1 "Linnaeus's [sexual system of classification] amused some of his contemporaries but scandalized others . . . 'To tell you that nothing could equal the gross prurience of Linnaeus's mind is perfectly needless,' wrote the Rev. Samuel Goodenough, late Bishop of Carlisle, to that devoted Linnaean scholar J. E. Smith in January 1808: 'A literal translation of the first principles of Linnaean botany is enough to shock female modesty'" (Stearn 245). As late as 1820, Goethe worried that women and children should not be exposed to the "dogma of sexuality" in botanical studies (Stern 245). See also Lindroth, who says of Linnaeus: "How close he stands to traditional wedding poetry in the admired opening to the dissertation on the nuptials of flowers . . . The same applies to the actual message of the work, the description of copulation, the nuptials of flowers in matchless bridal beds. With his hot sensuousness the young Linnaeus was as though obsessed with love, the mysterious drive that kept all living things in motion" (10).
2 Darwin discusses "sensitive" plants at great length. He notes that "many vegetables, during the night, do not seem to respire, but to sleep like the dormant animals and insects in winter. This appears from the mimosa and many other plants closing the upper sides of their leaves together in their sleep" (Botanic Garden, "Economy of Vegetation," IV, 127 n.). He also classifies the mimosa in terms of its polygamous behavior: "Mimosa. The sensitive plant. Of the class Polygamy, one house. Naturalists have not explained the immediate cause of the collapsing of the sensitive plant" (Botanic Garden, "Loves of the Plants," I, 29 n.). He also comments on a recent plant "lately brought over from the marshes of America" that is even more remarkable: "In the Dionaea Muscipula there is a still more wonderful contrivance to present the depredation of insects; the leaves are armed with long teeth, like the antennae of insects, and lie spread upon the ground round the stem; and are so irritable, that when the insect creeps upon them, they fold up, and crush or pierce it to death" ("Loves of the Plants," I, 19 n.).
See Paul Feyerabend, who argues that "works of art are a product of nature, no less than rocks and flowers" and, more importantly for my argument, that "nature itself is an artifact, constructed by scientists and artisans, throughout centuries, from a partly yielding, partly resisting material of unknown properties" (223). Feyerabend's point is not that "nature" is a culturally constructed category, but that anything we say about "nature," any way we represent nature in science or in art is limited by our own sign systems. In this view, he is reminiscent of Goethe: "How difficult it is, though, to refrain from replacing the thing with its sign, to keep the object alive before us instead of killing it with a word" (33). See also Blake: "He who binds to himself a joy / Does the winged life destroy; / But he who kisses the joy as it flies / Lives in eternity's sun rise" ("Eternity" 179). The view expounded by Feyerabend, Goethe, and Blake is confirmed by current theoretical physicists who admit that we do not know even now what "quarks" or "neutrinos" or "muons" really are.