By C.S. Hallberg.
At intervals in the history of science, long periods of comparative inertia have attended the death of its more distinguished workers. As time progresses and the number of workers increases, there is a corresponding increase in the number of men whose labors merit distinction in the literature of every language; but as these accessions necessitate in most cases further division of the honors, many names conspicuously identified with modern science fail of their just relative rank, and fade into unmerited obscurity. Thus the earlier workers in science, like Scheele, Liebig, Humboldt, and others of that and later periods, have won imperishable fame, to which we all delight to pay homage, while others of more recent times, whose contributions have perhaps been equally valuable for their respective periods, are given stinted recognition of their services, if indeed their names are not quite forgotten. Nothing illustrates so clearly the steps in the evolution of science as a review of the relative status of its representatives.
As in the political history of the world an epoch like that of the French revolution stands out like a mountain peak, so in the history of science an epoch occurs rather by evolution than revolution, when a hitherto chaotic, heterogeneous mass of knowledge is rapidly given shape and systematized. Previous to the seventeenth century an immense mass of facts had accumulated through the labors of investigators working under the Baconian philosophy, but these facts had been thrown together in a confused, unsystematic manner. A man of master mind was then needed to grasp the wonders of nature and formulate the existing knowledge of them into a scientific system with a natural basis. Such a system was given by Linnaeus, and so great were its merits that it continues the foundation of all existing systems of classification.
Charles Linnaeus was born May 13, 1707, in a country place named Roshult in Smaland, near Skane, Sweden. He was called Charles after the well known Swedish knight errant, King Charles XII., then at the height of his renown.
The natural beauty of his native place, with its verdure-clad hills, its stately trees, and sparkling brooks fringed with mosses and flowers, inspired the boy Linnaeus with a love of nature and a devotion to her teachings which tinged the current of his whole life. He was destined by his parents for the ministry, and in accordance with their wish was sent to the Vexio Academy ("gymnasium"). Here the dull theological studies interfered so much with his study of nature that he would have felt lost but for the sympathy of Dr. Rothman, one of his teachers, a graduate of Harderwyk University, Holland, who had been a pupil of Boerhaave (the most eminent physician and scientist of his day), and been much impressed by his scientific teachings.
Dr. Rothman took a great interest in Linnaeus, and assured his father that he would prove a great success financially and otherwise as a physician (an occupation whose duties then included a study of all existing sciences). The father was satisfied, but dreaded the effect the announcement of such a career would have on the mother, whose ambition had been to see her son's name among the long list of clergymen of the family who had been ministers to the neighboring church of Stentrohult. She finally yielded, and the best possible use was made by Linnaeus of Dr. Rothman's tuition. Latin, then the mother tongue of all scientists and scholars, he wrote and spoke fluently.
At the age of twenty Linnaeus entered the University of Lund, and remained there a year. Here he formed the acquaintance of a medical man, a teacher in the university, who opened his home and his library to him, and took him on his botanical excursions and professional visits. Some time later, on Dr. Rothman's advice, Linnaeus entered the University of Upsala, then the most celebrated university of Northern Europe. His parents were able to spare him but one hundred silver thalers for his expenses. At the end of a year his money was spent, his clothing and shoes were worn out, and he was without prospects of obtaining a scholarship. When things were at their gloomiest he accidentally entered into a discussion with a stranger in the botanical garden, who turned out to be a clergyman scientist named Celsius. Celsius, while staying at Upsala, had conceived the plan of given a botanical description of biblical plants. Having learned that Linnaeus had a herbarium of 600 plants, he took the young man under his protection, and opened up to him his home and library.
While studying in this library, his observations regarding the sexes in plants, hitherto in a chaotic state, took form, stimulated by an abstract published in a German journal of Vaillant's views, and before the end of 1729 the basis of the sexual system had appeared in manuscript. This treatise having been seen by a member of the university faculty, Linnaeus was invited to fill a temporary vacancy, and lectured with great success therein one and a half years. Meanwhile the foundation of the celebrated treatises afterward published on the sexual system of classification and on plant nomenclature had been laid.
As in the history of most great men, a seemingly great misfortune proved to be a turning point in his career. The position he had temporarily filled with such credit to himself and profit to the students was claimed by its regular occupant, and, despite the opposition of the faculty, Linnaeus had to relinquish it. The two subsequent years were spent in botanical investigations under the patronage of various eminent men. During one of these he traveled through Lapland to the shores of the Polar Sea, and the results of this expedition were embodied in his "Lapland Flora," the first flora founded on the sexual system. He delivered a peripatetic course of lectures, and during one of these he formed the acquaintance of Dr. Moraeus, a pupil of the great Boerhaave. Dr. Moraeus took Linnaeus into partnership with him. Here again a seeming misfortune proved to be a great advantage. Linnaeus fell in love with the eldest daughter of Dr. Moraeus, but was denied her hand until he should graduate in medicine.
