Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grew, Nehemiah

GREW, NEHEMIAH (1641–1712), vegetable physiologist, son of the Rev. Obadiah Grew [q. v.], at that time master of Atherstone grammar school, was born in 1641. and baptised at the parish church of Mancetter on 26 Sept. in that year. Obadiah Grew, as a parliamentary divine, took refuge at Coventry in 1642. Nehemiah, like his half-brother, Henry Sampson [q.v.], was educated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1661. He himself tells us that he was led to the study of vegetable anatomy as early as 1664, considering that both plants and animals 'came at first out of the same Hand, and were therefore the Contrivances of the same Wisdom,' and so inferring the probable analogy of their structures. Having been encouraged in the study by Henry Sampson, who was nine years his senior, Grew in 1670 put into his hands an essay on the subject, which he showed to Henry Oldenburg, secretary to the Royal Society, who in turn showed it to Bishop Wilkins, who read it to the Royal Society. It was approved and ordered to be printed on 11 May 1671, and the author was elected a fellow of the society on 30 Nov. Meanwhile Grew had graduated M.D. at Leyden in July. He inscribed his name in the Album Studiosorum on 6 July as ' Nehemias Grew, Warwicensis, Anglus, 30, M. Cand.,' and seems to have read his inaugural dissertation on the 14th. It is entitled 'Disputatio medico-physica, inauguralis, de Liquore Nervoso … pro gradû Doctoratûs … subjicit Nehemias Grew, Anglus, è Com. Warwicensi, die 14 Julii,' is dedicated to his father, Dr. Henry Sampson, and Dr. Abraham Clifford, and was printed at Leyden by John Elzevir's widow and heirs. Grew seems to have commenced practice at Coventry, but to have been soon invited to London, the correspondence on this subject being still preserved by the Royal Society. His preliminary essay, 'The Anatomy of Vegetables begun. With a General Account of Vegetation grounded thereon,' was prefaced by a letter to Wilkins, dated Coventry, 10 June 1671, and was published, with a dedication to Lord Brouncker, president of the Royal Society, in 8vo, in 1672. It was therefore undoubtedly in print by 7 Dec. 1671, when Marcello Malpighi's researches in the same direction were communicated to the society in manuscript (cf. A. Pollender, Wenn gebührt die Priorität in der Anatomie der Pflanzen dem Grew oder dem Malpighi?' 1868). Malpighi subsequently had Grew's book translated into Latin, and he, Wallis, Lister, and Leewenhoek confirmed by microscopical investigation the observations Grew had made with the naked eye. His papers read to the society on 8 and 15 Jan. 1672 appeared with the title 'An Idea of a Phytological History propounded, with a Continuation of the Anatomy of Vegetables, particularly prosecuted upon Roots. And an Account of the Vegetation of Roots chiefly grounded thereupon' (8vo, 1673; folio, 1682); and on 18 April 1672, on the proposal of Bishop Wilkins, he was made curator to the society for the anatomy of plants. Grew issued in 1675 'The Comparative Anatomy of Trunks, with an Account of their Vegetation grounded thereupon,' the plates of which had been laid before the society in the two previous years. The author's corrected copy of this work is in the library of the British Museum. In 1675 he published the first of a series of chemical papers 'Of the Nature, Causes, and Power of Mixture,' read before the society on 10 Dec. 1674. This was followed by `A Discourse of the Diversities and Causes of Tasts chiefly in Plants,' read 25 March 1675; 'An Essay of the Various Proportions wherein the Lixivial Salt is found in Plants,' read March 1676; `Experiments in consort of the Luctation arising from the Affusion of several Menstruums upon all sorts of Bodies,' exhibited to the society in April and June 1676; `A Discourse concerning the Essential and Marine Salts of Plants,' read 21 Dec. 1676; 'Experiments in consort upon the Solution of Salts in Water,' read 18 Jan. 1677; and 'A Discourse of the Colours of Plants,' read 3 May 1677. These seven essays occupy eighty-four folio pages at the end of the 1682 edition of the 'Anatomy of Plants,' where they are printed with continuous pagination, but not in the order in which they were read. Simultaneously with these researches of a chemical nature, Grew was prosecuting with remarkable industry his anatomical investigations. Though not published until 1682, 'The Anatomy of Leaves, Flowers, and Fruits' was read to the society on 26 Oct. and 9 Nov. 1676 and in 1677; and the figures illustrative of the `Anatomy of Seeds' were also exhibited in the latter year. In 1676 also he made a not unimportant contribution to animal anatomy in `The Comparative Anatomy of Stomachs and Guts begun,' a series of communications to the society, not published until 1681. On the death of Oldenburg in 1677, Grew became secretary to the society, and as such edited the 'Philosophical Transactions' from January 1678 to February 1679. From the fact