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The mechanical life of plants: Descartes on botany

  • FABRIZIO BALDASSARRI (a1)
Abstract

In this article, I argue that the French philosopher René Descartes was far more involved in the study of plants than has been generally recognized. We know that he did not include a botanical section in his natural philosophy, and sometimes he differentiated between plants and living bodies. His position was, moreover, characterized by a methodological rejection of the catalogues of plants. However, this paper reveals a significant trend in Descartes's naturalistic pursuits, starting from the end of 1637, whereby he became increasingly interested in plants. I explore this shift by examining both Descartes's correspondence and several notes contained in the Excerpta anatomica. Grounded in direct observations, Descartes's work on vegetation provides a modest, though not unimportant, contribution to a natural-philosophical approach to the vegetal realm. This had a direct bearing on his lifelong ambition to explain the nature of living bodies and also fuelled the emergence of botany as a modern science.

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Financial support for the research for this paper was provided by the ISF grant 469/13, the Kristeller-Popkin JHP Fellowship, the Herzog August Bibliothek Fellowship, and by a grant of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation (CNCS – UEFISCDI), project number PN-III-P1-1.1-PD-2016-1496, ‘The overlooked history of vegetal life: from the vegetative soul to metabolism in early modern philosophy and biomedicine’. I discussed versions of this work in seminars and conferences in Bergamo, Berlin, Bran, Bucharest, Chicago, Gotha, Utrecht and Tel Aviv. I am grateful to Lucio Mare, who helped me with the translation into English of the Latin quotations from the Excerpta anatomica, and wish to thank Igor Agostini, Vlad Alexandrescu, Laura Georgescu, Guido Giglioni, Ohad Nachtomy, Kirsten Walsh and especially Theo Verbeek for their useful suggestions. Many thanks to the anonymous referees of the journal for their comments and to Charlotte Sleigh for her kind and patient help.

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1 Gaukroger, Stephen, Descartes: An Intellectual Biography, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995, p. 405. Gaukroger, Descartes's System of Natural Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 186189. Rodis-Lewis, Geneviève, Descartes : Biographie, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1995. Clarke, Desmond, Descartes : A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

2 Descartes, René, Regulae ad directionem ingenii, I, in Descartes, Oeuvres de Descartes (ed. Adam, Charles and Tannery, Paul), 14 vols., Paris: Vrin, 1964–1974, vol. 10, p. 360; Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (tr. and ed. Cottingham, John et al. ), 3 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985–1991, vol. 1, p. 9.

3 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 10, p. 367. Cf. Baldassarri, Fabrizio, ‘“[P]er experientiam scilicet vel deductionem”: Descartes's early 1630s battle for Scientia’, Historia Philosophica (2017) 15, pp. 115133.

4 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 6, p. 45; Descartes, The Philosophical Writings, op. cit. (2), vol. 1, p. 134: ‘I moved from the study of inanimate bodies and plants … on to describe animals, and in particular men’. In referring to some of Descartes works, like the Discours in this case, I have retained historical capitalization.

5 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, p. 315; Descartes, The Philosophical Writings, op. cit. (2), vol. 1, p. 279.

6 See Vermeir, Koen, ‘“Bent and directed towards him”: a stylistic analysis of Kircher's sunflower clock’, in Gal, Ofer and Chen-Morris, Raz (eds.), Science in the Age of Baroque, Dordrecht: Springer, 2013, pp. 4766. Čermáková, Lucie, ‘Athanasius Kircher and vegetal magnetism’, Early Science and Medicine (2018) 23(5–6), pp. 487508.

7 Descartes to Mersenne, 22 July 1633, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 1, p. 268.

8 Descartes had also tried to plant one sunflower, but failed, as he wrote to Huygens in 1643; see Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 804.

9 Principia, IV, Art. 92, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, p. 256. I do not share Stephen Gaukroger's claim that this exemplifies a similitude between sap and blood; cf. Gaukroger, Descartes's System of Natural Philosophy, op. cit. (1), 187.

