it’s all about botany


On September 29, 1781, Dr Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of this year’s unavoidable Darwin) wrote to Joseph Banks, asking for permission to dedicate a small book of translations to him. The translations were of the botanical writings of Carl von Linné, now better known as Linnaeus. In the letter (collected in the first of six volumes of The Scientific Correspondence), Darwin explained that he and the Lichfield botanical society had decided to translate Linnaeus’s Latin into English with a view to “propagating the knowledge of Botany”, and hoped to secure Banks’s blessing for their enterprise, given “the knowledge of your general love of science & your philanthropy to wish that science to be propagated amongst your countrymen”. Darwin’s translation appeared two years later as A System of Vegetables according to their Classes, etc, and was prefaced by the dedicatory letter, which congratulated Banks on the rare and excellent example you have given, so honourable to science, of foregoing the more brilliant advantages of birth and fortune, to seek for knowledge through difficulties and dangers, at a period of life when the allurements of pleasure are least resistible, and in an age when the general effeminacy of manners seemed beyond that of former times to discourage every virtuous exertion, justly entitles you to the preeminence you enjoy in the philosophical world.

more from Jim Endersby at the TLS here.