Carl (Carolus) von Linné (1707-1778)

Linnaeus painted by Alexander Roslin

    Here are some fragmentary notes on Sweden's most famous scientist.  We, who are now living 300 years after Linnaeus' birth, should deepen our understanding of the world's perhaps most famous Swede and what he has done.
    Who was Linnaeus really?  This brief biography might provide some clues  to a continued study.  By brushing up on old source material I have found the following:

    Carl Linnaeus was born on May 13 (Linnea, after Linnaeus, now has his name on this day in our calendar!) at 01.00 hrs., (according to the old era, May 23), in Råshult, Småland and grew up in Stenbrohult. The birth is alleged to have been difficult. Linnaeus in a biography has described the time of his birth with the words "at 1 o’clock at night, between the plant and flower months, the  cuckoo declared the summer when the trees were green but still before flowering."  Parents: Nicolaus Linnaeus, the first curate, later vicar of Stenbrohult and his wife Kristina Brothersonia.  Father Nicolaus took a great interest in the natural world, which was transferred to his son.  Nine years old, Carl was sent to Wäxiö school, but he walked around outside the city, making collections of rocks, plants and insects. Did he do this instead of going to school??!!  I so then we need to insert instead after but ……     Beside the natural sciences the young Linnaeus had little or no interest at all. 

    In 1723 his teacher was so disappointed that he recommended his father to let Carl end his studies and instead put him "in some craft." The scores were certainly not something to brag about. He ends the school as number eleven in the group of sixteen students. The classical studies - Latin, Hebrew, Greek, etc – did not entice him. At most, he could become "a carpenter or a tailor, perhaps, but never a priest." Carl was remorseful when he thought of his father's large efforts to support the studies for his eldest son. But the school's principal Lannerius and the local doctor Rothman argued and spoke warmly in favour to Carl and said he would probably instead make "an honourable and profitable career in medicine." (Doctor's status was clearly lower than the priest’s at that time. My comment) And so it went. The studies were continued in 1727 in Lund. The Professor of Medicine dr Kilian Stobaeus (See Kilian Stobaeus the older!) encouraged him to study in terms of Medicine and Natural History. In 1728 he moved to Uppsala in order to broaden his studies with Botany. The theories of the plant sexual system had by this time already started to be formed.

    In 1729 the old professor of Theology, named Olof Celsius (see Olof Celsius Sr) suddenly met a young student who was investigating some flowers in the botanical garden. The student was young Carl Linnaeus. A conversation on the plants began, and Celsius was very impressed by the young man's knowledge on the subject. The young student Carl was apparently poor, his clothes were torn and his body lean. Professor Celsius invited and brought Linnaeus to his house, dressed him and allowed him to wander freely in his rich library. In return, Celsius, received something that Linnaeus himself had written, a copy of the first assessment of plant descriptions Praeludia Sponsaliorum plantarum (prelude to the nuptials of flowers). The old professor was amazed and very impressed with its contents.  It was here, clearly written, that the plants had intercourse. Earlier, many learned men had taught that the flowers freed themselves from the pollen in order to pure the sap. Linnaeus now said that the pistil of the plant was the  female sex organ and stamen that of the male: "... the flower leaves (petals) contribute nothing to the generation, but only offer the bridal bed, which the great Creator so lovely equipped, with precious curtains and wonderfully spread with so many sweet perfumes ... " Celsius brought him immediately in contact with the natural history orientated Professor of Medicine Olof Rudbeck, Jr., (see Olof Rudbeck Jr.), perhaps the country's greatest natural scientist at that time. Rudbeck immediately took Linnaeus to his heart and a fruitful collaboration started to grow. The idea of epoch-making, long distance, expeditions now were born and expanded to great visions for Linnaeus.

    Linnaeus takes his first trip to Lapland in 1932, then in 1734 he continues to Dalarna. He received governor Reuterholm's invitation to conduct a study of pits in this region. In Dalarna, he also met and got to know his future wife, Sarah Elizabeth, the daughter of the wealthy town doctor John Moraeus (1672-1742) in Falun. The marriage could not be realized because Carl was not fully qualified and still not able to support a family. In 1735 he completed his medical studies with a doctoral dissertation on the subject of malaria (which previously existed in Sweden) in Harderswijk, Holland. During his stay in the Netherlands he made many international contacts. The renowned physician Boerhaave was aware of the genius of Linnaeus and tried to persuade him to stay in Holland, but unsuccessfully. After a visit to Paris, Carl returned to Sweden in 1738, and finally married Sarah Elisabeth. In 1739 he opened his own physician’s practice in Stockholm. Carl became, with the assistance of former foreign experiences, capable of treating and curing many contemporary sicknesses, even venereal diseases. Especially effective and efficient proved to be a kind of ointment of mercury. The working day for the doctor Carl was long, but he now provided well for their livelihood.
He was appointed, at the age of 35, as professor of theoretical and practical medicine at Uppsala University in 1741. Son Charles born the same year and Linnaeus traveled through Östergötland and Småland to Öland and Gotland. By occupation exchange with Rosén, Carl received the appointment of Professor of Medicine and Natural History in 1742. Now Linnaeus’ life runs smoothly. He had now achieved the platform needed to bring to the world his thoughts and revolutionize Science in many aspects.

Linnaeus activities. 

    Linnaeus goes into the study of Nature with religious rapture. In the preface to the later editions of Systema Naturae, he writes, among other things:

I saw the eternal, omniscient and omnipotent God on His back,

when He went past and I became dizzy!

I traced His footsteps over nature’s field and noticed in everything,

even in those things I could scarcely discern, an infinite wisdom and might,

an unfathomable perfection.

