Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

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Besides the three medals which were struck in Sweden to perpetuate his memory, his portrait has been repeatedly engraved. It appears, for example, in the edition of the Systema Naturæ, published at Leipsic in 1798; in the second edition of the Species Plantarum, published at Stockholm in 1762; and in the sixth edition of the Genera Plantarum, which appeared in 1748. In Trapp's translation of his life by Stoever is another likeness engraved by Heath, which, being the most characteristic that we could find, has been selected for the purpose of adorning the present volume. In the biography of Linnæus by M. Fée, are two lithographic portraits, one taken at the age of 20, the other at that of 60.

On inspecting our engraving, the physiognomist will readily detect several of the more prominent traits of his character. The person represented is evidently an active, lively little man, possessed of much acuteness, great judgment, love of order, a self-estimation not susceptible of being diminished by opposition, and a love of approbation, prompting his benevolent mind to generous labours.[Pg 322]


Correspondence of Linnæus.

Linnæus's first Letter, addressed to Rudbeck in 1731—His last, to Dr Cusson in 1777—Correspondence with Haller—With Dillenius, Ellis, and other English Naturalists.

The correspondence of Linnæus was so extensive, that he declared to a friend that ten hands like his were insufficient to return answers to all the letters which were sent to him. Some time before his death, he drew up a list of 150 persons with whom he had maintained a communication of his ideas in writing. Among the earliest of his epistles was one directed to his benefactor, Olaus Rudbeck, professor in the University of Upsal, and is dated the 29th July 1731. The last is addressed to Peter Cusson, M.D. of Montpellier, and was written in 1777.

The first of his correspondents of whom we shall make mention is the celebrated Albert Haller, who was born in October 1708, and died on the 12th December 1777, aged 69. He was eminently distinguished for his knowledge of the physical sciences, as well as by his poetical talents, and his general acquaintance with literature. In fact, he aimed at universal dominion; and the renown of Rousseau, Voltaire, Linnæus, and Buffon, excited his envy of some and his contempt of others of these[Pg 323] celebrated men. After the death of his father, who was an advocate and citizen of Berne, he chose the medical profession; and in 1723, went to Tubingen, where he studied comparative anatomy under Duvernoi. In 1725, he removed to Leyden, then the first medical school in Europe. After taking his degree at the former seminary, he visited England, whence he went to Paris, and dissected under Le Dran. He then proceeded to Basil, to study mathematics under Bernouilli. There he imbibed also a taste for botany,—a science in which he subsequently made great progress. In 1729, he returned to Berne, and commenced his professional career as a lecturer on anatomy. In 1736, he was appointed by George II. to the professorship of surgery and botany in the University of Gottingen. Here he resided seventeen years, in the course of which he distinguished himself by his numerous and important discoveries. But, in 1753, having taken a journey to Berne, where his countrymen received him with the honour due to his talents, he settled there, and, having been elected a magistrate, entered with zeal on the duties of a citizen. The correspondence of Linnæus with this eminent naturalist and physician commenced when the latter was at Gottingen, and originated in a report that he was hostile to the proposed system of the young Swede, who thus supplicates his forbearance:—

"From Mr Cliffort's Museum, April 3, 1737.

"... 1. I must declare, that I am anxious to avoid, if possible, all anger or controversy with you; my wish is rather to act in conjunction with you. I should detest being your adversary, and,[Pg 324] as far as possible, I will avoid it. May there be peace in our days!

"2. I have always, from the time I first heard your name, held you in the highest estimation; nor am I conscious of ever having shown a contrary disposition. Why then should you provoke me to a dispute? Let me know if I have unwillingly offended, and I will omit nothing to satisfy you. I ask but for peace.

"3. If my harmless sexual system be the only cause of offence, I cannot but protest against so much injustice. I have never spoken of that as a natural method; on the contrary, in my Systema, p. 8, sect. 12, I have said, 'No natural botanical system has yet been constructed, though one or two may be more so than others; nor do I contend that this system is by any means natural. Probably I may, on a future occasion, propose some fragments of such an one, &c. Meanwhile, till that is discovered, artificial systems are indispensable.' And in the preface to my Genera Plantarum, sect. 9,—'I do not deny that a natural method is preferable, not only to my system, but to all that have been invented.... But, in the mean time, artificial classification must serve as a succedaneum.' Therefore, if you establish a natural method, I shall admit it.

