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by Bamber Gascoigne

Kasimir Agathon (Lönnbohm) Leino (1866-1919)


Finnish journalist, playwright, poet, and critic whose early works championed the ideas of freedom and humanism, but who later withdrew from daily polemics into dreams of beauty and historical imagination. Kasimir Leino's prominent career in theatre gradually ended when his health deteriorated. He wrote his major works between the years 1886 and 1905. Kasimir Leino was overshadowed by his younger brother Eino Leino (1878-1926), the dominating figure in Finnish poetry at the turn of the century and the following two decades.

Mitä huolin valtikasta,
Mitä kunniasta,
Mitä joukon suosiosta
Taikka maailmasta?
-Mikä on mun eloni määrä;
Oikeako vaiko väärä
Tietoni on elämästä -
Tästä, tästä
Totuuden mä tahtoisin.

(from 'Parantumaton', in Ristiaallokossa, 1890)

Kasimir Leino was born in Paltamo, Russian Finland, the sevent child of Anders Lönnbohm, a land surveyor, and Anna Emilia (Kyrenius) Lönnbohm, the daughter Karl Henrik Kyrenius, owner of the Tuokslahti manor. Both of his parents were culturally active, but when Anders was a free-thinker, Anna was very religious. At home the children produced small newspaper, and Kasimir wrote his first poems at the age of 12.

In 1879 Leino moved to Oulu where he studied at the Swedish Lyceum, but after a few years of studies he moved to Kuopio where he graduated in 1884 from the Private Swedish Lyceum of Kuopio. Next year he entered the University of Helsinki, graduating in 1888. During this period he also worked as a journalist in Hämeenlinna at Hämeen Sanomat under his brother Oskar Lönnbohm, who was the chief editor of the paper. Leino's first book Runokokeita, written in the spirit of Hippolyte Taine, came out in 1886. His brother wrote poems under the name O.A.F. Mustonen, but stopped publishing them after Kasimir's harsh criticism.

Like Olavi Paavolainen some 30 years later, Leino wanted to open windows to Europe. Between 1888 and 1890 he made trips Germany and France and in the summer of 1900 he travelled extensively in France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, and Poland, familiarizing himself with the latest developments in theatre.

Of all of his contemporary Finnish writers, Leino was the most French-oriented, along with Juhani Aho and Joel Lehtonen. Besides books for his personal reading, he brought with him back to Finland first-hand knowledge on current trends in literature and the arts. He did not feel comfortable in Helsinki, which he described in the short story 'Neron tähteet' as "a cold city of leisure, exclusion and personal despair". (Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature: Urban Experiences in Finnish Prose 1890-1940 by Lieven Ameel, 2014, p. 60)

Upon joining the staff of the liberal newspaper Päivälehti (later Helsingin Sanomat), Leino became its leading literature critic. By the end of the century, he was considered along with Juhani Aho and Arvid Järnefelt among the most influential writers. After a stint in Paris preparing his doctoral thesis, he returned to Helsinki, where he lectured on November 1891 on French literature, and intruduced Symbolist ideas to the public. A committed realist, Leino was not at that time overenthusiastic about the new movement. However, his lecture marked the beginning of the history of Symbolism – or Neo-romanticism – in Finland. Leino was not a good lecturer, he didn't have a carrying voice, but the writer Maila Talvio noted in her memoir, that Leino was a social lion, who mastered the etiquette and technique of hand-kissing.

Being interested in fashionable trends in thought, Leino wrote in 1894 for the Suomen Kuvalehti a series of articles on occultism and spiritism. Captured by the ideas of the Decadents, he argued in an article published in the magazine Valvoja, 'Uusia suuntia ranskan kaunokirjallisuudessa' (1892, New trends in French literature) that they aimed at enlarging spiritual insight, but the danger is that over-cultivation can get on one's nerves too much. Leino also participated in madame d'Espérance's spiritistic sessions and tried to figure out her tricks. The male participants were asked not to drink any alcohol or  smoke  for two weeks.  However, Leino  was exempted from it, but he was not allowed to take any photographs. In comparison with  Theosophy, which had also arrived in Finland, Leino considered  spiritism less rational and less modern.

