display | more...

Fenno-Swedish author. Born 1804, died 1877. Married to Fredrika Runeberg.

A student of classical philology and philosophy at the University of Åbo (present-day University of Turku), Runeberg made a living while studying by teaching at rural schools. Graduating in 1827, he became engaged to marry Frederika Tengström, niece of the Archbishop, whom he married in 1831. From 1830 to 1837, he was a Reader in Latin and rhetoric at the newly opened Helsinki University.

As the publisher and editor of Helsingfors morgonblad a literary weekly newspaper, from 1832 to 1837, he was a popular cultural personality in Helsinki, and when he left the city to become senior lecturer at Borgå/Porvoo, the students at the Helsinki lyceum (which he had co-founded with Nervander and Lille) held a sentimental going-away party in his honour.

Entering the clergy, he was consecrated a minister in 1838, and continued his path of academic excellence. In 1839, he was given the Swedish Academy's Gold Medal; in 1844 he was made a full professor; and in 1854-1857 he co-edited the revised Swedish hymn book.

His health, however, was failing him, and in 1857 he was granted retirement on full pay. In 1863, while hunting, he suffered a massive coronary, from which he never fully recovered. In May 1877, he died in Borgå/Porvoo, greatly mourned.

His son, Valter Runeberg, was commissioned to craft a bronze statue of him, which was erected in Helsinki in 1885. The smaller draft version of the statue was placed in Borgå/Porvoo. In 1888, a large monument in black granite was unveiled on the site of his grave.

All of this is the material of an academic career of distinction. However, it is not his academic achievements that are the reason for Runeberg's fame - rather, it is his work as an author that places him on the firmament. Writing in Swedish, the language of high culture in Finland in his time, he nevertheless has had considerable influence on Finnish national culture and national identity, to the extent that he is often called the national bard of Finland.

It is Runeberg's words that have made the lakes of Finland symbolic of the country. In poems such as Bonden Pavo ("Pavo the Peasant", 1830) or the hexametric epic √Ąlgskyttarne ("The Elk Hunters", 1832), he has created an ideal of the Finn: unpretentious, God-fearing, and indomitable in battle against a beautiful, but harsh landscape.

His most significant work, Fänrik Ståls sägner ("Ensign Steel's Tales", in two volumes, 1848 and 1860) is a poetic cycle dealing with the war with Russia in 1808/1809, which led to the sundering of Finland from Sweden. With his own special blend of idealism and realism, he salutes the bravery of the officers and enlisted men, while at the same time offering up warm and almost tender portrayals of a brave Russian; a woman of the supply train; and a civil servant who courageously struggles to uphold the Swedish laws after the Russian victory. Fänrik Ståls sägner was an instant success, in all the Nordic countries. The poem Vårt land ("Our Country"), which occurs in the first volume, quickly won a place as national anthem, and the book was read in all schools, both Swedish and Finnish, and continued to hold primacy in the school system for more than a century.

Today, Runeberg is more read for his lyrical poetry - especially Idyll och epigram ("Idyll and epigram", 1830), which was inspired by Serbian folk poetry, and was set to music in 1895/1896 by Wilhelm Stenhammar. Also popular are his poems Vid er Källa ("By your Spring", 1833) and Svanen ("The Swan", 1830).

Along with Johan Vilhelm Snellman, Elias Lönnrot and Zacharias Topelius, Johan Ludvig Runeberg may reasonably be considered one of the authors of the modern Finnish nation, and its national identity.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.