Uppsala Romantics

The term ‘Uppsala Romantics’ refers to a broad, possibly diffuse, movement, but it normally comprises a number of intellectually influential personages in Uppsala c 1810–1850, all born in the late 18th century – among others, Geijer, Atterbom, Törneros, Boström, and Hwasser.

Around 1800 the mindset of Uppsala students and their younger teachers had been radical, under the influence of the French Revolution. After the upheavals of 1809, the outlook became more idealistic, nationalistic, and royalist. It is symptomatic that student glee club singing makes its debut during these years.

The foremost among the academic teachers was Erik Gustaf Geijer (1783–1847), son of a mill owner from the province of Värmland in the west. His statue was erected in 1888 in front of University Hall, in the most prominent place in academic Uppsala. As a young man, he belonged to the Geatish Union, which romanticised the distant past. He wrote poetry and composed music. As a historian he was intensely involved in the social debate of the day, and his pronouncements commanded great respect among students. His Memoirs are very readable, and some of his lyrical poems have retained their power.

Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom (1790–1855) was the son of a clergyman from the province of Östergötland who quickly made a name for himself as a precocious and learned student, a driving force in several literary societies. His foremost work is the verse play The Island of Happiness. His poetry attracts few readers today, but as a professor of aesthetics he came to have a major impact on the study of literature at Uppsala.

Adolf Törneros (1794–1839), from a simple home in Eskilstuna, became professor of elocution and poetry, that is, Latin. He wrote superb essays and little travelogues, and his letters reveal that he was one of Sweden’s greatest belletrists.

Cristopher Jacob Boström (1797–1866) from Piteå in the north, professor of philosophy, was a Christian idealist and political conservative who not only influenced generations of Uppsala students but also established the standards of the ideal Swedish civil servant.

Also counted among the Romantics is Israel Hwasser (1790–1860), from northern Uppland, a physician with a somewhat bizarre personality. He championed the idea of the university against proponents of vocational colleges like the Karolinska Institute and is without doubt one of the forces that helped Uppsala University prevail, in the face of great difficulties, in the middle of the 19th century.