Yes, I saw how all animals were supported by vegetation,

the vegetation by the ground, the ground by the whole earth,

how the earth circled night and day around the life-giving sun,

how the sun, planets and stars each rolled as if on its axle,

in uncountable numbers and endless breadth,

and how they were maintained in the world by the inconceivable first motion,

the Being of all things, the Spring and Governor of all causes,

the Lord and Master of this world.

If you want call Him Fate, this is not wrong, for everything hangs on His finger,

call Him Nature if you want, can Him Providence,

and you will also have spoken correctly, because everything has come from Him:

He is utterly and entirely Mind, entirely Vision, entirely Hearing,

He is the Soul.   He is the Animus and He is entirely his own.

No human being is able to imagine His form, this limited knowledge is sufficient.

He is an everlasting and eternal Divine being, who is neither created nor born.

Without this Being nothing will exist, but He has established and built all this;

who always glimmers before our eyes without being visible,

who can be comprehended only by thought,

for such a great Majesty resides on such a holy throne

which nothing can approach but the soul alone.

    Linnaeus considers the conception of Flora as a kind of femininity to be adored and loved with the utmost passion. To indulge in Flora's study is therefore a matter solely for men, something else is not in his thoughts. However, an exception would be Lady Anne Monson (see below!), who possessed an extraordinary knowledge of Botany. She was also far more well-travelled (her husband was Brigadier General in the East Indies!) than Linnaeus himself and stood in rank comparable to the most brilliant of his disciples. Linnaeus’ disciple Thunberg met with the celebrated Lady Monson on his way to Japan.
    Starting from the plant kingdom Linnaeus tried to comprehend all the links in the ecological chain. He even included minerals and elements. Linnaeus is obviously fond of the rare gems. Is it the beauty of nature that enthral him? On the other hand, his interest does not seem to go beyond our planet, if we exclude things that can be attributed to his purely religious beliefs:  Linnaeus was deeply religious and always prayed whether he experienced  a crisis or not. On the return journey from Gotland, the ship came into a storm: "... the waves were furious ... The ship was thrown among the roaring waves. Gotland disappeared. The comrades were seasick. Tackle began to run. Despair captured our hearts, and we commanded ourselves into God’s hands."   When they at last caught sight of land at Boda and safely arrived in port, Linnaeus exclaimed: "... we praise God who saved us from the midst of danger."  It was not rarely that Linnaeus went to church. On some of these occasions he had his dog with him, something that apparently was not appreciated by all.  In his beliefs Linnaeus believed in the Nemesis divina, meaning that a punishment by God affected those who committed immoral acts. Perhaps these thoughts arose within him when he was working as a physician, when he the often had to deal with several so-called “shameful sicknesses” (venereal diseases).

    Linnaeus’ activities are described by himself as “Deus creavit, Linnaeus disposuit” (God created, Linnaeus organized). What human beings had created Linnaeus ignored almost completely, may it concern art, music, painting, or anything derived by human talent, ability or expertise. Only in exceptional circumstances did Linnaeus involve himself in matters of human interest. One such exception was Linnaeus' interest in carvings of stones. He carefully copied the runes on every stone he met. But in visits to ancient castles and fortresses he was looking mostly for lichens, fungi and mosses on stones or plants in the immediate vicinity.
     According to Linnaeus' own words, he was the one who turned up and down the Celsius temperature scale. In a letter to a French friend Linnaeus argues: "It was I who invented our thermometer ...".  Anders Celsius wanted the boiling-point of water to be zero degrees and the freezing point to be one hundred. Linnaeus said he wanted an opposite scale and we can clearly see whose idea won the discussion. Celsius changed his idea according to Linnaeus’ advice and set the water freezing point at zero and the boiling point at 100 degrees. (C is sometimes seen as Latin Centum = 100).
     Linnaeus experimented with production of artificial pearls - by inserting grains of sand - in freshwater mussels.   Initially his experiments in this business brought poor enthusiasm


The roots of naming and structure - Aristotle

    The one  who came to influence the perception of the natural sciences, from Antiquity through the Middle Ages and up until the 1600s, was Aristotle. Aristotle is probably the most famous scientist of all time. He was born in 384 BC in Stagira on the north coast of the Aegean Sea. He was the son of a rich man, who was also a physician. At the age of seventeen, Aristotle came to Athens, where he studied at Plato's Academy. Around 340 BC, he became a teacher of Alexander the Great. Alexander supported Aristotle economically and also sent him unusual plants and animals from his wide campaigns. Aristotle founded a philosophical school in Athens called the Lyceum. Aristotle was teaching all the sciences, except mathematics. He was without comparison the most learned man of Antiquity. Of his 170 publications are, however, only 47 remain. We can find traces of Aristotle in the later household system of Martin Luther, that man would take a prominent place in the social system. ("When everyone takes his proper place, everything will go well"). Man would do research and investigate things to move forward in life; fate was not steering man. Aristotle emphasized patriarchy in terms of who should govern. Concerning universe he was occupied by a geocentric position: that is, the earth is the center of the universe around which everything revolves. Aristotle's theories later became so strong that they had a character of a law, which could not be questioned; it could even, in some cases lead to death punishment (when talking about freedom of opinion and expression! see Forsskål).  When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC, Aristotle was forced to flee from Athens. He was accused of a lack of reverence towards the gods. Aristotle knew what had happened to Socrates and feared the same fate. Aristotle died after a stomach sickness, one year after the escape, 62 years old, on 7 March 322 BC.
Aristotle's view of science can be briefly described as follows: he divides the animals into two main groups, animals with blood and animals without blood.
ANIMALS WITH BLOOD                        
 1. Four-footed animals giving birth to live offspring
 2. Birds.
 3 .Egg-laying four-footed animals.
 4. Whales.
 5. Fishes.

