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Morison, Robert

1. Dates
Born: Dundee, Scotland, 1620 The older sources, Pulteney, DNB, and Vines, all say Aberdeen, if it matters.
Died: London, 10 Nov. 1683
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 63
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
We know only his names, John Morison.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Scottish
Career: Scottish, French & English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Aberdeen; Angers, M.D.
Aberdeen University; M.A., 1638. The M.A. was the basic degree in a Scottish university; I count it as equivalent to a B.A.
Studied medicine in Paris, 1644-8, but I saw nothing to indicate that he was enrolled in the university.
M.D., 1648, at Angers. Incorporated M.D. at Oxford the day after he took up a professorship there. I do not list it.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
By assumption, supported by his fighting for the royalist cause during the Civil War.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Botany
Praeludia botanica, 1669, his first book, was critical of current taxonomy.
Plantarum umbelliferarum distributio nova, 1672.
Plantarum historiae universalis oxoniensis pars secunda, 1680. Pars tertia was published after Morison's death by Jacob Bobart. Pars prima was never published and apparently never written. The Historia was Morison's major work.
Morison was an important figure in the improvement of taxonomy.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Patronage
Fellow at Aberdeen University, 1638-42. Morison was seriously wounded in 1644 fighting on the royalist side and after recovering he fled to France, where he stayed until the Restoration.
In Paris he became at first tutor to the son of a consellor named Bizet while he studied medicine. I list this under patronage.
Physician and gardener to Gaston, Duke of Orleans, 1649 (or 50)-60.
Having been introduced to Charles in France, Morison became royal physician and royal professor of botany and supervisor of the royal gardens, 1660-83. The appointment carried a salary of 200 (usually deeply in arears) and a house.
Professor of Botany at Oxford, 1669-83.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat, Gentry, Eccesiastic Official
Vespasian Robin, French king's botanist, recommended him to the Duke of Orleans in 1649.
The Duke of Orleans.
Charles II brought him back to England and named him royal physician and royal professor of botany. Morison dedicated part of Praeludia to Charles, a second part to James, Duke of York, and a third part to Dean Fell of Christ Church, who had been instrumental in his appointment to the chair in Oxford. The dedication has a very interesting passage which states that the Duke of Orleans had been planning to finance the publication of Morison's system of taxonomy when he suddenly died in 1660, and which in effect begs Charles to take up the burden. Charles was apparently unmoved.
Morison dedicated Distributio nova to the Duke of Ormond, Chancellor of the university and to the Vice-Chancellor and other figures in the university who had contributed to the plates.
He dedicated his publication in 1674 of Boccone's treatise on French plants to Charles Hatton, son of Lord Hatton. Charles Hatton had been Morison's student in Paris, and he footed the bill.
Pulteney says that the edition of Boccone "excited the attention of the learned, augmented Morison's patronage, both abroad and at home," and encourage his to prosecute his further work. Although Charles II did not sponsor Morison's great work, he did get support from a bevy of private patrons who covered the cost of 126 plates in the pars secunda of the Hisatoria (the only part that Morison himself published). I have gone through the plates, which are dedicated to a whole platoon--great aristocrats such as Prince Rupert, the Duke of Monmouth, the Duke of Lauderdale; a number that I would call gentry, such as John Cotton, Bart. and Sir Robert Southwell; several bishops; some I would call governmental officials such as the two Secretaries of State, Coventry and Williamson (which I am not listing for lack of space); a very considerable number of physicians, mostly from the College of Physicians; quite a few apothecaries from the College of Apothecaries; and even some scientists such as Boyle and Wren. I do not list the last three categories for lack of space.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
Even though he held an M.D. and was a personal physician to Charles, I saw no indication whatever that Morison ever practised medicine.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Medical College
Informal Connections: Friendship with Jacob Bobart. Pupil of Robin.
Royal College of Physicians, 1660.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 13 958-60. J. Reynolds Green, A History of Botany in the United Kingdom, (London, 1914).
  2. Richard Pulteney, Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England, (London 1790), 1, 298-312.
  3. S.H. Vines, "Robert Morison, 1620-1683, and John Ray, 1607-1705," in F.W. Oliver, ed. Makers of British Botany, (Cambridge, 1913), pp. 8-43. S.H. Vines and G.C. Druce, "Robert Morison," part of the "Introduction" to An Account of the Morisonian Herbarium in the Possession of the University of Oxford, (Oxford, 1914), pp. xxiv-lii.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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