Leino's doctoral thesis on the French writer and historian Prosper Merimée (1803-1870) appeared in 1895. He then worked as vice director of the Finnish Theatre (1895-96) and continued to write for newspapers, including Hämeen Sanomat, Uusi Suometar, and Päivälehti. In 1898-99 Leino edited with his brother Eino Leino the magazine Nykyaika, which took its model from the English Review of Reviews and the French Revue des Revues. Although they had 1,200 subscribers, the venture was not financially profitable and the brothers closed the magazine after a year. He disappeared from Helsinki's literature scene in 1899, when he was appointed director of the Finnish Regional Theater (Suomalainen Maaseututeatteri), established in Vyborg (Viipuri) and sponsored by Juho Lallukka. Leino traveled with the troupe around Finland for four years, and resigned from the company after quarreling with the board over the management and his salary. His own group, Suomen Näyttämö, functioned a year before closing.  

Kasimir Leino's poems were well received but he never gained such popularity as his brother Eino. Nowadays his work is mostly considered "formally faulty and factually shallow." More important than his poetic career was his work as a literature and art critic. He wrote short stories, a study of Minna Canth, the biography of the painter Aleksander Lauréus, and translated works from Merimée, Arthur Schnitzler, Guy de Maupassant, and Alphonse Daudet, and others into Finnish. For the composer Jean Sibelius he wrote lyrics for the Cantata for Conferment Ceremony of 1894. Leino's translation of Ibsen's play Brand was staged at the Finnish Theatre in Helsinki in the spring of 1899. Benjamin Leino, aged 47, was cast in the title role.

As a poet Leino represented realism in the early period of his career but became then interested in Neo-romanticism, and was among the first to make its theories known for the Finnish public. While in France Leino had acquainted himself with Symbolist movement and published then two articles dealing with its program and central poets, Mallarmé and Verlaine. Although he first suspected that Symbolism is a short-term phenomena, he stated in 1897 that it has replaced Realism. As an art critic he was especially interested in Akseli Gallén, Albert Edelfelt, Eero Järnefelt, Pekka Halonen, and V. Westerholm – all central artists at the turn of the century. When Gallén famous painting Symposion – with the figures of Sibelius, Robert Kajanus, the painter himself, and Oskar Merikanto, who has passed out – was exhibited in 1894 at the National gallery, he interpreted it as a work presenting "a fleeting moment in when life's short dream and everlasting eternity were occupying the thoughts of these young men". The more prosaic general public saw only drunken celebrities seated round a table, with huge wigs covering much of the scene. 

In his major collections, Ristiaallokossa (1890) and Väljemmillä vesillä (1893), Leino sought for the truth, which was for him  more important than finding it. A free-thinker, he declared that "nature and god are just names, the same thing, seen by diffferent eyes". Another central theme was the defence of individualism: "Once there was just one tyrant, now the great masses, thousands, imprison the thoughts." Leino did not experiment with new poetic techniques that were emerging in the literature, but kept on the traditional basis, in which rhyme, regular rhythm, and melodious words were the central elements. 25 vuotta (1908), a selection of poems, and Kenraali V. Döbeln (1908), a play written before his mental breakdown, were his last works of fiction. After 1909 Leino did not publish any books. He contributed to the conservative Uusi Suometar some articles and composed a few poems. The Finnish Writers' Associaton arranged in 1916 a special celebration in honor of Leino's work.

Signs of Leino's deteriorating health were obvious in the early 1910s. He could be spotted sitting at a café without moving four hours, he was underweight, constantly depressed, and had problems in taking care of himself. Unable to write, Leino lived unemployedin the last decade of his life. Because he had no money for heating, he wore at his small home in Alberga (Leppävaara) a fur coat in cold weather.

In the poem 'Aave' (ghost) Leino depicted "a black knight" riding through a forest. He used to watch and salute from behind his window the "ghost" a certain time of the night. "Ken on tää? Kuolon ruhtinas vai haamu / koleilta varjomailta tuiman tuonen? / Hän illoin ilmestyy ja musta ratsu / se hölkkää raskahasti metsän halki, / noin kengät kalkattavat kolkost' yössä –". Kasimir Leino died of cancer of liver on March 8, 1919, in Alberga. Beauty was his god, summarized his brother Eino Leino in his book Suomalaisia kirjailijoita: pikakuvia (1909).

