Latin or French?

One of the first articles in this blog was entitled “Students of the past”: Here, I want to expand more on this topic with this new article.

P1120642A Latinist is nowadays quite a rare specimen, if not endangered, although the Carolina Rediviva seems to gather a large number of those who are still left in Sweden. Latin is still often associated with the notion of excellence, a recollection of Antiquity and highly related to what is considered to be classical culture. In the 19th century, Gustave Flaubert wrote in its Dictionary of Received Idea that Latin is “only useful for reading inscriptions on public fountains”, but some whispers says that there is a new trend about learning Latin. That is the reason why I’m now going to recommend a wonderful textbook to get you accustomed to this language.

A fantastic introduction to Latin, very distinct from the ordinary boring and somewhat depressing teaching method of many a schoolbook. One might retort that it’s old. Well, depends what you consider old, I mean, it is only from the late 15th century. And since we don’t really speak Latin anymore – although I have to confess that I do have some friends who used to have a answering machine for their phone in Latin, but it’s pretty uncommon I guess – the grammar has not changed since that time.

In the 15th century, to study Latin and to have a perfect command of it was a prerequisite for anyone pretending to be learned. It was a language of communication, many books were written in Latin and, of course, Latin idioms and phraseology were adopted by philosophers and theologians in their writings.

 Thanks to a note written in French at the beginning of the manuscript, we can partly recount its history. It came from the library of a Benedictine monastery in Selingsadt, Germany. Thereafter the manuscript “ was put with the other books in Hanau (another German town), and placed in the attic by the Dutch church to protect the library from the Swedish during the Thirty Year’s War.” A lovely habit of the Swedish army during this war was indeed to take from and pillage the contents of libraries around Europe. In 1774, the manuscript was given as a present in Hanau to a Swedish. It is now kept at the Manuscript department.

 Thanks to this textbook, it became almost a pleasure to learn the ablative and dative plural, the fourth declension… The illustrations of the text, hand drawings, are absolutely exquisite.

Thus, from the Medieval Age to the 18th century, Latin was the international language. It is then supplanted by national languages and especially ousted by French. However, Latin is still used but not exclusively any longer. For instance, here is an extract of a letter kept at the Manuscript department and written in 1781 by the king Gustav III to his ambassador in France, the count of Creutz: “Here is, my dear count, the edict of tolerance. (…) I send to you the Swedish copy; I’m sending one in Latin to Marmontel. If you would find it appropriate to translate it into French and to publish in the Gazette de France, you will please me.” Jean-François Marmontel is a philosophe, that’s probably why Gustav III sends to him the Latin version.

Gustav III is a monarch but, as a child, he also used to be a student. The Gustavian collection kept in our library is a real treasure to see right throughout the life of this king. And a man of such a position must have a good education. We sheltered two lovely notebooks, covered with blue silk that were the writing exercises of the little prince realized between 1754 and 1755. The future Gustav III is 8 years old. His handwriting is at first hesitant but by and by the royal student improves more and more. It is moving to read and sense his improvement. He is training to write properly “Konung” which means “King”.

However, if some pages are in Swedish, most of the writings are in French. At the age of just three Gustav already is preparing to have an audience with the French Ambassador and to open with a few French sentences known by heart. Gustav will soon be a master in French. He is probably at that time, among European monarchs, the one who best handles the language of Molière.

 Even the French philosopher Denis Diderot was impressed by his skills: “Our language must be commonplace in all these Northern regions, because his letters could have been written by the most courteous seigneur of our court that they would not be any better.”



And you, what is your favourite treasure from the Cultural Heritage Group? I’ve asked this question to Lars Björdal, senior conservator at the department. I’ve always thought that he might work as a fashion expert at Vogue in another life. If you want to learn how to deal with moths or pests, Lars is the one you need to meet. It is a very serious matter for a conservator who is also a member of a board dedicated to these subjects.

P1120597Lars used to be a student at Uppsala University -of course- and then in Copenhagen, in the School of Conservation, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Before his current position, he worked in various places such as the National Archives in Stockholm. He also spent a lot of time teaching, from being an extern professor at the School of Conservation of Gothenburg to giving lectures in different local museums about how to treat collections in a proper and good way.

