Library of the Gray Herbarium

Library of the Gray Herbarium


BENJAMIN LINCOLN ROBINSON (1864-1935)
PAPERS

 

Biography:

Benjamin Lincoln Robinson was born on Nov.8 ,1864, in Bloomington, Ill., the youngest of eight children. He received his early education at home and then attended public schools and Illinois Normal School. He entered Williams College in 1883, but was dissatisfied with the school and left after three months. The following Fall he entered Harvard, graduating in 1887. Shortly after graduation he married Margaret Louise Casson, and they traveled to Europe together in the summer of 1887. They settled in Strassburg, where Robinson began graduate studies in Oct. 1887. Robinson received he Ph.D. in Strassburg in 1889 and in 1890 returned to Cambridge, where he become Sereno Watson's assistant at the Gray Herbarium. Upon the death of Watson in 1892, Robinson took over as curator, a post he retained for most of his life.

After becoming curator, much of Robinson's energies were directed toward completing work begun by his predecessors and toward improving the physical plant of the herbarium. Robinson took up Watson's work on Gray's Synoptical Flora of North America and had the first two fascicles published in 1895 and 1897, respectively. He continued to work for a while on a third fascicle, but it was never published. With she collaboration of M.L. Fernald, Robinson prepared a revised edition of Gray's Manual, which was published in 1908. From about 1900 to 1909 Robinson tried to have a new herbarium building constructed in the general location of the current herbarium; eventually he settled for reconstructing the building at the Botanic Garden. Robinson did much of the design work himself, and the rebuilding took place from 1909-1915.

Robinson's main personal research interest was the Eupatorium tribe of the Compositae. Robinson worked on a treatment of the Eupatoriums for Engler's Pflanzenreich, possibly in response to a Dec. 5, 1904, letter from Engler (see Gray Herbarium, Administrative Correspondence File under Engler) requesting a "Tüchtigen Systematiker" at Harvard to work on Eupatorium. The work was never published, as either Robinson or Engler decided that more work had to be done on certain areas of Eupatorium before a satisfactory treatment could be prepared, and monographing Eupatoriums dominated Robinson's research for the rest of his life. Earlier research work included a Flora of the Galapagos Islands, published in 1902, based on the collections of the Hopkins-Standford Expedition. Robinson made a collection trip to Newfoundland in 1894 and collected plants near his summer home in Jaffrey, N.H., but otherwise did not do much collecting. Although he was appointed Asa Gray Professor in 1899, Robinson was not active in teaching.

Robinson was involved in a number of scientific organizations, was a founding member of the New England Botanic Club, and served as editor of Rhodora for many years. He took an active role in the discussions of nomenclature that were being carried out in the International Botanical Congresses, and he participated in at least two Congresses that took place in Europe (1905 in Vienna, 1910 in Brussels). He traveled to Europe a half-dozen times, visiting herbaria, making notes and taking photos of specimens, especially of Eupatorium. Robinson spent to last few years of his life in poor health and died on July 27,1935, at Jaffrey, N.H.

 

Reference:
Fernald, M.L. "Benjamin Lincoln Robinson." Proc. Amer. Acad. 71: 539-542.
Fernald, M.L. "Biographical Memoir of Benjamin Lincoln Robinson." National Academy of Science 17: 305-330 (1936), followed by bibliography
Merrill, E.D. "Benjamin Lincoln Robinson." Science 82: 142-143

 

Scope and Content:

The Robinson papers consist of a half-dozen notebooks containing notes on herbaria visited by robinson, some notes on plants collected by Robinson, an assortment of unpublished manuscripts, and miscellaneous notes, correspondence, certificates, etc.

The notebooks mostly cover visits to European herbaria in 1905, 1910 and 1927-1928; one notebook has notes on U.S. herbaria visited in 1916. There are some records of photographs made.

The plant notes consist of a ledger book list of plants collected in southern New Hampshire and southern Vermont, and a book containing labels for Robinson's 1894 collections in Newfoundland.

The manuscripts give the impression of having been carefully gone through by Robinson, and many have notes added by him indicating why they were saved. Manuscripts for published works do not appear to have been preserved. There are notes on Leguminosae for the unpublished 3rd fascicle of the Synoptical Flora of North America; drafts on Eupatorium intended for Pflanzenreich: notes on the flora of Cocos Island, possibly intended to expand Robinson's Flora of the Galapagos Islands, including a hand-drawn map of the island by Henry Pittier and a portion of manuscript by W.G. Farlow; a draft of a talk given to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, winter 1918-1919; and a number of keys and other manuscripts pertaining to Eupatorium.

The miscellaneous materials consist of letters and notes pertaining to corrections of Gray's Manual, 7th ed.; letters announcing the awarding memberships, diplomas, etc. to Robinson; and a collection of diplomas and membership certificates.

There are also portions of Robinson manuscripts in two other collections in the archives. The Fernald papers include a draft of a revision of Gray's Field, forest and Garden Botany that was worked on by Fernald and Robinson but not published. The Weatherby papers include notes by Robinson and Weatherby on corrections of the fern section for the eighth edition of Gray's Manual. The Fernald papers also include some bibliographic notes for Gray's Manual, 7th ed. in Robinson's hand.

The Gray Herbarium, Administrative Correspondence Files contain some 380 letters from Robinson, many of which were written during the summers in Jaffrey, N.H., and during the trips to Europe. There are also a few letters from Robinson in the Historic Letters File and in the collections of Weatherby, G.G. Kennedy and others.

Note: A good portion of the Administrative Correspondence files could be considered Robinson's correspondence. It would take a great deal of work to estimate how many letters in this file were directed to him.

 

Provenance:

The bulk of the Robinson papers in the archives appear to have been specifically set aside by Robinson as historical records. No formal written record of provenance has been found.

 

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