Specimen Academicum de Oeconomia Naturae, Quod, consensu Ampliss. Facult. Med. in Reg. Academia Upsaliensi praeside viro celeberrimo et experientissimo Dn. Doct. Carolo Linnaeo, [...] publico examini modeste submittit Isacus J. Biberg, Medelpadus. In Audit. Carol. Maj. Ad Diem IV. Mart. Anni MDCCXLIX.

Uppsala: np, 1749.

First edition, extremely rare, of Linnaeus’ pioneer dissertation which created the science of ecology. “This essay was the first sketch of a science of ecology. Linnaeus used his economy-of-nature concept as an organising principle to unify an important, but previously amorphous, part of natural history. In so doing, he was also attempting to transform an important background concept into the central theory of a new science … The term ‘economy of nature’ bore an obvious similarity to the contemporary term for animal physiology, ‘animal economy’, which involved studying how the parts contributed to the functioning of the whole. Linnaeus may, indeed, have had in mind an analogy between the organs in an animal and the species in a habitat, because his analysis of the interrelations between the plants and animals in nature implied a close and well-defined interaction for the good of the whole: ‘To perpetuate the established course of nature in a continued series, the divine wisdom has thought fit, that all living creatures should constantly be employed in producing individuals, that all natural things should contribute and lend a helping hand towards preserving every species, and lastly that the death and destruction of one thing should always be subservient to the restitution of another’ … The Oeconomia naturae begins with the above-quoted definition and then explains how that concept can be used to interpret phenomena in inamiate nature and in the plant and animal kingdoms. For both the plant and animal kingdoms Linnaeus considered propagation, preservation, and destruction as the phenomena which maintained the economy of nature” (Egerton, p. 335). “The phrase ‘Oeconomy of Nature’ “should be familiar to readers of Darwin, for he claims in the Origin (p. 102) that ‘all organic beings are striving, it may be said, to seize on each place in the economy of nature.’ When the work ‘economy’ appears in Darwin’s texts, there is a tendency to look to political economy for precursors … [but] concepts like the animal economy and the economy of nature debatable belonged to intellectual lineages that were relatively independent of their social and political context … I will argue that Darwin’s idea of a place in the economy of nature stems from the work of previous naturalists like Carl Linnaeus and Charles Lyell, and that it played a key role in the development of his evolutionary ideas. … Darwin read translations of Linnaeus’ dissertations Oeconomia naturae (1749) and Politia naturae (1760) in May, 1841. Although the phrase ‘economy of nature’ appears only once in Darwin’s notebooks of the late 1830s, it can be found throughout his first sketches on transmutation in 1842 and 1844. Given this chronology, it is likely that the idea came to play a greater role in Darwin’s work because of his encounter with these Linnaean texts” (Pearce, pp. 494-6). The dissertation was dictated by Linnaeus in Swedish to Isaac Biberg, a doctoral candidate, who translated it into Latin and defended it, according to the academic custom of the eighteenth century. ABPC/RBH lists no copy in the last 80 years. OCLC lists 5 copies in US (Madison, Wisconsin; Kansas; Harry Ransom, Texas; Minnesota; Huntington).

“Like most naturalists of his time, Linnaeus was trained in medicine, and thus would have been familiar with the term ‘oeconomia animalis’ as employed by Charleton, Hermann Boerhaave, and others. However, Linnaeus set his sights higher – what he wanted to describe was not the animal economy, but the economy of nature as a whole. Of course, others had used the term ‘economy of nature’, e.g. Sir Kenelm Digby in a variety of works, but only as a brief metaphor. For example, Digby writes in 1644 that natural motion ‘hath its birth from the universall oeconomy of nature here among us.’ What Linnaeus did instead was extend the physiological idea of the animal economy to nature in its entirety. In his eyes, the economy of nature deserved a description just as detailed and rational as that of the animal economy.

“In the dissertation ‘Oeconomia Naturae,’ defended by his student Isaac Biberg in 1749, Linnaeus defines his title as follows: ‘By the oeconomy of nature we understand the all-wise disposition of the creator in relation to natural things, by which they are fitted to produce general ends, and reciprocal uses.’ The ‘reciprocal uses’ are the key to the whole idea, for ‘the death, and destruction of one thing should always be subservient to the restitution of another;’ thus mould spurs the decay of dead plants to nourish the soil, and the earth then ‘offers again to plants from its bosom, what it has received from them.’ Linnaeus points out that natural processes always follow a certain order, with each stage dependent on the previous. A fallen tree, for instance, does not go to waste, but is colonized and eliminated by an ordered series of creatures: liverworts, mushrooms, beetles, caterpillars, and woodpeckers. Just as the respiratory, cardiovascular, lymphatic, and digestive systems play different functional roles in the economy of the human body, different species play different functional roles in the economy of nature as a whole. For example, each kind of insect lays its eggs on a particular kind of plant:

‘[...] every different tribe chooses its own species of plant. Nay, there is scarce any plant, which does not afford nourishment to some insect; and still more, there is scarcely any part of a plant, which is not preferred by some of them. Thus one insect feeds upon the flower; another upon the trunk, another upon the root; and another upon the leaves.’

