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L’écluse (Clusius), Charles De

(b. Arras, France, 19 February 1526; d. Leiden, Netherlands, 1609)


Known to botanists by the Latinized name of Clusius, L’Écluse was the son of Michel de l’Escluse, lord of Watènes and councillor at the provincial court of Artois, and of Guillièmine Quineault. The elder son in a rich and respectable family, he had a happy childhood and received a substantial education. Amiable and charming, he possessed a lively and penetrating intelligence and was a man of few words. He may have owned his serious nature and sad disposition to his delicate health. His interests were many: objets d’art, antiquities, the history of customs and of peoples. Although he lived in the company of the wealthy and powerful, L’Écluse remained unaffected and without prejudice. Firm in his philosophical and religious convictions, he suffered along with his family the effects of anti-Protestant persecutions. In 1571 he returned his share of the estate to his father, who had just been stripped of his fortune.

L’Écluse was trained as a lawyer and in 1548 received his licence in law from the University of Louvain. His interest in botany was not awakened until 1551, when he went to Provence and began gathering plants for the garden of his teacher, Guillaume Rondelet a professor at the University of Montpellier. L’Écluse’s excellent knowledge of Latin allowed him to write and to translate several works in natural science; he did not merely translate the works of his contemporaries but often expanded and even corrected them.

The first book on which L’Écluse collaborated, Rondelet’s De piscibus marinis libri XVIII, which he wrote up entirely from the great ichthyologist’s notes, appeared in 1554. Since his translations contain considerable original work, it is worth citing the most important of them:

Histoire des plantes (1557) is the French version of Dodoens’ Cruydeboeck; this translation, mentioned by Gaspard Bauhin in his Pinax, can be considered a second edition of the original work.

Aromatum et simplicium aliquot medicamentorum apud iodos nascentium historia (1567) is taken from Garica del Huerto’s Coloquios dos simples.

Fro Jacques Amyot’s Vie des hommes illustres grecs et romains (1568), L’Écluse translated the biographies of Hannibal and Scipio Africanus from Latin into French.

De simplicibus medicamentis ex occidentali India delatis quorum in medicina usus est (1574) is the translation of a work by the Seville physician Nicolas Monardes on the medicinal plants of the West Indies, to which L’Écluse added a supplement in 1582.

Aromatum et medicamentorum in orientali India nascentium liber (1582) is the translation of Tractado de las drogas y medicinas de las Indias orientales by Cristóbal Acosta.

A Latin translation of the accounts of Pierre Belon’s voyage to the Orient and the Middle East appeared in 1589.

A complete edition of the three translations concerning the medicinal plants of the Indies appeared in 1593.

In addition, L’Écluse composed Aliquot notae in garciae aromatum historiam (1582) from the notes on the western coasts of America furnished by Francis Drake upon the return of his famous expedition to the Pacific.

Long periods spent in Province, Spain, and Austria- Hungary enabled L’Écluse to make numerous botanical observations, on the basis of which he wrote accounts of the floras of these regions that are still valuable. L’Écluse’s first entirely original work, Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Hispanias observatarum historia(1576), was prepared from notes collected during his travels in Spain in 1564—1565. It contains admirable engravings executed under the author’s supervision, either from sketches or from specimens he had collected. These plates, paid for by the publisher Plantin, were also used to illustrate the works of Dodoens and Lobel. L’Écluse’s flora of Hungary and Austria was published in 1583 and is still consulted for its descriptions of Alpine plants. Rariorum plantarum historia (1601) records approximately 100 new species; Exoticorum libri decem (1605) is an important work on exotic flora and includes everything that L’Écluse published on the subject. These two works contain all of L’Écluse’s original contributions in botany and natural history and are still often consulted. They are sometimes found bound as a single work.

Honoring the promise that had been made to L’Écluse, Plantin’s sons-in-law and successors published his works posthumously, in 1611, under the title Curaeposteriores. There is also the 1644 folio volume of the works of Dodoens and L’Écluse, several copies of which contain colored plates.

The last sixteen years of L’Écluse’s life brought him great satisfaction. Appointed in 1593 by the trustees of the University of Leiden to succeed Dodoens, he held the chair of botany until his death in 1609. It may justly be said that Leiden had become the botanical center for the whole of Europe. L’Écluse’s communications to his many correspondents regarding exchanges of plants and documents allow us to reconstruct the state of botany in that period, especially in the Low Countries.


I. Original Works. L’Écluse’s first original work was a “petit recueil auquel est contenue la description d’aucune gomme et liqueurs, provenant tant des arbres que des herbes…” appended to his trans, of Dodoens’ Cruydeboeck as Histoire des plantes (Antwerp, 1557). It was followed by Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Hispanias observatarum historia (Antwerp, 1576), a flora of Spain that L’Écluse considered his first original work; Aliquot notae in garciae aromatum historia (Antwerp, 1582), collected notes on American flora; and Rariorum aliquot stirpium, per Pannoniam, Austriam et vicinas quasdam provincias observatarum (Antwerp, 1583). Rariorum plantarum historia (Antwerp, 1601) was an authoritative collection that included descriptions of European plants as well as of foreign ones—including the potato; a concluding treatise on mushrooms is also of interest.

L’Écluse’s works were collected as Exoticorum libri decem, 3 vols. (Leiden, 1605), which also included 3 new chapters; a French trans, by Antoine Colin, as Des drogues, espicÉries et de medicamens simples, was published at Lyons in 1602 (2nd ed., 1619). Curae posteriores (Leiden, 1611) was published posthumously by Plantin.

For bibliographical details of L’Écluse’s translations, see British Museum General catalogue of Printed Books, CXXXII, cols. 786-787; additional information may be found in Nouvelle biographie générale, XXX (Paris, 1862), cols. 220—221; and Michaud, Biographie universelle, new ed., XXIII, 534-535.

II. Secondary Literature. On L’Écluse and his work, see L. Legré, La botanique en Provence au XVI siécle, V (Marseilles, 1901); and C. J. é Morren, charles de l’Escluse, sa vie et ses oeuvres (Liége, 1875). See also C. F. A. Morren, in Belgique horticole, 3 (1853), v—xix; and Bulletin. Société royale de botanique de Belgique, 1 (1862), 14-15.

P. Jovet

J. C. Mallet

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