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The Life and Works of Friedrich Schiller by Calvin Thomas

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Schiller conceives Mary Queen of Scots as a beautiful sinner who has
repented. Her sins are grievous and she does not deny or extenuate
them. But they are in the distant past; so far as the present is
concerned, she is in the right. She has come to England seeking an
asylum, but instead of being treated as a queen she has been confined
in one prison after another and finally brought to Fotheringay, where
she is subjected to petty indignities and denied the consolations of
the Catholic religion. She has been charged with a crime of which she
declares herself innocent, has been brought to trial before a
commission of judges whose jurisdiction she indignantly repudiates, and
has even been denied the common right to confront the witnesses
testifying against her. At the opening of the play she does not yet
know the verdict of the court.

This is the substance of Schiller's masterly exposition; and the effect
of it, upon the reader or spectator who has not prejudged the case, is
to create an attitude of compassion for the prisoner. But the sympathy
that one feels for the passive victim of political or legal injustice is
not the kind which Schiller regarded as 'tragic'. There had to be some
sort of 'guilt', and it was also necessary that this guilt should grow
out of the free act of the individual. But what was to be done with a
helpless captive who was not free to shape her own fate? From the
above-quoted letter to Goethe, of April 26, 1799, it is inferable that
Schiller at first thought of representing the trial of Mary. He soon
saw, however, that this would make the effect of the drama turn upon
political, religious and legal considerations of an abstruse and
doubtful character. It would be with the play as it always had been with
the historical controversy: the devout Catholic would regard Queen Mary
as the victim of brutal tyranny, while the Protestant would think her
deserving of her fate. Schiller did not wish to take sides boldly in a
partisan controversy, but to make a tragedy the effect of which should
grow out of universal human emotions. So he felt happy when a
'possibility' occurred to him of dispensing altogether with the trial
and beginning with the last three days of Mary's life.

The expedient that had suggested itself to him involved three
unhistorical inventions: first, an attempt to escape, in which Mary and
her cause would become involved in the guilt of the murderous fanatic,
Mortimer; secondly, a supposititious love for Leicester, who would use
his influence with Elizabeth to bring about a meeting of the two queens;
and, finally, the meeting itself, in which Mary's long pent-up passion
would get the better of her and betray her into a deadly insult of her
rival. After this her fate would appear inevitable and incurred by her
own act. This concentration of the action brought with it certain other
departures from history which are of minor importance. Mary was beheaded
in February, 1587, in the forty-fifth year of her age. At the time of
her death her captivity in England had lasted about nineteen years. In
order to account for the infatuation of Mortimer and the still lingering
passion of Leicester, our drama imagines her some twenty years younger
than she actually was.[119]

As thus made over by Schiller, Queen Mary is a pathetic rather than a
tragically imposing figure. She appeals, after all, to the sentimental
side of human nature and does not produce that effect of tragic
sublimity which is produced by 'Wallenstein'. The sympathy that she
excites is like that one feels for a martyr. We see in her a royal
_religieuse_ who is persecuted by powerful and contemptible enemies and
is unable to help herself. Her death is decreed from the beginning and
there is no way of averting it. The object of fierce contentions on the
part of others, she herself does nothing, and can do nothing, to change
the predestined course of events. She is never placed, as the real
tragic hero must be, before an alternative where the decision is big
with fate. When the end comes there is nothing to do but let her
renounce all earthly passion and face the headsman as a purified saint.
So far as she is concerned, there is no action at all, but only the
dramatic development of a situation.[120]

For, after all, the expedients just spoken of do not hit the mark
exactly, in the sense of making the heroine responsible for her own
fate. They bring in some new and exciting complications, which, however,
do not affect the course of events at all. The catastrophe would have
been just the same without them. This, nevertheless, is something that
one does not see until we reach the end and look back. Before the two
queens come together it seems as if the meeting might be a turning-point
in Mary's fate; and this appearance is all that Schiller aimed at. In a
letter to Goethe he spoke of this scene as 'impossible', and he was
curious to know what success he had had with it. By this he meant,
seemingly, that the futility of the scene, as affecting Mary's fate, was
predetermined by the nature of the subject[121]. Mary was to die; it was
impossible to make Elizabeth pardon her or treat her claims with
Indulgence. And yet it was necessary to create the illusion of great
possibilities hanging upon this interview of the two queens. This was a
very pretty problem for a playwright, and the skill with which it is
solved by Schiller is the most admirable feature of the whole piece. The
scene is not great dramatic poetry, for there is too little of subtlety
in it,--we are simply placed between light and darkness, as one critic
says,--but it is the perfection of telling workmanship for the stage.

The preparation for the scene begins back in the first act, where Mary
declares to Mortimer that Leicester is the only living man who can
effect her release. When she produces her picture and sends it to him
for a token of her love, we begin to share her premonition that
something may indeed be hoped for if her cause is taken up by the
powerful favorite of Elizabeth. The lyric passages at the beginning of
the third act fix attention altogether upon Mary's longing for mere
physical freedom. There is no room for the suspicion that she wishes to
use her liberty for any political purpose whatever. She appears as a
noble sufferer whose whole being is absorbed in the delirious joy of
breathing once more the free air of heaven. She surmises rightly that
her unwonted liberty to walk in the park is due to Leicester, and she
imagines that greater favors are in store for her:

They mean to enlarge the confines of my prison,
By little favors to lead up to greater,
Until at last I see the face of him
Whose hand shall set me free forevermore.

And the hope seems reasonable. May not the queen of England--so one
is inclined to speculate--be moved to pity? May she not be persuaded
that policy is on the side of mercy? May she not at least postpone
the execution of the death-sentence and gradually increase her
prisoner's liberty?

When Elizabeth appears it is quickly made evident that these hopes are
vain. Mary humbles herself to no purpose. Her enemy, a consummate
hypocrite herself, sees in her self-abasement nothing but hypocrisy.
Mary's earnest pleading, her offer to renounce all for the boon of
freedom, are met with bitter taunts and accusations which culminate in
the galling insult:

To be the general beauty, it would seem,
One needs but to be everybody's beauty.

Then Mary loses her self-control and throws discretion to the winds. In
a wild outburst of passionate hate she accuses Elizabeth of secret
incontinence and calls her bastard and usurper. Thus she triumphs in
the war of words, for her enemy retreats in speechless amazement; but
there is no more room for hope in the clemency of Elizabeth. The
prisoner's fate is sealed even without the murderous attempt of the
fanatic Sauvage.

It must be repeated that the whole famous scene is better contrived for
the groundlings in a theater than for the lover of great dramatic
poetry. Mary's crescendo of feeling, from humble supplication to
reckless defiance, gives an excellent opportunity for a tragic actress,
but the whole thing is rather crass. The effect is produced by
confronting Mary with a vain and spiteful termagant bearing the name of
the great English queen. One could wish, not only in the interest of
historical truth, the obligation of which Schiller denied, but also in
the interest of poetic beauty, the obligation of which he regarded as
paramount, that Elizabeth had been painted here in less repulsive
colors. She might have been allowed to show a trace of human, or even of
womanly, feeling. She might have been represented as touched for the
moment by Mary's entreaty, and as holding out to her some small hope of
life and liberty, under conditions which it would have been reasonable
to discuss. If she had been so portrayed and then later brought back to
a sterner mood by the attempt upon her own life and the discovery of
Mortimer's conspiracy, the final result would have been just the same;
the meeting of the two queens would have served even better the dramatic
purpose which it was meant to serve, and we should have had from it a
noble poetic effect instead of a crass theatrical effect. The pathos of
Mary's position would have been increased, because it would have been
made evident that, whatever her own inner thoughts and purposes might
be, she was a standing menace to the English monarchy. Thus her death
would have appeared in the play what it was in fact,--a measure of high
political expediency with which petty female spite had nothing to do.

It is natural to raise the query whether these considerations, which are
so obvious and are of the very kind that would have appealed to
Schiller, were overlooked by him or were set aside for reasons of his
own. Virtually he takes the Catholic side of the controversy. The ugly
traits of Mary's character, while we cannot say that they are concealed
with partisan intent, are so wrought into the picture that they do not
impress the imagination as ugly at all. They are consigned to the dim
limbo of the past and have the effect of winning for her that sympathy
which human nature is always ready to bestow, in art if not in life,
upon the Magdalen type. On the other hand, the ignoble traits of Queen
Elizabeth are brought into the foreground and made the most of, while
her great qualities are hardly more than adumbrated in the picture. The
result is a canonization and a caricature; and one cannot help wondering
how Schiller was brought thereto, when it would seem that his Protestant
sympathies, as we have known him hitherto, should have led him in the
contrary direction.

The key to the riddle is, no doubt, that he had begun to feel the
influence of the Romantic movement, which was well under way when 'Mary
Stuart' was written. The influence is difficult to prove, because
Schiller always maintained ostensibly a very cool and critical attitude
toward the efforts of the new school. His relations with its leaders
were not intimate, and one of them at least, the younger Schlegel, was
his particular aversion. Nevertheless he read their works; and while he
always professed to be but little edified, there is abundant evidence
that his ideas of literary art were considerably affected by the new
propaganda. So, too, Goethe was never a partisan of the Romanticists,
and he often spoke derisively of them; yet when he published the Second
Part of 'Faust', the world saw that he had learned from them all there
was to be learned. An author is not always most influenced by that which
he consciously approves.

As for Schiller there was much in common between him and the
Romanticists. He had worked out an aesthetic religion which completely
satisfied him. In religious dogma of any kind he had ceased to take a
practical interest. His ethical ideal was an ideal of harmony, of
equipoise. His critical studies had cured him of his one-sided
Hellenism, and his historical studies had taught him that the Middle
Ages were not without their own peculiar greatness. It was thus natural
enough that the Catholicizing drift of the Romantic school should appeal
to his aesthetic sympathies. When a man of poetic temper drifts away
from his theological moorings and becomes indifferent to positive dogma,
he is apt to value the historical religions according to their aesthetic
qualities. That is best which has the most warmth and color and makes
the strongest appeal to the imagination.

It is along this line of reflection that we must seek the explanation of
Schiller's Catholicizing tendency in 'Mary Stuart'. Her creed, if
reduced to dogma, would have offended his intellect, just as her
political claims would have been rejected by his historical judgment.
But he saw in her character that which could be poetically transmuted
into a type of the noble sufferer, burdened with remorse, fated to
contend with injustice, and betrayed by her own rebellious nature; but
triumphing at last in the peaceful assurance that her death is the
divinely appointed expiation of her sins. The drama was to represent a
process of inward purification,--the attainment, after fierce storms and
buffetings, of a calm haven for the soul. Queen Mary was to appear at
last as the embodiment of all the qualities that seem most noble and
enviable in one who "feels the winnowing wings of death". And of this
idea what better dramatic setting can be imagined than the ceremony of
confession and absolution in accordance with the forms of the Catholic
Church? The solemn searching of the heart gives to Mary's character a
saintly dignity, as of one already beatified, and invests the whole
scene with an incomparable pathos.[122] Swinburne makes his Mary
declare, in angry scorn of woman's weakness, that

Even in death,
As in the extremest evil of all our lives,
We can but curse or pray, but prate and weep,
And all our wrath is wind that works no wreck,
And all our fire as[*] water.

[* Transcriber's note: So in original.]

Schiller's Mary meets her fate in a nobler mood. She sees in death the
'solemn friend' who comes to lift the ancient burden from her soul. Not
only does she forgive and bless her enemies, but she sees in the very
injustice of her death a part of the divine benediction:

God deems me fit, through this unmerited death,
To expiate my heavy guilt of yore.

Such a sentiment, it must be admitted, is rather too sublimated to
harmonize perfectly with the political complications that precede. We
seem to have come suddenly into another world; and so we have in
truth,--the world of medieval mysticism. That which begins as a drama
of conflicting political passions, ends as a drama of mystical
edification. The rationalist does not see how the divine order can be
vindicated by the triumph of gross injustice; nevertheless he
recognizes that the ways of God are inscrutable, and he knows that such
ideas, of the winning of peace through blood-atonement, were once
intensely real to the Christian world. Schiller requires the
rationalist to return in his imagination to this time and place himself
in the emotional _milieu_ of the medieval church.

