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THE EARLY NATURALISTS



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MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited

LONDON • BOMBAY • CAI.CUTTA
MELBOURNE

THE MACMII,LAN COMPANY

NEW YORK • BOSTON ■ CHICAGO
DALLAS • SAN FRANCISCO

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.

TORONTO



THE

EARLY NATURALISTS

THEIR LIVES AND WORK

(1530-1789)



BY

L. C. MIALL, D.Sc, F.RS.



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON

1912



COPYRIGHT



PREFACE

The old naturalists have occupied so much of my leisure
of late years that it becomes a pleasant task to write
about them. My chief aim is to induce such readers as
I may find to make themselves better acquainted with
the founders of modern natural history. To succeed in
this attempt a rather strict selection of authors is indis-
pensable, and I have been forced to omit many of those
workers at details to whom natural history owes so much,
in order to give fair space to the pioneers who opened
out new fields of inquiry or introduced new methods.
I cannot pretend, however, to have been altogether con-
sistent and impartial in my selection. Some old works
have been included, not so much because they are
important as because they give a lively picture of the
state of knowledge in a past age. Insects take up more
than their due share of space, partly because they are
really prominent in the works of early naturalists, partly
because old books about insects give me more than com-
mon pleasure. Such preferences are natural, and if not
pushed too far, may be advantageous to the reader as
well as to the author. No more fatal mistake can be
committed by an author who undertakes to handle a
wide subject than to fancy that he can attain to com-
pleteness unless indeed his work takes the form of an
index ; and it is almost as unpromising to divide the



vi PREFACE

space impartially among the persons or things to be
described ; the product, however well-proportioned, is
sure to be lifeless.

Some readers will be surprised that I give so wide an
extension to the word early as to include Buffon and
the Jussieus. But the time has already come when
hardly any eighteenth-century naturalists, with the
exception of a few eminent students of life-histories
(Swammerdam, Reaumur, &c. ), are searched for biological
facts ; they are important merely as historical land-
marks. Indeed zoology and botany have been so
largely recast since 1859 that we shall shortly make
Darwin's Origin of Species the era of modern biology,
and consider all naturalists early who precede Darwin.

It would have been a delightful task, had it been
possible, to continue the history through the age of
evolutionary speculation ; to show how Linnaeus' rude
sketch of the kingdoms of nature has been enlarged ;
how new studies, of which Linnseus had little conception
(comparative anatomy, embryology, geographical distri-
bution and palaeontology), have become strong and
fertile ; how a fairly satisfactory grouping of the genera
of flowering plants into families has been devised, how
the cryptogams, long despised as casual and unstable,
have been proved to rival the flowering plants in prac-
tical importance and intellectual interest ; and how the
history of extinct animals and plants has been illumi-
nated by a theory of continuous descent. I need make
no apology for having declined so vast and so difficult
an addition.

Some biographers seem to hold that nothing in the
career of a man of science signifies very much except
his eff'ective contributions to knowledge. His mistakes
and failures, however many and grievous, are, they



PREFACE vii

think, no longer a matter of practical concern to any-
body. When we examine a building we consider the
plan and its execution, but do not care to be told how
many bricks were dropped as the work went on. This
is the amiable view of official eulogists, and also of some
writers who, without being bound to praise, consider
nothing but economy of the reader's time. It may
appear to others that something besides positive achieve-
ment should be recorded. We want to know not merely
what was discovered, but how it was discovered. The
discoveries, even of great men, have often been vitiated
by serious mistakes, which have subsequently been cor-
rected by men of far inferior power. Whether in such
cases we give the whole credit to the man who first
indicated the process, or to the man who first arrived at
a true result, we do some injustice and at the same time
misinform our readers, who may fairly claim that in
important cases all the essential steps in the discovery
should be laid before them. We want to know how
some real discoverers began by trying false routes, how
others were impeded by time-honoured delusions, or by
overbold speculation. These things are part of the
story, and cannot be omitted without loss.

The classics of natural history are not very much
studied in our own time. Few of them command hisrh
prices, except those which treat of birds, or are richly
illustrated, or exemplify the history of printing and
engraving, and only public libraries take much pains to
enlarge their collections. Hence the works of such early
masters as Malpighi, Swammerdam, Ray, Leeuwenhoek
and Reaumur are still within the purchasing power
of ordinary students. I wish that every naturalist
might deem some acquaintance with them as part of
his equipment.



viii PREFACE

The time bestowed upon the Early Naturalists by
author and reader will have been well spent if it helps
them to attain a comprehensive view of biological his-
tory, which is indispensable to the appreciation of recent
work. History is necessary to the student who practises
modern methods and is inspired by modern ideas, for
the same reason that embryology is necessary to com-
parative anatomy ; to know what is we must know how
it came to be.

