1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Linnaeus

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LINNAEUS, the name usually given to Carl von Linné (1707–1778), Swedish botanist, who was born on the 13th of May, O.S. (May 23, N.S.) 1707 at Råshult, in the province of Småland, Sweden, and was the eldest child of Nils Linnaeus the comminister, afterwards pastor, of the parish, and Christina Brodersonia, the daughter of the previous incumbent. In 1717 he was sent to the primary school at Wexiö, and in 1724 he passed to the gymnasium. His interests were centred on botany, and his progress in the studies considered necessary for admission to holy orders, for which he was intended, was so slight that in 1726 his father was recommended to apprentice him to a tailor or shoemaker. He was saved from this fate through Dr Rothman, a physician in the town, who expressed the belief that he would yet distinguish himself in medicine and natural history, and who further instructed him in physiology. In 1727 he entered the university of Lund, but removed in the following year to that of Upsala. There, through lack of means, he had a hard struggle until, in 1729, he made the acquaintance of Dr Olaf Celsius (1670–1756), professor of theology, at that time working at his Hierobotanicon, which saw the light nearly twenty years later. Celsius, impressed with Linnaeus’s knowledge and botanical collections, and finding him necessitous, offered him board and lodging.

During this period, he came upon a critique which ultimately led to the establishment of his artificial system of plant classification. This was a review of Sébastien Vaillant’s Sermo de Structura Florum (Leiden, 1718), a thin quarto in French and Latin; it set him upon examining the stamens and pistils of flowers, and, becoming convinced of the paramount importance of these organs, he formed the idea of basing a system of arrangement upon them. Another work by Wallin, Γάμος φύτων, sive Nuptiae Arborum Dissertatio (Upsala, 1729), having fallen into his hands, he drew up a short treatise on the sexes of plants, which was placed in the hands of the younger Olaf Rudbeck (1660–1740), the professor of botany in the university. In the following year Rudbeck, whose advanced age compelled him to lecture by deputy, appointed Linnaeus his adjunctus; in the spring of 1730, therefore, the latter began his lectures. The academic garden was entirely remodelled under his auspices, and furnished with many rare species. In the preceding year he had solicited appointment to the vacant post of gardener, which was refused him on the ground of his capacity for better things.

In 1732 he undertook to explore Lapland, at the cost of the Academy of Sciences of Upsala; he traversed upwards of 4600 m., and the cost of the journey is given at 530 copper dollars, or about £25 sterling. His own account was published in English by Sir J. E. Smith, under the title Lachesis Lapponica, in 1811; the scientific results were published in his Flora Lapponica (Amsterdam, 1737). In 1733 Linnaeus was engaged at Upsala in teaching the methods of assaying ores, but was prevented from delivering lectures on botany for academic reasons. At this juncture the governor of Dalecarlia invited him to travel through his province, as he had done through Lapland. Whilst on this journey, he lectured at Fahlun to large audiences; and J. Browallius (1707–1755), the chaplain there, afterwards bishop of Åbo, strongly urged him to go abroad and take his degree of M.D. at a foreign university, by which means he could afterwards settle where he pleased. Accordingly he left Sweden in 1735. Travelling by Lübeck and Hamburg, he proceeded to Harderwijk, where he went through the requisite examinations, and defended his thesis on the cause of intermittent fever. His scanty funds were now nearly spent, but he passed on through Haarlem to Leiden; there he called on Jan Fredrik Gronovius (1690–1762), who, returning the visit, was shown the Systema naturae in MS., and was so greatly astonished at it that he sent it to press at his own expense. This famous system, which, artificial as it was, substituted order for confusion, largely made its way on account of the lucid and admirable laws, and comments on them, which were issued almost at the same time (see Botany). H. Boerhaave, whom Linnaeus saw after waiting eight days for admission, recommended him to J. Burman (1707–1780), the professor of botany at Amsterdam, with whom he stayed a twelvemonth. While there he issued his Fundamenta Botanica, an unassuming small octavo, which exercised immense influence. For some time also he lived with the wealthy banker, G. Clifford (1685–1750), who had a magnificent garden at Hartecamp, near Haarlem.

In 1736 Linnaeus visited England. He was warmly recommended by Boerhaave to Sir Hans Sloane, who seems to have received him coldly. At Oxford Dr Thomas Shaw welcomed him cordially; J. J. Dillenius, the professor of botany, was cold at first, but afterwards changed completely, kept him a month, and even offered to share the emoluments of the chair with him. He saw Philip Miller (1691–1771), the Hortulanorum Princeps, at Chelsea Physic Garden, and took some plants thence to Clifford; but certain other stories which are current about his visit to England are of very doubtful authenticity.

