Social graces and etiquette vital for Carl Linnaeus
4 June 2020
What would have become of Carl Linnaeus if he had remained single? Would science have missed out on one of its major lodestars without his well-functioning household? And was his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, really the ne’er-do-well he was reputed to be?
Adapt to all conceivable social situations. This was an absolute necessity for those who wanted to pursue a career in the 18th century. It was absolutely crucial to know the social codes that applied in the social strata in which you wanted to move. Carl Linnaeus, the son of a clergyman, knew this. In his professional role as a physician and later a professor at Uppsala University, he learned how to fit into even the finest salons. He also developed his own way of signalling his position as a professor and scientist.
“On one occasion when Linnaeus visited Ulriksdal Palace, he was offered an audience with the Queen, but he declined because he was dressed for travel. This provides a glimpse of his awareness of social codes,” says Annika Windahl Pontén, who has written a thesis on the household of Carl Linnaeus.
This was also a time of fresh ideas in the natural sciences. Scientists made many great discoveries, and Uppsala University experienced a heyday, thanks to Linnaeus. He attracted students from far and near. And the private talks he held in his home for interested visitors were expensive but were still well attended.
Dressed in simple clothes
To teach students about wild flora, Linnaeus took them on “herbations” – or excursions, as we would say today – out into the natural environments of Uppland. This represented a relatively new teaching method. Linnaeus urged his novices to dress in simple, loose-fitting linen clothes for the excursions. Not everyone appreciated this. Baron Carl Hårleman – one of the leading architects of the day who had designed, among other things, the Gustavian Academy Garden – reacted with shock. In a letter to Linnaeus, he wrote:
“Many of our best friends are offended by the acceptance of clothing and a new way of life that turns the mind of youth away from all other obedience and industriousness...”
Hårleman and his kindred spirits considered the casual dress style problematic because class affiliation could no longer be distinguished when everyone dressed the same. A society based on class could eventually be threatened if a nobleman, for example, could be mistaken for a peasant or vice versa.
The household fulfilled a very significant function
In other respects, Carl Linnaeus carefully adhered to the social codes that existed so he could build up the image of himself as an academic person of high social standing.
The household fulfilled a very significant function as a way of denoting his status as a professor. Carl Linnaeus and his wife Sara Elisabeth began to establish their household in 1743, when they moved into the newly renovated professor’s residence in Uppsala. They ordered china with twin flowers (Linnaea genus) from China, purchased other lavish articles and hung portraits on the walls. The household served as an extension of the university, and Sara Elisabeth assumed responsibility for ensuring that everything ran smoothly. Without her work, he would not have been able to do his.
“They had quite large collections of natural history specimens, and the collections certainly also involved the others in the household,” Windahl Pontén says. “There were consignments to be unpacked; he carried on an incredibly amount of correspondence. When the university received a large seashell cabinet (mollusc collection) as a donation, it placed it in Linnaeus’ home. In connection with this, the Linnaeus family hosted a gathering. This underscores the importance of doing everything right and observing the proper social codes. The university also benefitted from this.”
Linnaeus the Younger succeeded his father
Carl Linnaeus made sure that after he died, Carl Linnaeus the Younger would succeed him in the post of professor, not a popular appointment in all circles.
“He has been described as a much inferior edition of his father, even as a failure by some. Linnaeus the Younger’s death after five years makes comparisons of him as a professor difficult. Through his contributions to botany, Linnaeus the Elder became exceptional in many respects. It is hard to do something comparable. But I think his son was a competent scientist,” says Windahl Pontén.
An event that came to shape the image of Carl Linnaeus the Younger occurred during his stay in London. There he spent time with Daniel Solander, one of the best known Linnaeus students and a client of the influential Joseph Banks. Both Solander and Banks had taken part in James Cook’s voyage of discovery with the ship HMB Endeavour. Banks, a wealthy and influential naturalist and botanist, amassed collections that later became a base for the Natural History Museum in London. He also served as president of the Royal Society and often arranged breakfasts to which carefully selected people were invited. Linnaeus the Younger was among the lucky ones who received an invitation, but it created some concerns...
“He wrote home to Abraham Bäck, a good friend of Carl Linnaeus the Elder, complaining that he did not have clothes. He had clothes, of course, but not the right clothes. Solander and Banks then helped him since he could not present himself in just any clothing. His reputation as a researcher could have been damaged,” says Windahl Pontén.
Reputation of being a dandy
This gave Linnaeus the Younger the reputation of being a dandy, more interested in superficialities than in science. To cast aspersions on someone by criticizing his vanity was common at that time, she says. It could be used to discredit someone, and in Linnaeus the Younger’s case, she thinks it is particularly interesting because the criticism of his appearance also became criticism of his qualities as a scientist.
“I find it interesting, and it adds new perspectives for studying the immediate environment of Carl Linnaeus. By combining artefacts, texts and other documents, we learn new things about how science worked at the time. Calico coverings, silk vests and china were important parts of everyday life. We hope this also gives us perspectives on how science works today, because naturally there are also contemporary equivalents to the self-presentation exemplified by the Linnaeus household,” says Annika Windahl Pontén.