I have to thank Dr. B. Daydon Jackson for corrections
and elucidations of material value.

L. C. M.



TABLE OF CONTENTS



INTRODUCTION: NATURAL HISTORY DOWN TO
THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY ....



SECTION I. THE NEW BIOLOGY

The Revival of Botany ....
Otto Brunfels /^J^/^ vs:3/^ .
HiERONYMUs Bock (Tragus) /^jiP yss-^.
Leonhard Fuchs . z*^-^/ ^ /;fA^ .
Valerius Cordus y«'>'^ -^.S^^.
Conrad Gesner ycsy^.^y^ffs- .
Matthias de L'Obel /Jisj^. /^'^^ . .
Andrea Cesalpini (or Cesalpino) /sy^ y^^f^
Pierre Belon /j'/7,yj'zf'i/L
Guillaume Rondelet ^6"^^ y^/f/i . .



PAGE



12
17
20
24
28
28
32
36
40
45



The Encyclopedic Naturalists of the Renaissance 47



SECTION II. THE NATURAL HISTORY OF DISTANT
LANDS (EARLY TIMES TO THE END OF THE
SIXTEENTH CENTURY) 51



CONTENTS



SECTION III. SOME EARLY ENGLISH NATURAL-
ISTS AND A CONTEMPORARY FRENCH
AGRICULTURIST r^sy^J" ■y'Sr:^^- /^f^. ^^
William Turner. ^-^'T-'^y ^yj^j^



John Gerard y.-^^^"?y^i^:z.
John Caius .y.^~^>a ./s^3.
Thojias MourET.,<^('5^. .«^^^ .
Charles Butler . /^'^—/'^■^
Olivier de Serres ^^f ~y^^Jf



PAGE

76



78
79
84
87
93



SECTION IV. RAY AND SOME OF HIS FELLOW-
WORKERS

'^■^'^i^^'^-^'JoHN Ray and Francis Willughby /^3:ir.^ y/^y^ 99

Martin Lister /C'^'f- -^y/^'L 130



SECTION V. THE MINUTE ANATOMISTS
Robert Hooke //^s: /^a^
Marcello Malpighi /^^^'P y^fAf-
Nehemiah Grew .//^z//.-///2i
Jan Jacobz Swammerdam /^3-;:^./^^iJ
Antony van Leeuwenhoek ^-^^2 //^3



135
145
166
174
200



SECTION VL EARLY STUDIES IN COMPARATIVE
ANATOMY

Francesco Redi //^s.ii./^fJ' 225

<yS '/^.P^. Claude Perrault and his Colleagues in the French

Academy of Science 229

Some English Contemporaries of Redi and Perrault 237



CONTENTS xi

SECTION VII. THE SCHOOL OF RfiAUMUR

PAOK

JoHANN Leonhard Fktsch . yj/j^- //^^. . 240



244
279
284
291



Rene-Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur

Abraham Tremble y /y^^4^ - /7(y^ ^

Charles Bonnet . ^/.^^ ^ ^/J^^ ■

Pierre Lyonet . (/'■^y' ~ ^/^*^T - •

August Johann Roesel von Rosenhof fp^^:^//Sf^ 293

The Investigation of the Puss Moth (1634-1892) . 303

SECTION VIII. LINN^US AND THE JUSSIEUS

Carl Linn^us (Linne) /^//y^^ ^y^^ • • • ^^^

Some Early Studies of the Flower . . . 337

Bernard de Jussieu ; Antoine Laurent de Jussieu 351

SECTION IX. BUFFON

Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon . 359

1789 AND LATER . . . ^^ ^7^-/ ' ^' ^^^^ ' . 390

Index 392



INTRODUCTION: NATURAL HISTORY DOWN
TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY

The beginnings of natural history are wholly unknown
to us. In a very remote past men made themselves
acquainted with some of the properties of plants and
with some of the habits of common animals, learned to
distinguish a few of the more conspicuous kinds, and
gave names to such as seemed to them important or
curious. The most interesting to us of these early
inquiries were made before the Christian era in Greece ;
similar investigations were no doubt pursued in Egypt,
India and other eastern countries, whose history is less
accessible.

