Medical Practice, Stockholm (1738–1741)

When Linnaeus returned from Holland he settled in Stockholm to set up a medical practice. At first it was hard to find patients. This is not surprising considering that he was rather inexperienced in practical medicine. Well respected as Princeps Botanicorum (the Prince of Botany), he now encountered a certain lack of trust as a medical practitioner. When patients did not seek him out, he went looking for them. He contacted the young “gallants” who frequented the city’s coffee houses on Riddartorget (Nobility Square) – whiling away their time with food and wine. Pox and ague were going around. His advice became popular. He gradually had more patients than he could deal with. His reputation as a skilled physician spread widely, and he was consulted in the higher circles. Linnaeus had a tremendous ability to acquire patrons. Count Carl Gustaf Tessin, marshal of the realm, heard about Linnaeus’ success abroad and arranged support for him until Linnaeus could obtain a permanent position. Tessin maintained that the Estates should regard it as a pleasure to further a Swede who had distinguished himself so much abroad. Linnaeus applied to the Estates for funding until a permanent position was available. He put forward his fame in England and Holland, his work with Historia naturalia, and hinted that he had been offered a number of attractive positions abroad. Tessin championed his cause, pointing out the risk that Linnaeus might leave the country. The application was granted. Tessin also offered Linnaeus lodging in the Tessin home in return for Linnaeus eating lunch with and instructing  him in scientific subjects. In this way he came into contact with members of parliament who met in Tessin’s home and became their personal physician. A result of this was that Admiral Ankarcrona offered Linnaeus the position of physician to the admiralty, which was vacant (1739). Linnaeus was appointed to the post and received 2700 daler in regular annual income. That was a great deal of money compared with what Linnaeus had hoped for. “From the prosperity that God and Count Tessin have put me in, I live very satisfactorily, well, and amply,” he wrote.

Linnaeus’ good contacts with high political officials were reflected in the fact that the Collegium Medicum did not bother to point out that Linnaeus had not taken the examination before the Collegium that was required of a physician who had acquired his doctorate abroad. It was probably considered somewhat presumptuous to call in for an examination such an acclaimed scientist and a personage of the social position that Linnaeus enjoyed.

Linnaeus’ workload was enormous. He had many patients in his private practice, and his medical duties at the admiralty (the navy hospital on Skeppsholmen had 100–200 places, the assistance of a barber-surgeon and an assistant surgeon). He carefully monitored the effects of the medicines he prescribed, planted a garden for medicinal plants, and performed autopsies. Besides this, he held a number of public lectures and maintained a large network of contacts with foreign and Swedish scientists. The Swedish researchers and science enthusiasts included Jonas Ahlström, Anders J von Höpken, Baron S C Bjelke, and Captain Mårten Triwald. Together with these gentlemen, in June 1739, in the Auditorio illustri at the House of Nobility, he established the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Linnaeus served as the Academy’s president for the first few months.

Last modified: 2022-02-16