"4. If you detect any mistakes of mine, I rely on your superior knowledge to excuse them; for who has ever avoided errors in the wide-extended field of Nature? Who is furnished with a sufficient stock of observations? I shall be thankful for your friendly corrections. I have done what I could of myself; but a lofty tree does not attain its full stature by the first storm that bursts forth.[Pg 325]

"5. I have been acquainted with most botanists of distinction, who have all given me their encouragement; nor has any one of them thwarted my insatiable desire of natural knowledge. Will you be more severe than any body else? You appear, by your dissertation, too noble to triumph over the ignorance of others.

"6. You may, with great advantage, and without injury to me, display your profound learning and intimate knowledge of the works of Nature, so as to acquire the thanks of all the learned world. Do but turn over the writings of botanists in general, and you will see, by their earlier performances, how they are puffed up at first with their own consequence, and scarcely able to keep from assaulting others; of which I myself have perhaps been guilty, which I deeply regret, having now learned better. But when these same people have passed a few years in the field of battle, they become so mild, candid, modest, and civil to every body, that not a word of offence escapes them. This chiefly leads me to doubt the truth of the report in question; for I know your reputation has already been long established.

"7. It seems wonderful to me that I should have excited so much of your displeasure; for I cannot but think there is no work of any author more in unison with my ideas than this essay of yours.

"8. I, and perhaps I alone, have acquired what I know entirely by the rules you have laid down, of studying without a master. I am still but a learner; and you must pardon me if I am not yet become learned. If knowledge is to be acquired by your mode, the hope of it, at least, still serves to illuminate my path.[Pg 326]

"9. I doubt, indeed, whether you, or any other lecturer, can enter into controversy with propriety. Professors and teachers should, above all things, acquire the confidence and respect of their hearers. If they appear in the light of students, how much of human imperfection must appear, and what a depreciation of their dignity! What man was ever so learned and wise, who, in correcting others, did not now and then show he wanted correction himself? Something always sticks to him. We have lately seen an instance of this in a most distinguished professor, the ornament of his university, who, having long indulged himself in attacks upon schoolmasters, has at last got so severe a castigation from one of this tribe, that it is doubtful whether he can ever recover his ground at all, and certain that he cannot recover it entirely. A very wise physician has declared, that he would rather give up physic, and the practice of it altogether, than enter into public controversy.

"10. Look over the whole body of controversial writers, and point out one of them who has received any thanks for what he has done in this way. Matthiolus would have been the greatest man of his day if he had not meddled with such matters. Who is gratified by 'the mad Cornarus,' or 'the flayed fox,' (titles bestowed on each other by Fuchsius and Cornarus)? What good have Ray and Rivinus done with their quarrels? Dillenius still laments that he took up arms against Rivinus; nor has the victory he gained added any thing to his fame. Did not Threlkeld give him much more just cause of offence? But he was now grown wiser, and would not take up the gauntlet. Vaillant, at[Pg 327] one time a most excellent observer, attempted to cut his way with authority through the armies of Tournefort; has he not met with his deserts? and would he not have risen much higher had he left him unmolested?

"11. I dread all controversies, as, whether conqueror or conquered, I can never escape disgrace. Who ever fought without some wound, or some injurious consequence? Time is too precious, and can be far better employed by me as well as by you. I am too young to take up arms, which, if once taken, cannot be laid aside till the war is concluded, which may last our lives. And, after all, the serious contentions of our time may, fifty years hence, seem to our successors no better than a puppet-show. I should be less ashamed to receive admonition from you than you must be to take it from me.

"Behold, then, your enemy, submissively seeking your friendship; which, if you grant him, you will be more certain of securing a friend than of stirring up an adversary. I know you to be of a more generous nature than to level your attacks at one who has not offended, unless any enemies of mine have raised doubts in your mind against me. If, after all, I cannot obtain that peace which, by every argument and supplication, I seek of you, I hope you will at least be so generous as to send me whatever you may print on the subject, and I will take care to convey my answers to you.

"If the news I have heard be without foundation, I earnestly beg of you to forgive me for the trouble I now give you."

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