Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle
By Agatha Kim


Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle
By Agatha Kim

Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle
By Agatha Kim


Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle
By Agatha Kim


Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle”
By Agatha Kim


Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle
By Agatha Kim


Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle
By Agatha Kim


Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle
By Agatha Kim


Textual Analysis and Comparison

“Goethe & De Candolle
By Agatha Kim


Project Description

This project provides the visual complements to my dissertation chapter on the comparison of the ideas and receptions between Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (1778-1841). Goethe and De Candolle were botanists from Germany and Geneva, respectively, who participated in the French scientific community.

The dissertation looks at the impact of the concept of nation on the reception of different types of scientific knowledge in the first half of the nineteenth century, with a focus on the widespread images of the “French science” and “German science” at that time. The political revolutions and wars across Europe at the beginning of the century changed not only individual nations, but also the dynamics among them. I argue that the growing tension, jealousy, and admiration between nations had a visible impact on the seemingly universal scientific community: these factors encouraged the scholars of each nation to embrace particular types of scientific method and presentation, and thus, further guided the manners in which each nation reacted to foreign scientific knowledges. 

As one of case studies, this chapter looks at the discrepancy between, on the one hand, what the French audience assumed Goethe’s and De Candolle’s morphologies to be, and on the other hand, what the actual scientific texts revealed about themselves in terms of their components and structures.

As stated above, the contents on this page are visual complements to the chapter.

Brief Descriptions of Goethe, De Candolle, and Their Texts I’m Comparing

Goethe, Metamorphosis of Plants

This work was originally published in 1790, but was translated into French only in 1829. After the famous public debate between the two leading French naturalists Georges Cuvier and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire on the theories of animal structures and the methods and philosophies behind them, Goethe’s work was put in the spotlight, and was published in a French-German edition in 1831.

In this work, Goethe described plant growth in terms of serial homology, where a plant organ went through transformations (cotyledons, stem leaves, calyx, corolla, stamen, fruit, etc.) by alternately contracting and expanding its form. Goethe designated the leaf as the protean organ, or the Archetype of all the variations of plant forms. (The image to the right: the Archetypal plant as imagined by P. J. F. Turpin, 1837.) He considered these potential forms as equal in value—there was no hierarchy between the “regular” and “irregular” forms, which was a main disagreement between Goethe and De Candolle.
De Candolle, Essai sur les propriétés médicales des plantes (1804)

De Candolle’s goal in this work was to assert his Theory of Analogy, which argued that there wascontinuity between plant forms and properties. However, this theory asked one to look beyond the immediately visible plant forms because analogous plants could produce various effects while some non-analogous plants could produce similar effects on human. Instead, one had to distinguish which plant properties and structures were normative or accidental, as well as consider the modes in which plants produced their effects. De Candolle promised that this theory would help get rid of the apparent anomalies and re-classify them correctly according to the natural order, which would benefit the practical uses of plant medicines, especially in the colonial world. Although he argued that the environment could modify plant forms and properties and create the apparent anomalies, De Candolle remained silent, unlike Goethe or Saint-Hilaire, on the historical and evolutionary implications that these anomalies could offer.

De Candolle, Essai élémentaire de géographie botanique (1820)

The topic of this text is “botanical geography,” which De Candolle defined as the “methodical study of facts relating to the distribution of plants on the globe,” and of the “general laws that can be deduced from them.” De Candolle made a firm distinction between “habitation (countries in which plants grow)” and “station (topographic nature of localities in which plants usually grow)” because he viewed the confusion between the two has prevented botanists from making the correct, natural classification of plants. This text is filled with empirical observations and statistical information to support De Candolle’s point that certain external factors (ex. amount of light, soil type, competition with local plants, etc.) and combinations of these factors have determined the distribution of plant species. As for the question of from where and how plants have originally spread throughout the world, he speculated that an ancient deluge must have occurred to transport species to unlikely regions, thereby implying his rejection of the idea of plant evolution from earlier species.

De Candolle, Organographie végétale, Book V, Chapter II (1827)

This is the most important text for the comparison between Goethe’s and De Candolle’s botany because it explains the key concepts of the primitive type and symmetry, which are similar to Goethe’s morphological concepts. In fact, Goethe considered this chapter important enough that he translated it into German himself.Unlike other two texts by De Candolle, this text hardly contains empirical information because it focuses on the concepts and the methodology, philosophy, and history behind them. His concept of symmetry, or the “non-geometrical regularity of organized bodies,” was roughly equivalent to Goethe’s concept of plant type, and served as the normative form that could undergo modifications, or “degenerations” (the term which Goethe disliked,) resulting in diverse plant forms in the present world.De Candolle strongly identified with René-Just Haüy’s method for crystallography. He also mentioned and acknowledged the similarity between Goethe’s and his own morphological views,but criticized Goethe’s ideas as being too general without enough facts.


