Dillenius, John James

, an eminent botanist, who settled in England, was born at Darmstadt, in Germany, in 1681. He was early intended for the study of physic, and had the principal part of his education at the university of Giessen, a city of Upper Hesse. Of all the parts of science connected with the medical profession, he was most attached to the cultivation of botany; by which he soon obtained so much reputation, that early in life he was chosen a member of the Academia Curiosorum Germanise. How well he deserved this honour, was apparent in his papers published in the “Miscellanea Curiosa.” The first of his communications that we are acquainted with, and which could not have been written later than 1715, was a dissertation concerning the plants of America that are naturalized in Europe. The subject is curious, and is still capable of much farther illustration. A diligent inquiry into it would unquestionably prove that a far greater number of plants than is usually imagined, and which are now thought to be indigenous in Europe, were of foreign origin. Besides the most obvious increase of them, owing to their passage from the garden to the dunghill, and thence to the field, they have been augmented in consequence of various other causes, no small number of them having been introduced and dispersed by the importation of grain, the package of merchandise, and the clearing out of ships. The English Flora of this kind, in its present state, cannot perhaps contain fewer than sixty acknowledged species; and a critical examination would probably add greatly to the catalogue. Another paper of Diiienius’s, published in the “Miscellanea Curiosa,” was a critical dissertation on the coffee of the Arabians, and on European coffee, or such as may be prepared from grain or pulse. In this dissertation he gives the result of his own preparations made with pease, beans, and kidneybeans; but says, that from rye is produced what comes the nearest to true coffee. In another paper he relates the experiment which he made concerning some opium which | he had prepared himself from the poppy of Europe growth. In the same collection he shews himself as a / logist, in a paper on leeches, and in a description of t species of the Papilio genus. In 1719, Dillenius excited the notice of naturalists by the publication of his Catalogue of plants growing in the neighbourhood of Giesseu. Nothing can more strongly display the early skill and indefatigable industry of Dillenius, than his being able to produce so great a number of plants in so small a time He enumerates not fewer than 980 species of what were then called the more perfect plants; that is, exclusive of the mushroom class, and all the mosses. By the [news] of this performance, the character of Dillenius, as a truly scientific botanist, was fixed; and henceforward he attracted the notice of all the eminent professors and admirers of the science. To this science no one was more ardently devoted at that time in England, than William Sherard, esq. who had been British consul at Smyrna, from which place he had returned to his own country in 1718; and who, soon after, had the honorary degree of LL. D. conferred on him by the university of Oxford. Being particularly enamoured with Dillenius’s discoveries in the cryptogamia class, he entered into a correspondence with him, which ripened into a close friendship. In 1721, Dr. Sherard, in the pursuit of his botanical researches, made the tour of Holland, France, and Italy, much to the advantage of the science; but what in an especial manner rendered his travels of consequence to the study of nature in our own country, was, that on his return he brought Dillenius with him to England. It was in the month of August in the same year that this event took place; and Dillenius had not long resided in England before he undertook a work that was much desired, a new edition of the “Synopsis stirpium Britannicarum” of Ray, which was become scarce. This edition of the “Synopsis” seems to have been the most popular of all his publications.

During the former years of Dillenius in England, his time appears to have been divided between the country residence of Mr, James Sherard, at Eltham, in Kent; the consul’s house in town; and his own lodgings, which in 1728 were in Barking-alley. At the latter end of 1727, Dillenius was so doubtful concerning what might be the state of his future circumstances, that he entertained 4 | design of residing in Yorkshire. This scheme did not take effect; and on Aug. 12, 1728, Dr. William Sherard died, and by his will gave 3000l. to provide a salary for a professor of botany at Oxford, on condition that Dillenius should be chosen the first professor; and he bequeathed to the establishment his botanical library, his herbarium, and his pinax. The university of Oxford having waved the right of nomination, in consequence of Dr. Sherard’s benefaction, Dillenius now arrived at that situation which had probably been the chief object of his wishes, the asylum, against future disappointments, and the field of all that gratification which his taste and pursuits prompted him to desire, and qualified him to enjoy. He was placed likewise in the society of the learned, and at the fountain of every information which the stores of both ancient and modern erudition could display to an inquisitive mind. One of the principal employments of Dr. William Sherard was the compilation of a pinax, or collection of all the names which had been given by botanical writers to each plant. After the death of Sherard, our professor zealously fulfilled the will of his benefactor, in the care he took of his collection, which he greatly augmented. But he was not a little chagrined at the want of books, and the means of purchasing them. Another undertaking in which our author was engaged, was the “Hortus Elthamensis.” In this elegant and elaborate work, of which Linnæus says, “Est opus botanicum quo absolutius mundus non vidit,417 plants are described and figured with the most circumstantial accuracy. They are all drawn and etched by Dillenius’s own hand, and consist principally of such exotics as were then rare, or had but lately been introduced into England. The sale of this work, which was published in London, 1732, fol. did not by any means correspond with its merit. So limited was the attention at that time paid to botanical objects, that the “Hortus Elthamensis” found but few purchasers. Dillenius cut up a considerable number of copies, as papers to hold his Hortus Siccus; and in despair of selling the remainder, through the recommendation of his friend Gronovius, disposed of them, together with the plates, to a Dutch bookseller, who broke; so that our author lost the whole of the little profit he had expected to derive from the sale. April 3, 1735, he was admitted to the degree of M. D. in | the university of Oxford. His former degree of the same kind had probably been taken at Giessen. In the summer of 1736 he had the honour of a visit at Oxford from the celebrated Linnæus, who returned with the highest opinion of his merit and from this period a correspondence was carried on between them*. After the publication of the Hortus Elthamensis, Billenius pursued his “History of Mosses” with great application; in the prosecution of which he enjoyed every desirable assistance. There is the utmost reason to believe that Dillenius intended to have undertaken the funguses as well as the mosses; which design he appears to have had in contemplation not long after his settlement in this country. Dillenius is said to have been of a corpulent habit of body; which circumstance, united to his close application to study, might probably contribute to shorten his days. In the last week of March, 1747, he was seized with an apoplexy, and died on the 2d of April, in the sixtieth year of his age. Concerning Dillenius’s domestic character, habits, temper, and dispositions, there is but slender information. The account of his contemporaries was, that he was moderate,


