Biology had still to wait two centuries for its heyday. Botany grew leisurely through medical studies of curative herbs and the importation of exotic plants into Europe. Jesuit missionaries brought in Peruvian bark (quinine), vanilla, and rhubarb. About 1560 the potato was introduced from Peru to Spain whence it spread across the Continent. Prospero Alpini, professor of botany at Padua, described fifty foreign plants newly cultivated in Europe. From his studies of the date palm he deduced the doctrine of sexual reproduction in plants, which Theophrastus had expressed in the third century B.C. “The female date trees,” said Alpini, “do not bear fruit unless the branches of the male and female plants are mixed together, or, as is generally done, unless the dust found in the male sheath or male flowers is sprinkled over the female flowers.”51 Linnaeus would later classify plants according to their mode of reproduction; but meanwhile (1583) Andrea Cesalpino of Florence offered the first systematic classification of plants—1,500 of them—on the basis of their different seeds and fruits. Gaspard Bauhin, of Basel, in his massive Pinax theatri botanici (1623), classified 6,000 plants, anticipating Linnaeus’ binomial nomenclature by genus and species. Bauhin devoted forty years to preparing this Table of the Botanic World, and he died a year after its publication. It remained for three centuries a standard text.
The private herbariums of physicians were now evolving into botanical gardens maintained for the public by universities or governments. The earliest, established at Pisa in 1543, achieved renown under Cesalpino; Zurich had one in 1560, then Bologna, Cassel, Leiden, Leipzig, Breslau, Basel, Heidelberg, Oxford. Gui de La Brosse, physician to Louis XIII, organized the famous Jardin des Plantes Médicinales at Paris in 1635. Zoological gardens, as menageries for public amusement, had existed in China (1100 B.C.), ancient Rome, and Aztec Mexico (c. 1450); modern forms were opened at Dresden in 1554 and under Louis XIII at Versailles.
Zoology received less attention than botany, as it offered—except in mythical medicine—fewer cures. Ulisse Aldrovandi began in 1599 the publication of thirteen great tomes on “natural history”; he lived to see six through the press; the Senate of Bologna published the remaining seven from his manuscripts and at public cost; they were superseded only by the Histoire naturelle (1749–1804) of Buffon. The Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher began histology with his Ars magna lucis et umbrae (1646), in which he described the minute “worms” that his microscope had found in decaying substances. The belief in the spontaneous generation of tiny organisms out of rotten flesh—or even out of slime—was still almost universal, though Harvey was soon to reject it in his De generatione animalium (1651). Zoology was backward partly because only a few thinkers saw in animals the progenitors of men. But in 1632 Galileo wrote to the Grand Duke of Tuscany: “Though the differences between man and the other animals is enormous, one might say reasonably that it is little more than the difference among men themselves.”52 The modern mind was slowly climbing back to what the Greeks had known two thousand years before.
Anatomy was resting after its labors under Vesalius. Dissection of cadavers was still opposed—as by Hugo Grotius53—but the numerous “anatomy lessons” in Dutch art reflect a general acceptance of the procedure. The great name here, as well as in surgery, is Girolamo Fabrizio d’Acquapendente, pupil of Fallopio and teacher of Harvey. During his reign at the University of Padua the great anatomical theater was built there—the only such structure still completely preserved from that era. His discovery of the valves in the veins and his studies of the effect of ligatures led to Harvey’s demonstration of the circulation of the blood. Knowledge of circulation of body fluids was advanced by Gasparo Aselli’s discovery of the lacteals (1632), lymphatic vessels carrying milklike chyle fromthe small intestine. Indeed, Aselli, despite his name (“the little ass”) described the circulation of the blood six years before Harvey published his theory. Andrea Cesalpino had expounded the essential theory in 1571, half a century before Harvey; he still clung to the old view that some blood passes through the septum of the heart, but he came closer than Harvey to explaining—by capillamenta—how the blood finds its way from the arteries to the veins. On a hundred fronts the noblest of all armies was advancing in the greatest of all wars.