It was on the 24th of July that we left Stockholm, the Venice of the
North, built on her nine islands, for the famous university town of
Upsala, Sweden. The ride, of about two hours by rail, lay along fine
fields of wheat, blue with corn-flowers, and past comfortable-looking
red farmhouses and barns.
The town, of thirteen thousand people, is quaint and quiet, yet most
interesting to a stranger. We wander over the grand old Gothic
cathedral, begun six hundred years ago. Here is the silver-gilt
sarcophagus of King Eric IX., who died in 1160, and of John III. Here,
also, that of Gustavus Vasa, the deliverer of Sweden, on a high marble
pedestal supported by pillars, a recumbent figure of a wife on either
side. A third wife is buried near by. The walls of the chapel where he
lies are covered with frescoes, depicting scenes in that wonderful life;
from the rags of the miner, to the sumptuousness of the throne.
But especially are we interested in a plain slab, underneath which
sleeps the man who, more than any other, has immortalized Upsala
University, and helped to make Sweden an intellectual and studious
country. Near by is the monument of dark porphyry, with the plain,
shaven face in bronze, wreathed with laurel, and the words "Carolo a
Linne Botanicorum Principi Amici et Discipuli, 1798."
Then we turn our steps to the University, the pride and hope of Sweden.
Here fifteen hundred gather, not in dormitories--which were tried fifty
years ago and discarded--but scattered in various homes, as in the
German universities. Women are educated here on equal terms with men,
and we are assured by the professors that, though admitted only a few
years ago, their presence is most helpful, and the plan has proved
entirely successful. No duels are allowed, these having been abolished
by stringent laws two hundred years ago; a thing Germany should long
since have done, and thus ended this brutal custom.
Here is the Astronomical Observatory, the Chemical Laboratory, Anatomy
Building, Academic Department, and handsome library with two hundred
thousand volumes and over seven thousand manuscripts. Here we look at
the celebrated "Codex Argenteus," a translation of the four Gospels by
Bishop Ulfila, dating from the second half of the fourth century,
written on one hundred and eighty-eight leaves of parchment--gold and
silver letters on a reddish ground; and the manuscript of Frithiof's
Saga, by Tegner.
Now we visit the Botanic Garden, which Linnaeus so loved and developed,
and go over the two-and-a-half-story stuccoed house, cream-colored,
where the great naturalist lived and entertained princes. Under these
dark poplars, enormous in size, he taught the pupils who came from all
parts of the world to hear him. The dark, closed blinds are as he left
them, for Sweden would not change one thing about the precious home. Too
little in our own country do we treasure the homes of those who give
honor to the nation.
The history of Linnaeus is, indeed, a romance. Few have had such great
struggles with poverty; few have come off such conquerors. Few lives
have given to the world such lessons of cheerfulness, of perseverance,
and of untiring industry. He was born, May, 1707, at Rashult, in the
south of Sweden, the son of a poor minister, and the eldest of five
children. The father, Nils Linnaeus, had obtained his education by the
hardest toil, and, while he had only poverty to offer his family, he
gave them what money could not buy, tender affection, and the inspiring
influence of a cultivated mind that loved nature and studied her
closely. His mother, Christina, a woman of sense, prudence, and good
judgment, was his idol. He wrote of her in later years: "She possessed
all the virtues of her sex, devoting the utmost attention to impressing
on my mind the love of virtue, both in precept and example."
From a child he was fond of his father's garden, and gathered from the
fields all kinds of wild flowers. He says of himself in his
autobiography: "He was scarcely four years old when he accompanied his
father at a feast at Moekler, and in the evening, it being a very
pleasant season of the year, the guests seated themselves on some
flowery turf, listening to the pastor, who made various remarks on the
names and properties of the plants, showing them the roots of the
succisa, tormentilla, orchids, etc. The child paid the most
uninterrupted attention to all he saw and heard, and from that hour
never ceased harassing his father about the name, qualities, and nature
of every plant he met with; indeed, he very often asked more than his
father was able to answer, but, like other children, he used immediately
to forget what he had learned, and especially the names of plants.
Hence the father was sometimes put out of humor, and refused to answer
him unless he would promise to remember what was told him. Nor had this
harshness any bad effect, for he afterward retained with ease whatever
When he was eight, a piece of ground was assigned him, which was called
"Carl's Garden." Here he gathered plants and flowers, and introduced so
many rare weeds that his father had great trouble in eradicating them!
So interested did Carl become, that he had nests of wild bees and wasps,
not agreeable playthings usually.
