« PreviousContinue »
able, prevented me from sleeping; for which reason I would have taken opium, but was prevented by a friend who came in on the seventh evening. My wife asked me if I would eat some strawberries. I will try, said I. It was about the beginning of the strawberry-season, and they were in good condition. Half an hour after, I fell asleep, and continued so till two in the morning. When I awoke, I wondered that the pain had abated, and asked whether I had been asleep, which the persons who were watching assured me had been the case. I asked if they had more of the strawberries, and ate up the remainder. I then slept till daylight, when the pain was about my ankles. Next day I ate as many strawberries as I could, and on the second morning was free of pain. I thought that mortification had taken place; but the part was entire, and I was able to get up, although I felt weak. Next year, about the same time, I had an attack, and another the following year, but milder, and it was always alleviated by the strawberries; and from that time I have been free of the disease." This conversation took place in 1771.
In the spring of 1772, he was visited by Dr Murray, professor of medicine and botany at Gottingen, who had been one of his pupils, and had long enjoyed his confidence and esteem. At this period he possessed good health, and was as ardent as ever in his endeavours for the improvement of science. He was appointed rector of the university for the third time, and, during the six months in which he discharged the duties of that office, the conduct of the young men was highly exemplary. When he retired, deputations from all the nations of the students came
to present their warmest thanks, and to beg his permission to print the address which he delivered on resigning.
In 1773, he had another attack of lumbago, and was moreover affected with an epidemic sore throat; but on the whole his health did not suffer materially. This year, a committee of six bishops, six doctors of divinity, and eight literary and scientific individuals, was appointed by the government to undertake a better translation of the Bible into the Swedish language. Linnæus was among the number, having been chosen on account of his knowledge of the animals and plants mentioned in the Scriptures; but it does not appear that he ever engaged seriously in the undertaking, although he made two journeys to Stockholm for the purpose.
While delivering one of his lectures in the botanic garden, in the beginning of May 1774, he had a slight attack of apoplexy, from which he did not recover for some time; and from this period his health rapidly declined. It is said, that the vexation produced by the publication of a letter in which he had confidentially disclosed to a friend the history of his youth, and especially the progress of his courtship, was the exciting cause of this fatal affection. The illustrious Haller, with whom he had corresponded from 1737 to 1766, published a volume of letters, written in Latin by men of literary eminence, and addressed to himself; and, having been always extremely jealous of Linnæus, thought proper to print all his epistles, in order to defend his own character against the accusations of envy which had been but too justly preferred. When he read these communications he was violently agi
tated, and from that moment his health became perceptibly worse. The apoplectic attack followed soon after; and from a comparison of testimonies on the subject, it seems to us extremely probable that it was occasioned by the causes now assigned.
He did not, however, despair, nor give himself up to inactivity under these distressing circumstances. A Swedish gentleman returning from Surinam, where he had been residing on his estates, brought with him a collection of plants preserved in spirits of wine, which he presented to the king. The latter sent them to Linnæus, whose health was much benefited by the pleasure which the possession of these treasures inspired. He immediately commenced a description of them, which was published in the Amænitates Academicæ,-a work respecting which we shall have occasion to speak in another section.
After this period, however, little remained of his former vigour. His body feeble and emaciated, his mind stripped of its distinguishing faculties, he rapidly sunk into decrepitude. In 1775, he thus describes his state in his diary :-" Linnæus limps, can hardly walk, speaks unintelligibly, and can scarcely write." Even in this condition he received pleasure from occasional visits to his museum, and more especially from the regard of his sovereign, who did him the honour of going from Ekhelsund to Upsal for the purpose of seeing him, and continued in conversation with him a whole afternoon. The fol lowing year, finding his infirmities greatly increased, he requested permission to retire from his offices; but the king would not grant it. On the contrary, his majesty doubled his salary, and gave him two
farms, which his children were to inherit. The last words inscribed in his diary are the following "Horrebow and Berger, both Danes, and Gruno from Hamburg, came to Upsal as pupils; but Linnæus is so ill that he can with difficulty speak to them; for the tertian fever is added to paralysis, and his weakness is extreme."
In the winter of 1776, he was reduced to the most deplorable condition; and as in the day of his mental vigour he had presented a brilliant example of the human intellect, so now in that of his prostration did he afford an instance of the utter feebleness of our nature. Another attack of apoplexy caused paralysis of his right side, in which he had most frequently suffered pain; his memory failed him to such a degree that he could not remember the names of the most familiar objects; his incoherent and unconnected words indicated a total decay of the powers of his understanding; he could no longer feed, dress, or clean himself; he could not even move from one place to another. The fever continued, and he became extremely emaciated. Yet even in this state he contrived to write a few scarcely-legible letters, one of which was to his friend Baek. It was dated the 9th December 1776, and contained the following sentence:-" God has determined to break all the bonds that attach me to terrestrial objects." Yet to the last he clung to these with a pertinacity as deplorable as it is surprising in a man who had manifested in his writings, if not in his actions, no small degree of piety. For several years previous to his death, his diary contains little else than an enumeration of the incidents most calculated to gratify his vanity;
such as a visit or letter from the king, the adoption of his system in the botanic garden of Paris, the Pope's approval of his works, and similar occurrences.
At the beginning of 1777, he was still at Upsal, and continued in the same lamentable state, although he occasionally enjoyed intervals of intellectual vigour. In general, however, his powers had so much failed, that he ceased to recognise his own works when they were placed before him; and, it is said, even forgot his name. When the season advanced, he was carried to his country-house at Hammarby, where he remained during the summer. In fine weather he was occasionally taken into the garden or museum, that he might see his collections and books, which always gave him pleasure. In autumn his health improved a little, and he returned to Upsal; but, although he had intimated that he was still desirous of rendering himself useful to the university, so far as his decayed faculties might permit, he was unequal to the delivery of his introductory lecture, which was therefore read by his son.
He was still able to go out, however, although the coachman had orders not to take him beyond the limits of the town. In December, he got upon a sledge, and forced his servant to drive him to Safja, about a league distant. The family, finding that he did not return as usual, became extremely uneasy, and sent in search of him. He was found stretched on the covering of his vehicle, and quietly smoking his pipe by the farmer's fire; nor was it without difficulty that he was induced to go home. This is the last remarkable act of his life that has been recorded; and we have nothing more to add, but