BLOODLESS  ANIMALS              
 1. Molluscs (octopuses).
 2. Soft-skinned animals (higher crustaceans).
 3. Insects (insects, spiders, centipedes, worms).
 4. Hard-skinned animals (sea urchins, snails, clams, sea squirts)

Between Aristotle and Linnaeus

What had happened in Botany and Natural Science during the past two millennia, which lies between Aristotle's and 1700's? Here is a summary presentation:

Aristotle around 350 BC Parts of the animals with blood / without blood as described above.

Theophrastus about 300 BC described around 500 known plant species.

Dioscorides about 50 AD Greek physician and botanist from Anatolia, field doctor during the emperors Claudius and Nero. In Dioscorides Peri Hyles iatrices (Engl. on medical materials), he describes 600 medicinal plants. This publication was used for nearly 1500 years as a manual for physicians.

Pliny Senior (or the Older)  (died in the Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD) wrote down all the known ancient botanical information in his Historia Naturalis, a most comprehensive encyclopedia consisting of 37 books.

Ibn al-Baita 1200s, probably the greatest botanist of the Middle Ages, started with Spain, explored then large parts of the Middle East.

 Albertus Magnus 1200s, made numerous botanical notes.

 Patres botanici: Otto Brunfels, Leonhard Fuchs, Jerome Bock.

Konrad Gesner 1500s, Swiss Natural Scientist, a professor at Lausanne and Zurich, edites the opuses of History animalum in five volumes and History plantarum. He was the first person to introduce a certain system of plants.

Mattheus Lobelius (1538-1616), grouped the plants by leaf shape.

Andrea Cesalpino 1500s Italian botanist, professor at Pisa, papal physician, author of The plantis (On the plants) in which he grouped plants for fruits and seeds in nature.

Gaspard Bauhin 1600s, Swiss botanist, professor in Basel in Greek, Botany, Anatomy and Medicine, made a clear distinction between family and species and created a binary taxonomy, author of Pinax theatri botanici (on the growing process, foliage, a botanical drama) numbering over 6,000 plants.
AQ Rivinius 1600s introduced his own system for plants.

Olof Bromelius 1600s, physician, botanist. Author of Chloris Gothica P. Catalogus Stirpium circa Gothoburg, nascentium, Sweden's first provincial flora ever.

John Ray (1628-1705) was the first in the modern sense launched the term of a species. He made his own plant systematics based on the cotyledons. Presented the great work Historia Plantarum Nova 1-3. Seen as one of the most important predecessors of Linnaeus. Ray (Rajus) was still working according to Aristotle's basic principles. 
Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708), set up a system based on corolla shape.
During the 1600s and 1700s during the early decades there are also a number of other names of scientists, specialists of plant anatomy, plant physiology and plant geography, which shows significant activities in Botany and that much was afoot at the time of Linnaeus' appearance.

Aristotle's great mistake was that he assumed the red color of blood fluid. Now it appears that almost all animals have blood fluid, but some without red paint and Aristotle's classification is therefore is incorrect. In Ancient times it was believed that lower organisms and species arose spontaneously out of lifeless material, the damp soil, "Mother Earth", known as the theory of spontaneous generation.

Aristotle unfortunately supported that view, which now can only be considered of curiosity value.

The scientific situation in the early 1700s.

    Sweden's position as a major political power came to an end with Charles XII's death in 1718. We could say that the fight for Sweden was now in other areas, especially that of Science. Many countries wanted to have influence over the new developments: England, Spain, Germany, France, Holland and even Denmark. The large white spots on the world shrank and hitherto inaccessible and unexplored areas was surveyed.  Linnaeus' posting of the Apostles may be seen as a step in the scientific fight. New species of flora and fauna - in their hundreds and thousands - were now known to Science.

    How to bring order to this chaos? It was complicated by what was already known.  As  Linnaeus was part of Botany, his starting point became this area because that was what he knew best. Linnaeus realized a necessity for simplification of a species description, and the introduction of an entirely new classification of plants based on plant sexual characters.
 Already with Dr. Rothman (from Vaillant, his thesis entitled Sermo de Structura Florum was published in 1718) he had obtained the idea of stamen and pistil functions. Here was the seed (!) for the doctrine of the sexual system.  Concerning the animals, he based his species identification on the teeth instead of feet , which Ray used as basic elements. Now it is not just about plants and Linnaeus extends his activity to the whole realm of Science.
Linnaeus' breakthrough must be said to be the 1753 edition of Species Plantarum, in which the binomial nomenclature is presented. A gigantic work is now mega-important in terms of structure, terminology, nomenclature. Louis Gerard now predicted that Linnaeus will be greater than Newton himself.
Instead of using long descriptions for a species, Linnaeus simplifies the description to only two words (see Gaspard Bauhin above!). One of the genus (or family) and one for the specific species. Family names are capitalized and the species name are lower case. As a physician and scholar with clerical background Linnaeus uses his Latin education, as far as it goes. But for large divisions and even individual species, not least in the entomological section, he retrieved names from Greek mythology. To honour various persons Linnaeus used their names for the new described species, yet not named by his system of species. Linnaeus’ system attracted international acceptance and contemporary nomenclature is still based on his system, with the modification of adding another name to describe subspecies and in some cases, a fourth name for a special form. The first published description of a species is the only scientifically relevant one (a rule that is not always followed). The discoverer’s name is added to the species name, irrefutable glory for the researcher in question. This was established with a priority rule that would cover the entire animal kingdom effective from January 1, 1758. Of interest to entomology is that, for instance, when dealing with the Rhopalocera (day-flying butterflies), Linnaeus classified them according to the ancient hierarchy of the five main groups: "Trojan and Greek knights, Heliconians, Parnassians, Danaids, Nymphs and Plebeians". The machaon swallowtail (now Old world swallowtail) was transferred to the Greek group of Knights. Makaon was namely a Greek soldier, hero of the Trojan War and was hit by Paris’ arrow. Makaon’s brother Podalirius had become the scientific name of the nearest relative on the continent, the Sailing butterfly. The above – mentioned names and Paris, Helen, Agamemnon, Thoas, Memnon, Hector, Priamus with several others from ancient mythology gave  their names to other Knight butterflies, when they came to Linnaeus' hand. Linnaeus spoke mostly not in Swedish when he was treated insects, but when he did so he called them "dizzy-fans" or simply "creatures". In the Systema Naturae of 1735 there are 50 species of butterflies and 125 species of Rhopalocera described.
 The great illustrator Georg Diony Ehrer (1708-1770) put his talents and skills in service to spread Linnaeus' works – among others in Systema Naturae - worldwide. Ehrer and Linnaeus had met during Linnaeus’ his visit to the Netherlands.

