Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Petiver, James

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PETIVER, JAMES (1663–1718), botanist and entomologist, son of James and Mary Petiver, born at Hillmorton, near Rugby, Warwickshire, in 1663 (cf. Sloane MSS. 2360, f. 5 b), was, from 1676, educated at Rugby free school (Rugby School Reg. p. 1) ‘under the patronage of a kind grandfather, Mr. Richard Elborowe’ (Sloane MS. 3339, f. 10), and was apprenticed, not later than 1683, to Mr. Feltham, apothecary to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London. He became an intimate correspondent of John Ray [q. v.], and his assistance is acknowledged in the prefaces to the second volume of Ray's ‘Historia Plantarum’ (1688) and to his ‘Synopsis Stirpium’ (1690). By 1692 he was practising as an apothecary ‘at the White Cross, near Long Lane in Aldersgate Street,’ and in the same street, if not in the same house, he resided for the rest of his life. In 1695, when he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, he wrote the list of Middlesex plants for Gibson's edition of Camden's ‘Britannia’ (pp. 335–40, and Sloane MS. 3332, f. 129), all the other county lists being contributed by Ray. Petiver became apothecary to the Charterhouse, and seems to have had a good practice, though not one of a high order, since he advertised various quack nostrums.

He corresponded with naturalists in all parts of the world, and formed a large miscellaneous museum. Though in 1696 he seems to have been mainly devoted to entomology, and his business prevented him from often leaving London, he made frequent botanising expeditions round Hampstead with his friends Samuel Doody and Adam Buddle [q. v.], and by 1697 had altogether between five and six thousand plants (ib. 3333, f. 255). In 1699 he visited John Ray at Black Notley in Essex, and in 1704 contributed lists of Asiatic and African plants to the third volume of his ‘Historia Plantarum.’ In 1707 his uncle Richard Elborowe died, bequeathing 7,000l. to him, but he seems never to have obtained the money from his half-brother, Elborowe Glentworth, the sole executor (ib. 3330 f. 937, 3331 f. 608, 3335 f. 9). From 1709, if not earlier, Petiver acted as demonstrator of plants to the Society of Apothecaries (Field, Memoirs of the Botanick Garden at Chelsea, p. 25). In 1711 he went to Leyden, mainly to purchase Dr. Hermann's museum for Sloane (Sloane MSS. 3337 f. 160, 3338 f. 28, 4055 f. 155). In the autumn of 1712 he made ‘a trip to the Bath and Bristow,’ and in 1715 he went with James Sherard [q. v.], the physician, to Cambridge (ib. 2330, f. 914). His health seems by this time to have failed, and early in 1717 he was incapable of any active exertion. He died, unmarried at his house in Aldersgate Street about 2 April 1718. His body lay in state at Cook's Hall until the 10th, when it was buried in the chancel of St. Botolph's Church, Aldersgate Street, Sir Hans Sloane, Henry Levett [q. v.], physician to the Charterhouse, and four other physicians acting as pall-bearers.

His collections, for which, according to Pulteney (Biographical Sketches, ii. 32), Sir Hans Sloane, before his death, offered 4,000l., were purchased, with his books and manuscripts, by Sloane, and are now in the British Museum. The manuscripts are mixed up with letters addressed to Sloane; and the herbarium, consisting of plants from all countries, forms a considerable portion of the Sloane collection, now at the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. Petiver's Latin was, at least sometimes, composed for him by Tancred Robinson [q. v.] (Sloane MS. 3330), and he borrowed largely, without much acknowledgment, from the botanical manuscripts of Adam Buddle. Though a good observer, and industrious in his endeavours to make science popular, he is often hasty and inaccurate in his botanical writings. His name was commemorated by Plumier in the genus Petiveria, tropical American plants, now taken as the type of an order.

Petiver published: 1. ‘Museum Petiverianum,’ 1695–1703, 8vo, in ten centuries, each describing one hundred plants, animals, or fossils. 2. ‘Gazophylacium Naturæ et Artis,’ 1702–9, folio, in ten decades, each containing ten plates, with descriptions. 3. ‘The Monthly Miscellany, or Memoirs for the Curious,’ 1707–9, 3 vols. containing the commencement of ‘Botanicum Londinense, or the London Herbal.’ 4. ‘Plantarum Genevæ Catalogus,’ 1709. 5. ‘Pterigraphia Americana. Icones continens plusquam C C C C Filicum,’ 1712, folio, twenty plates. 6. ‘Aquat. Animalium Amboinæ Catalogus,’ 1713, twenty-two plates. 7. ‘Herbarii Britannici clariss. D. Raii Catalogus cum Iconibus ad vivum delineatis;’ other copies having the title ‘Catalogue of Mr. Ray's English Herball,’ vol. i. with fifty copperplates, comprising over six hundred outline figures, 1713, folio; vol. ii. with twenty-two plates and about 280 figures, 1715; reprinted by Sir Hans Sloane in 1732. 8. ‘Plantarum Etruriæ rariorum Catalogus,’ 1715, folio. 9. ‘Plantarum Italiæ marinarum et Graminum Icones,’ 1715, folio, five plates. 10. ‘Hortus Peruvianus medicinalis,’ 1715, seven plates. 11. ‘Monspelii desideratarum Plantarum Catalogus,’ 1716, folio. 12. ‘Proposals for the Continuation of an Iconical Supplement to Mr. John Ray his “Universal History of Plants,”’ 1716. 13. ‘Graminum, Muscorum, Fungorum … Concordia,’ 1716, folio. 14. ‘Petiveriana, sive Collectanea Naturæ,’ iii. 1716–1717, folio. 15. ‘Plantæ Silesiacæ rariores,’ 1717, folio, a single sheet. 16. ‘Plantarum Ægyptiacarum rariorum Icones,’ 1717, folio, two plates and one sheet. 17. ‘English Butterflies,’ 1717, six plates. Undated: 18. ‘Botanicum Anglicum,’ labels for the herbarium. 19. ‘Hortus siccus Pharmaceuticus,’ labels. 20. ‘Rudiments of English Botany,’ four plates and one sheet. 21. ‘James Petiver his Book, being Directions for gathering Plants,’ one sheet. 22. ‘Brief Directions for the easie making and preserving Collections,’ one sheet. 23. ‘Plants engraved for Ray's “English Herball,”’ folio, one sheet. Petiver also published many separate plates, mostly of rare American plants. He contributed twenty-one papers to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (vols. xix.–xxix.) between 1697 and 1717, explanatory of specimens of exotic plants, animals, minerals, fossils, and drugs exhibited by him. These are enumerated by Pulteney (Biographical Sketches, ii. 38–42). Many of his minor works became scarce, and they were mostly, with the exception of the papers in the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ reprinted under the title ‘Jacobi Petiveri Opera Historiam Naturalem spectantia,’ 1764, 2 vols. fol. and 1 vol. 8vo.

[Trimen and Dyer's Flora of Middlesex, 1869, pp. 379–86, and authorities there cited; Pulteney's Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany; Sloane MSS.]

G. S. B.