Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

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It is generally acknowledged that Linnæus was more addicted to the love of gold than becomes a philosopher, and that his style of living was by no means equal to his income. "For my own part," says his pupil Fabricius, "I can easily excuse him[Pg 366] for having been a little too fond of money, when I consider those extremes of poverty which so long and so heavily overwhelmed him. It may also be said in his defence, that the parsimonious habits which he had contracted under the most pressing necessity remained with him ever after, and that he found it impossible to renounce them when he lived in the midst of abundance." This apology may perhaps suffice, especially when we find it asserted that his frugality never degenerated into avarice.

Towards his pupils he conducted himself with the most praiseworthy liberality. To those who were poor he remitted the fees due to him as professor, and even from the rich he on many occasions refused to receive any recompense. Dr Gieseke, when about to leave him in the autumn of 1771, pressed upon him a Swedish bank-note, as a remuneration for the trouble which he had taken in affording him instruction; but he was unwilling to accept it, and it was not till after the repeated entreaties of his pupil that he acceded to his request:—"Tell me candidly," said he, "if you are rich, and can afford it;—can you well spare this money on your return to Germany? If you can, give the note to my wife; but should you be poor, so help me God, I would not take a farthing from you!"—"To the praise of Linnæus," says Mr Ehrhart, "I must farther own, notwithstanding his parsimony, that he neither would nor did accept a single penny as a fee for the lectures which he gave me. You are a Swiss," he once said to me, "and the only Swiss that visits me. I shall take no money of you, but feel a pleasure in telling you all that I know gratis."

His excitable temper not unfrequently betrayed[Pg 367] him into expressions which indicated a great want of self-control; but if he was easily roused to anger, he was as speedily appeased. He was exceedingly pleasant in conversation, humorous, and fond of telling entertaining stories. Constant in his attachments, he was ever disposed to look with indulgence on the faults of his friends; and he was fortunate in the affection which his pupils manifested towards him. But it is said that he was equally tenacious of dislike towards his enemies, or those of whom he had formed an unfavourable opinion.

His opponents he treated with forbearance or contempt, and on no occasion engaged in controversy. In a letter to Haller he says,—"Our great example, Boerhaave, answered nobody whatever: I recollect his saying to me one day, 'You should never reply to any controversial writers; promise me that you will not.' I promised him accordingly, and have benefited very much by it." If he cherished animosity towards his adversaries, it certainly did not prevent him from expressing his esteem for their merits; and as dissimulation had no place in his character, he did not follow the example of those who by private misrepresentations undo the benefits conferred by public encomiums. "I am certain," says Murray, "that had his most unjust and most violent opponents heard him, they could not have refused him their esteem and affection."

No man ever excelled him in the discrimination of natural objects; nor is it necessary for us to enter upon any exposition of the excellencies of his mental constitution, as fitting him for the office which he assumed as legislator of natural history. Active, penetrating, sagacious, more conversant with nature[Pg 368] than with books, yet not unacquainted with the labours of others, he succeeded in eliciting order from the chaotic confusion which he found prevailing in his favourite sciences. His memory, which was uncommonly vigorous, was, like his other faculties, devoted to natural history alone; and it was the first that suffered decay. When he was only fifty years of age it already exhibited symptoms of decline; and a few years before his death it was almost entirely extinguished. In the study of modern languages he had never made sufficient progress to enable him to express his ideas with fluency in any other than his native tongue. His intercourse with strangers was carried on in Latin, of which he had a competent knowledge, although in his letters he paid little attention to elegance, or even in some cases to grammatical accuracy. He used to say to his friends,—"Malo tres alapas a Prisciano, quam unam a Natura,—I would rather have three slaps from Priscian than one from Nature."

The love of fame was his predominant passion. It possessed his soul at an early age, strengthened as he advanced in years, and retained its hold to the last. "Famam extendere factis" was his favourite motto, and that which, when ennobled, he chose for his coat of arms. But his ambition was entirely confined to science, and never influenced his conduct towards the persons with whom he had intercourse, nor manifested itself by the assumption of superiority. Fond of praise, he was liberal in dispensing it to others; and, although nothing afforded him more pleasure than flattery, he was neither apt to boast of his merits, nor disinclined to extol those of his fellow-labourers.[Pg 369]

We do not find any remarkable deviations in his general conduct from the straight path of morality. It is true, that in the affair of Rosen the impetuosity of his temper had nearly betrayed him into an act which would have stamped his memory with indelible disgrace; but if he exhibited some of the frailties and errors inseparable from humanity, it is neither our inclination to search them out, nor our province to pronounce judgment upon them. He has been accused of betraying a prurient imagination in the names which he gave to many objects, both in the vegetable and animal kingdoms. It is certain, that a more chastened taste would have enabled him to avoid offence in this matter; but neither in conversation nor in act has any moral delinquency been laid to his charge.

In all his writings there appears a deep feeling of reverence and gratitude towards the Supreme Being; and in the history of his life we find nothing which could lead us to suppose that such feelings were assumed for the occasion. Over the door of his room was inscribed,—"Innocui vivite, Numen adest,—Live in innocence, for God is present." His more important works he commences and ends with some passage from the Scriptures, expressive of the power, the glory, the beneficence of God, the creator and preserver of all things. Whenever, in his lectures or on his excursions, he found an opportunity of expatiating on these subjects, he embraced it with enthusiasm. "On these occasions," says one of his biographers, "his heart glowed with celestial fire, and his mouth poured forth torrents of admirable eloquence." Where is the naturalist, possessed of the true feelings of a man, who does not honour in his[Pg 370] heart the being possessed of such a character! The sneer of the filthy sensualist, who, steeped in pollution, endeavours to persuade his turbid mind that all others are like himself; the scorn of the little puffed-up intellect, which, having traced the outline of some curious mechanism in nature, exults in the fancied independence of its own poor energies; the malice of the grovelling spirit, that, finding itself eclipsed by the splendour of superior talents, strives to obscure them by the aspersions of calumny,—what are they that they should influence our estimation of the character of this great man, who with his ardent piety and the devotion of his faculties to the glory of his Creator, is, amid all his imperfections, an object worthy of our love and esteem. And such he will remain, while the world endures, in the view of every enlightened admirer of the wonderful works of God.

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