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Wilhelm von Humboldt

On Schiller and the Course of His Spiritual Development
by Wilhelm von Humboldt

Schiller Institute Translation
Reprinted from
Friedrich Schiller
Poet of Freedom
Volume II

On Schiller and the Course of His Spiritual Development

by Wilhelm von Humboldt

Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was one of the most extraordinary men of an extraordinary time. As politician, diplomat, reformer, and pedagogue, von Humboldt’s work was part of the foundation for the flowering of German science and culture in the nineteenth century; as a student of languages, he helped create the field of scientific philology.

The following essay on Schiller was originally published in 1830, as the introduction to the correspondence between von Humboldt and Schiller. The publication of the letters was inspired in part by the prior publication by the poet Wolfgang Goethe of his own correspondence with Schiller.

My close association and correspondence with Schiller fell within the years from 1794 through 1797; earlier, we were only slightly acquainted; later, when I lived mostly abroad, we corresponded less frequently.* Precisely the time referred to, however, was, without a doubt, the most important in Schiller’s spiritual development. It came at the end of a long period, from the appearance of Don Carlos,1 in which Schiller rested from all dramatic activity, and immediately preceding the period, from the completion of Wallenstein, in which he, as though in presentiment of his approaching death, distinguished the last years of his life with almost the same number of masterpieces. It was a crisis, a turning point, possibly the most singular that a human being ever experienced in his spiritual life. The inborn, creative poetic genius, like a long-swelling flood, broke out through the obstructions that had been placed in its way by an all too powerfully maturing preoccupation with ideas and an all too clearly developed consciousness, and brought forth, out of this struggle itself, the form of ideal necessity, more clearly and more purely. Schiller had the purity of his nature to thank for the felicitous outcome of this crisis, and the inexhaustible labor that he applied, in the most varied ways, to the single task of uniting the most exuberant vitality of subject matter with the purest lawfulness of art. He needed simultaneously the formative powers of creativity and judgment; he could be so certain, however, that the first would never arise in him, that there were hours, days of doubt, of despondency, an apparent faltering between poetry and philosophy, a lack of confidence in his poetic calling, as a result of which, those years developed into such a decisive epoch in his life: For everything that made the successes of poetic work difficult for him in those years magnified the perfection of that which finally blossomed into maturity.

It was in the spring of 1794 when Schiller returned from one of his journeys home to settle again and live in Jena. Along with the journey, the terrible illness that had shaken his whole health—and from which, in fact, he never fully recovered—had had the result of interrupting all his work, and Schiller returned with the doubly intense efforts to activity which such an interruption and a new home commonly produce. The association with Goethe, just beginning at this time, contributed even more to stimulate his spiritual vitality. The question now arose, what should he undertake? What could he undertake with hope of success? Other than the Letters On the Aesthetical Education of Man, he had no work already begun before him. He had made no efforts in poetry since 1790. The interest in history had cooled; on the other hand, he felt himself drawn toward philosophical investigations. And in the background was always The Knights of Malta** and Wallenstein, but both were, under the then prevailing circumstances, as though separated by a great chasm even from the decision to make definite plans concerning either.

I had, in order to be near Schiller, taken up residence in Jena, arriving there a few weeks before him. We saw one another twice daily, especially evenings alone, and for the most part late into the night. All that just touched upon, naturally came into our discussions, and those conversations formed the basis for the correspondence here shared with the public, which, in large part, treats of these topics and allows, progressively, an insight into the way along which Schiller approached his last great productive period. For that reason, and without taking into consideration certain brilliant and wonderful formulations in those of Schiller himself, the letters which follow can perhaps hope to arouse the interest of those who wish to follow the mind of a great man beyond that which is impressed upon his works.

There is a more direct and fuller influence which a great mind has than through his works. These show but a portion of his being. In the living presence, it overflows purely and completely. In a manner which permits of no detailed demonstration or investigation, which thought itself is not able to follow, it is assimilated by his contemporaries and passed on to succeeding generations. The quiet and, as it were, magical influence of great spiritual natures is that in particular which allows ever developing thought to germinate, ever more powerfully and extensively, from generation to generation, from people to people. Written works and literature carry it, so to speak, locked away and mummified, over great chasms which the living potency is unable to span. Peoples, however, always made the principal steps in their spiritual progress before writing, and in those darkest, but most important, periods of human creation and formation, only living potency is possible. Nothing, therefore, attracts consideration more than any attempt, however weak in itself, to investigate how one of the remarkable men of the century permeates in his individual way the course of all thought: Uniting law with appearance, striving out from the finite to the infinite. This task has often occupied my reflections on Schiller, and our time has no one to offer, whose inner spiritual development in this respect would be more remarkable to pursue.

Schiller’s poetic genius announced itself immediately in his first works; disregarding all deficiencies of form, disregarding many things which must have even appeared as crude to the mature artist, The Robbers and Fiesco testify to an unquestionable force of nature. It revealed itself afterward in Schiller’s yearning for poetry, as though for the true home of his spirit, ever erupting into his quite varied philosophical and historical activities, and so often suggested in these letters. It proclaimed itself, finally, in the masculine power and the refined purity of the works which will most certainly remain, for a long time to come, the pride and the glory of the German stage. But this poetic genius was joined in the most intimate way to thought in all its profundity and sublimity; it manifested itself quite literally on the foundation of an intellectuality that would, probing, analyze everything, and, connecting, bring everything into unity. Therein lay Schiller’s individual essence. He demanded a more profound participation of thought in poetry, and subjected poetry more rigorously to a spiritual unity, and this in two ways, in that he bound it to a more substantial artistic form, and in that he treated each poem in such a way that its subject matter was expanded, naturally and of itself, from its individuality into the universality of an idea. From these particular characteristics springs the excellence which typically distinguishes Schiller. From these arose the fact that Schiller first needed a period of time in which to bring forth the greatest and most sublime of which he was capable, in which his entire intellectuality, indissolubly united with his poetic genius, might work through to the clarity and definiteness he demanded. These characteristics finally explain the carping judgments of those who, denying him the spontaneity of the gift of the Muses, think they see in his works less the easy, happy creations of genius than the self-conscious work of the mind, whereas the truth is, of course, that only the real intellectual greatness of Schiller could offer the inducement for such a criticism.

I would consider it superfluous to undertake an analysis of Schiller’s works in justification of these assertions, since those works are too current for anyone, whatever his opinion, not to be able to use them for himself. On the other hand, perhaps it will be agreeable to the reader of the correspondence if I briefly attempt to develop how my view of Schiller’s essence arose, in particular from my association with him, from recollections of his conversations, and through the comparison of his works in their chronological order and investigations into the progress of his spirit.

