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HUMANITIES 481 literary period; Vargo has provided a much~needed, comprehensive edition of this text. (LUCY MORRISON) Marion Filipiuk, editor. George Bentham: Autobiography 18oo-1834 University of Toronto Press. xlvii, 598· $100.00 George Bentham is remembered today only by botanists- as one of the greatest plant systematists of all time. He wrote the major part of the stupendous Genera Plantarum1 a seven-volume Flora Australiensis, a worldwide monograph of the very large mint family, the first account of the plants of Hong Kong, and, not least, a long-popular handbook on British wildflowers, which he tossed off as a before-breakfast relaxation. And all that without any training in the subject or having held any paid post in it: the kind of gentleman scholar whose full-scale commitment to his chosen field of study makes Lamateur' a decidedly unhelpful category to use when writing of nineteenth-century savants. Most of Bentham's work was done in the herbariurn of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where his name is still spoken with a very special awe. Among his legacies to that instihltion were some twenty-five volumes of journals and diaries together with an account of the first third of his life, which just in itself, entirely in keeping, runs to over 660 closely written pages. Though heavily drawn upon by Daydon Jackson for his 1906 biography, the daunting length of this and the tendency for Bentham to be thought of as a botanist and no more have combined until now to deny it the privilege of print. Before botany clauned him more or less completely, however, Bentham performed on a much wider stage, thanks to an affluent, cosmopolitan upbringing and a family background of many-sided energy and distinction. His father, Sir Samuel Bentham, a naval architect of historic accomplishments , spent a- slice of his career in Russia assisting Prince Potern.kin in his plans for that countris defence and development. But perhaps a more important influence was his uncle, the proponent of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, that even more phenomenally industrious individ~al withwhom he shared a passion for systems and logic and whom he briefly assisted in his work. After helping to edit the collected works of another leading British philosopher of the period, John Stuart Mill, Marion Filipiuk realized the value and interest of the Kew autobiography for a wider audience and took steps to rescue it at last from semi-oblivion. The result is this massive volume, handsomely produced and most meticulously edited (seventythree pages of endnotes, two appendices, and separate indexes to plant names and people mentioned in the text). An extra dimension of difficulty she had to overcome was caused by Bentham's use of his journals and diaries, apparently only fitfully, to check his reminiscences when he came 482 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 to write them down in the latter part of his life. The interrelationship between those and the autobiography proved to be one of s~ch intricacy that the decision was taken to weave the various bits together and produce a fully comprehensive narrative. The scrupulous use of inverted commas enables the reader to identify the many passages taken from the journals and interpolated into the autobiography text. The document that has emerged from this complicated exercise in conflation, a kind of palimpsest, provides us with a richly detailed view of life in the upper layers of European society, as lived by a young man of inquiring mind and excellent connections, mainly in the years between Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna. After a childhood spent partly in what must have been a stimulatingly exotic Russia, Bentham was brought up in a second alien culture, the family having settled in the south of France. There his roots lay until he came permanently to Englan.d in his mid-twenties to embark on what was to prove but a short-lived professional career as a barrister (to which he found himself temperamentally unsuited ). Roughly half of the autobiography covers that first part of his life. Polished, bright, and a good linguist, Bentham clearly moved with ease in both high society and international learned circles. In addition to an impressively high proportion of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 481-482
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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