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The Republic of Finland


HE press has spread the news that two envoys are being sent by the Finnish Government to ask for official American acknowledgment of the Republic of Finland. One of them, Dr. K. Ignatius, is already in Washington, and the other, Professor J. Reuter, is on his way to America. Finland has reached an agreement with the Russian Government; Sweden, Denmark, France, and Germany have already acknowledged the new republic, and the other European countries are soon expected to act accordingly. The task for the Finns in Washington does not, therefore, seem a hopeless one.

Finland is admittedly one of the most interesting small countries of Europe, beautiful in its natural scenery, but poor in soil, though high in intellectual development. The vast majority of its three and a half million of inhabitants belong to the Finnish-Ugrian stock, the origin of which is not yet clear. The Finnish language is soft and musical, but exceedingly difficult to learn.

The Finns are a wide-awake people, though they are among the youngest in civilization. Only a hundred years ago they were a handful of unlettered folk without schools or native literature. Today they are a highly educated nation, with no illiteracy, with an excellent educational system, with art, literature and music standing on a high plane of development. Fate was kind to Finland, creating the necessary circumstances for this rapid development: a change in the political status of the country, a powerful national awakening all over Europe, the discovery of the Finnish national epic, "The Kalevala," and finally enough political oppression to make the nation exert all its economic and intellectual power in the fight for national existence.

From the middle of the twelfth century to the beginning of the nineteenth, Finland was under Swedish rule. During all that time little was done to raise the standard of the Finnish-speaking population. Education was obtainable only in Swedish, the language of the ruling few.

The creative power of a naturally gifted nation had, nevertheless, to find expression, and it was chiefly during these centuries that the vast treasure of Finnish folk-lore was vas created.

In 1809, after the last Russo-Swedish War, Finland came under Russian rule and received a liberal local autonomy from Czar Alexander I. The semi-independent status of the country made the nation gain in confidence and responsibility. Finland rapidly became aware of the fact that a new era in her history had begun, and when the great national awakening took place in Europe, she threw herself heart and soul into the movement. The Swedish-speaking upper classes showed a deep understanding of the spirit of the times, adopting the work for the Finnish nation as their own. Later on, when the Finns felt themselves grown up and wanted to be masters in their own house, the Swedish upper classes naturally resented it, and a bitter fight over the supremacy of the two languages began. The outcome was clear beforehand. The language of the majority gained ground quickly, and is now the ruling language in all departments of national life in Finland.

In the beginning of the last century Finland had a few powerful intellectual leaders who helped the nation to find its own soul. J. L. Runeberg, J. W. Snellman, and Elias Lönnrot are the most important names of that time. Runeberg was the greatest poet of the nation, who, though he wrote in Swedish, gave the truest and most inspiring interpretation of the spirit.

of Finland struggling for national expression. Snellman was a philosopher, a disciple of Hegel, who created the philosophic background to the national move


Significant as the works of Runeberg and Snellman were to the Finnish nation, still more important was the work of Elias Lönnrot. He was the son of a poor tailor in a little village far away in the heart of Finland. His genius and his unbreakable energy opened to him the way to education, and he became a physician. At that time some Finnish folk-lore had already been collected, and was known to Lönnrot. He was deeply impressed by it, and when his work took him to those districts of Finland where the old songs, or runos, were still sung by the people, he began to collect them systematically and with great care and judgment. Lönnrot possessed all the qualities required to make him. peculiarly fit for the work he had undertaken. He had the natural instinct of a peasant singer combined with thorough learning and a deep love for those old runos, created and sung generation after generation by this racially isolated little nation in the North. He was certainly more competent than any one else to arrange the different fragments of the runos each in its right place, thus giving to the Finns their national epic, "The Kalevala."

The importance of this gift cannot be over-rated. Here was a country whose people had just awakened from a dream of centuries, and were beginning to understand that they were a different nation and had to work out their own salvation in their own peculiar way. Or, to quote "The Kalevala," they had to find "the word of origin" which would give them the key of life. They had a language, yes, but was it fit for artistic and scientific purposes? They were willing to take part in the work of mankind, but did they have anything original, anything of their own to offer?

"The Kalevala" gave a triumphant answer to all those questions. Its runos held music, and in it all lay the keynote of the whole nation's philosophy of life, because

it was created not by one person, but by the nation itself. "The Kalevala" became the broad basis upon which the Finnish language and the Finnish culture developed during the days when Finland was assuming a national entity.

At the present time the literature of Finland forms a very interesting group of its kind. Finland is the natural intellectual buffer state between East and West. It is the territory where the waves from both sides meet and break. This does not mean, of course, that Finland is a kind of devastated no-man's-land which has lost its own fertility. The intellectual waves from East and West have had, on the contrary, a wonderfully invigorating effect upon modern Finnish literature. The Finns have always shown themselves exceedingly sensitive to the different currents in European life. When a strong force is working in one corner of Europe, the Finns feel it immediately, and invite it to their own country. The result, however, becomes another in Finland than in the country whence the influence came. There was a time when Guy de Maupassant was charming Finland, but the character of the Finnish Maupassant was vastly different from that of his French brother, though there existed a family likeness. In the same way a Finnish Tolstoy has another expression of life than the Tolstoy of Russia, though his moral and philosophic principles may be the same.

The greatest living novelist of Finland. is undoubtedly Juhani Aho. There has never been any one to describe Finnish nature with the subtlety and tenderness of Juhani Aho, and as a master of the Finnish language he has not yet been surpassed. He started as a realist, but later on joined the neo-romanticists, which seems to be more in accordance with his


The Tolstoy of Finland is Arvid Järnefelt, a personal friend and devoted follower of the Russian genius. His success as a writer has been great in the Northern countries, but not as a prophet. Asceticism of the Tolstoyan kind seems to be impossible even north of the arctic circle.

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