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||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,
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.
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
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 new trends in 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. He 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. Though 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.
Although his poems were well received, Kasimir Leino did not gain such popularity as his brother Eino, and 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.
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.
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) - 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.