Zacharias Topelius

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Zachris (Zacharias, Z., Sakari) Topelius (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈsakrɪs tɔˈpeːlɪʊs]; 14 January 1818 – 12 March 1898) was a Swedish-speaking Finnish author, journalist, historian, and rector of the University of Helsinki who wrote novels related to Finnish history in Swedish.


Life and career

Zacharias is his baptismal name, and this is used on the covers of his printed works. However, "he himself most often used the abbreviation Z. or the form Zachris, even in official contexts", as explained in the National Biography of Finland. Zachris is therefore the preferred form used in recent academic literature about him.[1]

The original name of the Topelius family was the Finnish name Toppila which had been Latinized to Toppelius by the author's grandfather's grandfather and later changed to Topelius. Topelius was born at Kuddnäs, near Nykarleby in Ostrobothnia, the son of a physician of the same name (Zacharias Topelius the Elder), who was distinguished as the earliest collector of Finnish folk-songs. As a child he heard his mother, Katarina Sofia Calamnius, sing the songs of the Finnish-Swedish poet Franzén. At the age of eleven, he was sent to school in Oulu and boarded with relatives in the possession of a lending library, where he nurtured his fantasy with the reading of novels.

He came to Helsinki in 1831 and became a member of the circle of young nationalist men surrounding Johan Ludvig Runeberg, in whose home he stayed for some time. Topelius became a student at the Imperial Alexander University of Finland in 1833, received his master's degree degree in 1840, the Licentiate degree in 1844 and was made a doctor of philosophy in 1847, having defended a dissertation titled De modo matrimonia jungendi apud fennos quondam vigente ("About the custom of marriage among the ancient Finns"). Besides history, his academic studies had for periods been devoted both to Theology and Medicine. He was secretary of Societas pro fauna et flora fennica 1842-1846, was employed by the university library 1846-1861, and taught History, Statistics and Swedish at the school Helsingfors lyceum during the same period.

Through the intervention of a friend, Fredrik Cygnæus, Topelius was named professor extraordinary of the History of Finland at the University in 1854. He was made first ordinary professor of Finnish, Russian and Nordic history in 1863, and exchanged this chair for the one in general history in 1876. He was rector of the university from 1875 until 1878, when he retired as Emeritus Professor and received the title of verkligt statsråd (Russian: действительный статский советник; literally "state councillor", a Russian honorary title).

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