New books arrived this week. The first to arrive was by Frank Kingdon-Ward, one of the great plant collectors of the 20th century. Kingdon-Ward collected in the Himalaya for the horticultural trade. Repeatedly through his adult life, he marched through the high mountains, especially of northern Burma and southern China in search of good, new material for horticulture in the United Kingdom. He wrote about the traits of the plants in he sought in his book The Romance of Plant Hunting. The book that arrived in the mail this week was a 1973 reprint of his second book The Land of the Blue Poppy, which was originally published in 1913 and based on his second expedition, the first that he led, in the mountains of China. Here’s Kingdon-Ward at the beginning of the book: “. . . travel had bitten too deeply into my soul, and I soon began to feel restless again, so that when after four months of civilised life something better turned up, I accepted with alacrity. This was none other than the chance of plant-collecting on the Tibetan border of Yunnan, and though I had extremely vague ideas about the country, and the method of procedure, I had mentally decided to undertake the mission before I had finished reading the letter in which the offer was set forth.”
Joseph Dalton Hooker in the 1860s
when he was the Director of the
Royal Botanic Garden at Kew.
The second new arrival for the week was W. B. Turrill’s 1963 biography of Joseph Dalton Hooker. Hooker is one of the prominent figures of Victorian science in the U.K. Along with T. H. Huxley, Hooker promoted science as an institution, sponsored and supported by the state, and pushed for its professionalization. While turning science into a profession for themselves and future generations, Hooker and Huxley are also well known as early advocates of Charles Darwin, one of the ultimate ‘unprofessional’ natural historians. Much of the public face of evolution as it began to transform British science and society after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species had the face not of Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace, but of Hooker and Huxley. While Joseph Dalton Hooker is fascinating for his various promotions—Darwin and evolutionary biology, rational institutions at the base of society, professional science, the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, which he directed after his father’s death—I’m now especially curious about Hooker’s experiences as a plant collector and traveller. He traveled on a voyage of discovery to the Antarctic with James Clark Ross in 1839 to 1843. After failing to obtain a chair at the University of Edinburgh, he traveled in the Himalaya and India in 1847-1851. Later in life he continued his botanical travels, making shorter trips to Syria and Palestine in 1860, Morocco in 1871, and North America in 1877.