What must have struck any observer as characteristically distinguishing Schiller was that, in a higher and more pregnant sense than perhaps with anyone else, thought was the element of his life. Constant, self-active engagement of his mind seldom deserted him, and weakened only during the most severe attacks of his physical illness. To him, it seemed recreation, not exertion. This revealed itself most in conversation, to which Schiller seemed truly born. He never sought an important topic for conversation, leaving it rather to accident to contribute the subject, but from any topic he led the conversation to a universal point of view, and, after a bit of preliminary talk, one found oneself transposed into the center of an intellectually stimulating discussion. He always treated thoughts as something to be achieved in common, and seemed always to need the one with whom he was talking—even if the latter deliberately persisted in receiving the idea only from him—who thus was never allowed to remain idle. In this lay the greatest difference between his conversations and those of Herder. Perhaps no man ever spoke as beautifully as Herder, if one were able to find him in the properly elevated mood, which was not difficult, if one touched one of the easily evoked chords within him. All the rare qualities of this man, so rightly admired, seemed to double their power in conversation, so appropriate were they for it. Thought was united to expression with a grace and dignity which seemed to come only from the subject itself, though in truth it belonged only to the person. And so the conversation flowed on uninterruptedly into a clarity which still left some personal unease, and into that chiaroscuro which yet did not prevent definitely recognizing the thoughts. And when one topic was exhausted, then one went on to another. One would gain nothing from objections; they would rather be a hindrance. One had listened, one could also speak, but one missed the reciprocal activity of conversation.

Schiller did not speak in a truly beautiful manner. But his mind, sharply and definitely, strove always for a new intellectual acquisition; he mastered the struggle, and soared in perfect freedom above his subject. Accordingly, he employed, with a light serenity, any incidental connections that presented themselves, and thus his conversation was so very rich in words that carried the mark of a happy birth in the moment. This freedom, however, was in no way detrimental to the course of the investigation. Schiller always held firmly to the threads which must lead to their end point, and were the conversation not disturbed by some accidental occurrence, he was not easily diverted from reaching the goal.

Just as Schiller always attempted in conversation to gain new ground in the realm of thought, so, in general, his intellectual work was always one of strenuous self-activity. His letters also show this clearly. He simply knew no other way. Mere reading material he relegated to late evenings and to his, unfortunately, so frequent sleepless nights. His days were taken up by his work, or definite studies pertaining thereto; thus his mind was kept taut by work and research together. He knew nothing of, and did not respect enough, those pure studies that are directed to no other immediate goal than knowledge, studies that have such a charm for those familiar with them, that one must guard oneself in order not to be too much distracted from more defined activities. Knowledge seemed to him to be too raw, and the powers of the mind too noble, to see anything more in the material than something to be processed.

Only because he more valued the higher exertions of the mind, which self-actively creates out of its own depths, could he so little content himself with anything lesser. But it is also remarkable, that Schiller created, out of such a small store of material, with such bare tools which others provided him, an extremely complex world view that, when one became aware of it, was startling in its inspired truth; it can only be called that, for it arose in absolutely no external way. He had seen only a portion even of Germany, and nothing of Switzerland, of which his Wilhelm Tell yet contains so many vivid descriptions. Whoever stands at the Falls of the Rhine will involuntarily recall the beautiful stanzas of The Diver, which portray this spectacle formed by the confused swirl of water that, as it were, captivatingly absorbs one’s eye, yet there was, even here, no personal experience as the basis for his description. But what Schiller did gain through his own experience, he grasped with a vision which then made graphic whatever was given him from others’ descriptions. For that reason, he never neglected studying reading material for any work; even what he accidentally found to be useful to his purpose was firmly stamped into his memory, and his restless, intense imagination, by reworking into permanent vivacity, now this, now that part of any material collected, supplemented the imperfections of such an indirect apprehension.

In a quite similar way he appropriated for himself the spirit of Greek poetry, without ever having known it except in translations. To that end, he spared no pains; he preferred translations which disclaimed any value for themselves; his favorites were literal Latin paraphrases. Thus he translated scenes and The Marriage of Thetis from Euripides. I confess that I reread this chorus each time with greater satisfaction. It is not merely a translation into another language, but into another genre of poetry. The rapture into which the imagination, from the first verse on, is transposed, is a different one, but precisely that constitutes the pure poetic effect. For this can only be ascribed to the general attunement of imagination and feeling that the poet, independently of any thought content, calls forth in the reader merely through the breath of inspiration contained within his work. Like a shade, the ancient spirit shows through the borrowed garments in which it has been arrayed. But in each verse, some touches of the original are brought out so significantly that one is, nonetheless, gripped from beginning to end by antiquity.

I did not primarily intend, however, these translations when I spoke of Schiller’s immersion in the spirit of ancient poetry, but rather two of his later works. Schiller also made important advances in these. The Cranes of Ibycus and Victory Feast carry the hues of antiquity more purely and truly than one can possibly expect from a modern poet, and, indeed, in the most beautiful and brilliant way. The poet has taken the soul of antiquity up into himself, and he moves with freedom within it, and thus a new poetic work arises which breathes only of that soul in each of its parts. The two poems, however, stand in a notable contrast to one another. The Cranes of Ibycus permitted a wholly epic development, and what made the subject of intrinsic value to the poet was the idea arising therefrom of the power of poetic representation over the human heart. This power of poetry, an invisible force created only through the mind, evaporating in harsh reality, belonged essentially to the sphere of thought with which Schiller was actively employed. Eight years before he shaped it within himself into a ballad, this material was present to his mind, as is clearly revealed by these verses from The Artists:

von Eumenidenchor geschrecket,
Zieht sich der Mord, auch
nie entdecket,[ep das Loos des Todes aus dem Lied.2

(Terrified by the Eumedian chorus, the murderer, still not revealed, drew the lot of death from the song.)

This idea, however, permitted a perfectly ancient development; antiquity possessed everything needed for it to emerge in its complete purity and power. Thus everything in the entire narrative is taken directly from antiquity, especially the vision and chorus of Eumenides. The chorus, familiar from Aeschylus, is interwoven so artistically within modern poetic form in rhyme and meter, that nothing of its quiet grandeur seems lost.

Victory Feast is of a more lyrical and contemplative nature. Here the poet could, and had, to supplement what did not lie in the thought and feeling of antiquity from the fullness of his own heart, but, otherwise, everything is as equally pure, in the spirit of Homeric poetry, as in the other poem. The whole is, however, stamped with a higher, more abstract spirituality than is characteristic of the ancient singer, and receives its greatest beauty precisely through that.

Schiller’s earlier poems are also rich in single expressions taken from the ancients, but to which a higher meaning is often attached. I chose here only the portrayal of Death from The Artists,

den sanften Bogen der Notwendigkeit

(the gentle bow of necessity)3

which so beautifully recalls the ἀϒανά βέλεα (the gentle arrow) of Homer, where, however, the transposition of the adjective from the arrow to the bow gives the thought a more delicate, deeper sense.

The confidence in the efficacy of the power of the human mind, elevated into a poetic image, is expressed in the distich entitled Columbus, which belongs to the most characteristic Schiller ever created. This belief in the invisibly indwelling power of man, this view, so sublime and deeply true, that there must be an inner, secret agreement between this power and that which orders and directs the entire universe, since all truth can only be a reflection of the eternal and original, was a characteristic feature of Schiller’s system of ideas. To that also corresponded the tenacity with which he pursued every intellectual problem until it was satisfactorily solved. Already in the Letters of Raphael to Julius, published in Thalia,4 in the bold but beautiful expression “when Columbus made the dangerous wager with the unnavigated sea,” the same thought is found united with the same image.

