WHAT DID RUNEBERG DO ON 13 MAY 1848?
What Johan Ludvig Runeberg did on 13
May 1848 was nothing, but we do know what he didnt do. He didnt
take part in the May festival at Gumtäkts meadow when "Vårt
Land" captured its place as Finlands national anthem. And
why wasnt Runeberg there when the entire cream of society within
the university world was present? At the festival it became known that
Zachris Topelius participated as a reporter; Fredrik Cygnaeus acted
as master of ceremonies; Fredrik Pacius led the student singers and
the orchestra, and no less than 300 students and 200 invited guests
participated. The most essential people from the academic world were
present, but Runeberg himself was missing.
In biographical literature there is no speculation as to why Runeberg
didnt participate in the festival. His biographer J. E. Strömberg
gave a brief account of a letter that Sofi Tengström wrote on 8
May 1848 where she conveyed an invitation to the festival from Fredrik
Cygnaeus. Runeberg had a good eye for J. J. Tengströms daughter
Sofia and Cygnaeus thought that Runeberg would be tempted from Borgå
if the invitation came from her. It was widely known that Runeberg reluctantly
attended official entertainment parties, but he surely could see that
he should meet the students at the university.
Strömberg mentioned nothing about Runebergs aversion to
attending the festivity in this connection; instead he wrote: "Certainly
Runeberg neglected to treat the invitation as an official matter."
Werner Söderhjelm touched upon the event briefly in his biography:
"This festival, to which Runeberg received an invitation but didnt
attend, should be among unforgetable events", while Lauri Viljanen
was sorry that Runeberg was not present at his great patriotic triumph.
Strömberg offered an excuse, Söderhjelm is a little surprised
at Runebergs non-presence and Wiljanen did not go into detail.
Later researchers have not discussed the question further.
When the students from the university in Helsingfors celebrated the
spring festival on Flora Day 13 May they, as well as others in Finland,
had no knowledge that the day would go down in history as the day the
country received its national anthem. "Vårt Land" with
the text by J. L. Runeberg was sung repeatedly to the melody by Fredrik
Pacius when the students marched from the university to Gumtäkt,
4 km north of the city. The festival was celebrated now for the first
time since 1834 inasmuch as the universitys new vice chancellor
Johan Mauritz Nordenstam was more liberal than his predecessor and the
students were allowed to celebrate their traditional spring fest despite
the troubled times. That the festival wasnt celebrated for 14
years could have been a sufficient reason for Runeberg to take part,
but a more serious problem was to understand that his poem "Vårt
Land" should be performed during such a festive time to a new melody.
On 25 May 1846 the students arranged a festival in Runebergs
honor in Brunnshuset in Helsingfors and there he experienced the enthusiasm
of the countrys students. The poem "Vårt Land"
was written by him probably immediately thereafter at Kroksnäs.
Johan Wrede pointed out that the festival possibly helped Runeberg decide
that a national hymn was needed for the students. Possibly he had heard
The Marseillaise sung with Swedish words by Topelius at the festival.
It is also interesting that Runeberg gladly took part in the festival
in Brunnshuset but chose not to take part in the students May
festival in 1848.
It is also clear that from the beginning Runeberg wanted "Vårt
Land" to be sung. It was set to music three times before Pacius
took over four days before the festival. Runebergs school comrades
Fredrik August Ehrström and August Engleberg did the musical composition
and Runeberg himself composed a melody. Because the poem was set to
music so many times in early days it must be interpreted that Runeberg
wanted it to be sung in order to get a greater and more immediate distribution
than as a printed poem.
At least two of the musical compositions were performed before Pacius
created his melody. Ehrströms composition was sung for the
first time at the Österbottniska departments yearly festival
9 Nov 1846. J. E. Strömberg didnt mention if Runeberg was
present at this festival. Runebergs own composition of "Vårt
Land" was first performed at Borgås 500th
Jubilee 3 Dec 1846. Although Strömberg didnt mention whether
Runeberg himself was present, one can surely assume that he was there.
Strömberg points out that neither version of the song awakened
any great enthusiasm. Its not clear if this was because the musical
compositions were weak or for another reason.
Pacius composition experienced immediate success. An indication
of that is that the brochure that was printed for the benefit of Finska
Litteratursällskapet came out 31 May 1848 and was widely circulated.
Announcements of the brochure were in Helsingfors Tidningar and Borgå
Tidningar. In Fänrik Ståls sägnar that came out in December,
there was a sheet of music with Pacius composition arranged both
for a solo with piano accompaniment and for a quartet. After Fänrik
Ståls sägner, "Vårt Land" spread in the form
of countless albums, calendars, newspapers, periodicals, anthologies
and school books, and gradually in a Finnish translation for all the
Something of this immediate response to Pacius composition was
also found in Runebergs admirer Zachris Topelius when he wrote
in Helsingfors Tidningar 17 May about the students march to Gumtäkt:
"The music corps waited at the long bridge with the chorus, to
perform Runebergs "Vårt Land", which Mr. Pacius
set to a new and enchanting music." Later he wrote in a bantering
manner about the consumption of liquor by the students at the festival.
Runebergs former newspaper Helsingfors Morgonblad noted the festival
briefly, but the news was no longer considered news and the Borgå
tidningar didnt mention it at all. Alfhild Forslin pointed out
that in 1850 "Vart Land" was still mentioned in the newspaper
and the status as a national anthem was shaped by degrees. On 13 May
1848 no one had a feeling that "Vårt Land" would have
What was Runeberg Thinking About?
It was in the spring of 1846 when Runeberg actually wrote the poem,
two years before the festival. He did some rewriting of it and gave
a copy to Robert Tengström in the autumn of 1846 so it could be
publicized in Fosterländs Album. He gave another copy to Emilie
Björkstén on 5 June 1848. In the spring of 1848 Runeberg
was involved in the original performance of Pacius composition.
In addition he planned a trip to Helsingfors in the beginning of May
since he had been there during Easter. On 25 April, the day after Easter,
he wrote to his colleague A. F. Borenius that he probably would stay
in the city until the following day because a terrible storm delayed
his return trip. The more than 50 km journey between Borgå and
Helsingfors was not something that one took each week. Whether one took
a horse and car or steamboat, the trip took many hours of ones
About the same time as Runeberg wrote "Vårt Land" he
became more closely acquainted with Emilie Björkstén, a
beautiful young woman in Borgå. But it was first in Feb 1848 that
their relationship had gone so long that it could be called love. Runeberg
wrote several letters to her during the spring and in them Runeberg
jealously accused her of lack of faith and groveled in the dust before
her feet. The Runeberg family lived at Krämaregatan where Runeberg
and Emilie could meet now and then. He lived on the upper floor while
Fredrika Runeberg, the children and servants stayed on the lower floor.
But often the lover couple was hindered from meeting by curious looks,
so they began to secretly smuggle little notes to each other.
Runeberg was known as a lazy letter writer. His accumulated letters
are not more than 298 pieces and 26 of them are to Emilie. Most of the
letters to her are from 1848 and 1849. During 1848 Runeberg wrote 18
letters of which 14 were to Emilie. Eight of the four remaining letters
were sent to his sister Carolina Runeberg in which he expressed his
concern over his other sister Thildas sickness. A year after that
previously mentioned letter to A. F. Borenius about Runebergs
journey home from Helsingfors, there were two letters sent to school
colleague Adolf Sirén with an invitation to go hunting.
On 10 May 1848 Runeberg wrote a long letter to Emilie. During this
time she lived in Borgå at various addresses because she had no
parents and had no close relatives in the city. In May she planned to
move away for a year; she was dependent on kind friends and relatives
who let her live with them for long periods of time. Runeberg wrote
in his May letter that he wanted to see her "in the morning or
at least on Friday." "In the morning" must have been
the 11th and Friday is 12 May. Certainly it had been impossible
for him to still meet on the 12th and hurry on the way to
Helsingfors to take part in the festival on the 13th. He
possibly could have taken the steamboat from Borgå in the morning,
but knowing Runebergs easy going disposition this is likely not
possible. It is also possible that Runeberg, after he received a letter
with the invitation dated 8 May from Sofia Tengström, determined
that he would not travel to Helsingfors since he was more interested
in meeting Emilie. They had not been able to meet during Easter when
he was in the main city.
Runeberg possibly had a chance to listen to Pacius composition
of "Vårt Land" some weeks later. For the first time
in Borgå on 29 May it was performed by musician Herry Wohllebe
with the help of "amateurs in Astenii place." At the concert
Runeberg possibly met Emilie Björkstén.
Scandal in Borgå
It is not clear if Runeberg intended to take part in the festival 13
May, now that posterity comprehends the reason for his absence. Strömberg,
who often idealized Runebergs life, sought to explain the fact,
while later writing about past problems. Strömberg merely suggested
the love relationship with Emilie Björkstén in his biographical
notes about Runeberg. After the scandalous ending it was not possible
for him to be unaware of the relationship. In addition, Emilie must
have shown Strömberg some of Runebergs letters to her, because
he quoted some of them word for word.
3 June 1848 Runeberg, together with Emilie and some other Borgå
women walked to Stensböle home (Fredrika Runeberg could not follow
since she was greatly pregnant). During the walk he gave her a copy
of his manuscript for "Vårt Land". "He had with
him his magnificent poem "Vårt Land", that he promised
me, and asked me if I had something for him because the day before I
promised to write some words from my heart", she later wrote in
her diary. At Stensböle house he hugged and kissed her, not knowing
that they were observed. The scandal was evident and after that Emilie
was subjected to widespread defamation and excluded from the social
life in Borgå. The mud-throwing continued after her death. J.
