LINNAEUS (CARL) Autograph letter in the third person (headed "Coelestis anima Dominæ ANNÆ BLACKBURNE S. pl. d. Car. Linné"), in Latin, to the botanist Anna Blackburne, 1771
Lot 109
LINNAEUS (CARL) Autograph letter in the third person (headed "Coelestis anima Dominæ ANNÆ BLACKBURNE S. pl. d. Car. Linné"), in Latin, to the botanist Anna Blackburne, 1771
Sold for £15,000 (US$ 25,197) inc. premium
Lot Details
LINNAEUS (CARL)
Autograph letter in the third person (headed "Coelestis anima Dominæ ANNÆ BLACKBURNE S. pl. d. Car. Linné"), in Latin, to the botanist Anna Blackburne of Orford Hall, Warrington, assuring his "heavenly spirit" that he knew of her already, as one of "three botanical ladies" who "disputed in 1769 with and triumphed over the botanist in the physic garden at Oxford about the geranium", and going on to make a request in equally flattering terms: "I am at a loss to account for your kindness in lavishing upon a mere foreigner, altogether unknown to you, such bounties as are to me more valuable than gold.... Should you transmit to me either insects or birds, or plants, you will find me not altogether ungrateful, while I shall have it in my power to publish to the world those articles belonging to your curious collection.... Oh! that you would send me some new discovery you have made in the vegetable kingdom, that I might consecrate your name to immortality", and sending details of his address; with autograph address leaf ("Mrs Ann Blackburne/ Orford/ near Warrington, Lancashire"), sealed and postmarked; the letter annotated by the recipient "Societati Regiæ Scientiarum Upsaliæ/ when I write to Linnæus/ direct as above", 2 pages, small seal-tear, light spotting, 4to, Uppsala, 28 July 1771

Footnotes

  • 'OH! THAT YOU WOULD SEND ME SOME NEW DISCOVERY YOU HAVE MADE IN THE VEGETABLE KINGDOM, THAT I MIGHT CONSECRATE YOUR NAME TO IMMORTALITY' – LINNAEUS TO THE ENGLISH BOTANIST ANNA BLACKBURNE.

    Anna Blackburne (1726-1793) was daughter of the horticulturist John Blackburne who had established a much admired garden at Walford Hall, near Warrington. Anna joined her father in his scientific activities and herself developed a well-known natural history collection, receiving visitors such as Thomas Pennant and exchanging specimens with collectors such as Peter Simon Pallas; Johann Reinhold Forster, who taught at Warrington Academy, being a regular guest and Erasmus Darwin describing her as 'learned and ingenious'. Pennant named the plant genus Blackburnia, an Australian shrub, after her; and Forster the Blackburnian warbler, Dendroica fusca (see Ann B. Shteir in the ODNB).

    In order to study the Linnaeum classification system, she studied Latin, and on 29 July 1771 she wrote to Linnaeus in Uppsala and offered to send him North American birds and insects collected by one of her brothers, Ashton Blackburne, near New York. Ours is the letter Linnaeus wrote in reply. Long thought lost, it was published by V. P. Wystrach, 'Anna Blackburne (1726–1793)—a neglected patroness of natural history', in the Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 8 (1976–8), pp. 148–68, to whose translation we are indebted. Her two letters to Linnaeus are published in the Bref och skrifvelser af och till Carl von Linné, edited by J.M. Hulth (1916).

    Evan M. Gaughan writes of our letter: 'Claiming ownership of previously unidentified species was a bold move and suggests that Blackburne was a woman of resolute public ambition. The potential impact of her offer made it very likely that Linnaeus would not only accept her gift, but also attempt to repay her in some way, establishing a relationship marked by its reciprocity. If Linnaeus would not offer to compensate her in kind, then the least he could do was acknowledge her contributions to his taxonomy publicly. This is precisely what occurred... An endorsement from the father of modern taxonomy was a public credit that Blackburne eagerly welcomed [writing in her reply]: "I wish it was as much in my power, as it is in my inclination to send you a new plant, and shou'd think my self very highly honour'd by Your putting my name to it"' (Naturalists, Connoisseurs and Classicists: Collecting and Patronage as Female Practice in Britain, 1715-1825, MA dissertation, Indiana University, 2010).

    See also Anna Blackburne's Letter of Wishes, above, and other Blackburne manuscripts in the present sale.
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