“It is never easy to sum up in few lines what you are doing”. Lars is in charge to keep the collections in good conditions, “I’m also monitoring the stacks problems due to the climate, or the light. But you are always working in a team”.

Concerning the Cultural Heritage Collections “our work is mainly based on projects. For instance, we made protective boxes for Incunabula (books printed before the year 1501) because researchers often request them. But we cannot have an “open door” otherwise it would be an open stack here with so many things to fix. Moreover, we don’t go very deeply into conservation and restoration. When I was educated, we were, for example, using lots of heavy treatments. Nowadays we try to be very careful and not to over-restore. Thanks to historians, we know that bookbinders have made lots of mistakes and destroyed lots of books by replacing covers for instance. We really try to maintain the object and not to change it”.

Material is sometimes lent out for exhibitions. But you cannot let a 13th century medieval manuscript take a plane on its own. Thus, at the beginning of the month, Lars was in Corsica to escort an item to be shown in a French museum. This kind of loan requires a lot of preparation. Besides, Lars is also member of the team who is in charge of organizing exhibitions, here, at Carolina.

 We also alluded to the central question of digitalization, the current passion in every single library. A good way to preserve old books and manuscripts indeed since it’s supposed to protect them by not being directly handled. But what is the essence of a book if it’s not to be used but to be kept in cold and deserted stacks forever? But let’s switch to the crucial question, Lars’ top three favourite rare pearls from the library:

“I have to start with the Silver Bible because…it’s amazing, written in gothic and so very old! And its story is very good too!” And Lars surely knows what he is talking about. He is in the team who is in charge of the conservation of the manuscript and is one of the few who had the chance to touch it : “But you know it’s so complicated to handle the pages. I’m so glad it’s now digitalized”.

“Then? I’ve always been fond of a small drawing from the early 15th century realized with a silver point. I like it because of the technique. I like it because it’s just so beautiful!”

Silverstift“The third one? It’s hard to select. There is this series in the scriptorium… » Let’s have a look. I was glad to discover that I have also noticed these three lovely books, among the thousands of others, during one of my wanderings. “It’s a very nice paper, so clean, so well preserved. I also like the typefaces. These books written in Italian are from the 18th century. I like the simple beauty of their covers.”

I will just conclude this article by quoting Lars’ words: “It’s amazing what we can learn from the past from old books and manuscripts. And I’m not just talking about the object itself but also its provenance, the annotations you can find in it, I have a very nice job you know”.


The Silver Bible and the metal point drawing are on display in our permanent exhibition.

Snuff & snus

One might hear: ”It’s brilliant that there are so few people who smoke in Sweden”. Poppycock! Well, they don’t smoke cigarettes that much is true. But what about this small, humid and repellent bag they hide in their mouth? Very discreet indeed. Swedes are quite good at placing it under their upper lip in half a microsecond. At every bend in the road, you cross charming blond Scandinavian men, sporty, smiley but what is wrong with them and their brown snus? Cleft lips and rotten teeth soon.

And so I started to wonder when this curious habit, this one that still occasionally plunges the European Union into turmoil since snus is only allowed in Sweden and prohibited everywhere else in the Union. In 1995, Sweden joined the Union on condition that the country will be allowed to keep it’s powder tobacco. Snus is no joking matter.


Needless to say that I won’t be praising tobacco here. Let’s just see what the past can tell us. The pioneer explorers in the New World, the first of them being Colombus, discovered the Natives smoking and snuffing tobacco. But it was several decades before the success of tobacco was realised in the Old Continent.

In the 1560’s, the French Royal Family started to snuff: a powdered tobacco is inhaled through the nose. It was first a remedy against migraines prescribed by the then French Ambassador in Portugal, the so called Jean Nicot (1530 around-1600). Thus, Catherine de Medicis (1519-1589) became the first royal snuffer. The fashion was ready to spread all around Europe. In 1753, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who lived in Uppsala, named two species of tobacco after the French man. The word “nicotine” was born.


Snuffing quickly became an aristocratic habit. Some of them loved it madly such as Queen Charlotte of England (1738-1820), wife of George III, who was nicknamed “Snuffy Charlotte”. A whole room of Windsor castle was dedicated to store her snuff stock. All the fancy and wealthy men and women of Europe were also carrying their own little box filled with tobacco. The favorite pastime of Adolf Frederick (1710-1771), king of Sweden, was to make snuffboxes. In the 18th century, it became the trendy accessory that you needed to possess to be in vogue. Snuffboxes were made of precious materials, such as enamel and gold. The count of Tessin, French Ambassador in Paris, who is already known to the regular readership of this blog, was quite often mentioning snuffboxes among his countless Parisian purchases. The man was a passionate art collector. In 1740, he wrote to a friend: « To tell you my extravagance would be endless : a snuffbox painted by Massé with the portait of the little Charlotte (his niece), another portrait by Oudry of the big Pärh (his dog), a painting by Boucher, another by Chardin… ».

7531Some artists were renowned for their refined snuffboxes. The Swedish artist Carl Gustav Klingstedt (1657-1734), who was working in Paris, was one of them. He was known by his contemporaries as the « Raphael of the snuffboxes». Which is something ! Here is another charming story from 1741 recalled by Tessin in a letter to his wife who was then residing in Sweden. His words illustrate perfectly that snuffboxes, sometimes more numerous to people than outfits, were proudly shown during receptions :

« Ah! my Dear Ulla! I must tell you about my adventure with Fru Blomfeldt. I was dining at her place the other day, and clever as a crook, I had a beautiful empty snuffbox with a miniature by Klingstedt. I presented it to Madame, and said to her that when we arrived at her place, there was no need to take tobacco, since we come to the source. Or deaf, or crazy, she took my words wrong (…). I was petrified when she pocketed my box with a string of never ending compliments; fortunately the Nuncio asked to see it and after he had examined the box, I took it and pocketed it myself in turn this time leaving her petrified at her loss. All this happened without elucidations, and the best part is that I have my snuffbox which was not intended for the use by her cute little nose”.

2786After his return to Sweden, Tessin and the Swedish Royal Family could count on the devotion of the new official representative of Sweden in France: Carl Fredrik Scheffer. Apart from his diplomatic mission, the envoy was made responsible for sending to Stockholm every single novelty, Paris being at that time considered as the world capital for fashion and taste. Scheffer was searching punctiliously, like a real investigator, accessories of all kinds. In 1748, he wrote from Paris to Tessin: “If I do say so myself we will not have seen in Sweden such a pleasant piece and so perfectly crafted as the snuffox that Your Excellence will receive by today’s post. There have only been a few like them produced so far but it so much win the vote of the court and the town… ».

The French Revolution almost put an end to this trend, snuffing being too much associated with aristocratic customs. Europeans began to smoke the cigar. But in Sweden, another way of snuffing was on is way to conquer the kingdom where the culture of tobacco was an important industry. The dry snuff was ousted by a humid snus no longer intended for the nose but for the mouth. This new style spread promptly and, in the 1820’s, was already well established in the country.


Around 200 hundred years later, the snus is still the best or more likely worst friend of many a swede’s gum.


All the pictures used in this article are to be found on the database. You can find a great amount of letters written by Tessin and Scheffer at the Manuscript Department.

The Sublime Porte

An exhilarating piece of music ( ) takes me back from the Baltic Sea to the shores of the Bosphorus.


Here I am, roaming on the bank of the fascinating strait, soothed by the blend of the song, a delightful mix of Ottoman tradition and Armenian and Sephardic Jewish music. Constantinople. The old Byzance. I cannot help but dream. But soon, an unknown voice rouses me from my woolgathering: “When I arrived at my half European, half Asiatic destination, I found myself in a new world”.

5545It is the 13th of July 1826. A gentleman, expressing himself in eloquent French, is now walking by my side as night is falling on the old town, Stambul. Carl Gustaf Löwenhielm, is his name, he was appointed residential minister of Sweden to Turkey and Consul General in the Levant two years ago. On our way to the Swedish embassy, where I am kindly invited to an unexpected dinner, the man tells me about his life. He is obviously pleased to meet someone familiar with Uppsala where he had studied for four years between 1803 and 1807, before beginning pursuing an education and career in the military. By the time we arrived in front of a lovely small pavilion, his residence, I already know a lot about him.


His first diplomatic mission is to conclude a trade agreement with the Turks to guarantee free passage for Swedish ships to and from the Black Sea and also to improve commercial relations. But the negotiations are proceeding slower than expected. He confides to me that he was quite close to Prince Oscar, son of the Swedish king Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, the French officer. I inquire about his family. He gazes at me bitterly. His marriage is turning out badly and will be dissolved soon. No children. His wife used to be the mistress of Oscar with whom she has a daughter. Moving on quickly to another subject, my eyes catch sight of a drawing’s portfolio hanging off on a lovely Gustavian sofa. Let’s talk about this pastime of his.

5623I am pleasantly surprised to learn that Carl Gustaf is an artist. An amateur, of course, predisposed to it because of its own personality and aptitudes and fostered by his aristocratic upbringing. Both painting and diplomacy required education and talent. My host seems to dispose of them both.

The 36 year old man is taking advantage of his position as an ambassador to the Sublime Porte to travel throughout the Ottoman Empire. It is quite clear that Carl Gustaf has an eye to depict the landscape, countryside or townscape, and to transpose it with various colours and atmospheres.


We spend quite a long time looking at his creations, mainly water-colours. 
He likes representing the shores of the Bosphores and the town’s surroundings, while also embarking on artistic expeditions outside Constantinople.


Carl Gustaf is particularly interested in topographical drawings and is sensitive to classical antiquity. While highlighting the landscape, his paintings are a snapshot of the tranquil reality, where the sun is always shining. He captures the picturesque. 

The romantic interest in the “mysterious East”, this western fascination for the Orient, swamps me. When I decide to stay at the embassy to spend some more time in Constantinople, captivated by its splendor and mysteries, I come upon Carl Gustaf´s diary, piling up his impressions. I cannot resist glancing at it furtively. It’s mainly written in French.

April 17th, 1826: “take a walk and draw all day long. A splendid weather, mild and calm”. May 19th, 1826 : “writing, reading, drawing and taking a walk as usual…”


For a deeper glimpse into Turkey as it was in the 1820´s, you should come to the Department of Maps and Pictures where around 250 paintings by Carl Gustaf Löwenhielm are kept. The pictures used in this article are to be found in our database and his diary is also preserved at the Manuscript Department.

Weather considerations

Sweden was notorious for its weather even in centuries gone by. Many foreign travellers notably wrote about the rigour of the winter. However, the Swedes seem to find some charm in this severe climate. In November 1741, the count of Tessin, then ambassador in Paris, wrote from the French capital to his wife in Sweden: “It is warm as May: an unfazed sky, a high sun, dry weather (…). I guess that it is not the same in Sweden, but fortunately you are in a place where we can live without a good weather”. Fifteen days later, the coldness finally arrived in Paris: “It is currently very cold with a dreadful fog that makes me miss our Swedish white winter”.

Umbrella style, two illustrations from our database by Axel Gustaf von Arbin (1784-1856) and Carl Jacob Mörk (1780-1828):

This same year 1741, an astronomical observatory is built in Uppsala under the supervision of one of the nowadays most renowned inhabitant of the town, in order to realise his best research. Indeed, if there is at least one native from Uppsala that everybody is familiar with, he is it. That is except for Americans; that isn’t to say they aren’t knowledgeable, but as a matter of fact they are less familiar with this figure for a reason to be revealed later on.

The man in question was born in Uppsala in 1701 from a learned family of astronomers and mathematicians. His father and grandfathers were well known scientists. In 1730, at the age of 29, he was appointed to the professorial chair of astronomy at Uppsala University and thereafter embarks on a tour to Germany, France and Italy where he met and worked with the most famous astronomers around Europe.

In 1736, he takes part in an expedition with the French Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759) to Lapland financed by the French Science Academy. The goal was to test Isaac Newton´s theory that the earth was not entirely round, and that it was flat at the poles. Meanwhile, another team was investigating this theory in Peru. It turned out that Newton was right. Some of our Uppsala’s savant letters as well as Maupertuis’ are sheltered here at the Cultural Heritage Group.

450px-Anders-Celsius-HeadHowever, our man is most of all celebrated for his contribution to meteorology. Have you guessed who he is yet?

