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Dialogue of Cultures

Fidelio Magazine
Symposium on Friedrich Schiller

A Celebration on the
200th Anniversary of
the Poet's Death:

Friedrich Schiller
And His Friends

William Jones

Statue of Friedrich Schiller (right) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Fidelio, Vol. XIV,
No. 1-2. 
This article is reprinted from the Spring/Summer 2005 issue of FIDELIO Magazine.

For related articles, scroll down or click here.

"Nun kommt die Schillerzeit!"

A Celebration on the 200th Anniversary
of the Poet's Death: 

Friedrich Schiller and His Friends

A brief biography through letters and reminiscences of the "Poet of Freedom," who championed the sublime goodness of man in the turbulent years of revolutionary upheaval in Europe and America:

For over a quarter of a century, from the publication of his first major dramatic work, The Robbers, in 1781, until his premature death at age 45 in 1805, Friedrich Schiller was at the very heart of a republican network of intellectuals which, under his guidance, profoundly transformed the intellectual and political climate in the German states, providing the cultural and intellectual context for the fight for German unification. Moreover, through the rapid proliferation of his writings into other languages, in some cases almost simultaneous with their appearance in German, Schiller had a decisive impact on the spread of republican ideas throughout Europe and in the United States.

His poems and dramatic works, in particular, incorporated the highest expression of the republican ideals of human liberty and the dignity of man. These literary works formed the basis of the German language of the great Classical period. It was the works of Schiller, both literary and historical, which helped inspire the movement that would unite the numerous German territories against the tyranny of Napoleon, and create the basis for the development of the German nation later in the Nineteenth century.

Witnessing the depraved conditions of the countries of Europe, which by and large were ruled by a coterie of petty oligarchs who treated their subjects like cattle, Schiller sought to use his poetic gifts to transform the outlook of these subject populations, who had adopted the oligarchy’s view of themselves. A native of the German state of Württemburg, working almost exclusively in his native tongue, Schiller selected from the histories of the European countries, those events and leading individuals whose dramatic elucidation could inspire and elevate audiences to a higher standpoint, from which they might break the ideological chains that kept them in bondage. The inspiration of the American Revolution provided him with a successful example of just such an effort.

Aghast at the effects of the French Revolution, Schiller made a conscious decision to avoid direct involvement in political agitation, but rather, to devote himself to shaping the general cultural environment in which any sound political life might take root. The devastation wrought by the revolution in France gave proof of the bankruptcy of the Enlightenment philosophy that had infused the thinking of its authors. As Helga Zepp LaRouche describes the situation: “The French Revolution represented a radical collapse of the philosophy of the Enlightenment which had dominated France in the Eighteenth century, despite some republican tendencies here and there. This collapse was no less dramatic than the failure of Communism in our time, i.e., it confronted the thinking people in the population with the fact that, obviously, the entire system of axioms upon which the thought of the Enlightenment had been based since Descartes, was based on false premises.” 1 Schiller set out to change those very axioms.

At the same time, Schiller considered his writing a direct challenge to the forces of oppression, and as a source of inspiration for those prepared to do battle to overthrow them. Most clearly did he express this in a letter to two Danish noblemen, Count Ernst Schimmelman and Duke Friedrich Christian von Augustenborg, half-brother of the Danish king, when these two offered to financially support his literary work, and provide him a refuge in their native Denmark. “But how much more sublime is the enthusiasm that expresses itself in deeds, over that which must limit itself to having inspired to such deeds,” he wrote. “To arm Truth and Virtue with that victorious energy which brings hearts under its sway, is all that the philosopher and the representative artist is able to do. How much different is it to realize the ideals of both in a beautiful life? Here, I must reply to you with the words of Fiesco, in which he dealt with the artist’s pride: ‘You have done, what I was only able to portray.’ ”2 And yet, with characteristic humility, Schiller vastly understated the absolutely essential role of the artist in inspiring others to those deeds—a role which he in fact undertook in a far more heroic manner than any of his contemporaries.

Schiller’s Youth

Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller was born in the town of Marburg, in the duchy of Württemburg, region of Swabia, on Nov. 10, 1759. His father, Major Johann Kaspar Schiller, had served as a soldier in the army of the Duke of Württemburg, having seen action in The Netherlands as well as in Bohemia during the Seven Years’ War. Schiller would later joke about how he was almost born in an army camp, since his pregnant mother began feeling the birth pangs while she was visiting her husband at one of them. Young Fritz, as he was affectionately called by his father, often accompanied him to the various military installations where he served. In a letter to Friedrich in 1791, Kaspar wrote: “That I would be plagued with rheumatism in my advanced years is not surprising. I have been on eight major campaigns, and even that side on which I now suffer most has always had to withstand the worst. Twice I was thrown from my horse, and once I had to have a bullet removed from that side.” After the unsuccessful battle of Lissa in Silesia, in which the forces of Württemburg were arrayed against the Prussian forces of Frederick the Great, Kaspar lay outdoors beside the fire, and when he fell asleep, it began to freeze. In the morning, one side of him was frozen to the ground, and he had to be pried loose with hot water!

Although largely self-taught, Kaspar had studied mathematics and the natural sciences, helping during the war with the medical care of the troops, and developing a keen understanding of crop cultivation. When the Württemburg Duke, Karl Eugen, established an agricultural military school at Solitude near Ludwigsburg in 1770, Kaspar was named superintendent. He would later write a book entitled Tree Cultivation in Germany, which his son would publish.

Fritz was his father’s “golden boy.” Kaspar used the classical principles of Quintillian, with its emphasis on rhetoric, for his early education. The family were also God-fearing Lutherans. For most of his childhood, Friedrich dreamed of becoming a minister and preaching the Gospel to his flock. He would dress up in a frock and cassock, choose a passage from Scripture, and elaborate on it for his family and friends. Once, he preached on the visit of Christ to the wedding feast at Canna, which brought forth tears from his sisters. “It was always a very moving event,” his sister Christophine later wrote, “to see the expression of meditation on the beautiful face of the child, his pious blue eyes directed to heaven, the light yellowish hair that surrounded his fair features, and the small hands folded in prayer giving the appearance of the face of an angel. His obedience, and his naturally tender feeling for everything good and beautiful, were compelling. Always generous to his sisters and to his friends, always ready to excuse their faults, he was a favorite with all.”3

Even later in life, according to his friend Georg August Pape, Schiller expressed a keen desire to “stand before a congregation and to proclaim the most sublime truths.” But by then, he had found his true pulpit in the stage, telling his sister-in-law Caroline that “the theater and the pulpit are the only places where the power of the word rules.” Both theater and pulpit were places from which the word would go forth, as he later would say, to “make people more spiritual, stronger, more loving, which would dissolve the narrow views of egoism, strengthen the spirit for greater sacrifices, and raise one’s entire existence into a more spiritual sphere, in which virtue stands as the achievement of a higher splendor.”

Schiller’s spontaneous generosity, which remained with him his entire life, was placed under strict restraint by his father. The young boy would often give away items which he felt he could do without, if someone else had need of them. Once, his father discovered that the buttons on his shoes had disappeared, and that he was tying his shoes with a string instead, a result of generosity to some friend. When he started giving away his books, however, his father made him promise not to do it again, a promise which the young boy dutifully obeyed.

Schiller’s first poem is thought to have been composed when he was fourteen, on the day before his confirmation. His mother had admonished him not to engage in frivolous pastimes as he approached that important event, and the admonitions inspired Schiller to his first poetic endeavor. He had already worked on small dramatic pieces as a child, cutting out paper figures as characters in these little dramas. At the time of his confirmation, two of these were titled “The Christians” and “Absalon,” although no trace of either has been preserved. His little sister Nanette, who died young in 1796, took after her brother, and, hiding from her father (who frowned upon girls participating in such games), worked on small pieces, too. Later, she often recited her brother’s poems, and pestered him to get her into the theater as an actress; her death at age nineteen prevented this.

In 1773, the young Schiller was taken into the Duke’s military academy, the Karlschule. His father informed Duke Karl Eugen that the boy wished to be a minister, but the Duke said this was impossible, as there was no such training at the academy, and that Friedrich would have to study law instead. Much against his own inclination, Schiller entered the academy to study law. Although the Karlschule had been established by the Duke to provide education for promising children in the province, the environment of a military academy must have been terribly oppressive for someone of Schiller’s sensitive nature. The young men lived an almost cloistered existence, shut up behind iron doors, in a regimen of strict military discipline, receiving visits from family or friends only at certain prescribed times of the year.

The Romantic School

Resistance to Autocracy

More than a century earlier, the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia had secured peace and stability in Europe after the Thirty Years’ War. The principle of “the advantage of the other” espoused in the Treaty, had laid the groundwork for the long period of reconstruction, required in the German states after years of devastation. The Treaty guaranteed religious freedom in the German states, or, at least, the private expression of religion. The power of the House of Habsburg, the true authors of the war, was significantly curtailed. But the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, which was composed of today’s Germany, a number of territories now part of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and the whole of today’s Austria, was a jumble of over three hundred relatively independent, petty principalities situated between the Alps and the Baltic Sea, each with its own laws, its own courts, its own little army, its separate coinage, its tolls and custom-houses on the frontier, as well as its crowd of meddlesome and pedantic officials, presided over by a prime minister who was usually the unworthy favorite of his prince and, all too often, in the pay of a foreign court.

Nefarious deals would be struck among the princes of the realm, or between the princes and foreign powers. In one perfidious example, 30,000 young men in the state of Hesse were conscripted to fight for the British in Britain’s war against the American colonies, a policy which would be castigated in one of Schiller’s early works, Kabale und Liebe (Love and Intrigue). In 1757, Duke Karl Eugen of Württemburg agreed to sell France the services of 6,000 soldiers to serve in her war against Prussia. There was an uproar in the state, and many soldiers deserted. The Duke had sixteen of them summarily executed. Karl Eugen also sent 2,000 men to serve as a military guard for the Dutch East India company, for a price of 400,000 gulden. This regiment served for 24 years.

There was strong resistance in many of the states to such autocratic rule. One of those who strongly protested was the poet and publicist Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, also a native of Württemburg. Schubart used his pen to protest the feudal order, and to promote the republican ideals of the American Revolution. When he was forced to leave Württemburg because of his political agitation, Schubart went to Bavaria, where he had to tangle with the Jesuits, who were intellectually hegemonic in the Catholic territories. Between 1774 and 1777, Schubart published the Deutsche Chronik, a combination of cultural and political magazine. In it he offered a running commentary on the progress of the Revolutionary War in America, based on regular reports received from German correspondents in Philadelphia and New York. This republican firebrand was becoming a real thorn in the side of the princes, and the Secret Consistory of the ducal courts devised a plan to deal with him. On the assurance of a safe passage, Schubart was lured back to Württemburg, where he was immediately apprehended and charged with blasphemy. He was locked away, without a trial, in the fortress of Hohenasperg, where he would remain for ten years. Karl Eugen and the other princes of the realm wanted Schubart’s example to send a message to anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps.

Schubart was kept in solitary confinement for the first year, but Karl Eugen never succeeded in subduing his irrepressible republican spirit. While in prison, he penned one of his most powerful poems against despotism, “Die Fürstengruft” (“The Nobles’ Tomb”), a work that had a strong effect on Schiller. After his release, Schubart went on to become the director of the Stuttgart Theater, where he staged for the first time in that city a Mozart opera, the strongly anti-oligarchical Marriage of Figaro, with libretto by the French republican and agent of the American Revolution, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Schubart would later compose a musical setting for Schiller’s poem, “An Die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”).

