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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/518

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514
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

Botany in 1875 in English was the first intimation to many of us that we had been grossly defrauded in our college course and fed on the gray husks of the subject.

Following the death of Gray, there was also a concerted movement towards a rational system of nomenclature for American plants, following the practise of zoologists in certain points, and finally resulting in more fundamental methods of fixing the types of genera. The first effort leading towards unification was expressed in the so-called 'Rochester Rules' evolved after practically an all-night session of a committee at the Rochester meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1892 and passed by a practically unanimous vote the following day. These were modified the following year at the Madison meeting and some unfortunate minor details were introduced that brought about considerable antagonism. This opposition naturally attracted to itself a considerable contingent of morphological and physiological botanists who knew practically nothing about the subject, and never took the trouble to learn, beyond the fact that it produced some change in the use of names with which they had become familiar. Subsequently the necessity for the fixation of generic types[1] became apparent as more serious study of the whole subject advanced, and new features were introduced into what is now known as the 'American Code of Nomenclature.' The mutual concessions at the Vienna Congress of 1905 resulted in removing the most objectionable features of the propositions of both parties in the controversy, and in bringing about practical unanimity on this side of the water. Old beliefs die hard, however, and the region beyond the River Charles appears to be an appropriate place for beliefs to die. The doctrine of fiat creation as opposed to the doctrine of evolution died there a royal death with Louis Agassiz in 1873; and after two vigorous antemortem utterances on the subject by the generations past, the Kew rule, the last vestige of personal as opposed to rational usage in plant nomenclature, has recently stalked off the platform, and is now, so far as America is concerned, a thing of the dead past.

It is interesting to note the effects of political history on a subject so seemingly remote as botany. Before the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, German was almost unknown in our college courses except as an unusual elective. French was then considered the one necessary modern language. The unification of Germany changed all this, and the German language at once took its proper place in our system of


  1. At the present time the zoologists of America are struggling over this problem of generic types, and ideas of what the principle really means are actually penetrating the German mind, slower in grasping the real significance of this problem. When this principle once takes root among the botanical workers on the continent, not even the 'railroading' methods of the Vienna Congress will be able to stem the tide of real progress.