MANY books have been written upon the same subject with this, but if one of them had treated it in the same manner, this would have been rendered unnecessary, and would never have employed the attention of its author.
It is his opinion, that the true end of science is use; and in this view, the present work has been undertaken. It appears to him a matter of more consequence, and a subject of more satisfaction, to have discovered the virtues of one herb unknown before, than to have disposed into their proper classes sixteen thousand; nay, so far will a sense of utility get the better of the pride of mere curiosity, that he should suppose this a thing preferable to be said of him, to the having discovered some unknown species; to having picked from the bottom of some pond an undescribed conferva; or to having fetched, from the most remote parts of the world, a kind of tree moss, with heads larger than those at home.
It grieves a man of public spirit and humanity, to see those things which are the means alone of the advantages of mankind studied, while in the end that advantage itself is forgotton. And in this view he will regard a CULPEPPER as a more respectable person than a LINNAEUS or a DILLENIUS.
That Botany is an useful study is plain; because it is in vain that we know betony is good for head-ache, or self-heal for wounds, unless we can distinguish betony and self-heal from one another, and so it runs through the whole study. We are taught by it to know what plants belong to what names, and to know that very distinctly; and we shall be prevented by that knowledge from giving a purge for an astringent, a poison for a remedy; let us therefore esteem the study of botany, but let us know, that this use of the distinctions it gives is the true end of it; and let us respect those, who employ their lives in establishing those distinctions upon the most certain foundation, upon making them the most accurately, and carrying them the farthest possible: these are the botanists; but with all the gratitude we owe them for their labours, and all the respect we shew them on that consideration, let us under stand them as but the seconds in this science. The principal are those who know how to bring their discoveries to use, and can say what are the ends that will be answered by those plants, which they have so accurately distinguished. The boy collects the specimens of herbs with great care, and bestows ten years in pasting them upon paper, and writing their names to them: he does well. When he grows a man, he neglects his useful labours; and perhaps despises himself for the misemployment of so much time: but if he has, to the knowledge of their forms, added afterward the study of their virtues, he will be far from censuring himself for all the pains he took to that end.
He who wishes well to science and to man kind, must wish this matter understood: and this is the way to bring a part of knowledge into credit, which, as it is commonly practised, is not a jot above the studies of a raiser of tulips or a carnation fansier.
When we consider the study of plants, as the search of remedies for diseases, we see it in the light of one of the most honourable sciences in the world; in this view, no pains are too great to have been bestowed in its acquirement; and in this intent, the principal regard ought to be had to those of our own growth. The foreign plants brought into our stoves with so much expence, and kept there with so much pains, may fill the eye with empty wonder: but it would be more to the honour of the possessor of them, to have found out the use of one common herb at home, than to have enriched our country with an hundred of the others. Nay, in the eye of reason, this ostentatious study is rather a reproach. Why should he, who has not yet informed himself thoroughly of the nature of the meanest herb which grows in the next ditch, ransack the earth for foreign wonders? Does he not fall under the same reproach with the generality of those, who travel for their improvement, while they are ignorant of all they left at home; and who are ridiculous in their inquiries concerning the laws and government of other countries, while they are not able to give a satisfactory answer to any question which regards their own?
I have said thus much to obviate the censures of those, to whom an inquiry into the virtues of herbs may seem the province of a woman. It is an honour to the sex, that they have put our studies to use; but it would be well, if we had done so ourselves; or if, considering that they might, we had made our writings more intelligible to them.
The intent of words is to express our meaning: writings are published that they may be understood; and in this branch, I shall always suppose he writes best, who is to be understood most universally. Now so far are we from having had this point in view in botany, that more new and more strange words have been introduced into it, than into all the sciences together: and so remarkable is the SWEDE before mentioned, LINNAEUS, for this, that a good scholar, nay the best scholar in the world, shall not be able to understand three lines together in his best writings, although they are written in latin, a language in which he is ever so familiar. The author has not been at the pains to explain his new words himself, but refers his reader to nature; he bids him seek them in the flowers, where he found them.
We see, that the most curious botanists have not concerned themselves about the virtues of plants at all; that many of the others who have written well on plants, have thought it no part of their subject; let us examine the others; those who are of less repute. If we look into the English Herbals in particular, we find them large upon that subject; indeed they are too large by much. They say so many things, that we know not which of them to credit; and therefore in the uncertainty, we credit none of them. There is not the most trifling herb, which they do not make a remedy for almost all diseases. We may therefore as well take one plant for any case as another; and the whole of their labours amount to this, that the English herbs are full of virtues, but that they know not what they are.
When knowledge is perplexed with unintelligible terms, and the memory of the student con founded with a multiplicity of names; when the ignorant only, who have written concerning plants, have given themselves any trouble about their virtues; when physic is becoming entirely chymical, and a thousand lives are thrown away daily by these medicines, which might be saved by a better practice; it appeared a useful undertaking, to separate the necessary from the frivolous knowledge; and to lay before those who are inclined to do good to their distressed fellow-creatures, all that it is necessary for them to know of botany for that purpose, and that in the most familiar manner; and to add to this, what experience has confirmed of the many things written by others concerning their virtues. This is the intent of the following work.
The plants are arranged according to the English alphabet, that the English reader may know where to find them: they are called by one name only in English, and one in Latin; and these are their most familiar names in those languages; no matter what CASPAR, or JOHN BAUHINE, or LINNAEUS call them, they are here set down by those names by which every one speaks of them in English; and the Latin name is added, under which they will be found in every dictionary. To this is subjoined a general description of the plant, if it be a common one, in a line or two; that those who already know it, may turn at once to the uses; and for such as do not, a farther and more particular account is added. Last come the virtues, as they are confirmed by practice: and all this is delivered in such words as are common, and to be understood by all.
Every thing that is superfluous is omitted, that the useful part may remain upon the memory: and to all this is prefixed, in a large introduction, whatsoever can be necessary to compleat the good intentions of the charitable in this way. There are rules for gathering and preserving herbs, and their several parts, directions for making such preparations from them, as can conveniently be prepared in families, and general admonitions and cautions in their respective uses.
If I could have thought of any thing farther, that could tend to the making the book more useful, I should have added it; as it is, the candid reader is desired to accept it, as written with a real view to be of service to mankind.
The Family Herbal, 1812, was written by John Hill.