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by Bamber Gascoigne

Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)


Leading German 18th-century dramatist, poet, and literary theorist. Friedrich von Schiller's first play, The Robbers (1781), was a landmark in German theatrical history. According to Schiller, a play is not a means to enjoyment; it is the very thing enjoyed. Aesthetic education is necessary, he argued, not only for the proper balance of the individual soul, but for the harmonious development of society. Schiller has been called "the Poet of Freedom".

Leis auf den Zehen kommt's geschlichen
Die Stille liebt es und die Nacht;
Mit schnellen Füssen ist's entwichen,
Wo des Verräters Auge wacht.

(from 'Das Geheimnis', 1798)

Friedrich Schiller was born in Marbach, Württemberg, of Lutheran parents. His father, Johannes Kaspar Schiller, was an officer and surgeon. Elisabeth Dorothea, Schiller's mother, was a pious, serious-minded woman. The Duke Karl Eugen (Charles II), who had control over his subjects' children, ordered Schiller attend the military academy (later the Hohe Karlsschule in Stuttgart) instead of studying theology.

In 1773 Schiller left home and spent miserable years under strict discipline, which only strengthened his longing for freedom. Female relations were forbidden entirely and the dormitory was kept lit even at night to keep the students from masturbating under the blankets. Reading Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) was punished. The Duke himself controlled the school, and had the pupils to compose flattering speeches to him. "I see before me the father of my parents," wrote also Schiller, "whose gifts I cannot recompense. I see him, and he takes my breath away." ('Introduction' by Nicholas Dromgoole, in Schiller: Volume One: The Robbers; Passion and Politics, translated by Robert David MacDonald, 2005) Schiller studied first law and entered then the newly created medical department. During this period his teacher Jakob Friedrich Abel introduced him to the ideas of European Enlightenment and tried to persuade  him to join the Illuminati, a secret society founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776 to abolish monarchy and religion.

In 1780 Schiller was dismissed from the academy after writing a controversial essay on religion, On Relation Between Man's Animal and Spiritual Nature. At the age of 21, he was forced to join his father's regiment.

Despite his father's efforts, Schiller continued to write. His first drama, Die Räuber, was printed at his own expense in 1781, and performed next year in Mannheim. The play about a Karl Moor, the leader of a band of robbers, who has rejected his the values of his father, gained with its revolutionary appeal immediate success among students. "The theatre was like a madhouse-rolling eyes, clenched fists, hoarse cries in the auditorium," wrote an eye-witness. "Strangers fell sobbing into each other's arms, women on the point of fainting staggered towards the exit. There was a universal commotion as in chaos, out of the musts of which a new creation bursts forth." (Reading, Writing, and Romanticism: The Anxiety of Reception by Lucy Newlyn, 2000, p. 319) The playwright himself was nearly arrested for neglecting his military duties in Stuttgart, where he was a regimental doctor.

Romantic writers in England, especially Samuel Taylor Coleridge, admired The Robbers, and greeted with enthusiasm its theme of liberty. In a letter Coleridge wrote: "Who is this Schiller? This Convulser of the Heart?" (Coleridge, Schiller and Aesthetic Education by Michael John Kooy, 2002, p. 9) However, Coleridge's translation of Schiller's Wallenstein (1796-99) from 1800 was so savagely criticized that he did not want to touch to Goethe's Faust.

The theme of the conflict between a father and son continued in Don Carlos (1787), in which the eldest son of Philip II of Spain, Don Carlos, is torn between love and court intrigues. This time the forces of reaction win, although the movement of history is on the side of the representatives of the new way of thinking. (In real-life history, Don Carlos, "unhappy prince of Spain," was not in love with his stepmother. Moreover, he was mentally unstable.)

Don Carlos was received much more warmly than Goethe's Torquato Tasso (1790). Verdi's famous opera from 1867 drew on Schiller's play. His works inspired also Brahms, d'Indy, Lalo, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Richard Strauss, and Tchaikovsky. 'An die Freude' (Ode to Joy), Schiller's best-known poem, was later set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven in the choral movement of his Ninth Symphony. - Other poems and ballads: Das Ideal und das Leben (Life and the Ideal); Der Spaziergang (The Walk); Die Macht des Gesanges (The Power of Song); Der Handschuh (The Glove); Der Taucher (The Diver). 

