The Boston Botanist
#OTD Today is the birthday of Charles Eliot, who was born on this day in 1859.
Eliot was the son of a prominent Boston family. In 1869, the year his mother died, his father Charles William Eliot became the president of Harvard University.
In 1882 Charles went to Harvard to study botany. A year later, he began apprenticing with the landscape firm of Frederick Law Olmsted.
As a young landscape architect, Eliot enjoyed visiting different natural areas, and he conducted regular walking tours of different nature areas around Boston.
In his diary for 1878, Eliot did something kind of neat; he made a list. It was basically what we call a listicle nowadays. He titled it "A Partial List of Saturday Walks before 1878". Isn't that fabulous?
As a young architect, Eliot spent 13 months touring England and Europe between 1885 and 1886. The trip was actually Olmsted’s idea, and it no doubt added to Eliot's appreciation of various landscape concepts. During this trip, Eliot kept a journal where he wrote down his thoughts and made sketches of the places he was visiting. Eliot's benchmark was always Boston, and throughout his memoirs, he was continually comparing new landscapes to the beauty of his native landscape in New England.
Eliot's story ended too soon. He died at 37 from spinal meningitis.
Since Eliot had been working on plans for The Arnold Arboretum, he'd gotten to know Charles Sprague Sargent. So, it was Sargent who wrote a tribute to Eliot and featured it in his weekly journal called Garden and Forest.
Eliot's death had a significant impact on his father. At times, the two had struggled to connect. Charles didn’t like it when his dad got remarried. And, their personalities were very different, and Charles could be a little melancholy.
When Charles died, his dad, Charles Sr., began to cull through his work, and he was shocked to discover all that he had done.
In April 1897, Charles Sr. confided to a friend,
"I am examining his letters and papers and I am filled with wonder at what he accomplished in the 10 years of professional life. I should’ve died without ever having appreciated his influence. His death has shown it to me."
Despite his heavy workload as the president of Harvard, Charles Sr. immediately set about compiling all of his son's work and used it to write a book called Charles Eliot Landscape Architect. The book came out in 1902, and today it is considered a classic work in the field of landscape architecture.