The Hammarby book Collection

« Seul avec la nature et vous, je passe dans mes promenades champêtres des heures délicieuses (…). Continuez d’ouvrir et d’interpréter aux hommes le livre de la nature (…). Je vous lis, je vous étudie, je vous médite, je vous honore et vous aime de tout mon coeur ». Lettre de Jean-Jacques Rousseau à Carl von Linné datée du 21 septembre 1771.

Have you ever heard of Hammarby? This lovely estate, which is located around 10km outside the town, used to be the Linnaeus country house. Considering that we are in Uppsala, it would have been tough to ignore the Princeps botanicorum much longer. Personally, I’m not a very big fan of the figure, as I rather perceive him as an unlikeable man. That aside, his ghost, as one of the most famous student and professor of all time at Uppsala University, is ubiquitous.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) bought the farm in 1758 to run away from the noisy Uppsala and breathe the fresh and bracing countryside air during summer time. It was initially a small one-floor house but he completed it with a new larger main building in 1762 and also – naturally – created a garden. You can see it in the below drawing from 1794 by a Swedish artist named Gustaf Johan Härstedt. I’ve found this illustration in our treasure box: the database.

Hammarby 1809As you might have already guessed, this guideline is more to talk about Hammarby than to draw an umpteenth history of the scientist’s life. Besides, this was not aimlessly chosen. It will take us to the Early printed books section where Ariane, a French librarian, is currently working on a very special collection…the Hammarby one!

Linnaeus was the owner of what was considered as one of the finest collection of natural history objects in Sweden. In April 1766 an important part of Uppsala was destroyed by a great fire and Linnaeus no longer dared to keep his private library and collection of plants in town, so he decided to move them to a single-room stone building on a hill in Hammarby. There, his trove would be far away from the threat of such a danger. This is the beginning of the twist and turns story of the collection named after the estate.

The author of the Systema Naturæ died in 1778 in Hammarby where he wished to be interred. However, he was buried few days after his death in the prestigious Uppsala Cathedral.

photoHis son inherited the collection and retained it until his own death five years later. Even if the library was sheltered from a blaze, the conservation conditions were nothing but bad in this small building called by Linnaeus “my palace in heaven”. But his paradise was damp and insects and mice inhabited the place. Sara Lisa, Linnaeus widow, remained at the property for many years with her two unmarried daughters. A year after her son passed away; she sold the collection to an English medical student named James Edward Smith who soon founded the Linnean Society of London.

The collection was enormous: 14 000 plants, more than 3000 insects and 1500 shells together with 3000 letters and 1600 books.

The here-above photo, from our database, was taken in Hammarby in 1864 by the Swedish artist Emma Schenson. She was also a painter and made a whole photographic series in memory of Linnaeus. This still life with souvenirs from the botanist is a lively and splendid composition. In the background, a chair with a walking stick, the master of the house might return at any time. Portraits of two of his daughters are visible on the wall but the main one is depicting Linnaeus and was painted by Johan Henrik Scheffel in 1755 – and it is still in Hammarby nowadays – It is placed around objects of the botanist’s daily life, such as his hat, teacup, teapot and tea caddy.

Besides, here I digress, but no one will be surprised, Linnaeus was interested in beverages that had become popular at that time in Sweden and more generally in Europe, and wrote several articles about it. Chocolate and tea were particularly fashionable but were highly controversial. He even managed to cultivate tea plants in his orangery in Uppsala for a while. However, he had more success with the coffee bush that he also considered to be wholesome. As a matter of fact, he was convinced that it helped to relieve struggle headache. Although coffee was very popular, many people did not agree with him that it was healthy. One meaningful example will be enough.

The king Gustav III viewed coffee consumption as a threat to the public health and was determined to prove its negative effects. It is said that he decided to carry out an experiment on two prisoners. Two twins had been tried for the crimes they had committed and condemned to death. Their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment on the condition that one of the twins drank three pots of coffee every day while the other drank the same amount of tea, and this for the rest of their lives, in order to see if the coffee affected their life expectancy. Unfortunately the king died before the final result of his experiment: the first twin died at the age of 83 and he was the one who drank tea! An exquisite tale, isn’t it?

But let’s start again where we stopped, with the collection adventure. After a stay of one hundred year in England, some books were returned to Sweden at the end of the XIX century because they did not align with the society’s goals.

It is the beginning of a new succession of travelling for this homeland return-part of the collection. It was first held at the library of the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, institution created amongst others by Linnaeus. Then, it moved back to Hammarby before to be transferred in the late 1970s at Uppsala University Library. In 2007, the books were restored at the Preservation section thanks to financial grants.

If the whole was now restored and well-stored at the Cultural Heritage Group, it was time to make the books reachable for the public. This is when Ariane, an intern from Lyon, appears on the scene. With a special interest for XVI century botanic book, she was definitely the suitable person. And I’m not even mentioning (or do I?) her botanist partner. However, she explained to me that there are roughly 400 hundred volumes that deal mainly with medicine, most of the botanic ones still remaining in London. Besides, a number of these books had originally belonged to doctor Johan Moraeus, Linnaeus father-in-law. This actually makes the collection even more interesting because several of these books were probably already old-fashioned for Linnaeus and his contemporaries but they provide us lots of information about medicine a generation before.

There are also some theologies and poetry volumes and Ariane also came across two books belonging to Linnaeus daughter concerning home economics! Her current work consists of cataloguing in the database every single volume. The work is, at the time I’m writing this article, almost done. Thus, a little notice is accessible for each item informing about, for instance, the author, printer and owner(s) of the books as well as the binding type. The job is not always simple especially because a vast part of the collection is written in Latin. Fortunately, Ariane is sharing a room with Peter, I mean Petrus, a brilliant Latinist. You should always have a lost language speaking person at your side!

Nonetheless, her effort are worthwhile and every day there is a surprising discovery from funny drawings in passing by dry flowers probably keep by Linnaeus himself for his herbarium up to hand writings with his proper annotations that, for that matter, evolved significantly throughout decades and so symbolized perfectly the evolution of Linnaeus’ career.

P1100932It’s always stirring to have such a book in your hands as you can turn back the clock without the need of a time machine. A book published in 1602 is mentioning nose reconstructive surgery. At the end of the chapter, there is a delightful handwritten comment in Latin that we can translate to “who is the one want to buy a new nose for such a price?” I can assure you that such an unexpected witticism makes your day.

The spring is eventually coming, the snow is melting and the flowers are blooming. It is the perfect time to take a stroll in the countryside. You should assuredly have a stop-off at Hammarby mansion, which is still managed by Uppsala University and will reopen in May.
It is one of the best-preserved XVIII century manor-house in the kingdom. Moreover, lot of details in the arrangement of the interior, made by Linnaeus himself, have a close relationship with his work which makes the place fascinating. In his bedroom and study room, the walls are papered with plates from two works on flowers…


If you want to visit Hammarby:


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