Page images
PDF
EPUB

We do not find any remarkable deviations in his general conduct from the straight path of morality. It is true, that in the affair of Rosen the impetuosity of his temper had nearly betrayed him into an act which would have stamped his memory with indelible disgrace; but if he exhibited some of the frailties and errors inseparable from hu. manity, it is neither our inclination to search them out, nor our province to pronounce judgment upon them. He has been accused of betraying a prurient imagination in the names which he gave to many objects, both in the vegetable and animal kingdoms. It is certain, that a more chastened taste would have enabled him to avoid offence in this matter ; but neither in conversation nor in act has any moral delinquency been laid to his charge.

In all his writings there appears a deep feeling of reverence and gratitude towards the Supreme Being; and in the history of his life we find nothing which could lead us to suppose that such feelings were assumed for the occasion. Over the door of his room was inscribed,—“Innocui vivite, Numen adest, -Live in innocence, for God is present.” His more important works he commences and ends with some passage from the Scriptures, expressive of the power, the glory, the beneficence of God, the creator and preserver of all things. Whenever, in his lectures or on his excursions, he found an opportunity of expatiating on these subjects, he embraced it with enthusiasm. “ On these occasions,” says one of his biographers, “ his heart glowed with celestial fire, and his mouth poured forth torrents of admirable eloquence.” Where is the naturalist, possessed of the true feelings of a man, who does not honour in his

Z

heart the being possessed of such a character! The sneer of the filthy sensualist, who, steeped in pollution, endeavours to persuade his turbid mind that all others are like himself; the scorn of the little puffed-up intellect, which, having traced the outline of some curious mechanism in nature, exults in the fancied independence of its own poor energies; the malice of the grovelling spirit, that, finding itself eclipsed by the splendour of superior talents, strives to obscure them by the aspersions of calumny,—what are they that they should influence our estimation of the character of this great man, who with his ardent piety and the devotion of his faculties to the glory of his Creator, is, amid all his imperfections, an object worthy of our love and esteem. And such he will remain, while the world endures, in the view of every enlightened admirer of the wonderful works of God.

His writings are characterized by extreme brevity, nervousness, and precision.

He expresses in a dozen words what might be expanded into half as many sentences. His style certainly is not always pure, nor even on all occasions grammati. cally correct. He was more desirous to instruct than to entertain, and therefore his expressions are weighed but not ornamented. Yet no teacher ever excited such enthusiasm in his pupils; and since the world began has there been none who gave such an impulse to the progress of natural history. They who can sneer at such a man must be cold and selfish indeed. “ The language of Linnæus," says Cuvier, “is ingenious and singular. Its very singularity renders it attractive. His phraseology, and even his titles, are figurative; but his figures are in

general highly expressive. With him, the various means by which Nature ensures the reproduction of plants are their nuptials; the changes in the position of their parts at night are their sleep; the periods of the year at which they flower form the calendar of Flora.”

As an example of his manner, when treating of a subject not technically described, we may present his account of the plant to which he gave the name of Andromeda : “ This most choice and beautiful virgin gracefully erects her long and shining neck (the peduncle), her face with its rosy lips (the corolla) far excelling the best pigment. She kneels on the ground with her feet bound (the lower part of the stem incumbent), surrounded with water, and fixed to a rock (a projecting clod), exposed to frightful dragons (frogs and newts). She bends her sorrowful face (the flower) towards the earth, stretches up her innocent arms (the branches) toward heaven, worthy of a better place and happier fate, until the welcome Perseus (summer), after conquering the monster, draws her out of the water and renders her a fruitful mother, when she raises her head (the fruit) erect." The analogy that gave rise to this fanciful description, which is contained in the Flora Lapponica, suggested itself to Linnæus on his Lapland journey. “ The Chamædaphne of Buxbaum,” says he, “ was at this time in its highest beauty, decorating the marshy grounds in a most agreeable manner. The flowers are quite blood-red before they expand, but when full grown the corolla is of a flesh-colour. Scarcely any painter's art can so happily imitate the beauty of a fine female complexion ; still less could any artificial colour upon the face itself bear a comparison with this lovely blossom. As I contemplated it, I could not help thinking of Andromeda as described by the poets; and the more I meditated upon their descriptions, the more applicable they seemed to the little plant before me; so that, if these writers had had it in view, they could scarcely have contrived a more apposite fable. Andromeda is represented by them as a virgin of most exquisite and unrivalled charms; but these charms remain in perfection only so long as she retains her virgin purity, which is also applicable to the plant, now preparing to celebrate its nuptials. This plant is always fixed on some little turfy hillock in the midst of the swamps, as Andromeda herself was chained to a rock in the sea, which bathed her feet, as the fresh water does the roots of the plant. Dragons and venomous serpents surrounded her, as toads and other reptiles frequent the abode of her vegetable prototype, and, when they pair in the spring, throw mud and water over its leaves and branches. As the dis. tressed virgin cast down her blushing face through excessive affliction, so does the rosy-coloured flower hang its head, growing paler and paler till it withers away. Hence, as this plant forms a new genus, I have chosen for it the name of Andromeda.

“ Botany may be compared to one of those plants which flower only once in a century. It first put forth some seed-leaves in the reign of Alexander. After the war of Mithridates, the victorious Romans transported it to Rome, when the root-leaves began to appear. Receiving no further cultivation, it ceased to grow. It was next carried from Italy to Arabia, where it remained until the twelfth century.

It then languished in France during three centuries; its root-leaves began to wither, and the plant was ready to perish. Towards the sixteenth century, however, it yielded a slight flower (Cæsalpinus), so frail that the gentlest breeze might seem sufficient to detach it from its slender stalk. This flower bore no fruit.

Towards the seventeenth century, the stem, which had been so long without appearing, shot up to a great height; but its leaves were few, and no flower appeared. In the early spring of this happy period, however, when a gentle warmth had succeeded the frosts of winter, this stem yielded a fresh flower, to which succeeded a fruit (C. Bauhin) that nearly attained maturity. Soon after, this splen did stem was surrounded with numerous leaves and flowers.”

These figurative descriptions, however, have no place in the more technical writings of Linnæus, where, on the contrary, all is brief, clear, and precise; but, as we have already presented some specimens of these, it is unnecessary to make any

additional remarks.

Notwithstanding the attacks that have been made on his mineralogical system, it is at least deserving of praise, as showing the practicability of arranging the objects belonging to this kingdom of nature according to strict method. In botany his merits were transcendent, and with the mention of that science his name is uniformly associated. He found it in a rude and unsettled state, and left it so admirably disposed, that the beauty and practical utility of his method recommended it to the cultivators of science in all countries. Nor were his labours in the animal kingdom less successful.

« PreviousContinue »