Bestiarium Ignotum

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Carl Linnaeus (or Linné)

(Lat., "Unknown Bestiary") The suppressed natural-history book of the famous 18th-century Swedish botanist and taxonomist, Carolus or Carl Linnaeus.

No one is sure whether some wizard of the botanist's acquaintance tipped him off to the existence of the Atlantean rafting project, or whether he himself deduced that there were some lifeforms in Europe which seemed to have few similarities to (or tremendous differences from) the native species -- especially as regarded their unusual powers. But during Linnaeus's stay in Amsterdam in the early 1730's, when he was working on classification of new species with Professor Johan Burman in the city's botanical garden, Linnaeus began his first jottings on some of the more unusual creatures he had seen during his travels outside Sweden some years before, during the period when he had been acquiring his MD. As so often happens, the jottings grew and grew as other scientists got wind of what Linnaeus was doing, and started sending him odd specimens to classify.

At this point, Linnaeus felt understandably uncomfortable with the thought of letting the general public know he was dabbling in the taxonomy of the weirder side of the European animal kingdom. Like many other scientists of the time, he was working in a system in which one's food and lodging usually depended on the good will of a wealthy patron -- and there was no way to tell how the news might affect such a patron's business or reputation. Linnaeus therefore kept his research into the wizardly fauna of Europe under wraps. For a long time he was fortunate in that his patrons usually had extensive estates in which it was easy to retire to some remote shed hidden out at the estate's far fringes and do a little discreet dissection (in the case of the dead specimens) or observation (in the case of the living ones).

The third "dragons" page of the Bestiarium, with some early taxonomy

This period came to an abrupt end in 1737, shortly after the publication of Linnaeus's Critica Botanica. In December of that year, a specimen great crested cockatrice escaped from its cage in the private botanical garden of the Dutch East India Company's Georg Clifford (where Linnaeus was then doing classification work) and wrought the predictable havoc in the neighborhood. Shortly afterwards, it was given out that Linnaeus was suffering from exhaustion -- probably he was, having had to chase the cockatrice over a significant acreage of Noord-Holland before he managed to catch it again -- and the botanist left for Leiden and Paris.

He continued to publish during this period -- but the one book which he was becoming increasingly interested in seeing published was one which no publisher would touch. The excuse was always that the publisher was afraid of becoming a laughing-stock: in that most aggressive period of the Enlightenment, no one cared to be seen taking too much interest in creatures which everyone preferred to believe were mythical. At least one of Linnaeus's associates, Dr. Johan Fredrich Gronovius, warned him that in the present intellectual climate, publication of his proposed bestiary would put him in danger of damaging his career -- to further which he had gone traveling in the first place: the father of his intended bride, Sara Elisabeth Moraea, had insisted that he make enough of a reputation for himself and his work in Europe for him to be able to support a family.

Linnaeus, reluctantly, took the hint, and within the year went home to Sweden, where he eventually married and settled down. There he overcame some early difficulties to become a great name in the sciences, a friend of royalty and honored member of various noble European academies of science. But all the time he was expanding the science of botany, the bestiary project was still on his mind. He slowly and quietly added material to the book-in-waiting for many years afterwards; and when he was at home from his many travels, often enough some strange crate or shrouded cage would turn up at his farmstead at Hammarby, and be whisked away into the private workshop in a secluded (and well-fenced) area out at the edge of the grounds. Even his wife and children were never admitted to "the shed", or had the slightest clue what strange things were kept inside it.

In the 1750's, Linnaeus finally felt he had enough data for the first published edition of what he called the Bestiarium Mirabilis. However, despite his worldwide fame, his many landmark books and his rock-solid reputation, despite many discreet inquiries and the application of both political pressure and money, no prominent European publisher would touch what was considered a work of fiction -- indeed, of science fiction. Linnaeus was finally forced to accept a favor from his old friend Queen Katarina II of Russia, who arranged for a clandestine Russian-language edition of the Bestiarium to be printed by a minor publisher in Moscow. It was later translated into Dutch and French by friends of Linnaeus; the original Latin-language version did not see print until after Linnaeus's death. All editions were widely denounced as jokes or forgeries. Linnaeus himself, in the face of this reaction now rather concerned about the book's possible effect on his reputation -- and the further effect this could have on his family -- remained publicly silent about the "forgery" until the day he died. The few who knew the truth slowly began to apply the name Bestiarium Ignotum to the work, and eventually this title supplanted the original one.

After Linnaeus's death, part of his world-famous collection of plant specimens, the Linnaean Herbarium, was sold to Sir James Edward Smith in London; the rest, along with his son's Herbarium parvum, remained in Sweden and was eventually transferred to the Swedish Museum of Natural History. Around the same time, "the shed" was destroyed by fire. There are rumors that the more secret collection of specimens inside it was spirited away just before this, but no one knows by whom. Wizardly sources say that some elements of the collection on which the Bestiarium Ignotum was based are to be found in the Museum as well...carefully labeled as fakes.

The book itself remains one of the hardest-to-find artifacts of this fascinating period -- the awakening of knowledge of the sciences in Earth's mainstream culture. Its content has been assumed into the Wizard's Manual, which still uses the taxonomy for "fantastic creatures" which Linnaeus established, and continues to derive new nomenclature from it as necessary.

(See also: Rafting.)