Linnaeus and Botany

In the age of the Encyclopaedists, writes Wilfrid Blunt, Linnaeus applied his great classifying talents to the world of plants.

Where we in England are concerned, Carl Linnaeus, perhaps the greatest of all naturalists, suffers under every conceivable disadvantage. He was a scientist, and he wrote in Swedish or in a Latin that was vivid and personal rather than grammatical - often, indeed, in a mixture of the two.

Relatively little of what he wrote has been translated into English or French, and not a great deal even into German; and what has been translated is for the most part far from easy to obtain. It is therefore hardly surprising that today few people outside Sweden know much about the man or his work.

Perhaps it is more surprising that there was not always this ignorance. But in England during the early part of the nineteenth century children were encouraged to improve their minds by collecting, painting and pressing wild flowers, and identifying them according to the Linnaean system.

Books for the young praised the great Swede who had arranged and named the flowers, and some, such as Mrs Jane Marcet’s Conversations on Botany (1817), were in dialogue form:

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