1778 (pre): A Deadly Coincidence

Carolus Linnaeus [1707-1778], the botanist and scientist that formalized the system for naming and classifying living creatures that we still use today, had written an odd book titled the Nemesis Divina, which collected stories and anecdotes of his life, as well as snippets from scriptures and classic texts, that expressed his view of the world and how it worked. When his son died it was assumed this particular volume had been lost, as all record of it ceased; but it turned up again around sixty years after Linnaeus' death in the bequest made by Dr. Acrele (a friend of the Linnaeus family) to the University of Upsala. So this volume only publically became available around 1848, when parts of it were translated and published, just around a hundred years after Linnaeus' death... and in these snippets there is a very odd event reported.

        According to Linnaeus, Provost Risell (essentially 'mayor Risell') of Filipstad, Sweden, had a large number of children. One night his wife saw one of them enter the room and place a white dress on the chest belonging to their 14-year-old daughter. The mother asked the 14-year-old if she was asleep, and the 14-year-old replied, apparently jokingly: "Yes, I saw the little one lay my shroud on the chest."

        The next day, the 14-year-old went downstairs to summon the tutor to lunch; she also told the tutor that there was a magpie chattering  on the house, and that he should shoot it. So the tutor picked up his flintlock gun, and walked out to do the job; but the cock on the gun accidently snapped closed, triggering the gun... and, accidentally, shot the 14-year-old girl, killing her.

My Source

        The earliest I've been able to follow this story back (in German, mind you) is to an 1851 article in Flora magazine. This article offers up material taken from the 1848 translation of the Nemesis Divina by Elias Fries, the first set of translations from the then newly discovered volume... so I can't go back further. This is, then, accepted as a translation of what Linnaeus himself wrote on the matter.

        Given that Linnaeus doesn't give a date for this event (and this appears to be the only report of it), I've set the date as previous to 1778... when Linnaeus died. Linnaeus reported several odd events in the Nemesis Divina; to see another one, follow the 'See Also' link below.

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