Returning now, in the light of these considerations, to the famous
quarrel-scene in the third act, we see that a more favorable portrait of
Elizabeth, while it would have had the advantage pointed out, would have
weakened the final effect which Schiller wished to produce. It was
necessary that Mary appear as the victim of injustice in order that her
saintly triumph might shine with the greater luster. Moreover, Mary's
outburst of passion, for which there would have been no room if her
enemy had been given a nobler character, was needed in order to make her
earlier sins credible. Without that scene we should have difficulty in
believing that so excellent a lady could ever have committed those
crimes of hot blood which weigh upon her soul. All this means that a
noble-minded Elizabeth would not have fallen in with Schiller's artistic
idea, but it hardly justifies him in making her the monster that she
appears. In making her heartless he might at least have left her head in
the possession of ordinary common sense. Her off-hand employment of the
stranger, Mortimer, as an assassin; her stagy signing of the
death-warrant, after a speech indicating that she acts from
pusillanimous motives of personal spite; her silly comedy with Davison
about the execution of the death-sentence; her coquettish airs with the
wretched Leicester,--these are repulsive touches which are difficult to
justify on any aesthetic grounds, and the total effect of which
approaches perilously near to caricature.

'Mary Stuart' may be described, then, as a tragedy of self-conquest in
the presence of an undeserved death. The stage climax is the meeting of
the two queens in the third act, but the psychological climax occurs in
the fifth act, when Queen Mary gives up her hopes of freedom and of life
and welcomes the 'solemn friend' who is to lift the burden from her
soul. In working out this conception Schiller did not trouble himself
greatly about the historical verisimilitude of his chief personages. One
who looks for the real Mary, Elizabeth, Burleigh and Leicester, will not
find them in his pages. The principal figures are drawn with less
impartiality than in 'Wallenstein', the subjective presence of the
author is more noticeable. And yet, looked at in a large way, the play
is an excellent piece of historical fresco-painting. The whole spirit of
the time with its warring passions, its intrigues of fanaticism, is
vividly and powerfully brought before us. The author's partisanship is
aesthetic only, not religious or political. The many counts in the long
indictment of Queen Mary, the motives and arguments of the English
government, even the higher traits of Queen Elizabeth, are all brought
out in the course of the play. Nothing of importance is neglected, and
the whole complicated situation is made admirably clear. The historical
background, with its luminous vistas of European politics, really leaves
very little to be desired.

Masterly, too, in the main, is the constructive skill with which all
this history is brought to view in a dramatic action concentrated into
the last three days of Queen Mary's life. The great difficulty which
always besets the 'drama of the ripe situation',--to use a modern
phrase for a thing as old as Euripides,--is the difficulty of
explaining the past without forcing the dialogue into unnatural
channels; in other words, of orienting the public without seeming to
have that object in view. As regards this merit of good craftsmanship,
'Mary Stuart' is here and there vulnerable. For example: in the fourth
scene of the first act, the nurse, Hannah Kennedy, recounts to her
mistress at great length the latter's past sins and sufferings,
describing her motives, her infatuation, her heart-burnings and much
else that the queen must know far better than any one else in the
world. Such passages, obviously intended for the instruction of the
audience, were permitted by the traditions of the drama, but they are
bad for the illusion. In 'Wallenstein' they are much less
noticeable,--a fact which indicates that Schiller was now disposed to
make his labor easier by availing himself of conventional privileges.
In most respects, however, the technique of 'Mary Stuart' is excellent.
The scenes are lively, varied and very rarely too long. Everything is
well articulated. Dramatic interest is not sacrificed to any sort of
private enthusiasm or special pleading.

One who reads the history of Mary Queen of Scots in any good historian,
and endeavors to follow the maze of intrigues, uprisings, plots,
assassinations and what not, is impressed by no other characteristic of
the age more strongly than by its complete dissociation of religion from
humane ethics. The religion of love to one's neighbor, though the
neighbor be an enemy, had become a fierce fanaticism which scrupled at
nothing and recognized no fealty higher than the supposed secular
interest of the church. In his 'Mary Stuart in Scotland' Bjoernson makes
the queen put to Bothwell the question: 'You are surely no gloomy
Protestant, you are certainly a Catholic, are you not?' To which
Bothwell replies: 'As for myself, I have never really figured up the
difference, but I have noticed that there are hypocrites on both sides.'
For the modern man this is an eminently natural point of view, and we
might have expected, from all we know of Schiller, that he would
introduce into his play some representative of this sentiment. Or if not
that, we might have expected some representative of the religion of
love. Instead of either we have a romantic youth who has forsworn the
Protestant creed on purely aesthetic grounds.

Mortimer is on the whole the most interesting of the subordinate
characters. He was obviously suggested by Babington, but the coarse
fanatic of history was too repulsive for a proper champion of Schiller's
idealized heroine. So the name was changed, and we get an imaginary
youth who has been intoxicated by the glamour of the Catholic forms as
he has seen them at Rome. The description of Mortimer's conversion,--his
sudden resolve to abjure the dismal, art-hating religion of the
incorporeal word, and to go over to the communion of the joyous,--is one
of the telling declamatory passages of the play. With the sentiment
expressed Schiller can have had, in the bottom of his heart, but little
sympathy; but his artistic nature had begun to respond to the Romantic
propaganda. For the rest, Mortimer is not a very convincing creation.
One is a little surprised that a youth who purports to be so very
soft-hearted, so very susceptible to the religion of the beautiful,
should undertake so jauntily the role of murderer. As for his amorous
passion, that is credible enough if, in accordance with Schiller's
direction, we think of Queen Mary as twenty-five years old. But in that
case one's imagination has difficulty with that perspective of years
which have accumulated the ancient burden of guilt.


[Footnote 119: In a letter to Iffland, written June 22, 1800, Schiller
directed that his Queen Elizabeth be represented as a woman thirty years
old, Mary as twenty-five.]

[Footnote 120: The thought is expressed thus by Harnack, "Schiller",
page 324: "Der eigentliche tragische Konflikt, der den Helden vor
grosze Entscheidungen stellt und endlich in sein Verhaengnis
hinabreiszt, _fehlt_ in 'Maria Stuart'. Die gefangene Koenigin befindet
sich im Konflikt mit ihrer unwuerdigen aeuszeren Lage, aber nicht mit
sich selbst."]

[Footnote 121: Compare, however, Fielitz, "Studien zu Schillers
Dramen", page 49.]

[Footnote 122: Even Macaulay, who was certainly not the man to be
captivated by anything in the scene save its poetry, thought the
"Fotheringay scenes in the fifth act ... equal to anything dramatic that
had been produced in Europe since Shakspere."--Trevelyan, "Life and
Letters of Lord Macaulay", II, 182.]


The Maid of Orleans

Die Schoenheit ist fuer ein glueckliches Geschlecht; ein unglueckliches
musz man erhaben zu ruehren suchen.--_Letter of July 26, 1800_.

It was well observed by Wilhelm von Humboldt that Schiller's plays are
not repetitions of the same thing, such as talent is wont to produce
when it has once met with a success, but the productions of a spirit
that ever kept wrestling anew with the demands of art. With each fresh
attempt he essayed a really new theme, and taken as a whole his works
exhibit a remarkable variety of substance. Each one has its own
individuality, its own atmosphere. And he himself wished that this
should be so; it was a part of his study to avoid repeating himself.
'One must not become the slave of any general concept',--so he wrote to
Goethe in July, 1800,--'but have the courage to invent a new form for
each new matter and keep the type-idea flexible in one's mind.'

These words were penned with direct reference to 'The Maid of Orleans',
which was begun very soon after the completion of 'Mary Stuart'. Whether
Schiller then had in mind all those elements which subsequently led to
the sub-title, 'a romantic tragedy', is not at all certain; it would be
natural to surmise that he may have thought at first of a drama within
the lines of authentic tradition. However, we know very little in detail
about the genesis of this particular play. The letter just quoted tells
of the usual initial difficulty in concentrating the action, the
interesting occurrences being so widely separated in time and place.
Later letters hardly do more than occasionally to report progress; they
do not discuss artistic questions, nor give any information as to books
read. Three acts were finished by mid-winter, and the whole on the 15th
of April, 1801. Schiller had now learned his routine; he felt confidence
in himself and went ahead in his own way, with but little discussion
of his plans. What he finally gave to the world is a tragedy
in which he proceeds still further along the path of romantic
idealization,--proceeds indeed so far that one can no longer follow him
without some rather serious misgivings.

The French peasant girl becomes an ambassadress of heaven, gifted with
second sight and the power of working miracles. She not only leads the
French troops in battle, but she herself fights with a magic sword and
kills English soldiers with the ruthlessness of a veteran in slaughter.
Through it all, however, she is supposed to remain a tender-hearted and
lovable maiden, such as the highest officers of France may wish to
marry. By the command of the Holy Virgin, from whom her mission and
power derive, she is bound to refrain from all earthly love. A momentary
tenderness for the English general, Lionel, which leads her to spare his
life, presents itself to her conscience as an infraction of the divine
command. She is overwhelmed with remorse and loses all her power. Arm
and soul are paralyzed. Taxed by her superstitious father with
witchcraft, she cannot find speech to defend herself and imagines that a
thunder-clap is heaven's testimony against her. Then she wanders about
as a helpless and disgraced fugitive and is captured by English
soldiers. With fettered hands she is compelled to witness a new battle,
in which her countrymen, deprived of her aid, are about to be worsted.
But through adversity she has been purged of her sin. Her
self-confidence returns, and with it her miraculous power. By the
efficacy of prayer she breaks her chains and rushes into the fray. Her
reappearance brings victory to the French arms, but she herself is
mortally wounded and dies in glory on the battle-field.

It is evident that such a conception carries us back into the dreamland
of pious romance. It presupposes a world in which things did not happen
as they happen now; in which the incredible is assumed to be real and
the course of events is shaped by miracle. To be sure, miracle is but
sparingly used in the dramatic action itself, and the totality of the
play is only a little more wonderful than the Maid's actual history as
given by authentic records. Johanna's vision of the Virgin is merely
described retrospectively and is parallel to the Voices of the
historical Joan. So too her recognition of the King, whom she has never
seen before; her reading of his mind; her wonderful influence over the
French army, and much more of the kind, are part of a well-authenticated
tradition with which the skeptical mind must make its peace as best it
can. And the feat is not altogether easy. The modern rationalist will
say, and is no doubt right in saying, that if we knew all the pertinent
facts accurately from first to last, the Maid's story would fit
perfectly into our scheme of scientific knowledge and would appear no
more mysterious than other stories of obsession, genius and devotion.
Still the fact remains that upon ordinary human nature, without regard
to religious prepossessions, the record of the Maid's life, as brought
out at her trial, makes an impression of the marvelous. This is quite
enough for the purposes of a dramatic poet. But when Schiller introduces
a magic sword; when he makes his heroine talk with a ghost upon the
battle-field, and break her heavy fetters by the power of prayer; and
when we not merely hear these things reported, but see them,--then we
are clearly in the realm of pure miracle.

Schiller's ultra-romantic treatment of the Maid's story has often been
sharply criticised, even by those who are in the main friendly to his
genius; while those who are not friendly have always seen in it the
complete flowering of his worst tendencies. Critics have debated at
great length the question whether he was 'justified' in introducing the
supernatural at all. They have fallen back upon the ghost in 'Hamlet'
for a precedent and have tried to illuminate the subject with the light
of Lessing's famous comparison of Shakspere's ghost with Voltaire's in
'Semiramis'. Others have been shocked by Schiller's bold departure from
history at the close. On a first reading of 'The Maid of Orleans',
Macaulay recorded in his journal an opinion that "the last act was
absurd beyond description. Schiller might just as well have made
Wallenstein dethrone the emperor and reign himself over Germany--or Mary
become Queen of England and cut off Elizabeth's head--as make Joan fall
in the moment of victory."[123]

Now opinions of this kind have a certain interest for the student of
literature, but it is best not to take them too seriously. A dramatist
is 'justified' if his intention is good and he succeeds in it. The proof
of the pudding is not in the cook's recipe. If any dramatist in the wide
world chooses, for reasons of his own, to experiment with an imaginary
reversal of the verdict of history, there is no abstract reason why he
should not do so. It is just as well, as Schiller said, to 'keep the
type-idea flexible in one's mind',--especially when we know that his
experiment was received with ecstasy at its first performance and has
ever since held its place in the affection of German play-goers. They
are not troubled by its irrationalities, but receive them with pious
awe, as Schiller intended. For the reader, too, 'The Maid of Orleans'
has a deep and perennial fascination. Theorize about it as we may, it is
a great popular classic, which has exerted an enormous educative
influence and proves how thoroughly its author knew the heart of the
German people.