10 For the role of collections in botany see Ogilvie, Brian, The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006, Chapter 5. Egmond, Florike, Eye for Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500–1630, London: Reaktion Books, 2017, Chapters 2–3.

11 Excerpta anatomica, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, pp. 543–634. The edition of Leibniz's manuscript is in Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, Darmstadt, Leipzig and Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1923–, vol. 8/2, pp. 454462, 545–589. See Metzeger, Charles, ‘Descartes physiologiste et anatomiste’, Hippocrate (1936) 4, pp. 521525. Dankmeijer, Johann, ‘Les travaux biologiques de René Descartes’, Archives internationales des sciences (1951) 4, pp. 675680. Descartes, René, Ecrits physiologiques et médicaux (tr. and ed. Aucante, Vincent), Paris: PUF, 2000, pp. 35.

12 Scholars have limited Descartes's interest in plants as beginning in 1639. Lindeboom, Gerrit A., Descartes and Medicine, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1979, p. 36.

13 For a general history of botany see Morton, Alan G., History of Botanical Science, London: Academic Publisher, 1981; Findlen, Paula, ‘Anatomy theaters, botanical gardes and natural history collections’, in Park, Katharine and Daston, Lorraine (eds.), The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3: Early Modern Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 272289. For a history of gardens see Baldassarri, Fabrizio, ‘Introduction: gardens as laboratories. A history of botanical science’, Journal of Early Modern Studies (2017) 6(1), pp. 919. See also Baldassarri, Fabrizio and Matei, Oana, ‘Manipulating flora: seventeenth-century botanical practices and natural philosophy. Introduction’, Early Science and Medicine (2018) 23(5–6), pp. 413419.

14 Descartes to Mersenne, 16 October 1639, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, 595.

15 On plant sensitivity see Webster, Charles, ‘The recognition of plant sensitivity by English botanists in the seventeenth century’, Isis (1966) 57(1), pp. 523. More recently, Guido Giglioni has been working on the Mimosa pudica; see Giglioni, Guido, ‘Touch me not: sense and sensibility in early modern botany’, Early Science and Medicine (2018) 23(5–6), pp. 420443.

16 du Val, Guillaume, Phytologia, sive philosophia plantarum, Paris, 1647, pp. 210217. Regius, Henricus, Philosophia naturalis …, Amsterdam, 1661, p. 389.

17 Mersenne to Haack, 31 December 1639, in Mersenne, Marin, Correspondance du père M. Mersenne (ed. de Waard, Corneliis, Beaulieu, Armand, Pintard, René and Tannery, Marie), 18 vols., Paris: CNRS, 1932–1988, vol. 8, p. 723.

18 Descartes to Mersenne, 23 August 1638, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, 329. Gaukroger, Descartes's System of Natural Philosophy, op. cit. (1), p. 187.

19 Discours de la methode, V, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 6, 46. For a detailed explanation of Descartes's mechanization of the sensitive soul see Des Chene, Dennis, Life's Form: Late Aristotelian Conception of the Soul, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000. Marcialis, Maria Teresa, ‘Sensibilità e automatismo negli animali-macchina cartesiani’, Rivista di storia della filosofia (2011) 66(4), pp. 603631. Hatfield, Gary, ‘Mechanizing the sensitive soul’, in Manning, G. (ed.), Matter and Form in Early Modern Science and Philosophy, Leiden: Brill, 2012, pp. 151186.

20 Reneri to De Wilhem, 28 February 1638, in Dibon, Paul, ‘Bacon en Hollande’, in Fattori, Marta (ed.), Francis Bacon: Terminologia e fortuna nel XVII secolo, Rome: ediz. dell'Ateneo, 1984, pp. 216218. Reneri to Mersenne, March 1638, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, pp. 101–103. See also Buning, Robin, Henricus Reneri (1593–1639): Descartes's Quartermaster in Aristotelian Territory, Utrecht: Zeno, 2013, pp. 256257. Buning, Cf., ‘Henricus Reneri and the earliest teaching of Cartesian philosophy at Utrecht University’, in Secretan, Catherine and Antoine-Mahut, Delphine (eds.), Les Pays-Bas aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles: Nouveaux regards, Paris: Champion, 2015, pp. 6578, 75.