    The battle of the revolutionary new nomenclature design came in part to stand in battle against the  German botanist …name  (see below under Criticism!).


From where did Linnaeus pick the names? 

    Linnaeus was not a total innovator, he took what he could of common names - if they were simple, he took them, plain and simple. For example Leo, Tigris, Pardus, Orca, Pardalis, and Catus.  Lynx already existed and did not need to be repeated. But sometimes the name was previously known, and long and complicated. The primary objective was then simplified. Linnaeus took what he could use, created a family name and a common name with the reservation that if the previous name was not well-sounding enough. He introduced the researcher's name in one species, as many had done before him, for instance Plumier, and he complied with this tradition. Regarding the language itself, Linnaeus created his own Latin, the so-called botanical Latin. It should not be primarily poetic, but accurate. But Latin has its synonyms and homonyms, perhaps more than many other languages. So accuracy is not always undisputed, but must sometimes be given broad interpretations. Blunt argued that the words of Linnaeus are sometimes " very far from the original sense?." Greek expression breaks into name here and there, but the Latin verb pattern is used most of the time. As an aside, the medical Latin was, for the most part, made up of Greek roots which were often latinized. The linguist Heller looked at Linnaeus' language, and noted that Linnaeus's work provides the "best evidence of his negligence "..." he worked, here as always, with great haste." Where did all the words come from that  Linnaeus used in his classification? Many were derived from the literature, since Linnaeus had spent time with: Homer's Iliad, Virgil and Ovid's writings, and others. Linnaeus especially invokes Pliny the Elder (see above under the heading “Between Aristotle and Linnaeus”), who Linnaeus evidently regards as a great authority in the sciences. While at school Linnaeus had little interest in old literature; however, Linnaeus went back to to study it and collect up roots for his naming of the various species. A bit contradictory, perhaps. That Linnaeus also covers "most obscure characters" in his classification (Blunt) worries him not at all. Is the name sounded good enough, then this was fine as far as Linnaeus was concerned!
Some basic principles of naming that must be mentioned is, in the case of plants, appearance, leaves, stems, flowers, etc.. In animals, it is the external, visible characters that were described.

    Birds and insects may have more colour in their descriptions and especially in the case of insects Linnaeus often referred to the immediate habitat or actual food plant in his search for names. In the case of man himself, he would find a name with a deeper psychological meaning, Homo sapiens, the wise, knowing and thinking man.


Linnaeus' outlook

    The basis for Linnaeus' outlook on life was in the Old Testament creation story. In Systema Naturae, he writes that "Since no new species appear, then as always breed the true, then the uniform similarity within each species is a condition for the context.  It is necessary for us to expect this from the tribal nature itself.  The derived unit is an Almighty, and omniscient being, namely God, whose works are called creation ...."

(Note: Old Testament Hebrew text has two basic words for creation.

1) a verb in  Hebrew transkribed BARA = just create out of nothing.

2) a verb in Hebrrew transkribed ASAH = create from pre-existing matters.

The first option is valid exclusively for God)

From a Linnaeus speech held in 1743 may be quoted as follows:

    "That God created a single human couple, a man and a woman, we believe because of the divine revelation. That these were placed in the Garden of Eden we believe, and that Adam gave names to the animals brought forth to him by God. This ensures us that God inspired Moses."
To make this possible for Adam to bring names to all animals, Linnaeus supposed that only a small piece of land was above the water level at that time,
"... otherwise it would be difficult, even impossible, for Adam to face all the animals existing on the earth."
The elevation of land, he assumed, increased slowly and during this, the animals spread to the new continents.

In his Curiositas Naturalis, he sees man's greatest task to be the same as it once was in the Garden of Eden, that "as in the most perfect Natural History collection, admire the works of the Creator."

Atheism, which flourished in the 1700s, Linnaeus dismissed as a folly.

Often Linnaeus compared himself with King David and agreed when David exclaims: "The fool hath said in his heart:" There is no God '" (Psalms 14:1).



    At different occasions Linnaeus found mutations in the plant kingdom. Thus he found in the area of lake Mälaren a toadflax species, which usually have four stamens and one pistil. Isolated groups of the plant were found with five stamens and a pistil as well as a completely closed flower that effectively prevented pollination. Linnaeus called this monster flower Pelosi. Many have searched for the mutated specimens in the area described, but no one has found it so far. The mutation could not survive because it obviously was a "dead end" for the specimen. But this flower caused many headaches and ponderings of Linnaeus, who thought a lot about its origins.


