Go Back

Karl Collan

Born January 3, Iisalmi. Died September 12, 1871, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1850, Licentiate 1860 and PhD 1864, Imperial Alexander University

Librarian 1866–71, Imperial Alexander University Library
Librarian 1858–64, Student Library
Lecturer of German 1859–66, Imperial Alexander University
Amanuensis extraordinary 1852–53, Imperial Alexander University Library
Teacher 1849, 1852–60, Helsingfors fruntimmersskola
Teacher 1845. 1856–57, 1859, Helsinki Lyceum

Acting curator of the Faculty of History and Literature 1859–60
Treasurer of the Finnish Literature Society 1856–62

Photo: Museovirasto
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Diligent Student and Powerhouse of the Savo-Karelian Student Nation

Son of the vicar of Iisalmi, Karl Collan graduated with the highest overall grade from the Helsinki Lyceum in 1842. The very same day he enrolled at the University. At the time, every student was required to be a member of a student nation. Thanks to his high grades, Collan was granted free membership of the Savo-Karelian Nation.

Collan, who had matriculated at the age of 14, began his university studies with classical languages and literature. The following summer he passed the scholarship exam entitling him to apply for a bursary. According to his diary, the achievement led to a merry celebration in the Kaisaniemi restaurant with his fellow students.

The Savo-Karelian Nation was small and recently established, and in Collan’s day, its members numbered fewer than one hundred. Nevertheless, an unusually large proportion of them were aristocratic youths from outside Savonia and Karelia. The publication of the Kalevala had led to the Nation receiving an influx of students keen on National Romanticism.

The Nation became a central part of Collan's leisure pursuits. He was a regular at its weekly meetings, where presentations were given and issues of the day were debated. When the Nation decided to found a choir, he became one of its active members. Furthermore, Fredrik Pacius selected him for second tenor in his Academic Male Voice Choir.

Since Collan’s parents had died while he was still a child, he was, aside from his bursaries, effectively penniless. In the autumn term of 1844, he was forced to postpone his studies in order earn the money to continue at the University. He spent more than a year as a tutor in the city of Vyborg.

After his return from Vyborg in Spring 1846, Collan became even more active in his Nation. He became conductor of the Nation’s choir and lecturer at its weekly meetings. He also was a keen participant in the Nation’s recently founded Finnish Society. It adopted J. V. Snellman's Fennoman ideology, and its active members went on to found the newspaper Suometar.

The further Collan’s studies progressed, the more thought he devoted to the place of music in his life. He had sung, played the piano, and attended concerts since childhood. His first compositions and writings were published while still a student, but he was unconvinced he could support himself by music alone.

In 1850, Collan graduated as Master of Arts. He had finished his Master's thesis two years previously, but at the time a pass-mark was required in each and every subject at the Faculty. There were twelve in all, and in history and in Greek literature Collan earned the highest grade. He also earned a diploma from the practical teaching test. To relax after a demanding spring, he and some friends took a holiday in the city of Turku.

Karl Collan’s first Master’s thesis, finished in 1860, on Serbian folk songs. Photo: Google Books.


  • Tarja Lehtinen, Karl Collan (1828 – 1871) kulttuurivaikuttajana, ('Karl Collan as cultural figure'), unpublished Master's thesis, Helsinki 1987.
  • Esko Häkli, Collan, Karl, National Biography of Finland online publication. Accessed 14 December 2015.
  • Collan, Karl”, Nordisk familjebok 1880, 466 – 467. Projekt Runeberg online publication. Accessed 14 December 2015.
  • Karl Collan, Wikipedia. Accessed 14 December 2015.
Go Back