Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/December 1873/Sketch of J. D. Hooker, F.R.S., LL.D.
|SKETCH OF J. D. HOOKER, F. R. S., LL. D.|
AMONG the scenes of interest near London which earliest attract the foreign visitor, is the magnificent Botanical Garden at Kew. It occupies 300 acres, which are crowded with the wealth of the vegetable kingdom, and forms the most extensive and perfect horticultural establishment in the world. It has three museums, containing upward of 50,000 objects of rare scientific interest exquisitely arranged, the completest botanical library ever yet brought together, a series of ample and admirably-constructed hot-houses, a pinetum, a water-lily aquarium, an extensive and richly-stocked arboretum, fern-houses, both tropical and temperate, an orchid-house, a house for begonias and gesneracae, together with a variety of other greenhouses and extensive plots of ground covered with herbaceous plants, and beautified to perfection. Kew Garden is one of the most popular places of resort in England. Some 700,000 people visit it annually, and the least educated of all this multitude cannot pass through it without learning something. The exotic plants nurtured in the hot-houses; the indigenous and naturalized plants blooming in the gardens; the dried specimens preserved in the herbarium; the various objects of curiosity treasured up in the three museums of economic botany—vie with each other in claiming the attention of even the most indifferent observer.
Learned philosophers and young children can equally find there abundant objects replete with interest for each, and worthy of lengthened contemplation: one loiters to examine curiosities of vegetation, such as the inner bark of "traveler's joy" (Clematis vitalba), used by the Swiss as a vegetable sieve for straining milk; or the inside of the towel-gourd, used in the West Indies as a sponge or a scrubbing-brush. There is an orange-tree, such as in the island of St. Michael produces 20,000 oranges in a year. Here is the caricature-plant, with the whimsical variegation of its leaves; the telegraph-plant, with the jerking of its lateral leaflets like the signals of the old semaphore; the tuberose, exhaling the most delicious perfume, and the stinking carrion-flower of South Africa; the pitcher-plant, each blossom containing half a pint of water and a swarm of drowned insects; and the Venus's flytrap, which springs its toothed leaves together for the capture of gnats and flies. At every turn and nook there are curiosities to excite the observant, and gratify the seeker for systematic, economic, or descriptive botanical knowledge.
Kew has been a place of plants, a nursery or seed-plot for the study of floriculture and horticulture, for more than a hundred years. It was a royal property, being purchased in 1730 by Frederick Prince of Wales, the great-grandfather of the present queen. The original director of Kew Gardens was William Aiton, who had charge of it for thirty years, and died in 1793. He was succeeded by his son Townsend Aiton, who held the position for forty-eight years, when he resigned in 1841. Up to this time the establishment had been much restricted, but it was now given up by the royal family to the charge of the government, in the interests of science, and for the advantage of the people.
Sir William Jackson Hooker, Professor of Botany in the University of Glasgow, became director in 1841, and he then commenced that wonderful series of transformations which in the course of his twenty-four years' directory made Kew Gardens the first establishment of its kind in the world; while its character has not only been worthily sustained, but very appreciably expanded, advanced, and elevated, by his son and successor, the subject of the present sketch.
Dr. Joseph Dalton Hooker was born June 30, 1817. He was an only son, and his mother was a woman of ability, who shared in the scientific and artistic reputation of her husband. Educated under the scrutiny of his parents, the subject of this memoir was prepared from the outset for his career as a botanist and a scientific observer. Destined at first for the medical profession, young Hooker took his medical degree at an early age, but, under the influence of his hereditary preference for botany, the profession was given up, and he took to science. His medical education was, however, of great value to him in his subsequent experience both as botanist and traveler.
His first adventure in any public capacity as a botanical inquirer was one that eminently befitted him in his then twofold character of a practitioner of the healing art and as a purely scientific investigator. This was in 1839, when, having but just entered upon his twenty-second year, he took part as assistant-surgeon and naturalist on board the Erebus in the expedition sent out, under the command of Sir James Ross, to the Antarctic Ocean. Ostensibly Dr. Hooker's position throughout that memorable voyage was that of a medical officer on one of her majesty's ships-of-war: in reality his especial object all the while was to study the botany of the various regions touched at in those remote portions of the antipodes in the course of the expedition.
