Morison's 'Historiae': Volume 3

Morison's 'Historiae': Volume 3

Morison left behind a manuscript for four of the remaining sections of the Herbae, together with notes for the remaining six sections. However, Bobart’s task was laborious. Much new material needed to be incorporated as frenetic exploration of the globe revealed vast amounts of plant diversity in the late seventeenth century. Moreover, Bobart’s completion of Part 3 of the Historia meant the whole of Morison’s scheme for the treatment of the herbs was revealed.

The title page to Part 3 includes Bobart the Younger’s name, together with Michael Burghers (c.1647-1727) re-engraving of the 1680 Athena-Sheldonian vignette – in the intervening years Athena matured, gaining a few pounds. There are 657 pages of main text and 166 pages of plates in Part 3. These are accompanied by a dedication to the Republic of Letters, Christian faith, the common good and the prosperity of the country, a ten-page index and two pages of errata. In addition, there is frontispiece of Robert White’s (1645-1703) copper-plate engraving of William Sonmans’ (d.1708) portrait of Robert Morison, which is surrounded by a wreath of flowers including a Scottish Thistle which, like the Tudor rose, is a botanical chimaera. Whilst the six-page ‘Vitae Roberti Morisoni M.D.’, by Scottish physician Archibald Pitcairne (1652-1713), is the primary source of biographical information about Morison. As with Part 2, these elements can be arranged in different manners in different copies of book.

The letterpress and plates are concerned with plants in Section 6 to Section 15 of Morison’s Group IV, the Herbae:

Sectio 6. Corymbiferae [herbaceous plants with flat-topped arrangements of flowers]: e.g., common daisy, yarrow and feverfew (15 plates);
Sectio 7. Flosculis Stellatis [herbaceous plants with star-like flowers]: e.g., chicory, lettuce and knapweed (37 plates);
Sectio 8. Culmiferae seu Calamiferae [grass- or reed-like herbaceous plants]: e.g., cocksfoot, reedmace and sand sedge (18 plates);
Sectio 9. Umbelliferae [herbaceous plants with umbellifer-like flowers]: e.g., carrot, parsley and hemlock (22 plates);
Sectio 10. Tricoccae Purgatrices [herbaceous plants with three-lobed, purgative fruits]: e.g., spurge (3 plates);
Sectio 11. Monopetalae Tetracarpae Galeatae et Verticillatae [herbaceous plants with lipped, one-petalled, whorled flowers and four fruits]: e.g., sage, eyebright and nettle (31 plates);
Sectio 12. Multisiliquae Polyspermae et Multicapsulares [herbaceous plants with long, thin, multi-seeded fruits and many capsular fruits]: e.g., monkshood, poppy and birthworth (18 plates);
Sectio 13. Bacciferae [herbaceous plants with fleshy fruits]: e.g., mandrake, cuckoopint and herb paris (7 plates);
Sectio 14. Capillares Epiphyllospermae [hair-like herbs with seeds on the leaf surface]: e.g, bracken, adder’s-tongue fern and maidenhair fern (5 plates);
Sectio 15. Heteroclitae seu Anomalae [herbs that are anomalous in form or anomalous]: e.g., black pepper, sundew, clubmoss, mosses, algae and fungi (10 plates).

Within each Section, Bobart maintained the same general structure as adopted by Morison in Part 2 of the Historia. This image and the subsequent page illustrates this arrangement:

Section number and name: ‘Sectio VI. De plantis corymbiferes seu corymbosis’;
Description of characteristics of the Section;
Chapter titles within Section, e.g., ‘Tanacetum’ and ‘Balsamita’;
Subdivision, if necessary, within Section;
Chapter number and name: ‘Caput 1. Tanacetum’;
Description of characteristics of the plants in the Chapter;
Table of species names arranged to aid identification;
Description of each species in Chapter, which includes names used by previous authors, morphological features, reference to illustration (if appropriate), habitat, flowering and fruiting months and, if appropriate, species-specific notes;
Discussion of how previous authors have treated the species in the Chapter;
Properties and uses of the species in the Chapter.

There are two notable differences in this arrangement between Part 2 and Part 3 of the Historia. Firstly, Morison combined habitat and phenology information for all species within a Chapter in similar manner to that adopted for ‘properties and uses’. Secondly, Morison included acute criticism of the works of the Bauhin brothers, called ‘Hallucinationes’, under each Chapter. He was not cowed by the critics of his Praeludia (1669), where a similar approach had been adopted. The Bauhin brothers had a revered position within seventeenth-century botany, rather in the way that the work of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) has among biologists today. Whilst many of the Morison’s criticism were justified, the language he chose to use meant he alienated many naturalists of the period.