Enterprise and Adventure/Adventures of Linnaeus in Lapland


The celebrated naturalist, Linnæus, was appointed by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences to travel through Lapland, for the purpose of investigating the natural history of that country; and in his journal of this mission he has left us a curious and interesting record of the hardships which he willingly encountered in a journey alone through what was then an almost unknown country. It was on a morning in May, that he set out from the town of Upsal, attired, as he tells us, in a light coat of linsey-wolsey cloth, without folds, lined with red shalloon, leather breeches, a green leather cap, and a pair of half-boots. "I carried," he adds, "a small leather bag, half an ell in length, but somewhat less in breadth, furnished on one side with hooks and eyes, so that it could be opened and shut at pleasure. This bag contained one shirt, two pair of false sleeves, two half-shirts, an inkstand and pencase, microscope and telescope, a gauze cap to protect me occasionally from the gnats, a comb, my journal, and a parcel of paper stitched together for drying plants, both in folio, my manuscript ornithology, etc. I wore a hanger at my side, and carried a small fowling-piece, as well as an octangular stick, graduated for the purpose of measurement. Such was the simple equipment of the enthusiastic naturalist for a solitary journey, which amounted to three thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight English miles, through the wildest and most inhospitable region of Europe.

The facts which Linnæus records in his journey chiefly relate to the plants, the animals, and the physical characteristics of the country he passed through; but it contains also numerous pictures of his own sufferings in pursuit of his favourite science. At Geflo he visited the last apothecary's shop and the last physician's in the country, no other being to be met with in any place farther north. Sometimes he passed through a desolate region, where all signs of vegetation were wanting; at others along a forlorn and wild sea-coast, where some remains of wrecked vessels added to the dismal character of the scene. On one occasion, he came to the hut of a Laplander and his wife, whom he describes as "of very diminutive stature, her eyes dark and sparkling, her eyebrows black, her pitchy-coloured hair hanging loose about her head, on which she wore a flat cap." She had a grey petticoat, her neck and bust, which resembled the skin of a frog, were adorned with brass rings; round her waist she wore a girdle, and on her feet a pair of half-boots. This woman, who spoke with the energy of a fury, nevertheless showed some compassion for the stranger's miserable plight, and addressed him with the words, "O wretched man, what hard fate can have brought you here, to a place never visited by any one before? Miserable creature, how did you come, and whither will you go? Do you not see what habitations we have, and with what difficulty we go to church?"

"My health and strength," he adds, "being by this time materially impaired by wading through such an extent of marshes, laden with my apparel and luggage, for the Laplander had enough to do to carry the boat; by walking for whole nights together; by not having for a long time tasted any boiled meat; by drinking a great quantity of water, as nothing else was to be had; and by eating nothing but fish, unsalted, and crawling with vermin, I must have perished but for a piece of dried and salted reindeer's flesh, given me by my kind hostess the clergyman's wife at Lycksele. This food, however, without bread, proved unwholesome and indigestible. How I longed once more to meet with people who feed on spoon-meat! I inquired of this woman whether she could give me anything to eat. She replied, 'Nothing but fish.' I looked at the fresh fish, as it was called; but perceiving its mouth to be full of maggots, I had no appetite to touch it. But though it thus abated my hunger, it did not recruit my strength. I asked if I could have any reindeer tongues, which are commonly dried for sale, and served up even at the tables of the great; but was answered in the negative. 'Have you no cheese made of reindeer's milk?' said I. 'Yes,' replied she, 'but it is a mile off.' 'If it were here, would you allow me to buy some?' 'I have no desire,' answered the good woman, 'that you should die in my country for want of food.'" On arriving at her hut Linnæus perceived three cheeses lying under a shed without walls, and took the smallest of them, which she after some consultation, allowed him to purchase.

This was the turning point in his journey, the difficulties of penetrating further in a country of morass and wilderness being insurmountable. He records in his journal that he felt that he had, with the thoughtlessness of youth, undertaken more than he could perform, and pathetically adds that the screams of some wild birds overhead as he passed along seemed to his imagination like the sound of derisive laughter, for he was faint and weak with hunger, having eaten scarcely anything for four days. In this plight, however, he fortunately reached the house of a good clergyman, who gave him hospitable shelter and some fresh meat.

Among other strange sights which he records was that of a forest on fire, of which he gives a vivid description. The dry season had rendered the boughs so inflammable, that a flash of lightning striking one of the trees set it in a blaze, which rapidly spread. In many places the fire extended over several miles; in one place he walked for more than three-quarters of a mile through a part of the forest which had been completely destroyed, and where charred timbers, and blackened shrubs and grass, were the only things which met the eye. A guide accompanied him through this region, and he adds:—

"The fire was nearly extinguished in most of the spots we visited, except in anthills and dry trunks of trees. After we had travelled about half a quarter of a mile across one of these scenes of desolation, the wind began to blow with rather more force than it had done, upon which a sudden noise arose in the half-burnt forest, such as I can only compare to what may be imagined among a large army attacked by an enemy. We knew not whither to turn our steps; the smoke would not suffer us to remain where we were, nor durst we turn back. It seemed best to hasten forward, in hopes of speedily reaching the outskirts of the wood; but in this we were disappointed. We ran as fast as we could, in order to avoid being crushed by the falling trees, some of which threatened us every minute. Sometimes the fall of a huge trunk was so sudden that we stood aghast, not knowing whither to turn to escape destruction, and throwing ourselves entirely on the protection of Providence. In one instance a large tree fell exactly between me and my guide, who walked not more than a fathom from me, but, thanks to God! we both escaped in safety. We were not a little rejoiced when this perilous adventure terminated, for we had felt all the while like a couple of outlaws, in momentary fear of surprise."

Throughout all these perils and hardships the enthusiastic Linnæus calmly pursued his observations of nature, recording them daily where possible in his journal, which he concludes with the simple words, "To the Maker and Preserver of all things be praise, honour, and glory for ever." This interesting manuscript was not published, or even known to exist, until many years after his death. His papers, herbarium, etc., having been purchased by Sir J. E. Smith, this journal was found among them; but, owing to its being in the Swedish language, intermixed with Latin, and with many ciphers and abbreviations, its curious contents long remained unknown. At length a young English merchant, Mr. Charles Troilus, undertook the task of translating it, by whom it was published some years ago.