Hanna Hodacs "Making friends on the field - Friendship and

Hanna Hodacs "Making friends on the field - Friendship and
excursions in 18th century Linnaean natural history".
Slide 1
Aim with paper
What I set out to do in this paper is to explore how notions and praxis of early modern friendships
can help us understand the success of Linnaean natural history. With this I thinking about the
taxonomic inventions of Carolous Linnaeus, the Swedish 18th century naturalists. Modern scientific
nomenclature, how species are named, dates back to Linnaeus first use of binary name, i.e. names
that indicate which genera, or family, a species belong to. Linnaeus is also famous for his system of
identifying plants, the so called sexual system. Ultimately I guess this paper is about writing an
alternative history to a traditional intellectual history of Linnaeus.
I would like to start discussing the geographies of early modern friendship and scholarship
To early modern philosophers friendships between scholars formed an ideal type. Only virtuous
men could be true friends, and scholarship more than maybe anything else produced virtue in men.1
However, this virtues scholar was typically quite an isolated guy.
Slide 2, 3, 4
I could not make up my mind which of these three pictures illustrated this point best so I cut and
paste them all in. They are of alchemists of course but as early modern natural history included
mineralogy such distinctions become in part redundant.
It is only in the 19th century when scholarship moved into institutional settings similar to ones we
know today. The establishment of research universities and specialisation into disciplines helped
forming boundaries and platforms accommodating social interactions, and friendships between
Early modern universities in contrast were primarily designed for teaching. Scholarship, of the kind
we perhaps would call research today, were predominantly done outside universities, within
households and families of individual scholars, using domestic spaces such as gardens, kitchen, attics
“The ideal of intense friendship always had a somewhat rarefied quality about it, nourished, as it was, by
classical learning and literary affection. Pure, disinterested friendship was a luxury, available only to those
exempt from the pressures of active life and well supported by friends and allies of a more practical kind. Ints
precondition was leisure and affluence. For those engaged in the battle for subsistence, friendship could not
help but remain predominantly instrumental. Aristocrats descised stupid common friendship’ and contrasted
te ‘mercenary frienships of the vulgar’ with the’sublime heroic frendhip of noble souls. The ‘common people’
were incapable of ture friendship, they said. All they had were alliances animated by the desire for profit or
pleasure, hence their application of the term friend indiscriminately to any niehbour or acquaintance who was
not an enemy.” Keith Thomas 210 See also discussion by Garrioch, poor people can not be friends, 170, (see
also 184)
for studying, experimenting and observing. Although such activities frequently involved engaging
children and servants for assistances it only occasionally come to involve fellow scholars, i.e.
individuals of similar social and intellectual status.
This social or maybe more precisely geographical isolation reinforces an earlier notions of
scholarship as a activity for monks in monasteries. Of course, the republic of letters provided a
virtual social space for early modern scholars, but it has in general presented as a form of interaction
with little face to face contact with other scholars, up until the 19th century. Although there are
exceptions, mid- 17th century London and the circle around the Royal Society being one important
A geography of early modern friendship or social spaces
This isolation is hard to connect up with what we know about the geography of early modern and
18th century friendship. Descriptions of this period suggest two different geographies, one of
increased social domesticity, of the middle classes moving away from the ale house and the country
greens, towards homes and private houses.
There is also of course a the rise of the public, where some homosocial spaces, such coffeehouses
frequented by males continuing to be important.2 Moreover, the emphasis, as far as I gather, is on
the indoors, or, if outdoors are discussed in those contexts they are enclosed spaces and often
private areas, such as gardens and parks.
In this paper I would like to explore an alternative space which I suggest was important to the
formation of scholarly friendship in the early modern period, with which I include the 18th century,
namely the landscape in which natural history excursions took place.
It is hard to label this space, the term “field” in the history of science is usually reserved for the 19th
and 20th century, when the history of science had become a history of science in a more narrow
sense, involving the development of specific disciplines, natural history had become biology,
chemistry, entomology etc. The field here is often placed next to laboratories, as a place primary
defined because of its ability to falsify hypothesis.
