Note to Garden of Cyrus, Chapter III

“How little is required unto effectual generation,” etc.

Wilkin (vol. III, pp. 405-408) offers the following note on this passage.

In MS. Sloan. 1326, fol. 17, are the following observations on this passage; thus headed, and followed by a copy of his letter to Dr. Browne, whose reply I have also adjoined, from MS. Sloan. 3315. Reflections upon some passages of Dr. Browne's book called ‘Cyrus his Garden’ sent to Dr. Browne, from H. Power. Chapt. 3, pag. 129,

“hee that observeth (say you) the rudimentall spring of seeds, shall find ..... how little is required unto effectuall generation, and in what dimunitives the plastick principle lodgeth;” and indeed ’tis worth our contemplation to consider from what contemptible principles the vast magnitude of some plants arise, as that from so small a neb in the acorne so majestic and stately a plant as the oake should be drawn. But what you meane by the plastic principle “lodging in these diminutive particles,” I doe not well understand. I am farr more prone to beleeve that these fructifying particles or acornes (be they never so minute) are indeed the whole plant perfectly there epitomized. And that seeds doe not only potentially containe the formes of their own specifick plants, but are indeed plantarum suarum fœtus, and as it were a young and embrioned plant, capsulated and kradled (sic) up in severall filmes, huskes, and shells, and enclosed with a convenient intrinsicall, primitive nutriment (just like the chick in an egge) which at first it feeds upon, till it has broke through the enclosing walles or pellicles, to receive more ample nourishment from its great mother the arth; and this in some manner is autoptically demonstrable, especially in some of the greater sorts of seeds and more visibly in those that are somewhat flattish and oblong; as in ash keys or chatts (our linguæ avium) the skins being removed and the kernell cleft lengthways in the middle you shall find a youngling ash: viz. two white tender oblong leaves, lying one upon another with a stalk reaching to the point of the seed (not that point which is fastened to the tree but the other) to which tender stalk is annexed as it were a navell string or umbilicall vessel from the stemme through which the primitive atomes that materiald the plant were first conveyed.

In the mapple tree, both greater and lesser, though they keys or chatts be winged like the ash, yet is the diminutive mapple found foulded up in the knobby end thereof: in beans and peas at the cone point you there find those two little leaves and footstalk, which make the first protrusion and shoot ouf the earth: in other smaller seeds especially the round ones, the leaves are circum-folded, the stalk lying as an axis in the centre of them, as in cabbage and radish seeds, which when they break through the ground they erect themselves upright, sometime carrying their filme and skin (as children doe the silly how,) upon their topps, as in the sproots of onyons is manifest. Thus certainly the smallest seeds are nothing but their own plants shrunk into an atome, which though invisible to us, are easyly discernable to nature, and to that piercing eie, that sees through all things. In vaine therefore may wee expect an ocular demonstration of these things, unless wee had such glasses (as some men rant of) whereby they could see the transpiration of plants and animals, yea the very magnetically effluviums of the loadstone.

Now to stretch our conceits a little higher, wheather the spermatick principle of animals containe in it ipsissimum sui generis animalculum actualiter fabricatum, I am so farre from determining that I dare hardly conjecture, yet if it be true what I have heard some say, that in the cicatricula or birds eie (as our old wifes call it) of an egge, by a good microscope you may see all the parts of a chick exactly delineated before incubation, and if it be true what Harvey declares that homo non immediate corporatur ex semine in uteru ejecto, sed par quantam contagionem, it may and ought to exstimulate our unsatisfyed desires to a further enquiry — especially since wee see that the embryo in a woman, and those in cows and other animals, are not so big when sometimes abortively excluded as the kernell of a prunestone, and yet perfectly and integrally organized, yea (often times in that minutenesse to the very distinction of sex) but this may prove a subject of large discourse. At present give me leave to returne into the garden againe. In another paragraph you doe not only take notice but handsomely prove a continuall transpiration in plants like to that in animals; which continually renews their lopt-off flowers, and where it is large and excessive perchance doubles their flowers, now I am soe much your convert in this point, that I can easily stretch my belief a little farther, and that is to conceive that all plants may not only have a transpiration of particles but a sensation also like animals. This is eminently enough discoverable in those 2 exotic herbs (the sensitive and humble plants) vid. my letter to Mr. Robinson, 2nd August, 1656.

The conclusion of my letter to Dr. Browne.

These are some of those many eccentricall and extravagant conceits and fancyes of my own; how they may realish with you I know not, if they prove too raw and too crude to be digested by you I pray you prepare them better, and adde what corrections you please to them, and you shall ever obleige


Your most faithfull Friend and Servant,

H. Power.

From New Hall, near Hallifax,
     this 10 May, 1659.

