Making New World Publics: Botanical Studies in Sixteenth-Century Europe

Edward M. Test

 

     1. When Christopher Marlowe's Faustus sells his soul to the devil in exchange for all the knowledge in the world, he requests three books from Mephaestophilis: one on incantations, a second on new astronomy, and a third "wherein [he] might see all plants, herbs and trees that grow upon the earth" (5.171). Evident in this last request is the importance of earth's botanical cornucopia to early modern Europe, a knowledge base that expanded exponentially with the encounter, exploration, and merchandising of the Americas. John Prest notes in his study of the Renaissance garden that "the great age of the Botanic garden followed the discovery of the New World" (1). Physicians, surgeons, apothecaries, and botanists throughout Europe fervently collected "new seeds out of strange countries" (Harrison 208), planting and categorizing new flora in the private physic and pleasure gardens of educated aristocrats, displacing country peasants and herb wives as the purveyors of a new empirical botanical knowledge, as William Turner ('the father of English botany') notes in the preface to his 1568 herbal: "I wente into Italye and into diuerse partes of Germany to knowe and se[e] the herbes my selfe and to knowe by practice their powers and workinge not trustinge onely to the olde herbe wiues." Subsequently, there was a boom in the production of herbal texts.

     2. Although herbals reflect the efforts of naturalists throughout Europe who strove to record the virtues of all the plants that "grow upon the earth," Spain was the first to promote detailed studies of these plants (especially those of Mexico), hoping to unlock the secret knowledge of foreign herbs and to capitalize on their commercial value. As a product of commercial and imperial expansion, the Spanish pursuit of a method for studying and collecting the flora of the Americas led to the development of an empirical science. Despite the explicit rejection of "protocapitalist intrusions into its domain" (Ogilivie 14) by educated scholars and humanists who made up the botanical public, the new science reflected by printed herbals became a vehicle for transferring empirical knowledge to capitalistic exploitation. By tracing the material and informational flow of flora from the Americas to the ports of Spain, and from Spain to wider Europe, this essay identifies the origins of the botanical public, the communal and transatlantic process by which herbal texts were produced, its contribution to the development of empirical science and, as a result, the ensuing exploitation of the natural world.

     3. While the accumulation of knowledge of New World plants in printed herbals was singularly a European endeavor, herbalists relied heavily on indigenous information from the Americas. Spain's Dr. Francisco Hernández (who traveled to Mexico in the 1570s to collect botanical samples) professed a "methodology," notes Marcy Norton, that "made it clear that his information was based on Indian knowledge gleaned through systematic interrogation of local informants" (123); in other words, indigenous botanical knowledge informed and determined botanical study in Europe. In this manner, Hernández experienced the flora first-hand and catalogued it with assistance from Native Americans, who had knowledge of the virtues and functional properties of plants in their society. Locating the source of empirical botanical knowledge on the other side of the Atlantic not only decenters the traditional Eurocentric belief that technical knowledge moves on a one-way street outward from the European metropole, but also dissolves the binary of core/periphery into a cohesive global network where multiple metroples and multiple peripheries operate in a simultaneous flow of material and information. The printed herbal unarguably rises from a secular and humanistic tradition, yet its foundation is built upon a global mobility of plants, seeds, texts, people, and ideas, which linked humans (botanists, merchants, sailors, Amerindians, etc.) and non-humans (plants, seeds, herbals, gardens, etc.) together into a system of cross-cultural exchange. Just as the exploration of the New World influenced the development of early modern cartography, so the encounter with new plants and Native Americans who knew about them determined early modern empirical studies of botany in Europe.1

     4. The exponential growth in the number of plants listed in herbals, a direct consequence of the transatlantic crossing of merchants and sailors with new flora in their hold, is evident in the increasing size of printed herbals. Leonhard Fuchs in his 1545 edition, like Dioscorides some 500 years earlier, lists about five-hundred plants; by 1623 Gaspard Bauhin lists six-thousand plants in his Pinax, and by 1704, the English Botanist Jonathan Ray lists almost 20,000 plants in his Historia Plantarum. "It is evident," writes Henry Lowood, "that exploration of the New World added momentum to the accelerating pace of knowledge about the natural world" (295). The material texts that this knowledge ultimately produced was not a rare and esoteric product consumed solely by humanists and scholars, but extended to the general populace: "there is little doubt," writes Allen Debus, "that herbals were among the most popular books printed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries," especially those published in the vernacular, such as the herbals of Englishmen John Gerard and William Turner.2