The early modern natural history outdoor space I want to discuss is one which from the outset had
more of a multifunctional use. It had educational, as well as economic and social uses. It is not a
place far away, it was usually not an exotic landscape to those who visited it. Often the opposite in
fact, it was forests, fields, and shore lines close to home.
Educational – long tradition
The use of the outdoors for educational use has a long history going back to the renaissance. Natural
history was part of the medical curriculum, and at early modern universities excursions into the
surroundings of universities, formed an alternative place to the botanical gardens, as spaces in which
to study live material.
Focusing on Linnaeus’ own student life, it illustrates quite well the extent to which the excursion
tradition flourished. Linnaeus had a long history of participating and leading excursion prior to taking
Keith Thomas text
up the chair in medicine Uppsala in 1741. While studying in Lund, in the south of Sweden, he had
taken part in several excursions, likewise, while a student in Uppsala, he taught natural history to
other students on the field, leading excursions himself. He had also brought groups of students on
long distance journeys, exploring different provinces of Sweden, journeys that has been described as
travelling colloquium.
Once installed as professor in Uppsala however Linnaeus’ excursion took on a new format and a new
scale. He used the landscape around Uppsala to facilitate eight excursions, organised annually.
Slide change
These excursions, which according to some descriptions could be mistaken for carnivals, could
attract several hundred individuals, sometimes more than half of the students of Uppsala.
Setting out early in the morning they involved being on the move for 12 hours or more. The great
number of students needed of course to be marshalled, trumpet players and drummers helped
organise the movements, there were also a need for students with guns, to shoot birds and animals
along the way. Otherwise the botany was at the forefront, as the students marched, they picking
plants along the road, with Linnaeus regularly lecturing on the harvests, along the way.
Slide change
Once back to Uppsala, and remember this was a small and rather isolated town with a population of
a few thousand, close to the eastern shore of the Baltic, a day trip away from Stockholm, there are
descriptions of how the students marched up and down the streets, with their instruments, ending
the event standing outside Linnaeus house, shooting “Vivat Linnaeus”.
In this respect the excursions seem to fall into the category of behaviour we associate with the
history of youth, of young men and sometimes women, who while being subordinated feudal
structures such as universities, or guilds, also were allowed to challenge the system in a controlled
manner. There are in fact other examples of excursions filling a similar function, David Elliston Allen
has written about how the excursions for apprentices belonging to the Society of Apothecaries, in
London, from the 1620 and onwards, involved unruly behaviour among the students.3
Linnaeus excursions were controversial in a more traditional political sense as well, they evoked
envious reactions among fellow professors who complained arguing the existence of more sinister
plans, of Linnaeus building up an army of supporters with the aim to take some sort of political
power. Consequently Linnaeus was asked to tone down the excursion, to make them more
“Swedish” in character, by the pro vice chancellor.
One reason for this suspicion was that Linnaeus encouraged his student to dress similar, in sailors
uniform, the idea was to allow them more freedom of movement. I have previously argued that this
dress code promoted a social cohesion among the students, at least in part diminishing class
differences between students. In this context it is important to say that university students in
Sweden came from a socially very diverse background, compared to the rest of Europe, between 25
Allen, David Elliston, The Naturalist in Britain. A social History, 1976, p. 7 ff
and 20 per cent of them came from the estate of farmers or lower social groups living of the land.
Most of them destined to become clergymen.
Moreover, not only were the excursion a spectacle they were also a time and a place where
individual students could demonstrate their skills in front of a crowd of budding naturalist, students
who picked rare plants, were noticed by Linnaeus, suggesting that the excursion promoted a form of
socially inclusive meritocracy, where Linnaean taxonomy formed the common denominator.
Political economy, cameralism
The exploration of this landscape also tied into continental political economy, and particularly the
cammeralist notion that the domestic landscapes could hide untapped resources. It was the
obligations of state officials, mineralogists, medics and clergy men to make inventories of the
provincial landscape around them, in a manner reminiscent to the excursions. The many clergymen
and provincial physician Linnaeus taught at would have been expected to be able explore their local
areas too, reporting on potential resources that could be exploited. In this respect the excursion
were closely related to a patriotic and bureaucratic category of activity.
