Linnaeus's Dutch legacy

2 november 2012 Harold Cook Nederlandse geschiedenis en cultuur

It is wonderful to work in the KB. At one moment recently, something I was reading mentioned the Anglo-Dutch banking family of Clifford. I remembered that one of them (George Clifford zn.) had been a patron of Linnaeus, but I had not otherwise thought about who he was, and so I decided to see if I could find out.

He is hardly mentioned in the biographical dictionaries. But a quick search of the catalogue immediately turned up a book from 1982 about the Clifford estate, Hartekamp, with many wonderful details, including old maps.

I had not realized that Clifford acted not only as Linnaeus’s mecenas, but had collected at his magnificent buitenhuis a botanical garden, an oranjerie for tropical plants, a herbarium, a collection of naturalia, an up-to-date scientific library, and a sizeable menagerie, which was especially impressive for its birds. No wonder Linneaus was able to publish several important books during his residence in The Netherlands (1735-38), including the first edition of his Systema naturae (1735) and the foundational Hortus Cliffortianus (1737). Wealthy patrons funded the printing. He also got to take Clifford’s herbarium back to Sweden with him. The Hartekamp estate also turned out to have once a part of the larger Pauw landgoed of Heemstede, where Adriaan Pauw grew the most famous tulips of the early 17th century, the 'Semper Augustus', which had fiery red stripes on white petals. Suddenly it clicked, for someone not raised in The Netherlands: the estate was near the famous bulb fields of Lisse, and there must once have been many more buitenhuizen of the Amsterdam patricians nearby who were avid collectors of plants and animals.

Title page of the 1788 Leipzig edition of Linnaeus's Systema naturae
Title page of the 1788 Leipzig edition of Linnaeus's Systema naturae
Bust of Linnaeus at the Hartekamp estate
Bust of Linnaeus at the Hartekamp estate

So at the weekend, my wife and I got into the car with a map, and started off. We found the Haarlemmer trekvaart, and turned a corner to find the Herenweg, which De Hartekamp Groep (which now owns the estate) gave as its address. All of a sudden, on our right, was a metal fence, behind which was a forest of plastic palm trees! We had stumbled across the back of Linnaeushof. It advertises itself as the largest children’s playground in Europe. A little further down the road, Hartekamp looks lovely, with a bust of Linneaus on a marble pillar overlooking the entrance. But for large numbers of people, his name will forever be associated with a day’s outdoor recreation. Not bad.