 

Figure 1: Selected Herbals

     

     5. In considering the chart of herbal texts above (Figure 1, a sampling that is by no means all-inclusive) the international reach of the botanical public is evident. The herbals are published in various countries and in various languages, the most surprising of which is the Aztec Herbal (1552), which was written in both Nahuatl and Latin. William Turner and John Gerard's English herbals of 1568 and 1597 respectively attest to the international and communal effort in producing the texts; they write in their prefaces:

"I graunte that I haue gathered this booke of so manye writers that I offer vnto you an heape of other mennis laboures and nothinge of myne owne. . . . I haue compared my writinges of plantes with those thinges that Matthiolus, Fuchsius, Tragus, and Dodoneus wrote in the firste editions of their Herballes." (Turner)

"I haue here therefore set downe not onely the names of sundrie plants, but also their natures, their proportions and properties, their affects and effects, their increase and decrease, their flourishing and fading, their distinct varieties and severall qualities, as well of those which our owne countrie yeeldeth, as of others which I haue fetched further, or drawen out by perusing diuers Herbals, set foorth in other languages, wherein none of our countrie men hath to my knowledge taken any paines, since that excellent worke of Master Doctor Turner." (Gerard)

The dedicatees of herbals listed in Figure 1 above also expands beyond the typical dedicatees with John Frampton's dedication to the English-poet courtier, Edward Dyer (1577), and Gerard's dedication to one of Queen Elizabeth's foremost councilors, Sir William Cecil (1597). Finally, although the last book on the list, Hernández's book on Mexican plants (which strikingly uses Nahuatl nomenclature for every plant), shows a publication date of 1651, we know from letters that preliminary manuscript pages were already circulating in the 1580s, and an earlier edition of his work appeared in the 1615 edition of Quatro Libros.3   Furthermore, some loose-leaf drawings of Hernández's plants from the 1580s now located in the Vatican library have marginalia indicating in which garden current samples of Mexican plants can be found growing.4  The circulation of the Spanish Doctor's preliminary engravings, and the reliance of English herbalists like Turner and Gerard on printed herbal texts from the continent, testifies to the circulation and international reach herbal information, as well as its reliance on an open network of exchange.

     6. The means by which this botanical network produced the herbal texts required the forging and maintaining of its international community through print, travel, and especially through correspondence. Notably, it was in Spain that scholars like Jose de Acosta first recognized "the vast diversity of the vegetable world," which, Brian Ogilvie writes, led to "the establishment of a community of scholars engaged in a common enterprise, and the elaboration within that community of methods for discovering new natural kinds and describing them precisely" (8). Though the community was not open to everyone, writes Ogilvie, "it was not a club with entrance requirements and membership list; in many ways it was more permeable than other communities in the late Renaissance" (14). Membership in the community was "based on 'friendship' . . . and curious -- that is, painstaking and inquisitive -- observation of naturalia, above all plants, and careful description of those that were unknown to their predecessors" (27). These early modern botanists sent seeds, herbaria (dried plants), drawings, and plant descriptions all over Europe, communicating via an international 'Republic of Letters' whereby participants in the botanical public conducted business through the friendly exchange of letters. Additionally, this sixteenth-century botanical community used album amicorum, or friendship books, as a means of recording and registering their acquaintances with like-minded scholars, who would write their names, draw pictures, or write personal mottos in the books. "Today," writes Deborah Harkness, friendship books "are museums of friendship, but in their own time they were shipped around Europe either in their entirety or in loose sheets to be bound later into a treasured volume" (45). Combined with extant letters and dedicatory prefaces of printed herbals, the friendship book not only identifies the various human actors in the botanical public, but also traces the various roads of informational and material exchange, and ultimately identifies the primary nodes of influence in the botanical network: cities like London, Antwerp, and Seville, were among the major metropolitan centers for collecting New World imports and printing New World texts, including herbals. Because of the long history and territorial reach of Spain, the first point of contact with New World flora was in Seville.