In 1775, the Karlschule was transferred to the city of Stuttgart, and the curriculum was expanded. Schiller was then able to transfer from the hated law school to the medical faculty, finding medicine a more appealing way to earn his living, one which would perhaps give him more time for his true loves, drama and poetry. During his student years, he also began his study of philosophy, devouring the works of Gotthold Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, and Johann Gottfried Herder. Leibniz became one of his favorite authors. He read extensively from his works, including the recent, posthumously published work, New Essays on Human Understanding (1765), Leibniz’s polemic against British empiricist and Enlightenment ideologue John Locke. At one point in his life, Schiller considered writing a poetical work titled “Theodicy,” which would be a philosophical poem written along the lines of Leibniz’s philosophical treatise of the same name. He was also well acquainted with contemporary German literature, with Klopstock, whom he loved, Goethe, and Heinrich Wilhelm Gerstenberg. By this time, Schiller had also developed a keen interest in history, a subject that he would later pursue professionally, and whose spirit would imbue all of his works. Plutarch’s Lives, a staple of the curriculum of the day, was already a great favorite of his.

Schiller’s interest in Shakespeare was first aroused in a class on psychology, where his teacher, Jakob Friedrich Abel, used characters from Shakespeare’s Othello, recently translated by Christoph Wieland, to underline the psychological conflict between passion and duty. After graduating from the Academy, Schiller was appointed regimental doctor in the service of the Duke of Württemburg. It was also at this time that he wrote a number of poems, one of which, “Die Abend,” was published in the local Schwäbischen Magazin.

Many of the other students at the Karlschule, dissatisfied with the narrow confines of the studies offered them, were also imbued with a love of literature and wished to engage in literary pursuits. Friedrich von Hoven, a lifelong friend of Schiller’s, describes how Schiller and his friends would venture into the woods to compose their works: “We composed in all stillness, each working in the area which he had chosen and as often as we found time and opportunity to do so; we passed the compositions amongst ourselves, mutually criticizing, reproaching and praising each other’s works, certainly doing more of the latter than the former.” Schiller, who was most attracted to the dramatic art, had composed a tragedy, “Cosmus von Medici.” Those to whom Schiller had read the fragmentary work, said that it contained some very moving scenes and beautiful poetry, some of which would later find its way into The Robbers (Die Räuber). Schiller’s friend Gottfried Körner relates that, in 1773, Schiller had also worked on an epic poem entitled “Moses.” It was during this period that Schiller began writing The Robbers, his first major dramatic work.

The Literary Rebel

The subject matter of Die Räuber, a study in skulduggery and treachery, was suggested by an article penned by Schubart, which appeared in the Schwäbischen Magazin, and was brought to Schiller’s attention by von Hoven. Schubart presented a story line, and issued a challenge to young authors to give it dramatic shape. In Schubart’s story, a man has two sons, Wilhelm and Karl, one of whom is quiet in manner and pious, and the other of whom is spirited and raucous. They go to the university, where Wilhelm keeps tight control over himself, while Karl engages in a riotous student existence with wine and women. In a free-spirited and generous manner, however, Karl gives away his money to other students, ending up in debt.

An unhappy duel leads to a final break with his father, and Karl joins the Prussian Army. His stint in the army, serving in the wars of Frederick the Great, causes Karl to reflect on his own life. When peace comes, he returns to his native province, much changed in appearance and character. He adopts an assumed name and goes to see how things are with his father. Under his new identity, he becomes a great favorite in a village not far from his home. One day, he comes upon his father being robbed by highwaymen. He attacks them, killing all but one, and saves his father’s life. The surviving robber reveals that Karl’s brother Wilhelm had masterminded the crime, hoping to more quickly inherit his murdered father’s estate. The father wants to send Wilhelm to his well-deserved punishment, but Karl protests such treatment. Acquiescing to Karl’s plea, the father allows Wilhelm to live on an isolated part of his estate, supported by a small pension, and makes Karl his heir.

At the end of this recitation of events, Schubart issued the following challenge: “When will there then appear the philosopher who will penetrate into the depths of the human heart, tracking down each deed to its very fount, and then, writing the history of the human heart, will tear away the deceptive veil from the face of the hypocrite, and against him proclaim the rights of the guileless heart?”4 Schiller accepted the challenge, and went far beyond any before him in creating an entirely new genre of tragic hero.

Schiller’s Karl was a far more powerful spirit than that envisioned by the fiery Schubart. Instead of joining the army, Schiller’s Karl Moor, after a profligate student life, organizes a band of his friends to become highwaymen. The robbers, particularly their leader Karl, attain a reputation as “noble bandits,” in the style of Sherwood Forest’s Robin Hood. While his deeds are often bloody, Karl’s spirit is one of noble rebellion against an oppressive system, which he is committed to combat. The band’s forays terrorize the local tyrants, who are deprived of their goods through the party’s brigandage.

Karl’s younger brother, Franz, follows Karl’s activities through the newspapers, and endeavors to paint an even bleaker picture of his brother’s doings for his father, in the hope of driving his father to transfer his affections—and estate—from the elder brother to himself. Schiller also adds a love-interest for Karl, Amalia. Deeply in love with Karl, and hardly conscious of his new life of brigandage, Amalia helps to keep the fire of love for his prodigal son burning in the heart of the despondent father.

Hesitating to commit patricide, Franz has his father imprisoned. Karl returns and discovers the treachery of his brother, who kills himself before Karl is able to inflict vengeance upon him. All might be well—after all, Amalia still loves Karl, and Karl, Amalia. But rather than converge on a “happily ever after” ending, Schiller’s tragedy remains true to his concept of “shaking up” his audience, in order to bring them to a higher understanding.

Karl’s robber band intends to hold him to his oath of always being their leader, and refuses to allow him to withdraw into the easy existence of a landed proprietor. They had remained true to him rather than accept an amnesty, and Karl can not bring himself to forsake them now. Unwilling to break his oath, Karl proceeds to kill Amalia, because they can never return to the earlier, illusory happiness she dreams of, and prepares to turn himself over to the authorities. “Grand and majestic in his misfortune, and through misfortune, rendered better, returned to the path of excellence,” Schiller wrote. “Such a man in Robber Moor will be mourned and hated, despised and loved.”5 Schiller drew inspiration for Karl Moor, his own “Don Quixote,” as he called him, from another noble character penned by Cervantes, the gentle-man-robber Roque.

The Robbers was a difficult play to digest. Even Schiller, in his more mature years, when he was happy to leave his youthful works behind him, admitted that his own situation in the tightly regimented existence of the Karlschule may have more than affected his shaping of the robber-hero Karl Moor. The cause of the wild revolt of a Karl Moor, that “prodigal son,” as Schiller first called him, who becomes an outlaw from the oppressive conditions of a feudal society in which a conniving Franz Moor could so well succeed, was not lost on Schiller’s contemporaries, especially young people, who themselves felt the oppression of the feudalistic social order. Even Goethe, who never warmed to this youthful work, had to admit that it would always find popularity among the young. Once freed from the regimented life of his military academy, however, Schiller would never again write anything quite like it. As he himself explained in the introduction to the Rheinische Thalia in the fall of 1784: “Unacquainted with people and with human destiny, my brush, of necessity missing that balance between angel and devil, had to bring forth a monster, which, to the happiness of the world, does not exist, and for which I would only wish immortality in order to establish forever the example of a birth, which brings into the world that unnatural combination of subordination and genius. I mean Die Räuber.”6

As a boyhood friend, Georg Friedrich Scharffenstein, explained, Schiller “wrote The Robbers less for the sake of literary acclaim, than to express to the world his strong, liberal feelings against the ruling conventions of society. While in such a mood, he would often say to me: ‘We have to write a book that will have to be burned by the hangmen.’ ” Schiller composed the play secretly at night, often in the infirmary, since all other buildings were dark after lights-out had been sounded. In discussions with his friends, Schiller decided that the printed edition of The Robbers would carry an engraving of a springing lion, with the caption “In Tyrannos” (“Against Tyrants”). This engraving did appear in the second printing, in 1782. Schiller had to have the first edition of the work printed in secret, bearing the cost himself, in 1781.

As the text was circulating, it came to the attention of the imprisoned Schubart, who was totally excited by it. He asked his prison warden, General Philip Rieger, to make contact with the author, with the idea of setting up a meeting. Rieger suggested that Schubart write a review of the play. Rieger arranged for Schiller, travelling under the pseudonym “Doctor Fischer,” to meet with Schubart, but did not tell the prisoner who his visitor was. When they were together in the fortress, Rieger turned to Schubart and asked him to read aloud his review of The Robbers. Schubart read it, and expressed the wish to some day meet the author. Rieger clapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Your wish is fulfilled, here stands the author before you.” “Is is possible?” Schubart cried with joy. “This is the author of Die Räuber?” He then embraced Schiller warmly, kissed him, and tears of joy welled up in his eyes.

The play soon came to the attention of Wolfgang Heribert Dalberg, the director of the Mannheim Theater, who expressed interest in having it performed. The pre-miere was to take place in January 1782, and Schiller was invited to attend. Schiller knew that he would never be able to get permission from the Württemburg authorities for such a trip. The play had been written without their knowledge, as they would never have approved of such activity by the regimental doctor. Only Dalberg and one other person were aware of Schiller’s presence at the Mannheim performance.

The play was a rousing success. According to one eyewitness, “The theater was like an insane asylum, eyes rolling, fists shaking, feet stamping, impassioned shrieks in the theater. Strangers found themselves falling, sobbing, into each others arms, women staggered, close to fainting, towards the door. There was a general uproar that approached pure chaos. Out of this fog a new creation was born.”7 Although Schiller was able to keep his unauthorized absence hidden from the Duke, the authorship of The Robbers did not long remain a secret. Karl Eugen thought some of it downright subversive. The play featured characters who bore a marked similarity to well-known Württemburg figures, which caused tongues to wag against the poet.

When Schiller went a second time surreptitiously to Mannheim, he was discovered by the Duke, who ordered him incarcerated for two weeks. While not wishing to stifle the talent of his young regimental doctor—who he thought might be reined in to become of service to, and perhaps an ornament of, the duchy—Karl Eugen did intend to maintain strict oversight over the upstart’s work. In a meeting with Schiller, the Duke demanded that he show him all the products of his Muse as they developed. If Schiller violated this requirement, the Duke warned, he could be faced with imprisonment, like Schubart. This was totally unacceptable to Schiller. The success of his first dramatic effort had given him confidence that he could earn his livelihood with his pen. Rather than submit to the Duke’s strictures, Schiller decided, rather like Karl Moor, to take flight from his oppressive conditions. Late in the night of Sept. 22, 1782, under cover of darkness, and after a final visit to his patients at the hospital, Schiller mounted his horse and, with a friend accompanying him, crossed the border from Württemburg to the neighboring state of Baden.

Republican in Exile

It was not clear where exactly Schiller was to go, and it would be some time before he could find a more permanent home. The decided advantage of the decentralized nature of Germany at the time was that Schiller had merely to find a well-intentioned prince in one of the three hundred petty states, willing to give him the freedom to follow the lead of his creative Muse. Nevertheless, if Karl Eugen wished to wreak vengeance on his absent officer, strings could be pulled within the extended family of the German princely elites to do just that. Schiller’s initial concern was that the wrath of the Duke not fall upon his family. He was relatively confident, however, that despite the Duke’s autocratic nature, he was not one to punish the father, who had been the his loyal servant for many years, for the sins of the son.

In his wanderings, Schiller drew upon many friends, and acquired many more. One was Henriette von Wolzogen, two of whose sons, Wilhelm and Ludwig, Schiller had befriended at the Karlschule. After marrying Schiller’s sister-in-law, Wilhelm would later introduce Schiller’s work to the Russian court at St. Petersburg, and Ludwig, as an adjutant to the Russian Czar during the German War of Liberation, would later play a role in implementing the strategy that ultimately doomed Napoleon during his ill-fated invasion of Russia. Henriette offered to provide Schiller refuge while she attempted (in vain, as it turned out) to achieve a reconciliation with Karl Eugen. Meanwhile, Schiller lived under the alias “Doctor Ritter.”

Seeking a permanent place of refuge, Schiller considered the newly created United States of America, which had recently won its independence from Great Britain, an event followed closely by republican circles in Germany. In a letter to Henriette on Jan. 8, 1783, Schiller wrote: “I have made a major change in my plans, and as I initially wanted to go to Berlin, now I will perhaps turn to England. But it’s still not certain, such a great desire I have to see the New World. If North America is free, then it is just the place for me to go.” But such was not to be.

