The emerging field of plant physiology:
Heinrich Friedrich Link, Mathias Jacob Schleiden and
the Jahresberichte für physiologische Botanik.

Björn Brüsch

On June, 13, 1842, Heinrich Friedrich Link (1767 - 1851), holder of a professoral chair for botany at the Friedrich-Wilhelm-University in Berlin and director of the Royal botanical garden in nearby Schöneberg, sent a letter to the Prussian Ministry of ecclesiastic, medicinal and educational affairs. The authorities were pleased to find two of his latest works attached: first his Alterthum und der Übergang zur neuern Zeit and second yet another volume of the Jahresbericht über die Arbeiten für physiologische Botanik im Jahre 1840, the first he had edited on his own account after his co-editor’s untimely death.

In Link’s opinion it was especially the second work which he felt more than relevant to prevent from, what he called, premature opinions. Among others, as Link amplified, the volume presented works of a person called Schleiden, a man who had already tried to twice commit suicide and who continually came up with aspersions towards J. J. Berzelius and Link himself, things which characterized Schleiden sufficiently enough to not take further notice and to somehow endure his crude judgements.

History, and foremost the history of botany, has proven Link wrong for it was especially Matthias Jacob Schleiden's work Grundzüge der wissenschaftlichen Botanik (1842) which was taken as a programmatic textbook of Schleiden’s own and also later generations of botanists. Particularly the historical account of Julius Sachs' (1832-1897), History of botany. 1530-1860, has led to the general assumption of lacking achievements within the science of botany and physiology in the decades prior to Schleiden and his contemporaries. By denying accurate and experimental research scholars such as Sachs only made out the most detrimental impacts due to the "frivolous dilettanteism" this older generation had been spending their time with. They dispised the times "where plant-collecting in wood and meadow and in rummaging in herbaria" made botany a rather dubious science. Works, such as Link's Das Alterthum und der Uebergang zur neuern Zeit (1842), a continuation of a book already published in 1821/22, and botanical works prominently inspired by natural philosophy surely were proof enough for this new generation to somehow challenge the achievements of the elder. This, however, does not mean that Schleiden in his late years did not publish historic works of similar rank and matter as well.

ISSN 1866-4784: reference - xlink