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Adolf Ivar Arwidsson

Adolf Ivar (Johan) Arwidsson
Born August 7, 1791, Padasjoki. Died June 21, 1858, Vyborg.

Bachelor of Arts, 1814, Master of Arts, 1815, the Royal Academy of Turkku
Studies at Uppsala University 1817-18

Amanuensis 1825–34, senior amanuensis 1834–43, Chief Librarian, National Library of Sweden (Stockholm)
Docent in History 1817–22, the Royal Academy of Turku
Journalist 1821, Åbo Morgonblad

Curator of the Finnish nation 1818, Uppsala University

Swedish Order of the Polar Star 1851

Photo: National Library of Sweden, J. Cardon
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Social Criticism from the Other Side of the Gulf

In 1823, when Adolf Ivar Arwidsson’s political writings led him into exile in Sweden, he found that his subversive reputation had already preceded him. He had difficulties finding work, as Sweden was careful in its foreign policy, which forced him to earn a living through miscellaneous writing work. Two years later, he was granted Swedish citizenship, and due to his personal connections was appointed amanuensis at the National Library of Sweden.

Arwidsson returned to Finland in 1827 on an antiquarian research trip. The visit was brief, however, for the authorities swiftly deported him to Sweden. Arwidsson’s trip proved unwise, as it served to further entrench his position as a political dissident. He continued his political writing from Sweden, criticising Finland’s Russian system even more starkly than before.

Arwidsson’s writing on Finland was of two distinct types. On one hand he wrote political satire under pseudonyms, publishing, among other things, the travel regulations of Emperor Nicholas I for the province of Viipuri, which made the bureaucracy of the system a laughing stock in both Finland and Sweden.

On the other hand, between 1838 and 1842 Arwidsson was one of the most serious thinkers on the Finnish cause. He published many pamphlets under the pseudonyms Pekka Kuoharinen and Olli Kekäläinen (the identity of the latter is still disputed). He wrote vivid descriptions of Finland’s impoverished situation and the strictness and oppression of the Russian government. Following this period, Arwidsson became interested in writing about Finland once more during the Crimean War of the mid-1850s.

In addition to his political writing, Arwidsson was also a renowned scholar. The peak of his career was his appointment as director of the Swedish National Library in 1843. Some of his most notable publications were a textbook on Finnish history and geography, the three-volume Svenska Fornsånger (1834-1842) as well as biographical presentations of the Swedish kings. Later he published a ten-volume series on historical sources concerning Finland Handlingar till upplysningar af Finlands häfder (1846-1858).

The first volume in the series 'Svenska Fornsånger' by Adolf Ivar Arwidsson. Photo source: Internet Archive.

Arwidsson was removed from the blacklist of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm in 1843, after which he was allowed to visit Finland again. He travelled to Finland as late as 1858, when he was celebrated in many cities as the successor of Henrik Gabriel Porthan.

Arwidsson died suddenly during a trip to Viipuri. His gravestone was later engraved with the following words by Elias Lönnrot: Maan oman rakkaus vei hänen maasta ja toi hänen jälleen. Nyt hänen ain’omanaan kätkevä on oma maa (‘Love of his homeland took him away and brought him back once more. Now it is this land that hides him').”

Arwidsson’s lifework has been regarded from many perspectives. On one hand he has been considered an early exponent of Finnish independence and a developer of a national identity, on the other hand an embittered product of his time. Arwidsson is often remembered for the patriotic slogan attributed to him: “Swedes we are not, Russians we do want not to become, let us then be Finns”. In reality the phrase was not his at all, but is based on a stark interpretation of Arwidsson’s political thinking by Johan Vilhelm Snellman in 1861.

A Lithograph of Adolf Ivar Arwidsson by J. Cardon. Photo source: Swedish National Library.


  • Kari Tarkiainen, Arwidsson, Adolf Ivar, National Biography online publication. Accessed August 4, 2015. Available for free via Nelli
  • Sverker Ek, Adolph Ivar Arwidsson, Svenskt biografiskt lexikon online publication. Accessed August 4, 2015.
  • Adolf Ivar Arwidsson, Wikipedia online publication. Accessed August 4, 2015.
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