1902 Encyclopedia > Carolus Linnaeus (Carl von Linné)

Carolus Linnaeus
(Carl von Linné)
Swedish naturalist

Carl von Linné, better known under his earlier name of Carolus Linnaeus, was born 13th May 1707 o.s., at Râshult, in the parish of Stenbrohult, in the province of Smâland, Sweden.2 His parents were Mils Linnaeus, the comminister, afterwards pastor, of the parish, and Christina, the daughter of Brodersonius, the previous incumbent; Carl, the subject of our notice, being their eldest child. When only four years old he was much impressed with his father’s conversation with some of his people concerning the properties and names of certain of the local plants of economic value; from that time he constantly asked his father about the quality and nature of every plant he met with, often asking more than his father could answer; at other times, having forgotten the information previously given him, he was threatened with a refusal to answer his queries unless he promised to remember what he was told. To this early disciple Linnaeus afterwards ascribed his tenacious memory, which, added to his extreme sharpness of sight, laid the foundations of his eminence as a reforming naturalist.

His formal education began in 1714, when he was put under the private tuition of Telander, and three years later he entered the primary school at Wexiö. In 1719 he was committed to the care of Gabriel Hök, who afterwards married his pupils sister Anna Maria; this preceptor had greater skill as a teacher than his predecessors, and was less severe; still he was unable to overcome the distaste the youth had acquired for ordinary scholastic studies. During his last year at school Linnaeus took advantage of the greater liberty then allowed him to ramble in search of plants.

In 1724 he passed from the school to the gymnasium, carrying with him the same dislike for all those studies which were considered necessary for admission to holy orders, his father’s intention being to bring up his son in his own profession. Botany, a science at that time entirely neglected, almost wholly engrossed his attention; he formed a small library of the few Swedish writers who had treated of plants, which he was constantly poring over, although unable to comprehend all he found in their volumes.

In 1726 his father came to Wexiö, hoping to hear a good report of the two years’ study of son; but, whilst there was no compliant as regards his moral deportment, his progress in the prescribed studies had been so unsatisfactory that his father was recommended to apprentice him to a tailor of shoemaker, in preference to giving him a learned education, for which he was evidently unfitted. The old clergyman, deeply grieved at this poor return for his struggles to keep his son at school during the previous twelve years, went to visit Dr Rothman, a medical practitioner and lecturer on physics in the town, to consult him regarding a bodily ailment from which he was suffering. In the course of conversation he mentioned his mortification at his son’s dullness when Rothman expressed his confident belief that he could end the trouble of both further and son, and that Carl, though extremely backward in theological studies, would yet distinguish himself in medicine and natural history. Rothman further offered to board and lodge Carl during the twelvemonth more which must be passed in the gymnasium. A short time after this, Rothman gave his pupil a course of private instruction in physiology with success, the young man acquitting himself excellently on examination. His tutor also gave him hints as to the proper manner of studying plants, and directed his attention to Tournefort’s system of arrangement, which was founded on the differences in the flowers.

He proceeded to the university of Lund in 1727, bearing a dubiously worded testimonium from Nils Krok, the rector of the gymnasium, to the effect that shrubs in a garden may disappoint the cares of the gardener, but if transplanted into different soil may prosper, therefore the bearer was sent to the university, where, perchance, he might find a more propitious climate. His former preceptor Hök kept back this doubtful recommendation, and presented Linnaeus to the rector and dean as his own private pupil, thus procuring his matriculation.

Whilst studying here, Linnaeus lodged at the house of Dr. Kilian Stobaeus, afterwards professor of medicine, and physician to the king, who possessed an excellent museum of minerals, shells, birds, and dried plants; the methods of preservation here adopted were as a revelation to the young student, and taught him how to prepare his own acquisitions. Stobaeus suffered greatly from ill-health, he also was also lame, and one-eyed; but he was an amiable and extremely able man, having a large practice among the wealthier classes in the province of Skåne. Linnaeus was sometimes called upon to assist the physician by writing the prescriptions, but as he wrote a band hand, he was frequently sent away again. In those days physicians wrote legibly.

A German student named Koulas also lodged with Stobaeus, and amongst the indulgences he enjoyed was that of access of the library of his landlord; with his fellow-student Linnaeus formed a close friendship, and in return for instruction in the physiology which Linnaeus had learned of Dr. Rothman, Koulas supplied him with volumes from the book-shelves of Stobaeus, which were read by him stealthily at night. The mother of Stobaeus, who was old and wakeful, noticed that there was constantly a light in Linnaeus’s room, and, being afraid of fire, desired her son to reprimand the young man for his carelessness. Two nights afterwards, Stobaeus went into Linnaeus’s chamber at eleven o’clock, expecting to find him asleep, but was astonished to find him poring over books. He was forced to confess whence these were obtained, and was at once ordered to bed; but the next morning, being further questioned, he was granted full liberty to use the library, and perfect familiarity was accorded by the doctor, who, having no children, held out hopes of making the young student his heir.

