Love and Longing in the Seaweed Album

From Charles F. Durant’s Algae and Corallines of the Bay & Harbor of New York (1850), via Public Domain Review

A lovely essay from the Public Domain Review, on the 18th and 19th century fad of seaweed collection, touching on its countercultural and feminist connections, and some of the fascinating figures who became obsessed with the “useless” plants. Sasha Archibald captures the strange allure of seaweed collecting, seen by its advocates as a more refined alternative to the more obvious, less subtle pleasure of flower collecting. This passage on the hobby’s effect on air-balloon pioneer, pseudoscience debunker and generally fascinating character Charles Durant really struck me:

His research served only to remind him, again and again, how partial his knowledge. Algology is a concession, and a surrender too. Durant seems to bow his head before the “unfathomable abyss” of his topic, which proves “too wide, too deep, too vast for perfect exploration”. Seaweed chastened his ego, and abasement made space for love.