When the duke pressured Schiller for his Sturm und Drang output, he fled to Württemberg. In 1783 he was given a post of theater-poet at the Mannheim theater, but he lost it in 1784. During this period Charlotte von Kalb, a married woman, inspired his work; she was portrayed in Don Carlos as Elizabeth of Valois. Unsatisfied with his play, produced in 1787, Schiller completed no dramatic work for thirteen years.

Between 1787 and 1792 Schiller lived in Weimar and Jena. He wrote almost exclusively on historical subjects, among others about the Thirty Years War (1791-93). In Weimar he assisted Goethe in the direction of the Court Theater by adapting many plays for the stage, including Goethe's Egmont and Iphigenia in Tauris, Jean Racine's Phaedra, and Shakespeare's Macbeth. The first part of a History of the Revolt of the United Netherlands from Spanish Rule (1788) did not only secure Schiller a Chair of History at the University of Jena, but stimulated the German historiography. When giving his inaugural lecture, the university turned out to be too small for the occasion, and Schiller marched with the enthusiastic crowd, shouting "freedom", to the town hall. In 1793 he met Friedrich Hölderlin, and helped the younger poet to obtain his first post as a tutor. Schiller also published some of Hölderlin's poems and fragment of his novel Hyperion (1797-99).

In 1790 Schiller married Charlotte von Lengefeldt - a deep blow to Charlotte von Kalb, from which she never recovered. With Charlotte he had four children. Because of pneumonia and pleurisy, Schiller was forced to give up in 1791 his professional duties; he remained an invalid until his death. He wrote in the 1790s philosophical poems and studies about philosophy and aesthetics under the influence of Kant's Critique of Judgement.

Goethe observed in 1827 that "the idea of freedom dominates all Schiller's work . . . in his youth it was physical, in his later years idea freedom that concerned him." (Researching the Song: A Lexicon by Shirlee Emmons and Wilbur Watkins Lewis, 2006, p. 405) In has been said many times, that Goethe and Schiller were kindred spirits. There were profound differences too. One day, Goethe found to his astonishment that Schiller kept rotten apples in his desk drawer; he could not live or write without their scent. "An air that was beneficial to Schiller acted on me like poison," Goethe said to Johann Eckermann. (The Life of Goethe by George Henry Lewes, Second Edition, Volume the First, 1864, p. 138) Like Goethe, in due course, Schiller made his peace with the established order.

Although Schiller first greeted the French Revolution with enthusiasm, he then became horrified by the wave of violence and planned to write a book or pamphlet in defence of the king. When he was made an honorary citizen of the French Republic by the Jacobines, he rejected the homage. "These two weeks past," he wrote in a letter in February 1793, "I can read no more French papers, so disgusted am I with these wretched executioners." (The Life and Works of Friedrich Schiller by Calvin Thomas, 1901, p. 259) Schiller died in Weimar on May 9, 1805, at the age of 46. His last drama, Demetrius (1815), was left unfinished. Schiller's last words were: "Many things are growing plain and clear to me." (Epigrams of Art, Life, and Nature by William Watson, 1884, p. LXXXVIII)

"Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum."

"Joy, thou spark from Heav'n immortal,

Daughter of Elysium!
Drunk with fire, toward Heaven advancing
Goddess, to thy shrine we come. "

(from 'Ode to Joy,' 1785, translated by Theodore Spencer)

Schiller's dramatic trilogy Wallenstein depicted the tumultuous period of the Thirty Years War. Before the work was completed, parts of it were performed in Weimar. Maria Stuart (1800) was about Queen Elizabeth I of England and the last days of Mary Queen of Scots, when she was held captive in the Castle of Fothernghay. Wilhelm Tell (1803), based on chronicles of the Swiss liberation movement, was dedicated as a New Year's Gift to the World. It tells about the famous hero, a mountain man who fought for freedom and became the embodiment of courage. "The mountain cannot frighten one who was born on it," Tell says to his countrymen in Act III. Schiller's idealism in Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801, The Maid of Orleans) was parodied in Bertolt Brecht's Die Heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe (1932, St. Joan of the Stockyards).

Meeting with Goethe in July 1794 led to renewal of Schiller's creative talents. He encouraged Goethe to return to his Faust and Goethe contributed his journal Die Horen from 1795 to 1797. Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (1795, On the Aesthetic Education of Man) was written in the aftermath of the French regicide and Reign of Terror. Schiller states that aesthetic matters are fundamental for the harmonious development of both society and the individual. In the society, where people are just parts in a larger machine, individuals are unable to develop fully. Freedom can occur only through education. The key to education is the experience of beauty.

