Page images
PDF
EPUB

still supposed him living (as I saw the illustrious name of Von Linné among the members of the Royal Academy of Paris, in a list at the end of the Connoissance des Tems), I was particularly happy to obtain the complete fructification of that most elegant tree which yields the Peruvian balsam, in order that I might satisfy his curiosity, so often expressed, on the subject of the genus of this tree, either by describing it among my new genera, or by transmitting any observations for his use. But when I had just overcome the difficulties which had so long deprived me of this acquisition, and was anticipating the pleasure my excellent friend would receive from the communication, the world was deprived of him. You have lost an affectionate parent, and I a most highly-esteemed patron. I trust that you, my honoured friend, will, with his blood, inherit his exalted genius, his ardent love of science, his kind liberality to his friends, and all the other valuable endowments of his mind. On my part, I shall show my gratitude to his memory by teaching and extolling the name of Linnæus, as the supreme prince of naturalists, even here under the equator, where the sciences are already flourishing, and advancing by the most rapid steps; and where, I am disposed to believe, the muses may, perhaps, in future ages, fix their seat. If my opinion be of any weight as a naturalist, I must declare that I can find no name, in the whole history of this department of knowledge, worthy to be compared with the illustrious Swede. Of this at least I am certain, that the merits of Newton in philosophy and mathematics are equalled in botany, and all the principles of natural history, by the immortal Von Linné. These great men stand equal and unrivalled, in my judgment, as the most faithful interpreters of Nature's works. I trust, sir, you will not take amiss this testimony of mine in favour of your distinguished parent; for, as you are closely allied to him in blood, I feel myself scarcely less intimately attached, by the particular friendship with which he was so good as to favour me. mory will ever be cherished by me, as that of a beloved preceptor, and I shall value, as long as I live, every pledge of his regard......."

His me

With this testimony to the transcendent merits of Linnæus we conclude the present section, regarding it as a fit introduction to that which follows, in which we shall attempt to sketch the character of this extraordinary man.

SECTION XI.

Character of Linnæus.

Specific Character of Linnæus—Remarks of Condorcet-Linnæus's

Appearance and bodily Conformation--His Habits, mental Characteristics, Sociality, domestic Relations, Parsimony, and Generosity –His Forbearance towards his Opponents, Inaptitude for the Acquisition of Languages, Love of Fame, moral Conduct, religious Feelings-Character of his Writings_Remarks on his Classifications.

The character of Linnæus, marked as it is by features which the least reflective mind can hardly fail to distinguish as indicative of qualities that sel. dom present themselves in so high a degree of development, is not difficult to be appreciated.

The method which he employed for characterizing the genera and species of animals and plants, he applied to himself as an individual, and the description which he gave of his own person and mind is too remarkable to be omitted here. It is this :

Occipite gibbo, ad suturam lambdoideam transverse depresso, pili in infantia nivei, dein fusci, in senio canescentes. Oculi brunnei, vivaces, acutissimi, visu eximio. Frons in senio rugosa. Verruca obliterata in bucca dextra et alia in nasi dextro latere. Dentes debiles, cariosi ab odontalgia hæreditaria in juventute.

“ Animus promptus, mobilis ad iram et lætitiam et mærores, cito placabatur ; hilaris in juventute,

[ocr errors]

nec in senio torpidus, in rebus agendis promptissimus; incessu levis, agilis.

“ Curas domesticas committebat uxori, ipse naturæ productis unice intentus; incepta opera ad finem perduxit, nec in itinere respexit.”

To convert this aphoristic description into elegant English, such as is employed by writers of the Buffon school,-men of many words and few facts,would be to destroy its peculiar beauty, which can only be retained in an appropriate translation :

“ The head of Linnæus had a remarkable prominence behind, and was transversely depressed at the lambdoid suture. His hair was white in infancy, afterwards brown, in old age grayish. His eyes were hazel, lively, and penetrating ; their power of vision exquisite. His forehead was furrowed in old age. He had an obliterated wart on the right cheek, and another on the corresponding side of the nose. His teeth were unsound, and at an early age decayed from hereditary toothach. His mind was quick, easily excited to anger, joy, or sadness; but its affections soon subsided. In youth he was cheerful, in age not torpid, in business most active. He walked with a light step, and was distinguished for agility. The management of his domestic affairs he committed to his wife, and concerned himself solely with the productions of nature. Whatever he began he brought to an end, and on a journey he never looked back.”

“ Some time before his death,” says Condorcet in his Eloge, “ Linnæus traced in Latin, on a sheet of paper, his character, his manners, and his external conformation, imitating in this respect several great men. He accuses himself of impatience, of an excessive vivacity, and even of a little jealousy. In this sketch he has pushed modesty and truth to their utmost; and they who have known that great naturalist, justly charge him with severity towards himself. There are moments when the most vir. tuous person sees nothing but his own failings. After describing universal nature in all its details, it may be said that the picture would have remained incomplete had he not painted himself. At the same time it is vexing that he should have painted himself in colours so unfavourable. Judging him by his conduct, no one could have fancied the existence of these defects, nor could they have been known unless he had revealed them.” Yet, if the damnatory revelation which he made be, as M. Fée asserts, nothing more than the above sketch, it would appear that he has half in playfulness presented a technical character of himself, such as he would have written of a bear or a baboon. It presents indications of candour and self-reproach, but certainly is, on the whole, much more laudatory than otherwise.

With respect to bodily conformation, he was of a stature rather below the ordinary standard, as has been the case with several very ambitious, active, and successful men. His temperament was the sanguineous, with a proportion of the nervous; whence he was lively, excitable, full of hope, and of great ardour ; but since he was in no degree melancholic, some physiologists might puzzle themselves to discover where he obtained his indefatigable industry, his perseverance, his obstinate straightforwardness, and the tenacity with which he held all opinions which he had once received. In youth and middle age he was light, but muscular; whence his

« PreviousContinue »