Modern systematic botany and zoology are usually held to have their beginnings with Linnaeus. But there were certain precursors of the famous Swedish naturalist, some of them antedating him by more than a century, whose work must not be altogether ignored—such men as Konrad Gesner (1516-1565), Andreas Caesalpinus (1579-1603), Francisco Redi (1618-1676), Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608-1679), John Ray (1628-1705), Robert Hooke (1635-1703), John Swammerdam (1637-1680), Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694), Nehemiah Grew (1628-1711), Joseph Tournefort (1656-1708), Rudolf Jacob Camerarius (1665-1721), and Stephen Hales (1677-1761). The last named of these was, to be sure, a contemporary of Linnaeus himself, but Gesner and Caesalpinus belong, it will be observed, to so remote an epoch as that of Copernicus.

Reference has been made in an earlier chapter to the microscopic investigations of Marcello Malpighi, who, as there related, was the first observer who actually saw blood corpuscles pass through the capillaries. Another feat of this earliest of great microscopists was to dissect muscular tissue, and thus become the father of microscopic anatomy. But Malpighi did not confine his observations to animal tissues. He dissected plants as well, and he is almost as fully entitled to be called the father of vegetable anatomy, though here his honors are shared by the Englishman Grew. In 1681, while Malpighi's work, Anatomia plantarum, was on its way to the Royal Society for publication, Grew's Anatomy of Vegetables was in the hands of the publishers, making its appearance a few months earlier than the work of the great Italian. Grew's book was epoch-marking in pointing out the sex-differences in plants.

Robert Hooke developed the microscope, and took the first steps towards studying vegetable anatomy, publishing in 1667, among other results, the discovery of the cellular structure of cork. Hooke applied the name "cell" for the first time in this connection. These discoveries of Hooke, Malpighi, and Grew, and the discovery of the circulation of the blood by William Harvey shortly before, had called attention to the similarity of animal and vegetable structures. Hales made a series of investigations upon animals to determine the force of the blood pressure; and similarly he made numerous statical experiments to determine the pressure of the flow of sap in vegetables. His Vegetable Statics, published in 1727, was the first important work on the subject of vegetable physiology, and for this reason Hales has been called the father of this branch of science.

In botany, as well as in zoology, the classifications of Linnaeus of course supplanted all preceding classifications, for the obvious reason that they were much more satisfactory; but his work was a culmination of many similar and more or less satisfactory attempts of his predecessors. About the year 1670 Dr. Robert Morison (1620-1683), of Aberdeen, published a classification of plants, his system taking into account the woody or herbaceous structure, as well as the flowers and fruit. This classification was supplanted twelve years later by the classification of Ray, who arranged all known vegetables into thirty-three classes, the basis of this classification being the fruit. A few years later Rivinus, a professor of botany in the University of Leipzig, made still another classification, determining the distinguishing character chiefly from the flower, and Camerarius and Tournefort also made elaborate classifications. On the Continent Tournefort's classification was the most popular until the time of Linnaeus, his systematic arrangement including about eight thousand species of plants, arranged chiefly according to the form of the corolla.

Most of these early workers gave attention to both vegetable and animal kingdoms. They were called naturalists, and the field of their investigations was spoken of as "natural history." The specialization of knowledge had not reached that later stage in which botanist, zoologist, and physiologist felt their labors to be sharply divided. Such a division was becoming more and more necessary as the field of knowledge extended; but it did not become imperative until long after the time of Linnaeus. That naturalist himself, as we shall see, was equally distinguished as botanist and as zoologist. His great task of organizing knowledge was applied to the entire range of living things.

Carolus Linnaeus was born in the town of Rashult, in Sweden, on May 13, 1707. As a child he showed great aptitude in learning botanical names, and remembering facts about various plants as told him by his father. His eagerness for knowledge did not extend to the ordinary primary studies, however, and, aside from the single exception of the study of physiology, he proved himself an indifferent pupil. His backwardness was a sore trial to his father, who was desirous that his son should enter the ministry; but as the young Linnaeus showed no liking for that calling, and as he had acquitted himself well in his study of physiology, his father at last decided to allow him to take up the study of medicine. Here at last was a field more to the liking of the boy, who soon vied with the best of his fellow-students for first honors. Meanwhile he kept steadily at work in his study of natural history, acquiring considerable knowledge of ornithology, entomology, and botany, and adding continually to his collection of botanical specimens. In 1729 his botanical knowledge was brought to the attention of Olaf Rudbeck, professor of botany in the University of Upsala, by a short paper on the sexes of plants which Linnaeus had prepared. Rudbeck was so impressed by some of the ideas expressed in this paper that he appointed the author as his assistant the following year.