    There were many contemporary scientists who responded to Linnaeus' thoughts and conclusions. Some argued that Linnaeus' knowledge of zoology, for example, was extremely limited. The fact he was a great botanist did not automatically imply that he was an expert in all Natural Science areas. Linnaeus himself recognizes at some points that he has limitations in individual areas. His superior was, for example Artedi, who was far superior in ichthylogy (see Peter Artedi!). Much of the criticism was that he did not pay enough attention to his predecessors, and that he was considered too powerful.
German scientists had comments on the botany of Linnaeus. The professor of botany in Leipzig, Christian Gottlieb Ludwig, used a classification drawn up by August Quirinius Rivinus. Rivinius’ system was based on the form of the petals and leaves. This classification was against Linnaeus's own but went to a showdown.
The most severe criticism Linnaeus faced was expressed by the German Johann Georg Siegesbeck who attacked his system from a purely religious aspect. In 1737 this man more or less accused Linnaeus of being biological filth. Twenty stamens and a pistil, or twenty men and a woman, was simply not morally acceptable. Linnaeus was so upset that he was ready to give up in the year of 1738. But in 1741 things turned in his favour.  Linnaeus suddenly achieved a strong platform by obtaining a medical professorship in Uppsala. He now also got strong support from Holland, and from the American Cadwallader Colden.

    For animal kingdom matters, criticism was evolved as follows:
The Swiss, Albert von Haller, a genius, oracle and contemporary authority in many scientific fields considered that Linnaeus had considered himself as a second Adam, who gave names to all the animals in accordance with their distinctive features without ever stopping to think about its predecessors. "Many furrowed their eyebrows when Linnaeus placed humans (Homo sapiens) as an animal among the monkeys. The joint family, which he called primates, signifying ruling animals. To distinguish between monkeys and humans Linnaeus introduced the concept bimana = two-handed (humans) and quadromana = four-handed (monkeys). (From Public School's birth in 1842 and far ahead into the 1860s Linnaeus theses were taught and disciples would learn to distinguish between these two-handed and four-handed creatures. Alfred Brehm writes of Linnaeus’ primate family that it "was by no means a happy grip". The four-handed theory Brehm quickly dismissed and he thought it was very bad that it was still (it must apply to the 1860's?) read in Swedish textbooks. Primate concepts can be retained for practical reasons, he says, but that does not mean there would be no particular order of the grouping. Brehm then came to the following conclusion: "Although man by his physique has his place in the animal kingdom, it seems, however, that the knowledge of mankind and the human species is outside the bounds of  zoology." (Few people in the 1800s would be more versed in the earth's animal life than Alfred Brehm; the breadth and depth of his knowledge was enormous and beyond all understanding. Moreover, he had also been confronted with Darwin's theories and explained them in detail in the preamble of the first volume [my note].) 

Link to the human species according to Linnaeus on this page!


Linnaeus and the development of the concept of man

    The later race biologists / race hygienists had much to learn from Linnaeus’ theories, that is quite clear. The step to Professor Ernst Haeckel’s ideas (1834-1919) is not far. (Haeckel embraced Darwin's theories from 1859 and developed them in his so-called family tree of races in the early 1900s. Here you could find higher respectively lower evolved human beings. At the top there were Indo-germans and Japanese (!). (Fitted primely to Hitler’s theories of "das Übermensch", the superman. That the weaker varieties simply disappeared belonged entirely to nature's own order.

    Any theory of a struggle in life for the benefit of a stronger species, the more developed, can not be found with Linnaeus. It would take another hundred years before such a theory was launched. But we can legitimately assert that Linnaeus - unconsciously, of course - made a bridge from the ancient temper theorists to the race biologists  in the 1800 and 1900's.

    Greek Galen (lived during the second century AD) had divided the human temperament, with the help of various body fluids, into four groups as follows:

1) SANGUINE, the blood itself dominates, you become cheerful and happy.

2) CHOLERIC, yellow (from the bile) bile dominates and gives a violent temper.

3) MELANCHOLIC, black bile (from the spleen) dominates, resulting in tangible melancholy.

4) PHLEGMATIC, caused by mucus (from brain) and causes slowness.

    How did Africans acquire their black skin color? The usual explanation in Linnaeus' time, was that this condition was due to the dominance of black bile. We can see how the Galen system still dominated contemporary thought.  Linnaeus thought much about whether a white person would become black after a period of time in Africa, or vice versa. However, there were Africans in Europe who had been staying here a long time without fading. Linnaeus continued to ponder these facts. Linneaus was much confused when considering where in his system he will place the angels (!).

    When we discuss the animal kingdom, there are some imaginations of Linnaeus, which are as difficult for us nowadays to grasp as when he argued that swallows hibernated on lake bottoms. However, it is quite wrong that Linnaeus would have been the originator of the myth. In Scandinavia, it is almost certainly the humanist, ethnologist, folklorist, historian and Catholic Archbishop Olaus Magnus (1490 - 1557), which first launched the idea which later became a general delusion, namely that the swallows would dwell in the argillaceous mud of lakes bottoms . The Magnus effect "History of the Northern Peoples" of the year 1555 he let his opinion become public domain. Linnaeus, for his part did not have enough on his feet to refute the allegation, but it was alive and unchallenged during his time. There is evidence that although Linnaeus included the current perception of the swallows wintering he had other ideas.

    But already in 1757 Linnaeus had published migration Avium (bird migration). He was aware of migratory birds streaking across the Mediterranean and he laid the foundations of the Swedish comprehensive migratory bird research which has since gained momentum.

    Of the microbial world - bacteria, viruses etc - Linnaeus had no knowledge of course - he was a child of his time, with all the limitations that this meant.

    A breakthrough for Linnaeus' system arose when the French King Louis XV urged that the new Linnaean taxonomy was introduced in France. All naturalists? Medics? did not like it but needed now to line up and establish themselves in the ranks. What happened next in Europe generally follow the so-called domino theory laws.