Social dimension
Next to the educational and economic ends excursions filled a social function. What prominent
people had visited Linnaeus’ excursions in Uppsala was for example reported in the Stockholm
newspapers, presumably by Linnaeus who knew how to promote himself.
More importantly here, the outdoors was also a place where friends could be made, relationships
of a more horizontal, affectionate or non-instrumental sense to use some of the terminology from
the reading for this workshop.4
Slide change, 2 slides
These pictures illustrate the social dimension to some of this behaviour. The first one is actually
depicting Linnaeus excursion but it is made in the 19th century, and does misrepresent the
excursions in several respects. For example, it was very rare that women came along. The other one
I am not sure when or where it is from, but again possibly an 19th century depiction of an excursion.
Slide change
This picture however is from the mid-18th century, it is a water colour by a Danish student, Frederik
Seidelin, it depicts an excursion taking place in Clausthall-Zellerfeld, 30 to 40 k North East of
Göttingen in the mid-1750s.
Next to Seidelin on the picture is portraying one of Linnaeus students, Peter Forsskål, whose
autograph or stambok contains the illustration. Forsskål is known as one of Linnaeus travelling
disciples, he died in Jemen, on a Danish expedition to explore the natural history and antiquities of
North Africa and the Middle East. Linnaeus named a none stinging nettle species after Forsskål,
saying it shared the same persistent and stubborn character as his former student. In spite of this
being characters that might prevent rather than encourage friendship, Seidelin, painted the picture
to commemorate the friendship between the two.
Keith Thomas, Terms here “affectionate and instrumental” 199
Slide change
He also wrote:
“When we learn about the nature of things, we are freed from superstition and fear of death, we are
not confused by ignorance from which often gruesome images of horror rise. In addition, our
characters are improved, when we learn what nature demands. An imminent trip prevents me from
enjoying your pleasant company, noble and learned Mr Forsskål, you rare and loveable friend! Such
are the terms of academic life, you have to leave the one you love. I have written these words in
your book, in memory of our unvarnished friendship.
Your ardent companion and insect collector,
Frederik Seidelin 5
As such it does exemplify the early modern connection between virtue and friendship, scholarship
generated virtue, making scholars particularly good as friends, or “BBF, best-friend-forever-material,
as my daughter would put it,.
But under the flag of friendship there was also something else that took place in Göttingen in the
middle of the 1750s.6 The notion of friendship, of socializing in nature, was, at least to Forsskål,
combined with the aim to transform Göttingen natural history, something which is revealed in a
letter from Forsskål to Linnaeus. Here he describes how he together with three “friends”, of whom
presumably one was Seidein, had set out to establish the study of entomology, which hitherto had
been regarded as “ridiciulous”. 7
Slide change
Då vi lära känna alltings natur, befrias vi från vidskepelse och dödsfruktan, vi förvirras ej genom okunnighet, i
vilken ofta hemska skräckbilder ha sitt upphov. Dessutom förbättras vår karaktär, då vi lärt vad naturen
fördrar- En snart förestående resa hindrar mig att länge njuta av ditt angenäma sällskap, ädle och lärde herr
Forsskål, du sällsynte älskvärde vän! Sådant är det akademiska livets villkor, att man måste lämna dem man
älskat Till mnnet av vår smikande vänskap har jag alltså skrivit dessa får ord i ditt album. Din ivrige kamrat
some insektsamlare Frederik Seidelin.
On below se article by Arvid Uggla.
