Linnaeus And Mr. Ha-Ha

The first step of science is to know one thing from another. This knowledge consists in their specific distinctions; but in order that it may be fixed and permanent distinct names must be given to different things and those names must be recorded and remembered.

—Carolus Linnaeus

By naming and by knowing the names of things he proposed to see into the secret cabinet of God. Travelers from Madeira, Virginia, from all over the world, risked dangers in vast forests, on high cliffs, in the deepest chasms to send him packets of seeds. He catalogued American falcons, parrots, pheasants, guinea fowl, American capercaillie, Indian hens, swans, duck, geese, gulls, snipe, American crossbills, sparrows and turtledoves. He classified creation according to sexual organs; he gave each creature two names, a general and a specific name.

He wrote that riches vanish and stately mansions fall into decay, that even the most prolific families die out sooner or later and that the mightiest of states are overthrown, but that all of nature must be obliterated before the genera of plants and “he be forgotten who held the torch aloft in botany.” But as he grew older, he suffered a stroke, and after this he began to lose more and more of his memory.

Gradually he no longer knew Systema Naturae, and after all this, in his last years, he forgot even his own name.

—Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature


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When I Worked

February 2010
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