Dedicated to information and material related to the history of botany particularly in the 19th and 20th century English speaking world. If you have contributions of interest to post, please contact me at the email address on the left of this page.
This English botanist (1799-1865) was the first Professor of Botany at the University of London, and later Professor at Cambridge. Known also as a horticulturist and orchidologist, he was a Fellow of the Royal, Linnæan and Geological Societies.
WHO IS THIS BOTANIST? Click on image to enlarge
Click HERE for the ID on the matte of this Ernest Edwards photograph.
Amos Eaton (1776-1842) was one of the early 19th Century American naturalists who contributed to several branches of science at a time when specialization was in its infancy. He authored texts in botany, chemistry, and geology. He was one of the founders of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and was the mentor of more than a few scientists who would achieve prominence in the following generation. Included among these was John Torrey.
Eaton's Manual of Botany For the Northern and Middle States went through eight editions between 1817 and 1840. Because no publisher was willing to undertake the risk, the first edition of June, 1817 was issued "in a contracted form" of 164 pages by Eaton's 61 students at Williams College. The 500 copies sold out within six months. Not surprisingly, Eaton had a better reception when he approached Websters and Skinners publishing house in Albany in 1818 with the enlarged (524 pages) second edition. This edition, also believed to be a run of 500 copies, sold out in less than two years.
In August 1817, Eaton's former pupil, John Torrey, one of the founders of the newly formed Lyceum of Natural History of New York, proposed him as a corresponding member. (The constitution of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York had been signed by the twenty-one charter members at the first meeting of the society, held on February 24, 1817. It is the fourth oldest existing scientific society in America, preceded only by: The American Philosophical Society , The American Academy of Arts and Sciences , and The Academy of Natural Sciences .) On September 22, 1817 Eaton was elected and presented with this Diploma of membership. Eaton apparently took significant pride in this accolade, because he notes the fact under his name on the title page of the 1818 edition of the Manual of Botany.
It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that Eaton would have presented a copy of this book to the Lyceum, which was just then beginning to form a library. As it turns out, the library was comprised largely of books loaned by members and subsequently withdrawn, so that even after seven years, in 1824, the number of books actually owned by the society was still less than two hundred. Whereas all of the Lyceum's cabinets of natural history were ultimately lost by fire in 1866, the library, which had been housed elsewhere, survived. In 1876 the Lyceum was renamed The New York Academy of Sciences. In 1903 the Academy donated the library to the American Museum of Natural History.
Here is the title page of the presentation copy of the second edition of the Manual of Botany, inscribed by Amos Eaton to the fledgling Lyceum of Natural History of New York. It also bears the stamp of the successor Library of The New York Academy of Sciences, but then somehow traveled to Eastern Europe where it became part of the library (knihovna) of Prague geobotanist, taxonomist and morphologist Karel Domin (1882-1953), bearing his stamp (using his Latinized name, Karla Domina). The circular stamp of the Department ("Odd." = oddělení) of Botany of the National ("Narod." = národní) Museum of Prague is also on the page.
Eaton held steadfast to the archaic artificial sexual classification of Linnaeus long after his protege, John Torrey, had introduced the Natural System of Jussieu and De Candolle to America in 1831. This led to a direct confrontation between Asa Gray and Eaton in November, 1835 when their paths crossed at John Torrey's home in New York City. The 69 year old Eaton was left very nearly speechless by the harsh criticism and ridicule levelled at him by the upstart Gray, only age 25 at the time. How ironic that Gray was soon to have charge over this copy of the book when he was appointed Librarian of the Lyceum in February, 1836.
It is puzzling that Eaton, who was so progressive in advocating a new nomenclature for the strata and secondary rocks of New York, should have so stubbornly refused to adapt to the improved system of botanical taxonomy.
Of the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh editions of the Manual, 2000 copies each were sold. The eighth edition of 1840 was a printing of 2500. The total number (13,500) of copies of Eaton's Manual surely ranks it as one of the most successful of early American botanies.
Click HERE for an entry in the online Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture about 19th C. Southern U.S. field botanist and physician Ferdinand Rugel. His collections are the earliest from a resident botanist of the Southeastern States and some exsiccates have been preserved in the herbarium of Isaac C. Martindale, now at the U.S. National Arboretum (Click HERE).
See the link to the left for an article by George Ellison about 19th C. Appalachian botanising.
Number 3 in the series concerns a man who, although not a botanist, was of the greatest importance through his munificence in creating one of the leading centers for botanical study in the United States. Born in Sheffield, England in 1800, he brought more than a bit of Chatsworth (the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire where Joseph Paxton was head-gardener) which so impressed him, to his adopted midwest city.
WHO IS THIS GENTLEMAN (Ætat 77)? Click on image to enlarge
Click HERE for the ID on the matte of the July 4, 1877 stereoview.
Still can't read it? Click HERE for the ID (Image #34) on the verso of the BOEHL & KOENIG (Emil Boehl & Lorenz H. Koenig; working dates 1861-1878) stereoview.
HERE is an 1871 signed letter by the person pictured. The Missouri Botanical Garden's archivist has been unable to find any information regarding the addressee (Dr. Barnum), or Mr. Fern, the florist mentioned in the letter. Click HERE for a BOEHL & KOENIG stereoview (Image #7) of Tower Grove mansion, the residence (built in 1849) of our subject, from where this letter was written.
Today marks the bicentennial of the Aaron Burr - Alexander Hamilton duel. As a reader of Historica Botanica, you may ask, "So what?".
Dr. David Hosack (1769-1835) served as physician in attendance at this duel, and treated Hamilton for his mortal wound. It is in this role that Hosack is probably best remembered today. However, the world of botany recalls Hosack not for his medical renown, but as the founder of the Elgin Botanical Garden in Manhattan, a 20 acre parcel on the site of today's Rockefeller Center.
He purchased the property on September 1, 1801. The garden was the first public botanical garden in the country. It was modelled after those of England, and was intended, in part, for the teaching of medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia College in New York. From 1809-1811 Frederick Pursh served as gardener at Elgin. The Garden eventually passed to the State of New York, thence to Columbia University, and is now on long term lease to the owners of the Rockefeller Center property. Its $4800 initial cost has been well repaid!
Dr. Hosack may be credited with having given Amos Eaton his early botanical instruction. And a linear descent follows from Eaton to the two major figures of 19th century American botany- John Torrey, the precocious pupil of Eaton during his (Eaton's) unfortunate incarceration, and Asa Gray, the young rising star under Torrey's tutelage and employ in the early and mid-1830's. Hosack's influence was even more directly applied to Torrey who began his medical studies in 1815 (completing his degree in 1818) at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Hosack was a professor there at the time.
Hosack was also the founder and first president of the first American horticultural society, the New York Horticultural Society.
See a David Hosack medical class ticket below [June 24, 2004 entry].
The following references are highly recommended:
Brown, Addison; The Elgin Botanical Garden; New Era Printing Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1908 (originally published in the Bulletin of the New York Botanical Garden; Vol. 319, p. 372)
Robbins, Christine Chapman; David Hosack, Citizen of New York; Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 62; American Philosphical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1964
Here's Number 2 in the series. Born in 1785 in Norwich, he came under the influence of another renowned Norwich botanist- James Edward Smith. He wrote widely on the cryptogamia, but was by no means limited to this group. He died in 1865. Can you name him?
Click HERE for another image ID (This lithograph by Thomas Herbert Maguire, circa 1850, printed as one of the series of "Portraits of honorary members of the Ipswich Museum" by M. and N. Hanhart; George Ransome, publisher).