Closer to home, Schiller cast his lot with the theater at Mannheim, where he had first achieved success with Die Räuber. He had two new dramatic works in progress, one of which, The Conspiracy of Fiesco at Genoa, A Republican Tragedy, was near completion. The theater director Dalberg, however, was never satisfied with the work, no matter how often Schiller complied with his demand for changes. Most likely, as would happen repeatedly with Schiller’s writings, Dalberg’s reticence had more to do with the republican politics of the play, than with literary concerns. Delays in production led a frustrated Schiller to accept the hospitality of Henriette at her country house at Bauerbach, in the Franconian woods. It was here that he read the story of the Spanish prince Don Carlos, by the Abbé St. Real, which was to become the subject of his most beloved work. Schiller began working on Don Carlos. He had already acquired two books that were of great interest to him, one on the Inquisition, which would have relevance to the period of Don Carlos, and the other, a memoir of a prisoner in the Bastille, that horrible repository of human misery, soon be thrust upon the world’s attention by events in Paris. Also during this period, his interest was drawn to the high court drama of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who had been executed by her cousin Queen Elizabeth in 1587.

It was only recently, in 1779, that Nathan the Wise, the last drama by Schiller’s mentor in aesthetic questions, Gotthold Lessing, had been published. Schiller considered Lessing’s great work on art, Laocöon, “a Bible for the artist.” While staying in Bauerbach, Schiller became engaged in a discussion with a local Lutheran pastor, Johan Pfranger, over this latest Lessing work. Pfranger complained that the play had denigrated Christianity, while placing Judaism on a pedestal. Pfranger then commented that, of course, Schiller was probably an adherent of that group of free thinkers who deemed Christianity somewhat superfluous. “Not at all,” Schiller said. “Quite to the contrary. I’m just annoyed that so many Christians make so little out of their religion, while, as I see in Bauerbach and Walldorf, the Jews are very fervent in their religious devotions!” Schiller would later edit Nathan for a new production at the Weimar Theater, and for a highly acclaimed revival of the play in Lessing’s own Hamburg. Later, in 1792, Schiller’s father would recommend that he consider writing a history of the Jewish people, “a masterly presentation of which would be of great interest for Christianity.”

Even while he was impatiently awaiting the opening of Fiesco, Schiller was well advanced on a “bourgeois tragedy,” as he characterized it, his Kabale und Liebe. The play is set in a German state whose ruler supports the extravagant costs of his court and mistress, by hiring out his soldiers as mercenaries to the British, to help put down the American Revolution—a reflection of the issue that had so incensed Schubart. (In an ironic plot twist, the mistress reacts by secretly selling her jewels to aid the families of the conscripted mercenaries.) Then, in July 1783, Fiesco was finally given its first performance in Mannheim, and Schiller received a one-year contract, which included the performance of two new plays. In the spring of the following year, Kabale und Liebe was performed both in Mannheim and in Frankfurt.

Schiller’s position remained uncertain despite his growing renown. His contract with the Mannheim Theater was for one year only, and he was never quite satisfied with the performers there, nor with the working conditions. He was, however, expanding the circle of friends that could provide a more secure position in society, and a more permanent place from which to continue his creative work. His most significant new friend was Christian Gottfried Körner, a young lawyer living in Dresden. Unlike Schiller, Körner had chosen the law as a means to support himself (what Schiller would call his “Brotwissenschaft,” “bread-scholarship”). But Körner’s intellectual interests stretched far beyond the musty world of jurisprudence, and during a friendship that would last until Schiller’s death, Schiller continually encouraged his friend to spend more time in writing about the great political and cultural issues of the day. Körner, in turn, worked to help secure a livelihood for his poet friend.

The next major step which would propel Schiller into the arena of the leading political circles of Germany, was the publication of Don Carlos. Although it would not be completed for another three years, and first performed in 1787 in Hamburg, it began to be serialized in a new journal, Thalia, in 1786. The Thalia was the first of a series of publishing ventures that Schiller undertook during his lifetime, to raise the intellectual and cultural level of the German-speaking world. It was also with Don Carlos that Schiller, in an attempt to enhance the dramatic effect of the unfolding action, decided to write in the iambic meter of Shakespeare, which had been pioneered in Germany by the playwright Lessing, instead of the prose of his previous works—redrafting into poetic meter the earlier, already-published prose scenes. His immense satisfaction with the initial results of this attempt spurred him to create a drama of unprecedented beauty and power, which would inspire generations with its display of idealism and self-sacrifice.8

While The Robbers had quite abruptly awakened the literary public to this new star on the horizon of German drama, Don Carlos established Schiller’s permanent place in the literary firmament. Although the subject had been suggested to him by Karl Theodor Dalberg, prelate brother of the Mannheim Theater director, the setting of the play had been with him for a long time. Schiller had made a serious study of Fifteenth-century Spain, and was keenly interested in the history of the Inquisition and the unsuccessful revolt of The Netherlands against Spanish rule. In Don Carlos, Schiller’s hero, the Marquis of Posa, is a nobleman, a Knight of Malta, who is imbued with a love for the people of The Netherlands and their republican spirit. He returns to Spain in the hope of recruiting the young heir to the throne, his friend Don Carlos, to lead The Netherlands in revolt. Inadvertently detecting what he believes to be sparks of humanity in the autocratic King, Carlos’s father Philip II, Posa conceives a short-cut to the liberation of The Netherlands, and shifts his attention to recruiting Philip to his project. Big mistake! The autocratic King, whom Schiller for dramatic reasons made more humane than he was in reality, would remain subservient to the Inquisition, and the Inquisition would brook no resistance. Meanwhile, Don Carlos becomes confused by Posa’s shifting interest in his father, and the entire project starts to unravel from there on, leading to the tragic outcome, the martyrdom of Posa and the handing over of Carlos to the Inquisition. In the course of the drama, Schiller presents the young Queen, Elisabeth, as the one sublime figure not driven by conflicting passions, whose emotional life proceeds from the elevated standpoint of reason.

Unlike Die Räuber, or even Fiesco or Kabal und Liebe, Don Carlos became a favorite within German court circles. Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, who was deeply moved by the famous confrontation scene between the Marquis of Posa and Philip II—where the Marquis daringly demands of Philip, “Give them freedom of thought!”—gave explicit orders that the play be performed at the National Theater in Berlin. Thus, with Don Carlos, Schiller began to exert a direct influence on the higher political circles of the realm.

One of the individuals to whom Schiller had a chance to read the initial sections of Don Carlos in early 1785 was Duke Karl August of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, who was visiting his cousin in Darmstadt. The Duke was well known as a patron of the arts, and had established in his ducal seat at Weimar some of the most important figures in the cultural life of Germany, including Goethe, Herder, and Wieland. The reading of Don Carlos greatly increased Karl August’s admiration of the young dramatist, and Schiller soon found himself under the Duke’s benevolent patronage. Karl August bestowed on Schiller the honorary title of Weimar Court Councillor.

In April 1785, at the bidding of Körner, Schiller decided to move first to Leipzig, and then to Dresden, to complete work on Don Carlos, and to seek a more permanent means of support for his hitherto vagabond-like existence. His contract with the Mannheim Theater was

now over, and there seemed little danger that his old nemesis, Duke Karl Eugen, had any interest in trying to apprehend the “deserter.” Dresden was also in the province of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, where he knew he had some hope of patronage.

Körner helped finance Schiller’s trip to Saxony by having the publisher Georg Joachim Göschen buy the Thalia, and pay Schiller an advance. In Dresden, Schiller stayed at Körner’s home, in a cottage near a vineyard. It was here that he completed Don Carlos. These days were amongst the happiest of Schiller’s life up to that point, as attested by his writing the famous “An die Freude,” the “Ode to Joy,” in which the joy of these happy days and his friendship with Körner were elevated and transformed by the poet into a paean to the universal brotherhood of man.

The Elusive Cultural Icon

In 1787, Schiller made his first journey to Weimar to celebrate the birthday of Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Goethe, who was ten years older than Schiller, was the unofficial poet laureate of the German-speaking world, and Schiller had been an admirer of his since his school days. In fact, Goethe had visited the Karlschule when Schiller was a student there. Schiller had also been an enthusiastic admirer of Goethe’s works, in particular, his “Gotz von Berlichingen,” which was based on a theme from medieval German history. Unfortunately, the renowned poet was in Italy during the birthday celebration.

By this time Goethe was already something of a cultural icon, around whom a sycophantic cult had formed which Schiller found highly repulsive. Schiller commented in a letter to Körner on August 12 that, “Goethe’s spirit has shaped all those who belong to his circle. A proud philosophical spite towards all speculation and investigations, an attachment to nature even to the point of affectation, and a resignation to the five senses, in short, a sort of childish simplicity of reason characterizes him and his local sect.” Schiller was quite put off by this aspect of Weimar cultural life, and his own developed view of the elevating role of art and culture was not immediately compatible with the far less rigorous and often downright sensualist conception of the court camarilla around Goethe. It would take time before there was any warming in the relationship between the two men.

Schiller did, however, have the opportunity to establish a warm relationship with the aging Wieland, now the poet emeritus of Germany, and with Johann Gottfried Herder. Wieland opened the pages of his own magazine, Die Deutsche Merkur, to Schiller’s writings.

Traveling through Thuringia with his old school chum Wilhelm von Wolzogen, the two young bachelors decided to visit an old acquaintance of theirs, and a cousin of Wolzogen, Luise von Lengefeld, who had two daughters their age. The family had met Schiller briefly in 1784, and were already enthusiasts for his poetical works, although somewhat frightened by the raw energy of Die Räuber. They were pleased to find that the author did not have the same abrupt character as Karl Moor, but was a gentle, affable young man. The first meeting was somewhat frosty, according to one of the sisters, Caroline von Beulwitz (later married to Wilhelm von Wolzogen), who became one of Schiller’s first biographers. “It amazed us that such a violent and untamed genius could have such a tender exterior,” she wrote. “Fiesco and many poems from his anthology had a great appeal for us. We would certainly have said as much, but our encounter was too short for much of a conversation to develop. We joked often later about the coldness of that first meeting.” 9 Needless to say, the second encounter was much more successful, and Schiller remained with the family for several months, in quiet writing and intellectual exchanges. With the younger daughter, Charlotte, he would develop a much closer relationship, marrying her in 1790.

This was, of course, not the first time that Schiller had fallen in love. Earlier in Mannheim, he had had serious designs on Louisa Schwan, the daughter of a bookseller in Mannheim. When Schiller sought her hand in marriage, Louisa’s father was agreeable, provided that Schiller find a more promising profession than that of poet and playwright. Faced with this impossible demand, Schiller had to withdraw the offer. Also, an unhappy infatuation with the beautiful Henriette von Arnim led only to the impoverished poet spending more than he could afford on gifts for this aristocratic paramour. With Charlotte von Lengefeld, the situation was different. Here was a kindred spirit, for whom his poetic works helped kindle the fire of love.

With a view to marrying Charlotte, Schiller had now to think of supporting a family. He was also not unconcerned by the fact that his fiancée was a member of the nobility, while he remained a commoner—and, for the time being, without any visible means of support. Rejecting a return to his medical career, Schiller mooted the possibility of a professorship. Since his school days, he had been an ardent student of history, pursuing an intense study prior to his writing Don Carlos. Schiller now began to work on the History of the Revolt of The Netherlands, as an entrée into the academic world, a work which definitively established his reputation as an historian.

In September 1788, Schiller met Goethe for the first time. Through his aid, Schiller received an appointment to a professorship at the University of Jena, also within the territory of the Weimar Duke Karl August. The relationship was otherwise still cool. Goethe himself admitted later that he kept away from Schiller. “I avoided Schiller, who, visiting Weimar, lived close by,”10 he would write. Goethe was particularly incensed by Die Räuber, which he said was “hateful” to him.

