Erik Gustaf Geijer

Geijer Erik Gustaf Geijer was the son of a mill owner from Ransäter in Värmland, born in 1783. He came to Uppsala University in 1799 and was granted a Master’s degree in 1806. He had made a name for himself before that, however. A historical/oratorical essay, titled ‘In Honourable Memory’, about Sten Sture the Elder, had won him the Grand Prize of the Swedish Academy. His academic career was crowned by his appointment as professor of history in 1817. He held this chair until he became professor emeritus in 1846. On four occasions he served as rector magnificus (Vice Chancellor). In those days the rector was elected to serve for six months at a time.

Geijer was above all a historian. All historians are children of their time, and this was true in his case as well. Nevertheless, it can be claimed that he came to have an influence on following generations as well. Scholars’ interest in him as a historian continues unabated to this day. He was, Uppsala’s Karl-Gustaf Hildebrand once said, ‘one of the few Swedish historians who viewed history in general as problematic’ and he had stressed ‘the importance of a history that encompasses all social classes’. This is why he has remained strikingly modern.

But he did not only live in the past, but rather was involved in the contemporary political debate, also at the national level. From having a conservative outlook, he shifted in 1838 to a liberal view of society. This step, which was called his ‘apostasy’, appalled many of his old friends.

He was popular with Uppsala students, but this did not prevent him, on one occasion – when he was Vice-Chancellor and as such was obligated to observe what had been decided by the authorities, from coming into conflict with them. This was during the years of burgeoning Scandinavianism in the 1840s.

Regarding Geijer as a poet, it can be said that some of his poetry is outdated. But some of his shorter poems are among the true gems of Swedish lyricism, such as ‘I know a greeting more dear than you, world, can offer’ and ‘Thought, whose strife only night can see’. He was also an important composer – he has been called ‘the poet musician’. From one of his poems it is often quoted that he was born among the blue hills of Värmland but then ‘was obliged to live by the River Fyris’ in Uppsala. The latter is no doubt an expression of Geijer’s feeling for nature, because he actually enjoyed living in Uppsala. Nonetheless, when he became a professor emeritus he moved to Stockholm, but that was because it was easier for him to access the archives there. He died in the capital in the spring of 1847, but his remains were brought to Uppsala with great commemorative pomp and circumstance, and interred in the Old Churchyard.

Statue of Erik Gustaf GeijerAnyone coming from down in the city to the University Main Building cannot help but see him, Erik Gustaf Geijer, since he stands as a statue right in front of the edifice. Below him there is a woman playing music, called Geijer’s Thoughts. She was modelled on Geijer’s daughter Agnes.

The statue, which was unveiled (in pouring rain) in the 1880s, is so grand that it is said that strangers wonder whether it depicts a prince or prominent statesman. In fact, Geijer was just a professor. But a literary historian once queried whether any single person ever had such an impact on a Swedish university as Geijer did in the 1820s and 1830s. This explains the placement of the statue, and what has been written since should make it clear that the Geijer family continued to mean a great deal to the city and the University. What’s more, it should be pointed out that the beautiful timbered house, where the Geijers lived for a some years and is called the Geijer House, still stands as a much appreciated feature of the cityscape. It is used for activities relating to culture and research.