John Wilson

A Cow for a Book

It's the anniversary of the death of the botanist John Wilson.
It was John Wilson who first attempted a systematic arrangement of the plants of Great Britain in the English language. From a professional standpoint, John was a shoemaker and then a baker.
There is a little story that is often told about John with regard to his love of botany.
Apparently, John was so intent on learning about botany that he almost sold his only cow to buy a book written by the Scottish botanist and taxonomist Robert Morison. The transaction would have almost certainly caused John's financial ruin had a neighbor lady not purchased the book for him.
And there's another story that reveals John's self-taught botanical expertise and personality.
John had traveled to the county of Durham, where he met a man who enjoyed growing rare plants.
Confident he could beat John, the man challenged him to a plant-naming contest. To his shock and dismay, John was able to name all of the rare specimens in his garden. When it was John's turn, he looked about and grabbed a wild herb growing nearby, which the man simply dismissed as a weed.
John stated that the word "weed" was not sufficient, and he said that the man's answer proved he was merely a gardener and not a botanist.
And that's how John Wilson ended up winning the contest.

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John Wilson
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