It is perfectly safe to conjecture, even without documentary evidence,
that when Schiller began to think of Joan the Maid as the possible
heroine of a tragedy, his first perplexity related to the question of
her 'guilt'. This was for him an indispensable ingredient of the tragic,
whatever later theorists may think of it.

Although, as we have seen, he contemned the bondage of general concepts,
he never came to the point of imagining a tragedy without 'tragic
guilt'. But the story of Joan offers no suggestion of guilt in any sense
whatever,--she was the innocent victim of groveling superstition playing
into the hands of insane political hate. For modern sentiment, Catholic
and Protestant alike, and quite independently of the view one may take
of her claims to divine illumination, her death at the stake was simply
a horrible and revolting wrong. In comparison with those who put her to
death she was an angel of light. To follow the lines of history here was
for Schiller unthinkable, since the end would have been a mad fatality,
leaving no room for any feeling of acquiescence in the wise ordering of
the world. If the story of Joan was to yield a tragedy at all, it was
necessary to have recourse to some bold invention which should bring her
fate into harmony with the central tightness of things.[124]

Schiller solves the problem in the terms of religious mysticism: he
endows his Johanna with a supernatural power dependent upon her
renunciation of earthly love, and then makes her fall in love contrary
to the divine command. In one of her lonely vigils under the 'holy oak'
the Virgin appears to her and bids her go forth and destroy the enemies
of her country and crown the king at Rheims. When Johanna asks how a
gentle girl can hope to accomplish such a work, Mary replies,

A maiden chaste
Can bring to pass all glorious things on earth
If only she renounces earthly love.

Thus far we are close enough to tradition; for the historical Joan, who
habitually called herself the Maid, knew very well that love and
marriage would be fatal to her mission. Moreover, the idea of a
non-natural power attaching to the state of virginity is sufficiently
familiar both to Christian and to Pagan story. From this conception it
is no very far cry to the idea that the very thought of love, bringing
with it a sense of guilt, might cause an impairment of the maiden's
divinely bestowed strength. These are mystical ideas, but the mysticism
is of a kind familiar to the imagination of medieval Europe and
therefore quite permissible to a poet who had set out to romanticize.
If, therefore, Schiller had made his heroine fall in love in human
fashion, and had then connected this lapse from virginal ideality a
little more clearly with the final catastrophe, there could be no
reasonable objection to his fundamental idea, and we should have,
probably, the best imaginative basis for a romantic tragedy on the story
of Joan of Arc. One has no right to play the rationalist in such a
matter and argue that falling in love is no sin and cannot be felt as a
sin by the modern mind. It can be so felt by the modern imagination, and
that is quite enough.

As the play stands, however, it must be allowed that the demand made
upon the imagination is quite too severe. The love-incident is
preposterous in itself and a mere episode at that, serving no purpose
finally but that of a picturesque contrast. It is a sort of thing which
one can put up with very well in a romantic opera, but not so well in a
serious drama. To begin with, Schiller makes his heroine a supernatural
being. His Johanna is not a peasant girl who imagines herself the bearer
of a divine mission, and by the human qualities of purity, bravery,
devotion and self-confidence, exerts a _seemingly_ magic influence upon
the French army,--but she is actually endowed with superhuman powers.
She carries a charmed sword which, against her will, guides itself
miraculously in her hand to the work of slaughter. No enemy can
withstand her. To all Englishmen she is incarnate Death. In the full
frenzy of combat she meets Lionel--for the first time. They fight and
she strikes his sword from his hand. Then, as he closes with her, she
seizes his plume from behind, lifts his helmet and draws her sword to
cut off his head. As his comely face is bared her heart fails her, her
arm sinks and the whole mischief is done. No wonder that an early critic
objected to a tragedy turning thus upon the weak fastening of a helmet!

It is difficult to justify such a scene upon any theory of poetic art.
The romantic drama since Schiller's time has served up many a greater
marvel than this; but it produces a truly poetic effect only by keeping
within the limits of tradition. The poet who deals with Siegfried and
Brunhilde, or with Lohengrin or Faust, may very properly require us to
accept the miracles which pertain in each case to the saga. But such a
being as Schiller's Johanna is found in no saga; she is a purely
arbitrary creation. A very thoughtful German critic, Bellermann,
attempts to defend our love-episode by showing how Schiller took good
care in the preceding scenes to depict his heroine as susceptible to the
tender emotions of her sex; in other words, to depict her as a maiden
who might conceivably love and be loved. But earthly maidens do not
suddenly fall in love with their mortal enemies upon the battle-field;
and when a celestial amazon like Johanna does so, one can only imagine
that she has been mysteriously forsaken by her Protectress in the skies.
In that case, however, the fault lies with heaven. It is really quite
futile to discuss the artistic reasonableness of this scene, since
Johanna's supernatural character takes her outside the range of human
psychology. If one likes it and is touched by it, very well; but a
prudent poet might well have had some regard for the very large number
of people who would find such a scene ridiculous rather than touching.

One could wish, in fine, that Schiller had omitted his disturbing
supernaturalism altogether. If it was necessary that his heroine fall
in love, one could wish that he had let her affections fasten humanly
upon the good Raimond or some other honest Frenchman. And he might well
have spared us the Black Knight,--that revenant ghost of Talbot, who
comes to frighten Johanna but does not succeed, and whose function in
the economy of the play remains in the end somewhat mysterious. Had he
left out these things, the real greatness of the play would have
suffered not a whit, and the artistic idea which kindled his
imagination would have found a no less noble expression. That idea was
to reproduce the spirit of the epoch which saw the birth of French
patriotism. He wished to bring before his rationalizing contemporaries
a picture of the Middle Ages as a time when, to quote the words of a
recent American writer, "life was lived passionately and imaginatively
under haunted heavens ".[125]

What thoughts were agitating him at the very time when 'The Maid of
Orleans' was taking shape in his mind can be seen from an interesting
letter which he wrote to a certain Professor Suevern, who had favored him
with a critique of 'Wallenstein'. Schiller answered under date of July
26, 1800, and one paragraph of his reply runs as follows:

I share your unconditional admiration of the Sophoclean tragedy, but
it was a phenomenon of its time, which cannot come again. It was the
living product of a definite, individual present; to force it as a
standard and a pattern upon an entirely different epoch would be to
kill rather than to quicken art, which must always come into being
and do its work as a living dynamic influence. Our tragedy, if we
had such a thing, has to wrestle with the time's impotence, laziness
and lack of character, and with a vulgar mental habit. It must
therefore exhibit force and character. It must endeavor to stir and
uplift the feelings, but not to resolve them into calm. Beauty is
for a happy race; an unhappy race one must seek to move by

These words, which contain implicitly the whole Romantic confession of
faith, give the right point of view from which to judge 'The Maid of
Orleans'. Schiller felt that the need of the hour was to escape from the
banality of conventional ideas and feel the thrill of sympathy with
great, overmastering emotions. To-day this seems a very simple and
obvious matter, because we have learned to think of the imaginative
appeal of poetry as the corner-stone of the temple. But a hundred years
ago the outlook was different. Notwithstanding the revolt which Goethe
and Schiller had themselves led against the self-complacent rationalism
of the century, the old spirit was still potent even in Germany, where
the reaction first gathered force. Among the intellectual classes
religion had well-nigh ceased to be reckoned with as a mystic passion of
the soul. Several decades of tolerance,--practically an excellent method
for keeping the sectaries from one another's throats,--had produced a
public sentiment which looked with mild contempt upon all religious
fervors. When Schleiermacher published his famous 'Discourses on
Religion', in the year 1799, he addressed them 'to the cultivated among
its despisers',--which was only his phrase for what we should call the
general public.

Nor was the case very different with respect to another mystic passion,
which derives from the tribal instinct of the primitive savage and which
the civilized man calls patriotism. The lesson of Frederick the Great
had not been entirely forgotten, but it was lying inert,--waiting to be
kindled into fiery zeal by the humiliations of Jena and Tilsit and
Wagram. Schiller was no mystic, nor was he, in our narrow sense, a
patriot; but he had a poet's feeling for the sublimity of great and
passionate devotion. He was a man of the eighteenth century, and as
thinker he understood full well its imperishable claims to honor; but as
poet it was not for him to fall into that cynical, vulgarizing drift
which had led the greatest Frenchman of his day to make Joan of Arc the
butt of his lewd wit. Voltaire saw in her one of the pious frauds of
that Infamous he was bent on crushing; for her national mission he had
little feeling, because of his fixed idea that nothing good could have
come from the ages of superstition.[126] Schiller saw in her, and was
the first great poet to see what all the world sees now, the heroic
deliverer of her country from a hated foreign invader. And so he threw
down the gauntlet to his century and lifted the _ludibrium_ of the
French wits to the pedestal of an inspired savior of France. It was a
great deed of poetry; in the presence of which a right-minded critic,
after duly airing his little complaints, as critics must, will be
disposed to doff his hat and say Bravo! Well might Schiller declare in
the stanzas entitled 'The Maid of Orleans':

The world brooks not nobility,--disdaining,
Defaming, smirching, goes its vulgar gait;--
But fear thou not, true hearts are still remaining,
To love thee for the heart that made thee great.

In its inmost essence, then, 'The Maid of Orleans' is a drama of
patriotism. It is Johanna's love of country that gives her a measure of
human interest, in spite of the supernaturalism that invests her. Were
she not thus the representative of a passion that is intensely real, and
that has come to be regarded, for better or for worse, as preeminently
noble, she would now possess but very languid interest for the sublunary
mind. Her mystical attributes and her unthinkable love-affair would
place her beyond the range of natural sympathy. As it is, one is made to
forget, or at least to pass lightly over, everything else but her love
for France. She wins favor by her patriotic devotion, and when the end
comes one thinks of her under the familiar rubric of the hero dying for
his country. The episode with Lionel and the humiliation of the
Cathedral scene have all been forgotten, and one does not mentally
connect these things with Johanna's death in any way whatsoever. Her
death is sufficiently provided for from the beginning in her own
fatalistic prevision:

Johanna goes and never shall return.

It must be admitted that a heroine who excites interest chiefly by
virtue of her patriotic sentiments and the bravery of her conduct does
not represent the highest type of poetic creation. The muse will always
lend virtue and bravery to any common poetaster for the mere asking; but
she does not so readily vouchsafe a convincing semblance of complex
human nature. A distinctly human Johanna, with a definite girlish
individuality and a character all her own,--such as Goethe might have
given us had he turned his thoughts in that direction,--would have been
a higher and a more difficult achievement than the schematic creature of
Schiller's imagination. Such a Johanna, however, would hardly be
thinkable on the stage: the final horror of her fate would be
intolerable in the visible representation, while to leave it
unrepresented would be to admit the reasonableness of Schiller's
departure from history. Shall we then take refuge in the position that
the Maid's story is not adapted to dramatic treatment at all? Such a
position is at once rendered absurd by the perennial popularity and
effectiveness of Schiller's play. Until some great realistic poet shall
prove the contrary by deeds, the mere critic is certainly justified in
holding that, whatever may be thought of his love-episode, the ghost and
the miraculous escape from bondage, the general requirements of the
theme are best met by Schiller's romantic treatment.

Turning from the heroine to the other characters, one finds but little
that invites discussion. Johanna is the central sun of the system, and
in the romantic light that goes out from her the others seem rather pale
and uninteresting. Father Thibaut impresses one in the Prologue as a
little too refined, intelligent and far-sighted for the role of besotted
superstition and misunderstanding which he subsequently plays in the
cathedral scene. La Hire and the Duke of Burgundy and the Bastard of
Orleans, who preserves only a suggestion of the rugged soldier that once
bore his name, are there only to illustrate the divine magic of the
Maid. Two of them wish to marry her, and when we add the Englishman,
Lionel, and the French peasant, Raimond, we have a quartet of lovers.
Verily the little god Cupido would seem to be something too prominent
and ubiquitous for a military drama. History required that the Dauphin
should be a weakling, and such he is in the play; but he too is
romanticized through his devotion, to the tender and soulful Agnes. More
strongly drawn, if not exactly more lifelike, than any of these, are the
sensual old fury, Isabeau, and the English general, Talbot, whose fierce
valedictory to this folly-ridden earth is deservedly famous:

Soon it is over, and to earth go back--
To earth and the eternal sun--the atoms
Erstwhile combined in me for pain and joy.
And of the mighty Talbot, whose renown
But now filled all the world, nothing remains
Except a handful of light dust. So ends
The life of man--and all we bear away,
As booty from the battle of existence,
Is comprehension of its nothingness
And sovereign contempt of all the ends
That seemed exalted and desirable.

