‘He was a great observer, and every day I become more convinced that no one has been more skilful in establishing genera.’
Linnaeus on Vaillant (quoted in Jovet and Mallet, p. 554).
Sébastien Vaillant, Discours sur la structure des fleurs, leurs differences et l’usage de leurs parties (Leiden, 1718), title page in French.
This short treatise is the text of Sébastien Vaillant’s popular inaugural lecture at the Jardin du Roi (now Jardin des Plantes) in 1717. Vaillant (1669-1722) had been a student of Tournefort’s in the early 1690s and later became a demonstrator of plants at the Jardin, appointed to the post by Guy-Crescent Fagon (1638-1718), the chief physician of Louis XIV. In 1717 Vaillant had been asked to stand in, in the absence of the titular professor, Antoine de Jussieu, and give a lecture. His lecture proved so popular that he was regularly asked to do further lectures. The reason is not hard to see: this short treatise was a groundbreaking work, focusing on plant sexuality.
Sébastien Vaillant, Discours sur la structure des fleurs, leurs differences et l’usage de leurs parties (Leiden, 1718), p. 40.
The treatise was certainly innovative, concentrating as it did on the role of pistils and stamens, rather than the corolla (which had been the focus for Rivinus, for example), and, as Greuter et al (2005) note, the work had a major impact on Linnaeus, who had a high opinion of Vaillant’s work. The place of publication and the combination of the names of William Sherard (1659-1728) and Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) point to the importance of Leiden as a locus of botanical investigation in early modern Europe. Sherard had been a student of Boerhaave’s, one of the many English, Scottish and Irish students who had flocked to Leiden to study medicine. It was Sherard who had brought Vaillant and Boerhaave together and both Sherard and Boerhaave were eventually responsible for the publication of Vaillant’s lecture. As Stearn (1962) remarks, it was for this reason that the work was published in Leiden and also why it had two title pages, one in French and the other in the language of the universities of early modern Europe, Latin. Boerhaave subsequently popularised it in his lectures.
Sébastien Vaillant, Discours sur la structure des fleurs, leurs differences et l’usage de leurs parties (Leiden, 1718), p. 50.
Vaillant is also known for his critique of the works of Tournefort, published posthumously in the 1720s. It is striking that Worth did not collect these work. The numerous works by Tournefort in the Worth Library suggest that, in this dispute, Worth’s sympathies were with Tournefort, rather than Vaillant.
Greuter, Werner, Aghababian, Mariam and Wagenitz, Gerhard (2005), ‘Vaillant on Compositae: Systematic Concepts and Nomenclatural Impact’ in Taxon vol 54, no. 1, pp. 149-74.
Jovet, P. and Mallet, J. (1976), ‘Vaillant, Sébastien’ in Dictionary of Scientific Biography edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie (New York), vol XIII, pp.553-4.
Stearn, W. T. (1962), ‘The Influence of Leiden on Botany in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’ in The British Journal for the History of Science vol 1, no2, pp. 137-158.by