Whilst botanizing in the spring of 1728, Linnaeus was attacked by what he considered to be a venomous animal, afterwards named by him Furia infenalis, in allusion to the torment and danger he suffered from it; after his recovery, he passed the summer at his father’s house in Småland. Her he again met Rothman, who strongly advised him to quit Lund and to go to Upsala, where the would find greater facilities for the prosecution of his medical studies, and possibly obtain some scholarship to eke out his scanty means. Linnaeus adopted his patron’s advice, and started for Upsala with a sum of £8 sterling, that being all he was to expect from his parents. At this seat of learning his slender funds were soon exhausted; being young and unknown, he found no means of earning money by lecturing or teaching; he became dependent on chance generosity for a meal, and had to repair his shoes with folded paper. He could not well return to Lund, for Stobaeus had taken offences at his departing without consulting him; and, besides, the journey required money which he did not possess.

In the autumn of this year, 1729, Linnaeus was engaged intently examining some plants growing into the academical garden, when a venerable clergyman asked him what he was studying, whether he understood botany, whence he came, and how long he had been busied in the study. After being questioned at length, he was requested to follow his companion home; there he discovered him to be Dr Olaf Celsius, professor of theology, at that time working at his Hierobotanican, which saw the light nearly twenty years later. When the professor saw Linnaeus’s collection he was still more impressed, and, finding him necessitous, he offered him board and lodging; he afterwards admitted him to close intimacy, and allowed him the free use of his rich library. The temporary adjunctus of the faculty of medicine being incompetent, Linnaeus, by the recommendation of Celsius, was able to get some private pupils, and thereby to assume a more creditable appearance.

At this time there was only one medical student who distinguished himself by diligence is study, and that was Peter Arctedius, who afterwards styled himself Artedi. A close friendship sprang up between the two young men; they studied in concert, and vied with each other in their attainments, with perfect good temper, though of very diverse dispositions. Linnaeus was sovereign in ornithology, entomology, and botany, Artedi reserving to himself the umbelliferous plants, fishes, and amphibia. A silence, almost total, prevailed in the university at this time of topics of natural history; during his whole curriculum Linnaeus did not hear a single public lecture delivered on anatomy, botany, or chemistry.

During this period of intense receptivity, he came upon a critique which ultimately led to the establishment of his artificial system of plant classification. This was a review of Vaillant’s Sermo de Structura Florum, Leyden, 1718,1 a thin quarto in French and Latin; it set him upon examining the stamens and pistils of flowers, and, becoming convicted of the paramount importance of these organs, he formed the idea of basing a system of arrangement upon them. Another work by Wallin, Gamos futwn, sive Nuptiae Arborum Dissertatio, Upsala, 1729, having fallen into his hands, he drew up a short treatise on the sexes of plants, and showed it to Dr Celsius, who put it into the hands of the younger Olaf Rudbeck, at that time professor of botany in the university. In the following year Rudbeck, whose advance age compelled him to lecture by deputy, appointed Linnaeus his adjucntus; in the spring of 1730, therefore, the latter began its lectures, and was accompanied by many pupils on his botanical exersions. The academic garden was entirely remodeled under his auspices, and furnished with many rare species, he being now in a positions to direct the gardener, whereas in the year before the he had actually solicited appointment to the vacant post of gardener, which was refused him on the ground of his capacity for better things.

His evenings were now devoted to the preparations of his epoch-making books, which were issued several years afterwards in the Netherlands. His position at the university having become unpleasant, he readily undertook to explore the little known country of Lapland, at the cost of the Academy of Sciences of Upsala. He started thence on May 12, 1732 o.s., carrying all his luggage on his back, journeying at first on horseback along the road skirting the coast to Umeå, thence by boat up the river to Lyksele within the Arctic Circle, penetrating to what he terms Olycksmyran (i.e., the unlucky marsh) in spite of the melting of the ice, which made traveling in that part almost impossible. Unable to penetrate father into the interior, he returned to Umeå, still skirting the sea-shore by Piteå to Luleå. From this latter place he made a long excursion to the north-west by Jockmock and Qvickjock; then crossing the mountain range, he came out upon the coast of Finmark. He retraced his steps to Luleå, and at Calix he learned the art of assaying "in two days and a night," containing his journey through Torneå, and the eastern of the gulf of Bothnia to Åbo; there he rested eight days, and finally reached Upsala by sea. The distance traversed in this tour was upwards of 4600 English statute miles; the cost of his journey is given at 112 silver dollars, or less than £25 sterling. His own account of the journey 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 in teaching the method of assaying ores, and hoped to be allowed to lecture on botany; but a quarrel broke out between a rival, Rosen, and himself, the former having, by private influence, contrived to get a prohibition put all private lectures on medicine in the university. Linnaeus, enraged at finding his livelihood thus cut off, went so far as to draw his sword upon Rosen, but was prevented from harming his antagonist. At this junction the governor of Dalecarlia invited Linnaeus to travel through his province, as he had done through Lapland. Whilst on this journey he lectured at Fahlun to large audiences; Browallius, the chaplain there, afterwards bishop of Åbo, now strongly urged Linnaeus to go abroad and take his degree of M.D. at a foreign university, by which means he could afterwards settle where eh pleased. Linnaeus, having become attached to the eldest daughter of Dr Moré or Moraeus, left Sweden in 1735 to seek his fortune in the manner stated, and to return to claim her hand.

