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What did Runeberg do on 13 May 1848


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What Johan Ludvig Runeberg did on 13 May 1848 was nothing, but we do know what he didn’t do. He didn’t take part in the May festival at Gumtäkt’s meadow when "Vårt Land" captured its place as Finland’s national anthem. And why wasn’t 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 didn’t 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. Tengström’s 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 Runeberg’s 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 didn’t 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 Runeberg’s 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 university’s 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 wasn’t 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 Runeberg’s honor in Brunnshuset in Helsingfors and there he experienced the enthusiasm of the country’s 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 student’s 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. Runeberg’s 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. Ehrström’s composition was sung for the first time at the Österbottniska department’s yearly festival 9 Nov 1846. J. E. Strömberg didn’t mention if Runeberg was present at this festival. Runeberg’s own composition of "Vårt Land" was first performed at Borgå’s 500th Jubilee 3 Dec 1846. Although Strömberg didn’t 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. It’s 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 people.

Something of this immediate response to Pacius’ composition was also found in Runeberg’s admirer Zachris Topelius when he wrote in Helsingfors Tidningar 17 May about the student’s march to Gumtäkt: "The music corps waited at the long bridge with the chorus, to perform Runeberg’s "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. Runeberg’s former newspaper Helsingfors Morgonblad noted the festival briefly, but the news was no longer considered news and the Borgå tidningar didn’t 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 great importance.

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 one’s time.

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 Thilda’s sickness. A year after that previously mentioned letter to A. F. Borenius about Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s letters to her, because he quoted some of them word for word.

On 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 Runeberg’s home and were said to have taken part in the campaign where it was said that Emilie Björkstén magnified history.

Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s Archive

Runeberg’s infatuation for Emilie Björkstén became a painful situation for many. It surely reached Fredrika Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s home. Nothing is found there in the archive that mentions Runeberg’s 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, Emilie’s letters to Runeberg were not kept, nor the childhood letters of Fredrika Jurvelius or Maria Nygren. There is evidence that Maria Nygren’s brother, after her death, returned Runeberg’s letters to him but the letters are not in the archive.

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 Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s letters to her to her friend Mimmi Lagus who later donated them to Svenska Litteratursällskapet to hold sealed until 1940.

Fredrika Runeberg’s 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 Tengström’s letters to Fredrika Runeberg came to Borgå first after Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s manuscrips for the edition of Efterlämnade. It is also possible that during Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s home, J. E. or Ida Strömberg. Strömberg returned Johan Ludwig Runeberg’s letters to Fredrika Tengström from the time of engagement to the the family, perhaps he returned the others also. Runeberg’s 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 Runeberg’s 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 didn’t interest him since he was intoxicated by thoughts of meeting Emilie.

Agneta Rahikainen

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. There’s a picture of Emilie taken in 1860s with comments from a letter she wrote, saying she wanted Runeberg’s 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."

June Pelo

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