Viru bard and Vändra nightingale
Archived Articles 01 Jun 2006 Eva VabasaluEWR
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Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, (1803-1882) was born in Kadrina, Lääne-Viru county, a country doctor, writer and acerbic intellectual who for 44 years ministered to the sick in remote regions surrounding Võru in a horse and buggy on poor roads for little money. He disdained the Baltic German Lutheran clergy for keeping the peasants of Estonia in a state of oblivion and unconsciousness. As an author of educational books wanting to offset this travesty he wrote Kalevipoeg which first appeared in a series of pamphlets beginning 1857 to 1859 to arouse national pride.

Concurrent to Kreutzwald's epic folk writings, Russia gave the Latvians first and then the Estonians second permission to publish their own tabloids. In 1857 the first continuously published Estonian language newspaper appeared - Johann Voldemar Jannsen's Perno Postimees (Pärnu Courier). Kreutzwald was very critical of the Pärnu Courier causing Jannsen to defend himself saying "I am not writing for great and learned minds, I'm writing to enlighten the small and unknowing minds." Jannsen, who held the "Viru Bard" in high esteem, did not take personal umbrage with Kreutzwald's criticisms. Jannsen was a crucial mouthpiece as a journalist and poet, and a tireless organizer of many events including the first national song festival held June 1869. He wrote the words for "Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm" (My Fatherland, My Joy and Happiness). Jannsen was the first to use the word "Estonian" in print. The word "Eesti" itself was not used in any widespread sense earlier than the 19th century.

In 1863 Jannsen moved his family to Tartu and began publishing a new weekly Eesti Postimees (The Estonian Courier.) His eldest daughter, Lydia Emilia Florentine who was born in Vändra on December 24, 1843, wrote articles and poems for the newspaper under her father's name as it was bad taste for a woman's name to appear in print (a "bluestocking"). When Carl Robert Jakobson, a radical member of the national movement and an eminent contributor to the The Estonian Courier, published Kooli Lugemise raamat, (School Reader), a number of Lydia's poems were included under the name "Koidula," a pen-name coined by Jakobson. Her work poignantly described national despair and blazoned hope for the future, all of which had a powerful effort on the growing identity of Estonians. The brilliance of Koidula's writing was the intense emotion she was able to ignite.

Koidula, being her famous father's daughter, was privileged to know several prominent intellectuals including Jakob Hurt, a theologian and a moderate member of the national movement, who addressed the first song festival stressing the importance of education and a steadfast commitment to the Estonian nation.

In November of 1867 Koidula began an intense intellectual exchange by mail with Kreutzwald, who was 40 years her senior. She initiated the correspondence which produced in total 94 letters between them. Mesmerized, Kreutzwald wrote to her after a year's correspondence saying:

"You have enchanted me by witchcraft or some other kind of magic, so that you could lead me, as you would lead a kitten with a straw, in any direction you chose," and "I will always adore you as my ideal! You may be able to rob me of the joy of our continued correspondence, but you will not be able to erase the memory of the former joy, which will be with me till I draw my last breath. That which the boy surmised, the young man dreamed of, and the man ever dared to imagine about a woman, that for me became a reality through my acquaintance with you....."

Mrs. Kreutzwald was alarmed and threatened by her husband's captivation but managed to rein in her husband's ardour.

Later on when Koidula was considering a marriage suitor she consulted Kreutzwald about her choice of husband. He emphasized "personal magnetism." She married Eduard Michelson in 1873, a Latvian physician, who was very Germanized. Baltic Germans had dominated the country for so long that many had been fused in a double identity or had assimilated into the German culture altogether. Koidula herself was very proficient in speaking and writing German, as it had been the primary language spoken in her home, but as she had been instrumental in raising ethnic awareness amongst Estonians she had serious concerns about the consequences and appearances of marrying a non-Estonian.

Koidula's glory days of writing plays and organizing song festivals atrophied due to the couple's move to Kronstadt on Kotlin Island, a short distance north-west of St. Petersburg. She continued to write to the end of her days her last book being "Before Death to Estonia." She died from breast cancer on August 11, 1886 at age 42. Koidula had two daughters, and such is irony, neither of them were raised in Estonia or spoke the language. Koidula's best work is considered to be Emajõe Ööbik (The Emajõe Nightingale) Her power to breathe soulful life into an impoverished language and her drama work gave birth to Estonian theatre at Vanemuine (a society created by the Jannsens). For further reading about Koidula's life I highly recommend the excellent book Symbol of Dawn by Madli Puhvel.

Carl Jakobson's desperation to establish his own newspaper was blocked by the Baltic-German authorities in response to his articulate criticisms against the suppressive educational system, a common cry made by Kreutzwald and others. Jakobson was successful in publishing his newspaper Sakala from 1878 on.

In 1992 when the kroon was reinstated as currency Koidula's portrait was printed on the 100 kroon paper money, Jakobson's on the 500 kroon and Hurt's on the 10 kroon. Estonian stamps have honoured the portraits of Koidula [1993, 2002], her father J. Jannsen [1999], Jakobson [2002] and Kreutzwald [1938].

Kreutzwald and Lydia Koidula were the first most dazzling bright lights of Estonian literature. Some even say that their correspondence belongs to Estonia's greatest writings of the 19th century.
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