But as the English general Talbot says in Die Jungfrau von Orléans: "Against stupidity the very gods / Themselves contend in vain." (Schiller's Maid of Orleans, translated by Anna Swanwick, 1899, Act III, Scene VI, p. 102) Nietzsche twisted this aphorism into another form: "Against boredom even Gods struggle in vain." (The Antichrist, translated from the German with an introduction by H.L. Mencken, 1920, p. 137) Schiller's advice in to an artist was: "Live with your century; but do not be its creature; render to your contemporaries what they need, not what they praise." (On the Aesthetic Education of Man, translated with an introduction by Reginald Snell, 1954, p. 54) 

In another major theoretical essay, Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung  (1794-95, On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry), Schiller explorers the contrasts between the "naive" and "sentimental" modes, enlarging his study into analysis of nature and culture, feeling and though, the finite and the infinite. Modern poets will never regain the immediate and unconscious-the naive-relationship to nature. Poets, he argued "will either be nature, or they will seek lost nature." Introspective by nature, Schiller considered himself "sentimental" or reflective writer, when his friend Goethe was an archetype of the "naive" genius. The ideas presented in On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry have been developed further by thinkers such as Hegel, C.G. Jung, Herbert Read, and Herbert Marcuse. Thomas Mann said that the essay "suggests in its superlative brilliant fashion that speculative and intuitive minds, given genius in both, must meet halfway, because they are of equal rank and belong together." (Last Essays by Thomas Mann, 1959, translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston and Tania and James Stern, p. 15)

Schiller was in the Nazi Germany a more attractive figure than Goethe.  Goebbels  claimed that Schiller was "the poet of the German revolution", referring to the Nazi seizure of power. (Nazi Germany and The Humanities: How German Academics Embraced Nazism by Wolfgang Bialas and Anson Rabinbach, 2014, p. 59) The 175th anniversary of the poet's birth, in 1934, was made into a national spectacle. When Hitler visited  the Schiller House, he placed a bouquet of red roses with a swastika garland on Schiller's deathbed. Mathilde Lundendorff, a neuropsychiatrist and General Ludendorff's wife, who had a large following among Nazis, maintained in her pamphlet Mozarts Leben und gewaltsamer Tod (1936), that Mozart, like Schiller, Lessing and many others, had been poisoned by the Freemasons.

For further reading: The Life of Friedrich Sciller by T. Carlyle (1825); Das Drama Scillers by W. Spengler (1932); Schiller by William Witte (1949); Schiller's Writings on Aesthetics by S.S. Kerry (1961); Friedrich Schiller by Emil Stariger (1967); Schiller: Zeitgenosse aller Epochen, ed. by N. Oellers (1970-76); Schillers Rhetorik by Gert Uding (1971); Friedrich Schiller by John Simon (1981); The Classical Center: Goethe and Weimar by T.J. Reed (1986); Schiller to Derrida by Juliet Sychrava (1989); Friedrich Schiller: Drama, Thought and Politics by Lesley Sharpe (1991); The Development of German Aesthetic Theory from Kant to Schiller by Patrick T. Murray (1994); Dialectic of Love: Platonism in Schiller's Aesthetics by David Vaughan Pugh (1997); Life and Works of Friedrich Schiller by C. Thomas (2001); A Companion to the Works of Friedrich Schiller, edited by Steven D. Martinson (2005); Who Is This Schiller Now?: Essays on His Reception and Significance, edited by Jeffrey L. High, Nicholas Martin, and Norbert Oellers (2011); Aesthetic Reason and Imaginative Freedom: Friedrich Schiller and Philosophy, edited by María del Rosario Acosta López and Jeffrey L. Powell (2018); Goethe und Schiller in der filmischen Erinnerungskultur by Jana Piper (2019); Friedrich Schiller im Nationalsozialismus: die Festreden Heinrich Lilienfeins als Generalsekretär der "Deutschen Schillerstiftung" by Judith Gloria Pörschke (2021); Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self by Andrea Wulf (2022); Schillers Feste der Rhetorik, herausgegeben von Peter-André Alt und Stefanie Hundehege (2022) - Suom.: Suomeksi Schilleriltä on julkaistu mm. Laulu kellosta, suom. August Ahlqvist, Salome (suom. Helmi Krohn), Valitut teokset, runoja kokoelmissa Runon pursi ja Tuhat laulujen vuotta. Schillerin teoksia on kääntänyt 1800-luvulla mm. Pietari Hannikainen, ensimmäisen julkisesti esitetyn suomenkielisen näytelmän tekijä.

