Tuesday, 25 August 2015

I am thinking of Linné - He who saw everything by Karin Berglund (my translation of Swedish title)

The Content ReaderThis book has decorated my living room for some years. And it really is a decorative book, with a format a little bit bigger than A5. It contains wonderful drawings and photos and it is a pleasure just to look through the book.

However, books are there to be read, so I made it my ‘breakfast’ book. For breakfast I like to read bigger sized books that stay open by themselves. After all my hands are busy with my breakfast. This is a perfect book.
It was published in 2007 for the 300th anniversary of Linné’s birth. Carl von Linné, or Carolus N. Linnaeus, as he is mostly known internationally, was born in Råshult, a small village in the province of Småland in the south of Sweden. He was supposed to be a priest, but one of his teachers managed to persuade the parents that he would be a brilliant doctor. Luckily his parents agreed and his career and life’s deed was in the making.

The Content Reader
On 12 May, 1732, he is on his way to the north of Sweden; Lappland and Finland. It is the first of several trips around Sweden. It was foremost a scientific trip and his orders were to make an inventory of the flora and fauna in this part of the Sweden, which rarely received visitors from outside the province. He filled his note books with drawings of people’s lives, their eating habits, hunting habits,  their traditions and customs. The trip was his life's biggest adventure and it took 9 months of hardship to travel around an area with little comforts for travellers.  His reports are not boring, strict scientific conclusions, they are poetic, full of humour, sharp comments on the life around him, and mixed with drawings of the nature he met. That is why, the author tells us, that it is such a pleasure to read Linné’s reports and books. All the answers for Linné could be found in nature. "It is in nature that God reveals himself, yes, God is nature".

Sweden at the time was a small, provincial country. Once Linné’s education was finished, he made a European educational tour. He was a charismatic man, made friends everywhere, met the most intelligent minds at the time, and was admired wherever he came. He was invited into the houses of noble and learned men, researched and wrote books about their collections, at the same time as he was studying all the new species and information that all of a sudden was available to him. Of course, he did make some enemies on the way. He was not a man that kept his thoughts to himself and he was sure that the system he created to keep nature in order, was the best one. During these years he wrote several of his most important works, Systema naturae, Biblioteca botanica, Fundamenta botanica, Musa Cliffortiana, Genera plantarum, Critica botanica and Hortus Cliffortianus. The trip lasted for three years, and he visited Amsterdam, Leiden, London and Paris.

The Content Reader
Linnea, the flower named after Linnaeus
Many friends got a plant named after themselves
Already before his trip he had met his wife to be, Sara Elisabeth Moraea, and once back they married. They got several children of which four daughters and a son survived, although the son died young. He is continuing his work as a doctor and is part of a group that started the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. Honours are falling on him and he is the special advisor to the royal family, helping them to categorise their collections.   More trips are made and books published, alongside his work at the university. He was what we today would call a workaholic, which also made him ill from time to time. It was though, as he had so much to discover and organise, that he had no time to relax. He lived in the Botanical garden in Uppsala and built his summer house, Hammarby, just outside the city. This was his own creation from the beginning to the end, and he loved to spend the summers there. Always close to nature.

For Linné nothing in nature was too small to pay attention to. He was far ahead of his time in many areas like agriculture, climate thinking, what women should eat while breast feeding, how young people should spend their time, what they should eat and much more. He had after all studied it in detail during his travels. His conclusions and suggestions (although no-one paid attention) are very close to how we think today.

Teachers like Linné would be able to save the world. This is what Paul Alan Cox, professor at the Botanical garden in Hawaii, in the preface to the English edition av Philosophia botanica which came 2003. The threat against the environment and the accelerated extinction of species, can only be stopped if there will be many more teachers like Linné. With passion, entusiasm and love he gave the students a love of life itself, says Cox.  
The Content Reader

I found part of the preface on internet, and I really liked a passage where Cox very well describes Linné's lectures.
Those of us who are botanists and who read Linnaeus’ scholarly works often forget that Carl Linnaeus was first and foremost a teacher. Indeed, much of the fame that he acquired was due, in no small part, to the dozens of students that flocked from throughout the globe to learn at his feet. His teaching about plants was so persuasive, and the devotion to the science his pedagogy engendered so complete, that the students he dispatched to distant climes to collect plants became known in Sweden not as scholars, but as ‘apostles’, with the Messianic antecedent of that term unstated but well understood. For those of us fortunate enough to have fallen under the benevolent influence of a charismatic teacher of biology, we can only imagine what a lecture given by Linnaeus must have been like. Imagine an elegant Uppsala lecture hall in the presence of a professor who is the  undisputed world authority, and even the inventor of entire disciplines (for example, systematic botany, ethnobotany), and yet who was so engaging, direct, and entertaining in his classroom lectures that even the townspeople would queue up to hear him. Unfortunately, the direct magic of that most ephemeral of arts - teaching - evaporates soon after the lecture hall empties, and can often be inferred only from its impact on the listeners. Of one thing we can be certain: boring was not an adjective that described Linnaeus’ presentations in the classroom or in the field. We understand Linnaeus as a scholar, but what accounts for his power as a teacher? As we sift through the history and writings and lecture notes, it appears that teaching ability was not something that Linnaeus acquired during his studies, but something he brought with him to Uppsala.
I think we can all relate and wish we had had teachers like Linné!

The Content Reader

Carolus N. Linnaeus was a man, greater than life itself. He was not a religious man, but believed that Nature was God’s greatest creation. Modern times bring new tools to help us discover how species are developed and categorised. When it became possible to make analyses with DNA, it was said that Linné was dead. However, "Linné laid the base for the building of plants and species. If you take away the base the whole building will crumble".

This is a fantastic book, the research alone must have taken years. Karin Berglund is a journalist and photographer and a specialist on gardens and nature. Based on her research and the interest in nature, she has made a loving portrait of Linnaeus; his deeds as a doctor, a teacher, a researcher, a family man. It is a very impressive book, and her portrait of Linnaeus has stayed with me, weeks after finishing the book. A wonderful tribute to Linnaeus and his deeds.

The Content Reader

It only feels right to let Linnaeus himself have the last word!
Of what use are the great number of petrifactions, of different species, shape and form which are dug up by naturalists? Perhaps the collection of such specimens is sheer vanity and inquisitiveness. I do not presume to say; but we find in our mountains the rarest animals, shells, mussels, and corals embalmed in stone, as it were, living specimens of which are now being sought in vain throughout Europe. These stones alone whisper in the midst of general silence. — Carolus LinnaeusPhilosophia Botanica (1751)


  1. How fascinating, Lisbeth! I have never heard of Linne before but this book really intrigues me. He sounds like a most remarkable man and the author one of great diligence. The illustrations, too, look simply amazing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Thanks, too, for coming by and leaving such a nice comment at The Marmelade Gypsy. It's a pleasure to have you visit!

    1. Although, as a Swede, I have heard about him, I did not know so much about his life and deeds. I was quite impressed of this multi talented man. And the book amazingly well done.
      Thank you for stopping by.