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The Linnaean Legacy – a Passion for Order

Learning more about Carl Linnaeus is always a fascinating experience especially when it happens at the Linnean Society in London. There are few people throughout history that have had such an impact on natural sciences as Linnaeus. The Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) was a man with great ambitions and a great passion for order. Already as an adolescent Linnaeus decided to catalogue all life on earth. Botany was of course Linnaeus’s particular focus of interest and there was nothing that would stop him from achieving his goal. Through tremendous resilience Linnaeus managed to catalogue the flora of the world in a systematic way that was later accepted by the world’s natural scientists.

Linnaeus was interested in everything that grew whether it was in Africa, China, Europe or America. In his work to catalogue the flora of the world he had great help from his apostles who set off on journeys as far away as China. Several of them become “martyrs” in the service of Linnaeus. One of the most famous apostles was the botanist and philosopher Peter Forsskål who died on a journey to Yemen.

Three hundred years later Linnaeus still has a great impact on botany. What few Swedes might be aware of is that most of Linnaeus’s unique collections including 40,000 original specimens can be found in London. The Linnean Society maintains the majority of Carl Linnaeus’s plant and animal research collections, as well as his personal library. It was quite a treat to have the opportunity to visit the Society, together with representatives of the City of Uppsala.It was a great tour where we had the opportunity to see various items on display as well as learn more about the ongoing Linnaean Manuscripts project.

It is worth noting that it was at the Linnean Society in 1858 that Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace first presented the theory of evolution by natural selection.
The Linnean Society is today an important forum for the discussion and advancement of the life sciences and its library is open to the general public and I am very grateful to the Society for having hosted the Swedish delegation in such a gracious way and I am sure that I will return soon.


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