1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von
SCHILLER, JOHANN CHRISTOPH FRIEDRICH VON (1759-1805), German poet, dramatist and philosopher, was born at Marbach on the Neckar, on the 10th of November 1759. His grandfather had been a baker in the village of Bittenfeld, near Waiblingen; his father, Johann Kaspar (1723-1796), was an army-surgeon, who had settled in Marbach and married the daughter of an innkeeper, Elisabeth Dorothea Kodweis (1732-1802). In 1757 Schiller's father again took service in the army and ultimately rose to the rank of captain. The vicissitudes of his profession entailed a constant change of residence; but at Lorch and at Ludwigsburg, where the family was settled for longer periods, the child was able to receive a regular education. In 1773 the duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg claimed young Schiller as a pupil of his military school at the “Solitude” near Ludwigsburg, where, instead of his chosen subject of study, theology, he was obliged to devote himself to law. On the removal of the school in 1775 to Stuttgart, he was, however, allowed to exchange this subject for the more congenial study of medicine. The strict military discipline of the school lay heavily on Schiller, and intensified the spirit of rebellion, which, nurtured on Rousseau and the writers of the Sturm und Drang, burst out in the young poet's first tragedy; but such a school-life had for a poet of Schiller's temperament advantages which he might not have known had he followed his own inclinations; and it afforded him glimpses of court life invaluable for his later work as a dramatist. In 1776 some specimens of Schiller's lyric poetry had appeared in a magazine, and in 1777-1778 he completed his drama, Die Räuber, which was read surreptitiously to an admiring circle of schoolmates. In 1780 he left the academy qualified to practise as a surgeon, and was at once appointed by the duke to an ill-paid post as doctor to a regiment garrisoned in Stuttgart. His discontent found vent in the passionate, unbalanced lyrics of this period. Meanwhile Die Räuber, which Schiller had been obliged to publish at his own expense, appeared in 1781 and made an impression on his contemporaries hardly less deep than Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen, eight years before. The strength of this remarkable tragedy lay, not in its inflated tone or exaggerated characterization — the restricted horizon of Schiller's school-life had given him little opportunity of knowing men and women — but in the sure dramatic instinct with which it is constructed and the directness with which it gives voice to the most pregnant ideas of the time. In this respect, Schiller's Räuber is one of the most vital German dramas of the 18th century. In January 1782 it was performed in the Court and National Theatre of Mannheim, Schiller himself having stolen secretly away from Stuttgart in order to be present. The success encouraged him to begin a new tragedy, Die Verschwörung des Fiesco zu Genua, and he edited a lyric Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782, to which he was himself the chief contributor. A second surreptitious visit to Mannheim came, however, to the ears of the duke, who was also irritated by a complaint from Switzerland about an uncomplimentary reference to Graubünden in Die Räuber. He had Schiller put under a fortnight's arrest, and forbade him to write any more “comedies” or to hold intercourse with any one outside of Württemberg. Schiller, embittered enough by the uncongenial conditions of his Stuttgart life, resolved on flight, and took advantage of some court festivities in September 1782 to put his plan into execution. He hoped in the first instance for material support from the theatre in Mannheim, and its intendant, W. H. von Dalberg; but nothing but rebuffs and disappointments were in store for him. He did not even feel secure against extradition in Mannheim, and after several weeks spent mainly in the village of Oggersheim, where his third drama, Luise ' Müllerin, or, as it was subsequently renamed, Kabale und Liebe, was in great part written, he found a refuge at Bauerbach in Thuringia, in the house of Frau von Wolzogen, the mother of one of his former schoolmates. Here Luise Müllerin was finished and Don Carlos begun. In July 1783 Schiller received a definite appointment for a year as “theatre poet” in Mannheim, and here both Fiesco and Kabale und Liebe were performed in 1784. Neither play is as spontaneous or inspired as Die Räuber had been; but both mark a steady advance in characterization and in the technical art of the playwright. Kabale und Liebe, especially, is an admirable example of that “tragedy of common life” which Lessing had introduced into Germany from England and which bulked so largely in the German literature of the later 18th century. In this drama Schiller's powers as a realistic portrayer of people and conditions familiar to him are seen to best advantage. Although Schiller failed to win an established position in Mannheim, he added to his literary reputation by his address on Die Schaubühne als eine moralische Anstalt betrachtet (1784), and by the publication of the beginning of Don Carlos (in blank verse) in his journal, Die rheinische Thalia (1785). He had also the opportunity of reading the first act of the new tragedy before the duke of Weimar at Darmstadt in December 1784, and, as a sign of favour, the duke conferred upon him the title of “Rat.”
