Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

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Of the three kingdoms of nature, the vegetable was that which, down to the time of Linnæus, had received most attention. Mineralogy could scarcely be said to have commenced. Zoology had indeed made considerable progress; but botany had advanced in a still greater degree, having been cultivated by a host of naturalists, chiefly belonging to the medical profession. One of these, Cæsalpinus, who flourished in the end of the 16th century, had already invented a system; whereas Ray, who belonged to the 17th, was the first zoologist who formed a methodical arrangement[Pg 119] of animals. It might thus be supposed that the examination of plants is easier, while that of minerals is more difficult, than the study of zoology; but the cause of the preference given to the vegetable economy seems to be connected with the value of herbs as articles of the Materia Medica, while the animal kingdom attracted more attention than the mineral, as exciting greater curiosity, and tending more directly to supply the most urgent wants of man. However this may be, it is certain, that in the 17th century the botanists greatly exceeded the zoologists in number. One of the most remarkable of the latter was the subject of the present notice, who, although merely a compiler, and not possessed of much judgment or taste, continued to be a popular author on natural history until his works were superseded by those of Linnæus.

John Jonston, descended from a family originally Scottish, was born, in 1603, at Sambter, near Lissa, a city of the palatinate of Posen in Poland. After studying at Beuthen on the Oder, and at Thorn in the Prussian dominions, he prosecuted his education at the University of St Andrews; whence, in due time, he returned to his native country, and for three years acted as tutor to the sons of Count Kurtzbach. He then studied medicine and natural history in several of the more distinguished seminaries at home and abroad. In 1632, he took charge of two young noblemen, whom he accompanied to England, Holland, France, and Italy. At Leyden he obtained a medical degree, and was offered a professorship; which, however, he declined, preferring a private life. On completing his travels, he retired to a place in the neighbourhood of Lignitz,[Pg 120] where he spent the rest of his days. He died on the 8th June 1675.

The most important of Jonston's works is his Historia Animalium, which was published at Frankfort on the Maine. The first part, containing five books on fishes and cetacea, and four on the white-blooded aquatic animals, appeared in 1649. The second part, which treats of birds, followed in 1650; the third, on quadrupeds, in 1652; and the fourth, on insects and serpents, in 1653. Several editions of this work have since come out; the latest being that of Heidelberg, in 1755. It is, however, a mere compilation from the writings of Gesner, Aldrovandi, and others. The plates, which are numerous, are also, for the most part, copied from these authors, a few only being original. They are not without merit, having been engraved by the famous Matthew Merian; but several of them, resting on no authority beyond that of simple description, represent objects which have no real existence. His first treatise, which is a collection of the most curious phenomena presented by the sky, the elements, meteors, fossils, plants, birds, quadrupeds, insects, and man, was printed at Amsterdam in 1632, under the title of Thaumatographia Naturalis in Decem Classes Distincta. He also produced a Dendrographia, or natural history of trees and shrubs; and two smaller tracts, the one entitled Notitia Regni Vegetabilis, the other Notitia Regni Mineralis; together with several others, on various subjects, which, as they have long since passed into oblivion, it is unnecessary to mention at greater length.[Pg 121]


This distinguished naturalist was born at Middleburg in Holland, in 1620. He was a sedulous observer of the nature and properties of insects, which he examined with admirable patience and sagacity. His work, which was written in Dutch, was published at Middleburg in 1662, with the title Descriptions of the Origin, Species, Qualities, and Metamorphoses of Worms, Caterpillars, &c. Being a painter by profession, he adorned it with very accurate coloured engravings. The treatise was also printed in Latin and French translations. The former bore this title:—Metamorphosis et Historia Naturalis Insectorum, cum Commentario Jo. de Mey et duplici cjusd. Appendice, una de Hemerobiis, altera de Natura Cometarum. An improved edition, in the English language, was published by Lister in 1682; and another, in Latin, in which the species were methodically disposed, appeared in 1685, under the care of the same naturalist, who had the work reprinted a third time as an appendix to his Historia Animalium Angliæ. Goedart describes 150 different species, and may be considered as the first who subjected the metamorphoses of insects to accurate examination. He died in 1668.


The principal works of this eminent physician, having any reference to zoology, are on the generation of insects, on the poison of the viper, and on intestinal worms. His observations and experiments were translated from the Italian into Latin, and published at[Pg 122] Amsterdam in 1670 and 1686, and at Leyden in 1729. Fabroni gives his life in the third volume of his Vitæ Illustrium Italorum. Sprung from a noble family, he was born at Arezzo on the 18th February 1626. After finishing his studies at the University of Pisa, he settled at Florence, where he soon became known as a successful practitioner, and was appointed physician to Ferdinand II, grand duke of Tuscany, in which office he was continued by Cosmo III. Redi's experiments, directed by professional views, had for their chief object the treatment of the bite of serpents, and the destruction or removal of intestinal worms. His letters, however, published in 1724, in two volumes 4to, are replete with interesting observations in every department of natural history; his poetical works are said to be distinguished by elegance and grace; and his numerous literary compositions are described as evincing a pure and cultivated taste. He was a considerable contributor to the edition of the Dictionary of the Academia della Crusca, printed in 1691. He died at Pisa on the 1st of March 1694, at the age of sixty-eight, and was buried at Arezzo, in a tomb which his nephew decorated with an inscription, remarkable for its simplicity and good taste:—

Francisco Redi Patritio Aretino
Gregorius Fratris Filius.


As a naturalist, Swammerdam is chiefly celebrated for the extent and accuracy of his inquiries into the structure of insects; though anatomy and physiology are equally indebted to his labours. He was the first who discovered the method of rendering the blood-vessels[Pg 123] more easy to be traced in dissection, by injecting them with coloured wax in a fluid state; and although he cannot for that reason alone claim all the discoveries that have been made in anatomy, any more than the first person who skinned birds can claim the honour of determining the numerous species that have been conveyed from distant countries, or he who first cut a slice of petrified wood, all the results that have emanated from his experiment, yet he certainly devised the means of extending our knowledge of the human body as well as of pathology. His works on insects are the following:—1. The General History of Insects, published in Dutch at Utrecht in 1669, and subsequently in French and Latin, in which he gives a classification of these animals, founded on their structure and metamorphoses. 2. The History of the Ephemeris, published in Dutch at Amsterdam in 1675, and in Latin at London in 1681. 3. The Biblia Naturæ, sive Historia Insectorum in Classes Certas Redacta, Leyden, 1737-38, 2 vols folio, which has been translated into German, English, and French. This important work was published after his death by Boerhaave, in Dutch and Latin, and contains a masterly exposition of the structure of such insects as came under his observation.

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