In both form and content, Schiller’s philosophical ideas were an altogether faithful model of his total spiritual potency in general. Both always moved along the same track toward the same goal, but in a manner in which the more vital appropriation of even richer material, and the power of thought which ruled him unceasingly determined one another in reciprocal intensification. The final point, to which he connected everything, was production of the totality in human nature through the harmonizing of the different forces in their absolute freedom. Both belonging to the self, which can only be one and indivisible, but, the one seeking multiplicity and matter, and the other, unity and form, they were to point, through their spontaneous harmony here, to an origin which lies far beyond all finitude. Reason, ruling unconditionally in knowledge and in the determination of the will, should treat intuition and perception with considerate regard, and should nowhere encroach upon their domain; on the other hand, these should rise up, out of their essential being, in their self-chosen way, to a condition in which each, with all the differences of principle, might find itself again, according to form. To mediate this astonishing harmony, which arises in no discoverable way, but rather as by sudden miracle, to annul the per se absolute contradiction of both natures through a semblance grounded in their mutual relation to one another, and thus to give humanity, within the phenomenonal realm, an image of that which lies outside of all phenomena—this is made possible only by that tendency in humanity we call the aesthetic: for it treats matter with a self-activity that arises out of the realm of the sensuous, not borrowed from the idea, and that yet emerges as freedom.

In On Grace and Dignity, and in the Letters On the Aesthetical Education of Man, this mode of conception is presented in detail. I doubt if these works, filled with substantial ideas and expressed in a uniquely beautiful way, are still frequently read, which is regrettable in a number of respects. Indeed, neither work, and, in particular, the Letters, can be absolved of the reproach that Schiller, in order to firmly establish his assertions, selected a method too strict and abstract, and too much neglected to treat the material in a manner admitting more fruitful application, without in so doing, really having satisfied the demands of a deduction purely from concepts. But, concerning the concept of beauty, concerning the aesthetic in creation and action, and thus the foundations of art, as well as art itself, these works contain everything essential in a manner which can never possibly be excelled. In this whole area, there will hardly be a question which can arise, the right answer to which could not be derived from the principles put forward in these treatises. This stems not merely from the sharp differentiation and delimitation of concepts, but rather flows from the much more unusual merit of having produced everything in its full scope, in its full content, and with the suggestion of having drawn all of the consequences which follow therefrom. Generally, concepts in these essays are not so much dissected and analyzed as, if I may be allowed the simile, chiseled and faceted, of which each receives and reflects a new light. This is particularly true of the last half of On Grace and Dignity, where distinctions between different types of states of mind and of conduct are portrayed.

Never before were these questions discussed in such a pure, such a complete and illuminating way. Infinitely much was thus gained, not merely for the positive analysis of concepts, but also for aesthetic and moral education. Art and poetry were directly joined to that which is most noble in humanity, were presented as that by which humanity first awakens to the consciousness of its indwelling nature, which strives to transcend the finite. Thus, both art and poetry were placed at the pinnacle from which they truly derive. This placement, protected from desecration by any petty and degrading opinion, from any sentiment not derived from their pure elements, was, in the truest sense, Schiller’s constant endeavor, and appears as his true destiny in life, given him by the original direction of his life. The primary and most stringent demands were therefore made on the poet himself, from whom he demands not merely a genius and talent working, as it were, in isolation, but rather a total attunement of mind fit for the high elevation of his vocation, not merely a momentary sublimity, but one that has become character.

“Before he undertakes to deal with excellence, he is to make his first and most important task the refinement of his own individuality to the purest and most glorious of humanity.” The Review of Bürger’s Poetry,5 from which this quotation is taken, has drawn upon Schiller the charge of injustice against this rightly beloved poet. By all means it is severe. For, as long as approximately the same condition of the language allows general appreciation of the poetry of our time in Germany (a condition on which the effects of all poetry is dependent), Bürger will incite every imagination most poetically, and will affect any mind with the truth and inwardness that is uniquely his own. Schiller himself confesses in one of his later letters to having applied the ideal too directly to a particular case in this criticism. But he certainly would have foregone nothing of the general demands stated there, and those deserve to be emphasized here precisely as truly Schiller’s individual and personal view. He applied those demands to no one more rigorously than himself. One can truthfully say of him that, whatever even remotely resembled the vulgar, even the ordinary, never touched him at all, that he carried over entirely into his whole mode of experience, and into his life, the noble and elevated views that filled his thoughts, and, when writing, he was always, even in his lesser works, fired with the same vital exertion toward the ideal. For that reason, so little is found in his work that must be called feeble or mediocre, and this certainly contributes much to what I touched on before, namely, that his spiritual powers always worked with the same exertion, and that it was thoroughly alien to him to let them find relaxation in, as it were, recreational work. There may be individual passages which correspond less to his total way of writing and his complete philosophical view. But only a few isolated passages will be thrown out as unworthy of him, while the rest is enthusiastically extolled, and the criticism itself, just to note this in passing, will concern precisely his most individual aspects, and thus place the lofty unity of his nature into a yet brighter light. The severity of his judgment on his own earlier productions is expressed clearly and forcefully in one passage in the review of Bürger, and even more clearly in the introduction to a collection of his own poetry, written two years before his death. But what there offended his grand and delicate sensibility—which, in what can be called the second period of his life, comes to prominence so brilliantly in Don Carlos, and which thereafter was never marred by a blemish—did not concern the individuality, the personality of the poet. His elevated, pure view of human nature and human life, striving toward wholeness, also speaks out of those works. That which is offensive in them required only an artistic correction, and arose out of misconstrued concepts of poetic truth, out of a yet insufficient appreciation of the necessity of subordinating the parts to the unity of the whole, and, in individual cases, out of a not yet sufficient purification of taste. At the same time, the material selected contributed as well.

In Don Carlos, Schiller found himself as though in another realm. Here he was presented with the great contradiction between the broad cosmopolitan view and the narrow diplomacy that fancies itself so profound, and was shown the conflict between ideas which disregard all experience, and a limitation made possible by experience without ideas. Directly involved was the fate of provinces, which, violated in their human rights and the rights of their conscience, had justifiably rebelled and were laid waste, and interwoven within this great political interest was the first emotion of pure and enthusiastic love, innocently and delicately reciprocated. This material thus surrounded the poet, as with an atmosphere which elevated him ever higher. By all means, the choice of this material sprang from the attunement of mind that preceded it. This is also shown in the changed external form, in the abandonment of prose, to which he returned in the first draft of Wallenstein, but, inspired by poetry, soon recognized his error, this time permanently. The first scene between Max and Thekla, worked out earlier than those which precede it, resisted the form of prose; it was the first in verse.