But neither was Schiller attracted to the personality of his older colleague, whose poetic genius he nevertheless admired. He wrote to Körner in February 1789: “Being around Goethe on occasion would make me unhappy. He has not a moment to give of himself even with his closest friends. You can’t get a grip on him. I think, in fact, that he is egoistic to an unusual degree. He possesses the talent to enthrall people, and by means of small and great solicitudes, binds them to himself; but he knows how to always maintain his own independence. He makes himself known as a benefactor, but only like some deity, without giving of himself. This seems to me a consistent and systematic manner of operation. One should not let such a person in one’s presence. To me he is completely hateful, although at the same time I love his spirit with my whole heart, and think great things of him. I view him as an arrogant prude, who must be made into a child in order to be humbled before the world .. . .”

And yet, recognizing that Goethe’s literary genius could be tapped for a higher purpose, Schiller began to formulate a long-term plan. Writing in September 1788, he said: “On the whole, that grand idea I had of him has not been diminished after making personal acquaintance. But I doubt if we will ever grow closer. Much in him which is of interest to me, that for which I still wish and hope for myself, has for him already run its course. He is so far ahead of me (less in years than in life experience and self-development), that our paths will never converge. And his entire being is already from the beginning so differently shaped than mine; his world is not mine, our manners of representation appear fundamentally different. Nevertheless, such a convergence is not definitely nor fundamentally ruled out. Time will tell.”

Storm Clouds on the Horizon

By 1788, however, storm clouds had already gathered over Europe, with major convulsions about to hit France that would have serious repercussions throughout the Continent, not least in the nearby states of Germany. Schiller was a keen observer of events occurring across the border. Writing to Körner, he said, “If you don’t read the Moniteur, I would highly recommend that you do so. There you have before you all the details of the negotiations in the National Assembly, and can observe the French with their weaknesses and their strengths.” But he was fast losing hope of any positive outcome of this revolution. In a letter to Körner on September 1787, he wrote: “[August] Bode has brought back a rather dire picture of Paris. The nation has lost all its energy and at a rapid pace approaches its destruction. The convocation of the Notables itself was only a trick by the Government. Had they been convened five years earlier, it would have provided a counterweight. But five years later, there’s no chance. Parliament has no significance. Its sole activity consists in school exercises, which they engage in and are quite happy when they go well, just like school boys. The Stamp Act is a measure that must find 1,000 obstacles in its implementations. In Paris, Beaumarchais is held in contempt by the better people.”

He corresponded regularly with friends in France who were able to give him an on-the-ground reading of events, and they were not encouraging to one who had hoped that the raising of the banner of liberté would lead to the opening of a new era of Reason. Reports from his friend Wilhelm von Wolzogen, in Paris to study architecture, while cautiously optimistic, portrayed a dire situation. In a letter to Charlotte in November 1788, Schiller expressed his own profound skepticism over events in France: “Wolzogen’s estimate of Paris under present circumstances couldn’t be otherwise. The object is still of such a magnitude for him, his inner sense has yet to adjust to it. He has brought a yardstick in order to measure a colossus. I certainly believe that he may, after a longer stay in Paris, ultimately come to the exact same conclusions, but he will do so from completely different motives and from anoth er standpoint. Whoever has a sense and an instinct for the great world of mankind must certainly be plunged into this wide, grandiose element; how small and insignificant our own civic and political conditions are in compari son. Mankind, when it is united, is always a grand being, however small the individuals or the details may appear to the eye. And even because of this it seems to me to be of import that each detail and every individual be viewed from the standpoint of the whole of which it is a part or, what is the same thing, to view it with a philosophical spirit.” In com ments to his sister-in-law Caroline, who had

remarked on some of the beautiful speeches given in the National Assembly, Schiller said: “It is impossible that anything reasonable can come out of a gathering of six hundred people.”

When the Bastille fell in July 1789, there was some joy expressed among Schiller’s circle of friends. Caroline wrote: “An acquaintance read to us with enthusiasm about the storming of the Bastille. We often remembered later, that when these conditions of tumult and turbulence were being followed closely by all of Europe, revolution inserted itself into everyone’s life, as the crumbling of this monument to a sinister despotism appeared to our young eyes as a prelude to the victory of freedom over tyranny, and we were joyful that it occurred at the beginning of a beautiful relationship of the heart for us.”

Others, including Schiller and Körner’s mutual friend Ludwig Huber (later the editor of the Allgemeine Zeitung, which was owned by Schiller’s publisher Johann Friedrich Cotta), also waxed enthusiastic. In a letter to Körner dated July 23, 1789, Huber wrote: “I don’t believe that we could experience a more interesting time than the present, and I will no longer forgive the anti-Gallicans, if they maintain their contempt for this nation.” A recent addition to Schiller’s circle, who became a great friend and patron, and would later play a key role during the War of Liberation, the prelate Karl Theodor Dalberg, was much more skeptical. He urged much caution with their enthusiasm for the events of France. “Kids,” he told them, “don’t be so certain that this will unfold well. Many a storm can disrupt everything.” Körner, as well as Schiller, was also skeptical about any good coming out of this revolution. “What do you think about the latest events in France? Now nothing is impossible there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if France gets carved up into several smaller republics,” Schiller wrote to Körner. With the increasing atrocities carried out by the British-manipulated revolutionaries, Schiller’s skepticism was soon transformed into a feeling of horror. In a letter to the Lengefeld sisters on Oct. 30, 1789, he wrote: “Schulz observed the King on the occasion when he was to put on the cockade [symbol of Revolutionary France—WJ]. He held it in one hand and had the other in his vest, clutching his hat under his arm. When suddenly there was applause, and he thought that he had to clap with them, but he didn’t know what to do since both hands were full. At once he made a decision, took the cockade in his mouth, and applauded heartily. Isn’t that a noble presence of mind for a King of France?”

Later, in 1792, when Louis XVI stood under threat of execution, Schiller, the staunch republican—who ironically would be granted citizenship by the new French Republic later that year—considered writing on his behalf. In a letter to Körner on December 21, Schiller asked, “Do you know anyone who can translate well into French, in case I would have need of such a person? I can hardly withstand the temptation to get involved in the dispute regarding the King, and to compose a treatise on the subject. It seems to me that such an undertaking is important enough to occupy the pen of a reasonable person. And a German writer who with liberty and eloquence pronounced on the dispute, would probably make some impression on these misguided souls. Even if one individual from another country made a public judgment on the matter, the first impression, at least, would be to consider him a spokesman for his class, if not for his country; and I think that precisely in this matter the French are not completely insensitive to foreign opinion.” Körner had a translator in mind, and urged Schiller that such a step had to be taken quickly, before the King’s fate was decided. But it was already too late. Before Schiller could complete the memoir, the King had been condemned to death, and was executed on Jan. 21, 1793. Later, when Charlotte von Stein, another friend, still confident of a positive outcome of the French events, lauded the National Assembly as “the Robbers,” Schiller became incensed at this comparison to his early work.

The Historian’s Craft

By this time, Schiller was already settled in an academic niche at the University of Jena. His presence there was something of a sensation. Even before his first lecture in May 1789, he had completed his major historical work, the History of the Revolt of The Netherlands. Originally conceived as a contribution to a series of essays that Schiller was editing, titled the History of Remarkable Rebellions and Conspiracies from the Middle Ages to Recent Times, his own contribution became much too long to be included in the anthology, and was published as a separate book.

For his inaugural lecture at Jena in May 1789, the lecture hall could hold only 80 people, with standing room for 100 more. But, by the time Schiller arrived, the hall was full, and people were lining up at the door. He agreed to move to a larger hall down the street, which could seat 400 people. As the mass of students marched through town to the other hall, the townspeople thought that a fire had broken out, and the fire-guards were alerted! When they finally settled into the new hall, there were still people standing outside the door. Schiller read his lecture “ What Is, and To What End Do We Study, Universal History?” He had been nervous about lecturing, and later wrote to Körner: “With the first ten words that I firmly pronounced, I was again in control of myself, and I read with a strength and certainty of voice that surprised me. Even those standing beyond the door could hear me quite well. My lecture made an impression, and the whole evening you could hear people in the town talking about it, and it really gained the attention of the students, the first example of this being done by a new professor.”

Schiller followed this with several other public lectures, initially writing out the lectures in advance. Later, feeling that this was taking up too much of his time, and feeling more confident, he began to lecture freely. Although he considered these history lectures to be his “Brotwissenschaft,” he plunged into the work with his usual gusto. Subsequent lectures included such subjects as “Thoughts on the First Human Society,” “The Mission of Moses,” and “The Jesuit Government in Paraguay.” His interest in the ancient Greeks was reflected in his renowned lecture contrasting the laws of Solon’s Athens with those of Lycurgus’s Sparta, as a paradigm for the conflict between republican and feudalist societies. These lectures used their historical subjects to inspire the students to participate in the fight for human progress. And yet, some of his friends, like Körner, criticized him for concentrating so much energy on the study of history, to the detriment of poetry and drama.

In response, Schiller wrote to Körner in January 1788: “Your low opinion of history seems to me unfair. Certainly, it is arbitrary, full of gaps, and very often barren, but even the arbitrariness in it might stimulate a philosophical spirit to master it; the empty and barren challenges a creative mind to bring it to life and to give it a skeleton, nerves, and muscles. Don’t imagine that it is much easier to develop material you give yourself, than that which is prescribed by certain conditions.” Even when he returned to the field of drama, his subjects would be drawn from that same living sense of history which he had breathed into his purely historical works. He mused about writing a dramatic work on the great Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, the hero of the Thirty Years’ War. Later, he would fasten on a less heroic figure, the general Albrecht Wallenstein, in order to portray that momentous period in the history of the German people. He also considered writing a series of historical plays on the kings of France, similar to what Shakespeare had done for the English kings, with his hero, Henry IV of Navarre—the paradigm of a monarch who had successfully overcome the religious strife that had devastated Europe during the previous century—as a central figure.11 And then, with a view to his beloved Germany, he played with the idea of an epic drama based on the feats of Frederick the Great, against whose armies his father had fought as a young man.

Schiller’s criteria for historical works were not limited to nationalist themes, however. In a letter to Körner in October 1789, he explained his concept: “It is a poor and petty ideal to write merely for one nation; for a philosophical spirit such a limit is completely intolerable. Such a spirit cannot remain fixed on such a transitory, accidental, and capricious form of humanity, on such a fragment (and what more than that is even the most important nation?). He can only warm up to the task to the extent that this nation or national event has importance for the progress of humanity. If this can be applied to an historical event, from whatever nation or period it may arise, if it can be connected to the species, then it has all the requirements to be of interest to the hand of the philosopher, and this interest thus needs no further embellishment.”

In 1790, Schiller negotiated with his publisher Göschen to write a major work on the history of the Thirty Years’ War, intended for a broader audience than his History of the Revolt of The Netherlands, and to be serialized in the Historical Calendar for Ladies for the Year 1792. Although written for a journal aimed at the “gentler sex,” it was anything but light reading. Schiller dealt here with the most fundamental event of modern German history, and he wished to pull from his study all the important lessons for the present. The successes, and flaws, of the present system of government in the German states, were all the result of the resolution of this conflict of three long, bloody decades. The importance of this story made itself felt when Schiller a few years later would turn to a new tragedy, the Wallenstein trilogy.

It was probably also at this time that Schiller developed a keen interest in the life and work of Benjamin Franklin. Körner wrote Schiller in May 1790, that Franklin’s Autobiography had been published, and might be appropriate for inclusion in the Universal Collection of Historical Memoirs he was then editing. Although a collaborator on that project, Schiller had left the editorship in others’ hands. A German edition of the Autobiography would be published in 1792, translated by Gottfried Burger. In November 1794, the publisher Cotta sent Schiller a copy of a new biography of Franklin, especially designed to introduce Franklin to young readers. Cotta felt that the biography would “meet with Schiller’s approval.” Schiller would incorporate Franklin’s experiments with electricity into his poetical works, the famous example being the “Götterfunken”—divine sparks—in his “Ode to Joy.” Knowledge of Dr. Franklin’s experiments was widespread in Germany at the time. Goethe would later note, in a letter to Schiller, that Franklin’s lightning rod would be a subject of his own scientific inquiry. In 1798, Cotta offered to pay to install a lightning rod on Schiller’s house, with the comment: “I would like to draw away the physical lightning from you and yours, so that you might divert from me the moral lightning of worry and distress.” Cot-ta’s comments may well have influenced the passage in Schiller’s Death of Wallenstein, where Wallenstein comments on the death of Max Piccolomini: “On his pure head, the lightning was drawn off, which would else have shattered me.” Schiller was very fond of the new German word “electrifisieren,” which he used frequently in his poetry and letters.