“Each type of organism, therefore, according to Linnaeus, has its special function in nature’s economy. Just as the animal economy ensures the health and well-being of the animal body, the economy of nature ensures the health and well-being of the natural world. Linnaeus discusses the many creatures that help cleanse and purify nature’s body, without which the ‘whole earth would be overwhelmed with carcases, and stinking bodies.’ Thus if a horse dies near a roadway, its body will ‘be filled with innumerable grubs of carniverous flies, by which he is entirely consumed, and removed out of the way, that he may not become a nuisance to passengers by his poisonous stench.’ Likewise, specialized aquatic predators like the thornback, the hound fish, or the conger eel, consume fish carcasses near the shore. Linnaeus even suggests an experiment to prove the purifying potential of insects:

‘[...] knats lay their eggs in stagnant, putrid and stinking waters, and the grubs that arise from these eggs clear away all the putrefaction; and this will easily appear, if any one will make the experiment by filling two vessels with putrid water, leaving the grubs in one, and taking them all out of the other. For then he will soon find the water, that is full of grubs, pure and without any stench, while the water that has no grubs will continue stinking.’

“Thus, for Linnaeus, even scavengers and grubs, the lowest of all species, play an essential role in the economy of nature” (Pearce, pp. 497-8).

Oeconomia Naturae is both the culmination of a great tradition — that of Christian natural theology, and the starting point of a new science, the one that Ernst Haeckel named ‘ecology’ in 1866. In accordance with the natural theology and the ‘age of optimism’ celebrated in the works of William Derham, John Ray, Bernhard Nieuwentyt, Gottfried von Leibniz and Christian von Wolff, Linnaeus defines ‘the economy of nature’ as the Creator’s wise arrangement and deposition of all things according to which they fulfil their purpose for the glory of God and the happiness of Man.

And although individuals perish, their roles persist … The roles in Linnaean nature are what today’s ecologists call ‘niches’: a multidimensional ‘space’ defined by the abilities of the species and their interactions with the environment – their physiology and habitat preferences, position in food chains and ecosystem structure. Although the Oeconomia Naturae reads like an ecology textbook, it also sparkles with the eroticism of the Baroque. Like a voluptuous painter, Linnaeus revels in the splendour of life, in its beautiful ‘costumes’, its sensual appeal and showy extravagance, the delightful colours, forms and adaptations, the impressive devices for preservation, survival, defence, attack, sex and propagation, mating and pollination, the means of dispersal and child-rearing …

“Between 1743 and 1776 [Linnaeus] wrote more than 180 such academic theses. But few achieved the instant success of the Oeconomia Naturae. A Swedish translation was produced within a year. English and German versions soon appeared. It was also reprinted in Latin in the many editions of Linnaeus’s Amoenitates academicae published in Amsterdam, Leyden, Erlangen and Graz through the second half of the eighteenth century. New translations continue to appear today” (Hestmark).

“Darwin’s influence on the history of ecology resulted in the very christening of the science itself by Ernst Haeckel who once explained that ‘By ecology we mean the body of knowledge concerning the economy of nature,’ and who concluded ‘in a word, ecology is the study of all those complex interrelationships referred to by Darwin as the conditions of the struggle for existence’ …

“When we come to consider the sources of Darwin’s ecological insight, the importance of his personal experience is obvious … Besides the influence of Darwin’s field observations, there was the influence of his reading … The importance for Darwin of Lyell’s discussion of the economy of nature and allied topics in his Principles of Geology is very clear … Lyell’s references in regard to the economy of nature point directly back to the major earlier source: the writings of Carl Linnaeus. The importance of Linnaeus in the evolution of ecology is very great, and it is striking that among the naturalists writing after Linneaus and before Darwin, it is the geologist Charles Lyell who shows the clearest grasp of Linnaeus’ ideas on the economy of nature and who makes the fullest use of them in his own work … After coming to know in the pages of Lyell’s Principles ideas and facts from a number of these Linnaean essays, Darwin encountered Linnaeus himself, in English translation, in May of 1841 … From this year of 1841 on, Darwin made increasing use of the phrases ‘economy of nature’ and ‘polity of nature’ …

“The conventional wisdom is that Darwin overthrew the work of Linnaeus in so far as he replaced the orthodox dogma of fixity of species by his theory of evolution. But in regard to Linnaeus’ concepts of an economy of nature Darwin used these ideas as major explanations of the workings of natural selection. So Linnaeus supplied major assistance for Darwin’s arriving at his theory of evolution” (Stauffer).

“In German and Swedish universities in the eighteenth century, the serious test of the student was the skill with which he conducted his oral defence of the thesis he presented. His major professor, who presided at the disputation, was often the author of the thesis to be defended. At Uppsala, Linnaeus generally dictated the essays which his students published and paid the printer’s bill for. He quite naturally regarded these dissertations as his own work. In a letter to his friend the English naturalist, John Ellis, he wrote:

‘The fourth volume of my Amoenitates Academicae is very nearly printed … Among the dissertations I am about to publish are, Genera morborum, Aer habitabilis, Flora Jamaicensis, Sus porcus, Anthropomorpha, & Generatio ambigens. In the last of these I shall show that the brain and spinal marrow only proceed from the mother, and the rest of the body from the father.’

“Nowadays, unless there is direct evidence to the contrary, it is customary to regard Linnaeus as the author of all these dissertations” (ibid.).

Soulsby, Catalogue of the works of Linnaeus (2nd ed., 1933), 1514. Egerton, ‘Changing concepts of the balance of nature,’ The Quarterly Review of Biology 48 (1973), pp. 322-50. Hestmark, ‘Oeconomia Naturae L,’ Nature 405 (2000), p. 19. Pearce, ‘A great complication of circumstances – Darwin and the Economy of Nature,’ Journal of the History of Biology 43 (2010), pp. 493-528. Stauffer, ‘Ecology in the long manuscript version of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ and Linnaeus’ ‘Oeconomy of Nature’,’ Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 104 (1960), pp. 235-41.

4to, pp. [viii], 48, woodcut initials, head- and tail-pieces (first and last pages tanned, spotted, water stain to upper edge of the first two leaves). String bound. A very good copy in original state of this extremely rare dissertation.

Item #5245

Price: $18,500.00