The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Linnæus, Carl von

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The American Cyclopædia
Linnæus, Carl von
Edition of 1879. See also Carl Linnaeus on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LINNÆUS (Swed. Linné), Carl von, a Swedish naturalist, born near Stenbrohult, in the province of Smaland, May 24, 1707, died in Upsal, Jan. 10, 1778. His father, the Protestant minister of the parish of Stenbrohult, was a lover of flowers, and in the well stocked garden of the rectory young Linnæus passed his leisure hours, familiarizing himself almost as soon as he could articulate distinctly with the names of the plants to be found there, as well as those indigenous to the neighborhood. Notwithstanding this manifest predilection for botany, his father, whose circumstances were far from easy, designed him for the ministry, and at 10 years of age Carl was sent to the academy at Wexiö. Here he read with eagerness whatever works on physical science, and particularly on natural history, came within his reach, but made such limited progress in the studies applicable to his intended profession, that the teachers, conceiving a contempt for his intellectual abilities, advised his father to make a carpenter or tailor of him. Fortunately, Dr. Rothmann, a physician of Wexiö, who had noticed his enthusiasm for botany, prevailed on the father to allow him to study medicine and natural history; he received the boy into his own house, and instructed him in physiology, and in botany according to the system of Tournefort. In 1727 he went to the university of Lund, where for a year he was an inmate of the family of Dr. Stobæus, professor of physic and botany, with whose approbation he finally surrendered his whole time to the study of botany. Following the advice of Rothmann, he went in 1728 to the university of Upsal in the hope of finding some kind of employment there. In this he was disappointed, and he was obliged to return to the study of medicine. His situation now became pitiable in the extreme; for months he was frequently in want of food and clothing, and the lectures of Rudbeck, the professor of botany, tormented him with the desire to resume his favorite study. One day during this season of destitution he was observed by Dr. Olaf Celsius, professor of divinity, intently examining a plant in the university garden, and upon being questioned answered with so much readiness and intelligence that he received a proposal from Celsius to assist him in a work on the plants mentioned in Scripture. At the same time he became an inmate of the professor's house, where a library rich in botanical works was open to him, and was introduced by his protector to Rudbeck. The latter being prevented by the infirmities of age from discharging fully the duties of his office, Linnæus was occasionally deputed to lecture in his place, and acquitted himself with so much credit in this capacity, that in 1731 he was commissioned by the royal academy of sciences in Upsal to make a botanical tour of Lapland. Departing in May, 1732, he performed, mostly on foot, a journey of nearly 4,000 miles within five months, in the course of which he thoroughly explored the desolate region assigned to him. The result of his journey was his Flora Laponica, published five years afterward. He was poorly requited for his labors by admission to the academy of sciences and a grant of about $50 in money; and to provide for his necessities he commenced a course of lectures in the university on the assaying of metals. A Dr. Rosen, professor in the university, jealous of the rising fame of Linnæus, successfully interfered to prevent him from lecturing; and the young naturalist, finding all hope of advancement in Upsal cut off, established himself in Dalecarlia, where he instructed the copper miners in the processes incidental to their occupation. At Fahlun he formed an attachment for a daughter of Dr. Moræus, a physician of the place, aided by whom he went in 1735 to Holland and took the degree of M. D. at the university of Harderwyk. In the same year he published the first sketch of his Systema Naturæ, in the form of tables, in 14 pages folio. In Holland he was warmly received, and soon numbered among his friends Boerhaave, Burmann, and Gronovius, by whom he was urged to settle there. At Amsterdam he made the acquaintance of a banker named Cliffort, who possessed a magnificent country seat and a garden stored with rare plants at Hartekamp, near Haarlem. At the invitation of Cliffort Linnæus took up his residence at Hartekamp, and in the course of the next two years devoted much time to the arrangement of its collections of natural history, and of the plants in the gardens and herbarium. In the interval he visited England at the expense of his patron, and was well received by some of the chief naturalists, including Dillenius and Martyn, professors of botany at Oxford and Cambridge. The period of his residence in Holland was one of extraordinary application; and, aided by the extensive library at Hartekamp, he completed several important botanical works, which his previously unsettled life had not permitted him to pursue uninterruptedly. Among these the Systema Naturæ (Leyden, 1735), of which 13 editions appeared in the author's lifetime, and which was translated into most European languages, and the Genera Plantarum (1737), hold the first place, the latter being memorable for unfolding with particularity the celebrated artificial system called after the author, and founded on the sexual parts of plants. The idea of classifying plants after this method had however been broached by him as early as 1731 in his Hortus Uplandicus. The Genera Plantarum is a monument of industry and application, the author having in preparing it examined the characters of 8,000 flowers. Among his other important works of this period were the Fundamenta Botanica (Amsterdam, 1736; 8th ed., Paris, 1774); Bibliotheca Botanica (Amsterdam, 1736); Flora Laponica (1737); Critica Botanica (Leyden, 1737); Hortus Cliffortianus (Amsterdam, 1737), a magnificent work, prepared in honor of his benefactor, whose collections it describes; and the Classes Plantarum (Leyden, 1738). Wearying finally of the drudgery of his life at Hartekamp, Linnæus returned in the summer of 1738 to Sweden, having first paid a short visit to Paris, where he met a cordial reception from the Jussieus, and was elected a member of the academy of sciences. He was soon after married to the lady to whom five years previous he had been betrothed, and established himself in Stockholm as a physician. Notwithstanding the fame he had acquired abroad as a naturalist, his countrymen failed at first to recognize his merits, and his early efforts to obtain practice met with little encouragement; but within a year he was appointed physician to the fleet and president of the newly established royal academy of Stockholm. The botanical chair at