On his return to the Netherlands he completed the printing of his Genera Plantarum, a volume which must be considered the starting-point of modern systematic botany. During the same year, 1737, he finished arranging Clifford’s collection of plants, living and dried, described in the Hortus Cliffortianus. During the compilation he used to “amuse” himself with drawing up the Critica Botanica, also printed in the Netherlands. But this strenuous and unremitting labour told upon him; the atmosphere of the Low Countries seemed to oppress him beyond endurance; and, resisting all Clifford’s entreaties to remain with him, he started homewards, yet on the way he remained a year at Leiden, and published his Classes Plantarum (1738). He then visited Paris, where he saw Antoine and Bernard de Jussieu, and finally sailed for Sweden from Rouen. In September 1738 he established himself as a physician in Stockholm, but, being unknown as a medical man, no one at first cared to consult him; by degrees, however, he found patients, was appointed naval physician at Stockholm, with minor appointments, and in June 1739 married Sara Moræa. In 1741 he was appointed to the chair of medicine at Upsala, but soon exchanged it for that of botany. In the same year, previous to this exchange, he travelled through Öland and Gothland, by command of the state, publishing his results in Oländska och Gothländska Resa (1745). The index to this volume shows the first employment of specific names in nomenclature.

Henceforward his time was taken up by teaching and the preparation of other works. In 1745 he issued his Flora Suecica and Fauna Suecica, the latter having occupied his attention during fifteen years; afterwards, two volumes of observations made during journeys in Sweden, Wästgöta Resa (Stockholm, 1747), and Skånska Resa (Stockholm, 1751). In 1748 he brought out his Hortus Upsaliensis, showing that he had added eleven hundred species to those formerly in cultivation in that garden. In 1750 his Philosophia Botanica was given to the world; it consists of a commentary on the various axioms he had published in 1735 in his Fundamenta Botanica, and was dictated to his pupil P. Löfling (1720–1756), while the professor was confined to his bed by an attack of gout. But the most important work of this period was his Species Plantarum (Stockholm, 1753), in which the specific names are fully set forth. In the same year he was created knight of the Polar Star, the first time a scientific man had been raised to that honour in Sweden. In 1755 he was invited by the king of Spain to settle in that country, with a liberal salary, and full liberty of conscience, but he declined on the ground that whatever merits he possessed should be devoted to his country’s service, and Löfling was sent instead. He was enabled now to purchase the estates of Säfja and Hammarby; at the latter he built his museum of stone, to guard against loss by fire. His lectures at the university drew men from all parts of the world; the normal number of students at Upsala was five hundred, but while he occupied the chair of botany there it rose to fifteen hundred. In 1761 he was granted a patent of nobility, antedated to 1757, from which time he was styled Carl von Linné. To his great delight the tea-plant was introduced alive into Europe in 1763; in the same year his surviving son Carl (1741–1783) was allowed to assist his father in his professorial duties, and to be trained as his successor. At the age of sixty his memory began to fail; an apoplectic attack in 1774 greatly weakened him; two years after he lost the use of his right side; and he died on the 10th of January 1778 at Upsala, in the cathedral of which he was buried.

With Linnaeus arrangement seems to have been a passion; he delighted in devising classifications, and not only did he systematize the three kingdoms of nature, but even drew up a treatise on the Genera Morborum. When he appeared upon the scene, new plants and animals were in course of daily discovery in increasing numbers, due to the increase of trading facilities; he devised schemes of arrangement by which these acquisitions might be sorted provisionally, until their natural affinities should have become clearer. He made many mistakes; but the honour due to him for having first enunciated the principles for defining genera and species, and his uniform use of specific names, is enduring. His style is terse and laconic; he methodically treated of each organ in its proper turn, and had a special term for each, the meaning of which did not vary. The reader cannot doubt the author’s intention; his sentences are business-like and to the point. The omission of the verb in his descriptions was an innovation, and gave an abruptness to his language which was foreign to the writing of his time; but it probably by its succinctness added to the popularity of his works.

No modern naturalist has impressed his own character with greater force upon his pupils than did Linnaeus. He imbued them with his own intense acquisitiveness, reared them in an atmosphere of enthusiasm, trained them to close and accurate observation, and then despatched them to various parts of the globe.

His published works amount to more than one hundred and eighty, including the Amoenitates Academicae, for which he provided the material, revising them also for press; corrections in his handwriting may be seen in the Banksian and Linnean Society’s libraries. Many of his works were not published during his lifetime; those which were are enumerated by Dr Richard Pulteney in his General View of the Writings of Linnaeus (1781). His widow sold his collections and books to Sir J. E. Smith, the first president of the Linnean Society of London. When Smith died in 1828, a subscription was raised to purchase the herbarium and library for the Society, whose property they became. The manuscripts of many of Linnaeus’s publications, and the letters he received from his contemporaries, also came into the possession of the Society.  (B. D. J.)