before this, become hopeless, accepted the invitation of four unknown friends — C. G. Körner, L. F. Huber, and their fiancées Minna and Dora Stock with whom he had corresponded, to pay a visit to Leipzig. He spent a happy summer mainly at Gohlis, near Leipzig, his jubilant mood being reflected in the Ode an die Freude; and in September of the same year he followed his new friend Körner to Dresden. As Körner's guest in Dresden and at Loschwitz on the Elbe, Schiller completed Don Carlos, wrote the dramatic tale, Der Verbrecher aus Infamie (later entitled Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre, 1786) and the unfinished novel, Der Geisterseher (1789). The Rheinische Thalia was continued as the Thalia (1786-1791 ; in 1792, again renamed Die neue Thalia), and in this journal he published most of his writings at this time. Körner's interest in philosophy also induced Schiller to turn his attention to such studies, the first results of which he published in the Philosophische Briefe (1786). Don Carlos, meanwhile, appeared in book form in 1787, and added to Schiller's reputation as a poet. In adopting verse instead of prose as a medium of expression, Schiller showed that he was prepared to challenge comparison with the great dramatic poets of other times and other lands; but in seeking a model for this higher type of tragedy he unfortunately turned rather to the classic theatre of France than to the English drama which Lessing, a little earlier, had pronounced more congenial to the German temperament. The unwieldiness of the plot and its inconsistencies show, too, that Schiller had not yet mastered the new form of drama; but Don Carlos at least provided him with an opportunity of expressing ideas of political and intellectual freedom with which, as the disciple ofRousseau, he was in warm sympathy.
July 1787. Goethe was then in Italy, and the duke of Weimar was absent from Weimar; but the poet was kindly received by Herder and Wieland, by the duchess Amalie and other court notabilities. The chief attraction for Schiller was, however, Frau von Kalb with whom he had been passionately in love in Mannheim; but not very long afterwards he made the acquaintance at Rudolstadt of the family von Lengefeld, the younger daughter of which subsequently became his wife. Meanwhile the preparation for Don Carlos had interested Schiller in history, and in 1788 he published the first volume of his chief historical work, Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung, a book which at once gave him a respected position among the historians of the 18th century. It obtained for him, on the recommendation of Goethe, a professorship in the university of Jena, and in November 1789 he delivered his inaugural lecture, Was heisst und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte? In February of the following year he married Charlotte von Lengefeld. Schiller's other historical writings comprise a Sammlung historischer Memoires, which he began to publish in 1790, and the Geschichte des dreissigjährigen Krieges (1791-1793). The latter work is more perfunctory in execution and written for a wider public than his first history, but the narrative is dramatic and vivid, the portraiture is sympathetic, and the historical events are interpreted by the light of therationalistic optimism of the later 18th century.
