The descriptions were at first extremely inartistic and unmethodical; but the effort to make them as exact and clear as was possible led from time to time to perceptions of truth, that came unsought and lay far removed from the object originally in view. It was remarked that many of the plants which Dioscorides had described in his Materia Medica do not grow wild in Germany, France, Spain, and England, and that conversely very many plants grow in these countries, which were evidently unknown to the ancient writers; it became apparent at the same time that many plants have points of resemblance to one another, which have nothing to do with their medicinal powers or with their importance to agriculture and the arts. In the effort to promote the knowledge of plants for practical purposes by careful description of individual forms, the impression forced itself on the mind of the observer, that there are various natural groups of plants which have a distinct resemblance to one another in form and in other characteristics. It was seen that there were other natural alliances in the vegetable world, beside the three great divisions of trees, shrubs, and herbs adopted by Aristotle and Theophrastus. The first perception of natural groups is to be found in Bock, and later herbals show that the natural connection between such plants as occur together in the groups of Fungi, Mosses, Ferns, Coniferae, Umbelliferae, Compositae, Labiatae, Papilionaceae was distinctly felt, though it was by no means clearly understood how this connection was actually expressed; the fact of natural affinity presented itself unsought as an incidental and indefinite impression, to which no great value was at first attached. The recognition of these groups required no antecedent philosophic reflection or conscious attempt to classify the objects in the vegetable world; they present themselves to the unprejudiced eye as naturally as do the groups of mammals, birds, reptiles,
Small deeds of kind-ness like these won hosts of friends for A-bra-ham.
matter of course by the true conception of that which had been hitherto figuratively called affinity; the degrees of affinity expressed in the natural system indicated the different degrees of derivation of the varying progeny of common parents; out of affinity taken in a figurative sense arose a real blood-relationship, and the natural system became a table of the pedigree of the vegetable kingdom. Here was the solution of the ancient problem.
purpose, for I came to the conclusion that my book itself may be regarded as a historical fact, and that the kindly and indulgent reader may even be glad to know what one, who has lived wholly in the science and taken an interest in everything in it old and new, thought from fifteen to eighteen years ago of the then reigning theories, representing as he did the view of the majority of his fellow-botanists.
But while natural relationship was thus becoming more and more the guiding idea in the minds of systematists, and the experience of centuries was enforcing the lesson, that predetermined grounds of classification could not do justice to natural affinities, the fact of affinity became itself more unintelligible and mysterious. It seemed impossible to give a clear and precise definition of the conception, the exhibition of which was felt to be the proper object of all efforts to discover the natural system, and which continued to be known by the name of affinity. A sense of this mystery is expressed in the sentence of Linnaeus:
“I must have sobbed out loud, for jus’ then I heard a gentle, sympathetic whinny an’ a cold, inquisitive little muzzle was thrust into my face, as I lay on my back with my heart nearly busted. It was Kathleena, an’ I rubbed my hot face against her cool cheek—for it seemed so human of her to come an’ try to console me, an’ I put my arms around her neck an’ kissed her silky mane an’ imagined it was Kathleen’s hair.
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