Page:Makers of British botany.djvu/45

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

is the fact that Morison's preface to the Historia contains a sentence taken verbatim, without acknowledgment, from the dedication of Cesalpino's De Plantis. Further, there is in the Library at the Oxford Botanic Garden a copy of the De Plantis containing many marginal notes which could not have been written by any one but Morison. The explanation of the position is probably this, that Morison regarded his classification as so great an advance upon that of Cesalpino, that he did not think it necessary to acknowledge what still remained of the earlier writer's work: but in any case his omission to mention Cesalpino was a grave error of judgment.

At this point it may well be asked, what are Morison's actual merits if, as it appears, he borrowed the leading principles of his classification from his predecessors? The most satisfactory answer to this question is that which is provided by those who lived and wrote at times but little removed from his own. Thus Tournefort, in his Elemens de Botanique (1694: p. 19) speaking of the work of Cesalpino and of Colonna, said—"Pent-être que la chose seroit encore à faire si Morison…ne s'étoit avisé de renouveller cette metode. On ne sauroit assez louer cet auteur; mais il semble qu'il se loue lui-même un peu trop: car bien loin de se contenter de la gloire d'avoir executé une partie du plus beau projet que l'on ait jamais fait en Botanique, il ose comparer ses découvertes à celles de Cristoffe Colomb, et sans parler de Gesner, de Cesalpin, ni de Columna, il assure en plusieurs endroits de ses ouvrages, qu'il n'a rien apris que de la nature même." Later, in his Institutions Rei Herbariae (1700, p. 53) Tournefort expressed the same opinion in somewhat different words:—"Legitima igitur constititendorum generum ratio Gesnero et Columnae tribui debet, eaque fortè in tenebris adhuc jaceret, nisi Robertus Morisonus…eam quasi ab Herbariis abalienatam renovasset, instaurasset, et primus ad usus quotidianos adjunxisset, qua in re summis laudibus excipiendus, longe vero majoribus si a suis abstinuisset."

The estimate formed of him by Linnaeus is clearly stated in a letter addressed to Haller probably about the year 1737: "Morison was vain, yet he cannot be sufficiently praised for having revived system which was half expiring. If you look through Tournefort's genera you will readily admit how much he owes to