The beautiful land of Greece, intersected and indented
in many places by the sea, rising into lofty mountains,
enjoying a climate propitious to labour, well furnished
with small harbours, and having ready access to all
Mediterranean ports ; more than all the rest, inhabited
by a people of singular enterprise, was upwards of two
thousand years ago the cradle of the sciences. Neither
Asia nor Africa has done so much for the scientific
education of the world as the little country of Greece.
The heavenly bodies, the seasons, the winds, the life of
animals and plants were there observed with eager
curiosity. Ploughmen, gardeners, vine-growers, wood-



2 INTRODUCTION

men, shepherds, herdsmen, horse-breeders, dog-fenciers,
hunters, fowlers, fishermen and beemasters handed down
to their sons the slight improvements which had brought
them success. Physicians were highly esteemed, and
gave employment to druggists and root collectors, who
sought out rare plants, not disdaining to practise
superstitious rites, possibly as a means of keeping out
competitors/ From such informants as these much
knowledge concerning plants and animals was collected,
and at length recorded in books, most of which are now
known only by chance quotations. Herodotus describes
the rivers, climates and remarkable animals of the distant
countries which he had visited in the course of his travels.
Xenophon, who was not only a general, an historian, and
a moralist, but an inquisitive naturalist and sportsman
as well, shows how much attention had been bestowed
upon animals before the age of systematic treatises. He
gives lively descriptions of the hares, deer, wild boars
and hounds which amused his leisure, and contributes
the valuable information that in his day lions and
leopards still haunted Thrace, Macedonia or the wild
country further to the north.

Some of the Athenian philosophers discoursed upon
natural phenomena, and especially upon the phenomena
of life, with an acuteness and comprehensiveness which
have moved the admiration of all succeeding generations.
Aristotle, who dealt with the whole range of science,
surprises the modern reader by his knowledge of migra-
tion (not only in the easily observed crane, pelican and
quail, but in the mackerel and tunny), of the artifice by
which the angler-fish captures its prey, of the brood-
pouch of the male pipe-fish (in this case the facts were
only partly understood), of the laying of eggs by worker-

^ Theophrastus, Hist. Plant., IX, Ch. 8.



INTRODUCTION 3

bees (eggs which produce only drones), of the sound-
producing mechanism of the cicada and the grasshopper,
of the hectocotylus-arm of some Octopod, of sharks
attached to the mother by a kind of placenta, of the
early stages of the developing chick, and of many more
secrets of nature. It is true that much of his knowledge
is drawn from other observers, as words like " it is said,"
continually remind us, and that hardly any of his stories
are perfectly right, but what a range of curiosity they
indicate ! We find too abundance of general remarks on
structure, valuable because they go just as far as obser-
vation extended and no farther, such generalisations as
Bacon called " axiomata media," e.g. that horned quadru-
peds, with no upper front teeth, ruminate ; that birds
which are armed with spurs are never armed with
lacerating claws ; that in poultry the eye is closed
chiefly by the lower lid, but in owls by the upper lid ;
that insects with more than one pair of wings may
bear a sting in the tail, but that such a sting is never
found in two-winged insects. Aristotle is the real
founder of Comparative Anatomy, and perhaps no
science ever made so prosperous a start, enriched from
its birth with such a multitude, not only of facts but
ideas.

No pilot can explore unsurveyed channels without a
confidence which sometimes leads to disaster. The Greek
philosophers would have been more than men if they
had not often tried to explain things which they very
imperfectly understood. Aristotle at least well knew the
risks which he ran. " This," he says, " seems to be the
mode of generation of bees, as ascertained both by reason
and observation. All that takes place is not indeed
cleared up ; even if it were, we must rather rely upon
observations than reasoning, and rely upon reasoning



4 INTRODUCTION

only if it agrees with manifest facts (phenomena)."^
We need not be surprised that, in spite of the warning
which he had himself given, and a mental bias towards
scepticism rather than towards credulity, he should have
taken for granted many beliefs which cannot stand a strict
inquiry. Experiment, which modern science regards as
a chief test of conjectures and a chief means of gaining
new knowledge, was not yet reckoned among the ordinary
resources of the natural philosopher.^

Theophrastus is not to be compared w4th Aristotle as
a thinker. It belongs to the age in which he lived that
he should have shown the same passion for multifarious
knowledge and the same lack of acquaintance with the
scientific uses of experiment. The two botanical treatises
by Theophrastus which have come down to us are
founded on a wide knowledge of the plants, not only
of Greece, but of Egypt and Persia as well. Some of
these plants must have been minutely investigated,
for details are noted which were little attended to by
the botanists of modern Europe until the time of
Malpighi. The natural history of Theophrastus, like
that of Aristotle, was far too extensive to be the pro-
duct of a single life-time, but who his predecessors were,
and what learning they transmitted to him, are questions
to which no satisfactory answers can be returned.