     7. The most prominent collector of New World plants in Seville was the famed Spanish doctor Nicolas Monardes, whose multiple editions of Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales (1565-1580) circulated throughout the continent and in England. The printed text followed the material, as John Frampton notes in his preface to the 1577 translation of Monardes work (Joyfull Newes Out of the New Founde Worlde), "medicines mentioned in the same worke of Doctor Monardes, are now by Marchants & others, brought out of the West Indias into Spaine, and from Spaine hither to England."5  Significantly, Monardes realized that the gathering of new plants required new understanding. "If someone had the motivation to investigate and experiment," he writes," with all of the kinds of medicines such as are sold by the Indians in their markets, it would be a thing of great utility and benefit."6 Thus, plant collecting had an empirical agenda by which "Europeans were indebted to indigenous expertise," writes Marcy Norton, "for their knowledge of useful medicaments" (113). Indeed, Monardes would incorporate "ethnographic information," Norton further observes, "and even elements of a classificatory system from different parts of the American hemisphere, particularly Mesoamerica" (115). Soon after the publication of Monardes's book, explorers were returning to the New World with the reconstituted and recontextualized horticultural knowledge of the Indians: Sir Walter Raleigh, for instance, refers to volumes of herbals and to Monardes by name several times in the Discovery of Guiana.7  By way of printed books and material plants, herbal information and knowledge moved in a network continuum from its source, the Americas, through Seville, into wider Europe, and back again to the New World in the form of printed herbals.

     8. Monardes's influence was not restricted to Spain or England, of course. Knowledge of his work first became available to the renowned herbalist of Leiden, Carolus Clusius (or Charles L'Ecluse) through England: after visiting Sir Philip Sidney in London, Clusius wrote to thank Sidney for "Monardes's small Spanish book about the medicinal plants of the New World."8 Clusius, who introduced the potato and tulip to the continent, is considered by Richard Drayton as "the Copernicus who shattered the Hellenocentrism of Renaissance botany" (13). Clusius corresponded with some 300 individuals across Europe during his career, emphasizing his importance in the sixteenth-century botanical public, as well as his need to gather information from abroad.9 Tracing some of the contacts he made during his travels to London in the 1570s, for instance, illustrates his intersection with many English naturalists.

     9. When in London, Clusius signed the friendship book of Matthias de L'Obel, the proof-reader of the first half of John Gerard's English Newe Herball (1597), which was based on Dodoen's Crudyboek, albeit poorly translated and full of inaccurate descriptions and mislabeled drawings. Indeed, Gerard even went as far as to forge a preface by L'Obel after relieving him from editing the remainder of his herbal. (Notably, the second half of Gerard's herbal, which was not edited by L'Obel, contains the majority of the mistakes).10 In today's world of individual authorship such blatant copying of text would be labeled plagiarism, but in the early modern period it was likely perceived to be part of a collective and collaborative effort typical of English humanism, writes Mary Thomas Crane, which was "largely based on the collection, assimilation, and redeployment of textual fragments."11 Leah Knight terms this aspect of botanical collaboration "anthological," further noting that even "the woodblock [images] of Clusius, L'Obel, and Dodoens were held in common by their printer Christophe Plantin, and the blocks became popular with others, as 'is shown by the frequency with which they were copied'" (Knight 28). This anthological approach to producing herbal texts further illustrates the communal nature of the botanical public.

