Martyn, John (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

MARTYN, JOHN (1699–1768), botanist, born 12 Sept. 1699 in Queen Street, London, was son of Thomas Martyn, a Hamburg merchant, who died in 1743. His mother, whose maiden name was Katharine Weedon, died in 1700. Martyn was sent to a neighbouring private school, and when he was sixteen was placed in his father's counting-house. Of studious tastes, he for some years only allowed himself four hours' sleep in the twenty-four. He seems to have been attracted to the study of botany at an early age. In 1716 he printed, but did not publish, 'The Compleat Herbal,' translated from that of Tournefort, 'with large additions from Ray, Gerard, &c.,' 2 vols. 4to. In 1718 he made the acquaintance of John Wilmer, an apothecary, who was afterwards demonstrator at the Chelsea Garden, and was by him introduced to William Sherard [q. v.] and to Dr. Patrick Blair, with whom he corresponded for many years. In 1720 he translated Tournefort's 'History of Plants growing about Paris; ' but, awaiting a new edition by Vaillant, did not print his work until 1732, so that his first published work (excepting, perhaps, the fragment of the 'Compleat Herbal') was an English translation of ' An Ode formerly dedicated to Camerarius,' from the epistle 'De Sexu Plantarum,' printed in Blair's 'Botanick Essays' (1720) as ' by J. Martyn, Φιλοβοτανικoς.'

He joined Wilmer and the apothecaries in their 'herborizings' and made many excursions on foot in the home counties, collecting plants, and afterwards insects, until his hortus siccus contained 1,400 specimens. The study of Csesalpinus directed his attention to fruits, seeds, and germination, so that he not only grew many seedlings but actually discussed with Blair the framing of a natural system of classification based upon the cotyledons.

About 1721 he made the acquaintance of Dillenius, and, with him, Dr. Charles Deering, Dr. Thomas Dale, Philip Miller, and others, established a botanical society, which for some six years met every Saturday evening at the Rainbow Coffee-house, Watling Street, Dillenius being president and Martyn secretary. To this society he read a course of lectures on botanical terminology, which he afterwards published as the first lecture of a course.

Martyn saw his friend Blair's 'Pharmaco-Botanologia' (1723-8) through the press, and was by him introduced to Sloane in 1724, in which year he was elected fellow of the Royal Society, an honour which he had previously declined through modesty. In 1725 he contributed an explanation of the technical terms of botany to Nathan Bailey's 'Dictionary,' and seems to have delivered his first public course of lectures on botany in London, which he repeated in the following year. Having, in conjunction with Blair, begun a collection of birds, apparently for anatomical purposes, he visited Wales by way of Bristol, returning by Hereford, Worcester, and Oxford, and twice made collections in Sheppey.

On the recommendation of Sloane and Sherard he was invited to lecture at Cambridge, and did so in 1727, printing for his pupils' use a 'Method us Plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium,' which is Ray's 'Catalogus,' arranged, not alphabetically, bat in accordance with Ray's own system, which Martyn employed through life. He continued to live in London, practising from 1727 to 1730 in Great St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, apparently as an apothecary, and lecturing both on botany and on materia medica. In 1728 he issued the first decade of his most magnificent work, ' Historia plantarum rariorum,' an imperial folio, with mezzotint plates by Kirkall, printed in colours, after Van Huysum; but, though by 1737 four more decades had been issued, the work had then to be discontinued for want of support.

In conjunction with Dr. Alexander Russel [q. v.] Martyn in 1730 started the well-known Thursday miscellany called 'The Grub Street Journal,' using himself the signature 'Bavius,' while Russel wrote as 'Mævius.' It survived until 1737, when two volumes of selections were published as 'Memoirs of the Society of Grub Street' (see Elwin, Pope, viii. 268).