The botanic garden of Theophrastus is no better
authenticated than the royal menageries and the army
of collectors, which are said to have provided materials
for the zoological studies of Aristotle. It is vouched

^ De Generatione, III, x, 25.

^ We can only point to two examples of deliberate scientific experiments in
Greek authors, those on the reflection and refraction of light, contained in a
treatise on Optics often attributed to Ptolemy, and those on the numerical
relations of the musical scale, for which Diogenes Laertius gives the credit to
Pythagoras.



INTRODUCTION 5

for by Diogenes Laertius, an uncritical writer, who
flourished some five hundred years after the death of
Theophrastus, and Diogenes speaks of a garden, not
of a botanic garden.^

If Greek liberty and civilisation could have endured,
Greek philosophy and science would no doubt have
overcome many of their early difficulties, among which
we must reckon an undue propensity to argument.
But a long course of crushing misfortunes arrested
their progress. Alexandria now became the great
centre of learning and science, and here a Greek and
Semitic school of much celebrity laboured to extend
the knowledge of geometry, astronomy, optics and
geography. Human anatomy also was diligently and
profitably studied in Alexandria under Herophilus,
Erasistratus and their successors, but after Aristotle
and Theophrastus no great progress was made in
natural history until science of every kind died out.
The most important treatises which have come down
to us from the Roman empire are the Materia Medica
of Dioscorides and the Natural History of Pliny.

Dioscorides recorded what was known of the occur-
rence, form, colour and properties of medicinal plants ;
he paid great attention to the names of the plants ;
his classification is utilitarian, being mainly founded
upon the useful products which the plants yield. Now
and then, however, a succession of plants belonging to
the same family (Labiates, Umbellifers, Composites,
Borages, or Leguminosse) shows that real affinities had
been perceived and made use of Close resemblance
in leaf and stem did not conceal from him the funda-
mental unlikeness of the stinging nettle and the dead-
nettle, which some botanists of a much later age brought

^ Meyer, Gesch. der Botanik, Vol. I, p. 152.



6 INTRODUCTION

together again. When botany began to revive, the
writings of Dioscorides were considered by French,
German and Italian herbalists as one of the most
precious legacies of ancient learning.

Pliny's Natural History is a vast and uncritical
encyclopaedia, which probably contains not a single
new observation in biology. The book has a value,
however, if not the kind of value that we expect.
Frequent notices of the practical arts of the ancients
supply information which can be found nowhere else,
and Pliny abounds in that philosophical eloquence with
which in a much later age Buffon was wont to dignify
his expositions of natural processes.

After Pliny the decline of European science, art,
literature and civilisation was general and rapid. Galen,
who died about 200 a.d., is the last of the ancient
anatomists, Oppian (contemporary with Galen) the last
of the ancient naturalists. The decline in the fine arts
may be roughly estimated by comparing the architecture
and sculpture of the age of Constantine with those of
the times of Augustus or Trajan. The higher Greek
literature ends with Lucian (d. about 200 a.d.), the
higher Latin literature with Claudian (d. about 410 a.d.);
about 600 A.D. the knowleds^e of Greek ceased in Western
Europe.

During the greater part of a thousand years men
despaired of progress and of their own powers. It was
widely believed, as it has been in less gloomy ages, that
man had declined, not only in knowledge and skill, but
in strength, stature and longevity. The earth and even
the heavens were thought to show signs of decay. ^ But

' For ancient opinions on the decay of nature Mayor's Jxivenal (Vol. II,
pp. 374-6) may be consulted. To the modern references given by Maj'or
and Jonston, History of the Co^istancy of Nature, 12mo. Lond., 1657. Jonston,
like Hakewell (quoted by Mayor), takes the cheerful modern view.



INTRODUCTION 7

this superstition was at length refuted by undeniable
facts. About the millenary year (1000 a.d.) faint signs
of improvement began to appear; by the year 1200 it
is clear to us, though it may not have been clear to men
then living, that the winter-solstice was past. It has
ever since been the rule in western Europe that every
generation should enlarge the knowledge bequeathed by
its predecessor.