Forsskål till Linne, 1338 Insecter äro här än så föraktad som försummad del af historia naturali. Wid ledighet
och wackert wäder har jag sökt göra här åter samling deraf, och fådt 3 camerader, som äfwen begynt söka
nöje deri. Botanices Professoren här Zinn fick höra deraf och har likaledes resolverat sig att bli insectsamlare,
samt bedt mig om hjelp att känna dem efter Hr Archiaterns System och rangera dem efter fauna. Hans exemel
har sedan warit efterdöme för en av hans bästa botaniska disciplar och wore wäl om det framdeles kunde reta
än fler. Mycken gunst fr insecter låter wäl ej förmoda sig här, så länge folkets curieusité än är så trög och
ooplifwad i Botanquen, hwars nytta och nöije mer faller i ögonen. Så mycket är dock, att det je mer kan anses
för ridicult at tplocka insecter, då Professorn sjef företeagit sig det. En botanisk excursion har jag på tillbåd,
men tan särdles nöije, bewistat. Alla lördagseftermiddagar går Professorn ut med dem, som willja göra
sällskap, och så åg all efter honom till den föresatta orden; der wisar Professorn dem de örter, som de böra
taga, och låter sjelf sin dränk bära hem en quantitet deraf att företagas följande mådag i det collegium, hwari
örter demonstreras. Ingen lection eller widare omständighter förekoma på Excursion. DÅ jag war med, var
Professoren sjelf tolfte, som räknades för tämmeligt antal. Ej ens hälften av Medicis lägga sig på botanique,
och de som woro med på Excursion woro så slätta örekännare, som kan consiperas, utome en enda 12 års
ynglign, som wisar mera flit och alware. Professor Zinn undrade högeligen på Upsala Curieusiteten, då jag
beskref, i hwad frequence och huru lefwande excurionerna under Herr archiaterns anförande der äro. Han
tycks wäl wara en mycket god communicativ man, men öfweralt saknas hos honom dne ifwer för sciencen, den
drift och föreställnignsgåfva, hwarwid Herr archiatern oförtröttad gjort historia naturalis i Swerige så allmänt
A closer look at the painting the underlines that the study of insects forms an important objective,
the net that is carried and the admiral butterfly hiding in the forefront of the pictures, suggest this.
And Seidelin of course signs off his greetings “your ardent companion and insect collector, an
another indication that insects were at the forefron.
However the plants the two naturalists had gathered in their epaulettes, we can just about make
out them, suggested that entomology was not the exclusive end, that botany was also an objective.
From the letter to Linnaeus we can gather that Forsskål was not very impressed with the state of
botany in Göttingen either, again he focus on the excursions, which Forsskål says lacked the energy
and interaction he associated with Linnaeus.
In this respect Forsskål’s excursions in Göttingen, and possibly even this painting suggest that the
excursions were given a new meaning, it was a place to reform natural history with likeminded
friends, in this case naturalists who applied or wanted to apply Linnaean taxonomy on nature. It
might be possible to see this ambition in the stride of the men in this picture, there is a momentum
and determination portrayed here I think.
But more to the point, the argument I am trying to make is that the early modern notions of
friendship, in combination with the outdoors as a place where to perform scholarly friendship,
helped promote Linnaean taxonomy.
I am not only basing this on a case study of Forsskål and Siedling. Studying the social life of 18th
century naturalist, and particularly Linnaean ditto, suggest that excursions formed a central part
when relationships were formed and friendships were established between and within different
generations of Linnaean students. Here we are talking about students the birth years spanned the
1720 to the 1760s.
It was a way of getting to know one another, natural history students continued to use the
landscape of Uppsala for excursions, long after Linnaeus ceased to lead them, it was also a way of
reinforcing friendships between old acquaintances, as well as reaching across gaps created by
differences in terms of age, social status and nationality.
When Linnaeus and his students travelled abroad as well as domestically, excursions formed a way
of meeting other naturalists. Of course not all of these encounters generated friendships but I think
together they highlight how a social history of early modern science, and particularly friendships, can
provide us with ways of understanding intellectual changes and shifts.
In this case, taking into account the geography of early modern scholarly friendship, and add
excursion field, which offered a place for friendship making, for socializing and botanizing, we might
be able to explore an alternative history to the history 18th century natural history.
Rousseau, about botanizing alone….cf Felicia on approaching Rousseau,