prompted me to the undertaking.

When, however, I had proceeded a considerable way in its execution, I found that such a work might not only serve to teach the first outlines of the science, but that it might prove a vehicle for many observations, criticisms, and communications, scarcely to be brought together on any other plan; nor did it appear any objection to the general use of the book, that, besides its primary intention, it might be capable of leading into the depths of botanical philosophy, whether physiological, systematical, or critical, any student who should be desirous of proceeding so far. A volume of this size can indeed be but elementary on subjects so extensive; but if it be clear and intelligible as far as it goes, serving to indicate the scope of the science of botany, and how any of its branches may be cultivated further, my purpose is answered. The subject has naturally led me to a particular criticism of the Linnæan system of arrangement, which the public, it seems, has expected from me. Without wasting any words on those speculative and fanciful changes, which the most ignorant may easily make, in an artificial system; and without entering into controversy with the very few competent writers who have proposed any alterations; I have simply stated the result of my own practical observations, wishing by the light of experience to correct and to confirm what has been found useful, rather than rashly to overthrow what perhaps cannot on the whole be improved.

As the discriminating characters of the Linnæan system are founded in nature and fact, and depend upon parts essential to every species of plant when in perfection; and as the application of them to practice is, above all other systems, easy and intelligible; I conceive nothing more useful can be done than to perfect, upon its own principles, any parts of this system that experience may show to have been originally defective. This is all I presume to do. Speculative alterations in an artificial system are endless, and scarcely answer any more useful purpose than changing the order of letters in an alphabet. The philosophy of botanical arrangement, or the study of the natural affinities of plants, is quite another matter. But it would be as idle, while we pursue this last-mentioned subject, so deep and so intricate that its most able cultivators are only learners, to lay aside the continual use of the Linnæan system, as it would be for philologists and logicians to slight the convenience, and indeed necessity, of the alphabet, and to substitute the Chinese character in its stead. If the following pages be found to elucidate and to confirm this comparison, I wish the student to keep it ever in view.

The illustration of the Linnæan system of classification, though essential to my purpose, is however but a small part of my aim. To explain and apply to practice those beautiful principles of method, arrangement and discrimination, which render botany not merely an amusement, a motive for taking air and exercise, or an assistance to many other arts and sciences; but a school for the mental powers, an alluring incitement for the young mind to try its growing strength, and a confirmation of the most enlightened understanding in some of its sublimest most important truths. That every path tending to ends so desirable may be accessible, I have not confined myself to systematical subjects, wide and various as they are, but I have introduced the anatomy and physiology of plants to the botanical student, wishing to combine all these several objects; so far as least that those who do not cultivate them all, may be sensible of the value of each in itself, and that no disgraceful rivalship or contempt, the offspring of ignorance, may be felt by the pursuers of any to the prejudice of the rest.

I have treated of physiological and anatomical subjects in the first place, because a true knowledge of the structure and parts of plants seems necessary to the right understanding of botanical arrangement; and I trust the most superficial reader will here find enough for that purpose, even though he should not be led to pursue these subjects further by himself. I have every where aimed at familiar illustrations and examples, referring, as much as possible, to plants of easy acquisition. In the explanation of botanical terms and characters, I have, besides furnishing a new set of plates with references to the body of the work, always cited a plant for my purpose by its scientific name, with a reference to some good and sufficient figure. For this end I have generally used either my own work English and Exotic Botany, all the plates of which, as well as of the present volume, are the performance of the same excellent botanist as well as artist; or Curtis's Magazine, much of which also was drawn by Mr. Sowerby. I have chosen these as the most comprehensive and popular books, quoting others only when these failed me, or when I had some particular end in view. If this treatise should be adopted for general use in schools or families, the teacher at least will probably be furnished with those works, and will accommodate their contents to the use of the pupils. I am aware of the want of a systematical English description of British plants, on the principles of this Introduction; but that deficiency I hope as soon as possible to supply. In the mean while, Dr. Withering's work may serve the desired purpose, attention being paid only to his original descriptions, or to those quoted from English writers. His index will atone for the changes I cannot appprove in his system. Wherever my book may be found deficient in the explanation of his or any other terms, as I profess to retain only what are necessary, or in some shape useful, the Language of Botany, by Professor Martyn, will prove extremely serviceable.

Having thus explained the use and intention of the present work, perhaps a few remarks on the recommendations of the study of Botany, besides what have already been suggested, may not here be misplaced.

I shall not labour to prove how delightful and instructive it is to

Neither, surely, need I demonstrate, that if any judicious or improved use is to be made of the natural bodies around us, it must be expected from those who discriminate their kinds and study their properties. Of the benefits of natural science in the improvement of many arts, no one doubts. Our food, our physic, our luxuries are improved by it. By the enquiries of the curious new acquisitions are made in remote countries, and our resources of various kinds are augmented. The skill of Linnæus by the most simple observation, founded however on scientific principles, taught his countrymen to destroy an insect, the Cantharis navalis, which had cost the Swedish government many thousand pounds a year by its ravages on the timber of one dockyard only. After its metamorphoses, and the season when the fly laid its eggs, were known, all its ravages were stopped by immersing the timber in water during that period. The same great observer, by his botanical knowledge, detected the cause of a dreadful disease among the horned cattle of the north of Lapland, which had previously been thought equally unaccountable and irremediable, and of which he has given an exquisite account in his Lapland tour, as well as under Cicuta virosa, Engl. Bot. t. 479, in his Flora Lapponica. One man in our days, by his scientific skill alone, has given the bread-fruit to the West-Indies, and his country justly honours his character and pursuits. All this is acknowledged. We are no longer in the infancy of science, in which its utility, not having been proved, might be doubted, nor is it for this that I contend. I would recommend botany for its own sake. I have often alluded to its benefits as a mental exercise, nor can any study exceed it in raising curiosity, gratifying a taste for beauty and ingenuity of contrivance, or sharpening the powers of discrimination. What then can be better adapted for young persons? The chief use of a great part of our education is no other than what I have just mentioned. The languages and the mathematics, however valuable in themselves when acquired, are even more so as they train the youthful mind to thought and observations. In Sweden Natural History is the study of the schools, by which men rise to preferment; and there are no people with more acute or better regulated minds than the Swedes.

