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Hitherto Tournefort was the only author to whose works Linnæus was indebted for the more solid parts of his knowledge; but a small book of Vaillant on the structure of flowers now coming into his hands, he perceived many defects in the system he had embraced; and from the ingenious observations made by the latter writer on the sexes of plants, he conceived the idea of founding a system of botany on[Pg 202] the stamens and pistils. With this object in view, he recommenced his studies on a new plan; the sexual distinction continually occupied his thoughts, and the knowledge which he acquired in this path became the basis of his future eminence. A small treatise which he composed on the subject of an academical disputation attracted the notice of Rudbeck, the second of the name, then professor of botany, who, being advanced in years, was looking out for an assistant. He received the ardent student into his house, and delegated to him the office of reading his lectures, and demonstrating the plants in the botanic garden. Rudbeck was also a zoologist, and had made a collection of all the Swedish birds; the examination of which failed not to add to Linnæus's knowledge in this department of natural history. Botany, however, continued to be his favourite study; and about this period he wrote several treatises, which were afterwards published in Holland.
During his residence at Upsal, he had the happiness to enjoy the friendship of a young man, not less fervently devoted than himself to the study of nature. This was Peter Artedi, so well known for his work on fishes. The name of Linnæus is usually mentioned as that of a distinguished botanist; but it ought to be observed, however great his merits were in that capacity, they were scarcely less in the department of zoology, and that from the commencement of his career he manifested nearly as strong a liking to the one as to the other. Speaking of his friendship for Artedi, he says, "He excelled me in chemistry, and I outdid him in the knowledge of birds and insects, and in botany."
At this period, a new prospect opened to his ambition.[Pg 203] A society had been instituted at Upsal, chiefly for the purpose of examining the natural productions of the kingdom. The remote and desert regions of Lapland were less known than any other of the Swedish provinces, although Rudbeck the elder had been sent by Charles XI. to explore them. The curiosities which he brought home had been destroyed by the great fire in 1702; and it was now proposed to repair the loss by sending out another scientific traveller. The choice fell on Linnæus, who was recommended by Celsius and the younger Rudbeck.[Pg 204]
Linnæus, chosen by the Royal Society of Upsal to travel in Lapland, sets out in May 1732—Enters Lycksele Lapland—A Lapland Beauty—Beds made of Hair-moss—Conversation of a Curate and a Schoolmaster—The Lapland Alps—Their Vegetation—Brief Account of the Rein-deer—Passing over the alpine Region, he enters Norway—Again visits the mountainous Region—Difficulties of the Journey—Pearl-fishery—Forests set on Fire by Lightning—At Lulea he discovers the Cause of an epidemic Distemper among the Cattle—Returns through East Bothland—Concluding Remarks.
Having received this appointment, he visited his friend Stobæus at Lund, as also his parents, who were now reconciled to him, and returned to Upsal to prepare for his perilous enterprise.
On the 12th May 1732, he set out alone, equipped as follows:—"My clothes," says he, in his Lachesis Lapponica, "consisted of a light coat of West Gothland linsey-woolsey cloth without folds, lined with red shalloon, having small cuffs and collar of shag; leather breeches; a round wig; a green leather cap, and a pair of half-boots. I carried a small leather bag, half an ell in length, but somewhat less in breadth, furnished on one side with hooks and eyes, so that it could be opened and shut at pleasure. This bag contained one shirt; two pair of false sleeves; two half-shirts; an ink-stand, pencase, microscope, and spying-glass; a gauze cap to protect me occasionally from the gnats; a comb; my journal, and a parcel of paper stitched[Pg 205] together for drying plants, both in folio; my manuscript Ornithology, Flora Uplandica, and Characteres Generici. I wore a hanger at my side, and carried a small fowling-piece, as well as an octangular stick, graduated for the purpose of measuring. My pocket-book contained a passport from the Governor of Upsal, and a recommendation from the Academy."
Nature wore her most delightful aspect; the dandelion, the violet, and the primrose, unfolded their blossoms to the sun; the skylark chanted its lively song as it soared aloft in the clear sky; and the redwing warbled its love-notes from the lofty pines. How delightful must have been the feelings of the young naturalist, as he advanced toward the scene of those anticipated discoveries, which were to immortalize his name, or at least to increase the sphere of his ideas, and perhaps form the basis of his fortune! As he advanced, "the redwing, the cuckoo, the black-grous, and the mountain-finch, with their various notes, made a concert in the forest, to which the lowing herds of cattle under the shade of the trees formed a bass."
He proceeded through Helsingland, Angermanland, and West Bothland, to Lycksele Lapland, where he embarked on a large river, during his voyage on which he was gratified by the sight of numerous birds. But a succession of cataracts occurring soon after, the owner of the boat, inverting its position, placed it on his head, and "scampered away over hills and valleys, so that the devil himself could not have overtaken him."
By the beginning of June he found himself among swamps, torrents, and woods, occasionally accompanied by a Laplander as guide, and now and[Pg 206] then incurring dangers which would have damped the ardour of a less enthusiastic traveller. On one of these occasions, after wandering a long time in a labyrinth of marshes, he was met by a woman, whom he describes as presenting a very extraordinary appearance: "Her stature was very diminutive; her face of the darkest brown, from the effects of smoke; her eyes dark and sparkling; her eyebrows black; her pitchy-coloured hair hung loose about her head, and on it she wore a flat red cap. 'O thou poor man!' quoth she, 'what hard destiny can have brought thee hither, to a place never visited by any one before? This is the first time I ever beheld a stranger. Thou miserable creature! how didst thou come, and whither wilt thou go?'" Linnæus entreated her to point out some way by which he might continue his journey. "'Nay, man,' said she, 'thou hast only to go the same way back again; for the river overflows so much, it is not possible for thee to proceed further in this direction. From us thou hast no assistance to expect in the prosecution of thy journey, as my husband, who might have helped thee, is ill.'" The traveller begged of her something to eat, and after much difficulty procured a small cheese. He was obliged to retrace his steps through the marshes; and, when almost exhausted by hunger and fatigue, at length reached the house of a poor curate, where his wants were supplied.
The bountiful provision of nature, he remarks, is evinced in providing mankind with bed and bedding, even in this savage wilderness. The great hair-moss (Polytrichum commune), called by the Laplanders romsi, grows copiously in their damp[Pg 207] forests, and is used for this purpose. They choose the starry-headed plants, out of the tufts of which they cut a surface as large as they please for a bed or bolster, separating it from the earth beneath; and, although the shoots are scarcely branched, they are, nevertheless, so entangled at the roots as not to be separable from each other. This mossy cushion is very soft and elastic, not growing hard by pressure; and if a similar portion of it be made to serve as a coverlet, nothing can be more warm and comfortable. They fold this bed together, tying it up into a roll that may be grasped by a man's arms, which, if necessary, they carry with them to the place where they mean to sleep the following night. If it becomes too dry and compressed, its former elasticity is restored by a little moisture.