Linnaeus, Carl (Carl von Linné; 1707–1778; Ennobled 1761)

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LINNAEUS, CARL (Carl von Linné; 17071778; ennobled 1761)

LINNAEUS, CARL (Carl von Linné; 17071778; ennobled 1761), Swedish naturalist and explorer. Linnaeus was born on 23 May 1707. His father was a curator in Råshult, a small parish in Småland (southern Sweden). After attending school in nearby Växjö, he studied medicine at the universities of Lund (1727) and Uppsala (17281732). Coming from a low-income family, he could only afford to attend a few lectures, but patronage from Olaus Rudbeck, Jr. (16601740) and Olof Celsius (16701756) at Uppsala University, and subsidies he received from teaching botany (17301732), allowed him to study natural history on his own. In 1732 the Uppsala Academy of Sciences sent Linnaeus to Lapland to do research. After his return, he gave private lectures in mineral assaying, and made another research trip to Dalecarlia (a region in central Sweden) in 1734. At this early stage, the foundation for all of his later work was laid down in manuscripts. Occasion for their publication would come when Linnaeus went to Holland in 1735 to acquire a medical degree. This journey was financed by the governor of Dalecarlia, the father of Sara Elisabeth Moraea, who was promised to Linnaeus.

Skillfully seeking the patronage of leading Dutch naturalists like Jan Fredrik Gronovius (16901762), senator of Leiden, and Herman Boerhaave (16681738), only a few months after his arrival Linnaeus successfully published his first work, the Systema Naturae (The system of nature), a folio volume of only eleven pages that presented a classification of the three kingdoms of nature. Success was immediate, and there followed a whole series of further publications, among them the Fundamenta Botanica (The foundations of botany, 1735) and the Genera Plantarum (Genera of plants, 1737). Linnaeus extended his stay in Holland until 1738 to catalog the extensive botanical collections of George Clifford, former director of the Dutch East India Company, who also paid him for two short trips to Paris and Oxford. On his return to Sweden in 1738, he married Sara Elisabeth and settled in Stockholm as a physician. He was among those who founded the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1739.

In 1741 Linnaeus accepted the chair of medicine and botany at Uppsala University. His career was characterized by two different aspects: On the one hand, he used the contacts he had made while in Holland to establish an international network of correspondents, including such leading naturalists as Albrecht von Haller (17081777) and Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu (17481836), that would supply him with seeds and specimens from all over the world. Incorporating this material into the botanical garden at Uppsala, Linnaeus created a continuously growing empirical basis for revised and enlarged editions of his major taxonomic works. There were twelve authorized editions of the Systema Naturae, as well as numerous pirated editions, translations, and popular versions that appeared in Europe.

On the other hand, Linnaeus actively supported the cameralist theory that a nation's welfare depended on science-based administration. He promoted the creation of chairs in economics at Swedish universities, organized public botanical excursions around Uppsala, undertook research travels within Sweden to identify domestic products that could replace imports, and sent some twenty students on travels around the globe to find exotic plants for acclimatization in Sweden. The results of these "patriotic" projects were published in the Flora Suecica (Swedish plants, 1745), the Fauna Suecica (Swedish animals, 1746), and four volumes of reports on journeys made to various provinces of Sweden (Öländska and Gothländska Resa, [Travel to Öland and Gotland], 1741, Västgötha Resa [Travel to Western Gothia], 1747, and Skånska Resa [Travel to Scania], 1751).

Linnaeus and his wife Sara Elisabeth, who managed the three farm estates of the family, had five children. His only son, Carolus, Jr., succeeded him at the University of Uppsala after his death in 1778, but died only a few years later.

The significance of Linnaeus's scientific achievements in natural history is twofold. His major taxonomic works, but especially the Species Plantarum (1753), a catalog of all plant species known at the time, provided systematic access to earlier literature in natural history, while the Philosophia Botanica (Philosophy of botany, 1751) laid down rules for classifying and naming organisms that would inform all future taxonomic practice. His main innovation in this respect was the introduction of binomial nomenclature, proposed for the first time in the Philosophia Botanica and for the first time consistently applied in the Species Plantarum. The latter work and zoological part of the tenth edition of the Systema Naturae (1756) form the basis of all subsequent botanical and zoological nomenclature, in conjunction with Linnaeus's extensive collections of botanical and zoological specimens, today preserved by the Linnaean Society in London.

Other fields in which Linnaeus is of historical importance include plant sexuality (Sponsalia Plantarum [The sex of plants], 1746), ecology (Oeconomia Naturae [The economy of nature], 1749), and the classification of diseases (Genera Morborum [Genera of diseases], 1763).

See also Academies, Learned ; Biology ; Boerhaave, Herman ; Botany ; Haller, Albrecht von ; Scientific Revolution ; Zoology .


Blunt, Wilfrid, with William T. Stearn. The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus. London, 1971.

Frängsmyr, Tore, ed. Linnaeus: The Man and His Work. Berkeley, 1983.

Koerner, Lisbet. Linnaeus: Nature and Nation. Cambridge, Mass., 1999.

Larson, James L. Reason and Experience: The Representation of Natural Order in the Work of Carl Linnaeus. Berkeley, 1971.

Müller-Wille, Staffan. Botanik und weltweiter Handel: zur Begründung eines natürlichen Systems der Pflanzen durch Carl von Linné (17071778). Berlin, 1999.

Soulsby, B. H. A Catalogue of the Works of Linnaeus (and Publications More Immediately Relating Thereto) Preserved in the Libraries of the British Museum (Bloomsbury) and the British Museum (Natural History) (South Kensington). 2nd ed. London, 1933.

Staffan MÜller-Wille

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Linnaeus, Carl (Carl von Linné; 1707–1778; Ennobled 1761)

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