This case study is composed of three sets of comparisons (the icons on the left side of this page direct to different sets of comparisons.) Each set compares Goethe’s text (Metamorphosis of Plants, originally published in 1790 but translated and introduced to the French audience after 1829) to one of the three botanical texts by De Candolle (Essai sur les propriétés médicales des plantes [1804], Essai élémentaire de géographie botanique [1820], and Organographie végétale, Book V, Chapter II [1827]). Goethe and De Candolle put forward very similar morphological concepts in botany, but faced contrasting receptions by the French audience.

The visuals presented in these sets of comparisons show the “thought-components” of each botanical text. What kind of thoughts—whether they be logical, descriptive, philosophical, etc. in nature—are present in each text, and in what ratios? How does each category of thought-components interact with other categories? What can the visual and numerical findings tell about the character of each text—and does this character neatly correspond to the widespread nineteenth-century assumptions about that text?

To answer these questions, I propose to visualize each botanical text, adopting the following steps:

  • Every sentence in a given text is tagged with one or more of the “thought-component” categories. I use seventeen of these categories, which are listed below, with example sentences from Goethe and De Candolle that are tagged with a given category. (In the visuals, each thought-component category is represented by a colored block.)
  • Once every sentence of the text is tagged, then these categories are ranked from those that occupy the most space of the text to those occupying the least space. (At the very bottom of each visuals page, I provide the same large table, which shows the overall rankings of the categories for all four texts that are being compared.)
  • After the tagging process, it is possible to represent each botanical text visually: each sentence is simply converted to a string of color blocks, which represent different thought-component categories. The whole text then becomes a large collection of color blocks. By placing side by side a collection of color blocks representing Goethe’s text and another collection representing each of De Candolle’s texts, one will easily understand which are dominant colors that build each text. This is what I call the first-level interactive visuals, which are at the top of each visuals page.
  • Beyond understanding which thought-component categories are most and least used to form a botanical text, I further examine which categories tend to be tagged together—or, which pairs or triples of categories tend to work together when defining each sentence. The outcomes are again visualized, which I call the second-level interactive visuals, and they are presented below the first-level visuals. I also provide the numerical tables that summarize the visuals.

Categories Key & Example Sentences

Example sentences for each category

Goethe: French-German edition of Metamorphosis of Plants (1831)

DC1: Essay on the Medical Properties of Plants (1804)

DC2: “Elementary Essay on Botanical Geography” (1820)

DC3: Chapter II of Organography of Plants, book V (1827)

  Goethe  De Candolle 1  De Candolle 2  De Candolle 3

Empirical  “The [Ranunculus aquaticus] leaves produced underwater consist of threadlike ribs, while those developed above water are fully anastomosed and form a unified surface.” (19)  “When I placed these larvae grazing on a tuft of herbs where they could not find any Astragalus, they jumped on other legumes, and ate plants of another family only when they could not find any legumes to devour.”(19) 


“Likewise the birches, whose bark presents a great number of superimposed epidermis, resist coldness astonishingly” (365)  But one cannot deny that in some numerous cases the symmetry seems disturbed.” (238) 
Classical  “After having endeavored to make it clear that the plant organs that are developed in sequence, with great variations of their external forms, are intrinsically the same …” (53; tagged with both Romantic and Classical categories) 


“This action of nature is also accompanied by another, that is, the union of diverse organs around a center in fixed numbers and proportions” (99) 


“It often happens that such plant which is thought to be an exception to a family or genera in which one has placed it, really belongs to a different family, when its organization is better known” (25)  “Considered in its purely physical action, the temperature dilates or condenses plant parts, like those of all bodies.” (363) 


“Thus, each family of plants, like each class of crystals, can be represented by a regular state … it is what I call its type: unions, abortions, degenerations, or multiplications modify this primitive type” (241; tagged with both Romantic and Classical categories) 


