(From the Greek word a plant).
In its strict meaning it is the science of plants; but in such a very extensive view it cannot be treated of in this place. Botany is divided into the classification and nomenclature of plants; an account of their virtues in medicine; in dietetics, and the various arts; their physiology, and their diseases. Botany, though plants must have been from the earliest ages observed and employed, is not a science of high antiquity. In the ruder periods, a few culinary and medicinal plants were probably discovered; their forms were pointed out by fathers to their children, and their virtues were equally handed down by tradition. Knowledge of this kind is soon corrupted or lost. If a name be given, it is applied by another to a plant which resembles it, whose virtues may be different or contradictory; and if the family emigrates, the experience of ages is lost, should the same plant not be discovered in their new habitations. Our earliest records, the sacred writings, speak of few plants, though of several vegetable productions which are now ascertained with sufficient accuracy: but we cannot judge of the botanical science of Solomon, who is said to have been acquainted with all plants, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that groweth on the wall. The plants mentioned by Homer arc not numerous, but an interesting and amusing work might be still written on those which occur in his poems. Hippocrates, our great object, speaks of the virtues of about two hundred and thirty plants, which were described by Crataevas his cotemporary: but the first great luminary in this science was Theophrastus, to whom we are indebted for some very accurate descriptions of plants; and he was followed by Dioscorides, who describes about four hundred and ten species, and mentions, by name, about one hundred and ninety others.
Even in that state botany became an unwieldy mass, from its bulk and want of arrangement. The descriptions of Theophrastus are vague and imperfect; though, as the scholar of Aristotle, we may expect to find in him all the science of the Stagirite, whose work on plants is evidently the forgery of a later age. His arrangement is taken from their size or their virtues, and little calculated to assist the tyro in the investigation. The descriptions of Dioscorides and Pliny deserve not a higher: character; and had it not been for the labours of the. Bauhines, whom we shall afterwards mention, we should have attained but little knowledge from the accumulat ed acquisitions of fifteen centuries.
Gesner, who flourished about the middle of the 16th century, was the first author who saw the necessity of arrangement, and the advantages to be derived from dividing plants into classes, orders, genera, and species; but it was only after fifty years that Caesalpinus began the attempt; and more than one hundred', before Morrison and Ray produced the outline of a plan which approached perfection.
In this interval some works appeared which are more important, as more nearly connected with our subject. Dr. William Turner, the father of English botany, since he gave names to many English plants, published his Herbal, with the plates which belonged to the botanical work of Fuschius. The different parts appeared at different places, from the year 1551, the date of the first, to 1564, that of the last part. His arrangement is, however, an alphabetical one of the Latin names. About the same period, viz. from 1552 to 1583, Do-doens collected his works into one system, called Stir-pium Historiae sex Pemptades, the' foundation of Gerard's, and every subsequent herbal in our language. In Gerard we perceive the first traces of a natural arrangement; for his first book contains the grasses, grain, rushes, reeds, flags, and bulbous rooted plants. This author's idea of the union arose, however, from the simplicity of the leaves. His second and third parts offer no very remarkable traces of arrangement. In the third, however, he has grouped the heaths, the mosses, mushrooms, and sea plants. These herbals are more to our purpose, as they unite botanical descriptions with medical virtues; but the system adopted is that of Galen, and with a profusion of virtues which each plant is supposed to possess, we are constantly told in what degree it is hot or cold.
Before, however, we approach the luminous period of classification, we must notice a work, whose peculiar merit and utility, in a medical view, have been greatly overlooked; we mean the Pinax of Casper Bauhine. Of the elder Bauhine (John) we need say little, but his three folio volumes, containing a general history of plants,are a work of great labour and utility; though, from the want of arrangement, it is of much less advantage than we might expect. The Pinax of the younger Bauhine contains the names of six thousand plants, to be found in the writings of Hippocrates, Galen, and the other ancient physicians; of Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and the elder botanists. In this work some traces of arrangement appear, which the following quaint verses will explain:
In this order, though not formally pointed out by the author, the plants are arranged, and several of these families are truly natural. The species are collected under natural genera; and as trivial names were not then invented, each species is shortly described. The synonyms of the different preceding physicians and botanists follow; and to make the use of this Pinax more easy, every name with the reference occurs in a full index.
We have in this way, at one view, whatever has been laid of every plant then known; and to make this connecting link between ancient and modern science more completely useful, Linnaeus has added the description of Casper Bauhine to each of his species. Thus, then, when we refer to the Linnaean species, we unfold to the medical reader the plant of which Hippocrates and Galen spoke, the author where each has been fully described, with all its real and supposed virtues.