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It is generally known to those who are conversant in the history of the vegetable creation, that an elaborate catalogue of the books and publications concerning them, was completed about the year 1740, by J. Francis Seguier. He was a botanist, a man of learning, and the particular friend of Baron Haller. Assisted by the vast collections of a literary and scientific kind at Paris; by the library of Sloane and other gentlemen at London, and in the different parts of Europe, he was enabled to see and examine an uncommon number of volumes on this department of natural history, Besides, having accompanied Scipio Maffei on his travels, and procured the principal writings on medical history, as well as the catalogues of public institutions, and of booksellers, he was enabled to take a more extensive survey than any writer had done before him, of all that had been published: 1. On botany, 2. On botanical medicine, and, 3. On farming and gardening. This great performance of Seguier came forth, at the Hague, in quarto, under the title of Bibliotheca Botanica, seu Catalogus Librorum omnium, qui de re Botanicâ, de Medicamentis ex Vegetabilibus paratis, de re Rusticâ, et de Horticulturâ tractant. "Haller honours his friend, the author, with an acknowledgment of the freedom with which he had consulted it, and of the important service it had rendered him.
After a view of this grand collection of materials, Albert Van Haller begun his greater compilation, termed, also, Bibliotheca Botanica. This work, which probably no person but himself could have achieved, was published by Charles Heydinger, at London, during 1771 and 1772, in two large quartos. The former of these embraces the history of those matters which relate to botany, from the earliest ages to nearly the close of the 17th century; and the latter continues the same to the time of publication. This rich treasury of botanical knowledge is comprehended in ten books : Ist. The beginnings of botany, as derived from the Greek writers. 2d. The information obtained from the Arabians. 3d. The botanical intelligence obtained from the Arabistæ, or followers of the Arabian masters, after the fall of the Roman empire in the west, and the propagation of Mahometism. 4th. The condition of the study, under the restorers of learning, near the end of the 15th century, and as much of the 16th as reaches to 1540. 5th. The history of the inventers or discoverers, who flourished from the last-mentioned date to the end of the 16th century. 6th. From the time of the Bauhines, about the commencement of the 17th century, to 1622. 7th. From this last period to, and through the era of Ray in 1659. 8th. From Ray to Tournefort, in 1692. 9th. The age of Tournefort himself, extending to 1731. . And, 10th. The age of Linnæus, as far as 1772, the year the publication was completed.
This prodigious mass of erudition is the result of twenty years' labour. It is dedicated to the Earl of Bute, whom, with George the Third, he extols in strains of eulogy, that by no means correspond with American feelings. The liberal critic will remember, however, that this took place before those personages had incurred odium by the part they took in our revolutionary war.
Beside the distribution of the materials, according to their occurrence and succession, this indefatigable man, certainly one of the most distinguished the last century produced, has been careful to give the titles of the publications; the names of the authors, editors, publishers, and translators; and, generally, where it has been instructive or practicable, a brief and perspicuous abstract of their contents. It thereby becomes a most important body of references to the greater part of the authorities extant before its appearance. It is scarcely credible, that so many volumes should have been printed on botanical subjects; or that, being published, any individual could have found them, or become acquainted with their merits. But with the aid of the labours done by his predecessors, of the communications made by his cotemporaries, and of his own incomparable and invincible industry, he surmounted all difficulties, and reduced the enormous heap into a methodical form.
In attempting to give a catalogue of such writings as treat of American botany, it would be incorrect to say that I had disregarded the works of these illustrious men. So far is this from being the case, that I have greatly profited by their labours; and I consider my performance as being the more valuable on account of such substantial help.
It becomes me, nevertheless, to inform the reader, that very little was known in Europe, concerning the vegetables of the new world, until some time in the 16th century. Nothing, therefore, written before that time, could be of any service to me, in the present undertaking. It is quite as plain, that I could not have gathered any thing from these predecessors, since the year 1772. Of course, my account of the publications on American plants during twenty-eight years of the last century, and twelve of the present, a term of forty years, could not have been copied from them. This period, the most eventful and important of the whole for,occidental inquirers, has been done by my own hand. And the learned examiner will find, that a similar course has been pursued in every other instance where original publications could be procured.
At any rate, I flatter myself that an inquiry, which has cost me considerable toil, will render researches of this kind easy to those who shall follow me.
The soil of the two Americas teems with vegetable life, as peculiar in its features as it is diversified and elegant. The present performance may serve as an index for the person who desires to know how much has been done in becoming acquainted with the individuals and tribes that cover and adorn the earth. Yet, it may have a further use: for, by enabling the botanist to form a readier and better judgment concerning the vegetables that are new and undescribed, it may have a tendency to accelerate the progress of discovery.
Mr. President, and
Being about to discourse to you concerning the documents that are extant, or which have come to my knowledge, on the vegetable productions of the two Americas, I deem it correct to introduce the subject by a few remarks derived from the most ancient and authoritative of all histories. From these it will appear, that plants are of great importance in the economy of the world, and in the destination allotted to them by their Creator.
It has pleased the Almighty, in the display he has given of his works, to distribute these organized living beings abundantly over the face of the
The third day of the creation was distinguished for the goodly productions of grass and herb, yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit. To man, on the sixth day, was given for meat every herb bearing seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed. Every plant of the field, before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field, before it grew, were the result of this wonderful power.