To those whose minds and understandings are already formed, this study may be recommended, independently of all other considerations, as a rich source of innocent pleasure. Some people are ever enquiring "what is the use?" of any particular plant, by which they mean "what food or physic, or what materials for the painter or dyer does it afford?" They look on a beautiful flowery meadow with admiration, only in proportion as it affords nauseous drugs or salves. Others consider a botanist with respect only as he may be able to teach them some profitable improvement in tanning, or dyeing, by which they may quickly grow rich, and be then perhaps no longer of any use to mankind or to themselves. They would permit their children to study botany, only because it might possibly lead to professorships, or other lucrative preferment.

These views are not blameable, but they are not the sole end of human existence. Is it not desirable to call the soul from the feverish agitation of worldly pursuits, to the contemplation of Divine Wisdom in the beautiful economy of Nature? Is it not a privilege to walk with God in the garden of creation, and hold converse with his providence? If such elevated feelings do not lead to the study of Nature, it cannot far be pursued without rewarding the student by exciting them.

Rousseau, a great judge of the human heart and observer of human manners, has remarked, that "when science is transplanted from the mountains and woods into cities and worldly society, it loses its genuine charms, and becomes a source of envy, jealousy and rivalship." This is still more true if it be cultivated as a mere source of emolument. But the man who loves botany for its own sake knows no such feelings, nor is he dependent for happiness on situations or scenes that favour their growth. He would find himself neither solitary nor desolate, had he no other companion than a "mountain daisy," that "modest crimson-tipped flower," so sweetly sung by one of Nature's own poets. The humblest weed or moss will ever afford him something to examine or to illustrate, and a great deal to admire. Introduce him to the magnificence of a tropical forest, the enamelled meadows of the Alps, or the wonders of New Holland, and his thoughts will not dwell much upon riches or literary honours, things that

One idea is indeed worthy to mix in the pure contemplation of Nature, the anticipation of the pleasure we may have to bestow in kindred minds with our own, in sharing with them our discoveries and our acquisitions. This is truly an object worthy of a good man, the pleasure of communicating virtuous disinterested pleasure to those who have the same tastes with ourselves; or of guiding young ingenuous minds to worthy pursuits, and facilitating their acquisition of what we have already obtained. If honours and respectful consideration reward such motives, they flow from a pure source. The giver and the receiver are alike invulnerable, as well as inaccessible, to "envy jealousy or rivalship," and may pardon their attacks without an effort.

The natural history of animals, in many respects even more interesting than botany to man as an animated being, and more striking in some of the phænomena which it displays, is in other points less pleasing to a tender and delicate mind. In botany all is elegance and delight. No painful, disgusting, unhealthy experiments or enquiries are to be made. Its pleasures spring up under our feet, and, as we pursue them, reward us with health and serene satisfaction. None but the most foolish or depraved could derive any thing from it but what is beautiful, or pollute its lovely scenery with unamiable or unhallowed images. Those who do so, either from corrupt taste or malicious design, can be compared only to the fiend entering into the garden of Eden.

Let us turn from this odious picture to the contemplation of Nature, ever new, ever abundant in inexhaustible variety. Whether we scrutinize the damp recesses of woods in the wintry months, when the numerous tribes of mosses are displaying their minute, but highly interesting structure; whether we walk forth in the early spring, when the ruby tips of the hawthorn-bush give the first sign of its approaching vegetaion, or a little after, when the violet welcomes us with its scent, and the primrose with its beauty; whether we contemplate in succession all the profuse flowery treasures of the summer, or the more hidden secrets of Nature at the season when fruits and seeds are forming; the most familiar objects, like old friends, will always afford us something to study and to admire in their characters, while new discoveries will awaken a train of new ideas. The yellow blossoms of the morning, that fold up their delicate leaves as the day advances: others that court and sustain the full blaze of noon; and the pale night-scented tribe, which expand, and diffuse their very sweet fragrance, towards evening, will all please in their turn. Though spring is the season of hope and novelty, to a naturalist more especially, yet the wise provisions and abundant resources of Nature, in the close of the year, will yield an observing mind no less pleasure, than the rich variety of her autumnal tints afford to the admirers of her external charms. The more we study the works of the Creator, the more wisdom, beauty and harmony become manifest, even to our limited apprehensions; and while we admire, it is impossible not to adore.

"Soft roll your incense, herbs, and fruits, and flowers,
In mingled clouds, to Him, whose sun exalts,
Whose breath perfumes you, and whose pencil paints!"