Even in Don Carlos, the influence of the American Revolution made itself felt. Posa’s famous statement, “I cannot be the servant of a king,” reflected many of the concepts that had been formulated in the rebellion in America. The figure of the Marquis of Posa, the aristocrat who demands liberty of thought, could not but have been modelled on the real-life aristocratic lover of liberty, the Marquis de Lafayette, who had travelled to America to help the colonies free themselves from British tyranny.

As Schiller’s spirit remained focussed on the grand historical vistas unfolding before him, his academic duties, and the petty conflicts inevitably associated with university life, grew more tedious for him. If he could find some philanthropist to support him, so he could do his own writing, Historical Calendar for Ladies for the Year 1792he wrote to Körner, he would tell the university authorities to “kiss my ass.” Even though he always attracted great crowds, and was a favorite of the student body, he felt that his student audience was not always capable of assimilating his more fundamental message.

Then, in December 1791, Schiller, whose health had always been frail, became seriously ill. It appears to have been a form of tuberculosis, and it would continue to plague him for the rest of his life. The illness forced him to abandon his university lecturing, and gave him a forced leisure, which he spent in intense study of philosophy. In a letter to Körner in January 1792, Schiller wrote that, thanks to his confinement, he would begin a study of the works of Locke, Hume, and Leibniz. Schiller had already made a study of Leibniz’s polemic against Locke’s empiricism in the posthumously published New Essays on Human Understanding.

It was a few months later that Schiller began a serious study of the recently published works of the Königsberg philosopher Immanuel Kant, the prime German representative of the British “Enlightenment” philosophy. He launched into a study of Kant’s primary philosophical work, the Critique of Pure Reason. This would be followed by, as they were published, the Critique of Practical Reason, and then the Critique of Judgment. It was primarily in his grappling with the conundrums posed by Kant, that Schiller was able to develop his own radically different ideas about the nature of man’s intellect and its relationship to nature. As Helga Zepp LaRouche describes Schiller’s use of Kant: “The conclusion which Schiller drew from this collapse of the Enlightenment, was that he had to develop a completely new conception of Reason, one based on his ideal of Art and aesthetics, and thus a notion of Reason with a qualitatively different meaning. For Kant, who wrote his Critiques of pure and practical reason at approximately the same time, the Enlightenment was the release of individuals from their ‘unencumbered minority.’ Schiller, to the contrary, connected his notion of aesthetic Reason once again directly to the tradition in which Reason is the source of creativity.”12

’Create Citizens for a Constitution’

Schiller’s inability to lecture created serious financial difficulties for him. He had been so ill that rumors of his death were circulating widely throughout Europe. It was then that the two Danish noblemen, Friedrich Christian of Augustenborg and Count Ernst Schimmelman, informed of Schiller’s predicament by the Danish poet Jens Baggesen, and with a growing enthusiasm for Schiller sparked by Baggesen’s reading to them from Don Carlos, sent Schiller the offer of a three-year stipend, to enable him to continue his writing. They even proposed he relocate to Copenhagen for the conduct of his literary activity.

Schiller was overjoyed, both by their offer, and by their enthusiasm for his work. He determined to dedicate to the Augustenborg duke a series of letters, in which he would develop his ideas for launching a program for the moral education of the population, which had shown itself to be so degraded during the recent French events. Later, Schiller decided to thoroughly rework these letters for publication. These became the celebrated Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man, his fundamental commentary on the state of political affairs in Europe, and the solution in the realm of philosophy to the unfolding crisis.

While the published Aesthetical Letters are much more widely read, and his thought more rigorously developed, than the original letters to Augustenborg, the originals provide a rather frank commentary on the events of the day. “The attempt by the French people, to assert the sacred rights of man and to win for itself political freedom, has only revealed their inability and unworthiness, and has plunged not only that unhappy people, but a significant part of Europe and an entire century, back into barbarism and slavery,” he wrote. “The moment was most favorable, but it found a depraved generation, which was not equal to it and did not know how to appreciate it, nor to make use of it.” He deemed out of the question the possibility of any important political change coming any time soon: “Indeed, I am so far from believing in a beginning of a regeneration in political life, that the events of our time rather rob me of all hope of such for centuries to come.”

And yet, it was in the realm of culture that the seeds had to be laid for an eventual rebirth of a genuine political movement dedicated to human freedom. “Should one now cease to strive for this? Should even the most important of all human endeavors be relegated to a lawless contingency, to blind accident, while the realm of reason in every other sphere seems to be increasing?” he wrote. “By no means, noble Prince. Political and civil freedom remain everywhere and always the most sacred of all goods, the most worthy goal of all efforts and the great central issue of all culture . . . but this glorious structure can only be established on the firm basis of an ennobled character; you must begin to create citizens for a constitution, before you can create a constitution for the citizens.”

In 1793, Schiller was finally allowed to return to his native Württemburg, to visit his aging parents. He had a chance to renew old acquaintances, including Friedrich von Hoven, now a doctor in Ludwigsburg. The two discussed the events in France, which were approaching much closer to the vicinity of Württemburg than anyone had imagined. Von Hoven wrote of Schiller: “ He is quite convinced that the French Republic will cease as rapidly as it was formed, that the republican constitution will sooner or later change into anarchy, and the only salvation for the nation will be the appearance of a strong man, coming from wherever he may, to exorcise the tumult, reintroduce law and order, and hold the reins of the government tightly in his hand, even if he has to make himself the absolute master of not only France, but also of other parts of Europe.”

During Schiller’s visit, Schiller’s old nemesis, Duke Karl Eugen, died. Schiller bore him no ill will. He visited the Duke’s gravesite with von Hoven, and commented: “He had great failings as a regent, and greater failings as a man. The former were overshadowed by his great qualities, and thoughts of the latter must be buried with the dead; and so I’ll tell you, now that he is lying here, if you hear someone speak unfavorably of him, don’t believe him. He who does so is not a good man, or at least not a noble one.”

Schiller had already abandoned the idea of becoming the editor of a political journal. His publisher Johann Friedrich Cotta had proposed this to him in 1794, and Schiller had seriously considered the idea, but in the end rejected it. Writing to Cotta on May 19, Schiller said: “Meanwhile I have discovered that even this more limited undertaking [of publishing a political quarterly rather than a monthly—WJ] may raise considerable objections. As for myself, I must admit that I would not have chosen a political writing career out of inclination, but rather as a speculative venture. And since I could never neglect something on which I place my name, such a task would have required a great deal more time and effort than any other venture.”

Instead, Schiller agreed to launch a cultural magazine, beginning the following year. It would be called Die Horen (after the Horae, Greek goddesses of order in nature). The magazine was to mobilize all the great minds of the age. By September, he felt that he had already organized Goethe and Herder, Johann Gottlob Fichte, Körner, the poet Friedrich von Matthison, Johan Jacob Engel, the teacher of the Humboldt brothers, as well as the Humboldt brothers themselves, Wilhelm and Alexander, and a group of lesser lights, including the bright but treacherous Schlegel brothers, August Wilhelm and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich, who were later instrumental in the creation of the Romantic movement. Schiller thought the elder brother August Wilhelm possessed some talent; the younger brother had already become a bitter critic of Schiller, and would soon bring his brother over to his side. The two Schlegels would become the center of a massive campaign to try to destroy Schiller while he lived, and to besmirch his reputation after his death.

Most dramatic of all was the conquest of Goethe, which established the most solid and fruitful collaboration in German—perhaps in world—literary history. Schiller had sent to Goethe some of his latest productions, the poem “Die Götter Griechenlands” (“The Gods of Greece”) and “Die Kunstler” (“The Artists”) in which an attentive mind could find certain allusions to Goethe. The Weimar cultural patriarch had also a great interest in the study of the natural sciences. In July 1794, he came to Jena to attend the monthly meeting of a natural science association of which both he and Schiller were honorary members. Schiller, perhaps knowing that Goethe would be there, also attended the meeting. The two began to discuss Goethe’s ideas on the metamorphosis of plants. Schiller, trained in medicine, showed himself to be well-versed in the subject, much to Goethe’s surprise. They became so involved in the discussion that they decided to continue back at Schiller’s house. “I expounded enthusiastically on the metamorphoses of plants, and with many characteristic strokes of the pen, I traced before his eyes a symbolic plant,” Schiller wrote. “He listened and observed all this with keen interest, and with a decisive power of comprehension; when I finished, he shook his head and said. ‘But that is not empirical, that is an idea.’ I stopped short, a bit annoyed. For the point that divided us was thus indicated in the most rigorous manner.”

And so the conversation led to a more philosophical discussion of fundamental questions. Although Goethe never accepted Schiller’s philosophical standpoint, he was won over by the force of Schiller’s personality. Goethe went on in his description: “The first step was thus taken, Schiller’s power of attraction was great, he captivated all who came within his purview; I partook of all his views and promised to contribute to Horen many things which still lay hidden within me; his wife, whom I had been accustomed to love and to admire since she was a child, played her part to create a lasting understanding; all our mutual friends were overjoyed, and so we sealed, by that grand, and perhaps never quite settled struggle between object and subject, a pact that remained unbroken, and which for us and others has effected much good.”13

Schiller was also pleasantly surprised with the results. In a letter to Körner on Sept. 1, 1794, he wrote: “On my return I found a warm letter from Goethe, who had now finally taken me into his confidence. Six weeks ago we had a long and wide-ranging discussion about art and the theory of art and had each explained the quite different ways we had come to our main concepts about art. Between these concepts there was an unexpected agreement, that was all the more interesting in that they actually proceeded from the greatest differences in our points of view. Each could give the other something that it lacked, receive something in return. Since that time, the ideas disseminated by Goethe have taken root, and he now feels a need to rely on me, and the road, which he up until now has traveled alone and without encouragement, he will continue in company with me.”

Raising the Banner of Freedom

Schiller now set about his most ambitious publishing project yet. He had been at the helm of at least six journals prior to this, but Die Horen was intended to create a revolution in thought in Germany, and throughout Europe overall. This was the culmination of the political task Schiller had set himself in the Aesthetical Letters. He intended to involve all the serious and committed intellectuals in the German cultural world. Even Immanuel Kant, sitting in his cozy little world in Königsberg on the Baltic Sea, was invited to participate. But the psychologically blocked professor had not quite gotten over the attacks made on his system by Schiller in “On Grace and Dignity” and, more rigorously, in the Aesthetical Letters. Although cordial and formally encouraging, Kant, who had mentioned Schiller’s critique of him in his Religion in the Light of Reason, never contributed anything to the magazine. Schiller would later say of this German representative of the so-called “Enlightenment”: “There is always something in him which, like Luther, reminds you of a monk. He has opened the gates of the monastery, but can never quite escape its imprint.” He also commented that Kant could “never free his wings from life’s muck.”

Writing in September 1794 to Cotta, whom he wished to recruit as the publisher of the new journal, Schiller was enthusiastic. “For our part, there is no longer any difficulty, and already we have pulled together a society of writers, which no other journal has yet been able to exhibit. Goethe, Herder, Garve, Engel, Fichte, Friedrich Jacobi, Matthison, Woltmann, Genz in Berlin, and still four or five others, whose names are not yet known by the general public, but who will yet play a role in the literary world, are, in addition to myself, participants in this project,” he wrote. One of the contributors, Wilhelm von Humboldt, had even decided to take up residence in Jena, in order to be close to Schiller, and to assist him in the undertaking.

