button to main menu  Gents Mag 1791 p.804

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Gentleman's Magazine 1791 p.804

  John Wilson

John Wilson, Botanist

Anecdotes of Mr. John Wilson, a celebrated Botanist.
introductory note:-
Kendal, Aug. 18.
A SHORT life of the subject of the present essay may be found in Pulteney's History of Botany in England, vol.II. p.264; where we are informed, that the principal circumstances are borrowed from the British Topography. As this account is far from being correct, it is presumed that the following may be offered to the Gentleman's Magazine without farther apology.
Some Account of JOHN WILSON, Author of the Synopsis of British Plants in Mr. Ray's Method.
JOHN WILSON, the first who attempted a systematic arrangement of the indigenous plants of Great Britain in the English language, was born in Longsleddale, near Kendal, in Westmoreland, some time in the year 1696. He was by trade a shoe-maker, and may be ranked amongst the few who, in every age, distinguish themselves from the mass of mankind by their scientific and literary accomplishments without the advantages of a liberal education. The success of his first calling does not appear to have been great, as perhaps he never followed it in a higher capacity than that of a journeyman. However this may be, he exchanged it, for the more lucrative employment of a baker, soon enough to afford his family the common conveniences of life; the profits of his new business supporting him in circumstances which, though not affluent, were far superior to the abject poverty he is said to have experienced by the author of the British Topography. This writer, amongst other mistakes undoubtedly occasioned by false information, has recorded an anecdote of him, which is the fabrication of one of those inventive geniuses who are more partial to a good tale than attentive to the truth. He acquaints us, that Wilson was so intent on the pursuit of his favourite study, as once to be tempted to sell a cow, the support of his house, in order to procure the means of purchasing Morrison's voluminous work; and that this absurd design would have certainly been put in execution, had not a neighbouring lady presented him with the book, and by her generosity rescued the infatuated botanist from voluntary ruin. The story is striking, but wants authenticity; and is absolutely contradicted by authority that cannot be disputed. At the time when Wilson studied botany, the knowledge of system was not to be obtained from English books; and Ray's botanical writings, of whose method he was a perfect master, were all in Latin. This circumstance
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