But the play days with weeds and wasps came to an end, for the bright
boy had to go to school. His first teacher was "a passionate and morose
man, better calculated for extinguishing a youth's talents than for
improving them," and the next "pursued the same methods, preferring
stripes and punishments to encouragements and admonitions." There was
little time now for the precious study of flowers. At seventeen he had
to go to a gymnasium or high school, where he would be taught classics,
and made ready for the ministry, like his father. He had no fondness for
the languages, neither for theology or metaphysics: but having obtained
two books on botany, he read them day and night, committing them to
memory. The teachers and scholars called him "the little botanist."
What was his father's chagrin, when he came to the school to visit him,
to hear that Carl was quite unfit for the ministry, but would probably
make a good tailor or shoemaker! Poor as he was, he had kept his boy at
school for about twelve years. Now, well-nigh disheartened, he stopped,
on his way home, to confer with his family physician, Dr. Rothmann. That
good man suggested that the boy might like medicine, and accomplish
great things in natural history. He offered to take him into his own
home, and give him lessons in physiology, which kind proposal the father
accepted, though with little faith. The doctor also taught him botany,
and Carl grew happy under the new regime.
The next year he was sent to the University of Lund, with the following
not very creditable certificate from the head master of the Gymnasium:
"Youth at school may be compared to shrubs in a garden, which will
sometimes, though rarely, elude all the care of the gardener, but if
transplanted into a different soil, may become fruitful trees. With this
view, therefore, and no other, the bearer is sent to the University,
where it is possible that he may meet with a climate propitious to his
progress." Through a friend, entrance was obtained without showing the
Carl took lodgings at the house of Dr. Stobaeus, physician to the king,
who gave him access to his minerals, shells, and dried plants. Delighted
at this, the youth at once began to make a collection of his own, and
glue them on paper. He longed to gain access to Dr. Stobaeus's library,
but how should it be accomplished? Finally a young German student, to
whom he taught physiology, surreptitiously gained the books needed, and
young Linnaeus spent nearly the whole nights in reading. The doctor's
aged mother did not understand why their lodger kept his light burning
into the small hours, and besought her son to investigate. He did so,
and found the crestfallen Carl reading his own library books. He forgave
the student, took him to his own table and treated him as a son.
Advised by Dr. Rothmann to go to Upsala for better medical
opportunities, he proceeded thither, and here began his bitterest
poverty. His father could give him only forty dollars. As he was
unknown, and without influence, he could obtain no private pupils.
Starvation actually stared him in the face. He says, "he was obliged to
trust to chance for a meal, and in the article of dress, was reduced to
such shifts that he was obliged, when his shoes required mending, to
patch them with folded paper, instead of sending them to the cobbler."
Often hungry and half clothed, there seemed nothing before the poor
Swedish lad but obscurity and early death.
One day in autumn, as he was examining some plants in the Academical
Garden, a venerable clergyman, Dr. Olaf Celsius, saw him, and asked him
where he came from, how long he had been at the college, and what he
knew about plants. He, too, was interested in botany, and was preparing
a work on the plants mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps something in Carl's
face or manner touched the minister's heart, for he asked him to go home
with him, and soon offered him board in his own house, and gave him
access to his valuable library.
The tide of adversity was beginning to turn. Some pupils were obtained,
and a little money flowed into the empty pockets. At twenty-two, by a
close examination of the stamens and pistils of flowers, he decided upon
a new method of arrangement by the sexes of plants, which, in after
years, became the basis of his great fame. This procured him the
appointment of Assistant Lecturer to Dr. Rudbeck in the Botanical
Garden, where, but a year before, he had asked to be the gardener!
He still had little money, but, what was equally useful, some leisure
time. He began his great works, which were not completed for seven
years, "Bibliotheca Botanica," "Classes Plantarum," "Critica Botanica,"
and "Genera Plantarum," "letting," as he said, "not a minute pass
unoccupied during his residence at Upsala. For the latter work he
examined the characters of eight thousand flowers."
Scarcely had he begun this valuable labor, when the envy of one of the
professors became as hard to bear as his previous poverty, and, through
friends, he obtained an appointment to study the natural history of
Lapland. It was a hazardous expedition for a young man of twenty-five.
Now he climbed steep rocks, "which," he says, "broke loose from a spot
which my late guide had just passed, and fell exactly where I had been,
with such force that it struck fire as it went." Once, when floating
down a river, the raft parted in the middle, and he narrowly escaped
drowning. "All my food," he says, "in those fatiguing excursions,
consisted, for the most part, of fish and reindeer's milk. Bread, salt,
and what is found everywhere else, did but seldom recreate my palate."