Schiller’s prognosis about the French Revolution—that it would have consequences far outside France itself—proved to be all too accurate. Already in 1792, the great European powers, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain, had invaded France on several fronts. Believing that resistance would collapse within a matter of weeks or months, they were astounded by the ability of Revolutionary France to create entire armies almost from scratch. None of them had yet experienced the tremendous organizational capabilities of the great Lazare Carnot through his famous levée en masse, mobilizing the entire population as a “people in arms,” which not only allowed France to foil the attacks from abroad, but permitted it to expand outside its own borders. In July 1793, the city of Mainz, seat of the Archbishop of Mainz, one of the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, was occupied by the French. In 1794, French troops occupied several German states on the left bank of the Rhine. In 1797, these regions would be formally annexed to France. The French presence also placed significant political pressure on all the states of southern Germany. The German nation was fast becoming occupied territory.

Patriotic Germans now found themselves in a dilemma. Those who were favorable to the ideals of the Revolution, not yet aware of how those ideals were being per verted at that very moment, had to choose between these revolutionary ideals, and the occupation of their country by a foreign power. Some, like Schiller’s friend Georg Forster, for example, felt it fitting to serve in what was effectively a puppet gov ernment set up by the French in Mainz, a move condemned by Schiller.

It was in this atmosphere that Schiller launched his new publication, true to the commitment he had expressed in his letter to Augustenborg, “to arm Truth and Virtue with that victorious energy which brings hearts under its sway.” Writing in the announcement of the first issue of Die Horen, he wrote: “At a time when the near sounds of war frighten the Fatherland, where the battle of political opinion and interests renews this war in almost every circle, and all too often frightens off the Muses and the Graces, where neither in the conversation nor in the writings of the day is there refuge from this all-persecuting demon of political criticism, it is perhaps a bold, as well as useful task to invite the much distracted reader to a diversion of a completely opposite character. But the more the restricted interest of the present puts the human spirit in a state of tension, confines it and subjugates it in thralldom, the more urgent will be the need for that which is purely human and elevated above the popular themes of the day, to place the spirit again in freedom, and to unite the politically divided world under the banner of Truth and Beauty.” The correctness of Schiller’s view would not be manifest until it came to fruition after his death in the War of Liberation, when a generation educated by his work was prepared to wage an effective fight against the armies of Napoleon, using Schiller’s republican ideals to mobilize the population in their effort.

The Power of the Greeks

It was at this time, when he had finally succeeded in establishing a close relationship with Goethe, that Schiller also benefitted from his intimacy with Wilhelm von Humboldt. Humboldt’s wife, Caroline von Dacheroden, had been a friend of the Lengefeld sistersUniversal Collection of Historical Memoirs. In 1792, Schiller had published in Thalia, the chapter of a book Humboldt was writing on The Limits of State Action, under the title “ How Far Should the State Extend Its Concern for the Well-Being of Its Citizens?” This was the result of Humboldt’s experience while serving in a diplomatic position in Paris at the height of the revolutionary events. Humboldt’s great love, however, was Classical Greece, an interest which he shared with Schiller. Humboldt had gained proficiency in Ancient Greek, even translating Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and works by the Greek poet Pindar.

In 1793, Humboldt moved to Jena to be with Schiller, and thus expand his own horizons. He brought Schiller a great deal of comfort and stimulation: “In the most lively exchange of ideas,” Caroline von Wolzogen wrote, “and the most intimate friendship, life for [Schiller] would be more graceful and richer in a thousand different spiritual aspects. Every evening the two would become engrossed in philosophical and aesthetical discussions, that would often drag on till late in the night.”14 The correspondence between the two during times when Humboldt was away, or after he moved from Schiller’s side to become involved in the requirements of day-to-day political and diplomatic life, indicate the great breadth and depth of their relationship.15

Humboldt was certainly not much of a poet, and his writing was often too dry for Schiller’s taste. But his profound knowledge of Greece, its literature and its language, was for Schiller an invaluable resource, on which he drew to perfect his art. Humboldt was also a rigorous critic, and he would offer his comments on Schiller’s works as they were being produced, often leading to changes, and always with a depth of understanding and high appreciation that few others possessed. Humboldt truly loved Schiller, ranking him as the greatest of poets, above Goethe or Shakespeare, whom he admired most among the moderns.

In an August 1797 letter to Körner, after Humboldt had moved from Jena and was about to visit Körner in Dresden, Schiller explained the importance of Humboldt for him: “He is highly qualified to keep company with, he has that unusual purity of interest in the subject at hand, he awakens every slumbering idea, forces one to the sharpest clarity, but avoiding any one-sidedness, and he repays any effort that is expended in making your ideas clear, through the rare ability to grasp them and examine them.”

Later, in 1803, after many years of physical separation, Schiller would write nostalgically to Humboldt about their days together: “It is strange how we were so galvanized by each other during those years 1794 and 1795, when we could philosophize together and feel the jolt of that intellectual friction that each generated through the other. Those times will always be unforgettable for me, and if I presently find myself transposed into that joyous poetic activity, and feel on the whole much better, I can assure you, dear friend, that the lack of such an encounter of the spirits as existed between us at that time, has made me feel that much older.” Even with Goethe the relationship was never quite so close as it was with Humboldt.

Stimulated by Humboldt, Schiller decided to master the Greek language, of which he had learned the rudiments at the Karlschule, although he never had the leisure to seriously pursue that desire. He did pursue a study of Greek drama, however, which was to exert a major influence on his next dramatic undertaking, the Wallenstein trilogy.

Schiller was closely involved in editing the Horen. He saw his task as establishing a new cultural paradigm, looking back to the Greeks not merely to blindly imitate them, but to create new works for the present which stood on their shoulders. As he wrote in marginal comments on Humboldt’s “On the Study of the Ancients, Especially the Greeks”16: “ In the first period there were the Greeks. We stand in the second. The third is still to be hoped for, and then we will not need to wish the Greeks to return.”17

Schiller applied his rigorous ideals to the editing of the new journal. He counselled many young poets, encouraging them in their work, criticizing their mistakes, and publishing them when they came up with suitable contributions. This included a flurry of young woman poets, like Amalia von Imhoff and Sophie Moreau, many of whom, unfortunately, would later be sucked into the vortex of the Romantic movement fomented after Schiller’s death, particularly after the passage of the Carlsbad decrees in Germany in 1819. Although the Schlegel brothers were already his sworn enemies, Schiller always attempted to bring the elder brother August Wilhelm back to the path of Reason, publishing his translations of Dante and Shakespeare, as well as some of his theoretical works. The later Romantic poets Friedrich von Harden-burg (Novalis), Jean Paul Richter, and Friedrich Hölderlin, as well as the philosophers Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, who would come to found the so-called Idealist philosophy—the complement in philosophy to Romanticism in the arts—all came within Schiller’s purview, and he attempted to give them all some direction.

Fichte was invited to contribute to the Horen, but his first submission was far below what Schiller was willing to accept. Schiller attempted to reject the article gently, but Fichte was unreconcilable. In a draft of a response to Fichte which he never sent, Schiller expressed his concerns about Fichte’s comportment in words that reveal Schiller’s own attitude toward the Romantic “Zeitgeist”: “ Nearly every line that has in recent years flowed from my pen, bears this character [disdain of contemporary opinion—WJ], and if I likewise for ulterior reasons which I have in common with other writers, can not remain indifferent over whether I have a large or small readership, I have at least captured it in the only way that is consistent with my nature and my character; not through cozying up to the spirit of the age do I win over the public, but by seeking, through a lively and daring exhibition of my manner of representation, to surprise, intensify, and agitate it. That a writer who travels this path cannot be the darling of the public, is in the nature of things; for one loves only what releases one, not what causes tension; but for all that, he has the satisfaction of knowing that he is hated out of wretchedness, and envied out of vanity, attacked with enthusiasm by spirits with verve, and adored in fear and trembling by slavish souls. I have never really sought to inquire about the good or bad effects of my literary activity but examples of both have obtruded upon me uninvited—and this happens to this very day.”18 [Emphasis added.]

The Spirit of America

Although Die Horen was devoted primarily to art and literature, Schiller also encouraged historical articles of advantage to the reader. In July 1795, he wrote to the historian Johan Wilhelm von Archenholz, asking him to contribute an article on the American Revolutionary War: “Have you ever considered putting together a short, concise picture of the American Revolutionary War? I know nothing in recent history that, under the hand of a master craftsman, would have such a universal attraction.” Archenholz was a prominent military historian, who had already published in his own history journal, Minerva, an article on the unjust imprisonment of the Marquis de Lafayette. In 1793, from his prison at Magdeburg, Lafayette had written to Archenholz, explaining his actions during the heyday of the French Revolution. Although critical of the Marquis for not being more aggressive in attempting to gain control of events in Paris, Archenholz became instrumental in the movement to mobilize public opinion in Germany to free him. In 1796, Archenholz published in Minerva a letter to Lafayette from Lafayette’s son, George Washington Lafayette, who had gone to live with George Washington in Philadelphia after his father’s arrest.

Lafayette had been captured in Germany by Prussian troops and placed in a Prussian prison. In October 1794, Schiller himself had received an anonymous letter relating the capture of Lafayette, comparing the French Marquis to Schiller’s own Marquis of Posa, and urging Schiller to help obtain his release, or at least, an amelioration of the conditions under which he was held. Several months earlier, however, the Prussians had turned Lafayette over to the Austrians, who threw him into a dungeon in Olmutz, where he was imprisoned for five years.

Schiller’s keen interest in the American Revolution was well known to his friends. In 1797, he was given by the German engraver Johann Wilhelm Muller, an engraving commemorating the death of the American General Joseph Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The engraving was based on a painting by John Trumbull, the artist son of the Revolutionary War-era Governor of Connecticut, who had served in the Continental Army. The engraving was a topic of discussion between Schiller and Goethe, who appreciated the artistic qualities of the painting upon which the engraving was based.

It was at this time that Schiller was beginning to work on Wallenstein. He was greatly assisted by the advice and criticism of Goethe. By now, the two men had developed a close working relationship, unprecedented in the history of culture. Schiller had been Goethe’s primary critic and consultant as Goethe developed his Wilhelm Meister trilogy, often incorporating Schiller’s observations, or making changes suggested by him. In turn, the elder man performed the same function for the younger. When Schiller wrote the first draft of his poem “ Ibykus,” for example, Goethe pointed out that cranes never fly alone, but always in flocks. Schiller then rewrote the poem to reflect that important point, changing the title to “The Cranes of Ibykus.” Later, in 1797, the two men would embark on a poetry competition of sorts, with each engaging the other in reviving the medieval ballad form, leading to new and wonderful creations from the hands of both.19

In 1795, the two poets decided to launch a direct provocation, by jointly issuing a collection of couplets, titled “Xenien,” under both their names, with no indication of which poet had authored which of the epigrams. These witty and often biting couplets lampooned specific individuals of German culture and art, causing an uproar in the German intellectual world, which delighted the authors, who were happy to see the well-aimed barbs hit their mark. In that vein, Schiller would comment to Goethe in a letter of June 1799, that “ the only relationship with the public that can’t be a source of regret, is that of war, and I am also very much in favor of attacking dilettantism with every weapon.”

It was Schiller who first saw the overriding importance of Goethe’s work on the drama Faust, which he thought would become the elder poet’s greatest masterpiece. But Goethe had a myriad of interests, both artistic and romantic, that pulled him in all directions, and he could never maintain concentration on it. Schiller’s prodding would put Goethe back on track, only to be soon diverted by some other interest. This trait of Goethe’s always infuriated Schiller. Goethe did not finish the first part of Faust, with which Schiller was familiar, until 1808, three years after Schiller’s death. The second part would not be completed until 1832, and was published posthumously.