     10. How, and by whom, were herbal books collected? In England, a source for measuring the importance and popularity of the printed herbal to intellectuals, aristocrats, and merchants is evident in Dr. John Dee's remarkable repository of botanical books (catalogued by Dee in 1583). Widely known as an occultist, alchemist, and mathematician, Dee had the largest Renaissance library in England, containing some 4,000 volumes at a time when Oxford University had only some two hundred texts. He was well connected to the aristocracy, serving as a tutor to the young Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Robert Dudley, casting astrological charts for Queen Elizabeth and other courtiers, and receiving royal guests at his home in Mortlake outside of London. Dee collected books on almost every subject imaginable, writes Frances Yates, "bent on assimilating the whole realm of knowledge available in his time" (80). His collection included many books on the New World (he had two copies of Martyr's Decades de Orbe Novo, and four copies of Cortés's Relaciones), and "many copies of New World herbals . . . are scattered throughout his catalogue" (Roberts & Watson 36). See Figure 2 below:

 

Figure 2. Herbals in John Dee's Library

 

     11. Objects from abroad also caught his interest. He brought the first Mercator globe to England, and he used an obsidian mirror from Mexico (the smoking mirror of Tezcatlipoca, known as the "devil's mirror" in England) to cast his divinations. Thanks to Dee's meticulous diary, we can trace the comings and goings of people interested in a variety of scientific (and occult) systems of inquiry. His library, Yates writes "was the rendezvous of intellectuals" (86). Queen Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edward Dyer, Richard Hakluyt, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir George Peckham, Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins, all passed through his doors, many prior to making New World voyages. Given the multiple listings of herbal texts in Dee's library, and his remarkable appreciation for New World culture and artifacts, Dee clearly plays a role in the botanical public as a disseminator of New World information gathered in printed texts.

     12. By way of letters, Friendship Books, foreign travels, and the material exchange of seeds and plants, herbal information and knowledge moved from the Americas to Spain and into England, serving as a catalyst for the new empirical science epitomized in the work of Sir Francis Bacon.

 

Figure 3. Sir Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620

 

     13. In Novum Organum, Sir Francis Bacon alludes to the discovery of the New World as metaphorically similar to the discovery of his new science: both move beyond the knowledge of antiquity and beyond the pillars of Hercules (see Figure 3 where the title page depicts ships sailing beyond Europe and across the Atlantic) toward a "hope," he writes "which blows on us from the New Continent" (Aphorism CXIV). It is no coincidence that Bacon aligns his new science with the discovery of the New World. His guiding principle of empirical evidence based upon direct observation of nature was first institutionalized in Spain's House of Trade and Council of Indies almost one hundred years earlier, Antonio Barrera-Osario claims; confronted by the great abundance of new plants and animals from the Americas, Spanish naturalists, writes Barrera-Osario "had to devise their own methods to collect information about those lands" (21). Empirically oriented natural historians quickly disposed of the false philosophies of antiquity: "What was clearly expressed and rationalized," writes Walter Mignolo, "and inspired pride even in sixteenth-century Spanish intellectuals, was a move from a concept of knowledge based on books [of antiquity] to a concept of knowledge based on experience. The 'discovery' of the New World contributed enormously to this change of conception" (462-3). Once this knowledge based on experience becomes diligently noted and empirically recorded, herbal texts became available for the wider world to use as a reliable source of information for exploring and exploiting the natural world. "If Bacon established the reference point for a new discourse about the knowledge of nature," Mignolo further notes, "he also created the conditions for the links between knowledge and the 'exploitation' of nature" (500).

     14. Traditionally, scholars consider Sir Francis Bacon as the founding father of the scientific revolution, but as Deborah Harkness (The Jewel House) and Brian Olgivie (The Science of Describing) have shown recently, Bacon's writings were merely the printed receptacle for a scientific methodology that already existed in the European naturalist and botanical communities outlined above. Bacon wasn't arguing for a new science, Deborah Harkness argues; rather, he merely wanted to move it from the streets to a unified college (214), or what would later become the Royal Society of London. It is important to note Bacon's indebtedness to the international community of natural historians in developing his theories of empirical science, and also to acknowledge the role that Spain and the New World (particularly Mesoamerica) played in its development.

