Studies at Uppsala (1728–31)

When Rothman said he preferred Uppsala to Lund, he was basing it on his own studies there. Unfortunately conditions had deteriorated there in the 20 years that had passed.  One of the two chairs in medicine was held by Olof Rudbeck the Younger and the other by Lars Roberg. Rudbeck was responsible for the subjects of anatomy, botany, zoology, and pharmacology. The subjects of botany and pharmacology were closely related. Most medications were preparations made from plants. Roberg had the subjects of theoretical and practical medicine, surgery, physiology, and chemistry.

When Linnaeus arrived in Uppsala, Olof Rudbeck the Younger, then aged 68, had been granted a leave of absence from most of his teaching. Medical adjunct Nils Rosén (Nils Rosenius: ennobled in 1762, assuming the name Rosén von Rosenstein) had been assigned to do the teaching. But when Linnaeus arrived, Rosén was abroad, so the instruction was being carried out by acting adjunct Elias Preutz. The other professor, Lars Roberg, was not so young himself, 65, and had withdrawn from much of his public teaching activities. However, he did devote some time to private lessons. This was more profitable economically. Unfortunately, this teaching was not of the highest quality. On top of this, it can be said that the medical institutions were in miserable condition. The maintenance of Uppsala University Hospital was extremely deficient. The funding allocated for maintenance was so inadequate that Roberg had to rent out some of the rooms as inns and beer halls. However, this caused such a stir and such concern that the University Board forbade these activities. No economic means were allocated to improve the situation, however. Roberg pleaded in a number of memorandums to the Board that the fire authorities had declared the premises unsuitable for human use.

The University Board was fully aware of the situation for the University Hospital. Roberg states that the Board: “had found it rather hazardous and it would be indefensible to bring any people into such rooms, especially as they could ignite the largest and most dangerous buildings in the city, which disaster God in his grace has averted.” Under such circumstances Roberg felt he could not provide any clinical instruction. This is evidenced by the fact that the subject was omitted from the 1728 university catalogue. However, there had previously been some scope for clinical teaching in connection with visits to patients’ homes. But at the time Linnaeus arrived in Uppsala, this part of instruction had also been discontinued; as Th. M. Fries writes in his life of Linnaeus: “During Linnaeus’ period of study, no such visits took place, either because Roberg had tired of undertaking them or because the patients had tired of him, owing to his growing greediness and his rather summary prescriptions.”

The botanical garden was also in decay. It was ravaged by the Great Fire of 1702 and had not been restored. Besides the lack of interest and economic support, the person assigned to maintaining the garden was not up to the task: “he does not possess the requisite knowledge of how a garden should be groomed and does not stay sober but instead neglects his duties”(Board minutes, 1728). Prof. Roberg pointed this out to the Board, which “promised to treat the matter as urgent” – but nothing more came of it.

Gustavianum – the anatomical theatre as depicted by Olof Rudbeck the Elder.
Source: The Anatomical Theatre, Pamphlet from the Information Office, Uppsala University, 1985.

Teaching in anatomy was also largely shut down in the early 18th century, despite the Anatomical Theatre that Olof Rudbeck the Elder had built atop the Gustavianum. The Gustavianum also housed the University Library. The professor of law, Reftelius, complained that anatomical demonstrations were disturbing other classes. The University Board therefore decided that demonstrations could only take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. When Rosén returned from his trip abroad, he used the Anatomical Theatre, but without the use of candles, which represented a hazard (fire) to the library.

Linnaeus thus commenced his studies at a time when instruction in medicine was virtually dormant, owing to the professors’ lack of interest and to deficient material conditions. Linnaeus’ own economy was also a major problem. The money his parents had given him ran out quickly. He ”had to go into debt for food and must go barefoot, as he could not sole his shoes, unless he replaced the sole with paper he put in the shoe.” Studying medicine was not highly valued in those days. Instruction and supervision were neglected, and it was difficult to get a scholarship for medical students. It was a rough start for Linnaeus. Nevertheless he did manage to educate himself and in a short time made important contributions to the field of medicine.

Last modified: 2022-02-16