that he was admitted an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians on 30 Sept. 1680, as was also his half-brother, Henry Sampson, on the same date, we may gather that his scientific industry had not prevented his becoming professionally successful. Such success may well have led to his resignation of the secretaryship; but his active co-operation with, the society was not discontinued, as was proved by his publication in 1681, 'by request,' of 'Museum Regalis Societatis, or a Catalogue and Description of the Natural and Artificial Rarities … preserved at Gresham Colledge.' This work, in 386 pages, folio, is illustrated by twenty-two plates, and to it is annexed 'The Comparative Anatomy of Stomachs,' &c., 43 pages, with nine plates. In 1682 Grew's magnum opus, 'The Anatomy of Plants,' was issued. Of the four `books' of this work, the first, second, and third are second editions of 'The Anatomy begun,' 'The Anatomy of Roots,' and ' The Anatomy of Trunks,' extending to 49, 46, and 44 folio pages respectively, and illustrated by four, thirteen, and twenty-three plates. The fourth book, dedicated to Boyle, includes 'The Anatomy of Leaves, Flowers, Fruits, and Seeds,' 72 pages, with forty-two plates. Among the structural points clearly shown in these plates are the coats of the ovule and seed, the pulpy coat to that of the gooseberry, the cotyledons, plumule, and radicle of the embryo, the vascular bundles in leaf-stalks, the resin-ducts of the pine, the latex-vessels of the vine and the sumach, the folding of leaves in buds, superficial hairs and internal crystals, the structure of the minute flowers of the compositæ, the stamens, or 'attire,' as they were then termed,and their pollen-grains. Although it is commonly attributed, on the ground of a modest remark of Grew's, to Sir Thomas Millington, it is probable that to Grew himself belongs the credit of first observing the true existence of sex in plants. Grew has suffered somewhat from an over-conciseness of style, and has been unfortunate in his translators. `The Anatomy begun' was translated into French by Le Vasseur in 1675, and the first three books of the 'Anatomy of Plants' were badly rendered into Latin in Germany. In 1684 he issued both in Latin and English a pamphlet on 'New Experiments and Useful Observations concerning Sea-water made fresh according to the Patentee's Invention,' which speedily went into ten English, besides French and Italian, editions. The process of boiling and condensing, though approved by him, did not originate with him. In 1695 he issued 'Tractatus de salis cathartici amari in aquis Ebeshamensibus … naturaetusu,' a description of the salts present in the then popular Epsom wells, which was published in English two years later. Grew's last work was published in 1701. Its title is `Cosmologia Sacra, or a Discourse of the Universe, as it is the Creature and Kingdom of God.' It extends to 372 folio pages, and contains a portrait of the author, engraved by R. White from a painting by the same artist, formerly at Barber-Surgeons' Hall. The argument is specially directed against Spinoza, the nature of God being deduced à priori and à posteriori, from the necessity of His being and from His handiwork. As in Ray's 'Wisdom of God in Creation,' and other similar works, the argument à posteriori begins with much borrowed astronomical learning; but in a funeral sermon on the author we are assured, not only that he was 'acquainted with the theories of the Heavenly Bodies, skill'd in Mechanicks and Mathematicks, the Proportions of Lines and Numbers, and the Composition and Mixture of Bodies, particularly of the Human Body,' but also that he was 'well acquainted with the whole Body of Divinity,' and had studied Hebrew to more proficiency than most divines, so as to read the scriptures in the original. A copy of this work is in the British Museum, the first few pages of which are crowded with manuscript notes by Coleridge. The last of these is 'The culpa communis of Grew and his contemporaries was to assume as the measure of every truth its reduction to Geometric Imaginability.' Grew died suddenly on 25 March 1712, as he was going his rounds, and was buried at Cheshunt parish church, in the Dodson family vault, he having married Elizabeth Dodson. He had at least one son and two daughters. From the sermon already mentioned, preached by his patient, the Rev. John Shower, at Old Jewry, and published as 'Enoch's Translation,' we gather that he was grave and serious, though affable, just, unselfish, and very charitable to the poor, and still active at the time of his death. Haller styles him 'industrius ubique naturæ observator,' and Linnæus dedicated to him the genus Grewia in Tiliaceæ. Besides the portrait above mentioned there is one published by Dr. Thornton.

[Enoch's Translation, by the Rev. John Shower, 1712; notice by Sir J. E. Smith in Rees's Cyclopædia; Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 406; information supplied by Mrs. Elizabeth Grew.]

G. S. B.