     15. As soon as the "new seeds out of strange countries" crossed the Atlantic and hit Iberian shores, natural historians began to question the great narratives of Greco-Roman natural history -- Pliny, Aristotle, Dioscorides, and Theophrastus were no longer sufficient for describing the great cornucopia of new plants. New knowledge required a new science. By the time Spain began to colonize America in the sixteenth century, "it had at its disposal cultural resources" inherited from the rich Arabic scientific traditions, writes Barrera-Osario, which were "favorable for the development of natural history, cosmography, navigation, medicine, and mathematics" (9). In short, Spain was uniquely prepared and poised to adumbrate the "false philosophies" of the ancients with a new natural history. As Robert Watson writes in Back to Nature, "the science of botany exemplifies the growth of empiricism as part of an effort to remove the human prejudice and get back to things in themselves, especially natural things" (22). These "prejudices" are exactly what Sir Francis Bacon likewise criticizes in his Novum Organum; he writes that Aristotle had made his "natural philosophy a mere bond-servant to his logic, thereby rendering it . . . well nigh useless" (Aphorism LIV). In Back to Nature, Robert Watson argues that Bacon's call for rational empiricism was a unique attribute of late Renaissance Protestant countries. Decades earlier, however, in 1590 Catholic Spain the natural historian, Jose de Acosta, writes that "in the natural and physical causes, one should not be asked for an infallible and mathematical rule, but rather for what is ordinary and common, for that is what constitutes a rule," thus identifying Spain's empirical program for the study of nature based on personal experience.12 Watson further suggests that the Protestant distancing of God from earth created the fertile ground needed for the cultivation of scientific empiricism, yet Acosta and other Spaniards, as I have suggested, sought to observe the natural world in counter-Reformation Spain, implying that science based on empirical observation had another source: the material itself and access to the indigenous knowledge of flora.

     16. The most predominant sixteenth-century Spanish botanist to focus upon the materiality of plants at their source was Dr. Francisco Hernández, a natural historian who relied on the empirical method of first-hand observation while traveling overseas. More astounding, however, was the way "Hernández's taxonomic innovations . . . were . . . based in part on Amerindian terminology" (Piñero and Tomás 123). One of the primary sources for observation and knowledge in Mexico was the Hauxtepec garden and medicinal facility, which Hernández visited in the 1570s. The hospital, founded in 1569, made Mexico City "one of the focal points for medicinal study in the New World, and indeed in the world," as Carlos Zolla indicates, it "'was a point of confluence for pre-Hispanic herbal medicine and Spanish colonial medicine.'"13 The manuscript that Hernández produced, and all subsequent copies and editions, was organized by Nahuatl plant names, a stark departure from the Greco-Roman methodology of Dioscorides or Galen, and a tribute to the Mesoamerican influence upon taxonomical studies in Europe. Existing morphologies in Europe simply weren't equipped to categorize and describe the almost 3,000 plants identified by Hernández in Mexico (it is worth noting that Hernández identified almost every Mexican plant noted by botanists today, which is not only a testament to thorough research, but more importantly, to the remarkably complete knowledge sixteenth-century Mesoamericans had of their environment).

     17. The sheer quantity and overwhelming diversity of New World plants gathered into herbal texts were first understood through the Greco-Roman tradition, but with the rise of empirical approaches, such as that seen in Hernández's studies, the herbals generally evolved into more objective texts, a transition that is evident in the almost 100 years that separates the two editions of Rembert Dodoen's Cruydeboeck (title pages shown below in figures 4 and 5). Prior to the sixteenth century, Europe was content with its Dioscoridian list of 500 plants. But thousands of new species traveled overseas and began appearing in European gardens. In the botanic gardens of Catholic and Protestant Europe, the natural world was collected, cultivated, observed, and disseminated throughout the world by educated scholars, who stood as porters to nature, like the allegorical figure of Genius on the title page of Dodoen's first edition (1554). See the middle left side of Figure 4:

 

Figure 4. Rembert Dodoens, Cruydeboeck (1554)

 

 

Figure 5. Rembert Dodoens, Cruydeboeck (1644)

 

