Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

Page 46 of 79

He had left his native country in April 1734, and returned in the autumn of 1738, having been absent three years and a half. In the course of this period, he visited Holland, England, and France, formed acquaintance with many eminent naturalists, obtained his medical degree, published numerous works on botany, and extended his fame over all Europe.

With respect to the improvements which he made in that branch of natural history, it is unnecessary here to enter into any detail, as it is proposed to speak particularly of them in a subsequent volume. It may be sufficient to remark, that there had not previously been any good arrangement of plants; that the principles of the science had not been laid down in a satisfactory manner; that the nomenclature was barbarous and unsuitable; the mode of distinguishing species rude and inefficient; and that, in short, the works on this subject were little better than a chaos of names and unintelligible descriptions. Some[Pg 233] writers maintain, indeed, that he did more harm than good, when he became the legislator of botany. But their opinion can deceive those only who, too idle or too weak to judge for themselves, adopt the sentiments of their teachers with a deference unworthy of the student of nature.[Pg 234]


Principal Events in the Life of Linnæus from 1738 to 1741.

Linnæus is treated with Neglect at Stockholm—Is offered a Botanical Professorship at Gottingen, but prefers remaining in Sweden—His medical Practice is at length extended—He prescribes for the Queen, and becomes acquainted with Count Tessin, who procures for him the Offices of Lecturer to the School of Mines and Physician to the Admiralty—He marries Miss Moræus, delivers Lectures on Botany, and becomes a Candidate for the Botanical Chair at Upsal, which, however, is given to Rosen—Is sent to examine the Islands of Oeland and Gothland—Being appointed to succeed Roberg in the Chair of Medicine and Anatomy, he goes to Upsal, is reconciled to Rosen, and delivers his Introductory Discourse—Linnæus and Rosen exchange Professorships—The Botanic Garden is restored, and a House erected for the Professor, who enters upon his Duties with Ardour.

Linnæus had naturally expected, on returning to his native land, to enjoy the fruits of his labours, and if not to step at once into a lucrative office, to receive, at least, the honours which he imagined to be due to him. This hope, however, was more the result of a strong confidence in his own powers, and of the high sense which he entertained of his merits, than of sound judgment, which might have taught him that time was yet required to render him known to his countrymen, and address or accident to bring him into the notice of those who might interest themselves in his behalf. He had forgotten that a prophet is usually less esteemed at home than any where else. At Stockholm he was[Pg 235] treated with neglect, and even with contempt. Science in the North had few gifts to bestow; and, in order to obtain the means of subsistence, he found himself once more obliged to attempt the practice of medicine. In this, however, he had very little success, public opinion being opposed to the professional qualifications of one who had merely the reputation of being an aspiring botanist; and in the capital he seemed destined to undergo hardships similar to those which he had experienced at Upsal. In this, perhaps, the inhabitants judged rightly; for the important office of a physician certainly ought not to be assumed by one who has resolved to devote the greater part of his time to studies unconnected with the healing art. The only favour, he says, which was at this time conferred upon him was his being elected a member of the Academy of Sciences of Upsal; and he would have again left Sweden had not his Elizabeth prevented him.

In this perplexed condition he remained until the summer of 1739, when the tide of misfortune began to ebb. At this time he received from his friend, the illustrious Haller, an offer of the botanical professorship at Gottingen, which, however, the prospect of success in his own country induced him to reject. The first turn in his affairs was caused by his having cured two young men of debility brought on by long excesses; and in less than a month he had under treatment most of the profligates in the capital. Soon afterwards a catarrhal fever or influenza became prevalent. He happened to be called to visit, among others, the lady of an Aulic councillor, for whom he prescribed a remedy which she was directed to carry about her for occasional[Pg 236] use. This lady being one day at court, and engaged in a card-party, was following his direction, when the queen, Ulrica Eleonora, asked her what it was she from time to time put into her mouth. Upon being informed, her majesty, who was herself troubled with a cough, immediately sent for Linnæus, who recommended the same medicine, by which the complaint was removed.

This fortunate accident completely established his popularity, and he now became the fashionable doctor of the place. About the same period he was elected president of a society instituted by Captain Triewald for the improvement of the national language,—a circumstance which also tended to promote his reputation. He had, moreover, the good luck to become acquainted with the celebrated Count Charles Gustavus Tessin, who being himself fond of natural history, could not fail to take an interest in one who had undeservedly suffered so much obloquy for his devotion to it. The nobleman asked him if there were any office for which he wished to petition, as the Diet was then sitting. He replied that he wanted nothing; but his patron having allowed him a day to consider, he consulted his friend Triewald, who advised him to ask the office of lecturer to the School of Mines, which brought about a hundred ducats a year. The count soon after invited him to dinner, when he informed him that the request had been granted. In a short time the more important office of physician to the Admiralty became vacant, and was procured for him by his Mæcenas, who, besides, offered him apartments in his house, and frequently admitted him to his table. There he had an opportunity of making[Pg 237] the acquaintance of many persons of influence, by whose means his credit was greatly extended.

Being now in prosperous circumstances, he resolved to complete the contract into which he had entered with the daughter of old Moræus, and proceeding to Fahlun, received her in due form. After spending a month of merrymaking, he returned to Stockholm. In September he resigned the presidency of the Academy, and, agreeably to the rules of the institution, delivered on that occasion a discourse on insects (De Memorabilibus in Insectis), which was afterwards printed.

In the summer of 1740, he delivered a course of lectures on botany, and published a new edition of his Fundamenta Botanica, which he dedicated to Dillenius, Haller, Van Royen, Gronovius, Jussieu, Burmann, and Ammann; showing, in this classification, his opinion of the comparative merits of the most eminent botanists of that time. His medical practice continued to increase; and with his lectures, his private studies, and his duty as physician to the Admiralty, his time was fully and satisfactorily occupied. His former protector, Olaus Rudbeck the younger, professor of botany, having died in the spring of this year, Linnæus, Rosen, and Wallerius offered themselves as candidates for the vacant office. Count Tessin supported the first mentioned; but the chancellor, Count Gyllenborg, gave Rosen the preference, as he had taken his degrees before the other, and had acquired stronger claims on the public by a longer residence at Upsal. The king, however, was desirous of bestowing the office on the great botanist, who was consoled for the loss by the promise of succeeding Roberg, who held the chair[Pg 238] of medicine and anatomy. That gentleman, being advanced in years, requested permission to resign, which was granted; but although the appointment had been promised to Linnæus, it was not without difficulty that he obtained it. In the mean time, Wallerius, his rival, took every opportunity of impugning his botanical doctrines, with the view of lessening the estimation of his merits; though the effort tended only to bring himself into contempt.

Free Learning Resources