Written in the early 1800s (with several revised editions) by Elizabeth Fitton, Conversations on Botany is a fascinating look at botany. The text is written as a conversation between a mother and her young son as she teaches him botanical terminology and concepts. This is not so many years after Carl Linnaeus developed his system of taxonomy. Fitton’s intent was to “enable children and young persons to acquire a knowledge of the vegetable productions of their native country, by introducing to them in a familiar manner, the principles of the Linnaean system of Botany.”
Conversations on Botany includes so much more intriguing information than simply botanical terminology. It reveals details about industries and customs related to plants such as sugar making from sugar cane, making tea in China, and how to use the rubber tree in a number of products–all from a late 17th and early 18th century point of view.
This book is filled with statements indicative of life at that time. Here’s one example: “The Sea-reed, Arundo arenaria, grows on the driest sandy parts of our sea-shores, and is so useful in binding the sand, and preventing it from being blown into the neighbouring fields, that Queen Elizabeth forbade the extirpation of it.”
And another example: “What we call cotton, is a soft downy substance, that surrounds the seeds; which, in one species, the common cotton, Gossypium herbaceum, is of a snowy white; but in the species barbadense, which grows to great perfection in the Chinese province of Kiang-nan of which Nankin is the capital city, it is, in its natural state, of a yellow colour inclining to red; and the kind of cloth called Nankin, which is made of it in that country, is of great value, because it is very strong, and fades very little, even after long use and frequent washing.”
You can read this book on-line, at no charge, at the University of California CDL (California Digital Library). On the left side of the website you can choose which version of the book you would like to view (on-line, pdf file, epub, kKindle, etc.).