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THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY,
AT THEIR ANNIVERSARY MEETING,
Jl CONCISE AND COMPREHENSIVE ACCOUNT OF THE WRITINGS WHICH
ILLUSTRATE THE BOTANICAL H1STOR7 OF NORTH
AND SOUTH AMERICA.
BY SAMUEL L. M1TCHILI,, M. D.
•NE OP THE COUNSELLORS OF THE SOCIETY; MEMBER OP THE ALBANY SOCIETY FOB
NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY,
December 6th, 1813.
Resolved, That the thanks of this Society be presented to Doctor Samuel L. Mitchill, for the Discourse delivered by him this day; and that William Johnson, Esquire, Doctor David Hosack, and John Pintakd, be appointed a Committee to wait on Dr. Mitchill with this resolution, and to request a copy of his discourse for publication.
Extract from the minutes,
It is generally known to those who are conversant in the history of the vegetable creation, that an elaborate catalogue of the books and publications concerning them, was completed about the year 1740, by J. Francis Seguier. He was a botanist, a man of learning, and the particular friend of Baron Haller. Assisted by the vast collections of a literary and scientific kind at Paris; by the library of Sloane and other gentlemen at London, and in the different parts of Europe, he was enabled to see and examine an uncommon number of volumes on this department of natural history. Besides, having accompanied Scipio Maffei on hig travels, and procured the principal writings on medical history, as well as the catalogues of public institutions, and of booksellers, he was enabled to take a more extensive survey than any writer had done before him, of all that had been published: 1. On botany, 2. On botanical medicine, and, 3. On farming and gardening. This great performance of Seguier came forth, at the Hague, in quarto, under the title of Bibliotheca Botanica, seu Catalogus Librorum omnium, qui de re Botanica, de Medicamentis ex Vegetabilibus paratis, de re Rustica, et de Horticultura troctant. Haller honours his friend, the author, with an acknowledgment of the freedom with which he had consulted it, and of the important service it had rendered him.
After a view of this grand collection of materials, Albert Van Haller begun his greater compilation, termed, also, Bibliotheca Botanica. This work, which probably no person but himself could have achieved, was published by Charles Heydinger, at London, during 1771 and 1772, in two large quartos. The former of these embraces the history of those matters which relate to botany, from the earliest ages to nearly the close of the 17th century; and the latter continues the same to the time of publication. This rich treasury of botanical knowledge is comprehended in ten books: 1st. The beginnings of botany, as derived from the Greek writers. 2d. The information obtained from the Arabians. 3d. The botanical intelligence obtained from the Arabistse, or followers of the Arabian masters, after the fall of the Roman empire in the west, and the propagation of Mahometism. 4th. The condition of the study, under the restorers of learning, near the end of the 15th century, and as much of the 16th as reaches to 1540. 5th. The history of the inventers or discoverers, who flourished from the last-mentioned date to the end of the 16th century. 6th. From the time of the Bauhines, about the commencement of the 17th century, to 1622. 7th. From this last period to, and through the era of Ray in 1659. 5ith. From Kay to Tournefort, in 1692. 9th. The age of Tournefort himself, extending to 1731. And, 10th. The age of Linnaeus, as far as 1772, the year the publication was completed.
This prodigious mass of erudition is the result of twenty years' labour. It is dedicated to the Earl of Bute, whom, with George the Third, he extols in strains of eulogy, that by no means correspond with American feelings. The liberal critic will remember, however, that this took place before those personages had incurred odium by the part they took in our revolutionary war.
Beside the distribution of the materials, ac* cording to their occurrence and succession, this indefatigable man, certainly one of the most distinguish*'d the last century produced, has been careful to give the titles of the publications; the names of the authors, editors, publishers, and translators; and, generally, where it has been instructive or practicable, a brief and perspicuous abstract of their contents. It thereby becomes a most important body of references to the greater part of the authorities extant before its appearance. It is scarcely credible, that so many volumes should have been printed on botanical subjects; or that, being published, any individual could have found them, or become acquainted •with their merits. But with the aid of the labours done by his predecessors, of the communications made by his cotemporaries, and of his own incomparable and invincible industry, he surmounted all difficulties, and reduced the enormous heap into a methodical form.
In attempting to give a catalogue of such writings as treat of American botany, it would be incorrect to say that I had disregarded the works of these illustrious men. So far is this from being the case, that I have greatly profited by their labours; and I consider my performance as being the more valuable on account of such substantial help.
It becomes me, nevertheless, to inform the reader, that very little was known in Europe, concerning the vegetables of the new world, until some time in the 16th century. Nothing, therefore, written before that time, could be of any service to me, in the present undertaking. It is quite as plain, that I could not have gathered any thing from these predecessors, since the year 1772. Of course, my account of the publications on American plants during twenty-eight years of the last century, and twelve of the present, a term of forty