He traveled by Lübeck and Hamburg; detecting a seven-headed hydra to be a fabrication at the latter, he was obliged to quit the town in haste to avoid the wrath of its possessor. From Altona he went by sea to Amsterdam, staying there a week; he then proceeded to Harderwijk, where he went through the requisite examination, and defended his thesis on the cause of intermittent fever. His scanty were now nearly spent, but he passed on through Haarlem to Leyden; there he called on Gronovius, 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. The first edition was in eight folio sheets; the subsequent editions were in 8vo; and the twelfth immensely enlarged edition appeared during the author’s lifetime. 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, vol. iv. p. 80. Boerhaave, whom Linnaeus saw after waiting eight days for admission, recommended him to Burman at Amsterdam, where he stayed a twelvemonth, living at the house of the professor. While there he issued his Fundamenta Botanica, an unassuming small octavo, which has exercised immense influence. The wealthy banker Cliffort having invited Linnaeus to visit his magnificent garden at Hartecamp, he remained there, living like a prince, but working most assiduously in the garden and library, both of which were kept up without regard to cost. His Flora Lapponica was now printed, containing a description of the genus Linnaea, by his friend Gronovius; he selected this plant to bear his name, from a similarity, as he thought, between it and himself. Whilst living with Cliffort, Linnaeus met with his old fellow-student Artedi, who was quite destitute, having spent all his money in London; Linnaeus introduced him to Seba, then working at fishes, Artedi’s chief object of study; he worked hard at describing them, until six remained underscribed, when he unfortunately fell into a canal at night, and was drowned. Linnaeus persuaded Cliffort to redeem the manuscript, and he published it as a memorial of his deceased friend.

In 1736 Linnaeus visited England. He was warmly recommended by Boerhaave to Sir Hans Sloane, but the old collector seems to have received him coldly. A better reception awaited him at Oxford, where Dr Shaw welcomed him cordially; Dillenius, the professor of botany there, was icy at first, but afterwards completely, kept him a month, and even offered to share the emoluments of the chair with him. At Chelsea he saw Philip Miller, and took some plants thence to Cliffort; but certain other stories which are current about Linnaeus’s visit to England are of very doubtful authenticity.

On his return to the Netherlands he completed the printing of his Genera Piantarum, a volume which must be considered the starting point of modern systematic botany; Tournefort formed many genera, but Linnaeus was the first to circumscribe them. During the same year, 1737, Linnaeus finished arranging Cliffort’s collection of plants, living and dried; these were described in the Hortus Cliffortianus, a folio illustrated with engravings by Ehret; this book was entirely written in nine months. 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; he resisted all Chiffort’s entreaties to remain with him, and started homewards.

Van Royen managed to detain him a year at Leyden, to help in rearranging the garden, thereby offending Cliffort, whom he had quitted on the plea of hastening back to Sweden. Linnaeus now published his Classes Plantarum, and almost at the same time appeared Van Royen’s Hortus Leydensis and Gronovius’s Flora Virginica, both of these being drawn up on the Linnaeur system. In 1738 Boerhaave pressed Linnaeus to accept a post at Surinam; he declined this for himself, but passed it on to Johan Bartsch of Königsberg, a member with himself of a select club of naturalists at Leyden. Bartsch ultimately fell a victim to the climate of that colony.

While residing at Leyden Linnaeus was warned that one of his acquaintance was endeavouring to supplant him in the affections of Sara Moré; he intended to set out at once, but was attacked by ague before he could start. Cliffort, hearing of this, took Linnaeus to his own house again, and would not suffer him to depart until he was sufficiently well. His complete recovery, however, did not take place until he had gained the higher country of Brabant, where in one day he felt himself entirely renovated. He continued his journey to Paris, where he visited Antoine and Bernard de Jussieu, botanizing with the latter. Abandoning all notion of returning through Germany, he went to Rouen, sailed for Sweden, and landed at Helsingborg.