Linnaeus, to complete his studies as a physician, then entered the University of Harderwyk, Holland, the alma mater of his first benefactor, Dr. Rothman, and of the great Boerhaave.
After two years' study he was graduated in medicine with high honors. His thesis, "The Cause of Chills," received special commendation. He visited all the botanical gardens and other scientific institutions for which Holland was then renowned. A learned and wealthy burgomaster, Gronovius, having read his "Systema Naturae" in manuscript, not only defrayed the cost of its publication, but secured him the high honor of an interview with the great Boerhaave - an honor for which even the Czar Peter the Great had to beg.
Boerhaave's interest was at once awakened, and he gave Linnaeus so strong a recommendation to Dr. Burman, of Amsterdam, that the influence of the scientific circles of the Dutch metropolis was exerted in behalf of Linnaeus, and he was soon offered the position of physician superintendent of a magnificent botanical garden owned by a millionaire horticultural enthusiast, Clifford, a director of the Dutch East India Company. Linnaeus' financial and scientific future was now secure. Publication of his works was insured, and his position afforded him every opportunity for botanical research. After five years' residence in Holland, during which he declined several positions of trust, he determined to return to Sweden. His fame had become so widespread in Western Europe that his system was already adopted by scientists and made the basis of lectures at the Dutch universities. In the French metropolis he was greatly esteemed, and during a visit thereto he was a highly distinguished guest.ROSHULT, SWEDEN, BIRTHPLACE OF LINNaeUS.
His reception in Sweden was rather frigid, and but for the hearty welcome by his family and betrothed he would probably have returned to Holland. His amour propre was also doubtless wounded, and he determined to remain and fight his way into the magic circle of the gilt-edged aristocracy which then monopolized all scientific honors in Stockholm and the universities. He acquired a great reputation for the treatment of lung disease, and was popularly credited with the ability to cure consumption. This reached the ears of the queen (a sufferer from the disease), who directed one of her councilors to send for Linnaeus. He soon recognized the name of Linnaeus as one of great renown on the Continent, and at once took him under his protection.
The star of Linnaeus was now in the ascendant. He was soon delegated to various pleasant duties, among which was the delivery of lectures on botany and mineralogy in the "auditorium illustre" at Stockholm. He at this time founded the "Swedish Scientific Academy," and was its first president. In 1741 he was elected professor of medicine in Upsala University, which chair he exchanged for that of botany and the position of director of the botanical garden. This opened up a new era for science in Sweden. He who was regarded as the world's greatest botanist abroad had at last been similarly acknowledged in his native land.
With the indomitable courage and tact characteristic of the man, he set on foot a gigantic scientific popular educational project. The government, under his direction, established a system of exploring expeditions into the fauna, flora, and mineralogy of the whole Swedish peninsula, partly for the purpose of developing the resources of the country, partly in the interest of science, but more especially to interest the mass of the people in scientific research. The vast majority of the people of Sweden, like those of other countries, were dominated by fetichic superstitions and absurd notions about plants and vegetables, which were indorsed to a certain extent by popular handbooks devoted more to the dissemination of marvels than facts. A popular clergyman, for instance, stated in a description of the maritime provinces that "certain ducks grew upon trees." The vast stride which was made by the populace in the knowledge of nature was due to these efforts of Linnaeus, who, in order to further popularize science, established and edited, in conjunction with Salvius, a journal devoted to the discussion of natural history.
During this period, on the first of May, semi-weekly excursions were made from the university, the public being invited to attend. The people came to these excursions by hundreds, and all classes were represented in them - physicians, apothecaries, preachers, merchants, and mechanics, all joined the procession, which left the university at seven in the morning, to return at eve laden with zoological, botanical, and mineralogical specimens.
A man who could thus arouse popular enthusiasm for science a century and a half ago must have been a remarkable genius. Trusted students of Linnaeus were sent on botanical exploring expeditions throughout the world. The high renown in which Linnaeus was held was shown in the significant title, almost universally bestowed upon him, of "The Flower King." - Western Druggist.
For the illustrations and many facts in the life of Linnaeus we are indebted to the Illustrated Tidning, Stockholm.