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Linnaeus in Sámi dress, portrait by Martin Hoffman, 1737. The portrait hangs in the Linnaeus Museum in Uppsala. Photo: Sören Hallgren.

With his boots on

Linnaeus carried out much of his research “with his boots on”. It was preferable, he felt, to study nature in the field. This conviction and his scientific curiosity led Linnaeus to visit several Swedish provinces with the purpose of finding natural resources that could be developed economically. However, Linnaeus observed more than just flora, fauna and minerals. He studied the climate, people’s day-to-day lives, handicraft and implements among other things. His first expedition was to Lapland in 1732. With the support of different patrons, Linnaeus subsequently undertook expeditions to Dalarna (1734), Öland and Gotland (1741), Västergötland (1746) and Skåne (1749).

A new scientific language
Linnaeus collected all his impressions, conclusions and scientific findings in his accounts of his travels, which were then published. Linnaeus had an unusually good writing style, using language that was far from commonplace in the scientific community of the day. It was earthy and rich when he described the settings and people he encountered, while maintaining scientific precision. Linnaeus writes in a simple yet descriptive way, allowing the reader to feel participatory.

Sometimes ha becomes almost poetic, as in the lines: "Night crept up, deep and dark. The tall conifers appeared as a wall, twice the height in the darkness, sheet lightning, often soundless, briefly flashing like phantom fire; horses reared and sent sparks flying with their shoes on the stones, owls hooted like ghosts and the European Nightjar trembled like a shingle mill."

Reading Linnaeus’ writings today gives us a picture of the Sweden of his time, as well as of the man Carl Linnaeus – and a of good stylist, later appreciated by August Strindberg, among others.

His life and work
Traveller and writer
Systema Naturae
and the sexual system

Re-constructed picture of Linnaeus’ expedition to Skåne. From tercentenary celebrations in Helsingborg. Photo: Ebbe Fogelfors