1745 and 1751 Maupertuis had promulgated, and defended with effective arguments, the theory of the transformation of species; in physiology, the significant fact of the independent irritability of muscle was discovered by Haller in 1757; in embryology, the doctrine of epigenesis was revived and finally established by Caspar Friedrich Wolff in 1759. As for the science of botany, the foundations had been laid, and the general outlines and principles which were to continue to rule during Linnæus's time had been established by the end of the preceding century. The founder of modern scientific botany is Cesalpino (1583). In microscopic plant anatomy and histology, the investigations and descriptions which were to underlie the science for something like a century had been made before Linnæus's birth by Grew, Malpighi, Leeuwenhoek. In plant physiology, the role of the sap had been studied by Malpighi, and the fundamental facts made clear by Hales in his "Vegetable Staticks," 1727; the function of pollen in the fecundation of seeds had been shown by Camerarius before the end of the seventeenth century; the existence of the sexual distinction in plants had been insisted upon by a long succession of botanists, English, German, Italian and French; and during Linnæus's lifetime the physiological rôle of leaves was being made clear (so far as the condition of chemistry at the time permitted) by the philosopher Christian Wolff and by Bonnet.
Not only is all this true, but it is also a fact that Linnæus has been not absolutely unfairly represented, by one of the historians of modern science, as an obstacle to the scientific progress of his time. President White, in his "Warfare of Science and Theology," after speaking of certain anticipations of nineteenth century conceptions by DeMaillet, Eobinet and Bonnet, remarks:
Yet, though in the intellectual movement of his time Linnæus was an extreme conservative, if not something of an obscurantist; though he was far surpassed by several of his contemporaries in that kind of insight and constructive power which leads to the discovery of the great general laws of nature; and though the heavy pioneer work even in his favorite science had been done before his time by the great investigators of the end of the seventeenth century—though all this is the case, none of these others equals Linnæus in popular repute or in accepted standing in the history of science. I can not say that I think this altogether just, though if it be less than just, the proper inference
- "Entdeckung der wahren Ursache von der Vermehrung des Getreydes," 1718. Cf. also his "Vernünftige Gedanken von dem Gebrauche der Theile in Menschen, Thieren und Pflanzen," 1725, Pt. II., chap. 5.
- Récherches sur l'usage des feuilles," 1754.