Linnaeus the Observant

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

The father of classification was a curious fellow
by Honoré Schoolcraft, Improbable Research staff

Carl Linnaeus paid attention to some surprising things.

Linneaus was the Swedish scientist who taught the world how to classify living things, and gave us the double-barreled way of naming them in Latin. This year, 2007, is the 300th anniversary of his birth. The science community celebrates most of his work, but tends to overlook some of his writings about Lapland. Of course, the world in general tends to overlook writings, or most anything else, about Lapland.

At the age of 25, Linnaeus traveled through that northern wild region for five months, noting down whatever caught his eye, ear or nose. His hodgepodge of jottings jumps from topic to unrelated topic. Some of his thoughts, appearing in print, may take modern readers unawares. Here are a few.

Linnaeus’s general Lapland notes were eventually published as a book called Iter Lapponicum 1732. An English language translation appeared in 1811. The following quotations are from a modern translation by Peter Graves, titled The Lapland Journey, published by Lockharton Press in Edinburgh in 1995. The page numbers given here are from that 1995 edition.

A Woman and Her Frogs
On page 67, Linnaeus mentions a parsonage, and a school that has eight pupils, and a “round Lappish snuffbox made of turned reindeer horn,” and a woman. He says of her:

There was a woman here who was dreadfully plagued by frogs she had drunk as spawn in water this past spring. She knew that there were 3 of them and both she and anyone who sat beside her could hear them croak. Salt did not kill them and she dulled her pain a little with schnaps. Someone else who had the same ailment some years before happened to take 3 Nux vomica and recovered, but this woman will not take the risk.

What Use is a Hole
On page 101 he writes:

I went up to the church in Old Lulea. Right by the door I was shown a hole that the old order of monks had made in the stone wall. Its diameter and its depth were of an equal size; it was quite round and its bottom was smoothed off in an egg shape. It was a test that the cathedral chapter used to use to judge the glans penis of men who had been rejected by their wives.

This and This and This
Page 105 includes three consecutive brief paragraphs that are, in most respects, unremarkable. But they are a good example of how Linnaeus would mention this, that and the other thing, putting them cheek by jowl by wattle:

There was Pingvicula [Common Butterwort] on the shore and Juncus bombycinus, minimus [cub-rush] everywhere.

A black sand containing iron had been washed up on the banks.

The vagina in women does not become more ample when they are fat, more likely narrower; the thinner they are, the larger the vagina.

That and That and That
Page 171 serves up an equally mundane threesome:

In winter, however, the sun does not go completely below the horizon and is still visible at the solstice. I wonder if it is visible at the pole?

Finnish girls have big breasts, Lapp girls have small ones of a sort a girl keeps unspoilt for her future husband.

The town of Tornea lies on a small island, on which the settlement itself is situated by the south-west shore.

Historians fawn at the wide range of creatures and whatnot that Linnaeus classified. Perhaps they don’t give him nearly enough credit.

A Modern Frog Note
Linnaeus’s mention of the woman who ate frogs has a modern, and almost opposite, counterpart. A June 5, 2007 report by the Reuters wire service says:

BEIJING—A man in southeast China says 40 years of swallowing tree frogs and rats live has helped him avoid intestinal complaints and made him strong.

Jiang Musheng, a 66-year-old resident of Jiangxi province, suffered from frequent abdominal pains and coughing 20 years ago, until an old man called Yang Dingcai suggested tree frogs as a remedy, the Beijing News said on Tuesday.

“At first, Jiang Musheng did not dare to eat a live, wriggling frog, but after seeing Yang Dingcai swallow one, he ate... two without a thought,” the paper said.

Thanks to Richard Friebe for bringing the book to our attention, and to Ron Josephson for alerting us to the Chinese frog man.


This article is republished with permission from the July-August 2007 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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