Jacquin, Nikolaus Joseph,
(1727 - 1817)
Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin, Austrian botanist, was born at Leiden, in the
Netherlands on February 16, 1727, the son of a prosperous cloth manufacturer,
Claudius Nikolaus Jacquin, and his wife, Siegeberta von Henningen. The origins
of the Jacquin family were in France, and they were Roman Catholic, a fact of
some significance in the son’s career. There were no Catholic schools in Leiden
in the early 18th century, so his father sent him to a Jesuit college
in Antwerp. He next attended Louvain University, and then returned home to study
medicine and botany. At the university in Leiden, one of his professors was
Adriaan van Royen (1704-1779), an advocate of the Linnaean reform in botanical
systematics, and he also became acquainted with two other Linnaean advocates-Jan
Fredrik Gronovius (1690-1762) and his son, Laurens Theodoor (1730-1773). The latter
is credited with significantly influencing Jacquin toward what would be a lifelong
career in botany.
From 1750 to 1752, Jacquin continued his medical studies in Paris, where he met
the famous de Jussieu brothers, Antoine (1686-1758) and Bernard (1699-1777).
He attended the botanical lectures of the former and took part in the botanical
excursions of the latter, thus broadening his interest in that science. In 1752,
following the suggestion of a family friend and former Leiden physician, Jacquin
left Paris for Vienna where he expected to complete his medical studies. The
friend was Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772) who had practiced medicine and
lectured at the university in Leiden, but, as a Roman Catholic, had found the
academic life there inhospitable. When the Empress Maria Theresa offered him
the position of court physician plus a professorship in the medical faculty, he
accepted gratefully, and had left Leiden for good in 1745.
In Vienna, Jacquin discovered that van Swieten, his patron, in addition to his
medical duties, had had a major role in the development of the gardens at the
Schoenbrunn Palace. He became a frequent visitor to the gardens, met the
Emperor, Francis I, and was invited to go on a botanical collecting trip to the
West Indies. The expedition was van Swieten’s idea, and he selected another
Dutch countryman from the Schoenbrunn staff, Richard van der Schot , to go
to the Caribbean region. The expedition, which was to last four years, left Italy
in early 1755, and arrived in Martinique six months later.
With Martinique as their base of operations, the expedition traveled to numerous
Caribbean islands, including St. Vincent, Grenada, Aruba, St. Kitts, and others.
They also visited the coastal regions of Venezuela and Colombia, Haiti in 1757-
58; Jamaica in 1758; Cuba in 1759. Jacquin was the first botanist to bring home
collections and drawings from such places as St. Eustatius, Curacao, St. Maarten,
and Grenada. Altogether, he sent seven collections of plants and animals to
Vienna. They are described in his Hortus Schoenbrunnensis (1797-1804).
Jacquin left Cuba in 1759 and arrived in Vienna in July of the same year, and the
expedition was considered to have been an unqualified success. Carl Linnaeus,
hearing of the expedition, initiated what would become a lifelong correspondence
with Jacquin, writing him congratulations in a letter of August 1, 1759. He
welcomed Jacquin as "the ambassador of Flora itself, bringing us the treasures
from foreign worlds, ..." Sometime later, when Linnaeus had received and read
Jacquin’s first publication on West Indian plants, Enumeratio systematica
plantarum (1760), he wrote that," I have seldom seen such a small booklet
so rich in golden knowledge. I read it during the evening and could not sleep at
night because I dreamed of your beautiful plants."
The small work of 1760 was followed by Selectarum stirpium americanorum
historia, a large folio published in 1763. The importance of these two works in
the development of botanical science was very great. The Enumeratio was
one of the first books by an author other than Linnaeus or his immediate pupils
in which the binary system of nomenclature was used, and the Selectarum
gives extensive descriptions of new taxa from America along with 184 copper
engravings from the drawings of live specimens made by Jacquin in the field.
The Linnaeus-Jacquin correspondence for the early 1760’s contains numerous
references to the publications, and Linnaeus refers to many of Jacquin’s new
taxa in the second edition of Species plantarum (1762-63). Jacquin also used
Linnaean binomials in his Enumeratio stirpium ... in agro Vindobonensi (1762)
which was a list of plants growing in the Vienna region.
In 1763, with his reputation firmly established, Jacquin was able to write to
Linnaeus that he had been offered no less than three professorships-at
Innsbruck, St. Petersburg, and Schemnitz in Hungary (now Banska Stiavnica in
Slovakia). He accepted a professorship of chemistry and metallurgy at the mining
academy in Hungary and was granted an annual stipend of 500 gold ducats. In
addition, he was given a large house, space for a laboratory, a garden, and an
allowance for four horses. He had married, and his wife brought him a
substantial dowry and he continued to receive an allowance from the Austrian
emperor. As he wrote to Linnaeus, he could live well and devote all his time to
science; Linnaeus was impressed and mentioned that he had to make do with
an income of 150 ducats per year.
Jacquin lived and worked in Schemnitz for six years and then moved to Vienna to
accept a professorship of botany and chemistry at the University, a post he held
until his retirement in 1797. During his Vienna years, he published a series of
illustrated folios. They included Florae austriaceae, 5 volumes (1773-1778);
Icones plantarum rariorum, 3 volumes (1781-1793); Plantarum rariorum
caesari schoenbrunnensis, 4 volumes (1797-1804). He also published, in 1785,
Anleitung zur Pflanzenkenntniss nach Linne’s Methode, in which he gives
his ideas on systematics and explains his preference for the Linnaean system, What is
important, he advises, is the practical usefulness of the Linnaean scheme, which
emphasizes directness, simplicity, and efficiency. All systems in taxonomy, he
believes, are arbitrary-what is most desirable is to establish one which is the
superior vehicle for storing and retrieving taxonomic information.
Jacquin’s years in Vienna were extraordinarily fruitful. In addition to his
professorship, he was the director of the University botanic garden. For his
services and contributions to botany, he was knighted in 1774 and became a
baron in 1806. He has been described as the foremost participant in the golden
age of Austrian botany-the "Austrian Linnaeus".
Robert F. Erickson