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Herbal In Switzerland

( Originally Published 1912 )

Among the many scientific men, whose names are associated with Switzerland, one of the most renowned is Konrad Gesner (Plate X), who was born at Zurich in 1516, the son of a poor furrier. His taste for botany was due, in the first instance, to the influence of his uncle, a protestant preacher. Konrad went to France to study medicine, but in Paris, the richness of the libraries, and the delight of associating with learned men, tempted him away from his special subject into a course of omnivorous reading. After an interval of school teaching at Zurich, he betook himself to Basle, where he entered more methodically upon the study of medicine, at the same time attempting to support himself by working at a Latin dictionary. However, after a short period of student life, he found the expense too great, and was obliged to abandon it, and to take a post as teacher of classics in Lausanne. He had received assistance at different times from his native town, which again came to his help at this juncture, and generously allotted to him a " Reisestipendium," for the continuance of his medical studies. He indeed owed much to Zurich, for, after taking his doctorate, he was appointed first to the professorship of Philosophy there, and then to that of Natural History, which he held until he died of the plague in his forty-ninth year.

Gesner's most remarkable characteristic was his versatility and encyclopaedic knowledge ; he has been called the Pliny of his time. His work on bibliographical and linguistic subjects was of importance, and he also wrote on medicine, mineralogy, zoology and botany. The botanical works published during his life were not of great importance, but, at the time of his death, he had already prepared a large part of the material for a general history of plants, which was intended as a companion work to his famous Historia Animalium.' In order to illustrate it, he had collected 1500 drawings of plants, the majority original, though some were founded on previous wood-cuts, especially those of Fuchs. The undertaking was so far advanced that some of the figures had been drawn upon the wood, and certain blocks had even been engraved. The whole collection, and the manuscripts, he bequeathed for publication to his friend Caspar Wolf. Wolf seems to have made an honest effort to carry out Gesner's wishes, and he succeeded in publishing a few of the wood-cuts, as an appendix to Simler's ` Vita Conràdi Gesneri ' (e.g. Text-fig. 48). Unfortunately he was hampered by weak health, and the task, as a whole, proved beyond his powers. He sold everything to Joachim Camerarius the younger, with the proviso that the purchaser should make himself responsible for the publication. Camerarius failed to fulfil the spirit of this obligation. It is true that he brought a large number of Gesner's figures before the public, but he did this only by the indirect method of using them, among his own drawings, to illustrate an edition of Mattioli, and a book of his own.

Finally, about a hundred and fifty years after the death of Camerarius, Gesner's drawings and blocks came into the possession of the eighteenth-century botanist and bibliographer, Christoph Jacob Trew, who published them, thus giving Gesner his due so far as was possible at that late date. Such blocks as were in good condition were printed directly, and, from the drawings, a number of copper engravings were made, coloured like the originals. The drawings were of unequal merit, some of them being on a very small scale and lacking in clearness. In one point, however, Gesner shows a marked advance on the methods of his contemporaries—namely in giving detailed, analysed studies of flower and fruit structure, as well as a drawing showing the habit of the plant. It must not be forgotten that, even in Trew's edition, it is impossible to discriminate with certainty between the work of Gesner and that of Camerarius.

Unfortunately, we have no knowledge of the text of Gesner's manuscript, but his letters make it clear that his interest in botany was thoroughly scientific. If his work were extant, he would probably shine as a discoverer of new species, especially among alpines, for his figures indicate that he was acquainted with a number of plants which de l'Écluse, Gaspard Bauhin and others were the first to describe.

Among Gesner's numerous scientific correspondents was Jean Bauhin, a brilliant young man, twenty-five years his junior. Their acquaintance began when Bauhin was only eighteen, but, in spite of his friend's youth, Gesner consulted him in botanical difficulties, describing him as "eruditissimus et ornatissimus juvenis."

Jean Bauhin was the son of a French doctor, a native of Amiens, who had been converted to protestantism by reading the Latin translation of the New Testament prepared by Erasmus. In consequence of his change of faith, he was subjected to religious persecution, which he avoided by retreating to Switzerland, where his sons Jean and Gaspard were born. The medical tradition seems to have been remarkably strong in the family. Both Jean and Gaspard became doctors—Gaspard, whose sons also entered the profession, being, in fact, the second of six generations of physicians. For two hundred years, an unbroken succession of members of the family were medical men.

