Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lindley, John
LINDLEY, JOHN (1799–1865), botanist and horticulturist, was born at Catton, near Norwich, 5 Feb. 1799. His father, George Lindley, an able but unsuccessful nurseryman, was the descendant of a good Yorkshire family. He was the author of ‘A Guide to Orchard and Kitchen Gardens,’ of which his son issued an edition in 1831. Lindley was sent to Norwich grammar school, then under Dr. Valpy, where he had been preceded by Sir William Jackson Hooker [q. v.] As a boy he was known for his love of plants and the study of antiquities, and on leaving school at sixteen he was at once sent to Belgium as agent for a London seed merchant. On his return he energetically devoted himself to the study of botany, Hooker, then living at Halesworth, being his first scientific acquaintance. At Halesworth Lindley wrote his first work, ‘Observations on the Structure of Fruits,’ translated from L. C. M. Richard's ‘Analyse du Fruit.’ This he accomplished at a sitting, working for three days and two nights continuously. It was published in 1819. His father having suffered reverses in business, Lindley made himself responsible for his debts, and after being introduced by Hooker to Sir Joseph Banks, he came to London as assistant librarian to the latter. His ‘Rosarum Monographia,’ with plates drawn by himself, which was published in 1820, so pleased Charles Lyell of Kinnordy [q. v.], to whom it was dedicated, that he sent Lindley 100l., with which he purchased a microscope and a small herbarium. Banks introduced him to Cattley, who was then wanting an editor for the folio volume of plates of flowers published in 1821 as ‘Collectanea Botanica.’ In 1820 Lindley was elected a fellow of both the Linnean and Geological Societies. In the next year he issued his monograph of the genus Digitalis, illustrated partly by himself and partly by Ferdinand Bauer, and contributed his ‘Observations on Pomaceæ’ to the ‘Transactions of the Linnean Society.’ He also seems to have edited at the same time the anonymous volume of Chinese drawings from Cattley's library (1821).
In 1822 he was appointed garden assistant secretary to the Horticultural Society, becoming sole assistant secretary, with duties both in the gardens at Chiswick and in the office in Regent Street, in 1826; and on the resignation of the secretaryship by Sabine in 1830, during a period of financial disaster, it was Lindley, in conjunction with George Bentham [q. v.], who organised at the gardens the very successful series of exhibitions of flowers and fruit, the first flower-shows in the country. On Bentham's resignation in 1841 Lindley, with the title of vice-secretary, did practically the whole work of the society until 1858, when he became a member of council and honorary secretary, posts which he felt obliged to resign at the time of the International Exhibition of 1862.
In 1829 Lindley was chosen the first professor of botany in the university of London (afterwards University College), an office which he held until 1860, when he was made emeritus professor. His lectures, delivered early in the morning, were clear, concise, and profusely illustrated, and attracted large classes. Among the more distinguished of his pupils were W. B. Carpenter, Edwin Lankester, and William Griffith. Lindley prepared diagrams and careful notes for his lectures, which were never formally read. In 1836 he succeeded Gilbert Burnett as lecturer on botany to the Apothecaries' Company at Chelsea, retaining the post until 1853.
It was on behalf of his pupils that many of his chief works were written. He was at all times a constant advocate of the natural as opposed to the Linnean system of classification, but, being engaged in original researches upon structure, he constantly changed his opinions upon questions of affinity, which perhaps lessened his immediate influence as a teacher.
Lindley was frequently consulted by government. Thus, in 1838, he reported on the condition of Kew Gardens, recommending that they should be made over to the nation, and should ultimately become the headquarters of botanical science for the empire. During the potato famine he was sent by Peel to Ireland, and he also advised as to the planting of the island of Ascension. He acted as juror in the exhibition of 1851 for food-products, and although he suffered then from the overwork entailed, he was persuaded in 1862 to take charge of the entire colonial department of the exhibition of that year. He found it necessary to resign his connection with the Horticultural Society, and a subscription was raised for a portrait of him, which was painted by Eddis, and hangs in the rooms of the society.
During the last few years of his life Lindley suffered from gradual softening of the brain, and on 1 Nov. 1865 apoplexy supervened, and he died in the house on Acton Green where he had lived for many years. He was buried in the Acton cemetery.