For further reading: 'Kasimir Leino', in Aleksis Kivestä Martti Merenmaahan: suomalaisten kirjailijain elämänkertoja (1954); Suomen kirjallisuus. 4, Minna Canthista Eino Leinoon, ed. by Matti Kuusi, Simo Konsala (1966); Kasimir Leino runoilijana by Väinö Kaukonen (1966); Elämän meri by Annamari Sarajas (1961, pp. 20-31); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); 'Kasimir Leino', in Suomen kirjallisuus 2: runonlaulajista 1800-luvun loppuun by Eino Karhu (1979); 'Kasimir Leino', in Suomalaisia kirjailijoita: pikakuvia by Eino Leino (1909; 1983); Nykyajan kynnyksellä: kirjoituksia suomalaisen kirjallisuuden modernisaatiosta, ed. by Minna Toikka (1993); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Kirjaton Eino Leino: tarinoita kodittomuuden ajasta by Esko Piippo (2009); Satiiri Suomessa by Sari Kivistö & H.K. Riikonen (2022)  - Film: Runoilija ja Muusa (1978), directed by Jaakko Pakkasvirta, starring Esko Salminen as Eino Leino and Elina Salo as L. Onerva. The film also depicted Kasimir Leino's degration when he had lost his fight against a venereal desease that affected his nervous system.

Selected bibliography:

  • 'Realismi ja idealismi', 16.10.1885 (Hämeen Sanomat)
  • Runokokeita, 1886
  • Sukulais-rakkautta, 1886
  • Emmalan Elli: novelli, 1886
  • Elämästä: pienempiä kertomuksia, 1889
  • Ristiaallokossa: kokoelma runoelmia, 1890
  • Uusia suuntia Ranskan kirjallisuudessa, 1982 (first published in Valvoja 1892/1, pp. 25–41)
  • Kansanlapsi; Huutolaistyttö kehdon ääressä; Luonnon ihailua; Myrskylintu; Ma tahdon toivoa, 1893
  • Väljemmillä vesillä: uusia runoja, 1893
  • Prosper Merimée: elämäkerta ja teokset kirjallishistorialliselta kannalta, 1895 (dissertation)
  • Henrik Ibsen, Brand: runo 5:ssä näytöksessä, 1896 (translator; original title: Brand)
  • Minna Canth näytelmäkirjailijana, 1897
  • Runoja, 1899
  • Zacharias Topelius, 50 vuotta myöhemmin: proloogilla varustettu näytelmä kolmessa näytöksessä, 1899 (translator; original title: Efter Femtio År: skådespel i 3 akter m. prol.)
  • Jaakko Ilkka ja Klaus Fleming: viisi-näytöksinen historiallinen näytelmä 9:ssä kuvaelmassa, 1901
  • Nikolai I, Montenegron ruhtinas, Balkanin keisarinna: historiallinen runonäytelmä 3:ssa näytöksessä, 1904 (translator; original title: Balkanska tsaritsa, by Nikola I, King of Montenegro)
  • Lehtolapsi: 5-näytöksinen näytelmä, 1905
  • Testamentti y.m. kertomuksia, 1905
  • Prosper Mérimée, Carmen: espanjalaisen mustalaistytön elämäntarina, 1907 (translator; original title: Carmen)
  • Prosper Mérimée, Colomba: kertomus Korsikan oloista 1810-luvulta, 1907 (translator; original title: Colomba)
  • Alphonse Daudet, Kuninkaita maanpaossa. 1 osa, 1907 (translator; original title: Les Rois en Exil)
  • Alphonse Daudet, Kuninkaita maanpaossa. 2 osa, 1907 (translator; original title: Les Rois en Exil) 
  • Guy de Maupassant, Valittuja novelleja. 1 kokoelma, Elämäkerrallisella katsauksella varustettu, 1907 (translator)
  • Guy de Maupassant, Valittuja novelleja. 2 kokoelma, Elämäkerrallisella katsauksella varustettu, 1907 (translator)
  • Arthur Schnitzler, Kaksi kirjailijaa: yksinäytöksinen huvinäytelmä, 1908 (translator; original title: Litteratur)
  • Arthur Schnitzler, Viimeiset naamiot: yksinäytöksinen näytelmä, 1908 (translator; original title: Die letzten Masken)
  • Hovimaalaaja Aleksander Lauréus ja hänen ympäristönsä: tutkielma, 1908
  • 25 vuotta: valikoima runoja, 1908
  • Kenraali V. Döbeln, 1908
  • Prosper Merimée: Verikosto: kertomus Korsikan oloista 1810-luvulta, 1928 (translator; 2nd ed.)
  • Festmatsch, 1970 (music by Jean Sibelius, translated into Swedish by Nils Holmqvist)
  • Painuva päivä : J. H. Erkon, Kasimir Leinon ja Eino Leinon runoja, 1998  (ed. by Anja Yliportimo)
  • Elämästä: pienempiä kertomuksia, 2007 (first time publishded in 1889; Helsinki: BTJ Kustannus)
  • Testamentti, 2020 (first time published in 1905; Valkeakoski: Tiberius kirjat)


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