No doubt the observation of birds, insects and plants
never died out among the people, but the scanty
literature of the middle ages disdained to learn from
the people. Emblems from nature were collected
from Latin and Greek authors, used as matter for
sermons and commentaries, and carved in wood and
stone. The treasury of this sort of learning was
Physiologus, who was neither a man nor a book, but
a literature in prose and verse, which lasted for a
thousand years and was translated into many languages.
In the bestiaries, or books of beasts,^ where Physiologus
is the spokesman, the reader is told that the lion sleeps
with his eyes open, fears a white cock, and makes a
track with his tail, which no beast dares to cross ; that
the crocodile weeps when it has eaten a man ; that the
little beast called Grylio is so cold as to put out a fire ;
that the elephant has but one joint in his legs, and
cannot lie down ; that the hedgehog sticks ripe grapes
upon its prickles, and so carries them home to its
children ; that Cetus (the whale) spreads sand on its
back and goes to sleep, floating at the surface of
the sea ; that mariners mistake it for an island, land

^ See Wright's Popular Treatises on Science written during the Middle Ages
(1841), and Langlois, Connaissance de la Nature et du Monde au Moyen Age
(1911). The original Physiologus is said to have been written in Greek
at Alexandria in the second century, a.d. (Lauchert, Gesch. des Physiologus,
18X9).



8 INTRODUCTION

upon it, and begin to get ready a meal, when the
whale, awakened by the heat of the fire, plunges and
drowns them all ; that the eagle can look at the sun
when it is at the brightest; that aged eagles fly into
the east, dip three times into a certain fountain,
and become young again ; that the pelican, having
slain her own young, tears her body with her beak,
when the blood, falling upon the young birds, brings
them back to life.

Even in the times when book-learnino; was well-nio;h
extinct, some practical knowledge of plants survived.
Agriculture and horticulture were attentively pursued
wherever the authority of princes or the sanctity of
religious houses aftbrded protection against lawlessness.
From the age of Charlemagne, which some historians
have regarded as the nadir of learning and literature,
there have come down to us the great emperor's edicts
for the government of his dominions and estates.^ One
of these (Capitulare de villis imperialihus) enumerates
the fruit-trees, vegetables, medicinal herbs and flowers
which were ordered to be grown in the imperial gardens.

Earle ^ has prepared a list of English names of garden
plants, which have come to us from the Latin, not
through French or any other modern Romance language,
but through intermediate Anglo-Saxon forms. Among
the examples are the following : —

Latin. Anglo-Saxon. English.

Cannabis Haenep Hemp.

Caulis Caul Kale.

Crotalum Hratele [Yellow] Eattle.

Febrifugia Feferfuge Feverfew.

1 These are called capitvlaria, because they were arranged under heads
(capitula). They are printed in the Monumenta Germanuv Historka, fol.
Hanover, 1835 (Legum torn. i.).

^English Plant Names, sm. 8vo. Oxford, 1880, pp. xlix, 1.





INTRODUCTION


Latin.


Anglo-Saxon.


English.


Ficus


Fie


Fig.


Lactuca


Lactuce


Lettuce.


Linum


Lin[s3ed"


Liu[seed].


Napus


Naep


"Turjnip.


Petroselinum


Petersilie


Parsley.


Eadix


Esedic


Eadish.



9



It is evident that these names were introduced by
gardeners who understood Latin, and there can be little
doubt that the gardeners were the monks, of whose skill
in horticulture there are abundant indications in mediaeval
annals.

Medicine was practised during many generations
chiefly by the religious and the Jews ; relics and holy
water were more esteemed than drugs. ^ When physi-
cians became plentiful, they were nearly always astro-
logers as well, and during a great part of the middle ages
all men of science either called themselves astrologers
or were popularly supposed to practise astrology and



maffic.



To the thirteenth century are generally ascribed the
introduction of the mariner's compass, gunpowder, read-
ing glasses, the Arabic numerals and the denary
scale. In the fourteenth century trade with the east
was extended so far as the Saracen power permitted ;
central Asia and even the far east were visited by
Europeans ; universities were multiplied ; popular
government, ecclesiastical reformation and national sen-
timent gained strength ; the revival of learning and the
revival of painting and sculpture proceeded in Italy
with unexampled rapidity and force. The fifteenth



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