After Jean Bauhin had studied for a time at the University of Basle, he went to Tubingen, where he learned botany from Leonhard Fuchs. From Tubingen he proceeded to Zurich, and accompanied Gesner on some journeys in the Alps. After further travel on his own account, and a period at the University of Montpelier, he reached Lyons, where he came in contact with d'Aléchamps, who engaged him to assist with the ` Histoire des plantes.' Bauhin began to occupy himself with this work, but his protestantism proved a stumbling-block to his life there, and he was obliged to quit France.

Jean Bauhin's chief botanical work, the ` Histoire universelle des plantes,' was a most ambitious undertaking, which he did not live to see published. However, his son-in-law Cherler, a physician of Basle, who had helped him in preparing it, brought out a preliminary sketch of it in 1619, and, in 165o and 1651, the magnum opus itself was published, under the name of ` Historia plantarum universalis.' This book is a compilation from all sources, and includes descriptions of 5000 plants. The figures, of which there are more than 3500, are small and badly executed. A large proportion of them are ultimately derived from those of Fuchs.

Jean Bauhin's more famous brother, Gaspard [or Caspar] (Plate XI), was born in 156o, and was thus the younger by nineteen years. Gaspard studied at Basle, Padua, Montpelier, Paris and Tübingen. He also travelled in Italy, making observations upon the flora, and becoming acquainted with scientific men. Unfortunately he missed being a pupil of Leonhard Fuchs, since his sojourn at Tübingen took place some years after the death of the famous herbalist, who had been his brother's teacher. The illness and death of his father in i 582 made it necessary for him to settle in Basle, where he became Professor of Botany and Anatomy, and eventually of Medicine.

Inspired by the example of his brother, he conceived the plan of collecting, in a single work, all that had been previously written upon plants, and, especially, of drawing up a concordance of all the names given by different authors to the same species. His extensive early travels served as a good preparation for this task, since he had not only observed and collected widely, but had established relations with the best botanists in Europe. He formed a herbarium of about 4000 plants, including specimens from correspondents in many countries, even Egypt and the East Indies. Besides study bearing directly on his great project, he accomplished a considerable amount of critical and editorial work, which also had its value in relation to his main plan. He produced new editions of Mattioli's Commentaries, and of the herbal of Tabernoemontanus, and published a criticism of d'Aléchamps' ` Historia plantarum.'

There is a marked parallelism between the careers of the Bauhin brothers, for Gaspard's great work underwent much the same vicissitudes as that of Jean. The main part of Gaspard's chief work never saw the light at all, although his son brought out one instalment of it, many years after his father's death. Gaspard was however more fortunate than Jean, in that he lived to see the publication of three important preliminary volumes, as the result of his researches, and it is on these that his reputation rests.

The Prodromos theatri botanici' of 162o consisted of descriptions of 600 species, which the author regarded as new, although several had, as a matter of fact, been already described by de l'Écluse. Figures of about 140 species are given, two of which are here reproduced (Text-figs. 49 and 62). One of these, the Potato (Text-fig. 49), still retains the name of Solanum tuberosum which Bauhin gave to it. He had previously published a description of this plant in an earlier work, the ` Phytopinax' of 1596.

In 1623, Gaspard Bauhin brought out his most important botanical book, the ` Pinax theatri botanici.' By this date, owing to the number of different names bestowed upon the same plant by different authors, and the varying identifications of those described by the ancients, the subject of plant nomenclature had been reduced to a condition of woeful confusion. Bauhin's `Pinax' converted chaos into order, since it contained the first complete and methodical concordance of the names of plants, and was so authoritative as to earn for the author the title of "législateur en botanique." The work, which dealt with about 6000 plants, was recognised as pre-eminent for many years. Morison criticised the scheme of arrangement on which it was based, but adopted its nomenclature, as also did Ray. Tournefort also retained, as far as possible, the names of the genera and species used in the ` Pinax.' As Sachs long ago pointed out, this work is " the first and for that time a completely exhaustive book of synonyms, and is still indispensable for the history of individual species—no small praise to be given to a work that is more than 250 years old."

Gaspard Bauhin deserves great honour as the first who introduced some degree of order into the chaotic muddle of nomenclature and synonymy. The special merits of his work, more especially his power of concise and lucid description, and his faculty for systematic arrangement, may perhaps be attributed to his French blood, since such qualities are markedly characteristic of French scientific writing.

It is much to be regretted that the two brothers Bauhin should have carried on their work independently and separately, considering that they had in view practically identical objects—objects in which each only achieved a partial success. It seems as if a work of much greater value might have resulted if they had joined forces.

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