Romantic  “There is a hidden relationship among various external parts of the plant which develop one after the other and, as it were, one out of the other … The process by which one and the sane organ appears in a variety of forms has been called the metamorphosis of plants.” (5) 


we know that among the immediate materials of vegetables, there are only diverse particular stages of a same substance (33)  it would be, I think, impossible to explain by these simple considerations of physics why, between the very limits where vegetation is possible, different plants require different degrees of heat to ensure that a seed germinates at 5~6°, and that another will require 20° or 30° to sprout.” (366) 


“For the plants which have the same type are not more analogous than the crystals which have the similar primitive molecules. If botany is much behind mineralogy in this regard, it results, on the one hand, from all these facts being submitted to a particular force (vital force,) whose laws are much more obscure and difficult to study than those of analogy and attraction.” (241) 



(Conclusions from empirical observations) 

“Thus, a stamen emerges when the organs, which earlier expanded to form petals, reappear in a highly contracted and much more refined state.” (39) 


“If we still cannot state with certitude about such general relations between the secondary characters of fructification and those of nutrition, we nonetheless see them from numerous examples, to be authorized to think that these relations truly exist.” (17)  All materials with which plants nourish themselves are either water or the substances dissolved or suspended into water.” (363)  “Even if it is impossible to find a flower whose petals were geometrically the same, or a leaf whose two sides were mathematically similar, there is no denying that one is struck by the kind of regularity of these organs.” (238; tagged with both Romantic and Classical categories) 


Deductive  “Thus, if one cannot imagine a leaf without a node, and a node without an eye, we must infer that the point where the cotyledons are attached is the first true node of the plant.” (11) 


This influence is so manifest in diverse products, that even in the cases where we do not perceive any difference in the organs, we nonetheless view it as proven, when we see it in the results.” (15)  “From which results that, under each given latitude, the species which need proportionally more light than heat must occupy the summit of the mountains, and those which need more heat than light must remain on the plains.” (370) 


And thus, proceeding from the opinion that the primitive nature is symmetrical, that irregularity is the product of diverse causes which alter this symmetry, we conceive that the monstrosities are due to certain variations of these causes...” (240)  


(neither Induct. nor Deduct.) 

“Perhaps the nectaries are merely the preparatory organs, perhaps their honey is drawn by the stamens, to be further developed and differentiated.” (51) 


“If juices from certain vegetables have constant properties, it is because they are composed of particular juices whose proportion is more or less fixed in the plant (26)  “This phenomenon can be due to either the multitude of islands which are dispersed in this sea, or to the fact that it has been traveled by navigators longer than any other, or maybe that it originated from some eruption of the ocean after the origin of the vegetation.” (405) 


If botany is much behind mineralogy in this regard, it results, on the one hand, from the greatest multiplicity of forms and of causes of action; on the other hand, from all these facts being submitted to a particular force (vital force), whose laws are much more obscure and difficult to study than those of analogy and attraction.” (241) 


Methodological   “To not lose the thread which guides us, we have only considered the annual plants, limited our discussion to the metamorphoses of the leaves which accompany the nodes, and derived all the forms from them.” (69) 


“it is evident that one must place in parallel each organ of a plant with the corresponding organ of another plant (26)  But, in order to analyze the effects of temperature on the liquids of plants, one must distinguish those which are outside of the plants and destined to penetrate them, and those which are already introduced into plant tissue.” (363)  “The monstrosities are … the experiences that nature has created for the profit of observers: in them we see what organs are when they are not united together; we recognize what they are truly like when an accidental cause does not prevent them from developing.” (240) 


Analogical  “Thus the lateral branches stemming from the nodes of the plant can be considered as small plants attached to the parent in the same way that the parent is attached to the earth.” (73) 


“We already saw that, in the animal kingdom, the classes established by the organs of nutrition corresponded to those by the organs of generation: like this, we see that, in plants, the division by reproductive characteristics are in agreement with the division by disposition of vessels.” (16) 


As one approaches the equator, one finds on mountains a selection of plants that are analogous … to those of temperate countries; and as the mountains of equinoctial countries are higher than ours, one finds there the plants that are analogous to our mountainous plants. (400) 


Does not the regularity, which one recognizes today as presiding over the form of natural bodies, exist in the organized bodies, and would not the anomalies, so frequent in the organized bodies, be caused by the complications of causes, each of which would produce a regular effect?” (237) 


Metaphorical-Visual   “It [Regular metamorphosis] is observed step by step from the cotyledon to the last formation of the fruit, and, like a spiritual ladder, reaches the pinnacle of nature by changing one form into another, namely the propagation by the two sexes.” (5) 