Linnaeus established himself in September 1738 as physician in Stockholm, but, being unknown as a medical man, no one at first cared to consult him, a great change from the attention paid to him abroad; he himself declared "that, had he not been in love, he would certainly have left his native country." By degrees he found patients, was then appointed naval physician at Stockholm, with minor appointments, and was married on the 26th June 1739.

Early in 1740 Rudbeck died, and Roberg resigned; the chairs of botany and medicine at Upsala being thus vacant, Rosen and Linnaeus were chosen respectively to fill them. The former rivals afterwards agreed to exchange professorships to their mutual benefit; in 1741, previous to this exchange, Linnaeus traveled through Öland and Gothland, by command of the state, publishing his results in Olandska och Gothlandska Resa, 1745. The index to this volume shows the first employment of trivial names in nomenclature,

Henceforward his life was a continuous course of prosperity, his time being taken up by teaching and the preparation of other works. In the year 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 Skanska Resa, Stockholm, 1751. He examined the collections made many years before in Ceylon by Hermann, the full publication taking place in his Flora Zeylanica, Stockholm, 1747. In 1748 he brought out his Hortus Upsaliensis, showing that he had added eleven hundred species to those formerly in cultivation in the 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 Löfling, while the professor was confined to his bed by an attack of gout so violent as to threaten his life; he attributed his recovery to eating plentifully of wood-strawberries, a regimen he afterwards carefully observed. A much slighter attack in the following year was mainly cured by the pleasure caused by Kalm bringing home many new plants from Canada.

He catalogued the Queen’s Museum at Drotningholm, and the king’s at Ulrichsdal, but the most important work of this period of his life is unquestionably his Species Plantarum, 1753,aea second edition being issued in 1762. in this volume the trivial names are fully set forth; although they had been previously shadowed forth by Linnaeus and others, yet to him belongs the merit of establishing the use of a single epithet in addition to the generic name. in the same year Linnaeus 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, an full liberty of conscience, but he declined on the ground that whatever merits he possessed should be devoted to his country’s service; Löfting was sent instead, but died within two years. He was enabled now to purchase the estates of Söfja 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, whilst he occupied the chair of botany there it rose to fifteen hundred. In 1761 a patent of nobility was granted, antedated to 1757, from which time Linnaeus was styled Carl von Linné; his arms were those now borne by the Linnaen Society of London. To his great delight the tea plant was introduced alive into Europe in 1763; this year also his son Carl was allowed to assist his father in his professional duties, and to be drained as his successor.1 At the age of sixty Linné’s 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 10th January 1778, of an ulceration of the bladder. He was buried in the cathedral of Upsala, with every token of universal regret.

In person Linnaeus was described as of medium height, with large limbs, brown piercing eyes, and acute vision, and quick-tempered. He was accustomed to sleep five hours in summer and ten in winter. He lived simply, acted promptly, and noted down his observations at the moment. His handwriting was peculiar, and not very easy to read; copies of his own books were interleaved and copiously annotated, every new discovery being posted into its proper place at once, so that new editions were readily prepared when wanted.

With him arrangement seems to have been a passion; he delighted in devising classifications; not only did he systematize the three kingdoms of nature, but even drew up a treatise on the Genera Morborum. He found biology a chaos; he left it a cosmos. 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 faculties; 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 true principles for defining genera and species, and his uniform use of trivial names, will last so long as biology itself endures. His style is terse and laconic; he methodically treated of each organ in its proper turn; he had a special term of each, the meaning of which did not vary, so that the term did not suggest two ideas once. The reader cannot doubt the author’s intention; his sentences are business-like, and to the point. The omission of the very 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.

By his force of character he shifted the scientific centre of gravity during his life to a small town in Sweden; he was constantly receiving presents and praise from crowds of correspondents in every civilized country and in every station of life; hence it is not surprising that his universal homage should have bred the vanity which disfigures the latter part of his diary.

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 them dispatched them to various parts of the globe. His students being drawn from many quarters, he had an extensive choice; some fell victims to fatigue and unkindly climates, but there was no lack of successors. With these young enthusiasts their master’s lore was like a gospel; they were eager to extend the knowledge of it, and to contribute to its richness.

The published works of Linnaeus amount to more than one hundred and eighty, including the Amaenitates Academicae, for which he provided the material, revising them also for press; corrections in his handwriting may be seen in the Banksian and Linnaen Society’s libraries. His correspondence was wide and copious. Some of his letters have been published, but the bulk of them remains inedited. Many works remain in MS.; some have lately published, such as Flora Dalecarlica, and the Svenska Arbeten, both edited by Dr Ewald Ahrling; those which were issued during the author’s life are enumerated by Dr Pulteney in his General View of the Writings of Linnaeus. (B. D. J.)

The above article was written by B. Daydon Jackson, Linnean Society, London.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries