Seven Temptations! Linnaeus and Love in the New Year
Published on 1st January 2019
Happy New Year! Whilst many of us spend the first few days of a new year trying to heave ourselves off the sofa, in 1735 Carl Linnaeus used this time to conduct an efficient courtship of his wife-to-be. He recorded the events in the small almanac that he used as a diary.
This velvet-covered volume, entitled Almanach På Åhretefter Iesu Christi nåderika Födelse 1735 (‘Almanac for the year of Jesus Christ’s gracious birth 1735’), is kept in the Linnaean Manuscripts collection. On the blank interleaved pages of the almanac, Linnaeus recorded the days’ events. This is one of the few genuine autobiographies we have from Linnaeus – all the others he carefully crafted and reworked with a view to publishing them. The 1735 almanac, by contrast, is delightfully unaffected and candid.
In the early days of the year, 27-year-old Linnaeus faithfully recorded the courting and wooing of his future wife, Sara Elisabeth (Sara Lisa) Moraea, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Falun’s town physician, Dr Johan Moraeus. The little diary gives a tantalising insight into a more personal side of Linnaeus – sadly we will probably never know what the ‘seven temptations’ he experienced on 27 January were.
As described by Wilfrid Blunt, “on 2 January he waited on her, dressed to kill in his famous Lapland costume, and the following day he took advantage of the absence of her parents to call again. Other visits followed, besides meetings at the houses of mutual friends. On 16 January, he spent the whole day with her, proposed and was accepted.”*
[*Blunt, W., The Compleat Naturalist. A Life of Linnaeus (London, 2001), p. 80.]
At first Sara Lisa’s parents were not pleased with the idea of her marrying a medical man, hoping that she would make a better match. Eventually, however, they agreed, stipulating that the marriage should not take place for three years, and that Linnaeus should still undertake his planned journey to the Continent.
Linnaeus left Falun on 20 February 1735, and journeyed south, before sailing for the Continent in April, where he spent the next three years. He came back to Sweden in June 1738, and became formally engaged to Sara Lisa. They were married a year later, in June 1739.
Here are the entries from Linnaeus’ diary concerning his courtship, translated from Swedish by Nathaniel Wallich in 1848:
O! Ens entium miserere mei! (O! God have pity on me!)
1. Christmas dinner with alderman Dan. Moraeus.
2. called on Sara Lisa in a Lapland dress.
3. the same, absentibus parentibus (in the absence of parents).
10. called on S. L. M. and had a little fun.
13. called on S. L. M., and at Kougagården, and on my assessor Moraeus.
15. Christmas party at the provost’s at Fahlun with S. L. M.
16. dinner at secretary Neuman’s.
N.B. a day of immortal commemoration, of final settling with S. L. M.
19. Lars Petter dined at a party at engineer Trygg’s. Betted two tankards of rhenish wine that there will be a christening in 4 years.
20. wrote to J. Moraeus, S. S. about S. L. M. Explicitly solicited (her hand).
21. wrote to S. L. M.
22. called on [S. L. M.] gave annulum (a ring).
23. reciprocation by mother-in-law.
27. received from J. Mor response concerning 3 [years] secundum abitum (second departure). Seven temptations!
29. called on S. L. M. concluded Floram Dalekarlicam (Flora of the Dalecarlia province).
8. in the evening (with) S. L. M.
9. in the afternoon at a frolic at Morbygden.
10. in the evening (with) S. L. M.
11. with S. L. M. until X o’clock in the evening.
18. took leave of father-in-law.
19. took leave of S. L. M., who wrote the oath.
By Dorothy Fouracre, Librarian (adapted from an earlier blog post by Isabelle Charmantier, Head of Collections)