The man Linnaeus

    Linnaeus expert TM Fries provides a portrait of the man Linnaeus as follows:
"Linnaeus was the combination of medium length, rather short than long, not skinny or fat, with fairly muscular limbs and large veins from childhood, a large head, back of his head elevated with a transverse deflections along the lambda-seam. His forehead was moderately high, in old age wrinkled. His hair was neither straight or curly, in childhood whitish, then brown and at the temples florid, finally greying. Eyebrows brown. Face colour pale. The eyes brown, very sharp, lively, cheerful, vision excellent, even for the smallest objects. Nose straight. A small wart on the right nostril and another (slightly larger) on the right cheek. Bad teeth, worm-eaten by severe toothache from adolescence until 50th year of life, quite toothless in the 60th . No ear for music. In 1834 body weight 91 - 2 Copper Lpd or Stockholm Weight. His step was very easy, quick and lively. "

    Description of Linnaeus' behaviour, temper and character:
 "He was quick in his emotions - to anger, to joy, to sadness. In his temper was always happiness, his walking was easy, his mind frank, conciliatory, even in cases of quarrels and conflict. He left the attacks on himself and his writings unanswered. He proved to those that most offended him, even though he disliked them he named the ssp after them. He was ambitious, he was vain, even more than what one would expect of such a reputable man, but he was not proud: vain as a child, not as a woman." He "did not live in luxury, living as second moderate." All the household chores were handed over to his wife so that he could devote himself entirely to Nature's creations. He was described as neither rich nor poor, but was afraid of getting into debt. He "slept in winter from 9 pm - 7 am , but in the summer 10 pm -3 am. His dress was always simple and consisted in daily life of a short jacket, in addition to which in later years, his head usually covered by a cap, but on ceremonial occasions by a curly, long  wig."

    Linnaeus drank hardly any alcohol or drank with great moderation. However, he was an inveterate smoker, and writes in a letter to his friend Brook in 1772: "The tobacco I have smoked a lot and maybe too much. “I was forced to smoke tobacco for my toothache as I have had such from the womb.” Thus  Linnaeus blames smoking for his poor dental state, for which at that time the only effective treatment was extraction (by a blacksmith!!). Linnaeus had as earlier mentioned good language skills in ancient Latin and was familiar with Greek literature, especially Homer's Iliad. Facing French, however, he would like to have it translated. The inauguration speech for medical professorship in Uppsala, October 27, 1741 was conventionally held in Latin. A gap in his language skills was, for instance, English, a language he did not understand much of. In order not to get distracted in the midst of London during a visit there in 1736, he had an address label in his pocket stating where he lived, if needed. He corresponded in Latin with his acquaintances in England and the continent. Linnaeus only spoke two languages fluently - Swedish, and Latin! Yet his message reached far. Orally on the continent Linnaeus conversed in Latin but this had its limitations. He could just converse internationally with the so-called learned. Spoken Latin itself sounds different, depending on the phonetic context. An Englishman's Latin accent did not sound the same as when spoken by a Swede, etc. The written communication offered fewer problems, if any. Many of Linnaeus' disciples were great language geniuses. Forsskål quickly learned Arabic dialects and Thunberg managed to learn Japanese even though it was forbidden to even enter the country. (See Forsskål and Thunberg!) Linnaeus was completely charmed as a prisoner of nature's mysteries and marvels. He managed to transfer that attitude to his disciples and students. Linnaeus stands for, despite recurring depression, a positive, infectious and joyous way of life. It is said that his tours in the surroundings of Uppsala shaped themselves even to small parties and it is said that when the excursion was dissolved in the evening, echoed with those Latin verses outside the Professor’s residence:" Vivat Scientia!  Vivat Linnaeus!" (Long live science! Long live Linnaeus!)

Research Travels

    Research travels were accomplished in Sweden to Lapland in 1732, to Dalarna in 1743, to Öland in 1741 (traverses at the Öland and Gotland travel the landscapes of Östergötland and Småland, and makes here also important observations), to Gotland in 1741, to Västergötland in 1746 and to Skåne in 1749.  All the journeys were well documented and published. The trips were not Linnaeus' own invention, he was sent away by the rulers – i.e.  the Realm Estates - of the country. The idea was that Linnaeus hopefully would find some resources to improve the state economy. Plants that could be used in the handicraft would be documented, as well as minerals and new medicinal plants. It is not known that Linnaeus ever protested against the arrangements and the intention to the travels. One have also imagined that Linnaeus and his entourage during the trips pulled forward slowly, but they travelled mostly in fast-paced and not entirely without stress.


    Linnaeus was knighted by King Gustav III in 1757 from Carolus Linnaeus to Carolus von Linnaeus. A Dutch botanist named a plant from the deep woods, the Linnea,  Linnea borealis (= borealis means from North coming), after Linnaeus. A kind of exaltation and respect for a great person. Linnaeus makes the Linnea a part of his Coat of Arms. First he makes his own raw copy but this sketch was refused by the Heralds of state, who made the Coat of Arms according to their own (better) design. Linnaeus was apparently not a great artist.

Linnaeus' disciples

    Linnaeus' disciples or so-called apostles were sent out into the world. See this link! Many of Linnaeus' disciples died and Linnaeus was deeply upse  after receiving these messages. Perhaps Linnaeus’ recurrent depressions and melancholy might be explained because of this.

 Linnaeus’ Hammarby

    Linnaeus resides outside of Uppsala from where his gigantic work is led. For several years, he now can enjoy the fruits of his work. He gets that much honors from various quarters, that he thinks it's getting tedious and he is even tired of them. Intercourse with his wife can hardly be called confidential. She's banished to the kitchen regions. Linnaeus was also against his daughters' higher education, they would take care of household chores, nothing more. The schooling was specifically for men, educated women were mostly like "fashion dolls". Confidentially Linnaeus socialized instead with his friend Abraham Bäck. Often they wrote letters to each other or met-on-one. When the women's team went to bed at night, Bäck and Linnaeus smoked their pipes and there were long and detailed discussions going on. Scholar Blunt considers that “every man who is married to a Linnaea,(Linnaeus’ wife) should have a Mister Bäck.” That there were problems in the marriage is clear. Linnaeus sometimes dream about an English lady, Lady Ann Monson, and he is writing her a letter but it is uncertain if he gets some answers, or even if any correspondence is started.