Meanwhile, at Sloane's advice, he in 1730 entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and kept five terms, but his practice and his marriage prevented his graduating, and the title M.D. was appended to some of his papers in the ' Philosophical Transactions' merely by mistake. On the death of Bradley, in 1732, Martyn was elected professor of botany at Cambridge, in spite of attempts, probably based on his friendship with the Jacobite Blair, to discredit him as a nonjuror. His lectures, however, met with little encouragement : he felt the want of a botanical garden ; and from 1735 he ceased to lecture. In 1732 he entered into an agreement with the booksellers for an abridgment of the 'Philosophical Transactions,' and he accordingly published iive volumes between 1734 and 1756, comprising the 'Transactions' from 1719 to 1750. On the death of Dr. Rutty, however, he was unsuccessful in his candidature for the secretaryship of the Royal Society, the successful competitor, Dr. Cromwell Mortimer, being a relative of Sloane.

About 1737 Martyn received from Linnaeus a copy of his ' Flora Lapponica,' published in that year, and thus began a correspondence between them. Reference is made to this work by Martyn in the first volume of the last great literary undertaking of his life — an edition, with translation and natural history notes, of the works of Virgil. Of this he published the 'Georgicks' in 1741, the astronomical matters being revised by his friend Edmund Halley [q. v.], and the 'Bucolicks' in 1749 ; but only left some dissertations and notes on the 'Æneid,' which were issued posthumously.

Since 1730 Martyn lived when in London in Church Street, Chelsea, where he continued to practise medicine. In 1752 he retired from practice to Hill House, a farm on Streatham Common, and in 1762 he resigned his professorship. On his son Thomas (1735-1825) [q. v.] being elected in his place he presented to the university some two hundred botanical works, his /tortus siccus of 2,600 foreign specimens, his drawings of fungi, and his collections of seeds and materia medica. He suffered from gout in the head and stomach, and was thus unable to enjoy his farm. He accordingly returned to Chelsea about 1767, and there he died 29 Jan. 1768. He was buried on the north side of Chelsea churchyard. Martyn married in 1732 Eulalia, daughter of John King, D.D., rector of Chelsea and prebendary of York, by whom he had three sons and five daughters, four of the latter dying young. His first wife died in 1749 of cancer in the breast caused by a blow received in the street. He married secondly, in 1750, Mary Anne, daughter of Claude Fonnereau, merchant, of London, by whom he had one son, Claudius, who became rector of Ludgershall, Buckinghamshire, and died in 1828.

Among Martyn's chief botanical correspondents were Blair, Philip Miller, Dr. Richardson (of North Bierley, Yorkshire), Sloane, Houstoun, Blackstone, Collinson, Boerhaave, Bernard de Jussieu, and Linnaeus. Some of his letters, given by his son to Sir Joseph Banks, are preserved in the botanical department of the British Museum.

Martyn introduced valerian, peppermint-water, and black currants into pharmacy, and, in addition to his published writings, made careful studies of history and modern languages, and collected material for an English dictionary, so that Pulteney may well style him ' indefatigable ' (Sketches of the Progress of Botany, ii. 215). His friend Dr. Houstoun dedicated to him the bignoniaceous genus Martynia. Of thirteen papers contributed by him to the ' Philosophical Transactions,' one describes a journey to the Peak, another a well-boring yielding purgative water at Dulwich, and several refer to observations of the aurora and of an earthquake experienced at Chelsea in 1749-50.

Besides the works mentioned above, Martyn wrote: 1. 'Tabulæ synopticæ Plantarum officinalium ad Methodum Raianam dispositte,' London, 1726, fol. 2. 'Treatise on the Powers of Medicines,' by Boerhaave, translated, London, 1740, 8vo. S. Translatioix of Dr. Walter Harris's Latin 'Treatise of the Acute Diseases of Infants,' 1742, 8vo. 4. 'Nineteen Dissertations and some Critical Remarks upon the Æneids of Virgil,' London, 12mo, 1770.

[Some Account of the late John Martyn, by Thomas Martyn, London, 1770, reprinted in Memoirs of John Martyn and of Thomas Martyn, by G. C. Gorham, London, 1830, and abridged in Faulkner's History of Chelsea; Beaver's Memorials of Old Chelsea, p. 111; Rees's Cyclopaedia.]

G. S. B.