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Significant Scots
Robert Morison


MORISON, ROBERT, an eminent botanist of the seventeenth century, was born at Aberdeen in the year 1620. He completed his education in the university of that city, and in 1638 took the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He was originally designed by his parents for the church, but his own taste led him to the study of botany and physic; and his attachment to those sciences finally prevailing over every other consideration, he began to follow them as a profession. His attachment to the royal cause, induced him to take an active part in the political disturbances of his times. He was present at the battle of the Bridge of Dee, near Aberdeen, and was severely wounded in that engagement. On his recovery, he went to Paris, where he obtained employment as a tutor to the son of counsellor Brizet; but at the same time he zealously devoted himself to the study of botany, anatomy, and zoology.

In 1648, he took a doctor’s degree in physic at Angers; and now became so distinguished by his skill in botany, that, on the recommendation of Mr Robin, king’s botanist, he was taken into the patronage of the duke of Orleans, uncle to Louis XIV., and appointed, in 1650, intendant of the ducal gardens at Blois, with a handsome salary. In this situation he remained till the duke’s death, which took place in 1660. While employed in the capacity of intendant, Morison discovered to his patron, the duke of Orleans, the method of botany, which afterwards acquired him so much celebrity. The latter, much pleased with its ingenuity, and the talent which it displayed, afforded its discoverer every encouragement, to prosecute it to completion; and sent him, at his own expense, through various provinces of France, to search for new plants, and to acquire what other information such an excursion might afford. On this occasion, Morison travelled into Burgundy, Lyonnois, Languedoc, and Brittany, carefully investigated their coasts and isles, and returned with many rare, and some new plants, with which he enriched the garden of his patron.

On the death of the duke of Orleans, he was invited to England by Charles II., who had known him while he was in the service of Orleans. His reputation, however, as a botanist, now stood so high, that he was considered as a national acquisition, and was earnestly solicited by Fouquet to remain in France, who, to induce him to comply, made him an offer of a handsome settlement. But love of country prevailed, and he returned to England. On his arrival, Charles bestowed on him the title of king’s physician, and appointed him royal professor of botany, with a salary of 200 per annum, and a free house as superintendent of botany. He was shortly afterwards elected Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and daily became more and more celebrated for his knowledge of botany. In the situations to which he was appointed by the king, he remained till 1669, when he was elected, through the interest of the leading men of the university of Oxford, botanic professor of that institution, on the 16th December of the year above named; and on the day following, was incorporated doctor of physic. Here he read his first lecture in the physic school, in September, 1670, and then removed to the physic garden, where he lectured three times a-week to considerable audiences.

This appointment he held, occasionally employing himself besides on his great work, Historia Plantarum Oxoniensis, till his death, which took place on the 9th November, 1683, in consequence of an injury which he received from the pole of a carriage, as he was crossing a street. He died on the day following the accident, at his house in Green street, Leicester-fields, and was buried in the church of St Martin’s-in-the-fields, Westminster.

Morison’s first publication was a work, entitled, "Hortus Regius Blesensis auctus; accessit Index Plantarum in Horto contentarum, nomine Scriptorum et Observationes generaliores, seu Praeludiorum pars prior, London, 1669," 12mo. This work added greatly to his reputation, and was the means of recommending him to the professorship at Oxford. His next publication was, "Plantarum Umbelliferarum Distributio Nova, per tabulas cognationis et afflnitatis, ex libro Naturae observata et delecta, Oxon, 1672," fol. This was given as a specimen of his great work, "Historia Plantarum Universalis Oxoniensis." It attracted the notice of the learned throughout all Europe, and added greatly to his reputation. Encouraged by its reception, he proceeded vigorously with the work which was intended to typify, and produced the first volume, under the title already quoted, in 1680. His death, however, prevented its completion, and left him time to finish nine only of the fifteen classes of his own system.


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