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.
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”.