He travelled nearly four thousand miles, mostly on foot, often through
bogs and marshes, with the water to his knees, yet always cheerful,
always enthusiastic. On presenting his report to the University, on his
return home, they gave him about fifty dollars for his travelling
expenses for five months!
A single incident shows the tender heart of the young explorer. Very few
birds were visible except the ptarmigan. He says: "The little Alpine
variety of the ptarmigan was now accompanied by its young. I caught one
of these, upon which the hen ran so close to me that I could easily have
taken her also. She kept continually jumping round and round me, but I
thought it a pity to deprive the tender brood of their mother; neither
would my compassion for the mother allow me long to detain her
offspring, which I returned to her in safety." Tenderness to animals
seems to be a striking characteristic of great men and women.
During the journey, he found a modest little flower in the great
northern forests, in the moss, and this he named Linnaea borealis,
thinking it was so like himself, expanding in obscurity. He chose for
his motto, Tantus amor florum, "So great is the love for flowers."
On his return to Upsala, he began courses of private lectures in
medicine, but so bitter was the envy of the before-mentioned professor
that the archbishop was prevailed upon to prohibit private lectures.
Thus deprived of a livelihood, Linnaeus turned his attention to
mineralogy, visiting the Swedish mines. The Governor of Dalecarlia was
so pleased with him that he engaged him to investigate the productions
of his country. Here he fell in love with the daughter of John Moraeus, a
Sara Elizabeth reciprocated the affections of the young man, who was
told by the father that he must wait three years for a final answer;
for, in truth, Linnaeus's financial prospects were not bright. The
University of Upsala did not want him, and there seemed to be no hope of
writing or publishing his books on botany. But a man usually achieves
little, who does not fight his way at every step. Now, indeed, for
love's sake he must make his mark.
After saving about seventy-five dollars, he decided to go to Germany,
and take his doctor's degree; but first he must visit his home, out of
which his beloved mother had gone at forty-five. "Alas! alas, my
mother!" was all he could say, as the tears fell fast upon her grave.
She had witnessed his poverty and his heroism; she was not to witness
his great renown.
At Hamburg he spent a month, receiving civilities from many scientific
men. He showed his good sense in feeling in no wise humiliated because
he was poor, a valuable lesson for poor young men and women to learn. At
Leyden, good fortune came to him. Dr. Gronovius was so pleased with the
manuscript of his "Systema Naturae" that he requested to publish it at
his own expense. By his advice, Carl waited upon the celebrated
physician, Boerhaave, and after eight days gained admittance. So famous
was this man that when the Emperor of China sent a letter to "Boerhaave,
the famous physician in Europe," it easily reached him. He advised a
rich banker, Mr. Clifford, to have Linnaeus describe his magnificent
collection of plants, and to send him to England and elsewhere, to
collect specimens for him. This was indeed a blessing. "Here in
England," he says, "I lived like a prince, and had one of the finest
gardens of the world under my inspection." A society in Amsterdam
advanced the money to pay for the plates for his "Flora Lapponica," and
fame seemed really to be coming at last.
In his visit to England, Sir Hans Sloane, who founded the British
Museum, looked upon him coldly because he had suggested a different
system in natural history from his own! At Oxford, Dillenius said to
friends, sarcastically: "See, this is the young man who confounds all
botany!" Linnaeus felt hurt, and, when about to take his departure from
the city, asked the scientist why he had treated him thus. After the
young student had explained his work, Dillenius became his warm friend,
and pressed him to stay, and even to share his salary with him. Linnaeus
was greatly pleased with London, and when he saw the golden furze in its
green leaves, fell on his knees before it.
On his return to Germany he went to the death-bed of Boerhaave, whose
parting words were: "I have lived out my time and done what I could. May
God preserve thee, from whom the world expects much more! Farewell, my
He now hastened to the idol of his heart in Sweden, and what was his
amazement to find that the friend to whom he had intrusted his
correspondence with Sara Elizabeth had been trying to win her for
himself! Perhaps it would have been quite as well for Linnaeus had he
succeeded! However, matters were amicably adjusted, and the long waiting
lover became engaged.
He repaired at once to Stockholm to begin the practice of medicine,
still keeping as near Upsala University as possible. And here troubles
began anew. He says: "Being unknown to everybody, people were unwilling
to trust their lives in my hands. Nay, they even hesitated to trust me
with their dogs! Abroad, I had been honored in every place as Princeps
Botanicorum; but in my own country I was looked upon as a Klim, newly
arrived from the subterranean regions! No one cared how many sleepless
nights and toilsome hours I passed. Had I not been in love I would
certainly have left Sweden and gone abroad."