The assignment of poetry to the position of the elevated and serious among human endeavors, to which I referred above, and of defending poetry against petty and dull views, the first which fails to recognize poetry’s dignity, the second its essential characteristic, the former making it into a trifling decoration and embellishment of life, the latter expecting from it direct moral effects and teaching, is, as cannot be repeated enough, deeply grounded in the German mode of perception and experience. Thus Schiller expressed, but in his individual way, that which his being German implanted in him, that which resonated to him out of the depths of the language, the hidden workings of which he perceived so magnificently and which he likewise knew how so masterfully to employ. There lies in the great economy of spiritual development, which makes up the ideal aspect of world history, as opposed to the actions and events, a certain proportion by which an individual, certainly only the most privileged, is able to raise himself above his nation, so that what the nation has unconsciously bestowed upon him can, cultivated by individuality, flow back to the nation. To consider art, then, and all aesthetic activities, from their true standpoint, no modern nation has succeeded to the extent that the German has, not even those glorified by poets who will be recognized as great and preeminent for all time. The more profound and true attunement of the German lies in his greater inwardness, which keeps him closer to the truth of nature, in his inclination toward the employment of ideas and the experiences related to them, and in everything dependent thereon. Thus, Germany distinguishes itself from most modern nations, and, in its more precise determination of the concept of inwardness, from the Greeks as well. It seeks poetry and philosophy, not intending to separate them, but rather striving to combine them, and as long as this striving for philosophy—even completely abstract philosophy, which is misrecognized and misinterpreted in its indispensable effects even among us—survives, then so, too, will continue the impetus which the powerful minds of the last half of the preceding century unmistakably provided, and will win new force for itself. Poetry and philosophy stand, by their nature, at the center of all spiritual endeavors; only they can unite in themselves the individual results, only from them can unity and inspiration flow over into everything individual, only they represent essentially what man is, since all the other sciences and accomplishments, could they ever be entirely separated off, merely show what he possesses or has appropriated. Without this simultaneously enlightening and fiery focus, even the most encompassing sciences remain too fragmented, and their reacting back upon the ennoblement of the individual, on the nation, and on humanity—which can be the only goal of all inquiries into nature and into humanity, and into the inexplicable connection between both—is restricted and rendered impotent. The search for truth, and the forming and creation for the sake of beauty become mere empty names, if one flees from seeking truth and beauty there, where their kindred natures are not dissipated among separate objects, but reveal themselves as pure objects of spirit. Schiller knew no other preoccupation than precisely that with poetry and philosophy, and the essential characteristic of his intellectual endeavor consisted precisely in comprehending and portraying the identity of their origin. The observations above are thus directly relevant to him.

One idea Schiller especially enjoyed working with was that of the education through art of the crude, natural man, as he assumed him to be, before he could be entrusted with culture by reason. He developed it many times in both poetry and prose. His imagination also lingered with particular pleasure on the beginning of civilization in general, with the transition from nomadic life to agriculture, and with, as he so beautifully expressed it, the pious bond of loyalty established with gentle, motherly Earth. He eagerly seized upon whatever mythology offered that was relevant here; remaining totally faithful to the intimations of fable, he molded Demeter, the principal figure in this realm, into a vision as wondrous as it is deeply moving, marrying human feelings to the divine within her breast. For a long time, it was one of Schiller’s favorite plans to treat the first civilizing of Attica by foreign immigration in an epic manner. The Eleusian Festival took the place of this uncompleted plan.

Had Schiller lived to see the revival of Indian literature, he would have learned of a closer coupling of poetry with the most abstract philosophy than Greek literature has to offer, and this phenomenon would have gripped him most deeply. Indian poetry, particularly in its earliest period, generally has a more solemn, pious, and religious character than that of the Greeks, without thereby standing, as it were, under alien rule and sacrificing its own character. Only the merit of being graphic was perhaps thereby lost.

It is regrettable to a high degree, and to a certain extent surprising, that Schiller, in his reasoning on the course of human development, never once referred to language, on which is stamped precisely the double nature of man, and, indeed, not separately, but fused into a symbol. It unites, in the most precise sense, a philosophical and poetic activity within itself, the latter simultaneously in the metaphor embedded in the word and in the music of its sounds. At the same time, it presents in general the transition to the infinite, since its symbols excite to activity, but set no limits to this activity, and the highest degree contained within it can always be exceeded by a yet higher degree. It would, therefore, have to have appeared as a welcome subject in Schiller’s system of ideas.

Language, of course, belongs to the nation and the species, not to the individual, and humanity can, before learning to understand it, long use it as a dead instrument without being moved by its penetrating life. It cannot, therefore, be unconditionally considered as an instrument of education. There is, nonetheless, a further influence which men, although certainly not originally creating, but still quietly perfecting, can have on their language, and languages always have their highest poetic and musical content in their earlier formation, then connected with the special vigor of imagination of the peoples which speak them. They lose this content in the course of time, but the ascent to that level is at best only seldom visible to us, and thus remains problematic. If one, therefore, gives oneself over, from the contemplation of the wonderful construction of the languages of nations totally without culture—devoted to their analysis, with an open and unbiased mind, as with a natural object—to consider the original condition of the human species, eternally hidden in darkness, so one should expect that, since language is given with humanity, and before it nothing human can be imagined, this original condition may have been more peaceful, more reflective, and one not closed to deep and delicate experiences, and that social bestialization belongs only to a later period, where the struggle of adverse events with wild passion drowned the voice within their own breast. At the very least, Schiller would have hardly considered the view which he held in the Letters as necessary, and would generally have less sharply distinguished that which appears as unified and intimately fused in the unquestionably most primitive emanation of human nature, in language.

The drive toward occupation with abstract ideas, the striving to capture everything finite in one grand image, and to join it to the infinite, came from within Schiller himself, and was inspired by no external stimulus; it was given with his individuality. It developed most freely and in the liveliest way in the second and third periods of his life, if the first is taken to include the first three of his tragedies, and the fourth, the final tragedies from Wallenstein on. I have already spoken of Don Carlos in this regard. The Philosophical Letters, published in Thalia, with which the poem Resignation, a product of the same year, has such a striking kinship in the bold sweep of its passionately philosophical reason, should have marked the beginning of a series of philosophical clarifications for Schiller. But the sequel was not forthcoming, and a new philosophical period began for Schiller in On Grace and Dignity, principally founded on his acquaintance with Kantian philosophy. Those two pieces could be regarded only with injustice, as expressing the writer’s actual opinions; they belong, however, among the best we have from him. The Letters are written with an overpowering fire and a spirit untouched by even a trace of the compulsion of any philosophical school. Resignation carries Schiller’s most characteristic stamp in the direct coupling of simply expressed, profound, great truth with incomparable images, and in the wholly original language which encourages the boldest combinations and constructions. The principal thoughts developed in the whole can only be seen as a transient mood of an emotionally charged mind, but it is so masterfully depicted that the passion is quite taken up into contemplation, and the expression seems to be solely the fruit of reflection and experience.