In short, the characters of 'The Maid of Orleans' leave much to be
desired on the score of verisimilitude. One has the feeling all along,
as in the case of Goethe's 'Helena', of being in an artificial world
made to order by an imaginative fiat. To enjoy the play it is necessary
to put aside one's rationalism and surrender oneself to the illusion one
knows that the author wishes to produce. 'The Maid of Orleans' does not
compel the surrender like 'Wallenstein'; one must meet the poet
half-way. That done, however, everything is in order, for the technique
of the play is faultless. It is not easy to point to a better piece of
dramatic exposition than the scenes which precede the appearance of
Johanna in the French army. The Prologue is perhaps a trifle too long,
but serves admirably to give the tragic keynote, by picturing the
shepherd-girl of Dom Remi leading a life apart from that of her family,
given to strange brooding, and at last receiving the sign from Heaven,
which she prophetically feels to be the call of death. And then the
desperate plight of France; the helpless weakness of the king; the
disgust and discouragement of the generals; and after this the news of a
long unwonted victory, followed quickly by the appearance of Johanna and
the magic change of the military situation,--how vividly it is all
brought before one! And what a fine scene is that at the end of the
second act, in which Burgundy is won over! One who is not touched by
this portion of the play; who does not return to it with ever-renewed
pleasure after each sojourn in the choking air of naturalism, is--to
state the case as gently as possible--unfortunately endowed.


[Footnote 123: Trevelyan, "The Life and Letters of Lord
Macaulay", II, 249.]

[Footnote 124: According to Boettiger, whose statements are not always
trustworthy in matters of detail, Schiller said to him in November,
1801, that he had at one time planned three different plays on the
subject of the Maid of Orleans, and that he would have executed all
three if he had had time. One of these was to have been a historical
tragedy, with Johanna dying at the stake in Rouen.--This can hardly
mean anything more than that Schiller was in doubt for a while as to
the best treatment of his theme. The idea of his actually making three
different plays on the same subject is quite too preposterous. His
promise, in a letter of March 1, 1802, that _if_ he should write a
second 'Maid of Orleans', Goeschen should publish it, is only an
author's playful 'jollying' of a friendly publisher. The passage from
Boettiger is quoted at length by Boxberger in his Introduction to 'The
Maid of Orleans' (Kuerschners Deutsche National-Litteratur, Vol. CXXII,
second part, page 211).]

[Footnote 125: Lewis E. Gates, "Studies and Appreciations."]

[Footnote 126: Compare Morley's "Voltaire", Chapter III.]


The Bride of Messina

Das Leben ist der Gueter hoechstes nicht,
Der Uebel groesztes aber ist die Schuld.
_'The Bride of Messina'_.

After the completion of 'The Maid of Orleans', in the spring of 1801,
Schiller found himself once more the unhappy victim of leisure. A new
task was needed to make life tolerable, but what should it be? 'At my
time of life', he remarked in a letter to Koerner, 'the choice of a
subject is far more difficult; the levity of mind which enables one to
decide so quickly in one's youth is no longer there, and the love,
without which there can be no poetic creation, is harder to arouse.' Ere
long, having a mind to try his hand upon a tragedy in 'the strictest
Greek form', he was musing upon that which in time came to be known as
'The Bride of Messina'.

For the present, however, and for some time to come, he did not advance
beyond very general planning. In the summer he spent several weeks with
Koerner in Dresden, during which literary labor was suspended. After his
return to Weimar, in September, he found the conditions without and
within unfavorable to a serious creative effort, so he undertook a
German version of Gozzi's 'Turandot'. This occupied him until January,
1802. Then it was a question whether his next theme should be 'The
Knights of Malta', or 'Warbeck', or 'William Tell', the last having
begun to interest him because of a persistent rumor that he was working
upon a play of that name. But none of the four projects carried the day
immediately, and the winter and spring passed without bringing a
decision. He began to be worried over the 'spirit of distraction' that
had come upon him. In August, however, the long vacillation came to an
end, and 'The Bride of Messina' began to take shape on paper. He found
it more instructive than any of his previous works. It was also, he
remarked in a letter, a more grateful task to amplify a small matter
than to condense a large one. Once begun, the composition proceeded very
steadily,--but little disturbed by the arrival, one day in November, of
a patent of nobility from the chancellery of the Holy Roman
Empire,--until the end was reached, in February, 1803.

The play may be described as an attempt to treat a medieval romantic
theme in such a manner as to convey a suggestion of Greek tragedy.
Although written with enthusiasm it is not the bearer of any heartfelt
message and must be regarded as a study of theory rather than of life.
The highly artificial plot does not reflect any past or present verities
of human existence upon the planet earth. Nor can we call the play an
imitation of the Greeks, its general atmosphere being anything but
Greek. The dialogue is not written in classical trimeters, but in the
modern pentameter; while the speaking chorus, divided into two warring
factions and going about here and there as the scene changes, has little
resemblance to anything found in the Greek drama. On the other hand,
there _is_ a chorus, and there are dreams which take the place of
oracles. There is also a further suggestion of the antique in the
pervading fatalism of the piece.

Of all Schiller's works 'The Bride of Messina' has been the most
variously judged by the critics. Some have seen in it the very
perfection of art, others the climax of artificiality. Schiller himself
reported, after seeing it performed at Weimar, in 1803, that he had
'received for the first time the impression of true tragedy'. There is
also an authentic record to the effect that Goethe was inexpressibly
delighted with it and declared that 'by this production the boards had
been consecrated to higher things'. Wilhelm von Humboldt wrote that
nothing could surpass the majesty of the play, and Koerner assigned it a
high rank among Schiller's productions. On the other hand it was spoken
of by the satellites of the disgruntled Herder as a 'singular _fata
morgana_', and a 'shocking monstrosity'; while F.H. Jacobi characterized
it as a 'disgusting spook made by mixing heaven and hell'. And these
discordant voices, in all their vehemence of expression, have been
echoed by later critics; so that in the case of this particular drama,
as Bellermann observes, it is hardly possible to speak of a settled
average opinion. On one point, nevertheless, there is very general
agreement: namely, that the diction of the choruses is magnificent in
its kind. Nothing finer in German poetry anywhere.

From the outset critical discussion of 'The Bride of Messina' has turned
mainly upon its antique elements, that is, upon its chorus and its
treatment of the fate-idea. There has been endless comparison of
Sophocles' 'King Oedipus' and endless logomachy about free-will and
predestination in their relation to guilt. And such discussion is
pertinent, because we have Schiller's own word that he wished to vie
with Sophocles. An oft-quoted passage from a letter to Wilhelm von
Humboldt runs as follows:

My first attempt at a tragedy in the strict form will give you
pleasure. From it you will be able to judge whether I could have
carried off a prize as a contemporary of Sophocles. I do not forget
that you have called me the most modern of modern poets, and have
thus thought of me in the sharpest contrast to everything that is
styled antique. I should thus have reason to be doubly pleased if I
could wrest from you the admission that I have been able to make
even this strange spirit my own.

At first blush this looks like an abandonment of the position stated so
clearly and emphatically in the letter to Suevern (page 380). In reality,
however, it is not so. Schiller was not concerned to imitate Sophocles,
nor to revive an ancient form with, pedantic rigor. He was as far as
possible from a one-sided worship of the Greeks. His reference to his
'strict form' hardly means more than is implied in simplicity of plot,
fewness of characters and observance of the unities. He did not write
'The Bride of Messina' in any doctrinaire spirit,--either to reform the
German drama, or to furnish a model for imitation. The play is simply an
aesthetic experiment; a tentative excursion into a field confessedly
'strange'. What Schiller wished was to produce upon a modern audience,
by an original treatment of a medieval theme, a tragic effect similar to
that which, as he supposed, must have been produced upon an Athenian
audience by a play of Sophocles,--more especially by the 'King Oedipus'.

For the groundwork of his tragedy he resorted to the well-worn fiction
of the hostile brothers, giving it this form: Two princes grow up in
mutual hatred, but are finally reconciled through the influence of their
mother. Both fall in love, each without the other's knowledge, with a
young woman of whose family they know nothing, and who is in reality
their sister. One day the younger prince finds the object of his passion
in the arms of his brother, who has just learned the secret of the
girl's birth. Instantly the old hate blazes up anew, and in a paroxysm
of blind rage Don Cesar kills his brother. Then, when he discovers the
whole truth, he expiates his crime by a voluntary death.--In this
scheme, it will be observed, the salient point is the fratricide
committed in a sudden frenzy of passion: everything else leads up to
this or grows out of it. From a modern point of view the crime is
adequately accounted for by the character of Don Cesar; but if the story
was to be given a Sophoclean coloring it was necessary that the horrors
appear as the necessary evolution of ineluctable fate.

In employing the fate-idea for dramatic purposes the Greek poet had, in
the first place, the great advantage of a definite mythological
tradition which was known to everybody. In the second place, he wrote
for people who still believed in oracles and received them seriously as
credible manifestations of divine foreknowledge. Again, he could count
on a living belief in the hereditary character of guilt: the belief that
a good man, leading his life without evil intent, might be led to commit
horrible and revolting acts because of some ancient taint in his blood;
or because the gods, in their inscrutable government of the world, had
decreed that he should thus sin and suffer. Just how far the Greek
conception of moral responsibility differed in a general way from the
modern, is a trite question which need not be gone into here. Suffice it
to say that the difference has often been too broadly and too sharply
stated. Not all Greek tragedies were tragedies of fate,--indeed it was a
saying of Schiller that the 'King Oedipus' constitutes a genus by
itself--nor is there any definite unitary conception which can be
described as 'modern' for the purpose of a contrast.

After all, that which affects us in tragedy is very much the same as
that which affected the Greeks, namely, the sense of life's overruling
mystery. And whether we refer the happenings of life to an all-wise
Providence, or to a scientific order which is so because it is so, they
remain alike incommensurable with our ethical feeling. The bullet of a
crazed fanatic, or a lethal germ in a glass of water, may end the
noblest career in horrible suffering. In the drama, it is true, we
prefer that no use be made of such mad calamities and that what befalls
a man shall at least seem to grow out of his character. But then a man's
character is the effect of a hundred subtle causes which began their
operation in part before he was born; so that there is an element of
essential truth in the saying that character is fate. We have become
aware that there is a sense in which it is exactly true that the sins of
the father are visited upon the children.

In short, modern thought has not tended to clear up but rather to deepen
the mystery of life in its relation to antecedent conditions; of fate in
its relation to desert. Our common sense, as embodied in law, treats a
man as responsible for the good or evil that he personally intends. This
is no doubt an excellent practical rule, without which society could
hardly exist at all; but looked at philosophically it does not really
touch the heart of the great mystery which is the theme of 'King
Oedipus' and of 'The Bride of Messina'. The young Oedipus, while living
at Corinth with his foster-father, Polybus, whom he supposes to be his
real father, is told by the oracle that he is destined to kill his
father and marry his mother. What should he do? Commit suicide in order
to stultify the oracle, or resolve to kill no man and to marry no woman?
The story imputes to him no blame for doing neither of these things. He
acts as a man would act who sees himself confronted by an evitable
danger. He leaves Corinth, but the very step that he takes to avoid his
fate brings it surely to pass. He meets a stranger in the road. A
quarrel arises over the question of passing,--a quarrel as to the merit
of which the legend is silent. Oedipus kills his antagonist, and that
antagonist is his father. Then he delivers Thebes from the scourge of
the Sphinx and receives the hand of Queen Jocasta as his due reward. He
has forgotten the oracle, or imagines that he has eluded his
foreordained fate by leaving Corinth; but the oracle has fulfilled
itself, as the spectator knew from the beginning that it would. The
interest of the tragedy turns largely upon the overwhelming remorse of
Oedipus and Jocasta when they discover the truth.

To match these conditions Schiller requires us to imagine a medieval
prince of Messina reigning at some indefinite time in the Middle Ages.
While his two sons are yet children he has a dream in which he sees two
laurel-trees growing out of his marriage-bed, and between them a lily
which changes to flame and consumes his house. An Arabian astrologer,
for whom he has a heathenish partiality, interprets the dream as meaning
that a daughter yet to be born will cause the destruction of his
dynasty. So when a daughter is born he orders her put to death. But the
mother has also had _her_ dream,--of a lion and an eagle bringing their
bloody prey in sweet concord to a little child playing on the grass. A
pious Christian monk explains this dream as meaning that a daughter will
unite the quarrelsome sons in passionate love. So the queen saves the
life of her new-born child and has her secretly brought up in a convent
not far from Messina. As long as the father lives the hostile brothers
are restrained from fighting, but when he dies their feud breaks out in
open war. Each surrounds himself with retainers, Messina is torn by
factional strife, and there is danger from external enemies. Citizens
implore the mother to effect a reconciliation, failing which they
threaten a revolution. At last she succeeds in arranging a peaceful
meeting in her presence.