The political situation

    Something must be said about what took place on the political scene. Queen Lovisa Ulrika thought that her husband was too powerless. She forced him to refuse to sign the documents presented to him. The ministers responded to that by introducing a King's name stamp. Lovisa Ulrika thought the Army would support the Royal family, but her coup failed and was revealed. Many heads rolled, but  Bäck or Linnaeus escaped luckily from it. The reason was they were not politically engaged, but Linnaeus was of course close to the Royal family close and could be in jeopardy. Actually he was a hat, a political fraction, but he seemed to lie low in politics. Adolf Frederick was to remain as King, but had to accept that his power was further curtailed. Adolf Fredrik and Lovisa Ulrika now had more time to devote themselves to their interests, their collections after the political debacle.

Linnaeus's last years

    Linnaeus's last years were bleak. Pretty soon he had suffered from gout with accompanying pain. As medicine, he used wild strawberries, which were much relieving. In winter, the pain became worse, as no wild strawberries were available. In 1776 Linnaeus health status was worsening and Linnaeus now desired to withdraw. He also suffered from lack of sleep and in 1773 he was suffering from angina pectoris. Later in the year he was affected by severe sciatica "from hip to knee" and the pain did not disappear. By summoning all his power he went to Stockholm to attend the Bible commission revising the new Bible translation. He took in at his friend Bäck, and Linnaeus told his friend that this trip to Stockholm was even more troublesome than the arduous travel to Lapland.
    In 1774 Linnaeus - the middle of a lecture – was hit by a stroke that made him half paralyzed. "My teeth are gone and I can hardly speak" Linnaeus answers after an impossible travel invitation. In winter of 1776-1777 Linnaeus was hit by another stroke – the bloodletting was apparently ineffective - and he is now described as "more dead than alive," and could not recognize either flowers or plants, not even his own books. In summer of 1777 he was some better out there at Hammarby, could even take a smoke with his pipe. Maybe he could survive another winter? But, no. On December 30, he suffered a heart attack and dies at 6 am on January 10, 1778. For his funeral, he had predetermined the following:

    “Place me in the coffin unshaven, unwashed, undressed, wrapped in a sheet, close immediately the coffin, so that no one can watch my wretchedness. Ring easily the big church bell, but not in the other bells at Farmer Church or Hospital Church, but you can preferably let the bells sound in Denmark Church ( Denmark is a parish with a church not far from Uppsala). Perform, please thanksgiving both in the Big Church and in Denmark Church to God, who have given me so many years of blessings. Let my compatriots carry me to the grave and bring them a piece of the small medal that is engraved with my image. Do not feast upon my funeral and do not accept any condolences.”

    Gustav III was very tied to Linnaeus, not least because of personal friendship. "King Gustav III considered Linnaeus's death was a national event, about which he himself spoke in the Swedish Parliament and a medal was made immortalizing Linnaeus in the annals" (from Reading for the People, a popular reading from the 1800's first half).

Linnaeus' family

    Son Carl (1741-1783), (See also Carl von Linné jr!), As  child and only son of Linnaeus, he was an item of joy. But by time when he grew up he became a reckless man, and finally a problem child for Linnaeus. Carl was early taught by Linnaeus disciples Rolander, Löfling and Falck. But knowledge obviously not went in, he was more interested in women than in flowers. Despite of this Carl was elevated and being praised and received an honorary doctorate at Uppsala in 1765. Linnaeus 1763 appoints his son to his successor, but stayed there still in charge himself - on King Gustav III's own request – until 1776, when illness made it impossible for Linnaeus to continue. Officially Carl was taking over his father’s position and duties in 1776, but he will only get a demonstrator’s salary, and he will soon become indebted. Carl has obvious much lack of knowledge and interest in Botany - despite two Professorships in Medicine and Botany (!) - and he is not qualified and far from taking up his father's fallen mantle. This situation raises a strong and justified criticism from various quarters. Carl is also disadvantaged in Linnaeus' own will, and will due to this, start a fight with his mother. Despite a diversity of escapades with the opposite sex Carl remains unmarried. He dies, only a few years over forty, after returning from a trip in Europe, on November 1, 1783, five years after Linnaeus's own demise. A quite tragic life story is ended.

    Carl, born 1741, was the oldest of the siblings. Daughter Lisa Stina born in 1743 and another daughter born in 1744 died both at tender age. In 1749 a third daughter was born, named Louisa, and in 1751 the fourth, Sara Christina. In 1754 a second son sis born, John, who, however, died in 1757.  That year, is born the last child, a girl, Sophia.


Linnaeus' collections

    After Linnaeus' death there was a bruising battle over his estate, not least within his own family.
    A contributing factor to the family battle was the documents and will from March 2, 1776 which reads as follows:

    "Shouting out from my grave to my dear Wife.
1.    My herbariums, the two biggest works of my lifetime in the Museum…don’t let the mice or moths destroy them. And don’t let anybody steal a single specimen. When they are displayed, watch them carefully. The value of the plants might be low now but in time the price will increase and they will get much demanded, desired and wanted. Those herbariums are the most extensive the world ever has seen.   

Don’t sell them for less than 1000 Ducats. Min Son will inherit nothing from them, he has never helped me and besides he has showed no interest in Botany, but wait some, maybe I will have a son in law, who is a  Botanicus, who knows?.

2. The shell cabinet will be worth at least 12000 Dalers.

3. The insect cabinet will be hard to protect from moths.

4. The mineral cabinet has plenty substantial.

5. The Library across Museum with all my Works. The price is at least 3000 Dalers. In no onw want to buy it, domate it to Upsala Biblioteque. But my Biblioteque in Upsala should my Sohn get as payoff.