Kant undertook and completed perhaps the greatest work ever accomplished by an individual man for philosophical reason. He tested and secured the entire philosophical enterprise in a direction in which he necessarily had to come up against the philosophers of all times and all nations; he measured, delimited, and smoothed out the road in that direction, destroying the houses of cards built there, and established, after completing his work, firm foundations upon which philosophical analysis could come together with the natural sense of mankind, often led into error and deadened by earlier systems. He led philosophy, in the truest sense, back into the depths of the human heart. He possessed everything in the highest degree which distinguishes the great thinker, and he unified within himself what otherwise seems incompatible: Depth and rigor; a perhaps never surpassed dialectic, in which the mind does not become lost in also grasping for the truth that cannot be reached in this way; and a philosophical genius which spins out the threads of a vast fabric of ideas in all directions, and holds everything together by means of the unity of the idea, without which no philosophical system would be possible. Of the traces of feeling and heart which one meets in Kant’s works, Schiller rightly remarked, that the highest philosophical vocation requires both qualities (thought and feeling) in combination. But if we leave him on the path where his mind points in but a single direction, then we learn to recognize the extraordinary genius of this man in its full range. Nothing, either in nature or in the realm of knowledge, leaves him indifferent; he draws everything into his sphere, but there, the self-active principle of his intellectuality visibly asserts its superiority, so that his character shines forth more brightly where, as in his views on the structure of the starry heavens,6 the material, nature sublime in itself, of the imagination, under the guidance of a grand idea, offers a vast expanse—for the greatness and power of imagination directly supports Kant’s rigor and depth of thought.

How much or how little of the Kantian philosophy has remained to the present, or will remain in the future, I do not presume to decide, but if we wish to determine the glory which Kant bestowed on his nation and the usefulness he bestowed on speculative thought, then three things remain unmistakably certain. Some of what he demolished will never rise again; some of what he established will never pass away; and, what is most important, he instituted a reform, the likes of which is hardly equaled in the entire history of philosophy. And so, speculative philosophy, which on the occasion of the appearance of his Critique of Pure Reason had hardly given even weak testimony of its existence among us, was awakened into an activity which will continue to animate the German spirit, we hope, for a long time. Since he taught, not so much philosophy as philosophizing, and less communicated discovered truths than provided a spark for the torch of one’s own search, he indirectly caused the rise of systems and schools which more or less diverge from him, and it characterizes the noble freedom of his mind, that he was able to awaken philosophers again into complete freedom and continuing activity along their own self-created paths.

A great man is a phenomenon in any generation or age, for which always at best only a very partial accounting, or none whatsoever, can be given. Who perhaps would undertake to explain how Goethe was suddenly there, equally great, in the fullness and profundity of his genius, in his earliest work as in his latest? And yet, he founded among us a new period in poetry, transmuted poetry into a new form, impressed his own form onto the language, and gave the spirit of his nation a decisive impulse for all coming generations. The genius, always new and setting the rule, first announces his coming to be by his very existence, and his reason for being cannot be sought in one previously, already known; as he appears, he himself establishes his own direction. Out of the miserable state of eclectic bumbling in which Kant found philosophy, he was able to draw no inspirational spark. Also, it might be difficult to say whether he owed more to ancient or later philosophy. He himself, with that rigorous criticism that was his most salient feature, was obviously more closely related to the spirit of modern times. Also, one of his characteristic traits was to progress with all the advances of his century, even to take a most lively part in all the events of his day. While he, more than anyone before him, isolated philosophy in the depths of the human heart, at the same time perhaps no one used it in such manifold and fruitful ways. These passages, richly scattered passages throughout all of his works, give them an entirely singular charm.

Such a phenomenon could not go unnoticed by Schiller. To him, who always stood above whatever activity was then occupying him, who still aspired to something higher to which to connect even the poetry to which nature had intended him and which permeated his life, a theory, whose nature it was to contain the roots and the end point of the object to which his reflection was constantly directed, was necessarily attractive. Arising suddenly but ignored for years, this theory was seized upon, in precisely that time and region7 in which Schiller was then found, with an enthusiasm which is still a joy to remember. Schiller showed the way in which he honored Kant in many passages of his works, but nowhere more than in his actions. He appropriated the new philosophy according to his own nature. He hardly entered into the actual structure of the system; he riveted himself, however, on the deduction of the principles of beauty and of the moral law, where it must have powerfully moved him to find natural human feeling restored to its rightful place and philosophically justified in all its purity. It was precisely here that the theories dominant immediately before had dislocated the true point of view and degraded the sublime. On the other hand, Schiller found that, according to his way of thinking, the sensuous powers of man were in part offended against, in part not sufficiently recognized, and the possibility in those powers of voluntary harmony with the unity of reason, through the aesthetic principle, was not sufficiently emphasized. So it happened that, when he first expressed Kant’s name in print, in On Grace and Dignity, Schiller appeared as Kant’s opponent.

It was in Schiller’s essence never to be drawn over into the orbit of a great mind near him, but rather to be stimulated in the most powerful way within his own self-created sphere by such an influence, and we can perhaps remain equivocal whether this should be admired in him more as greatness of mind or as profound beauty of character. Not to subordinate himself to another individuality is the characteristic of every superior mental power, every more potent mind, but to see completely into the other individuality, and to honor it in its difference, and out of this admiring view to create the power to direct one’s own even more decisively and directly toward its goal—this belongs to few, and was Schiller’s outstanding trait of character. Of course, such a relationship is only possible between kindred spirits, whose divergent paths come together in a higher point, but it presupposes from the intellect a clear recognition of that point, and from character, that any consideration of the person must remain totally subordinate to the interests of the matter at hand. Only on this condition do humility and self-feeling, as it is the determination of their ideal working together, go truly over into openness. And this was Schiller’s relationship to Kant. He took nothing from him; there were seeds already present in that which he wrote before his acquaintance with Kantian philosophy for the ideas worked out in On Grace and Dignity and the Aesthetic Letters; they represent merely the inner, original structure of his spirit. Nevertheless, that acquaintance became a new period in Schiller’s philosophical exertions, and Kantian philosophy gave him both aid and stimulation. Without a great prophetic spirit, we are able to see how, without Kant, Schiller would have developed his own quite characteristic ideas. Freedom of form would probably have been gained in that case.

When I speak here of form, I do not mean, of course, style. The latter Schiller created quite individually in his historical and philosophical as well as his poetic works. What he says in a passage in his writings of the way in which language is to envelop expression, he himself attained to the highest degree. Whoever knows how to appreciate a style which does not strive, as it were, to dryly express already completed thoughts (a necessarily futile exertion, since thought first receives its completion in expression), but rather a style which seems to spring into being, self-actively produced in the moment, he will admire that of Schiller. For, while Schiller carried the stamp of originality on himself, at the same time he gives the rule to anyone who struggles, but to each in his own way.

What I will say here of Schiller’s style concerns, in a still more pregnant sense, those of his poems which are devoted in particular to exposition of philosophical ideas. They produce the idea, not merely decorate it with poetic trappings. They met, thus, the challenge of this species of poetry. The reader gains the conviction that the ideas there portrayed for him stand on the far side of a chasm over which the understanding is unable to throw a bridge, a chasm over which only the poetically inspired power of the imagination is able to spring. The poet, who always expresses only that which he has himself experienced, must, in order to effect that conviction, first produce within himself the appropriate attunement of mind, he must possess the power to let the idea, as it is thought, merge into the poetic representation, and to carry his material over into the infinite, where alone, and not in realm of the understanding, poetic powers coincide with knowing. Schiller complains somewhere that there is as yet no truly didactic poem. But some of his can qualify as that in precisely the sense he intends. Of these, perhaps The Stroll, in which Schiller surpasses even himself in graphic natural depiction, speaks most to the imagination and universal feeling. Otherwise, some earlier works in this genre, The Gods of Greece or The Artists, might be preferred to the later, in which the working out of the ideas inspired within are pursued along philosophical lines. For, with Schiller himself, as it cannot be otherwise with a poet, philosophical ideas are developed out of the medium of imagination and feeling.

