This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Though the science of botany is one of the oldest in the world, we cannot but admit that by mankind in general it has been deplorably neglected. For centuries, a knowledge of this delightful science was confined within the walls of monasteries, so that little botanical information reached the minds of the populace. In the earlier ages there were botanical devotees - "herbalites," as they called themselves, who devoted themselves to the study of plants; but the advancement which they made was liable to be lost and forgotten in the dim light of the dark ages. All concentrated their efforts to one point, namely, the classification of plants, which seemed to baffle all their investigations, and set at naught their united researches.
The oldest mention of the subject of plants which we have, may be found in the History of the Creation of the World, by Moses. It was on the third day of this great work that God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth, and it was so, and the earth brought forth grass, and the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself after his kind, and God saw that it was good." It is recorded that Adam gave names to all the beasts of the field and to all the fowls of the air, and to everything wherein was life. But Milton imagines that to Eve was assigned the pleasant task of naming all the flowers, and numbering their tribes. When our parents were cast out of Paradise for their disobedience, and were about to depart from their delightful home, Eve, in the bitter anguish of her soul exclaims O, unexpected stroke, worse than death! Must I leave thee, Paradise? Thus leave Thee, native soil, these happy walks and shades, Fit haunts for Gods, where I had hoped to spend, Quiet though sod, the respite of that day, That must be mortal to us both.
O flowers, That never will in other climate grow, My early visitation, and my last At even, which I bred up with tender hand From the first opening bud, and gave ye names, Who now shall rear ye to the sun, and rank Your tribes?
The Bible and the poems of Homer, afford us the only vestiges of the botanical know-led be earlier stages of the world. Among the most renowned of early botanists w stotle, who published various works upon Natural History about 38C years b rist. Theopbrastus published a work entitled "The Causes of Vegetation," History of Plants." He treated upon the different kinds of plants separately, such as aquatics, parasites, culinary herbs, etc.; he also treated upon their anatomy without the aid of a microscope, and advanced correct ideas respecting the various functions of their structure. Dioscorides was a physician of Greek extraction who traveled over Greece, Asia Minor and Italy, in order to obtain the plants of those countries. He divided them into four classes, and gave descriptions of over 600; his labors were of comparatively little value, on account of want of method and arrangement. Pliny, who lived in the time of Nero, protested against the erroneousness of the times, and also published some valuable works; his "History of the World," was evidently intended to embrace the whole of nature. Many learned men devoted their untiring attention to botanical study; a detail of all would carry us beyond our limits.
Among the most popular of later times were Leonard Fuchs, of Germany, and Tobbin, physician to James 1st. Gesner was also a native of Germany, of humble and obscure origin; he possessed a powerful and penetrating mind, and exploring the Alps he discovered many valuable plants which were then unknown. He conceived, the idea of groups, Or natural affinities in plants. His descriptions were reliable and accurate; before his time the art of describing plants with, accuracy, was unknown. Clusius was born about the year 1526; his parents had destined him for the profession of the law - but his decided love for the study of nature finally induced him to abandon his profession. He traveled over most of Europe, and made more discoveries in the vegetable kingdom than any other botanist of his day. CE-salpinus, who lived cotemporary with Clusius, proposed to arrange all known species into classes, but his method was too imperfect to make it in any way valuable. John Banhin, the friend of Gesner, composed a "General History of Plants," which was a work evincing great learning. Gaspard, his brother, conceived the plan of a work which should embrace accurate descriptions of all the plants which former botanists had discovered. About this time the plants of our own country began to attract attention.
Louis XIV sent to America a botanist by the name of Plumier, who made many valuable discoveries. He described more American plants than any other traveler had done. Botanists now began to study the stamens and pistils of plants, as it was predicted that the science would remain obscure as long as species and genera remained undefined; the result of which was the production of a work by Ray, a celebrated botanist, entitled a "General History of Plants,"in which he separated them into thirty-three classes, twenty-seven of which were composed of herbs, and the rest of trees. Joseph Pitton de Toune-fort, was born about the year 1656. He had also been destined for a profession, but he, while young, also evinced a great fondness for the study of nature, and finally devoted himself exclusively to it. He traveled over the Alps and Pyrenees collecting many new flowering treasures. It will be observed, that up to this time the endeavors of botanists were mainly directed to the discovery of some mode of classification. Investigating minds now began to study their anatomy and physiology, which had been totally neglected since the days of the Greek naturalists. It was at this period that the microscope was invented, which threw much additional light upon the subject.
As yet, however, the science of botany lay in scattered fragments of various contending systems. Much labor had been bestowed, and many facts collected, but there was no central point around which their information could be gathered. Charles Von Linnaeus was undoubtedly the greatest botanist in the world, for it was through his system that all others have originated. He devotion to the study of nature, placed him in a situation favorable to the development of his peculiar talent. Linnaeus formed anew the science of botany - he defined every plant with precision, and gave it an appropriate name. He studied the stamens and pistils, believing, as he did, that no plant could be destitute of them; the result of his investigations was the production of his beautiful arrangement called the "Artifical Method."
Among the first of moderners who investigated the internal structure of plants, were Greer, Leuenhoek, and Camerarius.
Messrs. Lindlet and Loudon, of England, have published many valuable works, and given an increased impulse to the advancement of our educed science. Drs. Torrey and Gray, of our own country, have done much in perfecting our present system of botany. Dr. Gray's Manual of Botany is the best in use in America; his Botanical Text Book is the clearest exposition of vegetable physiology that I have ever seen, and is, I believe, the American standard. There are many other celebrated botanists of our age, who have done much to increase taste for our science, and to remove the obstacles which have so long debarred us from obtaining a knowledge of the noblest of nature's works. Botany rests now on a solid foundation, and no other science can boast of more firm and true advocates than it; and it is hoped that as discoveries are made, they will cluster around the princi-ciples already established, each taking its proper place in the various departments now arranged for the reception of scientific truths.
Augustus A. Fahnkstock.