A Call to Arms

The Wallenstein trilogy was the culmination of many years of study begun by Schiller when preparing his historical works, and it would prove to be one of the longest and most difficult to compose. Schiller had not written a dramatic work since the completion of Don Carlos in 1787. Now, his study of the Thirty Years’ War, an historical event which had become of central importance to him, as it was for the German nation, rekindled his interest in that period as the setting for a new drama.

The central figure was not to be the heroic Gustavus Adolphus, whom Schiller so much admired, but rather a far less heroic—and, therefore, more difficult—figure as the subject of tragedy: General Albrecht Wenzel Wallenstein, the Duke of Friedland. Wallenstein was the one commander in the service of the Habsburg Emperor who had proven his skill against the Swedish armies. But, after fifteen years of fighting, he was prepared to throw in his lot with the forces of Sweden and the German Protestants to end the devastating religious warfare.

Schiller was at the time engaged in his study of the works of Sophocles and the Greeks. He wished with Wallenstein to replicate the epic proportions of the Greek tragedies, in which the tragic outcome has less to do with the miscalculations of the hero, than with the grand laws of destiny. In Wallenstein, the awesomeness of the task that Wallenstein set for himself—to lead the army of the Emperor against the Emperor, and thus end the wars of religion—only served to magnify the horror of the deed, when Wallenstein ultimately failed and was assassinated. Schiller explained the difficulties of dealing with the subject in a letter to Goethe on Nov. 28, 1796: “Fate still plays too small a role, and the actual missteps of the hero too large a one, in his misfortune. But I comfort myself somewhat with the example of Macbeth, where also destiny has much less to do with his destruction, than the man himself.” However, Schiller’s learned friend Humboldt assured him that, in the final product, he had achieved his goal: “ You have transformed Wallenstein’s family into a House of Atreus [of Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy—WJ], in which destiny abides, where the occupants are put to flight, but where the onlooker lingers long and willingly at the desolate scene.” With the death of Wallenstein, the only man in the Imperial Army who could conceivably have put an end to the fighting, the war would continue for another fifteen years. The results were still very much present in Germany during Schiller’s day. In Austria, seat of the Habsburg Imperial Family against whom Wallenstein had been prepared to revolt—and the place where Schiller had the greatest difficulty getting his work past the censors—Wallenstein would not be performed until 1814!

Schiller wrestled with Wallenstein for seven years. The drama was of such length that it had to be divided into three parts, each performed on a separate evening. The play dealt with war and warriors. Its first, introductory part, Wallenstein’s Camp, whose metrical form distinguished it from the other parts, took place wholly in an army camp, and the dramatis personae were all soldiers, from general to lowliest private. Here, undoubtedly, Schiller used the familiarity acquired by his many trips with his father. The plays included musical interludes, and some of the poems he composed for this part were set to music. Wallenstein’s Camp would later serve as the model for the camp scene in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Forza del Destino.

It was with Wallenstein, more than with any other production by Schiller, that Goethe would make his greatest contribution. During the course of its composition, and particularly as Schiller was coming to the point where the work could be performed, the two regularly discussed the play, scene by scene, deliberating on the meter, characters, and problems of staging. They even took into consideration the actors they would be working with, since Wallenstein placed great demands on their diction, enunciation, and vocal carrying power. Goethe’s work with Schiller on the trilogy was so extensive, that he knew the entire work by heart.

Produced at a time of great turmoil in Germany, Wallenstein became a patriotic rallying point for resistance to Napoleon. The play premiered in Weimar on Oct. 12, 1798, with Wallenstein’s Camp. The second part of the trilogy, The Piccolomini, was staged there in January 1799. When the third part, The Death of Wallenstein, was premiered on July 2, 1799, King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia himself journeyed to Weimar from Berlin, to see it presented under the direction of its author.

Goethe had prepared reviews for the press in advance of the premieres, to be sent out immediately following the performances. The second staging of Wallenstein took place in Berlin, where the director of the Berlin Theater was Schiller’s old friend August Wilhelm Iffland, who had created the character Karl Moor at the Mannheim Theater many years earlier. Iffland was concerned that certain passages would not be acceptable to the Prussian authorities. In particular, he feared that Wallenstein’s Camp, which showed a cynical and lawless band of mercenaries so typical of the Thirty Years’ War, would not play well in a “garrison state” like Prussia. But, contrary to Iffland’s concerns, the play was a rousing success. The other two parts of the trilogy were so popular with the Berlin public that, by 1803, Iffland was willing to present Wallenstein’s Camp, too.

Lyndon LaRouche once described the effect of great drama as follows: “ [You] take within yourself the full cultural experience, by trying to relive, in your own mind, as on a stage. It’s like what a great dramatist does, like Schiller does, or Shakespeare does; or, Shakespeare does with the English histories, for example take these conditions in your mind, re-enact them in your mind. Not as something you comment on, but as if you were reliving it, as a great dramatist does, with a historical drama.”20 The effect of this “reliving” of such an event in German history as that described in Wallenstein was overwhelming. Schiller’s drama tapped into the deepest emotional recesses of the nation. The play’s message became a rallying cry to defend the nation by arms if necessary, and it had a cathartic effect on the soldiers who would soon be going to war. In October 1805, a number of non-commissioned officers were given free tickets to a performance. There were also many Prussian officers in attendance. The famous “ Reiterlied,” one of the poems authored by Schiller, was sung, followed by another popular military air, “In Praise of War.” The latter was taken up by the audience, who knew it well, after which there were hurrahs for the King and the Prussian Army. Later, Schiller’s influence within the military was noted in a different context by the aging General von Yorck, himself a late convert to the cause of the Prussian reforms, complaining that “every young ensign now wants to play the Marquis Posa to his superior officers.”21

With Wallenstein, Schiller’s reputation as Germany’s greatest writer was now undisputed, and his influence reached into the courts of many countries. In 1802, through the efforts of Dalberg, Schiller was raised to the nobility. The Imperial edict conferring the title stated: “In particular, his excellent poems have given to the Ger-man language and to German patriotism new life, so that he has definitely provided great merit to the Germany Fatherland and its reputation.” Schiller was not himself particularly concerned about the title of nobility, but he was not averse to accepting it, because the lack of a title restricted his ability to move freely at the court of Weimar. His wife, although from an aristocratic family herself, had also been restricted from participation in court events, because she was married to a commoner. Schiller was eager to change those circumstances, more for her sake than his.

In 1803, the King of Sweden, Gustaf Adolf IV, travelled to Weimar to see a production of the Death of Wallenstein. His real reason for the trip was to attempt to mobilize the German states to resist the encroachments of Napoleon. The King met with Schiller, and presented him with a ring, as a tribute to Schiller’s praise in the History of the Thirty Years’ War of his ancestor, the great Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, who had intervened in Germany to come to the aid of the Protestant states during the Thirty Years’ War. Schiller wrote to Körner on September 12: “ This is the first bird of this type that has ever flown into my house; may others soon follow.” And they soon did.

In May 1803, Schiller was invited to a reception in Erfurt by a group of Prussian officers who had seen Wallenstein. He wrote to Körner on May 12: “The Prussian officers in Erfurt have invited me to a festival in Erfurt, and I have attended. It was for me a great time to find myself in the midst of a grand military group, for there were around 100 officers altogether, among whom I found some of the old majors and colonels most interesting.” Schiller was known to the Prussian officers by more than his poems and theatrical works. Almost the entire von Wolzogen family—Wilhelm, Ludwig, and young August—were in uniform, and they were strong proponents of Schiller’s works. In preparing for the death of the character Max Piccolomini, Schiller had asked Ludwig to describe what it was like to be in the midst of battle, because he wanted to portray the death of his young idealist Max on the battlefield. But Schiller found it impossible to replicate on stage the shooting, and the shouting, and the cannonades, described by Ludwig.

New Vistas at the End

With the success of Wallenstein, Schiller was at the pinnacle of his art. From there, until the end of his life in 1805, he rapidly composed at least one new masterpiece a year—in 1800, Mary Stuart; in 1801, The Maid of Orleans; in 1803, The Bride of Messina; and, in 1804, William Tell. His death cut short work on his last drama, Demetrius. During these years, he was also occupied with productions at the Weimar Theater, reworking dramas by Lessing and Shakespeare for performance there.

Schiller had been fascinated by the story of Mary Stuart ever since his Mannheim days. This drama about the dynastic struggle under the Tudors, allowed him to probe the problems of the religious divisions in the British Isles following the death of Henry VII, and to tread on some of the ground which Shakespeare had trod before him in his history plays. It also enabled him to exhibit some of the liturgical differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, sympathetically portraying on stage both Mary’s confession, and her receiving Holy Communion (which in some places had to be cut to get past the censor!). An English colleague of Schiller’s who was living in Weimar, Joseph Mellish, translated the play for an English audience as it was being written.

When Schiller turned his attention to the problems of France, he focussed not as one might have expected on Henry IV of Navarre, but on Joan of Arc, the heroine of French liberation from the English during the Fifteenth century. This was also Schiller’s way of rescuing Joan from the disrepute into which she had been thrust by a cynical attack on her by Voltaire, that imp of the Enlightenment. Schiller took the poetic liberty of giving Joan a love interest, and a moment of doubt, in order to provide an opportunity for her to overcome real human weakness, in the process of mobilizing her spirit to fulfill its divinely ordained mission. Schiller compared the lyrical beauty of the language in his Maid of Orleans to that of an opera.

In 1803, Schiller produced The Bride of Messina, following the example of Goethe, who in his 1786 Iphigenia at Taulis had attempted to replicate the Greek form most closely with a subject from Greek myth. Then, in 1804, Schiller produced that masterpiece of republican drama, William Tell.

Schiller chose these incidents from the historical traditions of the different European nations, because they had particular significance in exposing the psychological problems impeding political change. The unfinished Demetrius, a drama from Russian history, was situated during the “ Time of Troubles” (1604-1613), when the country found itself without a Czar. Russia had become a focus of attention for Schiller because of its significance as an ally of Germany in the coming conflict with Napoleon. Schiller was also becoming a favorite among many of the members of the ruling Romanov family, thanks to the work of his brother-in-law, Wilhelm von Wolzogen, who was now an aide to the German princesses who had married into the Romanov family. There may also have been some thought on Schiller’s part of preparing the Russian ruling family for the important decisions they would have to make in the coming years. The secret of Schiller’s Demetrius was that the dynastic issue was not of primary significance: the “false” Demetrius could achieve legitimacy as a ruler, if he acquired the qualities of a statesman. For Schiller, the requirement for leading a nation was statesmanship, no matter what one’s pedigree.

William Tell was an idea that Goethe had long played with, and had discussed often with Schiller. In addition, Schiller was being pressured by the Berlin Theater director Iffland to provide him with something that would have broad public appeal. Iffland had staged Schiller’s Bride of Messina, the closest Schiller came to replicating the form of an actual Greek tragedy, but it did not have the same success as Schiller’s other plays. William Tell, however, with its folk-like setting, became one of the most popular of Schiller’s works. Schiller determined that Tell would be his gift to Iffland, and would premiere in Berlin.

Receiving the first scenes, Iffland was overjoyed. But, as he received subsequent ones, he became increasingly concerned, primarily because of the political content of the play. Indeed, Iffland may even have received word from the Prussian censors—who would, of course, be keeping a watchful eye on anything appearing on the Berlin stage—that parts of the play were unacceptable. Always aware of the vicissitudes of censorship in the different German states, Schiller agreed to blunt some of the sharper confrontations between the oligarchs and the freedom fighters. But this delayed the opening in Berlin, and therefore the premiere of Wilhelm Tell was held in Weimar. Fittingly, the delayed Berlin premiere would be performed on American Independence Day, July 4, 1804.

Of all his plays, Wilhelm Tell most clearly expressed Schiller’s republican ideals. It also most strongly reflected the influence of the American Revolution. In the famous Rütli Oath, one sees reflected the views of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who pledged their lives, their liberty, and their sacred honor, to assert the “ inalienable rights” of man. One of the parts of the play which Iffland found most problematic was the famous declaration by Stauffacher at Rütli, “There is a limit to the tyrant’s power!” There was also a limit to Schiller’s patience, however, and this scene remained as written. In a letter to Iffland on April 14, Schiller said: “I couldn’t formulate it in any other way without contradicting the spirit of the work; for once you have chosen a subject like William Tell, you must necessarily play on certain strings which don’t always sound pleasant to every ear. If the passages that you now mention cannot be spoken in the theater, then Tell cannot be played at all at this theater, since its entire focus, as innocent and just as it is, must cause scandal.”