Schiller’s historical writings are perhaps regarded by some as accidental in his life, as produced merely by external circumstances. Such factors undeniably contributed to the fact that these studies received a greater extension in time, but Schiller per se was necessarily drawn to historical, as to philosophical studies by the very essence of his spirit. I touch on this point here only to sketch it in a few words. Whoever, like Schiller, is challenged by his most inward nature to seek mastery and spontaneous harmony of sensuous material through and with the idea, cannot withdraw where precisely the richest multiplicity of an enormous field reveals itself; anyone whose constant concern it was, in composing, to infuse the material shaped by the imagination into a form breathing of necessity, he must be eager to investigate what form this be, since that which is representable is such only through some form, is permitted and demanded by the material given by reality. The talent of the writer of history is closely related to the poetic and philosophical, and the profession of historian would appear doubtful for anyone who has within himself sparks of neither. This is true not merely for the writing of history, but also for historical research. Schiller used to say of the writer of history that, after he had taken up into himself all the factual material by means of exact and thorough study of the sources, he must still build, out of himself, the collected material into a history, and Schiller was completely right in that, although his assertion could also be fundamentally misunderstood. A fact can be merely transcribed into a history, as little as a facial expression of a human being into a portrait. As in organic structure and the expression of the soul in external form, there is a living unity within the interconnections of even a simple event, and it can be comprehended and represented only from this center outward. Also, whether intentionally or not, the conception of the historian steps between the event and its representation, and the true connection of events will be recognized with most certainty by those who have exercised their vision on philosophical and poetic necessity. For, here, too, reality stands in a mysterious bond with the mind.

In the collection of facts and in the study of sources, insofar as he was allowed to immerse himself in them, Schiller was very exact and careful. He also never neglected to procure the historical or specialized information necessary for his poetic works. If he failed to achieve something in this area, it was certainly not for lack of diligence in his efforts, but rather the lack of means, his illness, and other accidental circumstances. But we should not always view single factual inaccuracies as instances against the generality of this assertion. Of course, he appropriated for himself, in connection with these studies for poetic work, primarily the totality of the impression. With what love he dedicated himself to the field of history is revealed in one of his letters to Körner.8 Only in those cases in which he had to take on historical work for merely external reasons, as in connection with the Horen,9 did it become a burden to him. Otherwise, even in his last days, the joy in history was not extinguished in him. When I saw him for the last time in the fall of 1802, he told me with passionate warmth of a plan for a history of Rome which he was saving for his later years, after the fire of poetic art had perhaps deserted him. In fact, no other history equals that one in dramatic grandeur. Schiller was especially gripped by the idea of how the greatest world-historical disasters of antiquity and modern times are tied precisely to the locale of this city. We are reminded of Goethe’s beautiful remark that, from Rome, history reads differently from any other place in the world. “Elsewhere, one reads from the outside inward; in Rome, one believes that one reads from the inside out; everything settles in around us here, and goes out again from us.”

What constitutes genius in a representation of this sort is the concentration of the whole intellect on the single point assigned to it by nature. Two determinations, necessary to any intellectual characterization, are dependent on the nature of this whole: the special stamp of genius, since it can form itself again very differently in every genius, and the freedom of the spirit, alongside and in addition to that, for a more general overview of the intellectual standpoint. Within the boundaries of this type, and the proportion of the powers working together within, lie all the varieties of human intellectuality—a point not otherwise to be developed here—the intellectuality that, within every man, no matter how obscure it may be, is particularly applied to one point. Therefore, it seemed necessary to me, with Schiller, whom everyone feels to be a poet, to speak principally of his entire bent of mind, and particularly of his philosophical bent, in order to portray him as a poet, insofar as that is possible according to the concept. Precisely in order to characterize his poetic genius, I have spoken of those things in which he seems to have abandoned the poet’s path. The portrayal of a great intellectual nature presupposes a brilliant insight into the essence and the interaction of the totality of his individually apportioned intellectuality. I may not, therefore, nurture the hope of truly having brought the reader completely to the standpoint of seeing Schiller’s essential qualities, as the reader has previously experienced them, henceforth clearly and distinctly in all their interconnections. If I have been successful here even to a certain extent, then Schiller’s philosophical exertions cannot appear merely as a many-sided cultivation of the mind, and still less as the uncertain searching about for his true profession, but rather, as bursting forth, with the poetic, from one and the same deep, rich, and powerful source. Just as matter enters into various combinations in physical bodies according to elective affinities,10 so in Schiller, poetry was intimately connected to the power of thought. But it streamed forth no less freely on that account out of perception and feeling. From just this connection, which intensified the power of imagination through the contrasts to be overcome, the poetry created a fire and a profundity and a power which is manifested in this way by no other poet, ancient or modern. Thought and image, idea and experience, always enter in him into mutual interaction, interpenetrating one another in successful passages without losing their essential qualities. We can imagine nothing in the mind as at rest, only occasionally going over into activity, nothing as separately and abstractly in interaction. What is in the mind exists only through activity; what is contained within it is one, distinguished only through tension and direction, which is often produced by the impulse of different, even opposing forces. The thought of each moment contains the whole mind, diffused within this formation. This energetic appearance of the entire intellect in the individual thought, which arose only from the energy of the real combination within himself, was particularly evident to Schiller. The beautiful image by which he characterized poetry in general in The Power of Song—“a flood of rain from rocky fissures”—stood in a special relation to his own method of thought. What distinguished him, moreover, even if it might also appear as quite unrelated to his career as a poet, is the distance he maintained above any single striving within himself, even over his own poetic genius, one of the mightiest and most powerful which ever moved within the human breast. This was not freedom alone, but a totally authentic superior power.

While this obviously also enhanced him and elevated him as a poet, so it had to be just for that reason that his poetry undeniably arose out of a doubly energetic force. Everything artistic and poetic, of course, carries within itself the character of spontaneity, but this happy lot does not fall to the artist and poet entirely without toil. They too need work, but a work of a quite singular nature, and this was made difficult for Schiller by the very excellence of his nature. His goal was set higher, because he himself saw more clearly the goal of all poetry; he carefully surveyed its various paths, and clearly perceived the total machinery of spiritual activity, if such an expression can be applied to the governance of supreme freedom. He recognized the ideal in its total grandeur, a recognition that always stimulated and never depressed him, and while he, to use his own illuminating distinction, belonged completely to the class of sentimental poets, his individuality elevated the concept of the entire class. Soaring simultaneously over his own works and those of others, he was not merely creator, but also judge, and demanded justification of poetic work in the realm of thought. It is therefore doubly admirable that the truly natural power carrying, unconsciously and inexplicably, the poet along with it, lost nothing of its power in him. Here, however, as in everything, the totality of his nature was at work. No one insisted as much as he on the absolute freedom of sensuous material, on its perfect formation, totally independent of the idea, through perception and imagination, and that he did this was not in the least the consequence of theoretical ideas. Rather, he created this for himself, out of the same powerful, inner compulsion that ruled him. What occurs with other sentimental poets, precisely because of this, that their works are less graphic, giving their poems less of sensuous formation, could never have been a hindrance to him. He was, rather, naive in a high degree, more than would seem allowable, given his decisive inclination toward the sentimental class. His nature, given over to itself, led him more to the higher idea, where the distinction between the two types melts away again of itself, as it bound him in one of the two, and if he shared this prerogative with some of the greatest poetic geniuses, with him there was the additional advantage, that he placed in the idea itself the demand of absolute freedom of the ideally forming sensuous material.

