Letter L4163
Letter written by Jacob Jonas Björnståhl
Letter addressed to Carl Linnaeus
 
Date 15 April 1769

Summary

Jakob Jonas Björnståhl[+] is very grateful and overjoyed at the letter he has received from Linnaeus [this letter has not come down to us], the first one since he left Sweden. Even if Björnståhl cannot speak to Linnaeus, he speaks about him every day. It may seem strange that a philologist like himself, with his main interest in Arabic, can do this, but Björnståhl always reveres greatness and never forgets his benefactors. In Björnståhl’s hotel there lives an Italian nobleman, now an intimate friend of his.This Italian is very interested in botany and natural history. He ”is in love with” Linnaeus’s system and, together with his brother, he has introduced it in the Academy of Mazerata. He owns all Linnaeus’s major works in Latin, which he has been able to procure; some time has passed since he showed Björnståhl the third volume of Systema naturae [Björnståhl refers to the ”Regnum Lapideum” of the Systema naturae, 12th edition[+]]. He always carries some of these volumes and praises Linnaeus every day. ”Is it not marvellous” he will say ”that I, thanks to Linnaeus’s concise descriptions, can recognize a plant I have never seen before!” Many have been converted by him from ”Tournefortian archaism” [Joseph Pitton de Tournefort[+]]. He believes that many more would be converted, if they had been able to understand Latin. The nobleman’s name is Mozi [presumably Gaetano Muzzi[+]], a learned scholar who knows his classics, and reads Greek. He would love to meet Linnaeus but is afraid of the Nordic cold. Linnaeus can expect a study on Silphium in ancient times from Mozi, who will also write to Linnaeus with some comments on that.

Björnståhl is sorry to tell Linnaeus that he has not succeeded in finding seeds of Loasa and Ortiga Fevillaei; Joseph de Jussieu’s[+] Peruvian plant does not prosper and yields no seeds, and Claude Richard[+] at the Trianon has not got it, which means there are no seeds in the whole of France. Peter Hernquist[+] has already sent Calceolaria and other things.

Linnaeus has expressed a wish to come into contact with a member of the Academy of sciences in Paris [Académie royale des sciences, Paris[+]]. Björnståhl has found a very good correspondent in Mathurin Jacques Brisson[+], quoted by Linnaeus in his Ornithology. Brisson is acting professor of experimental physics during Jean Antoine Nollet’s[+] absence. Brisson regrets that he himself has not enough knowledge in botany, which could make him a much more worth correspondent; but as he is a member of the Academy of sciences, he has has the opportunity to ask the other members about everything, what Linnaeus could want from him. He is also a member of the botanical class as well as Michel Adanson[+]. Björnståhl gives Brisson’s address He is not an admirer of Jean-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon[+].

Linnaeus is invited by Richard to spend the summer, 2-3 months, as his guest. He offers board and lodging, a horse and carriage, a room in Paris, everything free. Richard believes that such a visit to French gardens would generate new books, and reprints. Richard also promises horse and carriage to Paris from Trianon and also lodging in the city. Björnståhl is clearly in favour of this idea and means that the journey could soon be done by sea in the spring.

Antoine Nicolas Duchesne[+] sends his respects and encloses an piece that he has written about the plants that Linnaeus has promised [fol.35-36]. He wants the reply to be addressed as usual, at first to Jannel[+] and besides the other address to Duchesne.

Friedrich Charles de Baër[+] sends his respects, too, and reminds Linnaeus of an answer due to Saveur-François Morand[+] who, several years ago, wrote to him and asked for Swedish mineral coal and other things. Pehr Wilhelm Wargentin[+] will forward a letter from Linnaeus. Both Morand and his son [Jean François Clément Morand[+]] are members of the Academy of Sciences. Baër asks why Linnaeus is not interested in corresponding with them. Björnståhl promised them that he should remind Linnaeus about that.

Soon the Museum of Natural History in the Jardin du Roi [Jardin des plantes, Paris[+]] will be opened. It is spacious, as Buffon has left his rooms, still it is crowded, they say. Maybe these collections are another reason for Linnaeus to accept Richard’s invitation?

Björnståhl has witnessed an anatomical miracle. Marie Catherine Biheron[+] makes models of parts of the body that are absolutely lifelike. And they do not break. She does not reveal what material they are made of, although it seems as if they were made of wax mixed with something. All parts are correctly named in Latin and Greek. She has studied this art for more than 20 years. The King of Denmark [Christian VII[+] is one of her customers. She sends her respects to Linnaeus.