In those days’ geographical measurements and meteorological observations were included in the work of an astronomy professor. To be more specific, he is renowned for his temperature scale which is used throughout the world.
 Who is the one who did not imprecate or thank warmly, at least once, if not thousands of time, Celsius and his degrees? “It is just 2° Celsius today, distressingly cold” or “forecast for tomorrow: 25° Celsius. Lovely!” In fact, his name is used all the time without even realising it.

Anders Celsius did not invent the thermometer which was already widely used by the 18th century with various temperature scales, including one still used to this day in the US – which explains why he is lesser known in the United States – the scale developed by the German Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736).

At the manuscript department, you can find two fascinating meteorological diaries written by Celsius and his professor Eric Burman (1692-1729), whose was himself a student of Nils Celsius, Ander’s father, written between 1722 and 1731. The date, hour, barometer temperatures, wind and sky conditions are all meticulously reported in these diaries. This is really worth seeing!

Celsius died of tuberculosis in Uppsala in 1744. His world famous thermometer was adopted all around the world. However, the centigrade scale was different from the one we used nowadays with 0 for the boiling point of water and 100 for the freezing point. The scale originally was actually reversed with 0 degrees as the freezing point of water just right after his death. It has been claimed that it was Linnaeus who lay behind this reform.

To conclude these weather considerations, here is an extract of a letter that you can find at the manuscript department, written in May 1784 by the count of Creutz and addressed to the king Gustav III who was travelling in Italy at that time. Carl Gustav Creutz, who used to live more than fifteen years in France as an ambassador, was now back in Sweden:

“Right now we have the most beautiful weather and the mildest temperatures; nature seems to want to indemnify us from her harshness. However, I do not hate our winters; the body feels more strength, the soul more energy, the spirit is freer, the ideas are more clear and cheerful. And well, of all the climates I know, it is the one from Sweden which I prefer most of all. If the society was as sophisticated, the arts and letters as cultivate, the taste as uncluttered as in France, I think we would be happier in Sweden than anywhere else”.


Foreign travellers at the library

Travel accounts were very popular in the 18th century and emerged as a fully-fledged, popular literary genre. This enthusiasm and fascination with travellers’ tales was sometimes even spoofed by witty observers. In 1794, Xavier de Maistre wrote his Journey round my room:

« I have undertaken and performed a forty-two day’s journey round my room. The interesting information I have made, and the constant pleasure I have experienced all along the road, made me wish to publish my travels; the certainty of being useful decided the matter (…). Among the immense family of men throng the earth, there is not one, no, not one (I means of those who inhabits rooms), who, after reading this book can refuse his approbation of the new mode of travelling I introduce into the world (…). My room is situated in latitude 48 east, according to the measurement of Father Beccaria. It lies east and west, and, if you keep very close to the wall, forms a parallelogram of thirty-six steps round. My journey will, however, be longer than this; for I shall traverse my room up and down and across, without rule or plan. I shall even zig-zag about, following, if needs be, every possible geometrical line (…). Hence, when I travel in my room, I seldom keep to a straight line. From my table I go towards a picture which is placed in a corner, thence I set out in an oblique direction for the door; and then, although on starting I had intended to return to my table, yet, if I chance to fall in with my arm-chair on the way, I at once, and most unceremoniously, take up my quarters therein. »

His book is a delightful parody of the genre. However, let’s have a look at some travellers who decided to venture, despite the fact that Scandinavia was not a part of the classic Grand Tour, to Northern Kingdoms and especially to Sweden. This was clearly considered something exotic as can be seen from the travel book’s preface of Giuseppe Acerbi (1773-1846):

“It may possibly excite curiosity to know why a native of Italy, a country abounding in all the beauties of nature, and the finest productions of art, would voluntary undergo the danger and fatigue of visiting the regions of the Arctic Circle (…). Journeys in the North will be undertaken by those only who have a just and masculine taste for nature, under every aspect.”

