Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/714

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

series of the Transactions of the society. It is arranged according to the Linnæan system and contains four hundred and fifty-four genera with nearly eleven hundred species, including both wild and cultivated plants. Of the naming of these plants, Muhlenberg remarked in a note: "When I found no name in Linnæus's system, I took a name from other recently published works, or from the letters of Dr. Schreber, with whom I kept up a correspondence. When I found no name in this way, I was obliged to give one myself and to add to it N. S., till better information came from more capable botanists." The cryptogamous plants are represented in this index by twenty-five genera with one hundred and twenty-five species. The work, as its name implies, consists merely of the enumeration of the species observed, without description or indication of their habits or uses. A supplement to this index, presented to the American Philosophical Society in September, 1796, and published in the fourth volume of its Transactions, contained forty-four additional genera with sixty-two species of phanerogams, of which nine were hitherto unknown species of grasses; while the cryptogams were further represented by two hundred and twenty-six additional species, belonging to twenty-nine genera.

Muhlenberg perceived very early in his botanical studies how great confusion was likely to arise if names were conferred upon plants supposed to be new, without considering whether they might not have been previously identified and named by others. We have already described the painstaking care he took in his own notes to find the correct names of his specimens. While he was critical of the work of others, he was always ready to recognize their merit, and to make allowance for their imperfections. He wrote to Dr. Cutler of his work on the Useful Plants of New England that, although the author regarded it as immature, "it was of great use to me, and I was very much pleased with it. Every beginning will be imperfect, especially in a new country, and I have not yet read any botanical work without errors. Even Linnæus's works, which were prepared with so much industry, are full of them." In another place he wrote: "Herr Aiton,[1] in my opinion, makes too many species out of varieties; for instance, his asters and goldenrods. We must expect such things when descriptions are made from specimens taken from a garden instead of from their natural habitats, where plants grow numerously and in various soils." Other criticisms of similar tenor may be taken from his letters, all made from the point of view of exactness in identification and description.

Freedom from self-glorification and from solicitude for the

  1. In his Hortus Kewensis, 1789.