The merely touching, sweet, simply descriptive, in short, the genre of poetry which derives directly from perception and feeling, is found in Schiller in countless single passages and in whole poems. I need here refer merely to The Maiden’s Lament, The Youth at the Brook, Thekla, a Ghostly Voice, To Emma, Expectation, among many others, which seem only to reproduce an experienced impression, and in which we detect Schiller’s intellectual essence only as a pale reflection. But the most wonderful authentication of his perfect poetic genius is contained in The Song of the Bell, which, in changing meter, in depictions of the greatest vivacity, where briefly suggested expressions produce the total image, goes through all the activities of human and social life, expressing feelings arising out of each, and connects all this each time symbolically to the sounds of the bell, the continuing work on which accompanies the poetry in its different moments. In no language do I know of a poem which opens up such a vast poetic panorama in so brief a space, running through the scale of the deepest human experiences and showing, in a completely lyrical way, life with its most important events and epochs as an epic contained within natural limits. The poetic clarity is, however, increased the more, in that every event, held at a distance from the imagination, corresponds to an actually portrayed object, and the two series thereby formed, continue in parallel to one another toward the same goal.

If one makes real to oneself what has been presented here of Schiller’s restless spiritual activity and the close connection of his poetic genius with the mightier force which drew everything within him into the realm of thought, then one will better understand the period in which the following correspondence takes place, which, as I indicated in the preceding, was the critical period in Schiller’s life. Every great poetic work requires an attunement and concentration of the whole mind, which Schiller, as he returned to Jena, had lacked for years. In part, the fault for that probably lay in the plan for Wallenstein, which he carried around within himself for a long period before actually putting his hand to the work. This material was too immense in its extent, and too delicate in its constitution, not to require the greatest preparation for its execution. Whoever properly appreciates this creation will recognize it as a truly gigantic poetic work; even Schiller’s formative genius was able to master the vast material only in three connected works. But the demands which Schiller made on his works for the theater had been heightened; since the creative genius momentarily rested, the stern critic took its place all the more actively, and not without apprehension. In all artistic production, confidence requires the example of successes already achieved. Schiller lacked these now, not according to the judgment of his nation, but according to his own. His earlier pieces could not count for him as a confirmation for talent whose development now seemed worthy of him and his art. Don Carlos was composed over a long period of time, because of external circumstances, and the unity and fervor of the first conception did not survive the duration of the period of composition. Thus Schiller believed himself to stand at the beginning of a new career, and he actually stamped a character on this tragedy, once he had dealt with the barriers which hindered his new conception, the like of which had never appeared before on the stage. Further, this fell at a time in which Schiller’s inner aspiration was primarily philosophical. For it should not be mistaken that he, in the time shortly after Don Carlos, was greatly concerned with bringing the philosophical ideas which had been excited in him to clarity and definiteness. The choice itself of Don Carlos as the subject of a tragedy was not free from a contribution of this inner drive toward ideas—as can be seen from his letters on the play—and the work, unique of its kind, which is furnished in its way individually, in separate details with the entire fullness of Schiller’s genius, even if it does not, in the form and arrangement of the whole, betray traces of its origin equally with the later successful works. It was, in fact, a more inward striving toward ideas; since, however, he found nourishment in the publication of Kantian philosophy, and, after he began in On Grace and Dignity to speak out in definite clarity, the final construction of the system suggested and partly worked out in this essay, was posed as an inner task for Schiller that, in conformity with his individuality, had to be completed before he could go on to another topic. For it was impossible for him to let any unclarity or uncertainty remain in his mind—until he was forced to give up the hope of bringing it to clarity and certainty—and the ideas which formed the supporting pillars of his intellectual endeavor, with which he saw his poetic production—the element of his life—indissolubly united, as soon as that had become an object of study and reflection for him, had to be purely spun out before his eyes to their final point. Perseverance to the end was a characteristic feature in Schiller with every work, and so he did not rest before the problem set for him by his most inner nature was solved in The Letters On the Aesthetic Education of Man. Until then, however, he could take up nothing else. Whatever attracted his mind always occupied it completely and exclusively.

It is quite remarkable how, in the period of which we are speaking here, the longing for dramatic composition, always enduring in Schiller, slowly but continuously emerged, and won the upper hand over philosophical activity. In the first year of his return to Jena, he still worked continuously on the Aesthetical Letters and occasionally on historical works. Then poetry blossomed, at first in small lyrical and narrative poems, and philosophy, in the essays Concerning Naive and Sentimental Poetry, approached in easier and brighter form the work of the imagination already becoming dominant. Finally Wallenstein was begun. Thus Schiller entered, as though into a brighter, for him characteristic element, into the brilliant poetic period of his last years, which was not further interrupted. His death, great and beautiful, however painfully it moved us, snatched him from amid an already gloriously achieved life’s work, still being pursued with ever striving force.

In that period of Schiller’s return to dramatic composition also falls his intimate association with Goethe, certainly the most important and powerful contributory cause. The mutual influence of these two great men on one another was most powerful and most noble. Each felt inspired, strengthened, and encouraged on his own path, each saw more clearly and correctly how the same goal united them, but via different roads. Neither drew the other over to his way, or caused the other the least hesitation in pursuing his own goal. As in their immortal works, they offered a model in their friendship never seen before, in which their spiritual striving together was interwoven indissolubly with the disposition of their characters and the feelings of their hearts, and they thus honored the name German. To say more on this, however, would be partly superfluous, and is partly forbidden by a natural and justified reserve. Schiller and Goethe expressed themselves so clearly and openly, so intimately and brilliantly in their letters on this unique relationship, that no one can be tempted to add anything to what has been said in such a way.

In the correspondence with me, there are passages where Schiller seems to doubt his poetic vocation, and similar points are given in Körner’s description of Schiller’s life. I also referred to this earlier at the beginning of this introduction. Such momentary attacks, as well as his extraordinary misconception of being born more for epic than dramatic composition, will mislead no one who is an intimate of the human heart and mind. Never has anyone, if we disregard moments of isolated distemper, known so clearly and decisively what he, through his nature, had to will and seek, never anyone who so rightly and naturally appreciated his own endeavor and successes as Schiller, never was fumbling around in uncertainty for one’s naturally determined destiny more alien and odious to anyone than to him. His destiny, however, was clearly dramatic composition. The sharpness of his imaginative powers, which concentrated everything onto a single point, the ability to work toward a powerful effect, the production of the highest tension of reality, joining it to the most sublime denouement of the idea—all of this, which was given directly through Schiller’s individuality, particularly suited this mode of composition, whose character, in Goethe’s striking remark, derives from the fact that it translates its object into the present moment. For it concentrates its entire effect toward a single end point, moving more along a straight line than by spreading itself through a plane, and stands, as does thought, in closer relation to time than to space, which is more appropriate to perception. If Schiller momentarily seemed to misrecognize this, and even the poetic genius within him, then it was, in the best of these moments of doubt, because of the grandeur of the ideal which dizzied his vision, and of the intensity of his deepest longing, despairing of the attainment of the goal sought.