Thus, I’ve selected for you, dear readers, some insights into the impressions foreign visitors had about Uppsala and particularly our library. The academic town had already been considered a centre of erudition. When Edward Daniel Clarke arrived in Uppsala in 1799, he could not help but think of numerous of its renowned scholars:

« A long avenue of stately firs at length opened upon Upsala, once the metropolis of all Sweden. Its appearance, in the approach to it, is really noble: we descended a hill towards it, calling to mind the names of Celsius, Linnaeus, Wallerius, Cronstedt, Bergmann, Hasselquist, Fabricius, Zoega and a long list of their disciples and successors, which has contributed to render this University illustrious; the many enterprising travellers it has sent forth to almost every region of the earth; the discoveries they have made, and the works of which they were the authors. » Illustration by Gustaf Johan Härstedt (1756-1820):

2851One year previously, it was the knowledgeable Saxon named Carl Gottlob Küttner who stopped in Uppsala:

« We left Stockholm at seven this morning, and reached this place before three. Upsal is the handsomest and neatest of all the Swedish towns of the middling class, and, to compare small things with large, reminds me of Oxford. Its most magnificent building, though only of brick, is the cathedral church; but the beauty of the inside far exceeds that of the exterior. In my opinion it is the finest church I have seen during the last four years (…). The library of the university is said to contain 52, 000 volumes. » Illustration by Gustaf Johan Härstedt:

2276The library was self-evidently much smaller than it stands nowadays. However, it already played a key role for the town’s reputation and could not be overlooked by those passing by. In 1774, the Englishman Nathaniel William Wraxall is in town and lucky enough to meet Linnaeus. But while here he also takes some time to explore the city:

« The principal objects of consideration are the library, the cathedral, and the botanical garden. I hardly know of any thing else. The first of these is a neat, good building, though the books that it contained appeared to me to be neither numerous, nor very choice in the selection. There were, however, some curiosities which, as connected with the Swedish history, attracted my attention. Among these, was the astrological diary, belonging to Eric the fourteenth, king of Sweden; a prince who had the weakness to believe in judicial astrology. In his diary he had marked the days, on which he was menaced with misfortunes; and among them is that particular day, upon which he was subsequently deposed (…). Like most other seats of learning, Uppsala is lonely, silent, and dull; but clean, and contains numerous gardens within its walls. » Atrologial diary by Eric XIV:


Around the same time, his compatriot William Coxe also discovers the town and the library, learning a lot about its history:

« This town is particularly celebrated for its university, the most ancient in Sweden. The library contains many valuable books and manuscripts. Olaus Celsius, in a publication upon this subject, inform us, that it owes its origin to Gustavus Adolphus, who presented the university as well with his own private collection, which was very considerable, as with several libraries obtained in the different countries which he had over-run with his arms, it being his custom to reserve for himself, in all towns taken by storms, the book especially, as his share of the plunder. Thus, the Jesuits’ library at Riga, that at Wurstenburgh, and those of many other conquered towns in Poland, Germany and Prussia, were transmitted to Upsala. His example was followed by his successors, and thus the victorious arms of Sweden enriched the kingdom with these literary acquisitions. Olaus mentioned Christina as a considerable benefactress to this library, and enumerates many private donors (…). Among the most valuable pieces of literary curiosity is a manuscript of the Four Gospels, called, from its silver letters, Codex Argenteus, and supposed to be a copy of the Gothic translation made by Ulphilas, the apostle of the Goths, in the fourth century. I examined this curious volume with great attention (…). In this library two original manuscripts of the unfortunate Eric XIV caught my attention. They are in Latin, and were composed in 1566 and 1567, the two years that immediately preceded his deposition. They contain his astronomical, or rather astrological, observations and predictions (…). There are in this library of Upsala few manuscripts of the classics of much importance; but the printed editions are numerous and good. Having desired the librarian to show me the first book printed in Sweden; he pointed out to me the Dialogus Creaturarum moralizatus, published at Stockholm in 1483 (…). I hold myself greatly indebted to the polite attention of Mr. Eric Michael Fant, sub-librarian, who kindly accompanied me to the library, and favoured me in the readiest manner with every possible information. »