Schimmelmann, who conferred upon him a pension of 1000 talers a year for three years. Schiller resolved to devote the leisure of these years to the study of philosophy. In the summer of 1790 he had lectured in Jena on the aesthetics of tragedy, and in the following year he studied carefully Kant's treatise on aesthetics, Kritik der Urteilskraft, which had just appeared and appealed powerfully to Schiller's mind. The influence of these studies is to be seen in the essays Über den Grund unseres Vergnügens an tragischen Gegenständen and Über tragische Kunst (1792), as well as in his correspondence with his friend Körner. Here Schiller arrives at his definition of beauty, as Freiheit in der Erscheinung, which, although it failed to remove Kant's difficulty that beauty was essentially a subjective conception, marked the beginning of a new stage in the history of German aesthetic theory. Über Anmut und Würde, published in 1793, was a further contribution to the elucidation and widening of Kant's theories; and in the eloquent Briefe über die asthetisclie Erziehung des Menschen (1795), Schiller proceeded to apply his new standpoint to the problems of social and individual life. These remarkable letters were published in Die Horen, a new journal, founded in 1794, which was the immediate occasion for that intimate friendship with Goethe which dominated the remainder of Schiller's life. The two poets had first met in 1788, but at that time Goethe, fresh from Italy, felt little inclination towards the author of the turbulent dramas Die Räuber, Kabale und Liebe and Don Carlos. By degrees, however, Schiller's historical publications, and, in a higher degree, the magnificent poems, Die Götter Griechenlands (1788) and Die Künstler (1789), awakened Goethe's respect, and in 1794, when the younger poet invited Goethe to become a collaborator in the Horen, the latter responded with alacrity. In a very few weeks the two men had become friends. In the meantime a holiday in Schiller's Württemberg home had brought renewed health and vigour. An immediate outcome of the new friendship was Schiller's admirable essays, published in the Horen (1795-1796) and collected in 1800 under the title Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung. Here Schiller applied his aesthetic theories to that branch of art which was most peculiarly his own, the art of poetry; it is an attempt to classify literature in accordance with an a priori philosophic theory of “ancient” and “modern,” “classic” and “romantic,” “naive” and “sentimental”; and it sprang from the need Schiller himself felt of justifying his own “sentimental” and “modern” genius with the “naive” and “classic” tranquillity of Goethe's. While Schiller's standpoint was too essentially that of his time to lay claim to finality, it is, on the whole, the most concise statement we possess of the literary theory which lay behind the classical literatureof Germany.
For Schiller himself this was the bridge that led back from philosophy to poetry. Under Goethe's stimulus he won fresh laurels in that domain of philosophical lyric which he had opened with Die Künstler; and in Das Ideal und das Leben, Die Macht des Gesanges, Würde der Frauen, and Der Spaziergang, he produced masterpieces of reflective poetry which have not their equal in German literature. These poems appeared in the Musenalmanach, a new publication which Schiller began in 1796, the Horen, which had never met with the success it merited, coming to an end in 1797. In the Musenalmanach were also published the “Xenien” (1797), a collection of distichs by Goethe and Schiller, in which the two friends avenged themselves on the cavilling critics who were not in sympathy with them. The Almanach of the following year, 1798, was even more noteworthy, for it contained a number of Schiller's most popular ballads, “Der Ring des Polykrates,” “Der Handschuh,” “Ritter Toggenburg,” “Der Taucher,” “Die Kraniche des Ibykus” and “Der Gang nach dem Eisenhammer;” “Der Kampf mit dem Drachen” following in 1799, and “Das Lied von der Glocke” in 1800. As a ballad poet, Schiller's popularity has been hardly less great than as a dramatist; the bold and simple outline, the terse dramatic characterization appealed directly to the popular mind, which did not let itself be disturbed by the often artificial and rhetorical tone into which the poet falls. But the supreme importance of the last period of Schiller's life lay in the series of master-dramas which he gave to the world between 1799 and 1804. Just as Don Carlos had led him to the study of Dutch history, so now his occupation with the history of the Thirty Years' War supplied him with the theme of his trilogy of Wallenstein (1798-1799). The plan of Wallenstein was of long standing, and it was only towards the end, when Schiller realized the impossibility of saying all he had to say within five acts, that he decided to divide it into three parts, a descriptive prologue, Wallensteins Lager, and the two dramas Die Piccolomini and Wallensteins Tod. Without entirely breaking with the pseudo-classic method he had adopted in Don Carlos — the two lovers, Max Piccolomini and Thekla, are an obvious concession to the tradition of the French theatre — Wallenstein shows how much Schiller's art had benefited by his study of Greek tragedy; the fatalism of his hero is a masterly application of an antique motive to a modern theme. His whole conception of life and character had deepened since Don Carlos, and under the influence of Kant's philosophy the drama became the embodiment of ethical problems that are essentially modern. The success of Wallenstein, with which Schiller passed at once into the front rank of European dramatists, was so encouraging that the poet resolved to devote himself with redoubled ardour to dramatic poetry. Towards the end of 1799 he took up his residence permanently in Weimar, not only to be near his friend, but also that he might have the advantage of visiting regularly the theatre of which Goethe was director.