     18. The representation of the Garden of Hesperides (Hesperidum Horti) in the 1554 edition recalls the Greek myth of Hercules defeating the dragon Ladon (here depicted more like an enormous tortoise as opposed to a 100-headed monster) and his attainment of the immortality-giving golden apples from the garden. These were more than mythic apples, however. Indeed, in Italy the name pomodoro (or pommi d'oro), 'golden apple,' is still used as the name for a very real Mesoamerican fruit: the tomato.) Significantly, in a later edition (1644, Figure 5) the title page reflects the pictorial treatment of the new science. In this later title page, the Greco-Roman figures of Mithridites, Arthemisia, and Lysimachus from Figure 4 are gone, replaced by the busts of Dodoens (on the left) and Clusius (on the right). Furthermore, in the later title page, the earlier nymphs in the Garden of Hesperides have been replaced by the manicured flower beds typical of a Renaissance garden. The title page from the 1644 edition suggests that the pragmatic and empirical approach to science has replaced its mythic and classical heritage. The stylized columns of the 1644 edition retain something of Greco-Roman architecture, to be sure. But rather than being topped by the gods Apollo and Asclepius, there stand two Mexican plants: a barrel cactus and the Maguey, or Aloe Americana.

     19. The Maguey was one of the more remarkable Mexican plants to inundate European gardens, exploration chronicles, literature, and herbals. For example, Samuel Champlain, a French explorer who visited Mexico in 1599, writes a detailed entry about the various attributes and commercial value of the Maguey:

This tree bears numbers of thorns, which are very pointed; and when torn off, a thread comes from the bark of said tree, which they spin as fine as they please; and with this thorn, and the thread which is attached to it, they can sew as well as with a needle and other thread. The Indians make very good, fine, and delicate thread of it, and nevertheless so strong, that a man cannot break two fibres of it together, although they be fine as hairs; the pound of this thread, called thread of Pitte, is worth in Spain, eight crowns, and with it, lace, and other valuable works are made. From the bark of this tree vinegar is made, as strong as that from wine; and taking the heart of this tree, and pressing it, there comes out very good honey: then drying the pith thus pressed in the sun, it serves to light fires. Moreover, in pressing the leaves of this tree, which are like those of the olive tree, there proceeds from them a juice, of which the Indians make a beverage.14

On the literary side, the French poet, Guillaume du Bartas, writes in his Divine Weeks (a recontextualized biblical story written in 1578) how Adam roams the Garden of Eden admiring all the plants, especially the Maguey, named here as Melt, after its Nahuatl name, Metl:

There mounts the Melt, which serues in Mexico
For weapon, wood, needle, and threed (to sowe)
Brick, hony, sugar, sucket, balm, and wine,
Parchment, perfume, apparell, cord, and line. (2.1.1.Eden. 595-8)

Such commercially important Mexican plants sit atop the pillars of the new botanical science, implying that botany (like Baconian science) has moved above and beyond the ancients (as John Gerard similarly mentions in his preface, writing: "I list not seeke the common colours of antiquitie"); or more succinctly, the New World, particularly Mesoamerica, has brought botanical science to Europe.

     20. The Mexica understood the "medicinal value of their plants in ways that the European herbalists were striving to understand and document in their new herbals" (Test 217). Mexico's garden of Tenochtitlan was the first of its kind in the world, as was its zoo, aviary, and ingenious separation of salt and fresh waters in its lake (or 'inland sea' as many explorers labeled it). Called the Venice of the Americas, Mexico-Tenochtitlan had garden plots arranged in regular squares (or chinampas) at a time when similar horticultural gardens were unknown in Europe; the 'sundry beds' of Renaissance gardens do not develop until after the conquest of Mexico. Furthermore, the Mexica had botanical libraries, or amoxcalli, and a complex system of morphology that predated the classification system of Linnaeus in Europe by at least 200 years.15 Borrowing from these native sources, between 1550 and 1650, the early modern European herbals reflect an overflowing cornucopia of newly discovered plants, which subsequently led to a burgeoning taxonomical science; the pages are filled with practical gardening knowledge, descriptive features of plants, and the medicinal virtue for physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries. "Many such taxa have been taken over intact by modern taxonomy," writes Sauer, but "it was the gradual amassing in European gardens and herbaria of such collections that led to interest in the whole novel flora of America and ultimately to its systematic study."16 Thus, the flora of the Americas and the Amerindian knowledge of plants, especially in Mesoamerica, served as a catalyst for European botanical studies and the development of empirical science.