21 La dioptrique, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 6, p. 226.

22 Catalogus variorum ac rarissimorum librorum … D. Henrici Reneri …, Utrecht, 1639.

23 Hirai, Hiro, ‘Mysteries of living corpuscles: atomism and the origin of life in Sennert, Gassendi and Kircher’, in Distelzweig, Peter, Goldberg, Benjamin and Ragland, Evan R. (eds.), Early Modern Medicine and Natural Philosophy, Dordrecht: Springer, 2016, pp. 255270.

24 Jalobeanu, Dana, ‘Bacon's apple: a case study of Baconian experimentation’, in Giglioni, Guido, Lancaster, James A.T., Corneanu, Sorana and Jalobeanu, Dana (eds.), Motion and Power in Francis Bacon's Philosophy, Dordrecht: Springer, 2016, pp. 83113.

25 For a reconstruction of Nehemiah Grew's studies of plants see Roos, Anna Marie, The Salt of the Earth: Natural Philosophy, Medicine, and Chymistry in England, 1650–1750, Leiden: Brill, 2007, pp. 8796.

26 Pollot to Reneri for Descartes, February 1638, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 1, p. 512.

27 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 1, p. 514.

28 Descartes to Reneri for Pollot, March or April 1638, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, pp. 40–41; Descartes, The Philosophical Writings, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 100.

29 Descartes to Mersenne, 30 July 1640, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 122.

30 Descartes to Regius, May 1641, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, pp. 370–371.

31 Descartes to Mersenne, 11 June 1640, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 73.

32 Descartes to Mersenne, 25 December 1639, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 633. Descartes refers to Vorstius, Adolphus, Catalogus Plantarum Horti Academici Lugduno-Batavi, Leiden, 1633.

33 Descartes to Mersenne, 23 August 1638, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, p. 330; Descartes to Mersenne, 11 October 1638, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, p. 397.

34 Descartes to Mersenne, 17 November 1641, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 450. Descartes to Huygens, 6 October 1642, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, pp. 793–794.

35 Regius to Descartes, 18 November 1644, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 4, p. 148. Bornius to Gassendi, 16/26 June 1645, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 4, p. 238.

36 Descartes to Elisabeth, May or June 1645, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 4, p. 220. This aspect is also suggested in Descartes's letter to Regius, June 1642, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 568. On the role of rest in Descartes's therapeutics see Shapin, Steven, ‘Descartes and the doctor: rationalism and its therapies’, BJHS (2000) 33, pp. 131154, 149.

37 Descartes to Chanut, 15 June 1646, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 4, p. 442; Descartes, The Philosophical Writings, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 289.

38 It is to be noted that the Oeuvres de Descartes considers these two notes to be identical, while both textual and paratextual differences arise when comparing the text of the Primae Cogitationes published in the Opuscula posthuma with the text of Leibniz's volume.

39 Primae Cogitationes, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 534. Anatomica, in Leibniz, op. cit. (11), pp. 573–574: ‘In eo convenit formatio plantarum et animalium quod fiant a partibus materiae vi caloris in orbem convolutae, sed in hoc discrepant, quod partes materiae ex quibus plantae generantur volvuntur tantum in orbem circulariter; eae vero ex quibus Animalia volvantur sphaerice et in omnes partes’.

40 Primae Cogitationes, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 535; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 574.

41 Principia philosophiae, III, Art. 45, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, p. 100. René Descartes, Principles of Philosophy (tr. and ed. Valentine Rodger Miller and Reese P. Miller), Dordrecht: Reidel, 1983, p. 105: ‘just as for an understanding of the nature of plants or men it is better by far to consider how they can gradually grow from seeds’.

42 Des Chene, Dennis, Physiologia: Natural Philosophy in Late Aristotelian and Cartesian Thought, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996, pp. 138156.

43 Hirai, Hiro, ‘Seed concept’, in Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy, Switzerland: Springer, 2015, n.p.

44 Clericuzio, Antonio, Elements, Principles and Corpuscles: A Study of Atomism and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century, Dordrecht: Springer, 2000, p. 15. Newman, William R., Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005. Hirai, Hiro, ‘Logoi spermatikoi and the concept of seeds in the mineralogy and cosmogony of Paracelsus’, Revue d'histoire des sciences (2008) 61(2), pp. 245264. Hirai, Hiro, Medical Humanism and Natural Philosophy: Renaissance Debates on Matter, Life and the Soul, Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2011.

45 Hirai, Hiro, Le concept de semence dans les théories de la matière à la Renaissance: De Marsile Ficin à Pierre Gassendi, Turnhout: Brepols, 2005, p. 481. Cf. Fisher, Saul, ‘The soul as vehicle for genetic information: Gassendi's account of inheritance’, in Smith, Justin E.H. (ed.), The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 103123.

46 Vincent Aucante, ‘Descartes's experimental method and the generation of animals’, in Smith, op. cit. (45), pp. 65–79.

47 Bussotti, Paolo and Lotti, Brunello, ‘The problem of circular motion in René Descartes’, Giornale critico della filosofia italiana (2018) 14, pp. 76114.

48 Carter, Richard B., Descartes's Medical Philosophy: The Organic Solution to the Mind–Body Problem, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983, p. 193. Cf. Colloquium with Burman, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 5, pp. 170–171.

49 Aucante, Vincent, La philosophie médicale de Descartes, Paris: PUF, 2006, p. 303.

50 Principes de la philosophie, IV, Art. 19, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 9-2, p. 210; Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, op. cit. (41), p. 189.

51 Principia, III, Art. 52, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, pp. 105, 107, 148.

52 La description du corps humain, IV, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 253: ‘the seed … of plants, being hard and solid, can have its parts arranged and placed in a particular way which cannot be altered without making them useless. [The] seed in animals and humans is quite different, for this is quite fluid’.

53 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 595. Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 574: ‘partes materiae … volvantur sphaerice tunicam rotundam efficient [quae] totum foetum involvit, ac proinde hic foetus non potest adhaerere terrae ut plantae’.

54 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 595; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 574: ‘partes materiae ex a volvantur versus b et a per illas transeunt aliae partes ex c.f versus d.e.c.g.h.f. quarum c f faciunt radices d g ramos et folia a b vero truncum plantae’.

55 See Descartes, Ecrits physiologiques et médicaux, op. cit. (11), p. 169 n. 39.

56 Aucante proposes that the fragments of Cogitationes were written in 1632/1633, in Descartes, Ecrits physiologiques et médicaux, op. cit. (11), pp. 10, 53–55. I do not agree with this view.

57 Discours, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 6, p. 46. L'homme, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 201–202. Bitbol-Héspèries, Annie, Le principe de vie chez Descartes, Paris: Vrin, 1990. On fermentation see Bitbol-Hespériès, ‘The primacy of L'homme in the 1664 Parisian edition by Clerselier’, in Antoine-Mahut, Delphine and Gaukroger, Stephen (eds.), Descartes's Treatise on Man and Its Reception, Cham: Springer, 2016, pp. 3348, 40.

58 On natural heat corrupting bodies see Principia, IV, Arts. 80–85, 92, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, pp. 249–252, 256.

59 See, for the transformation of bodies, Principia, IV, Art. 31, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, p. 218. For agitation see Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, p. 241.

60 Primae Cogitationes, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, pp. 505–506. Cf. Descartes, Ecrits physiologiques et médicaux, op. cit. (11), p. 31.

61 Descartes to Plempius, 12 February 1638, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 1, p. 530.

62 Cf. Des Chene, op. cit. (19), pp. 133–138. Baldassarri, Fabrizio, ‘Descartes's bio-medical study of plants: vegetative activities, soul, and power’, Early Science and Medicine (2018) 23(5–6), pp. 509529.

63 According to Karen Detlefsen, this also reveals Descartes's attempt to isolate a class of living beings. See Karen Detlefsen, ‘Descartes on the theory of life and methodology in the life sciences’, in Distelzweig et al., op. cit. (23), pp. 141–171. Ablondi, Fred, ‘Automata, living and non-living: Descartes's mechanical biology and his criteria for life’, Biology and Philosophy (1998) 13, pp. 179186.

64 See Des Chene, op. cit. (19), pp. 56–66.

65 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 596. Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 575–576: ‘Accretio duplex est alia mortuotum et quae non nutriuntur, fitque per simplicem partium appositionem sine ulla earum immutatione … ita crescent metalla in fodinis … et fit transmutation ligni vel alterius corporis in lapidem per modum accretionis, dum partes lapidis poro ligni ingrediuntur, et praecendentes vel sibi assimilant vel extradunt’.

66 Fossilization surfaces in Descartes's correspondence with Mersenne, related to the curious case of the fossil wood in Acquasparta. See Descartes to Mersenne, 16 October 1639, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, p. 595. Descartes to Mersenne, 13 November 1639, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, p. 619. Cf. Stelluti, Francesco, Trattato del legno fossile minerale nuovamente scoperto, Rome: Mascardi, 1637.

67 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 596; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 576. On immutatione in Descartes see Baldassarri, Fabrizio, ‘Immutatio’, in Agostini, Igor et al. (eds.), Nouvel Index Scholastico-Cartésien, Paris: Vrin, 2019 (forthcoming). Cf. Descartes to the Marquees of Newcastle, 23 November 1646, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 4, pp. 570–571.

68 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 596; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 576. Imperfect animals are those which do not generate their similar through reproduction.

69 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, pp. 597–598; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 576. See also Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 602

70 On his physiological work see Descartes to Huygens, 4 December 1637, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 1, p. 649. Descartes's work on plants helped him clarify the functioning of the organs of the abdomen. I have discussed this issue in Baldassarri, op. cit. (62).

71 See Schuyl, Florent, ‘Ad Lectorem’, in Des Cartes, Renatus, De Homine … latine donatus a Florentio Schuyl, Lugduni Batavorum, 1662, n.p. Rohault, Jacques, Rohault's System of Natural Philosophy … 1723), New York: Garland, 1987. Le Grand, Antoine, An Entire Body of Philosophy …, 1694, Part VII. François Bayle, The General Systeme of the Cartesian Philosophy, London, 1670, Chapter 7.

72 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, pp. 627–628; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 457: ‘Poma ex arboribus ita formantur, emergent particulae ex trunco recto motu, quae deinde in orbem reflectuntur et fit alius motus circularis decussatim, cujus cum priori mistione particulae franguntur magis et magis, et ita fructus maturescit’.

73 On the relationship between rectilinear and circular movement, see Le monde, VII, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 10, p. 45.

74 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, pp. 628–629; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 458: ‘Summatim vero sic plantae omnes prodeunt ex terra: copiosus vapor vi solis per unam terrae partem ascendit, atque circumjacente aëre ejus motui resistente, partim siccatur, partim ejus fibrae, quae in rectum surgebant, in transversum volvuntur, unde fit cortex habens solum fibras transversas, cum e contra partes interiores habeant rectas. Si qui deinde meatus occurrant in cortice, vapor inter hunc et lignum ascendens per istos meatus oblongos solum in transversum eorum figuram sumit, et formatur in folia. Qui vero ex ipsa ligni medulla per lignum corticemque pervadit, quoniam inter fibras partim rotundas partim transversas egreditur, fit rotundus; atque ex eo concrescit primo oculus arboris, deinde flos, denique pomum, ut supra. Fit autem cavitas in medio omnium plantarum, vel aëre vel medulla plena; quoniam partes vaporis non plane recta sursum, sed oblique hinc et inde, ut patet ex fibris lignorum: quae ex iis sunt solidiores versus corticem feruntur, manetque in medio quod levius est, ut sol inter planetas’.