Earlier, at the end of 1803, Schiller had received an invitation from the King and Queen of Prussia to visit them at the Royal Palace at Potsdam, just outside Berlin. He had spoken with the royal couple before, at the Weimar premiere of The Death of Wallenstein. The meeting was part of an effort by friends of Schiller to bring him to Berlin, which was clearly becoming a larger arena for his activity. The recent death of Herder, and Goethe’s occasional flights into a hermit-like existence, made Schiller’s Weimar seem a very small place.

Schiller made the trip in May 1804. While in Berlin, he had the opportunity to meet for the first time some of the Berlin humanist circle descended from the intellectual networks of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. He was already acquainted with Mendelssohn’s son Abraham, with the composer Zelter, and with the Humboldts, but many of the Berlin intelligentsia knew Schiller only through his works. In Berlin, he had the opportunity to see performances of both The Maid of Orleans and Wal-lenstein—as both were playing over the same fortnight.

Schiller met with the King and Queen, and with Cabinet Minister Karl Friedrich Beyme, during his weeks in Berlin. He also met with Prince Louis Ferdinand, who was already an enthusiastic supporter of resistance to Napoleon. Louis Ferdinand would lose his life two years later, leading his troops in battle against the French at Saalfeld. The King and Queen assured Schiller that arrangements could be made for him to move to Berlin, or, barring that, to have him spend some part of the year in Berlin, and to induct him into the Berlin Academy of Sciences. There was even discussion of appointing him history tutor to the young Crown Prince, later King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. In a letter to Körner on June 16, after concluding his visit, Schiller wrote of a possible move to Berlin: “ I have felt the need to move to a strange and larger city. On the one hand, I am determined to write for a larger public. My dramatic works should influence them, and I see myself here in such a limited environment, that it’s a miracle how I somehow can achieve something for the larger world outside.” His sis-ter-in-law also remarked how Schiller “in later life considered himself suitable for public office, and believed that he could do this with great interest and to some benefit.”

Despite the assurances he had been given in Berlin, however, Schiller never received a reply to his letters requesting clarification of the financial arrangements. Perhaps his republican spirit was too great a challenge to the Prussian aristocracy. It would also be some time before the government, pressed by outside events, decided to mobilize the people for total war against Napoleon, thus permitting the fulfillment of long-planned and much-needed liberal reforms.

There were also pressing personal reasons for Schiller to be hesitant about such a move. Charlotte was not excited by the thought of leaving her native region, and she was pregnant with another child. Schiller’s health, always precarious, was another consideration. The poet who had written so wonderfully about the Swiss mountain folk, had never seen the Alps; the author of the sea-faring Fiesco, had never seen the sea. His physical condition had always made long journeys life-threatening ventures. At the same time, the Duke of Weimar, learning of Schiller’s financial predicament, agreed to raise his stipend. In August, another daughter, Emilie, was born.

In November, Schiller’s brother-in-law, Wilhelm von Wolzogen, accompanied the Crown Princess of Russia, Maria Pavlovna, who had married the son of the Duke of Weimar, to Weimar. There were great celebrations. Schiller composed “Die Huldigung der Kunste” (“ Homage to the Arts”) in her honor. Von Wolzogen had introduced both the Crown Princess and her mother, the Queen Dowager, to Schiller’s dramas in St. Petersburg. Even Czarina Elizabeth, a German princess from Baden who had become the wife of the new Czar Alexander I, was now a fervent admirer of Don Carlos. When Schiller completed William Tell, he had sent a manuscript to von Wolzogen in St. Petersburg for a reading before the Queen Mother, deftly eliminating the scene referring to the regicide, since the husband of the Queen Mother had been slain by an assassin.

By the spring of 1805, Schiller was again seriously ill. He was working with Johann Heinrich Voss, the young son of the German translator of Homer’s epics. Young Voss had himself recently translated Othello for performance at the theater in Weimar, and Schiller was reviewing the translation. Voss would become the companion of his final days. Both Schiller and Goethe were now seriously ill, and both considered the possibility that one or both of them might soon die. On March 1, the two met for the last time. Voss, who was present, describes the scene: “They fell into a warm embrace, and kissed each other in a warm, tender kiss, before either of them could say a word. Neither of them spoke of their own or the other’s maladies, but both enjoyed with a cheerful spirit the unadulterated joy of being again united.”

On May 8, Schiller fell into a semi-conscious state. At one point, when he was approached by his sister-in-law Caroline, he clasped her hand warmly, saying, “ Always better, always cheerful.” Then, on the morning of May 9, Schiller quietly passed away. His wife Charlotte wrote: “He was fantasizing quite a bit about soldiers, about warriors. He mentioned Lichtenberg’s name many times. Then he went into a deep sleep. He awakened once. Then he gently expired—such was his death.”

For Goethe, the loss was devastating. He commented that half of him had died with the loss of Schiller. Although he would live on for many years, revering Schiller’s memory, and would finish his Faust, his existence and, undoubtedly, his productions would be the poorer without the watchful eye and tender solicitation of his noble friend. When his granddaughter, Ottilie, later commented that Schiller’s poetry often bored her, the old gentleman wryly remarked, “You are too wretched and too earthly for him.”22 In 1823, while preparing the publication of the letters between himself and Schiller, Goethe wrote to Wilhelm von Humboldt: “ His letters are an unending treasure . . . and as one can by means of them make great progress, so must they be read again and again in order not to fall backward.”23

Schiller was no more, but his works would live on to inspire generations to come. In the following year, 1806, Napoleon annexed a greater portion of the states west of the Rhine, forming a French-controlled Confederation of the Rhine. On October 14, he defeated the Prussian Army at Jena, marching triumphantly into Berlin. It would take years of occupation and further humiliation for the Prussian government, following the destruction of Napoleon’s Grande Armée in its retreat from Moscow, to gather the courage to take up arms against the invader. Faced with ultimate destruction, the King finally gave the Prussian reformers the leeway they needed to make fundamental changes in the oligarchical system, and to mobilize the population in a war of liberation against Napoleon—although these reforms were subsequently overturned when the European oligarchy reconsolidated its power at the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Throughout the War of Liberation, however, when the spirit of freedom would become a rallying cry for the German people, the words would be Schiller’s.

These words would be translated into all the languages of the world, and would be heard in theaters everywhere. Schiller had given to each European nation a classic to embrace and love, and to hold high as an example of the great ideals to which it might aspire; and to all nations, a corpus of work which each might call its own. The words would be set to music, in Lieder and in choral song. They would be set by Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony, and, thus adorned as the culmination of that grand symphonic ode to human brotherhood, would ring forth in every corner of the world as the universal song of freedom.

Years later, another German poet, Heinrich Heine, who would take up the cudgels against the Romanticist lot which had fought Schiller during and after his lifetime, wrote in The Romantic School a tribute to his unequalled predecessor, whose works would be the solace of Heine’s own final days:

“Schiller wrote for the great ideas of Revolution, he destroyed the spiritual Bastille, he raised the temple of freedom, and indeed that very great temple, which should encompass all nations, just like a single community of brethren: he was a cosmopolitan. He began with that hatred against the past which we see in Die Räuber, where he is like a little Titan, who has skipped school, drunk some schnapps, and thrown stones through Jupiter’s windows; he concluded with that love of the future, which already blossomed forth in Don Carlos like a forest of flowers; and he himself is the Marquis Posa, simultaneously prophet and soldier, who fights for what he prophesies, and, under a Spanish cloak, carries the most beautiful heart that ever loved and sorrowed in Germany.”24


1. Helga Zepp LaRouche, “ Beauty as a Necessary Condition of Humanity,” Fidelio, Winter 1994 (Vol. III, No. 4).

2. Except where otherwise noted, all quotations are from Schillers Werke Nationalausgabe (Collected Works of Schiller, National Edition) (Weimar: H. Bohlaus Nachf., 1943- ), 22 vols. All quotations have been translated from the German by the author.

3. Caroline von Wolzogen, Schillers Leben (Life of Schiller) (Stuttgart und Tubingen: J.G. Cotta, 1851).

4. Friedrich Schiller, Die Räuber, Erläuterungen und Dokumente (Die Räuber, Commentary and Documents), ed. by Christian Grawe (Stuttgart, Philip Reclam jun., 1976).

5. Ibid.



8. Schiller was quite taken with the iambic meter. On March 10, 1789, he wrote to Körner: “All sorts of ideas are rolling around although somewhat fuzzy in my head, but there will appear something clear for all this. But what meter ought I to choose for it? Is it difficult to guess which I would definitely choose? None other than ottave rime. Everything else, except for the iambic, I will detest until the day I die, and how pleasantly must the solemn, the sublime, play in such light fetters! How much will the epic gain through the tender, gentle form of beautiful rhyme! One must know how to sing, as the Greek bards sang the Iliad, as the gondoliers in Venice sang the stanza of ‘Jerusalem Delivered.’ ” Schiller’s friend Streicher wrote in 1784: “ He believed that here iambic meter would be the most suited for the dignity of the action as well as that of the characters [of Don Carlos—WJ]. In the beginning this made for some difficulty, since for two years he had not written anything in bound verse. Now he must order his phrasing rhythmically; in order to create a meter that flowed, he had first to think rhythmically. When the first scene of Don Carlos was thus arrayed in metric garb, Schiller saw himself that it was not only the most appropriate for this drama, but, as it even lifted common expressions to a higher plane, so would it even more enhance the sublimity and the beauty of the more significant passages.”

9. Caroline von Wolzogen, op. cit.

10. Der Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethe (Correspondence Between Schiller and Goethe), ed. by Emil Staiger (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1966), Introduction.

11. Schiller authored an historical treatise on “The History of the French Agitation Which Preceded the Reign of Henry IV,” but he never started a dramatic work on this hero of his.

12. Helga Zepp LaRouche, op. cit.

13. Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethe, op. cit., Introduction.

14. Caroline von Wolzogen, op. cit.

15. For Humboldt’s appreciation of Schiller, see Wilhelm von Humboldt, “ On Schiller and the Course of His Spiritual Development,” in Friedrich Schiller, Poet of Freedom, Vol. II, ed. by William F. Wertz, Jr. (Washington, D.C.: Schiller Institute, 1988).

16. Wilhelm von Humboldt, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Greek Republics. Introduction: Concerning the Greek Character in General, and the Ideal Persuasion of the Same in Particular” (1808), trans. by Patricia Noble, Fidelio, Summer/Fall 2002 (Vol. XI, No. 3-4).

17. Der Briefwechsel zwischen Friedrich Schiller und Wilhelm von Humboldt (Correspondence Between Friedrich Schiller and Wilhelm von Humboldt), ed. by Siegfried Seidel (Berlin, Aufbau-Verlag, 1962), Introduction.

18. Friedrich Schiller, Werke und Briefe in zwölf Bänden (Friedrich Schiller, Works and Letters in Twelve Volumes) (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1998- ).

19. See Rosa Tennenbaum, “1797, The ‘Year of the Ballad’—In the Poets’ Workshop,” Fidelio, Spring 1998 (Vol. VII, No. 1).

20. Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., “The Crucial Role of the United States in Saving Civilization Today,” address to an international conference of the Schiller Institute, Sept. 24, 2004, Wiesbaden, Germany, in Executive Intelligence Review, Oct. 8, 2004 (Vol. 31, No. 39).

21. Quoted in Sir John Robert Seeley, The Life and Times of Stein (Boston: Roberts Bros., 1870).

22. Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethe, op. cit., Introduction.

23. Ibid.

24. Heinrich Heine, The Romantic School, translation available at http://www.memberships.aol.com/abelard2/heine.htm

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