Such is Schiller's presupposition,--a singular blend of Christianity and
paganism, such as at once gives difficulty to the imagination. A prince
reigning under a Christian order of things, in a city of churches and
convents, yet willing to murder his child on account of a dream
interpreted to him by an Arab soothsayer, is not a very plausible
invention. And the same may be said of much that follows. In
half-a-dozen places the tragedy would come to an untimely end did not
one or another of the characters conveniently refrain from doing or
saying what a human being would inevitably do or say under the
circumstances. Beatrice grows up in the convent without taking vows and
is kept in ignorance of her lineage. Though her mother longs for her,
she never sees her, and communicates with her only through the old
servant, Diego. Such conduct is perhaps intelligible during the life of
the king, but with him out of the way one would expect the mother to
take her daughter home without a moment's delay. Instead of that she
waits two months, merely sending word to Beatrice to prepare for some
unnamed change of fortune. She also keeps the secret from her sons
during these two months, without any sufficient reason. When questioned
on the subject by Don Cesar in the play, she makes the bitter feud of
the brothers her excuse:

How could I place your sister here atwixt
Your bare and reeking swords? In your fierce rage
You would not hearken to a mother's voice;
And could I have brought her, the pledge of peace,
The anchor of my every dearest hope,
To be perchance the victim of your strife?

But this is strange logic. One does not see at all how the sister's life
would have been imperiled; and if she was to be the pledge of peace,--as
the mother's dream seemed to foretell,--then there was the best of
reasons for bringing her home at the earliest possible moment.

And then how singularly Don Manuel behaves! He is the elder son, and as
such must be heir to the throne; but of that we hear nothing in the
play. He falls in love with Beatrice, sees her often during a period of
months, and secures from her a promise of marriage; but he never tells
her who he is, nor does he ask her a question about her own lineage.
When she tells him of an old man who comes to her occasionally as
messenger from her unknown family, and who has at last bidden her
prepare for a change of abode, he makes no attempt to see the stranger
and find out whither his bride is to be taken. For such conduct _he_ can
have no possible reason, but Schiller has one; for were Don Manuel once
to set eyes on the old family servant, Diego, a clearing-up would of
course be inevitable. Instead of doing the one natural thing, Don Manuel
abducts his sweetheart during the night, with her consent, and takes her
to a garden in Messina. There he leaves her alone to await his
coming,--a singular thing for a prince to do with his bride, but
necessary to the tragedy.

More dubious still is the remarkable silence of Beatrice when she is
exposed to the stormy wooing of Don Cesar in the garden. The fiction is
that he has caught a glimpse of her two months before, on the occasion
of his father's funeral, and has since been constantly searching for
her. Having now found her, through one of his spies, he makes love to
her jubilantly through sixty lines of text, but she answers never a
syllable and lets him go away in supposed triumph. A bare word from her,
such as a woman could not help saying under the circumstances, would end
the complication, since it would send Don Cesar away baffled; and then
there would be no occasion for his returning to the garden a little
later. Maidenly fright and consternation cannot account rationally for
such behavior; one sees that she holds her tongue because to set it in
motion would be dramaturgically disastrous.

But the climax of unnaturalness is reached in the scene between the
queen and her two sons, when old Diego reports that Beatrice has been
abducted from the convent--presumbly by Moorish corsairs. The distracted
mother urges her sons to go at once to the rescue of their sister. But
here a difficulty presents itself. If the brothers are to have the
faintest chance of finding their sister, it is clearly of the first
importance that they know something about her, and particularly that
they know where she has been kept in hiding. Now this knowledge can be
safely imparted to Don Cesar but not to Don Manuel. So Don Cesar is made
to rush away hotly, at all adventure, without the slightest clew of any
kind,--the reason being that it would not do for him to hear that which
Diego is about to tell. The younger brother thus conveniently out of the
way, Don Manuel, who has begun to suspect the truth, implores his mother
to tell him where the lost Beatrice has been concealed. Evidently the
only natural part for the mother is to answer the question. But that
would not do; so she interrupts him and urges him away with such
senseless exclamations as 'Fly to action!' 'Follow your brother's
example!' 'Behold my tears!' And when at last he succeeds in bringing
out the fateful inquiry, she only answers:

The bowels of earth were not a safer refuge!

Then Don Manuel ceases to press his question and stands quietly by while
Diego tells his remorseful story of Beatrice's visit to the church on
the day of her father's funeral. Strangely enough this recital suggests
to Don Manuel the hopeful suspicion that his sister and his sweetheart
may, after all, not be the same person; so he rushes away to question
Beatrice, when he must know that his mother is the one person in the
world who can best resolve his doubts. Then, when he is gone, Don Cesar
comes back, and the mother very calmly proceeds to give him the
all-important information which she has just withheld from Don Manuel.

Such is the device, of convenient silence at critical points where
speech would be natural but ruinous, by which Schiller leads up to his
climax. There is no other play of his, early or late, the entanglement
of which is so palpably artificial; so like a child's house of cards,
built up with bated breath lest a breath should topple it over.
According to Boettiger, Schiller once took note of what some critic had
remarked upon this lavish use of silence in 'The Bride of Messina' and
expressed surprise that any one could so misconceive him. He went on to
say, if we can trust Boettiger, that it is 'precisely in this closing of
the mouth at critical moments, when a saving word might rend the iron
net of fate, that the unevadable and demonic power of evil-brooding
destiny manifests itself most clearly and sends a gruesome shudder of
awe through every spectator.' This is certainly a good defense if we
assume that the great object of dramatic poetry is to exhibit the
working-out of some abstract scheme of mysterious fate. Under that
hypothesis one has no right to complain if the characters are treated
like puppets,--pulled hither and thither in unnatural directions and
made to speak when they should be silent, and to be silent when they
should speak. If one finds the scheme impressive, one will think of
that, get his thrill of awe and be thankful. But it is somewhat
different if one holds that the verities of human nature are more
interesting than any scheme, and that the great object of the serious
drama should be to exhibit human beings in the stress of life. One who
takes that view will wish, while recognizing the great qualities of 'The
Bride of Messina', that its author had not gone quite so far in his
contempt of realism.

For, after all, the highest law of the drama is the law of
psychological truth, which requires that the characters be humanly
conceivable and act as human beings would act under the circumstances
imagined. This law is not kept in 'The Bride of Messina', with the
result that the first three acts fall short of the effect that they are
intended to produce. It is different with the fourth act. There
everything is in order, and the simple and noble impressiveness of the
tragedy leaves nothing to be desired. And it is an interesting fact
that this impressiveness depends only in a slight degree upon the
fulfillment of the old dreams and prophecies. To be sure they are
fulfilled; but we are not required to put faith in the inspiration
either of the Arab soothsayer or of the Christian monk. Their
vaticinations might be mere fallible guess-work; Don Cesar might live
and give them the lie, so far as any external constraint is concerned.
But he himself _feels_ that the heavy hand of fate is upon him and that
continued life would be intolerable. The whole pathos of the tragedy is
transferred to the inner being of the surviving brother, and one feels
that his self-destruction proceeds from the law of his own nature, and
not from any fatalistic necessity that is laid upon him.

The truth would seem to be that the fate-idea, while of course it must
be taken into consideration in any careful estimate of 'The Bride of
Messina', has been made a little too prominent by many of the critics.
What the spectator sees, says one writer who is in the main an admirable
expounder of Schiller, is "gigantic Fate striding over the stage. He
sees a wild, tyrannical race, burdened with ancestral guilt, turning
against its own flesh and blood.... He is made to feel that the
self-destruction of this race is nothing accidental, that it is a divine
visitation, a judgment of eternal justice pronounced against usurpation
and lawlessness, that it means the birth of a new spiritual order out of
doom and death."[127] But is this what is actually seen? Is it not
rather true that Schiller makes but little out of the matter of
ancestral guilt? We hear, it is true, that the old prince was of an
alien stock that had won the sovereignty of Messina with the sword and
held it by force. But this is no very appalling crime as the world goes,
and especially as the world went in the Middle Ages. One hardly thinks
of William of Normandy, for example, as a revolting criminal deserving
of the divine wrath. Then we hear, too, that the old prince had
appropriated to himself a wife who was 'his father's choice'. But the
whole matter is disposed of in two or three choral lines which leave not
even a clear, much less a strong impression. There are no data for an
ethical judgment. We are not told wherein the superior right of the
father consisted. For aught we know the son may have had the better
claim, and the father's curse may have been only the impotent scolding
of a disappointed dotard. It is difficult to see anything here which can
rationally warrant eternal justice in extirpating the race. And when we
pass from the presuppositions to the play itself, we see that none of
the characters except Don Cesar does anything seriously blameworthy.

If then it were clearly the central purpose of Schiller to justify the
moral government of the world, or to exhibit the workings of an august
Fate in itself worthy of reverence, we should have to admit that he has
missed the mark; for the fate that he represents is not worthy of
reverence at all. But what is the central fact of the play, as seen by
the unsophisticated spectator who has never read the Greek poets nor
heard of the house of Labdacus? Evidently it is the murder expiated by a
voluntary death. A high-minded youth knowingly kills his brother in a
moment of blind rage, because he thinks that his brother has deceived
him. When he learns the truth, and learns also of the old dreams and
prophecies, he feels that he too must die. Here is the real tragedy,--in
the resolution of Don Cesar and his steadfast adherence to it in the
face of his mother's and his sister's entreaties. The apparatus of
dreams and prophecies and fate is meant to work upon the mind of Don
Cesar rather than upon that of the spectator. Superstition adds to the
burden of his remorse until it becomes unbearable and death appears the
only road to peace:

Dying I bring to naught the ancient curse,
A free death only breaks the chain of fate,

In a prefatory essay upon 'The Use of the Chorus in Tragedy' Schiller
defended his innovation and incidentally set his heel upon the head of
the serpent of naturalism. True art, he insisted, must have a higher aim
than to produce an illusion of the actual. Its object is not to divert
men with a momentary dream of freedom, but to make them truly free by
awakening and developing the power of imaginative objectivation. Nature
itself being only an idea of the mind, and not something that appears to
the senses, art must be ideal in order to represent the reality of
nature. To demand upon the stage an illusion of the actual is absurd,
since dramatic art rests entirely upon ideal conventions of one kind or
another. Therefore, so the argument goes on, it was well when a poetic
diction was substituted for the prose of every-day life, and the next
great step is to reintroduce the chorus and thereby 'declare war openly
and honestly against naturalism in art'. The chorus is likened to a
'living wall which tragedy builds about itself in order completely to
shut out the actual world and to preserve for itself its ideal domain,
its poetic freedom'.

In consonance with these ideas we have a chorus divided into two parts,
one consisting of the elderly retainers of Don Manuel, the other of the
younger retainers of Don Cesar. These two semi-choruses take a certain
part in the action. On the one hand they are like the materialized
shadows of their respective leaders, having no will of their own. When
the brothers compose their feud and embrace each other, the
semi-choruses do likewise,--which comes perilously near to the
ridiculous. On the other hand the semi-choruses have a horizon of their
own and perform, to a certain extent, the old function of the ideal
spectator. They comment in sonorous strains upon present, past and
future, and upon the high matters of life and death and fate.

Schiller's argument on the use of the chorus, while interesting in its
way, does not now sound very convincing; perhaps because we have come to
have less faith than he had in the possibility of settling such
questions by abstract reasoning. Forms of art spring out of local and
temporal conditions; they have their exits and their entrances. Now and
then a reversion to some earlier form may prove acceptable, but in
general it can have only a curious or antiquarian interest. The man of
reading, who knows his Greek poets, will be glad to have seen once or
twice in his life a genuine Greek play,--preferably in the Greek
language, with all the accessories as perfect as possible. Next to that
he will enjoy a perfect imitation, like the first portion of Goethe's
'Helena'. But just in proportion as he is permeated by the Greek spirit
he will feel the spuriousness of Schiller's so-called chorus. For the
effect of the Greek chorus depended not so much upon the meaning of the
words as upon the sensuous charm of the music and the dance. To
sacrifice these is to sacrifice that which is most vital and leave only
the simulacrum of a chorus. Some small effects in the line of the
picturesque can be achieved by means of costuming, marching and
grouping, but the rest can be nothing but elocution,--a frosty appeal to
the ethical sense, offered as a surrogate for the witchery of song and
rhythmic motion. One may be pardoned for thinking that a good ballet
would have served the purpose better.