Lindley married in 1823 the daughter of Anthony Freestone of Southelmham, Suffolk, by whom he had three children. Two daughters assisted him in the illustration of some later works. His son, Sir Nathaniel, Lord Lindley, was a well-known judge. Lindley possessed most extraordinary energy and power of work. He was an enthusiastic member of the volunteer force, though he had lost the sight of one eye in infancy, and in spite of much sedentary work was remarkable for his erect bearing until the last. Hot-tempered and brusque in manner, he was very kind to young men, and incapable of a mean action.
Besides being a corresponding member of many foreign societies, Lindley was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1828, and received its royal medal in 1857, and in 1853 was chosen corresponding member of the French Institute. In addition to the oil portrait by Eddis already mentioned, there is a lithograph, taken in 1838, by J. Graf, in the ‘Naturalist,’ 1839 (iv. 434), and a later one in the series of honorary members of the Ipswich Museum, by Maguire. His name is commemorated in the genus Lindleya of the order Rosaceæ. His collection of orchids is preserved in the Kew herbarium, and the remainder of his herbarium at Cambridge.
Lindley planned a ‘Genera Plantarum,’ but abandoned the scheme on learning that the German botanist, Endlicher, was engaged upon a like work. Among his chief works were almost the whole of the descriptions in Loudon's ‘Encyclopædia of Plants,’ published between 1822 and 1829; all the botanical articles in the ‘Penny Cyclopædia’ as far as the letter R; ‘Synopsis of the British Flora,’ 1829, with editions in 1835 and 1859; ‘Introduction to the Natural System of Botany,’ 1830, of which the second edition appeared in 1836 as ‘A Natural System of Botany;’ ‘Outlines of Botany,’ 1830, and ‘Nixus Plantarum,’ 1833, revised and combined as ‘Key to Structural and Systematic Botany’ in 1835, this being again enlarged as ‘Elements of Botany’ in 1841; ‘Outlines of First Principles of Horticulture,’ 1832, enlarged into ‘The Theory of Horticulture,’ 1840, which, though translated into almost every European language, was not very successful in England until expanded in 1842 into ‘The Theory and Practice of Horticulture;’ ‘The Fossil Flora of Great Britain,’ in conjunction with William Hutton, 1831–7; most of vol. viii. and the whole of vol. ix. of Sibthorp's ‘Flora Græca,’ 1835–7; ‘Victoria Regia,’ 1837, a sumptuous volume, of which only twenty-five copies were printed; ‘Ladies' Botany,’ 1837–8, two volumes, written in the form of letters; ‘Flora Medica,’ 1838, followed in 1849 by ‘Medical and Œconomical Botany;’ the volume ‘Botany’ in the ‘Library of Useful Knowledge,’ issued by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1838; ‘School Botany,’ 1839; ‘Sertum Orchidaceum,’ a folio volume, with coloured plates by Miss Drake, completed in 1838; ‘The Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants,’ issued in parts, 1830–40, and partly reissued as ‘Folia Orchidacea’ between 1852 and 1859; ‘Orchidaceæ Lindenianæ,’ 1846; ‘Pomologia Britannica,’ 3 vols. 1841; and his most original and perhaps greatest work, ‘The Vegetable Kingdom,’ in 1846. Besides assisting Dr. W. T. Brande in his ‘Dictionary of Science, Literature, and Art,’ 1837, and Paxton in his ‘Pocket Botanical Dictionary,’ 1840, Lindley edited Donn's ‘Hortus Cantabrigiensis’ in 1823; Herbert's ‘History of the Species of Crocus’ in 1847; T. Moore's ‘Ferns of Great Britain’ in 1855; and, in conjunction with Moore, Maunder's ‘Treasury of Botany,’ 1866. Between 1822 and 1848 he contributed numerous reports to the ‘Transactions of the Horticultural Society’ upon new plants in their gardens, accompanied by important physiological notes on double flowers, the rate of growth, the action of frost, &c. In 1826 he succeeded Bellenden Ker as editor of the ‘Botanical Register;’ from 1846 to 1855 he edited the ‘Journal of the Horticultural Society;’ and in 1841 he was associated with Joseph Paxton and others in founding the ‘Gardeners' Chronicle,’ of which he was the principal editor until his death. In it he persistently advocated the better education of gardeners, the support of the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Institution, and the cheapening of glass as a means towards the popularising of the greenhouse and conservatory.
[Gardeners' Chronicle, 1865, pp. 1058, 1082; The Naturalist, 1839, iv. 434.]