Archives & Special Collections Gallery Exhibit




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Creation Date

Fall 2014


Artifact Label:

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)
Systema Naturæ
Holmiae: Impensis L. Salvii, 1758-59

In chapter 32, “Cetology” Melville references Systema Naturæ or in its English title, Systems of Nature.

The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it still remains a moot point whether a whale be a fish. In his Systems of Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnaeus declares, ‘I hereby separate the whales from the fish.’ But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shad, alewives and herring, against Linnaeus's express edict, were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan.

Systema Naturæ introduced the Linnaean taxonomy. The tenth edition, the particular text before you, is noted for being the starting point of zoological nomenclature. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Linnaean system had become the dominant system of taxonomy, so much so that it had a major impact on such scientists as Charles Darwin.