By crossing the various accounts, we quickly realise that the writers always mentioned the same manuscripts, and before anything else the silver bible which was obviously already a touristic attraction. By the end of the 17th century the Frenchman Jean-François Regnard, who had travelled in Lapland previously, mentioned this manuscript as a must-see. The librarians were showing the visitors a selection of what were considered the treasures of the collections. Furthermore each traveler acknowledges each other’s publications and refers to them, sometimes in agreement but also quite often to correct some mistakes or express a different way of thinking. In the beginning of the 1790’s, the Frenchman Pierre-Marie-Louis Boisgelin de Kerdu spent some days in Uppsala with his fellow traveler Alphonse Fortia de Piles. The following description is interesting, it is indeed important to remember that at that time the library was still hosted in the Gustavianum and only composed of three rooms. Illustration by Gustaf Johan Härstedt:

1808« The city is very small, containing scarcely four thousand inhabitants, exclusive of the students, the number of whom vary, as in every other University, though they seldom are fewer than five hundred (…). Three days at least are requisite to see Upsala properly; for this city contains many objects of curiosity (…). The cathedral is the largest and handsomest church in the kingdom (…). The first of the three rooms which compose the library contains a marble bust of Charles XI (…). The first room is dedicated to the belles lettres, history and natural history. The contents of the second were a present of Gustavus III when prince-royal; which donation is inscribed on the door: and the third contains jurisprudence, divinity, and physic. Nothing is more curious in the whole of this collection than a Gothic manuscript in quarto, intitled Codex Argenteus; it contains the four evangelists in gold and silver letters, with writing between every line. The beginning and end are incomplete, and the whole consists of a hundred and eighty-seven leaves, with some of the passages translated into Latin in the margin (…). This library likewise contains (…) Edda et Scalda, a very valuable Iceland manuscript, on vellum; with some figures, coarsely drawn (…). The manuscripts in this collection are placed on the first floor, and the whole of the library consists in about fifty thousand volumes (…). Though the collection of manuscripts is very considerable, there is still room for more; and none of them are of great value, excepting a Diarium Wadstenense, an original manuscript, on vellum. It is a small quarto, written in different hands, between the years 1344 and 1544. » Vadstena Diary:

P1120213The accounts written after the death of the king Gustav III in 1792 mentioned something new of high importance regarding the library. Let’s read what John Carr, a native of Devonshire, evokes in 1804:

« Some of the private dwellings and the colleges are handsome, and are generally stuccoed and stained on a yellow colour; but the majority of houses are composed of wood, painted red, and have behind them little gardens filled with apple and other fruit trees (…). In the small room in the library we saw a large chest, about the size of a bureau bedstead, double locked and sealed, containing the manuscripts of the late King, which he directed should not be opened till fifty years after his decease. Conjecture and expectation frequently hover over this case, which will, no doubt, one day unfold to Sweden much interesting memoir, and literary treasure. Here we were shewn some Icelandic manuscripts, said to be upwards of eight hundred years old, and several Lapland tracts. How wonderful, that literature should have lived, and even smiled, in region which the sun rarely warms! »

The Gustavian collection is now unsealed and is indeed a goldmine of information. One might notice the last observation about sun and literature. An interesting concept. To conclude this anthology, here is one last extract from 1808 written by Robert Ker Porter:

« It being dark when we entered this ancient town, you must pardon I gave you no account of its approach. It is built on the banks of the river Fyris, and altogether exhibits a very venerable appearance (…). We first visited the university of Gustavus Adolphus, and were ushered into the grand public library. The repository of learning is richly stored with volumes of all ages, languages, and authors; besides above a thousand manuscripts of great value and antiquity. One, esteemed the most precious in their possession, bound splendidly in solid silver, was laid before us. The celebrated Codex Argenteus (…). We next have the gratification of taking into our hands one of the first impressions of the bible (…). Having carefully examined the sacred volume, which was quite perfect, a heathen work was unfolded to us. The manuscript of the Edda. It was found in Iceland (…). There is something very provoking in turning over the leaves of famous books, when we are ignorant of their language. Our feeling, in such a case, are not dissimilar to what would have been a completely deaf man’s, standing in the forum where Cicero was speaking (…). It would be tedious, as well as tantalizing to you, whose favourite banquet is a good library, to name all the rare books we turned over. In fact, this bibliotheque contains every early and curious edition of the most scarce and renowned works, to the number, I am told, of eighty thousand volumes. »