visit the linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus - Carl von Linné


Like several Swedish country clergymen in the eighteenth century, Nils
Linnaeus was an enthusiastic amateur botanist. This enthusiasm was passed on
to his eldest son Carl, born on the 23rd of May 1707 at Råshult (above to
the right), in the parish of Stenbrohult, where his father was vicar. As a
very young child, on a picnic with his father and the local gentry, he was
fascinated to learn that different plants have different names. Destined for
the church, his poor results disappointed his parents at the "gymnasium"
(grammar school) in Växjö but Johan Rothman, local doctor and teacher,
encouraged the promising young naturalist to study medicine instead, which
in those days also comprised botany.

 After a year at Lund University, where he was befriended and taught by the
famous doctor Kilian Stobaeus, he moved in 1728 to Uppsala, poor as a church
mouse. Linnaeus, with his engaging personality, always managed to find
patrons. In Uppsala he hurried to the botanical garden, now sadly neglected,
where he was discovered by the dean of the cathedral, Olof Celsius (uncle of
Anders Celsius of centigrade fame) who was interested in botany and
introduced Linnaeus to Olof Rudbeck jr. His professor being elderly, the
young student had to teach himself and before long found himself lecturing
and demonstrating the botanical garden to enthusiastic crowds of students.
Already he was using a form of the sexual system.

 The Royal Society of Science in Uppsala financially supported Linnaeus in
his plans for a scientific expedition to Lappland, then a sparsely populated
and road less wilderness. The five month adventure, perhaps the most
influential exploration ever of Sweden, was later described in his "Iter
lapponicum". It was on this trip that the naturalist acquired his Lappish
costume, complete with bearskin gloves and magic drum as seen in the
portrait by M. Hoffmann.

 Interested in all forms of natural science, Linnaeus visited Dalarna and
the famous copper mine in Falun. Here he met Sara Elisabeth, the daughter of
the local doctor Johan Moraeus and proposed to her a fortnight later. In his
youth Moraeus had taken his MD in Holland and now he insisted that his
son-in-law should do the same. In June 1735, Linnaeus defended his thesis on
the ague (malaria) at Harderwijk in Holland before moving on to Leiden where
he published the epoch-making "Systema naturae", one of the many manuscripts
he had brought with him from Sweden. This gained him access to famous
botanists such as Boerhave, Gronovius, and above all the wealthy Clifford,
who made him head of his own private garden at Hartecamp, near Harlem in
Holland. Here Linnaeus spent two hectic years, working and publishing, for
example, "Hortus Cliffortianus" (1737), "Flora Lapponica", and "Genera
Plantarum". Before returning to Sweden in 1738, he visited Oxford in 1736
and Paris in 1738, where he met outstanding naturalists.

 After finally marrying his fiancee, Linnaeus became a successful doctor
and, in 1739, was one of those instrumental in founding the Swedish Royal
Academy of Sciences, of Nobel fame. In 1741, Carl Linnaeus was appointed to
the chair of Practical Medicine at the University of Uppsala making an
exchange with his colleague, Nils Rosén, so that it also included the
teaching of botany, metallurgy, and supervision of the botanical garden.
Uppsala became the centre of the world of botany.

 To begin with, he set about extending and refurbishing according to his new
system the botanical garden where finally around 3000 different plants were
grown in congenial conditions; some in the different sections of the
orangery, others in a miniature marsh, river, or pond.The professor's
residence located in a corner of the garden, originally designed by Olof
Rudbeck, was restored. Here the growing Linnaeus family lived on the ground
floor with the university's lecture room, library, professor's study, and
the natural history cabinet on the floor above. The ground s also contained
buildings for the university's - or rather the professor's - collection of
live animals: from a raccoon to guinea pigs, peacocks, and a selection of
mischievous monkeys that spent the summer at the end of a long chain in
little boxes on high poles in the garden.

 Carl Linnaeus was a very popular teacher and natural history was the
fashion of the day. Students of all faculties crowded to his lectures,
crowned heads corresponded with him, the King and Queen of Sweden were his
patrons, and in 1757 he was made a nobleman taking the less clerical name of
von Linne« under which he is usually known in Sweden. In touch with
naturalists all over the world, he is also famous for the number of
disciples that he sent out to collect and explore in all parts of the world.
Carl Peter Thunberg, Daniel Solander, Peter Kalm, Anders Sparrman travelled
in China, Japan, New Zealand, North and South America, Arabia, and Africa.
No less than 23 of his students became professors. At home his "herbationes"
on summer weekends to examine the countryside round Uppsala were joyous
occasions for the bands of young students who took part, and Linnaeus liked
to see young people enjoy themselves. By the early 19th century his sexual
system was made obsolete but his binomial system, first published in
"Species plantarum" 1753, is still accepted as the starting point for modern
botanical nomenclature.

 Linnaeus was convinced that Sweden had many natural sources as yet
unexplored and with the support of the Swedish Parliament he made
expeditions to Dalarna (1734), öland and Gotland (1741), Västergötland
(1746), and Skåne (1749). Linnaeus' greatness is not only that of a great
scientist. His ability to communicate his findings and his enthusiasm are
also outstanding. We know a great deal about him from his many letters, from
the short, intimate and not always very modest self portraits, but also
above all from his own descriptions of his expeditions in Sweden. His style
is fresh and simple, full of details observed from everyday life, ancient
monuments, birds singing and curious customs as well as nature in all its
forms. His literary merit makes him very readable still and he himself very
much alive. Among the works of outstanding importance published during his
time as professor are "Flora Suecica, Philosophia botanica, Species
Plantarum", and the many editions of "Systema Naturae". He wrote about 180
dissertations in medicine and natural history for his students to defend.

 A warm Christian who saw God's work in every plant he studied and for whom
the botanical garden was a true garden of Eden. He died, after suffering two
severe strokes, in January 1778, leaving his widow, four daughters, and his
son and successor Carl von Linné jr (1741-1783). A celebrity already in his
own day, Linnaeus' memory has been kept alive. Today the visitor to Uppsala
is welcome to see his home and his garden, Linnéträdgården, his country home
just outside the city, Linné's Hammarby, study his venerable bay-trees at
the Botanical Garden, or walk in his footsteps along the marked trails where
he ones had his "Herbationes". Cafes in Uppsala even have pastries with his
portrait in marzipan!

 For further reading: Wilfrid Blunt. 1971. The Complete Naturalist: A life
of Linnaeus. 1977. Carl von Linné (Swedish edition).

Written by Anders Backlund