75 Descartes to Plemp, 23 March, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, p. 67.

76 Le monde, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 10, pp. 109, 60: ‘the parts of matter … larger and more bulky [plus grosses et plus massives] soon had to take their course toward the outer circumference of the heaven’.

77 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 629; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 458. A connection with perspiration surfaces, as vegetal bodies exhale vapours. This topic was discussed in pseudo-Aristotelian, De plantis, though from a different point of view. See Roos, op. cit. (25), pp. 80–83.

78 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 628; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 458: ‘Insitio vero vel etiam solius terrae cultura faciunt ut fructus sint mitiores: quia nempe particulae per duarum diversi generis arborum meatus evectae magis interpolantur. Item ex terra saepius versa subtiliores partes attrahuntur: quia, si terra diu resederit in eodem loco, paulatim ejus minutiae in easdem partes conspirabunt, adeo ut radices arborum similes sint iturae; glebis autem saepe versis, contra una arborem ingredietur uno modo, alia alio, meliusque ibi miscebuntur; dissimilia enim, ut misceantur, debent in plures partes frangi. Hinc fructus omnes sylvestres fiunt acerbi’.

79 Newman, op. cit. (44), pp. 65–66.

80 Savoia, Paolo, ‘Nature or artifice? Grafting in early modern surgery and agronomy’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (2017) 72, pp. 6786. First nature is nature in its wild state, second nature is farmed nature of agricultural fields, third nature is designed landscape of gardens. On this definition see Beck, Thomas E., ‘Garden as a “third nature”: the ancient roots of a Renaissance idea’, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscape (2002) 22, pp. 327334.

81 On Bacon's experiments see Rusu, Doina-Cristina and Lüthy, Christoph, ‘Extracts from a paper laboratory: the nature of Francis Bacon's Sylva sylvarum’, Intellectual History Review (2017) 27, pp. 171202.

82 When Mersenne asks Descartes about the plant growing on the body of a Spaniard, Descartes's answer only focuses on the affinity between plant and animal bodies, claiming that the same principle of life makes them alive. Plants grow on human bodies for this reason. He does not refer to grafting nor to plastic surgery. Descartes to Mersenne, 30 July 1640, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 3, p. 122.

83 De Saporibus, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 541.

84 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, p. 626; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), p. 456: ‘Arbores infra terram inventae sunt in Hollandia omnes ita inversae sunt, ut rami septentrionem respiciant. Si arbores proceras habere vis, ne reseca surculos, plures enim renascerentur; sed eversos trunco alliga, ita enim emorientur. Dum plantantur novae arbores, rami et radices abscindi debent; radices autem ita ut fibrae quam maxime terrae insistant; ita enim firmius inhaerentes, novas radices agunt’.

85 On trees growing underground as the origin of Dutch civilization see the term ‘Batavia’, in J.J. Hofmann, Lexicon Universale, Geneva, 1677, p. 261. Cf. Bejczy, Istvan, ‘Willibrord and the “tree fall”: a historiographical myth of the origins of Dutch civilization’. van der Woud, Auke, De Bataafse hut: Denken over het oudste Nederland (1750–1850), Amsterdam and Antwerp: Uitgeverij Contact, 1991, p. 83.

86 Gouhier, Henri, Les premières pensées de Descartes: Contribution à l'histoire de l'anti-Renaissance, Paris: Vrin, 1958. Shea, William, ‘Descartes and the Rosicrucian Enlightenment’, in Woolhouse, R.S. (ed.), Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Dordrecht: Springer, 1988, pp. 7399.

