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August (Engelbrekt) Ahlqvist (1826-1889) - wrote also as A. Oksanen


Poet and critic, linguist, the first professor of Finnish at the University of Helsinki, best remembered as the strongest critic of the Finnish national writer Aleksis Kivi and his masterpiece Seitsemän veljestä (1870, Seven Brothers). Ahlqvist's harsh writings greatly contributed to Kivi's mental collapse and his early death at the age of 38. At his best, Ahlqvist himself was not an unskilful poet, although he admitted his inability to express finer feelings.

"Runoilijaks" ma ristittiin
Sanottiin Shakespeariksi,
Werraksi Wäinön väitettiin:
Muut' en mä ollut kuitenkaan
Kuin taitamaton tahruri
ja hullu viinan juoja vaan.

(in 'Eräs runoilija haudastaan', 1874, a mock poem on Aleksis Kivi)

August Ahlqvist was born in Kuopio, an illegitimate child of Maria Augustina Ahlqvist (1806-1886), a country servant, and Johan Mauritz Nordenstam (1802-82). Ahlqvist's father was a second lieutenant, who had later a distinguished career in the army and as a civil servant. He fought in wars in Turkey and Caucasia, returned to Finland in 1847, and was appointed in 1858 Vice-Chairman of the Senate's economic department. Nordenstam's position at that time corresponded to that of Prime Minister. He was appointed general in 1868. Ahlqvist never tried to hide his illegitimate background, but his father's position as one of the most influential figure's in the country helped him to overcome some obstacles. Due to his backgroung, Ahlqvist experienced in his youthall kinds of humiliations. At the age of 20 he swore revenge on behalf of his mother, who had brought up her four illegitimate children in difficult conditions without having much support from the society.

During the years in Kuopio, Ahlqvist began to contribute under the pseudonym A. Oksanen to the magazine Saimaa. It was edited by J.V. Snellman, one of his early benefactors, who became a senator in 1863. Ahlqvist also made friends with Elias Lönnrot. From Johan Ludvig Runeberg, whom he idolized, Ahlqvist adopted romantic view of the hard working peasants, who represented everything that was healthy in Finnish tradition. In 'Finnish Sonnet' he wrote: "Old Väinämöinen could not have believed / that one among our singers now responds / to the great Sonnet, and within its bonds / sings what by heroes would be well received."

At the age of 16, Ahlqvist fell in love with Amanda Granit, but was coldly treated by her parents. Later Ahlqvist returned to his early love in a poem, in which he confessed the pain of the separation. In 1847 Ahlqvist founded with D.E.D. Europaeus and Paavo Tikkanen the newspaper Suometar. He received his M.A. from the University of Helsinki and in 1860 he became a Ph.D. A scholarship enabled him to travel in Estonia and in northern Russia and Siberia. Between the years 1856 and 1859 he studied Finno-Ugric languages in the areas of Volga and Ural. Ahlqvist also made later expedition journeys to these regions (1877, 1880).

In 1863, after Elias Lönnrot, Ahlqvist was appointed professor of Finnish language and literature at the University of Helsinki. In the promotion poem from 1869 he welcomed Finnish into the halls of academic research, equally as important as the great world languages: "Käy sisään vaan, sä Suomen runotarkin, / Nyt Suomen suureen oppisaliin." Ahlqvist edited in the early 1870s the linguistic and literary paper Kieletär. From 1884 to 1887 he was chancellor of the university. Ahlqvist died on November 20, 1889, in Helsinki. He was married to Marie Antoinette Fabritius (d. 1919) from 1861. Four of their six children died early, three of them during the scarlet fever epidemic of 1869.

As a novelist and poet Ahlqvist started his career in the 1840s. He followed in Snellman's footsteps, adopting European poetic metres and forms, chiefly Germanic, into the language. In his anxiety to transform Finnish into a cultural language, Ahlqvist idealized rigid literary norms. Consequently, he rejected with disgust Kivi's earthy novel Seitsemän veljestä.