                                                                                             Carl Linnaeus”

    Although his son Carl was discredited, it was he who fought for Linnaeus' posthumous inheritance: the natural history collections and the books. He managed to negotiate a solution where he surrendered his share of the property of Hubby - a small farm Linnaeus had received as a gift from the University - to Linnaeus' estate and a substantial amount of money. He rejected any shameful bid coming from England and he himself started to restore the collections, which were now transferred from Hammarby to Uppsala. Not least, insect collections were in urgent need of emergency treatment when Linnaeus already last year found that the collections were damaged by "Moths".
   An eagerness to work which was not demonstrated before, seized for a short time Carl, who at the time of going to bed now to find that he for the very first time in his life now was "tired as a working man." Linnaeus' wife Sara Elisabeth and her daughter applied for and were granted a pension by the King Gustav III.

    Carl's restoration work to a halt when he suddenly dies by a stroke in 1783.  Everything will now move into his mother's and his sister's hands. Old Banks suddenly now appears conveys a message from a certain young English naturalist named James Edward Smith. Smith offered one thousand guineas for the collections unseen, he just wanted an inventory of the contents. Several other speculators got in, including the Empress Catherine II. King Gustav III was temporarily in Italy, and before he could get home the deal with Smith already was made.  In the brig Appearance the Linnaean treasures were transferred to in England. When it became known in academic circles a great indignation arose. Sweden had suffered a huge national loss.

    Someone else who was happy, was Mr Smith in England. When he packed up the big containers, it was appeared that the content exceeded his wildest expectations:

    Thus he found 19,000 sheets of pressed plants, 3,200 insects, 1,500 shells, 700-800 pieces of coral, 2,500 mineral samples, 2500 books, Linnaeus's entire correspondence consisting of 3,000 letters, plus a large amount of handwritten manuscripts of Linnaeus himself, his son and other contemporary famous scientists.

    Smith founded the Linnean Society in  London  in 1788. The intention focused primarily in the Society to promote the "UK and Irish National History" and differs from the Swedish Linnaeus Society that more care about Linnaeus' traditions. Smith's widow scattered the mineral collections and zoological collections by selling them. She got for these parts far more than her husband paid for the entire Linnaeus collection.

    During World War II the remaining Linnaeus items were temporarily moved out from London to Bedfordshire in the English countryside to avoid damage.

(During the time of Linnaeus it was not the least among the nobility and the higher society much popular to acquire and maintain collections of various kinds. Tessin collected art objects, paintings by famous artists. King Adolf Fredrik started as a young man to collect natural history specimens, and when he came to power his economic potentials became larger, and he was able to purchase a considerable quantity of objects, animals, birds, insects, etc., so that the collection was considered among the largest of its kind at this time ... "et incomparable magnificent Cabinet of all sorts of animals in Spiritu vini stored, an infinite multitude of stuffed Birds, an incredible amount of Insects on pins and Conchylies in boxes. "Queen Lovisa Ulrika wanted to outdo her husband. She had a big passion especially for shells and butterflies. The King’s and the Queen's collections were stored in the beginning, in the castles of Ulriksdal and Drottningholm. To classify and determine the material was called upon a certain Linnaeus. Queen Lovisa Ulrika speaks in positive terms about Linnaeus's presence in the palace: "... a great connoisseur and doctor, a very shrewd man, even if he does not like one by appearance. He had every evening a walk with the King, and not a day passes without he manages to make us all happy. "The Queen's collection with Linnaeus' own hand long hand notes are now stored in Uppsala. (In November 2006 I had the great the opportunity and privilege to inspect a part of this collection in Uppsala.)

Linnaeus signature written by himself


In the middle of Linnaeus' texts I found this exclaimation:


The quote is some different in different Bible/Vulgata versions but we find it in Psalm 92-6-7 in Swedish Translation of the Bible from 1917....

...and I found it in Latin Vulgata Psalm 91:6-7 in another version as follows:

5 (91-6) quam magnificata sunt opera tua Domine satis profundae factae sunt cogitationes tuae

6 (91-7) vir insipiens non cognoscet et stultus non intelleget istud

(Vulgate, the first Bible translation into Latin in about 400 AD,
the Bible verse division was made later in the 1200s)


5 How great are your works, LORD,
   how profound your thoughts!

6 Senseless people do not know,
   fools do not understand,


Some literary works by Linnaeus:

See also this excellent ling on the internet

Systema Naturae 1735

(Systema Naturae was published totally total in 16 editions,

from 11 pages to 3000)

Fundamenta botanica 1736

Biblioteca botanica 1736

Genera plantarum 1736

Hortus cliffortianus 1737

Critica botanica 1737

Flora lapponica 1737

Classes plantarum 1738

Öländska resa och Gotländska resa 1745

De Necessitate Peregrinationum Intra Patriam 1741

Flora Suecica 1745

Fauna Suecica 1746

Vestgöta resa 1747

Flora ceylonica 1747

Hortus Upsaliensis 1748

Curiositas Naturalis 1748.

Materia medica 1749

Oeconomia Naturae 1749

Philosophis botanica 1751

Skånska Resa 1751

Noxa Insectorum 1752

Cui Bono 1753 

Instructo Musei Rerum Naturalium 1753 

Migrationes Avium 1757 

Instructio Peregrinatoris 1759

Generatio Ambigena 1759

Species plantarum 1753, 1762-1763

Fundamenta Ornithologica 1765 

Usus Historiae Naturalis in Vita Communi 1766

Clavis medicinae 1766

Mantissa Prima 1767

Fundamenta Entomologica 1767

Mantissa Altera 1771

Fundamenta Testaceologiae 1771

Cover of 2nd edition

10th edition

Linnaeus researcher Johan Erik Ewald Ährling (born 1837) published some of Linnaeus unpublished works:
Flora Dalecarlia (1873), Swedish Selected Works, Volumes I and II and Youth Scriptures, in two series (1888 to 1889).


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