87 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, pp. 622–623; Leibniz, op. cit. (11), pp. 454–455: ‘Nulli quod sciam fructus salsi proveniunt: quae satis indicant sal esse valde fixum, nec a sole in plantas elevari … Amari sunt plerique fructus, ii praecipue qui in calidiusculis regionibus nascuntur, ut nucum putamina, malorum aureorum, etc. Abstergunt autem amara omnia vehementissime et exsiccant; imo etiam exulcerant, et venarum extremitates resecant. Ideo concludo esse partes in fumum quidem ab initio a calore excitatas, ideoque opacas et nigras (ut in nucis cortice), postea vero in arbore a partibus fluidis celeriter motis paulatim secretas et simul constipatas (unde olivae, quo maturiores, eo magis amarae), ac proinde quae faciunt corpus humidum crassissimum, quod se toto respectu carnis nostrae est siccum, ideoque abstergit; illi enim quod crassissimum est, in humoribus adhaeret, et sic omnia secum vehit, fluidissimis exceptis, quae relicta calefaciunt et siccant’.

88 See Roos, op. cit. (25), pp. 85–96. Clericuzio, Antonio, ‘Plant and soil chemistry in 17th-century England: Worsley, Boyle and Coxe’, Early Science and Medicine (2018) 23(5–6), pp. 550583.

89 On the nature of salt see Les météores, III, ‘Du sel’, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 6, pp. 249–264.

90 Principia philosophiae, IV, Art. 120, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, p. 268.

91 See Roos, op. cit. (25), p. 15.

92 On oranges (Aureorum malorum) see Ferrari, Giovanni Battista, Hesperides sive Malorum aureorum cultura et usus, Rome, 1646. Cf. Andrea Cesalpinus, De plantis, Florentiae, 1583, lib. iii, Chapter 59.

93 Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, pp. 146–147.

94 Remedia et vires medicamentorum, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 11, pp. 641–644. Cf. Baldassarri, Fabrizio, ‘Seeking intellectual evidence in sciences: the role of botany in Descartes's therapeutics’, in Lancaster, James and Raiswell, Richard (eds.), Evidence in the Age of the New Sciences, Cham: Springer, 2018, pp. 4775. Cf. Shapin, op. cit. (36), pp. 131–154. Aucante, op. cit. (49), pp. 375–416.

95 Principia philosophiae, IV, Art. 187, in Descartes, Oeuvres, op. cit. (2), vol. 8-1, pp. 314–315.

96 See Clericuzio, op. cit. (88).

97 See Roos, Anna Marie, Web of Nature: Martin Lister (1639–1712), the First Arachnologist, Leiden: Brill, 2011, pp. 151166.

98 Anstey, Peter and Harris, Stephen, ‘Locke and botany’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (2006) 37, pp. 151171.

Financial support for the research for this paper was provided by the ISF grant 469/13, the Kristeller-Popkin JHP Fellowship, the Herzog August Bibliothek Fellowship, and by a grant of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation (CNCS – UEFISCDI), project number PN-III-P1-1.1-PD-2016-1496, ‘The overlooked history of vegetal life: from the vegetative soul to metabolism in early modern philosophy and biomedicine’. I discussed versions of this work in seminars and conferences in Bergamo, Berlin, Bran, Bucharest, Chicago, Gotha, Utrecht and Tel Aviv. I am grateful to Lucio Mare, who helped me with the translation into English of the Latin quotations from the Excerpta anatomica, and wish to thank Igor Agostini, Vlad Alexandrescu, Laura Georgescu, Guido Giglioni, Ohad Nachtomy, Kirsten Walsh and especially Theo Verbeek for their useful suggestions. Many thanks to the anonymous referees of the journal for their comments and to Charlotte Sleigh for her kind and patient help.

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