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Early History Of Botany

( Originally Published 1912 )


IN the present book, the special subject treated is the evolution of the printed herbal, between the years 1470 and 1670, but it is impossible to arrive at clear ideas on this subject without some knowledge of the earlier stages in the history of Botany. The first chapter will therefore be devoted to the briefest possible sketch of the progress of Botany before the invention of printing, in order that the position occupied by the Herbal in the history of the science may be realised in its true perspective.

From the very beginning of its existence, the study of plants has been approached from two widely separated standpoints—the philosophical and the utilitarian. Regarded from the first point of view, Botany stands on its own merits, as an integral branch of natural philosophy, whereas, from the second, it is merely a by-product of medicine or agriculture. This distinction, however, is a somewhat arbitrary one ; the more philosophical of botanists have not disdained at times to consider the uses of herbs, and those who entered upon the subject, with a purely medical intention, have often become students of plant life for its own sake. At different periods in the evolution of the science, one or other aspect has predominated, but from classical times onwards, it is possible to trace the development of these two distinct lines of inquiry, which have sometimes converged, but more often pursued parallel and unconnected paths.

Botany as a branch of philosophy may be said to have owed its inception to the wonderful mental activity of the finest period of Greek culture. It was at this time that the nature and life of plants first came definitely within the scope of inquiry and speculation.

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