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Edvard af Brunér

Edvard Jonas Wilhelm Brunér (from 1840 af Brunér)
Born October 30, 1816, Porvoo. Died September 1, 1871, Helsinki

Baccalaureate 1832, Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts 1836, Licentiate 1846, PhD (top of class) 1847

Extraordinary amanuensis of Helsinki University Library 1836–1840, permanent amenuensis 1840–42, senior amenuansis 1842–48
Docent in Roman literature 1840–48
Research assisant in Greek and Roman literature 1848–52
Professor of eloquence and poetics (from 1852 Roman literature) 1851–
Dean of the Department of History and Language Sciences 1867–68
Conferrer of academic degrees at the Department of History and Language Sciences 1860

Membership of associations and academic societies:
Finnish Literature Society 1841
Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters 1856, chairman 1861–62
Inspector (supervisor) of the Uusmaalainen student nation 1868–71

Order of St Anne, 3rd class 1856
Order of Saint Stanislaus, 2nd class 1863
Privy Councillor 1869

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tiia Niemelä
Translated by Matthew Billington

A university career cut short

An interest in literature, history and poetry on the one hand, and politics on the other, were already present in Edvard af Brunér’s childhood home. His father, the Lawspeaker Jonas af Brunér, was involved in establishing the political direction of the Grand Duchy of Finland, and was granted a position in the aristocracy in 1840 in reward for his efforts. His mother, Sara Kristina Franzén, was the sister of the poet Bishop Frans Michael Franzén. Edvard’s older brother, Frans Olof, (1807–74) followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a senator, long-term member of the Committee for Finnish Affairs and privy councillor.

The younger of the af Brunér brothers also engaged in affairs of state by giving a speech in Latin at the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and a speech in Swedish at the Crown Prince’s wedding. Nevertheless, his real career was forged at the University.

The path to becoming a professor was nevertheless far from clear. Af Brunér had received a somewhat flimsy private education, and his shy disposition had led him to study in solitude; consequently, his bachelor degree grades were far from flattering. Nevertheless, he chose to continue studying at the University of Helsinki alongside his work as amanuensis of Helsinki University Library, apparently with the intention of improving his performance. In 1847 he received a PhD, coming top of his class, which opened the door to teaching Classical literature at the University, first as a docent and research assistant, and from 1851 as a professor.

As a professor, af Brunér strove to raise the standard of teaching in his discipline, both at the University and in schools. He wrote a school textbook on Latin grammar, Latinsk elementargrammatik, which was published in 1855 and was used in Swedish-speaking grammar schools until the turn of the century. At the University he came up with the idea of the philological seminar and composed the first degree requirements for Classical languages in partnership with his colleague, later University Rector, Wilhelm Lagus.

In 1860, Af Brunér set the goal of his academic subject as the provision of profound knowledge of language, literature and culture, as distinct from the prior emphasis on practical Latin language skills.

He was also a member of the Finnish Literature Society and was generally interested in the promotion of Finnish cultural history. He wrote biographies of eminent figures and drew attention to the University’s collection of mediaeval manuscripts. He also worked as dean of the Department of History and Language Sciences for one year, but his career was cut short by illness in 1870. Edvard af Brunér was just 55 years of age when he died on September 1, 1871.

Bernhard Reinhold’s portrait of Edvard af Brunér (1873). Picture: Timo Huvilinna, Helsinki University Museum

Väisänen, Maija. Brunér, Edvard af (1816-1871). National Biography online publication. Accessed November 16, 2015.
University of Helsinki Teacher and Officer Roll 1640–1917. Accessed November 16, 2015

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