“Species are large villages; genera are provinces; families are empires; classes are analogous to sections of the world, and the plants that remain isolated are represented by the islands distant from any continent.” (24) 


All plants of a country, all those in a given place, are in a state of war relative to each other.” (384)  N/A 
Metaphors-agency to nature  “Nature hastened towards her great goal, here she takes one or more steps backwards. There, nature formed the flowers with irresistible force and tremendous effort, and prepared them for works of love” (5-7) 


“Either the intermediary beings are still unknown, or else, nature has indeed placed in the order of beings the empty spaces, here and there, just as she placed on the globe the inhabitable marshes and deserts.” (24-25) 


immense number, which proves the admirable fecundity of nature” (421)  The monstrosities are, that is to say, the experiments that nature has done for the benefit of the observer” (240) 


“Biological science, which has developed significantly in recent years, has relied heavily on this consistency [of natural forms] for its growth, stability, and reputation.” (31)  “It is beyond my subject to demonstrate here, although I believe it is easy to do so, that the difference which is found in the progress of zoology and that of botany is not arbitrary, but has to do with the essential nature of animals and vegetable” (15) 


What would it be, if from these purely geological considerations we were to pass to those which belong to the bases … to metaphysics of the natural history? Every theory of botanical geography is based on the idea of the origin of organized beings and of the permanence of species.” (417) 


At least one must agree that the laws that are labeled as a priori can only be considered as more or less ingenious hypotheses, as long as they are not confirmed by observation.” (243) 
Historical-Descriptive  “Without any clear idea of the purpose of these plant organs, he [Linnaeus] followed his intuition and gave the same name for the seemingly different organs.” (41) 


Ventenat proved, by the organization of the fruit, that it belonged to the family of gentianae, where the same [febrifugal] character was found.” (25)  The ancient naturalists very much neglected the study and even the indication of homelands of plants. Linnaeus is the first who thought of indicating them in general works” (359)  “If we examine the development of crystallography, we see that Romé-de-l’Isle, considering crystals as single bodies, explained their anomalies by truncations, whereas Haüy, using the theory of primitive molecules, succeeded at explaining the most complicated forms, by referring them to the diverse ways in which these molecules bond together.” (237) 


Classificatory definition  “These first organs are known as cotyledons. They have also been called seminal leaves, kernels, seed lobes, etc. to express the various forms in which they appear.” (9) 


“In all bulbs, one distinguishes three parts: the radicles which emerge from underneath of the bulb, and which are true roots …” (28)  “The term station indicates the special nature of the locality in which each species is accustomed to grow, and the term habitation is a general indication of the country where it grows naturally.” (383) 


Future research-Utility  “As exact observation and comparison of different forms … are of a great importance, for this reason alone, a collection of properly arranged illustrations with the botanical terms for the different parts of the plant would be both pleasant and useful.” (81) 


“Thus, in admitting this theory [of analogy], one will be able to put in more order and more method in the description and demonstration of medicines” (12)  When one will unite all the facts with precision, perhaps one will be able to deduce from it the general and thorough laws” (392)  The arrangement of plants in natural orders supposes that one will be able to one day establish the characters of these orders upon which forms the basis of their symmetry, and refer the various forms of species or genera to the action of causes which tend to alter the primitive symmetry.” (241) 
Numerical  N/A  N/A  “one finds that, among 1485 vascular plants which grow in the British Isles, there are only 43 or 1/34 which have been found also in France” (404) 


Writing direction  “The aim of these observations is not to disrupt the classifications made by earlier observers and taxonomists; we only wish to clarify the variations in plant form.” (47) 


“Without wishing to compare these three means which … can lead to truth, I will only stick to developing what can be expected from the latter [natural analogy] (8)  I will add considerations which came to me through the attentive examination during my seven-year travel in France, regarding the distribution of plants on the land that surrounds us” (362)  “I will proceed to expound on the summary of this entire work in an aphoristic form, which could give some idea of these principles of symmetry” (244) 
Blank   N/A  “I will explain.” (28)  “Here is the result of this comparison” (420) 




Thanks To

This project would not have been possible without the support from my advisor, Professor Robert J. Richards, and the VUE (Visualization for Understanding and Exploration) team at the University of Chicago. The visual components and their presentation on this website are all thanks to Kazutaka Takahashi and Siraj Elahi on the VUE team. This work was completed in part with resources provided by the University of Chicago Research Computing Center.