« PreviousContinue »
POESEOS ASIATICÆ COMMENTARIORUM LIBRI SEX, CUM
APPENDICE; SUBJICITUR LIMON, SEU MISCELLANE-
THE PLANTS OF INDIA.
BY THE PRESIDENT.
The greatest, if not the only, obstacle to the progress of knowledge in these provinces, except in those branches of it, which belong immediately to our several professions, is our want of leisure for general researches ; and, as ARCHIMEDES, who was happily master of his time, had not space enough to move the greatest weight with the smallest force, thus we, who have ample space for our inquiries, really want time for the pursuit of them. “Give me a place to stand on, “ said the great' mathematician, and I will move the whole earth :” Give us time, we may fay, for our investigations, and we will transfer to Europe all the sciences, arts, and literature of Afia. “ Not to have despaired,” however, was thought a degree of merit in the Roman
general, even though he was defeated; and, having some hope, that others
may occasionally find more leisure, than it will ever, at least in this country, be my lot to enjoy, I take the liberty to propose a work, from which very curious information, and possibly very solid advantage, may be derived.
Some hundreds of plants, which are yet imperfectly known to European botanists, and with the virtues of which they are wholly unacquainted, grow wild on the plains and in the forests of India : the Amarcòfh, an excellent vocabulary of the Sanferit language, contains in one chapter the names of about three hundred medicinal vegetables ; the Médinà may comprize many more ; and the Dravyábbidhána, or Dictionary of Natural Productions, includes, I believe, a far greater number; the properties of which are distinctly related in medical tracts of approved authority. Now the first step, in compiling a treatise on the plants of India, should be to write their true names in Roman letters, according to the most accurate orthography, and in Sanscrit preferably to any vulgar dialect ; because a learned language is fixed in books, while popular idioms are in constant fluctuation, and will not, perhaps, be understood a century hence by the inhabitants of these Indian territories, whom future botanists may consult on the common appellations of trees and flowers : the childish denominations of plants from the persons, who first described them, ought wholly to be rejected ; for Champaca and Hinna seem to me not only more elegant, but far
properer, designations of an Indian and an Arabian plant, than Michelia and Lawsonia ; nor can I see without pain, that the great Swedish botanist considered it as the supreme and only reward of labour in this part of natural history, to preserve a name by hanging it on a blossom, and that he declared this mode of promoting and adorning botany, worthy of being continued with holy reverence, though so high an honour, he says, ought to be conferred with chaste reserve, and not prostituted for the purpose of conciliating the good will, or eternizing the memory, of any but his chosen
followers ; followers; no, not even of saints: his list of an hundred and fifty such names clearly shows, that his excellent works are the true basis of his just celebrity, which would have been feebly supported by the stalk of the Linnæa. From what proper name the Plantain is called Musa, I do not know; but it seems to be the Dutch pronunciation of the Arabick word for that vegetable, and ought not, therefore, to have appeared in his list, though, in my opinion, it is the only rational name in the muster-roll. As to the system of Linnæus, it is the system of Nature, subordinate indeed to the beautiful arrangement of natural orders, of which he has given a rough sketch, and which may hereafter, perhaps, be completed: but the distribution of vegetables into classes, according to the number, length, and position of the stamens and pistils, and of those classes into kinds and Species, according to certain marks of discrimination, will ever be found the clearest and most convenient of methods, and should therefore be studioully observed in the work, which I now suggeft; but I must be forgiven, if I propose to reject the Linnean appellations of the twenty-four classes, because, although they appear to be Greek, (and, if they really were so, that alone might be thought a sufficient objection) yet in truth they are not Greek, nor even formed by analogy to the language of Grecians ; for Polygamos, Monandros, and the rest of that form, are both masculine and feminine ; Polyandria, in the abstract, never occurs, and Polyandrion means a publick cemitery ; diæcia and diæcus are not found in books of authority; nor, if they were, would they be derived from dis, but from dia, which would include the triæcia ; let me add, that the twelfth and thirteenth clasles are ill distinguished by their appellations, independently of other exceptions to them, since the real distinction between them consists not so much in the number of their stamens, as in the place, where they are inserted ; and that the fourteenth and fifteenth are not more accurately discriminated by two words formed in defiance of grammatical analogy, since there are but two powers, or two diversities of length, in each of those claffes.
Calycopolyandros Calycopolyandros might, perhaps, not inaccurately denote a flower of the twelfth class; but such a compound would still favour of barbarism or pedantry; and the best way to amend such a system of words is to efface it, and supply its place by a more simple nomenclature, which may easily be found. Numerals may be used for the eleven first classes, the former of two numbers being always appropriated to the samens, and the latter, to the piffils: short phrases, as, on the calyx or calice, in the receptacle, two long, four long, from one base, from two, or many, bases, with anthers connected, on the pistils, in two flowers, in two distinct plants, mixed, concealed, or the like, will answer every purpose of discrimination; but I do not offer this as a perfect substitute for the words, which I condemn. The allegory of sexes and nuptials, even if it were complete, ought, I think, to be discarded, as unbecoming the gravity of men, who, while they search for truth, have no business to inflame their imaginations ; and, while they profess to give descriptions, have nothing to do with metaphors : few passages in Aloisia, the most impudent book ever composed by man, are more wantonly indecent than the hundred-forty-sixth number of the Botanical Philosophy, and the broad comment of its grave author, who dares, like Octavius in his epigram, to speak with Roman fimplicity; nor can the Linnean description of the Arum, and many other plants, be read in English without exciting ideas, which the occasion does not require. Hence it is, that no well-born and well-educated woman can be advised to amuse herself with botany, as it is now explained, though a more elegant and delightful study, or one more likely to assist and embellish other female accomplishments, could not possibly be recommended.