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great number of learned works ; among others “ A History of Plants,” and “ The Causes of Vegetation.” He treated separately of aquatic plants, of parasites, of culinary herbs, and of flowering plants ; he remarked upon the uses of each plant, the place where it grew, and whether it was woody or herbace
He had no idea of genera or species ; his names were merely local, and his descriptions generally indefinite. His views upon the physiology of plants, were superior to his de. scriptions of them; he remarked upon their different external organs; distinguished the seed lobes (Cotyledons), from the leaves ; gave just ideas upon their functions, and upon the offi. ces of the root. He explained their anatomy, as well as possible, without the assistance of the microscope, which (as the science of optics was then unknown), had not been invented. Theophrastus seemed too much inclined to compare the structure of vegetables to that of animals; imagining that he found in plants, bones, veins and arteries.
Dioscorides, a physician, of Greek extraction, about the commencement of the Christian era, travelled over Greece, Asia Minor and Italy, in order to observe the plants of those coun. tries; his works were written in Greek; he divided plants into four classes, viz; 1st, aromatic, 2d, vinous, 3d, medicinal, and 4th, alimentary or nutritious. The labours of this botanist were of little value, in after times, on account of want of method in his descriptions. He gave the names and properties of 600 plants, but having no idea of species or genera, his work was but a chaos of facts, which were so imperfectly expressed as to render it impossible to apply them to use.
The elder Pliny, who lived in the reign of Nero, treated of the history of plants, but he neglected nature, and derived his science from the works of his predecessors. False systems of philosophy seemed to fetter the noblest minds, and prevent their pursuing those methods of investigation which would have led to a true knowledge of nature. The genius of Pliny was vast and active; he consecrated to scientific researches and literary works, the leisure which public duties left him. His “ History. of the World,” which was a compilation of all the knowledge of the ancients, upon the subject of natural history, the only one of his writings which has escaped the ravages of time and barbarians, is but a small portion of his labours. He is considered faulty in recording both truths and errors, often transmitting them without observation or criticism, and sometimes favouring absurd traditions ; but his work is justly ad. mired for the greatness of its plan, which embraced the whole of nature, for the elegance of its style, for the wonderful art
with which the highest considerations of practical philosophy are associated with natural history.
In the year 79 after Christ, Pliny fell a sacrifice to his desire of knowledge ; in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, wishing to contemplate as near as possible so sublime a spectacle, he perished, suffocated by the sulphureous exhalations.
Galen, in the 2nd century, wrote upon the medicinal qualities of plants, but gave no descriptions. The love of the sciences seemed, in the prosperous days of Rome, to be extinguished; the “ Mistress of the world,” corrupted by victories, and by tyrants, had abandoned herself to luxury. The false philosophy of the vanquished Greeks reigned in the schools of victorious Rome, chasing away every trace of true knowledge. Religious fanaticism had also its influence ; Christians and Pagans destroyed libraries, and the monuments of literature, sacred and profane.
At this time the barbarians of the north and west, precipitated themselves upon a country weakened by effeminacy. Italy, ravaged by the Huns and the Vandals, became successively the prey of the Heruli, of the Goths and Vandals. These people, nursed in war, abhorred the sciences and arts, believing they enervated courage, and they allowed not their children to cultivate them.
The Latin ceased to be the common language, but a corrupt mixture of barbarous languages took its place; the population was. greatly diminished ; the country, formerly fertile and cultivated, became sickly marshes and overgrown forests, inhabited by wild beasts. In this dark period botany shared the fate of the other scien.
The monks, strangers to the first elements of literature, and yet passing for the lights of their age, spoke in a barbarous language of the plants of Theophrastus and Pliny, commented upon writings they were incapable of comprehending, and mingled with their errors respecting facts, the most shameful superstitions.
History of Botany, from the eighth century to the discovery of
The state of science was thus gloomy in the empire of the West, when Charlemagne, a monarch endowed with a genius
Galen-The false philosophy of the Greeks received at Rome-Barbarians ravage Italy-Language corrupted-Botany shared the fate of other sciences. -Charlemagne.
for learning and civilization in a barbarous age, vainly endea. voured to re-light the torch of human knowledge.
The renown of Charlemagne extended to Asia; he entered into a correspondence with the famous Caliph of the Saracens, Haroun Alraschid, a man who greatly contributed towards polishing and enlightening the Arabians, and who preferred the friendship of the king of France to that of all the princes of Europe ; for none like Charlemagne possessed a desire for in. tellectual greatness.
After the death of Charlemagne, which took place in the year 814, Europe became involved in still greater mental darkness than before.
On the separation of the Roman Empire into the Eastern and Western Empires, and the latter, weakened by luxury and effeminacy, had fallen an easy prey into the hands of barbarians, the Empire of the East, though feeble, yet preserved the precious deposits of ancient literature; but the greater part of the learned, occupied with the subtleties of scholastic theology, made no effort to enlarge the boundaries of natural science. Religious intolerance drove from the empire many enlightened men, who, banished by the emperor Theodosius, carried among the Arabs the taste for Greek and Latin literature, and founded schools upon the shores of the Euphrates, where they taught rhetoric, languages and medicine.
