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Biographical Essays by Thomas de Quincey

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Schiller's talents; and his Fiesco, his Intrigue and Love, his Don
Carlos, and his Maria Stuart, followed within a short period of
years. None of these are so far free from the faults of the Robbers
as to merit a separate notice; for with less power, they are almost
equally licentious.

Finally, however, he brought out his Wallenstein, an immortal
drama, and, beyond all competition, the nearest in point of
excellence to the dramas of Shakspeare. The position of the
characters of Max Piccolomini and the Princess Thekla is the finest
instance of what, in a critical sense, is called _relief,_
that literature offers. Young, innocent, unfortunate, among a camp
of ambitious, guilty, and blood-stained men, they offer a depth and
solemnity of impression which is equally required by way of
contrast and of final repose.

From Mannheim, where he had a transient love affair with Laura
Dalberg, the daughter of his friend the director, Schiller removed
to Jena, the celebrated university in the territory of Weimar. The
grand duke of that German Florence was at this time gathering
around him the most eminent of the German intellects; and he was
eager to enroll Schiller in the body of his professors. In 1799
Schiller received the chair of civil history; and not long after he
married Miss Lengefeld, with whom he had been for some time
acquainted. In 1803 he was ennobled; that is, he was raised to the
rank of gentleman, and entitled to attach the prefix of _Von_
to his name. His income was now sufficient for domestic comfort and
respectable independence; while in the society of Goethe, Herder,
and other eminent wits, he found even more relaxation for his
intellect, than his intellect, so fervent and so self-sustained,
could require.

Meantime the health of Schiller was gradually undermined: his lungs
had been long subject to attacks of disease; and the warning
indications which constantly arose of some deep-seated organic
injuries in his pulmonary system ought to have put him on his guard
for some years before his death. Of all men, however, it is
remarkable that Schiller was the most criminally negligent of his
health; remarkable, we say, because for a period of four years
Schiller had applied himself seriously to the study of medicine.
The strong coffee, and the wine, which he drank, may not have been
so injurious as his biographers suppose; but his habit of sitting
up through the night, and defrauding his wasted frame of all
natural and restorative sleep, had something in it of that guilt
which belongs to suicide. On the 9th of May, 1805, his complaint
reached its crisis. Early in the morning he became delirious; at
noon his delirium abated; and at four in the afternoon he fell into
a gentle unagitated sleep, from which he soon awoke. Conscious that
he now stood on the very edge of the grave, he calmly and fervently
took a last farewell of his friends. At six in the evening he fell
again into sleep, from which, however, he again awoke once more to
utter the memorable declaration, "that many things were growing
plain and clear to his understanding." After this the cloud of
sleep again settled upon him; a sleep which soon changed into the
cloud of death.

This event produced a profound impression throughout Germany. The
theatres were closed at Weimar, and the funeral was conducted with
public honors. The position in point of time, and the peculiar
services of Schiller to the German literature, we have already
stated: it remains to add, that in person he was tall, and of a
strong bony structure, but not muscular, and strikingly lean. His
forehead was lofty, his nose aquiline, and his mouth almost of
Grecian beauty. With other good points about his face, and with
auburn hair, it may be presumed that his whole appearance was pleasing
and impressive, while in latter years the character of sadness and
contemplative sensibility deepened the impression of his
countenance. We have said enough of his intellectual merit, which
places him in our judgment at the head of the Trans-Rhenish
literature. But we add in concluding, that Frederick von Schiller
was something more than a great author; he was also in an eminent
sense a great man; and his works are not more worthy of being
studied for their singular force and originality, than his moral
character from its nobility and aspiring grandeur.

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