Selected works:

  •  Die Räuber, 1781 (prod. 1782)
    - The Robbers (translated by F. J. Lamport, 1979; Robert David MacDonald, 1995)
    - Rosvot (suom. C. Edv. Törmänen, 1879; Juhani Siljo, 1915)
  • Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782, 1782
  • Die Verschwörung des Fiesco zu Genua, 1783 (prod. 1984)
    - Fiesco, or The Conspiracy of Genoa (translated by G.H. Nochden and J. Stoddart, 1796)
  • Kabale und Liebe, 1784 (prod.)
    - Cabal and Love (tr. 1795) / The Minister (translated by Matthew Gregory Lewis, 1798) / The Harper's Daughter (tr. 1813) / Intrigue and Love; a Bourgeois Tragedy (translated by Charles E. Passage, 1971) / Love and Intrigue: a Bourgeois Tragedy (translation and notes to the text by Flora Kimmich; introduction by Roger Paulin, 2019)
    - Kavaluus ja rakkaus (suom. August Ahlqvist)
  • Der Verbrecher aus Infamie, 1786 (as Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre, 1792)
    - The Dishonoured Irreclaimable (translated by R. Holcroft, in Tales from the German, 1826)
  • Don Karlos: Trauerspiel in fünf Akten, 1787 (prod.)
    - Don Carlos (translated by Mike Poulton; also translated by James Kirkup, in The Classic Theatre, 1959; Hilary Collier Sy-Quia, 1996)
    - Don Carlos (suom. Toivo Lyy, 1953)
  • Geschichte des Abfalls der Vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung, 1788
    - History of the Rise and Progress of the Belgian Republic (translaterd by Thomas Horne, 1807) / History of the Revolt of the Netherlands (translated by The Rev. A.J.W. Morrison, 1847)
  • Der Geisterseher, 1787-89
    - The Ghost Seer, or Apparationist (tr. 1795) / The Armenian; or, the Ghost-Seer (translated by W. Render, 1800) / The Ghost-Seer (translated by Henry G. Bohn, 1992)
    - Henkiennäkijä (suom. Toivo Lyy, 1955)
  • Geschichte des dreißigjährigen Krieges I-III, 1791-93
    - History of the Thirty Years' War (translated by the Rev. A. J. W. Morrison, 1873)
  • Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, 1794-95
    - Upon the Aesthetic Culture of Man (in Philosophical and Aesthetic Letters and Essays, 1845) / On the Aesthetic Education of Man (trans. Reginald Snell, 1954) / On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters (translated by E.M. Wilkinson and L.A. Willoughby, 1967)
  • Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung, 1795
    - On Simple and Sentimental Poetry (in Essays Aesthetical and Philosophical, 1884) / On the Naive and Sentimental in Literature (translated by Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly, 1981) / On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (translated by Julius A. Elias, with On the Sublime, 1966)
    - Naiivista ja sentimentaalisesta runoudesta (suom. Henriikka Tavi, 2008)
  • Egmont / Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1796 (prod., from the play by Goethe)
  • Wallenstein, 1796-99 (trilogy): Wallensteins Lager, 1800 (publ.);Die Piccolomini, 1800 (publ.); Wallensteins Tod, 1800 (publ.)
    - Wallenstein (translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1800) / Wallenstein: a Historical Drama In Three Parts (trans. Stephen Spender / Wallenstein's Camp; The Piccolomini; The Death of Wallenstein (translated by F. J. Lamport, 1979)
    - Wallenstein 1-2 (suom. Vilppu Koskimies, 1920) / Wallenstein-trilogia (suom. Toivo Lyy, 1955)
  • Maria Stuart, 1800 (prod.)
    - Mary Stuart (translated by Joseph C. Mellish, 1801; Anne Trelawny, 1838; Sophie Wilkins, 1959; Stephen Spender, 1959; Charles E, Passage, 1961; F. J. Lamport, in Five German Tragedies, 1969; Robert David MacDonald, 1987; Jeremy Sams, 1996)
    - Maria Start (suom. Toivo Lyy, 1953)
  • Gedichte, 1800-1803 (2 vols.)
  • Macbeth / William Shakespeare, 1801 (based on Shakespeare's play)
  • Die Jungfrau von Orléans, 1801 (prod. 1800)
