Carl Linnaeus is the best-known Uppsala University scientist of all time. It follows that the celebration of his memory has been far from a matter for Uppsala alone, or even Sweden. As early as 1788 the Linnean Society was established in London, and two years later his bust was erected in Jardin des Plantes in Paris. On May 25 and 26, 1807, the centenary of the birth of Linnaeus was celebrated. The marking of anniversaries had previously been purely a sacred phenomenon, which made the 1807 Linnaeus festivities a pioneering jubilee, focusing on science. In connection with these celebrations, the Linneanum building was opened in the Botanical Garden and speeches were held by two of Linnaeus’ disciples, the professor of botany, Carl Peter Thunberg, and the botany teacher, Adam Afzelius. The foundation of the edifice had been laid in the presence of Gustaf III as early as 1787, and even the name marks its monumental purpose.
On October 12, 1829, the Linneanum was complemented by a statue of Linnaeus by Johan Niclas Byström, which was unveiled on that date. The historian and poet Erik Gustaf Geijer spoke on the solemn occasion, which was attended by Linnaeus’ daughters. In 1829 exactly one century had passed since Linnaeus met Professor Olof Celsius in the University’s Botanical Garden and thereby found a patron who would enable his early career. This 100th anniversary offered Geijer a pretext to invoke associations to the key relationship between students and their leaders, which he likened to plants flourishing at the foot of an ancient oak. Celebrating Linnaeus, Geijer stressed, was not merely a festival of commemoration but also a “festival of hope for the cultivation of knowledge.”
During the course of the 19th century Linnaeus became a Swedish national monument, the ideal picture of a pious, truth-seeking scientist, more and more frequently supplied with the epithet “the prince of flowers”. It is thus no surprise that great pains were taken to cherish the memory of Linnaeus on the 100th anniversary of his death, in both Uppsala and the rest of Sweden. On January 10, 1878, the University arranged a memorial service for Linnaeus on the centenary of his decease. The ceremony was carried out in the grand auditorium at the upper secondary school, and the new professor of botany, Thore Magnus Fries, was the main speaker. His colleague from the Faculty of Medicine, Frithiof Holmgren, had penned a cantata for the same occasion, which was used again at the 1907 bicentenary. Two other Linnaeus celebrations took place in Uppsala in 1878. Småland student nation celebrated Linneaus for being its inspektor of many years, and the Student Science Society arranged an academic symposium about the subject of their celebration.
In May 1907 the bicentenary of the birth of Linnaeus was marked in a great many Swedish towns. Without doubt, the 1907 anniversary can be regarded as a culmination, not only of the Linnaeus cult, but also of what the author August Strindberg somewhat hyperbolically likened to the “era of assassinations and jubilees.” This time as well, Uppsala was the center of attention, with its University celebrating its great alumnus on May 23–24. The entire city was adorned with flags, flowers, and plants, and several members of the royal family were in attendance. The University’s ceremony was carried out in the Grand Auditorium at University Hall, which was filled with guests from near and far. The following day a special Linnaeus conferment ceremony was held in the Cathedral for all four of the University’s faculties. The list of honorary doctors included the English botanist Francis Darwin (son of Charles); the secretary of the Royal Society, Archibald Geikie; the secretary of the Linnean Society of London, Benjamin Daydon Jackson; and its former president, William Carruthers. The Swedish prince and artist Eugen was among those receiving honorary doctorates, as was the author Selma Lagerlöf. It was the first time Uppsala University paid tribute to a woman in this way. The conferment ceremony was followed by a stately gala banquet in the Grand Auditorium, University Hall.
By the late 1970s the times had changed, and jubilant celebrations in the spirit of romantic nationalism were hardly the ideal. However, this did not prevent the memory of Linnaeus from being celebrated on January 10, 1978, on the bicentenary of his death. In Uppsala Cathedral a commemorative service was held, followed by a Linnaeus concert, where works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Karl-Erik Welin were featured. The president of the Swedish Linnaeus Society, Carl-Johan Clemedson, dissociated himself from the panegyrics of the past, stressing in his celebratory lecture that Linnaeus was not an infallible prince of flowers, but “in all his academic greatness” was, on the contrary, a human being with flaws and shortcomings. During the 1978 anniversary an international symposium was held, commencing at the Linnean Society of London and continuing a few days later in Uppsala, at Linnaeus’ Hammarby, and at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.
By pondering the forms, proportions, and expressions of the celebration of Linnaeus, it is possible to trace a shift in the image of Linnaeus over time. The Linnaean tradition itself has indeed become an object of study. Various ages have been moved to highlight different aspects, but few people would deny that the commemoration of Linnaeus today, just as in 1829, is “a festival of hope for the cultivation of knowledge.”
Uppsala: Hallgren & Fallgren , 2007. 179-207 p.
Carl von Linné 1707-1778, universitetshistoria, studenthistoria, Uppsala, statyinvigning, monumentkultur, jubileum