The reader of the play, however, is not disturbed by any considerations
of this kind. For him the choruses are simply poetry,--admirable poetry,
for the most part, in Schiller's very best vein. What a wealth of
imagery and what a splendor of varying rhythms! And how cunningly the
gorgeous diction twines itself, like ivy about a bare wall, concealing
the nakedness of commonplace and giving an effect of noble sententious
wisdom! This is and must remain the great value of 'The Bride of
Messina',--to delight the reader with the charm of its style. Schiller's
plea for the chorus passed unheeded save by the philologists. His
example was not imitated; indeed he himself probably had no serious hope
that it would be. On the other hand, there did spring up in the next two
decades a most luxuriant crop of so-called fate-tragedies, which, with
their horrors, banalities and puerilities, soon brought the species into
contempt and made it fair game for the telling satire of Platen. The
fashion,--a thoroughly bad fashion in the main,--was undoubtedly set by
'The Bride of Messina'; but we cannot make Schiller answerable for the
hair-raising and blood-curdling inventions of Werner, Houwald, Muellner,
Grillparzer and Heine.


[Footnote 127: Kuno Francke, "Social Forces in German Literature,"
page 394.]


William Tell

Der alte Urstand der Natur kehrt wieder,
Wo Mensch dem Menschen gegenuebersteht;
Zum letzten Mittel, wenn kein andres mehr
Verfangen will, ist ihm das Schwert gegeben.
_'William Tell'_.

Schiller's last play, like his first, was inspired by the Goddess of
Freedom, but what a difference between the wild-eyed bacchante of the
earlier day and the decorous muse of 'William Tell'! There the frenzied
revolt of a young idealist against chimerical wrongs of the social
order; here a handful of farmers, rising sanely in the might of union
and appealing to the old order against intolerable oppression. There the
tragedy of an individual madman; here the triumph of a laudable

'Tell' is a fresh illustration of its author's versatility, for nothing
more different from its immediate predecessors could easily be imagined.
It is also the most thoroughly human among his plays, and the only one
that does not end upon a tragic note. Finally it is the most popular,
though the most loosely articulated,--a fact that shows how little the
permanent interest and classical prestige of a dramatic production
depend upon its satisfying the ideal demands of critical theory.

It was noted casually in the preceding chapter that rumor began to be
occupied with speculations about Schiller's 'Tell' before he had
seriously thought of writing a play on the subject. In the summer of
1797 Goethe had revisited Switzerland and brought back with him the idea
of a narrative poem about William Tell. He discussed the matter with
Schiller, incidentally telling him much about the Forest Cantons.
Possibly he may have suggested, in the presence of a mutual friend, that
the theme had dramatic possibilities,--which would account sufficiently
for the aforesaid rumor. Finding his supposed plan the subject of
curious gossip, Schiller was led to look more closely into the subject.
He read Tschudi's 'Chronicon' and found it Homeric and Herodotean in its
simple straightforwardness. The legend fascinated him and he began to
see in it the material of a popular drama that should take the
theatrical world by storm. He was eager for such a triumph, and the more
so because 'The Bride of Messina', as staged by Iffland in Berlin, had
met only with an equivocal success: many were pleased, but there was a
plenty of adverse comment. Iffland was now the director of the Royal
Prussian Theater, and thus in a position to serve the interests of
Schiller, whom he devotedly admired. It was therefore worth while for a
man who had chosen to be a dramatic poet, and whose income depended upon
his popularity, to forego further experimentation with unfamiliar
art-forms and set about supplying that which would interest average
human nature.

Work began in the spring of 1803 and proceeded very steadily during the
ensuing months. The letters of the period express unbounded confidence
in the nascent play. It was to be a 'powerful thing which should shake
the theaters of Germany', and a 'genuine folk-play for the entire
public'. Honest Tschudi continued to be the great source, but other
writers were read and excerpted. Schiller took infinite pains with his
local color, noting down from the books all sorts of minutiae that might
aid his imagination. Take for illustration the following jottings from
Faesi and Schleuchzer, two of his subsidiary authorities:

There are mountains that consist entirely of ice--_Firnen_; they
shine like glass and get their isolated conical shape from the
process of melting in the summer.--Clouds form in the
mountain-gorges and attach themselves to the rocks; herefrom
prognostication of the weather.--View from on high when one stands
above the clouds. The landscape seems to lie before one like a great
lake, from which islands stand forth.--In the summer, cascades
everywhere in the mountains.--Chamois graze in flocks, the picket
(_Vorgeis_) piping in case of danger.--Weather signs: Swallows fly
low, aquatic birds dive, sheep graze eagerly, dogs paw up the earth,
fish leap from the water. 'The gray governor of the valley
(_Thalvogt_) is coming'; when this or that mountain puts on a cap,
then drop the scythe and take the rake.--Peculiarity of a certain
lake that it draws to itself persons sleeping on its bank.

A large amount of such conscientious note-taking, aided by a marvelous
power of visualization, and supplemented also by what Goethe could tell
from personal observation, resulted in a remarkably vivid and accurate
local color. A letter of Schiller's written in December, 1803, tells of
a purpose to go to Switzerland before he should print his play. The plan
was not carried out, but if it had been there would have been little to
change; for 'William Tell' reads throughout like the work of one
thoroughly familiar with Swiss character, topography and folk-lore.
There is not a slip of any importance in the entire play. Of course the
conspiring farmers are idealized and their enemies are diabolized; but
all this is so in the saga. Schiller had to deal with a patriotic myth,
and he made no attempt to go behind the romantic veil of tradition; his
purpose being simply to present the poetic essence of the saga as handed
down by Tschudi. And he succeeded admirably. So far as the Swiss people
are concerned, he well deserves the memorial they have placed in his
honor upon the Mythenstein, near the legendary birth-place of their
national independence.

Toward the close of the year 1803 came an interruption, Weimar society
being thrown into a flutter by the visit of Madame de Stael, now on her
famous tour of inspection. It was of course fitting that Schiller, as a
local lion, should take his part in entertaining her; but the voluble
lady was an _Erscheinung_ new to his experience, and with his imperfect
command of colloquial French he was hard put to it to bear up against
the torrent of her conversation. He measured her very correctly at their
first meeting, when they fell into an argument on the merits of the
French drama. 'For what we call poetry', he wrote to Goethe, 'she has no
sense'; nevertheless he gave her full credit for her great qualities, in
especial for a good sense amounting to genius. And she in turn was
pleased with the serious German who argued with her in lame French, not
as one caring to hold his own in a conversational fencing-match, but as
one wishing to convince her of important truths in which he really
believed. It must have been an interesting occasion in a small way, this
first rencontre between Schiller and the lady who was afterwards to
speak of him so nobly and withal so justly in her celebrated book about
Germany. Madame de Stael's sojourn in Weimar lasted some ten weeks, her
portentous gift of speech becoming gradually more and more irksome to
Schiller and Goethe. The social gayeties occasioned by her presence
caused some retardation in the progress of 'William Tell', but on
February 18, 1804, it was completed, and two days later the final
installment was despatched to the waiting Iffland. How eagerly he was
waiting may be inferred from the language used by him after perusal of
the first act, which had been sent him a month earlier:

I have read, devoured, bent my knee; and my heart, my tears, my
rushing blood, have paid ecstatic homage to your spirit, to your
heart. Oh more! Soon, soon, more! Pages, scraps--whatever you can
send! I tender hand and heart to your genius. What a work! What
wealth, force, poetic beauty and irresistible power! God keep
you! Amen.

These high-keyed expectations were not disappointed. The first
performances of 'Tell', in the spring of 1804, were received with
prodigious enthusiasm, and ever since then it has been a prime favorite
of the German stage. It has no characters that can be called great, as
Wallenstein is great, no complexity of plot, no thrilling surprises; and
as for its psychology, a fairy tale could hardly be more simple. That
which has endeared it to the Germans is its picturesqueness and its
passionate zeal for freedom.

The theme of 'Tell' is the successful revolt of the Forest Cantons
against their governors. Three actions that have no necessary connection
with one another--the conspiracy of the cantons, the private feud of
Tell and Gessler, and the love-affair of Rudenz and Bertha--are carried
along together in such a way that all find their natural conclusion in
the final celebration of victory. This feature of the play has often
been criticized as impairing its unity; and certainly, from the
conventional point of view the objection has some force. 'Tell' is a
play without a preponderating hero. We may say that it has three heroes,
or rather five, since among the conspirators interest is pretty evenly
distributed between Stauffacher, Melchthal and Walther Fuerst. But in
reality the hero is the Swiss people considered as a unit. Stauffacher
and the other conspirators interest us as representatives of a suffering
population. To portray the suffering and the termination of it through
sturdy self-help is the central purpose of the play. This it is which
gives it an essential unity, notwithstanding the three separate actions.

The theme is an inspiring one, and the modern world owes Schiller an
immense debt for presenting it in austere simplicity, unincumbered with
any dubious or disturbing philosophy. One cannot help loving so good a
lover of freedom; for the sentiment does honor to human nature,
notwithstanding some latter-day indications that it is going out of
fashion. It may not be the highest and holiest of enthusiasms for the
individual,--we give our best homage rather to self-surrender,--but if
any political emotion is worthy of a lasting reverence, it is that one
which attaches men to the motherland and leads them to stand together
against an alien oppressor. Sometimes it may be well, in God's long
providence, that a weak or a backward people should be absorbed or ruled
by a stronger power; but the sentiment which leads it to fight against
absorption or subjugation is none the less admirable. And when the
foreign domination is reckless and inhuman, standing for nothing but
vindictive malice and the greed of empire; and when the victims of the
misrule are strong in the simple virtues of the poor, we have the case
in its most appealing aspect.

This is the case that is presented in 'William Tell',--the most notable
drama in modern literature upon the theme of national resistance to
foreign tyranny. Its influence in Germany as a classic of political
freedom--during the Napoleonic era and later, when it was a question of
setting a limit to domestic absolutism--has been immense. And there is
really no danger of its losing its potency; for it appeals to a
sentiment which, while it may wax and wane with the movements of the
_Zeitgeist_, is now wrought into the heart-fiber of all the occidental
nations, and not least of all--contrary to an opinion widely accepted in
this country--of the Germans.

The uppermost thought of Schiller, then, was to win sympathy for freedom
and the rights of man; yet in 'William Tell' we have nothing to do with
any species of cloud-born idealism. The bearers of the message are not
fantastic dreamers, like Posa; they do not call themselves ambassadors
of all mankind, or citizens of the centuries to come. They are a plain,
practical folk, whose wishes do not fly far afield and who attempt
nothing that they cannot carry through. They are not in the least given
to fighting for the sake of fighting; on the contrary, the thought of
bloodshed is abhorrent to them. All they wish is to be allowed to pursue
their peaceful, partriarchal industries, as their fathers did before
them, under laws of their own devising. But things have come to such a
pass that their lives, their property and the honor of their women are
not safe from the malice, cupidity and lust of their rulers. And even
under such conditions the thought of a radical revolution does not occur
to them: they do not rise against the overlordship of the emperor, but
only against the brutal tyranny of the governors who disgrace him. Their
final triumph opens no other vista of change than that, in the future,
another emperor will send them better governors. Thus the upshot of the
whole revolution is simply a provisional demonstration of Stauffacher's
proposition that 'tyrannical power has a limit'.

