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Johan Ludvig Runeberg

Born February 5, 1804, Pietarsaari. Died May 6, 1877, Porvoo

Master of Philosophy 1827, Imperial Academy of Turku

Home tutor 1822–1826
Docent of Eloquence 1830, Imperial Alexander University
Teacher 1831–1836, the Swedish-language Helsingfors Lyceum
Lektor in Roman and Greek letters 1837–1857 and rector of the Gymnasium at Porvoo 1847–1850

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by John Calton

Fame in Porvoo

Johan Ludvig Runeberg enrolled for the Imperial Academy of Turku in 1822, at the same time as J.V. Snellman and Elias Lönnrot. The similarities between the three gentlemen did not end there. In fact, they later became firm friends. Runeberg came from a poor family in Jakobstad ( Fin. Pietarsaari) on the north-west coast of Finland, but he managed to fund his studies by taking on work as a private tutor in several places, including a place called Saarijärvi. And it was there that he first got to know the essentially Finnish manners and culture of the Finnish interior.

Runeberg completed his studies at the Imperial Academy at Turku in 1827. He had his doctoral degree conferred upon him in the same year, which meant he could apply for a teaching post in the University and concentrate on academic work. ‘Janne’ Runeberg also went with the University when, after a devastating fire, it moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1828.

During his time as a private tutor he became acquainted with Fredrika Tengström. They married in 1831. In the first years in Helsinki however Johan Ludvig lived with his companions. He rented a three-room courtyard annex in the city centre and his good friend Fredrik Cygnaeus in due course became his tenant. On occasion Snellman would also lodge with them. Meanwhile a career at the University wasn’t as forthcoming as Runeberg had thought. He was given a docentship – unpaid. He earned a living principally as a tutor and jobbing journalist.

In Helsinki the celebrated soirées, Lauantaiseura, began to be a feature of the city’s cultural life, with Runeberg, Snellman and like-minded mutual friends gathering on Saturday evenings to conduct discussions about literature and philosophy. They took it in turns to arrange the meetings at one another’s homes. Later the society was to concentrate on issues of national identity and promote the idea of Finnishness in all areas of social and cultural as a worthy ideal. The society boasted many individuals committed to this ideal of national awakening. Runeberg became the society’s leading figure, but with his move to Porvoo in 1837 the Saturday salon could only rely on his intermittent presence.

Runeberg was appointed lektor in the senior secondary school in Porvoo. His wife had little enthusiasm for the move, but all the same joined her husband in the spring. Fredrika didn’t feel at home in Porvoo’s social circles, a problem which was exacerbated by Johan Ludvig’s tendency to spend evenings on the town accompanied by young ladies. The most infamous of these was probably Emilie Björkstén; indeed, the relationship caused a minor scandal when it became known. By that point however Runeberg already enjoyed the status of national poet and the revelation did little to dent his public image.

Besides his teaching duties, Runeberg wrote for the local newspaper, Borgå Tidningar. The Runebergs continued to bring up their children in Porvoo. They had eight children, two of whom died in early childhood. The family lived the rest of their lives in Porvoo. No surprise then that Johan Ludvig was considered a Porvoo man.


  • Raija Majamaa & Marjut Paulaharju, J. L. Runeberg. Suomen runoilija. Hämeenlinna: Karisto Oy, 2004.
  • Matti Klinge, ’Runeberg, Johan LudvigNational Biography of Finland. Accessed 19 December,2014. (in Finnish)
  • Wikipedia, ’Johan Ludvig Runeberg’. Accessed 19 December, 2014.


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