     21. The emergence of this herbal public and the exploitation of the New World as a result of its new science had (and still has) profound consequences on humans and their environment. The rise of botanical studies as a form of empirical investigation and the development of Baconian science raises some crucial ethical and ecological questions. Bacon's Novum Organum called for the reproduction of knowledge of the natural world in a formal, categorical, and mechanically scientific manner, which "for some historians," as Simon Schama notes, "doomed the earth to be treated by the West as a machine."17 "Because nature was now viewed as a system of dead, inert particles moved by external, rather than inherent forces," writes Carolyn Merchant in Death of Nature, "the mechanical framework itself could legitimate the manipulation of nature. Moreover, as a conceptual framework, the mechanical order had associated with it a framework of values based on power, fully compatible with the directions taken by commercial capitalism" (193). Significantly, the development of Bacon's version of empirical science corresponds with the rise of the commercial enterprises of the Dutch and English, who supplanted Italy and Spain as the new global powerhouses by the end of the sixteenth-century. Through this new science and the northern European capacity for exploiting resources for capital accumulation, the western world encouraged the disastrous destruction of the natural world. As the trade of plants and other natural resources (cod fish, lumber, gold, etc.) took hold of Europe, the idea of producing what is sufficient for local consumption was replaced by production for capitalistic accumulation.

     22. The rise of the capitalist world-economy is directly related to disseminating knowledge of resources available for exploitation, which in terms of New World flora came by way of the printed herbal, the botanical public, and the Native Americans, who (in most cases) unwittingly compromised their environment by sharing botanical knowledge with curious and profit-mongering Europeans. (It is worth noting that some Native Americans joined in this nascent capitalist economy through marketing their environment; before European colonizers began to harvest tobacco on a large scale, for instance, trade in Trinidad tobacco was initially conducted between local Indian sellers and European buyers.) The development of the public of botanists interested in plants from the New World, indeed the very study of plants in the Renaissance, not only bridged the gap between aristocrats and merchants, European scholars and Amerindian herbalists, but it also bridged borders between countries and continents. The global reach of overseas exploration and the advent of the printing press brought together a world of knowledge into the printed herbal -- a Faustian endeavor that ultimately helped transform the natural world into a global marketplace.

 

 

Go to this issue's index.

 

 

Notes

1 See Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, who similarly argues for the influence of Spanish science on the development of botany and other scientific studies in Europe.

2 As quoted in Knight, 22.

3 José M. Lopez Piñero and José Pardo Tomás note that as early as February 21, 1580, Nardo Antonio Recchi was commissioned by King Phillip II of Spain to consolidate and place in order all of Hernández's writings ("The Contribution of Hernández to European Botany and Materia Medica," 122). The 1615 edition is titled Quatro Libros de la Naturaleza, translated by Fray Francisco Ximenez and published in Mexico; the copy consulted for this essay is at the John Carter Brown Library.

4 See David Freedberg's discussion of the Hernández manuscripts in The Eye of the Lynx.

5 Frampton, Joyfull Newes . . . , Dedicatory epistle.

6 Monardes, Primera y segunda y tercera, fols. 30v-31r. As quoted in Marcy Norton, 114.

7 Raleigh, Guiana, 40, 51, 68.

8 Roze, 101. I translate the following quote: "le petit Livre espagnol de Monardes sur les Médicaments de Nouveau-Monde."