In his handbook on Finnish prosody, SUOMALAINEN RUNOUSOPPI (1863), he stated that where the word stress and length correspond are metrically strongest, hence they must make their effect together. Among his lyrical works published under the pseudonym A. Oksanen are the "etnographic dream" SATU (1847), in which his prediction that Finland would one day be independent managed to by-pass the censorship, and two collections of poems, SÄKENIÄ (first volume in 1860, the second, SÄKENIÄ, TOINEN PARVI, in 1868). In these works he attempted to adapt Finnish to several European meters.

Ahlqvist wrote the first Finnish-language sonnet, 'Suomalainen sonetti' (1854) and the first Finnish-language poetic ballad, 'Koskenlaskijan morsiamet,' which was set to music by the composer Jean Sibelius. His scientific works include several studies of the Finnish language. He also published memoirs, the first travel book in Finnish, MUISTELMIA MATKOILTA VENÄJÄLLÄ (1859), studies about Kalevala, and translations from such writers as Runeberg, Schiller, and Moliére.

Suomalainen sonetti
Ei tainnut vanha Väinämöinen luulla,
ett' oisi kenkään laulajoista meillä
soveltuva sonettien siteillä
runon tekoon Kalevalaisten kuulla.
Ei ustukaan käkömme mandelpuulla,
ei L a u r a t meitä kohtaa kirkkoteillä; -
ei ihme siis, jos Pohjolan rämeillä
ei soi sonetti A r n o l a i s e n suulla.
Suloinen kuulla kuitenkin tuo oisi,
ja siitä Suomalainen toivojensa
tulelle uutta kiihoitusta toisi,
jos kautta näiden laulukahlettensa
sen kieli, halvaksi havaittu, voisi
siteistä muista päästä irrallensa.

As a literary critic Ahlqvist was uncompromising and querulous – he avoided sentimentality and did not much care what other people thought of his opinions. Often at odds with his contemporaries and well aware of his double nature, hard and sensitive, he wrote: "Yks' perkele, / yks' enkeli / asuvat sydämessäni." (One devil, / one angel, / dwell in my heart.) Ahlqvist published his first attacks on the novel Seitsemän veljestä in Swedish to gain more audience for his views. The first critic appeared in the magazine Finlands Allmänna Tidning in 1870 and the second in 1873, after Kivi's death. He did not accept the author's realism and dismissed the novel as ugly, raw, and boring. Kivi's humor was strange for his taste, and he considered the language too unpolished and offending.

These malicious writings did not rise Kivi's close friends, among them Runeberg, to defend the author and his book. Alhqvist's third article, in Finnish, was printed in 1874 in Kieletär. He characterized the work "ridiculous and shameless". Kivi was dull and boring, and according to Ahlqvist Kivi's description of life couldn't be called artistic by any reasonable person. After Kivi's death Ahlqvist published a mock poem, in which he called the author an "incompetent scribbler and a mad drunk".

For further reading: August Ahlqvist runoilijana, arvostelijana ja tyyliniekkana. 1. Runoilijana by Aukusti Simelius (1914); Aleksis Kivi aikalaistensa arvostelemana by J.V. Lehtonen (1931); Ankara puutarhuri by Ilmari Kohtamäki (1956); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Suomen kieli, suomen mieli. August Ahlqvist vaikuttajana, ed.  Jaakko Anhava (1993); Skating on the Sea: Poetry from Finland, ed. and transl. by Keith Bosley (1997); A History of Finland's Literature, ed.  George C. Schoolfield (1998). 

