Rivalry and Criticism

“I never intend to follow the beaten path, nor to trim my sails to suit readers, if they do not like what I write they can leave it. I think it a sin to tell only the palatable things about people. You never get a correct mirror of them that way. I have no sympathy with concealing the truth about the dead. I abhor hero worship. When a man sets himself up as a little god I feel like taking a shot at him.
- Marcus E. Jones ("Botanical Reminiscences,” Contributions to Western Botany, Vol. 17, Sept 3, 1930)

Jones became notorious for his harsh criticism of other botanists. While he respected a few of his contemporaries, he was certainly not reserved about disparaging both the scientific and moral credibility of most others. His reputation for irascibility caused other botanists to tread cautiously in their exchanges with Jones, for fear of being the target of his next diatribe.


Toward the end of his career, Jones began to publish a series of “Botanical Reminiscences,” his personal commentary on the life and career of established botanists. Some of these were complimentary, notably those for George Engelmann, Katherine Brandegee, and Alice Eastwood; however, many were resoundingly negative and reflect his bitter rivalry with other botanists, particularly Merritt Fernald and Edward Greene.
Of Fernald, Jones (perhaps somewhat hypocritically) wrote,
It is a common comment of workers in the Gray Herbarium that Fernald is becoming a common scold. He needs to be taken out in the woodshed and given a spanking. It is to be hoped that this will be done before he gets to the Bronxian position of seeing nothing good in the work of outsiders. (Contributions to Western Botany, Vol 15., June 6, 1929. 14-15.)

He was harsher still with his most hated rival, E. L. Greene:
There have been several notable deaths in the botanical world since my last Contributions. Greene, the pest of systematic botany, has gone and relieved us from his botanical drivel. They say that the good that men do lives after them, but the evil is interred with their bones. I suspect that his grave must have been a big one to hold it all...Greene was first, last, and all the time a botanical crook, and an unmitigated liar. (Contributions to Western Botany, Vol 15., June 6, 1929. 25-27.)

Of course, Jones also received plenty of criticism from other botanists for his volatile disposition, as well as his occasionally faulty botanical work. Upon his death in 1934, C. A. Weatherby of Harvard's Gray Herbarium wrote in a letter to Philip Munz, rather generously,
In spite of his diatribes against most of us he was the sort of straight-forward and apparently big-hearted pirate at whom one could take no real offense and for whom, I imagine, one could have genuine affection. (C.A. Weatherby to P.A. Munz. June 19, 1934. RSABG.)