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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/504

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE PLACE OF LINNÆUS IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE[1]
By Professor ARTHUR O. LOVEJOY

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, ST. LOUIS

THE recent celebrations of the bicentenary of Linnæus's birth had one sort of appropriateness in somewhat higher degree than is usual in such commemorations: they helped pay the debt of posterity to one of the great figures of the history of science in the currency that he had especially valued. For Linnæus had very markedly the last infirmity of noble mind. Faniam extendere factis was his chosen device, which he often prints, with a pride justified only by the event, upon the title-pages of his books; and his biographers are at one in emphasizing the intensity of his desire for fame. It was, indeed, the solid and enduring fame of the productive scholar that he sought, not the applause of the groundlings; his ambition was to link his name to some lasting and imposing part of the ever-enlarging fabric of organized knowledge, and thereby to take rank among the acknowledged masters of those who know. That this ambition, large as it was, has been more than fulfilled, is sufficiently evidenced by the worldwide commemoration of this anniversary of his birth—even in cities of the western continent which were themselves non-existent when he came into the world. No naturalist of his century, and few naturalists of any period, have so universal a popular reputation, or are, by so nearly common consent, given a place among the immortals not far removed from Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Leibniz and Newton—to mention only his predecessors. Yet, when seriously scrutinized, Linnæus's position in the history of science is a peculiar one. With his name there is commonly associated no epoch-making hypothesis, not a single important discovery, not one fundamental law or generalization, in any branch of science. The forty years of his active life constitute a period prolific in fruitful hypotheses and signalized by the original enunciation of a number of valid generalizations of the first order of importance; of none of these was he the author. To go no farther than the biological sciences which Linnæus professed: Before 1750, Daubenton and Buff on had begun to establish the new science of comparative anatomy and were making known the striking homologies which run through the structure of all species of vertebrates; between


  1. Revision of a paper read before the Academy of Science of St. Louis at its celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Linnæus.