Wallenstein was followed in 1800 by Maria Stuart, a tragedy, which, in spite of its great popularity in and outside of Germany, was felt by the critics to follow too closely the methods of the lachrymose “tragedy of common life” to maintain a high position among Schiller's works. It is a serious flaw in the play that the fate of the heroine is virtually decided before the curtain rises, and the poet is obliged to create by theatrical devices the semblance of a tragic conflict which, in reality, does not exist. A finer production in every way is Schiller's “romantic tragedy,” Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801). The resplendent medieval colouring of the subject, the essentially heroic character of Joan of Arc, gave Schiller an admirable opportunity for the display of his rich imagination and rhetorical gifts; and by an ingenious alteration of the historical tradition, he was able to make the drama a vehicle for his own imperturbable moral optimism. In unity of style and in the high level of its dramatic diction, Die Jungfrau von Orleans is unsurpassed among Schiller's works. Between this drama and its successor, Die Braut von Messina, Schiller translated and adapted to his classic ideals Shakespeare's Macbeth (1801) and Gozzi's Turandot (1802). With Die Braut von Messina (1803) he experimented with a tragedy on purely Greek lines, this drama being as close an approximation to ancient tragedy as its medieval and Christian milieu permitted of. If the experiment cannot be regarded as successful, the fault lies in the difficulty of reconciling the artificial conventions of the Greek theatre, the chorus and the oracle here represented by dreams and superstitions — with the point of view of the poet's own time. As far as the diction itself is concerned, the lyric outbursts of the chorus gave Schiller's genius an opportunity of which he was not slow to avail himself. In the poet's last completed drama, Wilhelm Tell (1804), he once more, as in Wallenstein, chose a historical subject involving wide issues. Wilhelm Tell is the drama of the Swiss people; its subject is less the personal fate of its hero than the struggle of a nation to free itself from tyranny. This is the reason for the epic breadth of the work, its picturesque and panoramic character. It also justifies the idealization of the hero, on the one hand, and, on the other, the introduction of episodes which have but little relation to his personal fate, or even put his character in a directly unfavourable light. Wilhelm Tell was an attempt to win for the German drama a new field, to widen the domain of dramatic poetry. Besides writing Tell, Schiller had found time in 1803 and 1804 to translate two French comedies by Picard, and to prepare a German version of Racine's Phèdre; and in the last months of his life he began a new tragedy, Demetrius, which gave every promise of being another step forward in his poetic achievement. But Demetrius remains a fragment of hardly two acts.
Schiller died at Weimar on the 9th of May 1805. His last years were darkened by constant ill-health; and indeed it is marvellous that he was able to achieve so much. A visit to Leipzig in 1801, and to Berlin — where there was some prospect of his being invited to settle — in 1804, were the chief outward events of his later years. He was ennobled in 1802, and in 1804 the duke of Weimar, unwilling to lose him, doubled his meagre salary of 400 talers. Schiller's art, with its broad, clear lines, its unambiguous moral issues, and its enthusiastic optimism, has appealed with peculiar force to the German people, especially in periods of political despondency. But since the re-establishment of the German empire in 1871 there has been, at least in intellectual circles, a certain waning of his popularity, the Germans of to-day realizing that Goethe more fully represents the aspirations of the nation. In point of fact, Schiller's genius lacks that universality which characterizes Goethe’s; as a dramatist, a philosopher, an historian, and a lyric poet, he was the exponent of ideas which belong rather to the Europe of the period before the French Revolution than to our time; we look to his high principles of moral conduct, his noble idealism and optimism, rather as the ideal of an age that has passed away than as the expression of the more material ambitions of the modern world.
(J. G. R.)