Selected works:

  • Geografia eli maan opas, 1844 (translator, from Ludvig Stoud Platou's work)
  • Lyhykäinen kertomus Kristuksen armovaltakunnan menoista, 1845 (translator)
  • Satu, 1847
  • Finland och finnarne före landets underkufvande af svenskarne, 1849
  • Bidrag till Finska språkforskninggens historia före Porthan, 1854
  • Viron nykyisemmästä kirjallisuudesta, 1855
  • Tuhat yksi yötä; Ihmeellinen onni: itämainen satu, 1855 (translator)
  • Votisk grammatik jemte språkprof och ordförteckning, 1855
  • Venäläisiä sanoja Suomen kielessä, 1857
  • Anteckningar i Nordtschudiskan, 1859
  • Muistelmia matkoilta Venäjällä vuosina 1845-58, 1859
  • Läran on verben i mordwinska, 1859
  • Friedrich von Schiller: Laulu kellosta, 1859 (translator)
  • Jean-Babtiste Moliére: Väkinäinen naiminen: ilveilys yhdessänäytöksessä, 1860 (translator)
  • Suomalaisten suku-nimistä, 1860
  • Forschungen auf dem Gebiete der uralaltaischen Sprachen. I. Theil, 1861
  • Friedrich von Schiller: Kavaluus ja rakkaus, 1863 (translator)
  • Säkeniä, 1860, 1868 (translator)
  • Versuch Einer Mokscha-Mordwinischen: Grammatik Nebst Texten Und Wörterverzeichniss, 1861
  • Suomalainen runous-oppi kielelliseltä kannalta, 1863
  • Suomenmaan virkojen ja virastojen nimiä suomeksi, 1865
  • Matteuksen Evankeliumi: Karjalan kielellä selitysten kanssa, 1865 (translator)
  • Säkeniä: toinen parvi, 1868
  • Auszüge aus einer neuen grammatik der finnischen sprache, 1868
  • Valittuja Suomen kansan sananlaskuja. Nuorisoa varten Sana- ja asiaselitysten kanssa, 1869
  • Suomalainen murteiskirja, tahi lukemisia Viron, Karjalan, Vatjan, Vepsän ja Liivin kielillä suomalaisten sanastojen kanssa, 1869
  • Det vestfinska språkets kulturord, 1871
  • Uusi Suomalainen Lukemisto Suomalais-Ruotsalaisen Sanakirjan kanssa. Lyseilöitä varten, 1873 (editor)
  • Forschungen auf dem Gebiete der Ural-Altaischen Sprachen, 2. Theil, 1875 - Forskningar på de ural-altaiska språkens område. Andra delen (övers. 1871)
  • Suomen kielen rakennus, 1877
  • Täydellinen Kalevalan sanasto, 1878
  • Puhe Keisarillisen Aleksanderin-Yliopiston riemujuhlassa 2: na p. Maalisk. v. 1880, 1880
  • Muistopuhe Franz Anton Schiefner'istä. Suomen tiedeseuran vuosijuhlassa 29 p. huhtik. v. 1881, 1881
  • Tutkimus sivistyssanoista obilais-ugrilaisten kansojen kielissä, 1882
  • Unter Wogulen und Ostjaken. Reisebriefe und etnographische Mittheilungen, 1883
  • Elias Lönnrot Biografiskt utkast, 1884 - Elias Lönnrot: elämä-kerrallisia piirteitä (suom. 1884)
  • Tutkimuksia Kalevalan tekstissä ja tämän tarkastusta, 1886
  • Kalevalan Karjalaisuus. Kalevalasta itsestään ja muualta todistanut, 1887
  • Suomalaisia puhekokeita, 1889
  • Wogulischer Wörterverzeichniss, 1891
  • Wogulische Sprachtexte Nebst Entwurf Einer Wogulischen Grammatik Aus Dem Nachlasse Des Verfassers, 1894 (ed.  Yrjö Wichmann)
  • Oksasen runoja, 1898
  • Kirjet: Kielimiehen ja kaukomatkailijan viestejä 1845-1889 1845-1889, 1982 (toim. Maija Hirvonen, Kaisu Lahikainen)

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