Page:History of botany (Sachs; Garnsey).djvu/34

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[Book I.
Botanists of Germany and the Netherlands

if they have made themselves acquainted with the botanical literature of the middle ages and noted how it continually grows less and less valuable, and have proceeded through the works of Albertus Magnus, as prolix as they are deficient in ideas, to the 'Hortus Sanitatis' (Garden of Health), the popular work on natural history before and after 1500, and similar productions, then certainly they receive a very different and almost imposing impression even from the first herbals, those of Brunfels, Bock, and Fuchs. These books will appear to them almost modern in comparison with the last-named productions of medieval superstition, nor will they fail to perceive that a new epoch of natural science commenced with these men, and above all that they laid the foundations of modern botany. They give us, it is true, nothing but separate descriptions of the wild and cultivated plants of Germany, and these for the most part of common occurrence, arranged by Fuchs alphabetically, by Bock grouped under the heads of herbs, shrubs, and trees, and following one another under each head in the most motley order; it is true that these descriptions are so naive and inartistic as hardly to offer points of comparison with modern scientifically correct diagnoses; but the great point is, that they are taken from the plants as they lay before the writers, who had often seen and carefully examined them. Woodcuts are added to supply any defects in the description, and to give a clear idea of the plant intended by the name; and these figures, which always give the whole plant and were drawn immediately from nature by the hands of practised artists, are so true to nature that a botanist's eye at once recognises in every case the object meant to be represented. These figures and descriptions (the latter are wanting in Brunfels[1], 1530) would have rendered a great service to the

  1. Otto Brunfels, born at Mainz before the year 1500, was at first a student of theology and a monk; becoming a convert to Protestantism he was actively engaged at Strassburg first as a teacher and afterwards as a physician; he died in 1534.