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While delivering one of his lectures in the botanic garden, in the beginning of May 1774, he had a slight attack of apoplexy, from which he did not recover for some time; and from this period his health rapidly declined. It is said, that the vexation produced by the publication of a letter in which he had confidentially disclosed to a friend the history of his youth, and especially the progress of his courtship, was the exciting cause of this fatal affection. The illustrious Haller, with whom he had corresponded from 1737 to 1766, published a volume of letters, written in Latin by men of literary eminence, and addressed to himself; and, having been always extremely jealous of Linnæus, thought proper to print all his epistles, in order to defend his own character against the accusations of envy which had been but too justly preferred. When he read these communications he was violently agitated,[Pg 316] and from that moment his health became perceptibly worse. The apoplectic attack followed soon after; and from a comparison of testimonies on the subject, it seems to us extremely probable that it was occasioned by the causes now assigned.
He did not, however, despair, nor give himself up to inactivity under these distressing circumstances. A Swedish gentleman returning from Surinam, where he had been residing on his estates, brought with him a collection of plants preserved in spirits of wine, which he presented to the king. The latter sent them to Linnæus, whose health was much benefited by the pleasure which the possession of these treasures inspired. He immediately commenced a description of them, which was published in the Amænitates Academicæ,—a work respecting which we shall have occasion to speak in another section.
After this period, however, little remained of his former vigour. His body feeble and emaciated, his mind stripped of its distinguishing faculties, he rapidly sunk into decrepitude. In 1775, he thus describes his state in his diary:—"Linnæus limps, can hardly walk, speaks unintelligibly, and can scarcely write." Even in this condition he received pleasure from occasional visits to his museum, and more especially from the regard of his sovereign, who did him the honour of going from Ekhelsund to Upsal for the purpose of seeing him, and continued in conversation with him a whole afternoon. The following year, finding his infirmities greatly increased, he requested permission to retire from his offices; but the king would not grant it. On the contrary, his majesty doubled his salary, and gave him two[Pg 317] farms, which his children were to inherit. The last words inscribed in his diary are the following:—"Horrebow and Berger, both Danes, and Gruno from Hamburg, came to Upsal as pupils; but Linnæus is so ill that he can with difficulty speak to them; for the tertian fever is added to paralysis, and his weakness is extreme."
In the winter of 1776, he was reduced to the most deplorable condition; and as in the day of his mental vigour he had presented a brilliant example of the human intellect, so now in that of his prostration did he afford an instance of the utter feebleness of our nature. Another attack of apoplexy caused paralysis of his right side, in which he had most frequently suffered pain; his memory failed him to such a degree that he could not remember the names of the most familiar objects; his incoherent and unconnected words indicated a total decay of the powers of his understanding; he could no longer feed, dress, or clean himself; he could not even move from one place to another. The fever continued, and he became extremely emaciated. Yet even in this state he contrived to write a few scarcely-legible letters, one of which was to his friend Baek. It was dated the 9th December 1776, and contained the following sentence:—"God has determined to break all the bonds that attach me to terrestrial objects." Yet to the last he clung to these with a pertinacity as deplorable as it is surprising in a man who had manifested in his writings, if not in his actions, no small degree of piety. For several years previous to his death, his diary contains little else than an enumeration of the incidents most calculated to gratify his vanity;[Pg 318] such as a visit or letter from the king, the adoption of his system in the botanic garden of Paris, the Pope's approval of his works, and similar occurrences.
At the beginning of 1777, he was still at Upsal, and continued in the same lamentable state, although he occasionally enjoyed intervals of intellectual vigour. In general, however, his powers had so much failed, that he ceased to recognise his own works when they were placed before him; and, it is said, even forgot his name. When the season advanced, he was carried to his country-house at Hammarby, where he remained during the summer. In fine weather he was occasionally taken into the garden or museum, that he might see his collections and books, which always gave him pleasure. In autumn his health improved a little, and he returned to Upsal; but, although he had intimated that he was still desirous of rendering himself useful to the university, so far as his decayed faculties might permit, he was unequal to the delivery of his introductory lecture, which was therefore read by his son.
He was still able to go out, however, although the coachman had orders not to take him beyond the limits of the town. In December, he got upon a sledge, and forced his servant to drive him to Safja, about a league distant. The family, finding that he did not return as usual, became extremely uneasy, and sent in search of him. He was found stretched on the covering of his vehicle, and quietly smoking his pipe by the farmer's fire; nor was it without difficulty that he was induced to go home. This is the last remarkable act of his life that has been recorded; and we have nothing more to add, but[Pg 319] that his sufferings daily increased, until, worn out with disease, he expired on the 10th January 1778, in the 71st year of his age. According to the report of his son, in a letter to Mutis, he died of a gouty suppression of urine, terminating in gangrene.
The honours paid to the memory of this great naturalist were correspondent to the high estimation in which he was held. His death was regarded as an irreparable loss to science; and he is said to have "carried to the grave, with the grief of his fellow-citizens, the admiration of the learned of all countries. Upsal was in deep sorrow on the day of his funeral." His body was conveyed to the cathedral, where it was committed to the tomb. Eighteen doctors, who had been of the number of his pupils, supported the pall, and all the professors, officers, and students of the university, followed in procession.
The king, Gustavus III., ordered a medal to be struck in commemoration of him who had contributed so essentially to elevate the Swedish character in the scientific world; and in 1778, at a convention of the Diet, expressed himself in the following terms:—"The University of Upsal has also attracted my attention. I shall always remember with pleasure that the chancellorship of that university was intrusted to me before I ascended the throne. I have instituted in it a new professorship; but, alas! I have lost a man whose renown filled the world, and whom his country will ever be proud to reckon among her children. Long will Upsal remember the celebrity which it acquired by the name of Linnæus." The Academy of Belles Lettres, History, and Antiquities of Stockholm,[Pg 320] offered a prize for the best panegyric in Latin, French, or Italian. One written in French was received in 1786, but the Academy judging it unsuitable, offered a second prize, which in 1792 was conferred on Mr Gunnar Baekmann, a Swede. The late Dr Hope of Edinburgh erected to his memory, in the botanic garden there, a monument bearing the simple inscription, "Linnæo posuit, J. Hope;" and the Duc d'Ayen-Noailles placed in his garden a cenotaph, with the bust of the naturalist in a medallion, surrounded by the Linnæa and Ayenia,—the latter plant having been dedicated to himself. Three éloges or panegyrics were pronounced; the first by his friend Dean Baek, at a meeting of the Royal Society of Stockholm; the second by M. Condorcet, in the Parisian Academy of Sciences; the third by M. Vicq d'Azyr, in the Medical Society of Paris. In 1787, an association was formed in that city, under the name of La Société Linnéenne, which subsequently changed its designation into that of Société d'Histoire Naturelle. In 1788, the Linnæan Society of London was established by Dr Smith and other admirers of the Swedish sage; and in 1790, another, bearing the same appellation, was constituted at Leipsic. It is unnecessary to mention all the honours that have been paid to this illustrious professor, as his name has been distinguished in all civilized countries beyond that of any cultivator of natural history, and in our own is as familiar as that of Newton or Herschel. We shall therefore conclude with stating, that in 1822 the students of the university of which he had so long been the chief ornament, resolved to erect a statue as a token of their admiration of his character.[Pg 321] It was executed by a native artist, and in 1829 was erected upon a pedestal of porphyry.