This seems, at first, like a rather lame vindication of the sacred
majesty of freedom, especially when we reflect that the whole question
at issue is not a question of independence at all, but merely whether
the cantons will give up their _Reichsunmittelbarkeit_,--and with it
certain old customs to which they are attached,--in order to become
vassals of the House of Hapsburg. Were they willing to do that,--so it
is said by Roesselmann at the Ruetli meeting,--all their troubles would
end forthwith; the cruel governors would deal kindly with them, would
'fondle' them. If this is so,--and other passages confirm the saying of
the priest Roesselmann,--then it is patent that the conduct of Gessler is
not the aimless brutality of a brute, but a policy deliberately pursued
for the purpose of terrorizing the cantons into an acceptance of
Hapsburg overlordship. And this in turn throws its own light on the
character of Gessler. Only a blockhead would try to gain such an end in
such a way. This, however, is only another way of saying what has often
been pointed out, that Gessler is simply a fairy-tale tyrant, copied
very closely from Tschudi; a sort of typical bad man, whom the saga,
after inventing him out of nothing, has made as black as possible in
order the more clearly and strongly to justify the revolt. And yet, in
the play, Gessler never becomes entirely ridiculous; he does not seem a
caricature of humanity,--perhaps because history teems with governors
and viceroys who have exercised their little brief authority very much
in his spirit, even if they have failed to commit his particular

These last considerations are meant to light up the fact that the effect
of the play does not, after all, depend mainly upon its vindication of
any political doctrine. We are nowhere in the region of abstractions.
The sympathy that one feels for the insurgents is in no sort political,
but purely human; it is of the same kind that one might feel for a
community of Hindu ryots in their efforts to rid themselves of a
man-eating tiger. Only in the play this sympathy is very much
intensified by the picturesque lovableness of the afflicted population.
It is here, in the picture of land and people, that Schiller's mature
art, which had brought him to a sovereign mastery of stage effects, may
be said to win its greatest triumph. One may describe his method, fairly
if somewhat paradoxically, as that of romantic realism. What a
masterpiece of exposition we have in the opening scenes! The beautiful
lake, at precisely its most fascinating point; the fisher-boy, all
careless of the great world, singing his pretty song of the smiling but
treacherous water; the herdsman and the hunter, announcing themselves
above on the rocks in characteristic songs, and then conversing for a
moment about the weather and their employments; the sudden arrival of
Baumgarten with his tale of wrong and vengeance; the storm on the lake,
and the hurried dialogue between the cautious fisherman and the
stout-hearted Tell, who 'does what he cannot help doing'; the building
of the hateful Zwing-Uri; the death of the slater and Bertha's curse;
the grief and fury of young Melchthal, and, finally, the solemn covenant
for life and death of the three leaders,--what variety and animation are
here, and what a wealth of realistic detail! And how perfectly
convincing it all is,--not a false note anywhere, nor a note that is
held too long! Well might Goethe characterize this exposition as 'a
complete piece in itself and withal an excellent one'. The first act of
'Tell' is one of the best first acts in all dramatic literature.

It is quite true that the exposition seems to promise somewhat more than
is afterwards fulfilled. One who is familiar with Schiller's usual
method naturally expects that something will come of the rescue of
Baumgarten; but nothing does come of it except to throw a side-light
upon the general situation and to bring out the character of Tell.
Again, one expects to see more of Dame Gertrud, the 'wise daughter of
noble Iberg'. One looks for her to reappear under circumstances that
shall give her something important to do and shall put her sagacity and
courage to the test. It is not the habit of Schiller to introduce such
weighty personages at the beginning of a play and then drop them. To
understand him in this instance one has but to remember that his hero is
always the Swiss people. The Stauffachers, as a shining example of
thrift and virtue; their dignified and influential position in the
community; their fine new house that has roused the venomous jealousy of
Gessler,--all this is part of the situation, and it is the situation
that counts. And how superbly the picture is completed by the meeting at
the Ruetli! Such an old-fashioned parliament, held of necessity under the
stars and in the darkness of night, but with all possible regard to the
ancient forms, was not only a novel and a picturesque idea in itself,
but it was the best device which could possibly be imagined for bringing
sharply into view the whole character of the Swiss, in its winsome,
patriarchal simplicity.

Here again, however, we have a radical departure from Schiller's usual
method; for what is actually done at this seemingly important meeting
is, after all, in itself rather insignificant, and without direct
influence upon the subsequent course of events. The conspirators decide
to do nothing immediately, but to wait for a favorable opportunity
during the Christmas season, some seven or eight weeks ahead. This
determination obviously involves a halt in the dramatic action, so far
as the conspiracy is concerned. In dealing with this difficulty,
Schiller departs from his ordinary method of concentration and allows
himself to be guided by the epical character of Tschudi's narrative. The
result is that we have, somewhat as in Goethe's 'Goetz von Berlichingen',
a succession of dramatic pictures, rather than a drama bound together by
a severe logic. In the third and fourth acts we hear no more of the
conspirators,--aside from some expressions of regret for the delay,--and
attention is concentrated upon Tell, who has hitherto taken no part
except to rescue Baumgarten and to refuse his cooeperation at the Ruetli,
on the ground that he is not the man for a confab, and that 'the strong
man is mightiest alone'.

The character of Tell, as depicted by Schiller, has been the subject of
much criticism, the strictures relating more particularly to his
shooting the apple from his son's head, and then to his subsequent
assassination of Gessler. There is an oft-quoted opinion of Bismarck,
which may be quoted again, since it expresses so well a thought that has
no doubt occurred, some time or other, to most readers and spectators of
the play. Busch makes Bismarck say, under date of October 25,

It would have been more natural and more noble, according to my
ideas, if, instead of shooting at the boy, whom the best of archers
might hit instead of the apple, he had killed the governor on the
spot. That would have been righteous wrath at a cruel demand. I do
not like his hiding and lurking; that does not befit a hero--not
even a bushwhacker.

Undoubtedly such conduct as is here suggested for Tell would be more
'heroic', in accordance with, our conventional ideas of heroism. And the
thing would have been dramatically feasible. We can imagine Tell, for
example, as making sham preparations to shoot at the apple and then
suddenly sending his arrow through the heart of his enemy; and we can
also imagine a further management of the scene such that Tell should
escape with his boy. Thus everything would be accomplished on the public
square at Altorf, in full face of the enemy, which is subsequently
accomplished from the secure ambush by the 'hollow way' near Kuessnacht.
Such conduct would have been 'heroic', but the obvious objection to it
is that it would have destroyed the very heart of the saga, which it was
not for Schiller to make over but to render dramatically plausible. It
may be urged, perhaps, that a poet who had made Joan of Arc die in glory
on the battle-field need not have been so punctilious in following the
exact line of Tschudi's story. But the cases are not exactly parallel.
There the alternative was a scene of unmitigated and revolting horror,
which would have destroyed the effect of the tragedy; here it was simply
a question of _when_ Gessler should be killed with an arrow. To make
Tell do just what the saga makes him do, and do it without forfeiting
sympathy, was a delicate problem, which may well have fascinated
Schiller, who is surely the last man in the world to be accused of
holding tame views as to 'heroism'. At any rate he must have felt that a
Tell who should not shoot at the apple and hit it would be simply no
Tell at all.

One who looks closely at the famous scene will not fail to see that it
is very cleverly constructed and that every objection which has been
urged against it is really met in the text. In the first place, Tell is
not, and was never meant for, a hero of the conventional sort. There is
no element of Quixotry about him. He is a plain man, of limited horizon
and small gift of speech. Public affairs do not particularly interest
him. He is a hardy mountaineer, with a strong trust in his own strength
and resourcefulness; a good oarsman and a great shot with the crossbow;
but he makes no fuss about these things. Let it be repeated that he is
not foolhardy. The dangers of the mountain, which bulk so large in the
imagination of his wife, are simply the familiar element of the life
that he loves. He treats her timorous apprehensions with the
good-natured coolness of a man who knows how to take care of himself. He
is affectionate, but not a bit sentimental. All this makes an eminently
natural and consistent character.

Now what must such a character do when required, under penalty of death,
by a brutal tyrant whose power is absolute, to hit an apple on his son's
head? Naturally his first thought is of the child, and he tries to
escape by offering his own life. The reply is that he must shoot or die
_with_ his child. Thus there is no recourse; to refuse to shoot at all
is worse than to shoot and miss. If he kill Gessler on the spot,--and we
must suppose that the thought occurs to him,--he will expose not only
himself but his child and his wife and children at home to the fury of
the troopers. The only safety lies in making a successful shot. And
after all Tell knows that he _can_ make it; it is only a question of
nerve, and he has the nerve if he can only find it. And here comes in an
important touch which is not in Tschudi--the fearless confidence of
Walther Tell in his father's marksmanship. The effect of this is to
touch the pride of the bowman, to clear his eye, and to steady his hand.
It is also a familiar fact that, with strong natures, a terrible danger,
with just one chance of escape, may produce a moment of perfect
self-control while the chance is taken.

The whole scene, in addition to its effectiveness on the stage, is
psychologically true to life. With all deference to the great qualities
of the first Chancellor of the German Empire, one must insist that
Schiller was a better playwright than he and found precisely the best
solution to his dramatic problem.

And so of the later scene in the 'hollow way'; there is nothing wrong
with it, unless it be the great length of the soliloquy. The killing of
an enemy from an ambush, without giving him a chance for his life, is of
course somewhat repugnant to our ideas of chivalry. We think of it
instinctively as the deed of a savage, and not of a man with a pure
heart and a good cause. But it must be remembered that such ideas are
themselves conventional, and that we have in 'Tell' a reversion to
primitive conditions in which 'man stands over against man'. Gessler has
forfeited all right to chivalrous treatment, and Tell is no knight
engaged in fighting out a gentleman's feud. What is he to do? For
himself, perhaps, he might take the chances of a fugitive in the
mountains, but he cannot leave his wife and children exposed to
Gessler's vengeful malice. There is no law to which he can appeal, the
only law of the land being Gessler's will. In such a situation, clearly,
there is no place for refined and chivalrous compunctions, or for
ethical hair-splitting. Tell does what he must do. He is in the position
of a man protecting his family from a savage or a dangerous beast, and
is not called upon to risk his own life needlessly. Every reader of the
old saga instinctively justifies him. His conduct is not noble or
heroic, but natural and right.

If this is so, however, there would seem to be no pressing need of his
long soliloquy. He being _ex proposito_ a man of few words, his sudden
volubility is a little surprising, though it should be duly noticed that
the soliloquy is not a self-defense. There is no casuistry in it. Tell
does not argue the case with himself, like one in doubt about the
rightness of his conduct. That is as clear as day to him, and he never
wavers for a moment. But he has time to think while waiting, and his
soliloquy is only his thinking made audible. Delivered with even a
slight excess of declamatory fervor, the lines are ridiculously out of
keeping with Tell's character; but they can be spoken so as to seem at
least tolerably natural,--as natural, perhaps, as any soliloquy. And
this is true, let it be remarked in passing, of many and many a passage
in Schiller. To some extent, very certainly, his reputation as a
rhetorician is due to the histrionic spouting of lines that do not need
to be spouted. To some extent, but not entirely: for even in 'Tell' his
old fondness for absurdly extravagant forms of expression sometimes
reasserted itself. Thus what can one make of a plain fisherman who talks
in this wise about a rainstorm?

Rage on, ye winds! Flame down, ye lightning-bolts!
Burst open, clouds! Pour out, ye drenching streams
Of heaven, and drown the land! Annihilate
I' the very germ the unborn brood of men!
Ye furious elements, assert your lordship!
Ye bears, ye ancient wolves o' the wilderness,
Come back again! The land belongs to you.
Who cares to live in it bereft of freedom!

The most serious blemish in 'William Tell' is the introduction of
Johannes Parricida in the fifth act,--an idea which Goethe attributed to
feminine influence of some sort.[128] The effect of it is to convert the
rugged, manly Tell of the preceding acts into a sanctimonious Pharisee
with whom one can have little sympathy. No doubt there is a moral
difference between his act and that of Parricida, but it is a difference
which one does not wish to hear Tell himself dilate upon. Seeing that
the murdered emperor was solely responsible for the brutal governors and
thus indirectly for all the woes of Switzerland; and seeing, too, that
his death is the only guarantee we have at the end that the killing of
Gessler will do any good, and not simply have the effect to bring down
upon the land, including Tell and his family, the vengeance of some
still more fiendish successor,--considering all this, one would rather
not hear those horrified ejaculations of Tell about the pollution of the
murderer's presence. They may produce a certain stagy effect of
contrast, but the effect was not worth producing at the expense of
Tell's character.

As for the love-story in 'William Tell', it is hardly of sufficient
weight to merit extended discussion. Both Bertha and Rudenz are rather
tamely and conventionally drawn, to meet the need of a pair of romantic
lovers; they evidently cost their creator no very strenuous communings
with the Genius of Art. Their private affair of the heart has nothing to
do with the Tell episode and is but loosely related to the popular
uprising. Their absence would not be very seriously felt in the drama,
save that one would not like to miss Attinghausen as a picturesque
representative of the old patriarchal nobility. The two scenes in which
he appears are in themselves admirable.


[Footnote 128: See Eckermann's "Gespraeche", under date of March 16,
1831. What Goethe there says, however, is in flat contradiction of the
following passage contained in a letter of Schiller to Iffland,
written April 14, 1804: "Auch Goethe ist mit mir ueberzeugt, dasz ohne
jenen Monolog und ohne die persoenliche Erscheinung des Parricida der
Tell sich gar nicht haette denken lassen."]


