Order from Chaos: Linnaeus Disposes

Breaking the mold - who can be a naturalist?

Linnaeus, as the father of taxonomy or systematic botany, planted the germ for a scheme that is within reach not only of professional botanists but also of amateurs — authors, clergymen, gardeners, painters, wildflower enthusiasts, and others. Some professionals published Linnaeus’ ideas for a popular audience, and in turn many enlightened amateurs through their own field work and publications have disseminated Linnaeus’ ideas to a far wider section of the population, sometimes making important contributions to science along the way. The literature in this case demonstrates not only the breadth and variety of Linnaeus’ influence in the British Isles during the late 18th and early 19th centuries but also how the dissemination of his ideas there opened the world of botany to a wide range of interested naturalists, reaching beyond professionals to include amateurs of all kinds, and even children.

William Withering (1741–1799). A Botanical Arrangement of All the Vegetables Growing in Great Britain, with Descriptions of the Genera and Species, According to the System of the Celebrated Linnaeus ... (Birmingham, 1776).

This work by physician, botanist and author William Withering is an example of a flora arranged according to the Linnaean system and published in Linnaeus’ lifetime. Withering credited his exposure to the herbarium collected by Sir Joseph Banks for the inspiration of his own interest in botany. However, he always remained primarily a practicing physician.

Below: HI Archives portrait no. 1a.

John Lindley (1799–1865). Ladies’ Botany, or, A Familiar Introduction to the Study of the Natural System of Botany, ed. 2 (London, [184–?]).

An Englishman, Lindley was a professor, taxonomist, author, artist, and editor of the Botanical Register, which was devoted to representing new and rare plants in color. Lindley spread knowledge of plants all his life, working in Banks’ herbarium, at the Horticultural Society of London, and with such publications as An Introduction to Botany (London, 1832), Ladies Botany (featured here), Flora Medica (London, 1838), and School Botany (London, 1839). He worked with a broad range of characters to forge a natural system of botanical classification.

Below: HI Archives portrait no. 8.

John Lightfoot (1735–1788). Flora Scotica: Or, A Systematic Arrangement, in the Linnaean Method, of the Native Plants of Scotland and the Hebrides (London, 1777).

Following a trip through Scotland and the Hebrides, clergyman/botanist Lightfoot produced this flora arranged according to the Linnaean system. It was the most complete flora of Scotland until 1821, when a subsequent flora of the same title, arranged "according to the artificial and natural methods," was published by William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865).

Priscilla Wakefield (1751–1832). An Introduction to Botany, in a Series of Familiar Letters, with Illustrative Engravings (London, 1796).

Wakefield, an author and philanthropist, wrote a number of books on science and other subjects that were intended to improve the minds of children. This introduction to botany was written to introduce the young to the Linnaean system and the study of nature by couching the concepts in a series of letters between two sisters.

[no portrait available]

William Curtis (1746–1799). The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-Garden Displayed (London, 1787–).

This English botanist, publisher, and artist was chief demonstrator at the Apothecaries’ Physic Garden in Chelsea. In 1772 he published his translation of Linnaeus’ Fundamenta Entomologiae and began work on his Flora Londinensis. Curtis’ Flora was issued from 1775 until 1798, each of the six fascicles including 72 colored plates. Curtis’ Botanical Magazine, the first illustrated botanical periodical, appeared in 1787 and included three plant descriptions and plates in each issue; the magazine has operated under different names to this day. It is famous for its colored illustrations, and its purpose from its earliest days was to present information on exotic plants cultivated in British gardens.

Below: HI Archives portrait no. 4.

Richard Pulteney (1730–1801). A General View of the Writings of Linnaeus (London, 1781).

Pulteney was a physician with a strong avocational interest in botany. His uncle, George Tomlinson, directed his tastes in early boyhood towards natural history and especially to botany. His landmark and very popular publication on Linnaeus was a major factor in the diffusion of Linnaeus’ ideas in Great Britain, doing much to cultivate a taste for the Linnaean system among the general populace.

Below: HI Archives portrait no. 1.

Geraniums 1 Prince Leopold, 2 Lord Nelson, 3 Duchess of Plasencia [?], 4 sanguineum, annotated Pelargonium Xdomesticum L. H. Bail., watercolor by Dorothy Widdrington (England?).

Daughter of Alexander Davison Esquire of Swarland Hall and wife of Captain Samuel Widdrington R.N.J.P. of Newton Hall and Hauxley Hall, Widdrington seems to have been a 19th-century amateur painter. While "G. sanguineum" is the only binomial cited among the cultivar names on this painting, many binomials can be found among the titles in Widdrington’s 67 works held at the Hunt Institute. Amateurs, as well as botanists, benefited from Linnaeus’ foundations.