Upsal had always been the chief object of his ambition, and in 1741 he was enabled by his appointment as medical professor at the university to perform the functions of the former office, his old opponent, Rosen, who had succeeded Rudbeck, consenting to an exchange of duties with him. Before entering upon his professorship he made a scientific survey of the islands of Oland and Gottland in the Baltic, the reflections and observations resulting from which were embodied in a Latin oration “On the Necessity of Travelling in one's own Country,” which he pronounced before the university upon being inaugurated into office. He soon made the botanical chair of Upsal the most famous in that department of science in Europe, and students flocked from all parts of the continent, from the British isles, and even from America, to receive his instructions. Many of these, including Loeffling, Osbeck, Solander (naturalist in Capt. Cook's first voyage), Kalm, Hasselquist, and others, were worthy disciples of their master, and by their explorations in both hemispheres, undertaken at his suggestion, greatly advanced the cause of science. Strangers were even attracted to Upsal solely to see and converse with Linnæus; and so great was the enthusiasm for the study of natural history, that the king and queen of Sweden had their separate collection of rarities, which were arranged and described by him. The academical garden, which had been for many years neglected, became one of the first objects of his attention, and within six years he increased the number of exotic plants from 50 to 1,100, besides adding largely to the Swedish plants which it contained. Distinctions of all kinds were showered upon him. He received the much coveted appointment of botanical professor, and in 1746 the rank and title of archiater; in 1757 he was ennobled and took the title of Von Linné; the chief learned bodies of Europe enrolled him among their members; and the king of Spain endeavored in vain, by the offer of a liberal salary and letters of nobility, to induce him to settle in Madrid. His material prosperity kept pace with his fame, and during the last 20 years of his life his leisure hours were passed in ease and affluence at a country seat purchased by him at Hammarby near Upsal. His literary and scientific labors were pursued with untiring energy, and from all parts of the world he was constantly receiving rare specimens of animals, plants, and minerals to add to the rich collections of the university, and to enable him to perfect and systematize the results of his former inquiries. The herbarium of Linnæus, a small affair as compared with the collections of botanists of the present day, is now in the possession of the Linnæan society at London. After the king of Sweden learned that it had been sold, and was already on its way to England, he despatched a man-of-war to overtake and restore it, but without effect. A careful examination of his herbarium shows that Linnæus did not exercise the care necessary to make it of value in determining his plants, and it is of little use save as a memento of the great botanist. His chief publications after his establishment at Upsal comprise the Flora Suecica (Leyden, 1745); Animalia Suecicæ (Stockholm, 1745); Fauna Sueciæ Regni (1746); Hortus Upsaliensis (1748), a description of the academical garden; Materia Medica, e Regno Vegetabili (1747); Amœnitates Academicæ (Leyden, 1749-'77), a collection of treatises on various subjects bearing the names of his pupils, but inspired and revised by himself; Materia Medica e Regno Animali (Upsal, 1750); Philosophia Botanica (Stockholm, 1751; four other editions appeared in the lifetime of the author), the principal work on the Linnæan system of botany, and that from which many popular introductions have been compiled; and the Species Plantarum (2 vols. 8vo, 1753), the author's most important contribution to scientific literature. In this last work, which Haller calls maximum opus et æternum, he first adopted trivial names expressing some obvious character to designate species, thus dispensing with the clumsy and tedious descriptions which naturalists formerly employed, and rendering it possible to speak of every known plant in two words. So highly is the work still esteemed that an edition of it, together with the Genera Plantarum and other writings of Linnæus in the form in which he left them, was published in Leipsic in 1840, under the title of Codex Botanicus Linnæanus, collated by Dr. Hermann E. Richter. A similar improvement was carried out in other branches of natural history, his works upon which, though less important than those devoted to botany, are characterized by the same lucid classification and logical precision. In 1774, while lecturing on botany, he experienced an attack of apoplexy, which incapacitated him for the active discharge of his professional duties. Two years later a second attack paralyzed his right side and impaired his faculties, and the remaining months of his life were passed in mental darkness, which the sight of flowers and opening buds and other familiar and beloved objects could never wholly dispel. His death was the signal for a general mourning in Upsal; a medal was struck and a monument erected to his memory, and the king of Sweden pronounced a panegyric upon him in a speech from the throne to the assembly of the states. — The sexual or artificial system of Linnæus, though generally adopted soon after its promulgation, has failed to stand the test of time, and has long been replaced by the natural one of Jussieu, De Candolle, and their followers; but it accomplished a useful purpose in reducing to order the chaotic state in which classification in all branches of natural history was involved, and was applicable to the comparatively few plants then known to naturalists. It does not appear that the author regarded it otherwise than as a temporary expedient. As a promoter of the study of botany, and indeed of all the principal branches of natural history, his merit was transcendent, and the enthusiasm and the systematic spirit of inquiry with which he imbued his pupils raised botany within a brief period to the position of an almost perfected science. In stature Linnæus was diminutive, with a large head, and quick, piercing eyes. His temper was irascible, but he was easily appeased, and his relations with his pupils and scientific associates appear to have been on an agreeable footing. He was vain to excess, and is said to have persecuted his only son at the instigation of his wife, a woman of profligate character. Five children survived him, one of whom, Elizabeth Christina, inherited much of her father's genius. She was the first naturalist to observe the inflammability of exhalations of certain plants, and also the electric sparks to be drawn from the nasturtium. The son succeeded his father in the botanical chair at Upsal, but was not distinguished by discoveries. The family is now extinct.