I have purposely not referred at all to the influence which external circumstances may have exerted on the changes of Schiller’s occupations. To be sure, the prose essays were largely generated for Thalia and Horen, as was poetry for the Musenalmanach.11 The first, from 1796, occasioned almost everything which it received from Schiller; nothing stemmed from an earlier period. Nevertheless, the varying transition from the poetic to the philosophical, from prose to rhythmic work, was derived principally and totally only from Schiller’s spiritual attunement portrayed above. Only because the greatness which he carried in yearning expectation within himself had not yet grown to maturity, because the concentration and attunement of his mind, which is the only preparation possible for artistic production and creation, were not complete, did he allow himself undertakings of that sort, which, of course, afterward occasionally seemed to him disruptive, but this was more semblance than was actually the case. It remains highly admirable how these external incentives were never the occasion for mediocre work, and how the compulsion (for thus such works must be characterized which are promised for a certain time) was transformed into a beautiful spontaneity as soon as the idea, happily received, presented itself to the mind, thus obliterating the external origin of the work itself. For no one is able to deny the stamp of authentic genius on even the least important of the Almanach and Horen poetry.

What particularly distinguishes the later dramatic works is, first, a more careful and correctly understood striving toward the totality of the form of art; then a deeper cultivation of the subjects, through which they enter into a greater and richer global environment, and more sublime ideas are connected to them; and, finally, a more complete effacement of everything prosaic through a more pure poetic sweep in representation, thought, and expression. At every point, the concept of art demanded for an individual poem is elevated within it, and the living poetic form completely penetrating the material then becomes, in a higher sense, nature. In many passages in his letters, Schiller suggests, that his greater regard for the whole is the most essential advance made by him, and criticizes the fixation on details, and the direct cultivation, by preference, of parts. Much earlier, however, he had expressed this highest demand of a work of art in a way both wonderfully clear and beautiful in The Artists. What he understood by such a treatment of a dramatic subject he showed immediately in that most difficult of works in this respect, in Wallenstein. Everything of such an infinitely comprehensive event was to be rescued from reality and appear as bound together by poetic necessity; all the foundations on which the bold hero intended to base his dangerous undertakings, all the obstacles on which they were wrecked, the political position of the princes, the course of the war, the condition of Germany, the mood of the army—all these were to be brought poetically and graphically before the eyes of the audience. Seldom has a poet made greater demands on himself or his material, and excepting Shakespeare, there is scarcely anyone else who encompasses in one tragedy such a world of objects, movement, and feeling.

The works which follow Wallenstein show, that Schiller continued to work in the same way. In fact, his life consisted in the fact that, as a poet, he practiced what he said somewhere of the ideally educated man in general, that he draws as much of the world, with the total multiplicity of its phenomena, into himself as his imagination is capable of conceiving, and there fuses it into the unity of the form of art. Therefore, his tragedies are not repetitions of a talent which has become a manner, but are each the birth of an ever youthful, ever new struggle with the demands of art, rightly perceived and sublimely conceived. It is not my purpose to go more deeply into those works. The observations made in this Introduction have the goal solely of fitting the following letters into the total context of Schiller’s course of development. They find, therefore, their natural end at the unquestionable beginning of the period of his last tragedies. These long ago received the judgment of the world; they can await with tranquility that of future generations. They will continue to occupy the stage for a long time to come, and then take their place in the history of German poetry.

The poet does not bring new truths to light, does not collect new facts. He has an effect just as he creates; he brings his figures, which educate and edify, before the imagination of all times; he produces this in the form in which he clothes his subjects, in the characters with which he ideally enriches mankind, in his own image, which radiates forth from all of his works. Thus, inspiring and educating, through exaltation and emotion, Schiller will continue, for a long time, powerfully to affect his nation.

He was torn from the world in the perfect maturity of his spiritual power, and would have yet been able to create an infinity. His goal was so fixed that he could never have attained an end, and thus his continually progressing powers could never have been brought to a standstill; for a long time still, he could have had the joy, the rapture, and even—as he inimitably put it in one of the letters following here in connection with the plan for an idyll—the blessedness of poetic creation. His life was cut short, but as long as it lasted, it was exclusively and unceasingly occupied in the realm of ideas and imagination; perhaps of no one can it be said with so much truth that “he had thrown away the fears of the earthly, and had flown up out of the narrow, dull world into the kingdom of the ideal”12 he lived, always surrounded by the highest ideas and the most brilliant images that a human being is able to take up within himself and bring forth from himself. Whoever thus leaves the Earth can only be styled happy.—-Tegle, May 1830.

Author’s Notes

* The present collection contains all our letters that are still extant, except for some few which are totally uninteresting. A good number, however, are lacking. Schiller must not have preserved all of my letters, and a good number of Schiller’s to me were lost at the country estate, where I am writing this, during the unfortunate events of the war of 1806.

** A play which Schiller considered for quite some time, of which there is discussion in the following letters.

Translator’s Notes

1. Schiller began work on Don Carlos in 1785; he completed it in 1787.

2. The Artist, verse 229.

3. The Artist, verse 315.

4. Philosophical Letters, an uncompleted work which appeared in 1786 in the Thalia, a literary journal founded and edited by Schiller in 1784, when Schiller was 25. Its full title was Rheinischen Thalia. Schiller published many of his poems, including On Joy, in its pages.

5. On Bürger’s Poetry was written in 1791 as a review of a new edition of Bürger’s poetry. Schiller particularly attacks Bürger’s view that the artist must in part sacrifice the integrity of art to gain popularity. Goethe was highly impressed by the review, and expressed the wish to have written it himself.

6. The reference is to the famous passage from the Critique of Practical Reason, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe ... the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

7. Humboldt is referring to Schiller’s tenure at the University of Jena, where he became a professor of history in the spring of 1789. At Jena, he was close to Professor Reinhold, one of the leading Kantians of the time, and was thus introduced to the study of Kant’s philosophy.

8. Christian Gottfried Körner (1756-1831) was a friend of Schiller from 1785. Körner wrote an eighteenth century style biography of Schiller, Account of Schiller’s Life, published in 1812.

9. Die Horen was established in 1795, and was the original place of publication of his Letters On Aesthetical Education.

10. The idea of “elective affinities” (Wahlverwandtschaften) was of great importance in Goethe’s thought, and the term served as the title of one of his novels.

11. Die Musenalmanach was a poetry journal founded in 1796, and lasted until 1800. In it, Goethe and Schiller published their jointly written Xenien.

12. Compare verse 28 of Schiller’s The Ideal and Life.

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