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An Elementary Course of Botany, Structural, Physiological, and Systematic.

Naturevolume 18pages217218 (1878) | Download Citation



IN reviewing a work of this kind, by acknowledged masters of science, the question naturally comes to the front: For what special class of students is it intended? and when this has been settled, a second question: Is the plan which has been adopted the best conceivable for the purpose? The first of these questions appears to be answered in the preface, by the editor's quotation and adoption of Prof. Henfrey's remarks, written in 1857, where he makes special reference to the needs of medical students, who seldom devote to the study of botany more than the summer term of their first session. As to the mode, Dr. Masters also refers with approval to Henfrey's plan of keeping the anatomical and physioogical departments of the subject very much in the background, and training the student first of all in morphology and the rudiments of classification; on the ground that by this plan the evil is avoided of “directing the attention of the student to a series of isolated facts and abstract propositions,” and of “loading the memory with second-hand information, of no use whatever outside the walls of the examination-room, and indeed of but little service in practical examinations.” We may venture to question whether the plan adopted in this work is altogether the best for securing this desirable result, whether, for example, the pages devoted to phyllotaxis1 do not include a number of “isolated facts and abstract propositions,” and whether a longer or shorter description of the characters of considerably over 200 natural orders of flowering plants—when those of twenty-five or thirty are all that would be likely to be of any use to the medical student—may not fairly be open to the charge of “loading the memory with second-hand information;” since it is very few, even of the most experienced botanists, whose personal observation has embraced so wide a range. It is true that this portion may be skipped by the beginner; but then, why include it in a work specially intended for beginners? Fortunately, the day of “Complete Guides to Knowledge” has altogether gone by. The teacher no longer calculates on getting the outlines of every conceivable science within a single pair of boards. This tendency must advance still further, and our text-books must gradually divide themselves into two classes:—one giving primary instruction in the outlines of the entire science; the other, for the more advanced student, entering into the fullest details of special branches. In the science of botany we have numerous admirable text-books and primers which might be included in the first category; in the second, English literature is not yet so rich as French or German. The book before us seems to occupy an intermediate position between the two; it is needlessly bulky and expensive for the medical student who looks to nothing but keeping himself abreast of a three-months' course of lectures; it will not suffice for one who aims at becoming a scientific botanist.

An Elementary Course of Botany, Structural, Physiological, and Systematic.

Arthur Henfrey Third Edition by Maxwell T. Masters, M.D., F.R.S., &c. Illustrated by 600 woodcuts. (London: Van Voorst, 1878.)

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