    - The Maid of Orleans (translated by John Drinkwater, 1835) / The Maiden of Orleans (translated by John T. Krumpelmann, 1959) / Joan of Arc (translated by Robert David Macdonald, 1987)
    - Orleansin neitsyt: romantillinen murhenäytelmä (suom Edvin Avellan, 1875) / Orleansin neitsyt (suom. Toivo Lyy, 1950)
  • Nathan der Weise / Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 1801 (prod., from the play by Lessing)
  • Turandot, Prinzesin von China, 1802 (based on Carlo Gozzi's play)
  • Der Neffe als Onkel, 1803 (based on Louis-Benoît Picard's play Encore de Ménechmes)
    - The Nephew as Uncle (tr. 1856)
  • Der Parasit; oder, Die Kunst, sein Glück zu machen, 1803 (prod., (translator, from Louis-Benoît Picard's play Médiocre et rampant)
    - The Parasite (tr. 1856)
  • Die Braut von Messina, 1803
    - The Bride of Messina (translated by George Irvine, 1837; Charles E. Passage, 1962)
    - Messinan morsian (suom. Toivo Lyy, 1955)
  • Wilhelm Tell, 1803-1804
    - Wilhelm Tell (translated by Samuel Robinson, 1825; John Prudhoe, 1970; William F. Mainland, 1972)
    - Wilhelm Tell: 1 näytös (suom. Emil Hårdh, 1879) / Wilhelm Tell (suom. Eino Leino, 1907; Toivo Lyy, 1955)
  • Die Huldigung der Künste, 1804 (prod.)
  • Phèdre / Racine, 1805 (based on Jean Racine's play)
  • Iphigenie in Aulis / Euripides, 1897 (from the play by Euripides)
  • Demetrius, 1815 (fragment)
  • Der Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethe, 1829 (3 vols.)
    - Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller (translated by George H. Calverr, 1845) / Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller 1794-1805 (editd and translated by Liselotte Dieckmann, 1994)
  • The Poems and Ballads of Schiller, 1844 (by Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton)
  • The Philosophical and Aesthetic Letters and Essays, 1845
  • The Works of Friedrich Schiller, 1846-49 (4 vols.)
  • Historical Dramas, 1847
  • Werke, 1847-49 (4 vols.)
  • Dramatic Works, 1851
  • The Poems of Schiller Complete, 1851 (translated by E.A. Bowring)
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1904-1905 (16 vols., edited by Eduard von der Hellen)
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1910-11 (20 vols., edited by Otto Güntter and Georg Witkowski)
  • Aesthetical and Philosophical Essays, 1902 (edited by Nathan Haskell Dole)
  • Werke, 1943- (edited by Julius Petersen and G. Fricke)
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1958-59 (5 vols., edited by G. Fricke, H.G. Gröpfert, H. Stubenrauch)
  • Briefe 1776-1789, 1969 (edited by Karl Pörnbacher)
  • Werke und Briefe, 1988-95 (12 vols. projected, in progress)
  • Essays, 1993 (edited by Walter Hinderer and Daniel O. Dahlstrom)
  • Werke und Briefe : in zwölf Bänden, 2000- (edited by Otto Dann, et al.)
  • Schöne Briefe, 2004 (edited by Norbert Oellers)
  • Der Briefwechsel / Friedrich Schiller, August Wilhelm Schlegel, 2005 (edited by Norbert Oellers)
  • Schiller’s Literary Prose Works: New Translations and Critical Essays, 2008 (edited by Jeffrey L. High)
  • Der Briefwechsel: historisch-kritische Ausgabe / Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 2009 (2 vols., edited by Norbert Oellers and Georg Kurscheidt)
  • Avanturen des neuen Telemachs: eine Bildgeschichte von 1786 = Adventures of a New Telechmachus, 2018 (herausgegeben und mit einer Einführung versehen von Dietrich Grünewald; ins Englische übertragen von Stephan Packard und Elizabeth Nijdam)
  • Love and Intrigue: A Bourgeois Tragedy, 2019 (Kabale und Liebe, 1784; translation and notes to the text by Flora Kimmich; introduction by Roger Paulin)
  • Schillers Werke--Neunzehnter Band, Teil II. Historische Schriften: Anmerkungen zu den Bänden 17 und 18 (Register zu den Bänden 17-19I), 2034- (herausgegeben von Waltraud Hagen [gestorben] und Thomas Prüfer; in Zusammenarbeit mitBernhard Fischer, etc.)

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