MS. Sloan. 3515.

Worthy Sir,

The intent of that paragraph whereof you pleased to take notice, was chiefly to showe by playne and rurall observation how litle of that which beareth the name of seed is the effectuall or generative part thereof, that the plastic or formative spirit lodgeth butt in a diminutive particle, and that the adhering masse doth nothing soe much in the future present production as is vulgarly apprehended, exemplified in beanes and acornes, that part consuming or corrupting into insects while the generative primordium makes his progress in the earth. And therefore this I saye may be exemplified unto all eyes without art and by an easie waye of experiment, howe little is required unto effectuall generation or germination, such as is able to produce a growne and confirmed plant, and in what diminutives that spirit lyeth which worketh this effect, which must needs lodge in a very little roome at first, since when its power is farther advanced, it makes butt a small bulk comparatively to the whole masse, and that masse not soe considerable as is conceived to the production and progression of the plant, butt serving for tegument, enclosure, and securement of the nebbe, and food for man and animals.

As for the higher originall of seeds, before they come to sprout in or out of the ground, though it bee not easie to demonstrate it from the first spermatizing of the plant, till a little time hath made some discoverie and the seed bee under some degree of germination, yet is it not improbable that the plant is delineated from the beginning; that a lineall draught beginneth upon the first separation, and that these unto the eyes of nature are butt soe many yonge ones hanging upon the mother plant, very soone discoverable in some by rudimentall lines in the soft gelly-like nebbe, in others more plainly sometime after by more plaine roote and leaves, as I instance in beanes and peas, and have long agoe observed in ashkeys, almonds, apricots, pistachios, before I read any hint thereof in Regius or description in Dr. Highmore. And this is also notable in spontaneous productions of plants upon emerging of the first vegatable atome, although the observation bee hard, and cannot soe neerly bee observed in any production as that of duckweed, from water kept in thinne glasses, wherin the leaves and roote will suddenly appeare where you suspected nothing before. And if the water bee never soe narrowlie wached, yet if you can perceive any alteration or atome as bigge as a needles poynt, within 3 or 4 howers, the plant will be discoverable.

You have excellently delivered your sense in this you pleased to send mee, and I desire you to pursue your conceptions in these and other worthie enquiries, and in the interim and at your leasure to consider, whether, if wee make our observations in ashkeys, maples, hardbowes, acornes, plummes, &c. then when the leaves and stemme are playnly found, the inference will bee soe satisfactorie and current as if observed higher before the pulpe bee formed, when the seed is in a gellie: for even at that time I seeme to find some rudiment of these parts in plummes, for otherwise men will not allow this to bee soe high a beginning of formation as is in the egge, after sometime when the galba or maggot-like shape beginnes to showe itself.

Though wee actually find the leaves and roote in these seeds, yet since other dissimilarie parts are accounted essential unto the same plants, as truncus, rami, surculi, whether these parts are not rather potentially therin, which are not discovered or produced untill a long time after.

The roote of white bryonie and some others, cutt in sunder and divided, produce newe rootes, shoote forth leaves, and soe growe on after a seminall progression, or as though they had been produced from seed: now whether in these peeces of rootes or any other there bee any actuall delineation of the plant at first as in the seeds, may fall under consideration.

Dr. Hamie, whoe makes egges proportionall unto seeds, always insists upon the graduall displaye of parts potentially latent in them; yet evefn that the animall fœtus is delinneated at first though not demonstrable unto sence seems not wholly invisible unto reason. And therefore herin Courueus contendeth with Dr. Hamie that a delineation is made at first, butt the parts made visible after, that they are not delineated per epigenesia, or one after another, butt in a cercle, or all together, as Hippocrates expresseth, though to be discoverable successively or one after another.

That there is a naturall sensitive in plants as Dr. Hamey hath discoursed seemes verie allowable, and besides some other reasons, from the experiment of the sensible plant; which is also to bee found in minor degree in some others, as jacea, scabious, thistles and such as Borellus observed and published some years agoe, and might bee observed in others; such a sense may bee in plant-animals and in the parts of perfect animals even when the head is cut off.

Dear Sir, I wish my time would permitt my communication with you in any proportion to my desires, wherin I should never bee wearie, whereby I might continue the delight I have formerly had by many serious discourses with my old friend your good father, whose memorie is still fresh with mee and becomes more delightfull by this great enjoyment I have from his true and worthy sonne.

Sir I am
     Your ever faythfull and true
          Friend and Servant,
                              Tho. Browne.

How the sprouts of seeds carrie up their coat about them I have best observed in coriander seeds.

My wife comends her respects unto yourself and lady.

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