Saying and doing are two different things
18 januari 2022
COLUMN. While more and more people say Yes and Amen when you ask them about the importance of living in a more environmentally conscious and sustainable way, few actually change their behaviour, writes Katarina Graffman, PhD in cultural anthropology.
Telling the story of Sweden’s Jews
11 november 2021
"There are many ways of being Swedish, and being Jewish is one of them." These words set the seal on Carl Henrik Carlsson’s history of the Jews in Sweden (Judarnas historia i Sverige). Carlsson is a researcher at Uppsala University, and his book h...
Campus Gotland students unearth Iron Age warrior
10 september 2021
Uppsala University archaeology students’ summer excavations on the island of Gotland turned up an exciting surprise: they found a warrior, with sword and spurs, in an Iron Age grave in Buttle Änge. Now the skeleton and grave goods will be analysed...
How Linnaean learning spread far and wide
07 juni 2021
An inspiring middle-school teacher sparked Linda Andersson Burnett’s interest in history. Now a researcher in the history of science and ideas at Uppsala University, she is currently studying Carl Linnaeus and his influence, which extends far beyo...
Elly Griffiths is giving this year’s Adam Helms Lecture
03 juni 2021
Each year, Uppsala University and the Swedish Publishers’ Association arrange a lecture in memory of the publisher Adam Helms. This year’s lecture will be given by the internationally renown British crime novelist Elly Griffiths on 16 September 20...
New thesis: Finery for fashionable ladies
11 maj 2021
When the first descriptions of knitting and crochet were published in Swedish, in the mid-19th century, such handiwork was described as the finest of all feminine handicrafts, for the benefit and pleasure alike of the trend-conscious, diligent mid...
Linnaeus’ complicated relationship with racism
07 maj 2021
Since June 2020, Carl Linnaeus has been a subject of debate in Sweden and around the world. What sparked it off were the actions of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Statues of slave owners have been lambasted or destroyed. In Sweden, the dis...
Conspiracy theories characterise views in and about Europe
03 maj 2021
Conspiratorial narratives of internal disintegration and external threats affect views in the European Union and Europe to an increasing extent. Our trust in society is put to the test in crises such as COVID-19 when various groups are singled out...
Nordic conspiracy theories through the ages
01 mars 2021
Conspiracy theories are becoming more common in the world, and the Nordic countries are no exception. Are some conspiracy theories unique to the Nordic countries? What typical narratives are disseminated? And when did this really start? A new book...
The plague year of 1710 was also a difficult year
24 februari 2021
As historians, it is our job to take a step back and give perspective to our current situation. For anyone looking back, it isn’t hard to find other difficult years. In Sweden’s past, 1710 was undoubtedly one such year, writes Jonas Lindström, res...
Sustainable development the focus of new graduate school at Campus Gotland
21 januari 2021
On 18 January, Uppsala University’s new multidisciplinary graduate school opened at Campus Gotland. Its focus is on sustainable development. This involves research on key societal challenges within changing energy systems, sustainable consumption,...
Archives crucial for Freemasons’ identity
22 december 2020
The Order of Freemasons’ meticulous archives are fundamental to their identity. The unique structure of the masonic archives reinforces the secrecy and mystique of the self-image that has been fashioned by the Order — and characterises it in the e...
Grants for research on the impact of AI on people and society
15 december 2020
In a major 10-year national research programme, two Wallenberg Foundations are supporting research on the impact of the ongoing technology shift, involving digitalisation and artificial intelligence, on our society and our behaviour. Two of the gr...
Linnaeus and Rudbeck medallists chosen
10 december 2020
This year the Rudbeck Medal is awarded to Professors Olle Eriksson, Inger Sundström Poromaa and Maria Ågren, while the Linnaeus Medal is awarded to Professor Kerstin Lindblad Toh and Chairman Dai-Won Yoon at Hallym University in South Korea.
Turkic cultural heritage in Uppsala
07 december 2020
Uppsala University has a rich collection of manuscripts, printed material, art objects and maps related to the Ottoman Empire and other Turkic cultures. How did they come to Uppsala? This story is told in a new book “Turcologica Upsaliensia. An Il...
Fallen in battle, these Swedish Vikings are part of a larger genetic puzzle
17 september 2020
In a recently published article in the journal Nature, 90 researchers from various countries have collaborated to develop new knowledge about the Viking-era population. Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics at Uppsala University, has contrib...
The VR game that takes you to medieval Visby
14 augusti 2020
Using a VR helmet, you can try your hand at archery in 14th century Visby. This new VR game has been developed by the game company Disir, which was founded by a game developer and three archaeologists, of which two research at Uppsala University.
“The American dilemma is far from resolved”
15 juni 2020
The police violence in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of George Floyd has once again thrust relations between black and white Americans onto the agenda, a dilemma that will most likely play a central role in this autumn’s presidential elec...
Social graces and etiquette vital for Carl Linnaeus
04 juni 2020
What would have become of Carl Linnaeus if he had remained single? Would science have missed out on one of its major lodestars without his well-functioning household? And was his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, really the ne’er-do-well he was repu...
Medieval manuscript fragments acquired
26 maj 2020
A group of fragments of medieval manuscripts has been acquired by Uppsala University Library. Among these there is a fragment related to Saint Bridget of Sweden. This particular fragment may have been written at or owned by the Vadstena Abbey.