Page:History of botany (Sachs; Garnsey).djvu/37

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
Chap. I.]
17
from Brunfels to Kaspar Bauhin.

selves with all possible exactness. History shows that in this way a new science arose in the course of a few years, while the philosophical botany of Aristotle and Theophrastus has led to no important result. Moreover we shall see how even in the hands of a philosophically gifted and scholarly man like Cesalpino the teaching of Aristotle had only a mischievous effect on the study of plants.

If the compilers of herbals did not aim at deducing general conclusions from their observations, yet the continually accumulating descriptions of individual forms gradually gave rise of themselves to perceptions of an abstract and more comprehensive character. The feeling for resemblance and difference of form especially was developed, and finally the idea of natural relationship; and though this idea was as yet by no means worked out with scientific precision, it was nevertheless, even in the indistinct form in which it appears in de l'Obel in 1576 and more clearly in Kaspar Bauhin in 1623, a result of the highest value, and one of which neither learned antiquity nor the middle ages had ever caught a glimpse. The perception of a natural affinity among plants could only be obtained from exact description a thousand times repeated, never from the abstractions of the Aristotelian school, which rested essentially on superficial observation. It appears then that the scientific value of the herbals of the 16th century lay mostly in the description of such plants as every botanist found in a somewhat limited portion of his native land, and considered worth his notice; at the same time the later compilers endeavoured to give a universal character to each herbal by admitting plants which had not been actually seen by the writer; each as far as possible gathered from his predecessors all that they had seen, and added what he had himself seen that was new; but in contrast with the previous centuries the peculiar merit of each new herbal was held to depend not on what the compiler had borrowed from his predecessors, but on what he had added from his own observation. Hence every one was anxious to