Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/519

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515
THE FLORA OF NORTH AMERICA

education. The works of German scholars, previously buried to all but the select few, became more widely known, and many of them were translated into English and thus brought within the reach of all students. The German language has become a sine qua non of the botanist in whatever field of investigation he enters, and a prominent cause of the backwardness and decline of botany in England, during the generation just past, is largely attributable to the fact that until very recently few of their botanists have been able to read the German language.

A few influences were prominent in bringing about better instruction in botany. Foremost among these was the introduction of the laboratory method in biology, when an impetus was given by Huxley and his students to zoology which reacted on the cognate science of plant life. While the laboratory method has often been carried to an extreme, especially in the exclusion of field work as a means of culture, it has, nevertheless, resulted in developing in America a laboratory technique that is the envy of even the astute Germans. It is a well-known fact that with all the prowess of the German, it took an American botanist to introduce into the German laboratory the method of the microtome with its serial section.

Another factor was the more general introduction of better textbooks and works of reference, a condition difficult for the younger generation to realize. I have mentioned the first translation of Sachs' Botany in 1875. This was soon followed by the later work of De Bary and others. But even Sachs was too advanced for the average student of the early days. Perhaps no single book did more to serve as a logical introduction to the more advanced literature of the subject and to give to younger students their first broad outlook in botany, than that issued in 1878 by one of the most successful teachers of botany in America—as well as one of the most genial of men—Professor Charles E. Bessey.

Thirty years ago there were, as we have said, only three professors of botany in all this country. Now the species has become so common that one is no longer a novelty; in the colleges of America there are now nearly one hundred botanical laboratories manned with from one to ten botanists each. Thirty years ago there was a single botanist at Washington, regularly employed by the government to report on some new weed that appeared, and to assist the congressmen in their annual gifts of seeds to their constituents; now we have at least one hundred and fifty in the well-equipped laboratories of the Bureaus of Plant Industry and Forestry at Washington alone, and nearly as many more at the fifty agricultural experiment stations in every state of the union, where all phases of botany, physiological, pathological and economic, are being arduously pursued. Thirty years ago botany was a subject thought to be fit only