After a time a fortunate cure effected by him brought him speedy
popularity. "No invalid could now recover without my assistance. I was
busy from four in the morning till late in the evening; nor were my
nights left undisturbed." He was soon chosen a member of the Upsala
Academy, and at the request of the king, through his tutor, Count
Tessin, gave public lectures on botany and mineralogy.
And now the rising botanist desired to claim his bride. They were
accordingly married June 26, 1739, when Linnaeus was thirty-two. Dr.
Moraeus had waited long enough to see that his daughter was making no
mistake. Life now flowed on smoothly. If the "little wife," as he called
her, governed him with no very gentle sway in after years, she had
great influence over him, and it is said that at her instigation he
persecuted his only son. All the more is Linnaeus to be admired for
accomplishing such a grand work with domestic hindrances. It takes a
very great man to be great when his home is not a help to him! However,
he always regarded her as "one of the choicest gifts bestowed upon him."
His medical practice brought him plenty of money, but he wrote to a
friend: "Once I had plants and no money: now what is money good for
without plants?" Soon the desire of his heart was granted, and he was
made Professor of Botany at Upsala University, also superintendent of
the Botanical Garden.
Now he says: "I render thanks to the Almighty, who has ordered my lot so
that I live at this day; and live, too, happier than the King of Persia.
I think myself thus blessed because in this academic garden I am
principal. This is my Rhodus, or, rather, my Elysium; here I enjoy the
spoils of the East and the West, and, if I mistake not, that which far
excels in beauty the garments of the Babylonians and the porcelain of
His fame grew rapidly. He published, in 1745, his "Flora Suecica," and a
year later his "Fauna Suecica," a description of Swedish plants and
animals. His lectures soon, by their enthusiasm and eloquence, brought
listeners from all parts of Europe. The number of students in the
university grew from five hundred to fifteen hundred, young men coming
even from America to hear the great botanist. During the summer he made
excursions twice a week, often at the head of two hundred students, and
when some rare plant was discovered, the news was announced to the
others by horn or trumpet. His scholars, imbued with his spirit, went
over the world in scientific investigation. Some died in the Arabian
deserts; some in the swamps of Africa. From foreign students he would
take no fee, as he desired to show them how he loved his work. Once he
said to a German student: "Tell me, candidly, are you rich, and can you
afford it? If you can, then give the money to my wife; but, if you be
poor, so help me Heaven, I will not take a single farthing from you!"
Most of the scientific societies of Europe made him a member after his
great works were published. The Imperial Academy called him "Dioscorides
Secundus"; a gold medal was struck in his honor in 1746, and the king
made him dean of the College of Physicians. He published two valuable
medical books, and received the honor of the Knight of the Polar Star,
never before conferred for literary merit. He was made a noble, and took
for his motto, Famam extendere factis, adorning his crest with the
little flower which he discovered in his poverty. He was made rector of
the university, holding the position for several years. How different
from the time when he could obtain only a chance meal, and covered up
the holes in his torn shoes!
He bought two estates, living at one of them--Hammerby--for fifteen
years. In 1774, when he was sixty-seven, he suffered an attack of
apoplexy in the Botanical Garden, and, two years later, another stroke
made him a paralytic. When he could no longer walk, he used to be
carried to his museum, and look long and earnestly at his treasures,
gathered from every clime. His memory so failed him that he mixed the
Greek and Latin letters, and forgot even his own name. On the 10th of
January, 1778, death came to him in his sleep.
The university went into mourning, the king made a public address, and
the whole nation regarded it as an irreparable loss. His herbarium and
library were sold, after a time, by the wife, to Sir James E. Smith, the
founder of the Linnaean Society, of London, where these treasures are now
to be seen, and most of the one hundred and eighty works which he
published during forty-five years. It is said that the King of Sweden,
on learning that the work of Linnaeus was going out of the country, sent
a man-of-war to recover it, but without avail.
Linnaeus was small in body, with large head, and the bright, piercing
eyes which usually characterize men and women of genius.
Of his six children, the oldest soon became professor of botany, to
assist, and then succeed, his father, but he lacked the parent's just
and honorable love of fame. The eldest daughter inherited much of his
ability, being the first to discover the luminous property of the
nasturtium flowers at night. Sara Elizabeth survived her noble husband
many years, and now lies beside him in the cathedral.