Friday, February 10, 2012

The Linnaeus Apostles. 8 volumes of global science and adventure

A depiction of Linnaeus´s trips in Sweden. IK Foundation

From the interesting book review by Jennie Erin Smith for the Wall Street Journal:
The worldliest natural historian of the 18th century was, oddly enough, never much of a traveler. Carl Linnaeus's farthest expedition was from Sweden to Lapland, in 1732, when he was 25 years old. Despite his all-consuming curiosity about exotic creatures and plants, Linnaeus preferred to have them brought his way. He turned down an offer to work as a physician in Suriname and never left his native country after 30.
As a young professor in Uppsala, Linnaeus led his students on plant-collecting hikes, scattering them into the fields to botanize and summoning them to lunch with a trumpet. But Linnaeus, inventor of the plant and animal classification systems still in use today, harbored bigger ambitions both for them and for his own emerging science. By the end of the century, 17 of his students had travelled to seven continents with the blessing and encouragement of their mentor. Only eight survived the rigors of their journeys: Malaria, mental illness and infections claimed the rest.(...)
Importantly, they were never to go to bed without writing up what they'd seen that day, preferably in Swedish and in such a way that readers might feel "as though they had the objects in front of their eyes." In this task they excelled. Pehr Osbeck, who in 1750 voyaged to South China as a chaplain with the Swedish East India Co., flubbed his mentor's requests to bring back "goldfish for Her Majesty" and a live tea bush. Yet Linnaeus was delighted with Osbeck's journal, which described novel plants, harbor boats filled with hundreds of ducks trained to come and go on command, and a populace with the nasty habit of throwing rocks at him while he botanized. "I seem myself to have travelled with you," Linnaeus gushed upon reading it, and named a genus of flowering shrubs after Osbeck.

Carl Von Linné. (Carl Linnaeus) 1775.

Subsequent travelogues by Linnaeus's protégés would prove finer still than Osbeck's. A few have been translated, over the centuries, into German, French or English. But others were never published. All are now available, in modern English, in the 11-book series "The Linnaeus Apostles"—which was how Linnaeus, who was both pious and grandiose, referred to the students toward the end of his life. Produced by the IK Foundation, a U.K. non-profit, the set costs about $2,000 altogether, though each volume can be purchased individually. These are big, heavy books best approached with the aim to spend time with them, over days or weeks, somewhere quiet with good light. What's inside them is an armchair adventure of the finest order.
The translations run to nearly 6,000 pages—printed on paper from a mill near Linnaeus's birthplace and accompanied by reproductions of the apostles' maps, transcripts of folk music, and drawings of everything from Russian rabbit traps to Tahitian chiefs. One volume even contains swatches of cloth from the South Pacific that its author, Anders Sparrman, included in his original edition as a marketing gimmick.

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