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When the first volumes of Buffon made their appearance, the elegance of their style had a prejudicial effect on the popularity of Reaumur's writings; and as naturalists, like poets and artists, generally belong to the irritabile genus,—the sensitive class of mankind,—our author seems to have experienced considerable chagrin. In other respects, however, he lived a very quiet life; residing sometimes on his estate in Saintonge, and sometimes at his country-house of Bercy, in the neighbourhood of Paris. He had no public employment, except that of intendant of the order of St Louis, of which he performed the duties for the benefit of a relative whom circumstances prevented from discharging them, and to whom he resigned the emoluments. He died on the 18th October 1757, at the age of 74; his death being accelerated by a fall which he had received at the castle of Bermondière, whither he had gone to pass the vacations. He seems to have been in all respects an amiable man, of correct habits and great mildness of disposition. His life, therefore, presents none of those bickerings and other manifestations[Pg 192] of rivalry which have produced so much disquietude to some other naturalists; and, as his fortune was sufficient for his comfortable subsistence, he was freed from those cares which distract the attention, and enabled to pursue his favourite studies with advantage.[J]
[J] Biographie Universelle, art. Reaumur, tome xxxvii. p. 198.
Birth and Parentage of Linnæus—He is destined for the Clerical Profession—His early Fondness for Plants—He is sent to School, where his Progress is so slow that his Father resolves to make him a Shoemaker—Is rescued from this Fate by Dr Rothmann, who receives him into his Family—He becomes decidedly attached to the Study of Nature, enters the University of Lund, and is patronised by Professor Stobæus—When on an Excursion is attacked by a dangerous Malady—Stobæus surprises him in his nocturnal Studies—He goes to Upsal—Is reduced to extreme Poverty, from which he is relieved by Professor Celsius, whom he assists—Is next patronised by Rudbeck, and delegated to read his Lectures—Forms a Friendship with Artedi.
Charles Linnæus was born on the 23d May 1707, at Rashult, in the province of Smaland. His father, Nils, whose ancestors were peasants, was pastor of the village, and being the first learned man of his house, had, agreeably to a custom prevalent in Sweden, changed his family-name with his profession, and borrowed that of Linné from a large linden-tree, which stood in the vicinity of his native place, between Tomsboda and Linnhult. His mother, Christina Broderson, was the daughter of his father's predecessor in office.
The pious parents had intended him likewise for the service of the church, either because they considered the clerical profession the best adapted to[Pg 194] their son, or as calculated to ensure the means of a comfortable subsistence, and to render him the stay of their old age. But, whatever were their motives, the design, fortunately for the progress of natural science, was frustrated by the propensities which he soon displayed; for, inheriting a strong passion for flowers, he devoted a great part of his earlier years to the cultivation of a corner of the family-garden, which he profusely stocked with wild plants collected in the woods and fields. The excursions which he was thus induced to make, gradually led him to an acquaintance with the productions of the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and were at first rather encouraged than discountenanced by his parents, as affording innocent amusement, and being beneficial to health.
Charles was happy also in the affectionate care of his father, who taught him the elements of the Latin language, geography, and other departments of knowledge suited to his capacity. At the age of seven, however, he was committed to the care of a teacher ill qualified for the task; and three years after he was sent to a grammar-school in the neighbouring town of Wexio, where he continued several years. During this period he made little proficiency in the studies connected with his intended profession; for the love of nature prevailed in his mind to such a degree as to induce him to consider every other occupation as compulsory. He found much more pleasure in gathering plants and insects than in performing the tasks imposed by his teachers. Every hour of respite from his lessons was devoted to his favourite occupation, and all his holidays were spent in rambling over the country. His school-fellows[Pg 195] considered him as an idle vagabond; but his master, whose name was Lanaerius, formed a proper judgment of his genius, which he was the better enabled to do, as he himself was fond of botany.
In 1724, young Linnæus entered the upper college or gymnasium at Wexio, where his deficiencies in classical attainments were looked upon with less indulgence. The admonitions of his teachers were contemned; the passion inspired by nature still prevailed; and complaints were made to his father, who, finding him averse to the study of divinity, and perhaps believing him incapable of acquiring literary knowledge, resolved to bind him apprentice to a shoemaker. Considering the circumstances of his parents, and the little prospect of their son's obtaining a comfortable livelihood by his botanical pursuits, we need not ascribe this determination to a less estimable motive than prudent affection. Fortunately, however, the design was not carried into effect.
A physician at Wexio, who was also professor of medicine in the college of that city, had taken notice of the genius and peculiar pursuits of the boy, and, hearing of his father's intentions, ventured to offer his assistance and advice. The encomiums of this benevolent person, Dr John Rothmann, inspired the parents with unexpected pleasure. The entreaties of their son himself were joined to the kind intercession of his protector, who had promised to take him into his own family for a year, and provide him with every thing necessary. Natural history was not then in Sweden, any more than it is now in our own country, a study which of itself could lead to[Pg 196] wealth, or even to a moderate independence. It was therefore resolved that he should qualify himself for the practice of medicine; and to this proposal the pastor and his wife at length reluctantly assented.
Baffled in their views with respect to Charles, they resolved to transfer their cares to their second son, Samuel, whom they hoped to prevent from addicting himself to similar pursuits by prohibiting his entrance into the garden, and even the gathering of flowers in the fields. This restriction, however, had not the full effect; for Samuel also was a lover of botany, although his parents had the gratification of seeing him at length become a preacher.
In the house of Rothmann, the elder brother, who had hitherto studied botany without any regular method, found Tournefort's Institutiones Rei Herbariæ,—a work which opened new prospects to his view, and tended to increase his zeal. The more he became acquainted with nature, the more did his love of knowledge increase, and his frequent excursions into the country soon rendered his acquirements conspicuous. Having remained three years at the College of Wexio, he was prepared to become a pupil in a higher seminary of learning, and in 1727 set out for the University of Lund.