E. Strömberg and his daughter Ida became curators of Runebergs
home and were said to have taken part in the campaign where it was said
that Emilie Björkstén magnified history.
Runebergs letters to Emilie were stored away until 1940 when
Gunnar Castrén released them. Her diary was released in adapted
form in 1922 with a foreword by Werner Söderhjelm. The original
diary was burned and declared a fabrication.
Censor in Runebergs Archive
Runebergs infatuation for Emilie Björkstén became
a painful situation for many. It surely reached Fredrika Runebergs
ears when the scandal became known, but she first touched upon it long
after the 1860s in a letter to her son Walter. At least no earlier comments
were preserved. It is unusual to find a document from 1848 in the Borgå
collection, or in the archive Johan and Fredrika Runeberg left in custody
in Runebergs home. Nothing is found there in the archive that
mentions Runebergs infatuation.
In a letter to Emilie of April 1847, Runeberg professed that he wrote
in her diary that he had borrowed. No such copy was found in the archive,
which could mean that Runeberg only said that he wrote in the book,
but actually did not. The other possibility is that the copy was later
destroyed. In addition, Runeberg cut a corner of the cover of one of
the books and claimed it as a memento, but the cover could not be found
and was not kept. Of course, Emilies letters to Runeberg were
not kept, nor the childhood letters of Fredrika Jurvelius or Maria Nygren.
There is evidence that Maria Nygrens brother, after her death,
returned Runebergs letters to him but the letters are not in the
Runeberg was not only a poor letter writer, he wrote no diary or biographical
notes. The only things kept were some almanacs from 1827, 1829 and 1870.
There are only sporadic comments in them. No calendars from his most
active times were kept and the question is if he had any. Another mystery
is in Fredrika Runebergs archive. She corresponded diligently
with her sister Carolina Tengström in Helsingfors and with her
childhood friend Augusta Wallenius. In Borgå there are letters
from Fredrika to Carolina and from Carolina to Fredrika. It is notable
that no letters from Fredrika to Carolina before 1846 were found. There
is a break until 1849 when two letters were found and after that correspondence
resumed regularly with several letters per year. Among the letters from
Carolina to Fredrika there is an unfortunate gap. The preserved letters
began in 1847 when Carolina Tenström wrote seven letters to her
sister, then there is a break until 1856.
It is clear that many letters are missing from the period when Runeberg
devoted himself to his loves, beginning in 1840 with his infatuation
for Maria Prytz to 1848 when Emilie Björkstén was the object
of his attention. There are no preserved comments from Fredrika Runeberg
about "Vårt Land" and Fänrik Ståls sägner
in 1848. It was lucky that Emilie gave Runebergs letters to her
to her friend Mimmi Lagus who later donated them to Svenska Litteratursällskapet
to hold sealed until 1940.
Fredrika Runebergs letters to Augusta Wallenius were donated
to Svenska Litteratursällskapet. But there is a gap between 1846
and 1850. Did Fredrika not write at all or is it a question of something
else? It is thought there was a lively exchange of letters between the
sisters after Fredrika Runeberg moved to Borgå 1837, but many
letters have vanished. Carolina Tengströms letters to Fredrika
Runeberg came to Borgå first after Runebergs home became
a museum in 1885. The question is when and who has sorted out the archive.
Was it done by seveal people during different periods or is it a person
who did it in a methodical way?
It is known that Fredrika Runeberg went through all of Runebergs
manuscrips for the edition of Efterlämnade. It is also possible
that during Runebergs illness or after his death, Fredrika burned
those that she thought the world should not know about. She was always
loyal to her husband but it does not explain why her letters to her
sister were destroyed while the letters were found belonging to Carolina.
Possibly her sister had her sister destroy them or the sister did it
on her own behalf when she saw that the letters were sensitive. Another
possibility is that the "censor" interfered after the death
of all parties concerned; also that the letters have been weeded out
by curators of Runebergs home, J. E. or Ida Strömberg. Strömberg
returned Johan Ludwig Runebergs letters to Fredrika Tengström
from the time of engagement to the the family, perhaps he returned the
others also. Runebergs children had the right to determine what
eventually went into the archive.
Why was Runeberg not at the Festival?
It is possible there is nothing dramatic behind Runebergs reason
not to travel to Helsingfors on 13 May 1848. Very possibly he figured
this festival was one that he disliked. Present there were all the acadamecians
from the university and that they would pay homage to Runeberg would
embarrass him. But it is also possible that the festival didnt
interest him since he was intoxicated by thoughts of meeting Emilie.
Translated from Källan, 2004 by June Pelo
The article contains pictures of Runeberg and Emilie,
including a copy of a letter from Runberg to Emilie along with a drop
of his blood and lock of his hair. Theres a picture of Emilie
taken in 1860s with comments from a letter she wrote, saying she wanted
Runebergs letters under her head in her casket when she died.
Fredrika Runeberg answered her with a question whether she thought she
should "sleep sweetly on a pillow."
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