The End.--Unfinished Plays, Translations and Adaptations

Es stuerzt ihn mitten in der Bahn,
Es reiszt ihn fort vom vollen Leben.
_'William Tell'_.

Our story of Schiller's life draws to a close. After the completion of
'William Tell' his tireless energy of production found its next theme in
the story of Dmitri, the reputed son of Ivan the Terrible. Just how and
whence the suggestion came to him is unknown, but the connection of
things is patent enough in a general way. Far-reaching intrigues in high
life had always had a fascination for him, and recent studies undertaken
for 'Warbeck' had interested him in the type of the pretender whose
kingly bearing seems to betoken kingly blood. In a work upon Russia,--a
land which had been brought closer to the Schiller household by the
appointment of Wilhelm von Wolzogen as Weimarian envoy to the Czar,--he
read anew the history of the 'false Dmitri', and was struck by its
dramatic capabilities. In 'Warbeck' he had thought to portray a
pretender who knew that his claims were fraudulent; in Dmitri he found
one who believed in himself. The psychological problem, and the idea of
conquering an entirely new territory for the German drama, attracted him
strongly, and he set about the laborious task of self-orientation.

Ere long, however, there came an interruption which, for a while, seemed
to promise a momentous change in the tenor of his life. Iffland wished
to lure him to Berlin and had intimated that the Prussian government
might be disposed to offer inducements. Schiller was not entirely averse
to the idea; at least he thought it worth while to reconnoitre. So,
toward the end of April, 1804, he set out with wife and children for the
Prussian capital, where he was received with the greatest cordiality.
The king and queen of Prussia, to whom he was presented, were very
gracious, and it was all decidedly pleasant. So at least he thought and
so his wife pretended to think,--keeping down for her husband's sake the
dismay which a daughter of fair Thuringia could not help feeling at the
thought of making a home on the flat banks of the Spree. After a
fortnight Schiller returned to Weimar and was presently invited by the
Prussian minister, Beyme, to name his terms. Now came the rub; for he
did not really wish to leave Weimar. He had taken deep root there and
his affections clung to the place for the sake of Goethe and a few other
friends. On the other hand, his stipend was but four hundred thalers,
and his other sources of income were by no means such as to free him
from anxiety about the future of his family. Feeling that it was his
duty to better his position if possible, he laid his case before Karl
August, who promptly doubled his stipend. After this it was virtually
impossible for him to leave Weimar. Unwilling nevertheless to renounce
the Berlin prospects altogether, he wrote to Beyme that for a
consideration of two thousand thalers annually he would reside a few
months of each year in Berlin. To this proposition Beyme made no answer.
Possibly he thought the price too high for a fractional poet.

Pending these futile negotiations Schiller worked with great zest upon
'Demetrius ',--reading, excerpting, examining maps and pictures,
schematizing, balancing possibilities, and so forth. But again he was
interrupted; first by an unusually severe illness, which brought him to
death's door and left him for weeks in a condition of helpless languor,
and then by the distractions incident to the arrival of the hereditary
Prince of Weimar with his Russian bride, Maria Paulovna. Golden reports
had preceded this princess, who was expected to reach Weimar in
November, and preparations were made to welcome her with distinguished
honors. For some reason Goethe, in his capacity of director of the
theater, remained inactive amid the general flutter until a few days
before the great event, when he besought Schiller to come to the rescue.
The result was 'The Homage of the Arts', called by its author a

We have a rustic scene in which country-folk plant an orange-tree and
invoke the blessing of pagan divinities. The Genius of Art appears, and
with him the seven goddesses: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Poetry,
Music, Dance and Drama. Genius asks for an explanation of the
tree-planting, and is told by the rustics that it is an act of homage to
their new queen, who has come from high imperial halls to live in their
humble valley. They wish to bind her to them by keeping her reminded of
home. On hearing this Genius assures them that the queen will not find
all things strange in her new home: old friends are there after all.
Then he leads forward his seven goddesses, who explain themselves and
say pretty things about Russia. 'The Homage of the Arts' is in no sense
a weighty production, but its graceful verse and well-turned compliments
had the desired effect. Maria Paulovna was pleased with it.

The reaction from these Russophile festivities fell heavily upon
Schiller and he became gradually weaker. Unequal to creative effort he
undertook a translation of Racine's 'Phedre' in German pentameters and
finished it about the middle of January, 1805. After this he threw
himself with great energy upon 'Demetrius', but it was the final flicker
of a dying flame. In February came a fresh prostration, and it was then
evident that the end was near. Nevertheless he worked on for a few weeks
longer with feverish eagerness. On the evening of April 29, he went to
the theater. After the play was over, the young Voss,--a son of the
poet, who had attached himself warmly to Schiller during these latest
years,--came to him to attend him home. He found him in a violent fever,
which soon led to exhaustion and delirium. This time the strong will of
the sufferer and the eager offices of wife and physician proved
unavailing. He lingered on a few days longer, now and then in his
delirium reciting disconnected verse or scraps of Latin, until the end
came, on the afternoon of the 9th of May. Three days later, between
twelve and one o'clock at night, the body of the dead man was borne by a
little group of friends through the silent and deserted streets of
Weimar, and lowered into a vault in the churchyard of St. James. There
it remained until 1826, when the remains were exhumed and, after some
curious vicissitudes, were placed in an oaken coffin and deposited in
the ducal mausoleum, where they now rest near those of Goethe and Karl

The death of Schiller made many mourners. Goethe, who had himself been
very ill, wrote to a friend in Berlin: 'I thought to lose myself, and
now I lose a friend, and with him the half of my existence.' From every
hand came tokens of sympathy for the widow. Maria Paulovna asked for the
privilege of caring for the children. Queen Luise of Prussia sent a
message of heartfelt condolence. Cotta, whose business relations with
Schiller had given rise to a warm personal affection, made generous
offers of financial aid. As for the nation at large, however, it can
hardly be said that much notice was taken of the event. Schiller had led
a secluded life, had been but little in the public eye, and his
personality was known to but few. What should the passing of a single
dreamer signify in the stirring epoch of Austerlitz and Jena? Not many
knew that one of the real immortals had ceased to breathe,--one whose
figure would loom up larger and larger in receding time, like a high
mountain in the receding distance.

But leaving this subject, of Schiller's subsequent influence and
reputation, for discussion in the concluding chapter, let us now turn to
a brief survey of his unfinished plays and of his more important work as
translator and adapter.

And first, 'Demetrius', of which one may say, as Schiller said of the
Faust-fragment of 1790, that it is the torso of a Hercules. Such extant
portions as had reached something like a final form in verse tell of a
tragedy that bade fair to rank with 'Wallenstein', perhaps to surpass
'Wallenstein', in dramatic power and psychological interest. The
completed portions pertain mainly to the first two acts; for the rest we
have an immense mass of schemes, arguments, excerpts and collectanea. To
read through this material, particularly the various schemes laboriously
written out in numberless revisions, conveys at first an impression of
over-solicitude, as if erudition and logical analysis were being relied
upon to take the place of slackening inspiration. The moment one turns
to the finished scenes, however, one sees that the poetic spring was
still flowing in full measure; and one is amazed at the creative power
which could still, with death knocking at the door, so swiftly and so
surely fashion great poetry out of dull and contradictory books.

The story of the false Demetrius had been familiar to Schiller from his
youth, but there is no evidence that he ever thought of dramatizing it
until the year 1802, when we hear of an intended drama to be called 'The
Massacre at Moscow'. Just as before in the cases of Fiesco and
Wallenstein, he found here a notable conspirator whose character and
motives were the subject of dispute among the historians. The more usual
view was that Demetrius was an escaped monk who gave himself out as the
son of Ivan the Terrible, having either himself invented the fraud or
else taken upon himself a role that was suggested to him by some one
else. On the other hand, there were those who regarded him as the
genuine son of Ivan and thus entitled to the throne which he conquered
from the usurper, Boris Gudunoff, in the year 1605. Fraudulent
pretender, or genuine Czar of the blood of Rurik,--this was the great
question. With a fine dramatic intuition Schiller conceived a third
possibility, namely, that Demetrius, though not in reality Ivan's son,
fully believed himself to be such until he had triumphed, and then,
though undeceived, went on his calamitous way as a tyrant because he
could not turn back.

His first thought was to begin with a scene at Sambor in Galicia,
wherein the escaped monk Grischka, tarrying at the house of Mnischek in
complete ignorance of his high birth, but given none the less to
ambitious dreaming, should be made known as Ivan's son, Demetrius,
supposed to have been murdered sixteen years before at the instigation
of Boris. Several scenes, interesting in their way but somewhat lacking
in horizon, were elaborated in accordance with this idea. Then, however,
the plan was modified and it was decided to begin directly with a
session of the Polish parliament at Cracow, at which Demetrius should
appear and triumphantly assert his claims before King Sigismund and the
assembled nobles. This scene, though left imperfect here and there, is
certainly one of the best that ever came from Schiller's pen. As usual
we have a bit of world-drama, for the element out of which the action
grows is the national antipathy of Poles and Russians. And what an
interesting figure is the young Demetrius, confronting all the pomp and
power with the easy dignity of one born to kingship, and carrying the
parliament with him by dint of his own self-confidence and royal
bearing. He is essentially a new creation, unlike any of Schiller's
other youthful heroes, though a certain family resemblance is of course
discernible. Ambition of power is the great mainspring of his character,
and he is as unscrupulous as Napoleon. Nevertheless he has his
sentimental and his ethical promptings, and the whole basis of his
conduct in this first part of the play is his perfect confidence that he
is the son of Ivan.

It is thus ever to be regretted that Schiller did not live to write the
later scenes in which Demetrius, on the eve of his triumphant entry into
Moscow, should be approached by the _fabricator doli_ and told the true
story of his vulgar birth. Here, just as in the 'Oedipus Rex', was a
stupendous tragic fate, unconnected with any conscious guilt and growing
entirely out of the circumstances. What should Demetrius do? What he was
to _say_ we know from a prose sketch which runs as follows:

You [addressed to the _fabricator doli_, who appears in the
manuscript as X] have pierced the heart of my life, you have taken
from me my faith in myself. Away, Courage and Hope! Away, joyous
self-confidence! I am caught in a lie. I am at variance with myself.
I am an enemy of mankind. I and truth are parted forever! What?
Shall I undeceive the people? Unmask myself as a deceiver?--I must
go forward. I must stand firm, and yet I can do it no longer in the
strength of inward conviction. Murder and blood must maintain me in
my position. How shall I meet the Czarina? How shall I enter Moscow
amid the plaudits of the people, with this lie in my heart?

One sees from this whither Schiller's idea was tending. From the time
that Demetrius is undeceived his character changes. The youth who, with
truth on his side, had it in him to become a great and wise ruler,
breaks with the moral law and becomes a Macbeth, or a Richard the Third.
His course from this time on is flecked with blood and dishonored by
treachery and tyranny. As Czar he excites the hatred of the Russians by
his impolitic contempt of their customs. His Poles are insolent and
trouble begins to brew about him. Finally there is an uprising against
him and he falls--the victim of his own [Greek: hubris].

Had Schiller been permitted by fate to complete 'Demetrius', we should
have had, it is safe to say, the most impressive of all his heroes, with
the possible exception of Wallenstein. And we should have had also, in
all probability, the very best of his historical tragedies; for his plan
had provided for an unusually large number of highly promising scenes.
The picturesque Polish parliament, with its tumultuous ending; the first
meeting of Demetrius with his reputed mother; the scene with the
_fabricator doli_; the triumphal entry into Moscow; Demetrius as Czar in
the Kremlin; his love intrigues with Axinia and his perfunctory marriage
to Marina; the final gathering and bursting of the storm of
indignation,--all this would have been wrought into a dramatic
masterpiece of the first order.

Like 'Demetrius' in having a royal pretender for a hero, but unlike it
in every other respect, is the play which was to have been called
'Warbeck'. To this subject Schiller's attention was drawn in the summer
of 1799, while reading English history in Rapin de Thoyras. During the
ensuing years he took it up repeatedly, but each time dropped it in
favor of some other theme. At the time of his death he left 'Warbeck'
material sufficient to make eighty-four pages of octavo print. The most
of this material consists of prose schemes, but there are also several
hundred verses, some of them complete, others with lacunae, great or
small. By a close study of these data one can make out the general
character of the proposed play and the essential lineaments of the more
important characters. The play was not to have been a tragedy, and it
would have owed to history hardly anything more than its _milieu_ and a
few names. The plan was something like this:

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