This good opinion was not at first reciprocal. According to the account of their first and subsequent interviews, Dillenius did not exhibit those proofs of a liberal mind which might have been expected from one who had himself been indebted so much to the liberality of others. See Stoever’s Life of Linnæus, p. 90, et seqq. But the ingenious writer of his life in the Cyclopædia, observes, that although Dillenius was previously rather unfavourably disposed towards the reformations and innovations of Linnæus, as tending to create difficulty and confusion in the first instance, he soon forgot all such prejudices, and these two great men became mutually attached, as honest liberal cultivators of so liberal and pleasing a science ought to be. Dillenius wished to fix Linnæus at Oxford, as his coadjutor in the Pinax; and if sir Hans Sloane had been equally discerning and equally liberal, the illustrious Swede might have been naturalized amongst us. The errors of Dillenius respecting the fructification of mosses, were too implicitly adopted by Linnæus against his own judgment and observation; and hence a totally erroneous use of terms has prevailed in his works and those of his followers, to the present day. In his “Flora Lapponica,” he often cites Dillenius, especially concerning willows, for information respecting synonyms, that is erroneous; but his own remarks being subjoined, we are guarded against any errors that might ensue from such high authority. The “Critica Botanica” of Linnæus was dedicated to the Sherardian professor, as being, from his peculiar occupation and duty, more than any other person, aware of the evils arising from confusion in botanical nomenclature, and the praise and respect habitual in dedications, have rarely been so sincerely bestowed, or so justly deserved. Linnæus remarked in a letter to —Haller, May 1, 1737, that “Dillenius was the only person then in England who either cared about or understood the genera of plants” a degree of scientific commendation, which in any age or country, can be extended to very few persons. Nor did he to whom it was then applied, long continue in the same degree to deserve it.

| temperate, and gentle in all his conduct; that he was known to few who did not seek him and, as might he expected from the bent of his studies, and the close application he gave to them, that his habits were of the recluse kind. From the perusal of some of his letters it may he collected that he was naturally endowed with a placid disposition, improved by a philosophical calmness of mind, which secured him in a considerable degree from the effects of the evils incident to life. In one of these he expresses himself as follows: “For my little time, 1 have met with as man*-* adversities and misfortunes as any body; which, by the help of exercise, amusement, and reading some of the stoic philosophers, I have overcome; and am resolved that nothing shall afflict me more. Many things here, as well as at my home, that have happened to me, would cut down almost any body. But two days ago I had a letter, acquainting me with a very near relation’s death, whom I was obliged to assist with money in his calamities, in order to set him up again in business and now this is all gone, and there is something more for me to pay, which is not a little for me; but it does not at all affect me. I rather thank God that it is not worse. This is only one, and I have had harder strokes than this and there lie still some upon me.” His drawings, dried plants, printed books, and manuscripts, &c. were left by our author to Dr. Seidel, his executor by whom they were sold to Dr. Sibthorpe, his ingenious and learned successor in the botanical professorship. They have been frequently studied by succeeding botanists, as may be found recorded in the works of Lightfoot, Dickson, Turner, Smith, and others; the present amiable professor, Dr. George Williams, being happy at all times to render them useful, and to forward the views of the truly excellent founder. 1

Biog. Brit.—Pulteney’s Sketches.—Stoever’s Life of Linnæus.—Rees’s Cyclopædia.