Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Newton, James

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

NEWTON, JAMES (1670?–1750), botanist, born probably about 1670, graduated M.D., and subsequently, according to Noble, kept a private lunatic asylum near Islington turnpike (Biogr. Hist. of England, iii. 280). He studied botany to divert his attention in some measure from the sad objects under his care. He died at his asylum 5 Nov. 1750 ('Gent. Mag. 1750, p. 525).

Newton's only separate published work was a posthumous herbal, the full title of which is ‘A Compleat Herbal of the late James Newton, M.D., containing the Prints and the English Names of several thousand Trees, Plants, Shrubs, Flowers, Exotics, &c. All curiously engraved on Copper Plates,’ London, 1752, 8vo. This work contains an engraved portrait, inscribed ‘James Newton, M.D., Ætatis Suæ 78,’ a dedication to Earl Harcourt by ‘James Newton, Rector of Newnham in Oxfordshire,’ apparently the author's son, and a preface, seemingly by the same. The preface states that ‘This Herbal was begun by James Newton, M.D., about 1680,’ and was ‘the work of his younger days.’ ‘In his more mature and knowing years’ the author entered ‘upon his other “Universal and Compleat History of Plants, with their Icons.”’ ‘As his first Herbal,’ the preface continues, ‘begins with Grass, the other begins with Apples; and had he lived a few months longer he might have published it compleat and entire; for at his death he had printed his “First Book of Apples” and Part of the Second Book, but dying suddenly, this valuable Work has lain by till now of late.’ There is no text of the body of the work, but there are an alphabetical table of authors cited, 176 pages of engravings, ten to twenty on a page, with English names, and an English index. In the table of authors it is mentioned that John Comelinus of Amsterdam gave the author specimens of rare plants from the Physick Garden at Amsterdam for his hortus siccus; that James Sutherland of Edinburgh accompanied the author in searching after plants thereabouts; and that John Ray was his ‘good friend.’ Bobert's continuation of Morison's ‘Plantarum Historia’ (1685) is cited, as well as the second volume of Ray's ‘Historia’ (1688), but not the third (1704). Subsequent editions, of which the sixth is dated 1802, only differ in their title-pages.

In the Banksian library in the British Museum is a copy of another work by Newton, with no title-page, lettered ‘Enchiridion Universale Plantarum,’ which contains the same table of authors as the ‘Herbal,’ forty pages of text, and fifteen plates. At the beginning this work is stated to be ‘In Three General Parts. The First treating of Trees and Shrubs. The Second of Perfect Herbs. The Third of Imperfect Kinds;’ but the text only includes ‘Liber I. De Arboribus Pomiferis,’ and the first two plates represent nearly forty kinds of apples; so that this is clearly the beginning of the author's second herbal.

Dillenius, when, in his edition of Ray's ‘Synopsis’ (1724), acknowledging observations by Newton, speaks of him as dead; probably an error arising from Newton's age and long retirement from known botanical work. There is one paper by him in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (xx. 263), ‘On the Effects of Papaver corniculatum luteum eaten in mistake for Eryngo.’ The Sloane Herbarium contains specimens collected by him in Scotland, Middlesex, Kent, Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall, Wales, and Westmoreland; and Plukenet speaks of him as ‘Stirpium Britannicarum explorator indefessus.’

[Britten and Boulger's Biographical Index of … Botanists, 1893; Trimen and Dyer's Flora of Middlesex, 1869, p. 389; and the works of Newton above quoted.]

G. S. B.