The Arabs, fond of mysteries, and led by their genius and ardent imaginations, to the cultivation of poetry and works of fiction, seemed to have little taste for sciences which required assiduous application and patient investigation. Under Maho. met, urged on by fanaticism, they were the conquerors and scourges of the civilized world. Alexandria experienced their ruthless violence. This city, by turns the asylum and the tomb of letters, had witnessed, under the first of the Cæsars, the destruction of the library collected by the Ptolemies ; under Aurelian, that founded by Augustus ; under Theodosius, that which Antony had given to Cleopatra; and for the fourth time in possession of an immense collection of books, acquired through her love for philosophy, this city saw her magnificent library reduced to ashes by the victorious Saracens.
This barbarous but noble race at length became imbued with the love of science ; a succession of caliphs, (among whom was Haroun Alraschid, already spoken of as the friend of Charlemagne,) by their devotion to learning, rendered Bagdad the most enlightened city of the earth. Their learned men began to construct maps of conquered countries, and to de.
Separation of the Roman Empire : its effects upon literature-the ArabsHaroun Alraschid.
scribe objects of natural history ; distant voyages extended and multiplied their commercial relations ; and mathematics, medicine, and natural history, were cultivated with ardour.
When the Arabs had conquered Spain, they carried thither letters and arts, and their schools became celebrated throughout the world. In the 11th century the French, Italians, Ger. mans and English, went to them to learn the elements of sci
The Arabians preserved their superiority in the sciences, at least, if not in literature, until towards the close of the 15th century. But when this people, divested gradually of their European conquests, were at last driven from Spain into Africa, they seemed, as if by instinct, to replunge into the sav. age ignorance from which they had been drawn by the efforts of a few great minds.
The Arabs had considered plants more as physicians and agriculturists, than as botanists ; but although their descriptions of plants were imperfect, their labours were not useless to botanical science. They discovered many plants of Persia, India, and China, which were unknown to the ancients. They, however, fell into the error of dwelling more upon the works of Aristotle, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny, than of observing nature : almost believing nature herself must be wrong, when she deviated from those celebrated philosophers.
The Crusades, commencing at the close of the 11th century, and continuing until towards the middle of the 13th, prove the barbarity of the times; yet we cannot doubt that these distant and romantic expeditions were suggested by the desire of change, and the vague wish to see and to know new things; and hastened the awakening of the human mind from its long sleep of ages.
The 12th and 13th centuries, witnessed in Italy the revival of a taste for letters and the fine arts. The commerce of that country was flourishing, the people made long voyages by sea, and in the relations which they published, spoke of the vegetable productions of the countries they had visited, in such a man. ner as excited the curiosity of the nations of Europe.
About this period, it is supposed, herbariums, or collections of dried plants, began to be prepared. This was an important era in botanical science; for nature is ever true, and incapa. ble of leading into error, while descriptions, or even drawings, may often give false views of natural objects.
The science of botany, was not enriched by a single work of any merit, from the fall of the Roman Empire, a period which marked the decay of literature, until the 15th century. Those,
Schools of Arabs in Spain-Their labours of some use to botanical science Crusades-Revival of literature-Herbariums composed.
in the dark ages, who pretended to any knowledge of plants, only quoted from the Greek and Roman writers, but they were ignorant even of the principles of the languages in which their works were written. In the 15th century Italy was governed by wise princes, who were influenced by a desire to promote knowledge among their people. They invited to their country learned men from Greece, from whom they might learn the language of Homer and Aristotle.
At this time the Turks threatened Constantinople, and that capital of the empire of the East at length fell into their hands. The literature of Greece now took refuge in Italy; the ancient languages were revived, and at this time translations of ancient writers, with learned commentaries, were given. But these labours, although exercising an important influence upon literature, were not equally fortunate with respect to the progress of natural history. The learned writings of antiquity were accu. rately studied, but blinded by the brilliancy of great names, men of learning looked not upon nature; they had yet to learn,
out examining and comparing real objects, there can be no solid foundation in natural history.
At the period of which we are now speaking, a physician of Germany published some indifferent descriptions of plants, accompanied by a few engravings. This connexion of drawing and botany, although the whole was badly executed, was considered as an important improvement in the science.
While Italy was thus a second time enriched with the litera. ry treasures of Greece, Spain and Portugal were becoming en. lightened by intercourse with foreign nations. The Portuguese extended their voyages to the western coasts of Africa, and the Cape de Verd islands; the Cape of Good Hope was at length discovered, and Vasco de Gama, sailing around this cape, reached the East Indies. It was at this period that Christopher Columbus discovered the New WORLD.
This event, so important to the old world, is to us who in. habit this pleasant and favoured country, one of deep interest. Ages upon ages passed on after the world was created, and America remained, with regard to the Eastern continent, as though she existed not. The lofty Andes raised their snowy heads to the clouds, the majestic Amazon rolled onwards to the Atlantic, our lakes spread out their vast expanse of waters, our own Hudson and Connecticut received their tributary streams, and bore them to the ocean; but to what people were these grandeurs presented, and what had been the changes in the
Constantinople taken by the Turks, and the literature of Greece transferred to Italy-New World discovered—What was the history of America before this period ?