9 See Egmund, Florike. Clusius, 15.

10 See Harkness's chapter, "Living on Lime Street: 'English' Natural History and the European Republic of Letters."

11 As quoted in Knight, 48.

12 See Barrera-Osario, 116.

13 As quoted in Vilchis 172.

14 Champlain, Samuel. A Narrative of a Voyage to the West Indies and Mexico, 27-38.

15 Herrera, Breve Historia, pps. 21-24.

16 See Sauer's article in Chiappelli, First Images, pp. 815 and 820.

17 As quoted in Watson, 260.

 

 

Works Cited

Acosta, Josef de. Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias. Ed. Fermín del Pino-Díaz. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas: Madrid, 2008.

Bacon, Sir Francis. Novum Organum. London: 1620

Barrera-Osorio, Antonio. Experiencing Nature: The Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. "Iberian Science in the Renaissance: Ignored How Much Longer?" Perspectives on Science 12:1 (Spring 2004), 86-124.

---. Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Champlain, Samuel. A Narrative of a Voyage to the West Indies and Mexico in the Years 1599-1602. Trans. Alice Wilmere, Ed. Norton Shaw, Hakluyt Society: London, 1859.

Dodoens, D. Rembert. Cruydeboeck. Antwerp: 1554, 1644.

Drayton, Richard. Nature's Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the 'Improvement' of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Du Bartas, Guillaume de Saluste Sieur. The Divine Weeks and Works of Guillaume de Saluste Sieur du Bartas. Ed. Susan Snyder, Trans. Joshua Sylvester. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1979.

Egmond, Florike, Paul Hoftijzer and Robert Visser (eds.). Carolus Clusius: towards a cultural history of a Renaissance naturalist. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007.

Freedberg, David. The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, His Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Harkness, Deborah. The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Harrison, William. The Holinshed Chronicles. London: printed [by Henry Denham], 1587.

Hernandez, Francisco. Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae thesaurus. Rome: J. Mascardi, 1651.

Knight, Leah. Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England: Sixteenth-century Plants and Print Culture. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009.

Lowood, Henry. "The New World and the European Catalog of Nature" 295-323. In Kupperman, Karen Ordahl (ed.). America in European Consciousness: 1493-1750. UNC Press, Chapel Hill, 1995.

Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus. Ed. Simon Trussler. London: Nick Hern Books, 1996.

Merchant, Carolyn. Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture. London: Routledge, 2003

Mignolo, Walter D. "Commentary" in Josef de Acosta's Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias. Ed. Fermín del Pino-Díaz. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas: Madrid, 2008.

Monardes, Nicolas. Trans. by John Frampton. Joyfull Newes Out of the New Founde Worlde. New York: AMS Press, Inc. 1967.

Norton, Marcy. Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, 2008.

Ogilvie, Brian W. The Science of Describing Natural History in Renaissance Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Piñero, José M. Lopez and José Pardo Tomás "The Contribution of Hernández to European Botany and Materia Medica" in Searching of the Secrets of Nature: The Life and Works of Dr. Francisco Hernández. Ed. Simon Varey. Stanford: 2000, 122-137.

Prest, John. The Garden of Eden: the Botanic Garden and the Re-Creation of Paradise. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Raleigh, Sir Walter. The Discoverie of the Large and Bewtiful Empire of Guiana. Ed. V. T. Harlow. London: The Argonaut Press, 1928.

Roberts, Julian & Andrew G. Watson. John Dee's Library Catalogue. London: The Bibliographical Society, 1990.

Sauer, Jonathan D. "Changing Perception and Exploitation of New World Plants in Europe, 1492-1800." First Images of America: the Impact of the New World on the Old. Ed. Fredi Chiappelli. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. II: 813-832.

Test, Edward M. "Seeds of Sacrifice: Amaranth, the Gardens of Tenochtitlan and Spenser's Faerie Queene" in A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Era of Expansion. Ed. Jyotsna Singh. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Vilchis, Jaime. "Globalizing the Natural History" in Searching of the Secrets of Nature: The Life and Works of Dr. Francisco Hernández. Ed. Simon Varey. Stanford: 2000, 170-182.

Watson, Robert N. Back to Nature: The Green and the Real in the Late Renaissance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

Yates, Frances A. The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. London: Routledge, 1979.

 

 

Form copyright © 2010 Early Modern Culture.

Content copyright © 2010 Edward M. Test.