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||Emil Nestor Setälä (1864-1935)|
Linguist, folklorist, politician, who drafted the linguistically correct text for the Finnish independence declaration in 1917. Setälä wrote in Finnish the first grammar of the Finnish language, which was used in schools from the 1880s until the 1950s. Earlier grammatical studies were published in Swedish, Latin, or in other languages – Swedish had been the sole language of higher education for centuries.
"Tutkimus on osoittanut, että Kalevalan runot suurimmaksi osaksi eivät ole ikivanhoja, eivät edes pakanuudenaikuisia, ja ettäne joka tapauksessa sisältävät melkoisen paljon uusia aineksia. Ja kaikista vähimmin me saatamme ajatella vanhan suuren yhtenäisen eepoksen olemassaoloa, vaan päinvastoin ovat ne runokertomukset, jotka ovat muita laajemmat, vasta myöhemmin yhtyneet suuremmiksi kokonaisuuksiksi... Se ihana kulta-aika kansanelämässä, jotka Kalevalan katsottiin todistavan, on ollut olemassa vain mielikuvituksessa, jossa jokainen voi luoda itselleen ihanan murheista vapaan maailman." (from Valvoja 1909)
Emil Nestor Setälä was born in Kokemäki, the son of a prosperous farmer. His father died early and he was raised by his mother's sister Miina Palonen and her husband Lauri. Miina had no children of her own and Setälä's mother had her hands full with coping with the big farm as well as with their mutual and her late husband's children through his previous wife.
Already at school Setälä was noted for his linguistic talents. He wrote at the age of 17 a Finnish grammar book, Suomen kielen lauseoppi, which was used in his own school as a textbook. The work was largely based on A.W. Jahnsson's dissertation Finska språkets satslära and Josef Budenz's grammar Finn nyelvtan olvasmányokkal és szótárral. Also Arvid Genetz helped Setälä in the work but Jahnsson never received wide acknowledgment for his study. Later research has proved, that Setälä partly plagiarized Jahnnson's work.
Setälä's doctoral thesis on linguistics was finished in 1886. In 1890-91 appeared Setälä's pathbreaking study Yhteissuomalainen äännehistoria. which dealt with the consonants. Setälä never continued the work and later he rejected the view used in the book. He founded with Kaarle Krohn the periodical Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen and in 1893 he was appointed professor of Finnish philology and literature at the University of Helsinki – at the age of 29. Setälä's Suomen kielioppi, a basic textbook in Finnish grammar, came out in 1898. It was used in schools over 50 years.
Among Setälä's major works in folklorism are Kullervo-Hamlet (1904-11), Väinämöinen ja Joukahainen 1913), and Sammon arvoitus (1932, The Riddle of the Sampo), in which he rejected the idea that the heroes of the Kalevala have been historical figures, claiming that they represent metaphorical personifications of natural phenomena. Setälä was one of the founders of the Kalevala Society and directed it until 1935.
From 1897 to 1905 Setälä edited the influential periodical Valvoja and advocated passive resistance when Russia aimed at integrating Finland more firmly with the rest of the Empire. Before and after Finland gained independence, Setälä was elected several times to Parliament (1904-06, 1907-10, 1917-27). He first represented the estate of the clergy and from 1918 he was a member of the Conservatives (KOK). The Civil War in 1917-18 was a deep blow to Setälä's view of the people, which was much based on Runebergian idealism – the people had betrayed its leaders; it needed more education. After the war he founded with the artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela, the sculptor Alpo Sailo, and the folklorist Väinö Salminen the Kalevala Society. While presiding over the Finno-Ugrian Society, Setälä both sought contacts with researchers in the Soviet Union and was a proponent of annexing Russian East Karelia to Finland.
Setälä was a minister of education in 1925 and a minister of foreign affairs in 1925-26. Between the years 1927 and 1930 he was the Finnish ambassador in Copenhagen and Budapest. From 1926 to 1935 he was a chancellor of the University of Turku. During the time of his death he wanted to transfer its funds for the use of the research institute Suomen Suku, which he partly owned. This attempt had caused a severe crisis inside the administration of the university. As a politician Setälä never gained the position he wanted although he served two times as Minister of State – he was used to have success in his activities but this was one of the great failures in his life. An authoritarian figure, he could mock his inferiors but did not tolerate if somebody tried to have fun at his expense. When his marriage was breaking he contemplated suicide but decided then that he cannot do it because his fatherland needs him.
Exceptionally energetic Setälä needed daily only 4-5 hours sleep. He
owned a large estate, called Toimela, in Järvenpää. The estate was
self-sufficient and needed much personnel. Setälä did not have time to
look after its management and finally the situation led to his personal
bankruptcy. His neighbour was the composer Jean Sibelius, who was
shocked when one day in June 1935 lumberjacks began to cut down trees
in the woods. To save the forest he loved, Sibelius purchased the
property from the estate. In Toimela's park Setälä used to walk naked.
He believed the "air baths" strengthened the physical frame and
prevented diseases. However, Setälä was not alone with his ideas,
several intellectuals in the 1920s and 1930s supported nudism,
including the writer Olavi Paavolainen.
Setälä died on February 8, 1935, near Helsinki. He was married twice, first with the writer and translator Helmi Krohn. Their daughter, the writer and architect Salme Setälä, published several novels, including Arpalippu (1926), Sangen tavallisia virkanaisia (1937), and Tilinteon hetki (1962). Her juvenile book, Minä olen Marlen (1961), received the Topelius award. – In 1913 Setälä married Kirsti Thomsen, the daughter of the Danish linguist Vilhelm Thomsen.Their son drowned at the age of six.
For further reading: Nuori sanaseppä by Salme Setälä (1954); E.N. Setälä kielentutkijana by Paavo Ravila (1964), Emil Nestor Setälä by Mikko Korhonen (1986); E. N. Setälän poliittinen toiminta vuosina 1917-19 by Pekka Kares (1992); E.N. Setälä vaarallisilla vesillä by Fred Karlsson (1999); E.N. Setälä - kansallinen vaikuttaja by Saara Peltola (1999); Sanan valta: E. N. Setälän poliittinen, yhteiskunnallinen ja tieteellinen toiminta by Vesa Vares and Kaisa Häkkinen (2001) - See also Helmi Krohn's siblings: Kaarle Krohn, Aino Kallas