Björnståhl has met Johan Hartvig Ernst Bernsdorff[+], who condoled the death of Pehr Forsskål[+] and praised his merits. He will see to it that they will do full justice to what is to be published about his journey. [Carsten Niebuhr[+] published some of the botanical and zoological manuscripts that Forsskål left behind, among these the Flora aegyptica-arabica[+]; in 1950 his travel-diary, based upon an incomplete transcription, made by someone else than Forsskål, was published, Resa till lycklige Arabien[+]]. The loss of this ”martyr for science” is too painful to dwell on both for Linnaeus and Björnståhl.

Fredrik Hasselquist’s[+] report on his travels [Iter Palaestinum eller resa til heliga landet[+]] is said to be published in French. [It was published the same year, Voyages dans le Levant[+]]. Björnståhl has not seen it but read quotations of it in a new book against Voltaire[+]; it is about a woman snake charmer in Cairo; there was also Linnaeus’s note on Aristolochia.

At this stage of the letter Björnståhl is informed that the King’s Museum of Natural History is open so he decides to go there. He returns and reports enthusiastically on the four large halls full of marvellous things from floor to ceiling. One wall is full of jewels and precious stones, another of birds, butterflies and fishes. A fifth hall is not yet finished and will demonstrate anatomy. What Björnståhl misses in this collection is Linnean order and scientific arrangement. Mozi [or Muzzi] was there with Systema naturae in his hand like an ”Ariadne’s thread in this maze”. This would be something for young Linnaeus to visit and report to his father! Björnståhl gives the days and hours when the Musuem will be open.

In March, for the first time in Europe, an American buffalo, Bison jubatus, in America called Muthususa, was shown to the public, who had to pay for seeing it. Björnståhl encloses a description of it. This buffalo is said to be the first one which has been in Europe. Last year he saw a camel and a porcupine. If Linnaeus wishes, he can send a description of them.

Björnståhl mentions a private collection worth seeing, across the street of the above mentioned museum.. The owner is a tapestry maker who has collected natural-history objects for 30 years. He is now willing to sell it for 15, 000 livres.

Another private museum is owned by a pharmacist, Jacques-Christophe Valmont de Bomare[+] author of several books; he has also copied Linnaeus and Johan Gottschalk Wallerius[+] but many regard him as a charlatan.

Lotier[+], who lives in the same house as Björnståhl, has started to do extracts in French of Amoenitates academicae[+]. It is Mozi [or Muzzi] who has lent him his six volumes and Lotier is eagerly waiting for the seventh volume. He will then publish this Abrége. .

Linnaeus’s works are incredibly expensive in Paris because there is only one bookseller who keeps them. His name is Antoine-Claude Briasson[+], notoriously greedy. Lars Salvius[+] should cooperate with other booksellers. Mozi [or Muzzi] paid 48 livres for the six volumes of Amoenitates, but he does not mind and is looking forward to next volume. He would like to acquire more of Linnaeus’s works. He has never seen Museum S:ae R:ae M:tis Adolphi Friderici Regis Suecorum[+] and it is not available in Paris. Has Museum s:ae m:tis Ludovicae Ulricae reginae[+], been published yet? Mozi [or Muzzi] would love to study natural history in Sweden but climate there discourages him.

P.S. 1. Björnståhl remembers having seen the name Ophir, a mountain mentioned in a thesis on Antropomorphia [Dissertatio academicis, in qua anthropomorpha [...][+]. He does not find it in Amoenitates, nor on the map. Could Linnaeus give some information about it?

P.S.2. Björnståhl asks Linnaeus to send seeds of Reseda odorata to Knut Posse[+] of Svanå. French seeds would not be hardened enough. He wants to encourage the count in all ways as it was largely on his advice that he constructed his greenhouse. Posse has written to Björnståhl that he has not succeeded with the seeds he received earlier.

P.S. 3. Björnståhl regrets that he has not received the letter Linnaeus sent him last year [this letter has not come down to us]. He encloses two letters and asks Linnaeus to forward them. Björnståhl does not write to Christopher Clewberg[+] any more as he did not answer the letter he wrote last year.

P.S. 4. Carl Edward von Hessenstein[+] recently died in Paris; his brother [Fredrik Wilhelm von Hessenstein[+]] arrived the day after. There was a funeral ceremony in his honour. He was a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and a legitimate son of the late King of Sweden [Fredrik I[+]]. He was 31 years old.

P.S. 5 The two brothers Rudbeck [Adolph Fredrik Rudbeck[+] and Carl Fredrik Rudbeck[+]] are now fit and well and very active. Especially the younger brother [Carl Fredrik Rudbeck] is promising, but the elder is homesick.

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