It is well to remember that Hooker received, during this four years' voyage, only the moderate pay accruing to him as a medical officer, his outfit being provided by his father, as well as his books and his instruments. Throughout the whole of that period, moreover, Sir William defrayed the expenses constantly incurred by his son when on shore, both in traveling and in collecting, notwithstanding the whole of the fruits of his labor, thus accumulated at considerable cost, were sought out for no private end, but for the advantage of a national establishment. Even after his return homeward, Dr. Hooker magnanimously determined to forego all claim to promotion in the royal navy, devoting four years more to the classification of the treasures he had brought back with him at the close of the expedition. The result of these eight years of toil was visible, in the end, in his splendid publication of the "Flora Antarctica." The comparisons therein drawn of the new plants brought home by Dr. Hooker in great abundance, with the species already familiar to botanists in other parts of the world, helped apparently to realize to naturalists the laws, hitherto but dimly conjectured, regulating the distributing of plants over the surface of the globe.
Prior to entering upon the second of his many memorable expeditions of research as a botanical collector, Dr. Hooker held the position of botanist to the geological survey of Great Britain. On his return homeward, Dr. Hooker gave to the world, in 1851, as the literary fruits of his long journeyings, the two important volumes of his "Himalayan Journals." The three subsequent years were employed by him in arranging his Indian collection. Immediately upon his coming back, he had, moreover, resumed his labors as an assistant to his father at Kew Gardens. Besides this, for nine years together, beginning with 1851 and ending with 1860, Dr. Hooker was employed by the Lords of the Admiralty in editing a series of publications in which were recounted, in chronological sequence, the various botanical discoveries of a number of notable voyagers, from Captain James Cook down to Dr. Joseph Hooker himself. At intervals during the years thus occupied, he entered upon several other important journeys to different parts of the European Continent, visiting, besides these, at other periods, the north of Africa and the far West of the great Continent of America.
Dr. Hooker, in 1855, received the appointment of assistant-director of the Botanical Gardens, with a salary of £400, without any residence. Sir William Hooker was at that time seventy years of age, and was, therefore, fully entitled to have the assistance of his son thus secured to him by the government. Three years after, he had his salary increased to £500 a year, with use of a residence. His father died in 1865, aged eighty-one.
As an example of industry, during the directorship of the Hookers more than 130 costly volumes, treating upon all branches of botany, have been issued to the world from the Kew establishment. Living plants to the number of between 8,000 and 9,000 annually have, within the same period, from that grand central point of distribution, been sent to various parts of the globe—new and often most precious additions to the treasures of Kew being constantly sought out and brought homeward through the agencies employed by the ever-vigilant directors. The correspondence involved in this constant interchange of communications between them and the botanists of both hemispheres has been such that 40,000 letters, it has been calculated, have, in the course of the comparatively brief interval we are referring to, been received, and have been answered, nearly every one of them, by the hands of the directors themselves.
The history of science furnishes few instances like this of prolonged devotion to a public enterprise so splendidly carried out as to become a national honor and a benefaction to the scientific world. The development of Kew is a noble work of art requiring genius, taste, enthusiasm and perseverance, as well as knowledge. The world had to be ransacked to accumulate his treasures, and those treasures are for the most part living things. The Hookers, father and son, have not only given a generation of incessant work to the organization of the Kew Gardens, but they have done it at a constant and large self-sacrifice. They contributed effort and money to the perfection of a work which is an honor to the government, and one would think that the least the government could do would be fairly to admit the obligation. But, under the Gladstone administration, the office of Commissioner of Public Works was conferred upon a narrow-minded blockhead named Ayrton, who looked upon science and its interests with the prejudice and contempt characteristic of politicians. His office placed him in charge of the Botanical Gardens as the superior to whom its director was responsible, and he began a course of meddlesome interference with the affairs of the establishment which was so insulting to Dr. Hooker, and would have been so injurious to the place, that the leading scientific men of England united in a protest to the government. The paper, signed by Lyell, Paget, Huxley, Darwin, and Tyndall, was drawn up by the latter gentleman, and presented the government in such a disgraceful attitude before the world, that Parliament took up the subject and put a check to the offensive treatment of Dr. Hooker by the arrogant and supercilious minister of public works. A man's work must be his monument, and Dr. Hooker may be well content with that; but, after what has taken place, the Government of England owes it to its own dignity to recognize in some fitting way the eminent services of the director of the Botanical Gardens.
Dr. Hooker stands high, not only as an indefatigable explorer, but also as a philosophic botanist; and he long since espoused the doctrine that the species of the world's present flora have been derived by descent and divergent modifications from ancient vegetable forms. He married a daughter of the Rev. J. S. Henslow, Professor of Botany in the University of Cambridge; and his wife is not only herself an accomplished botanist, but she shares in her husband's labors, and has recently translated a splendid work upon the subject from the French language.