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THE LIFE AND WORKS
Professor in Columbia University
Eleanor Allen Thomas
Herzelibe frouwe min,
Got gebe dir hiute und iemer guot! Kunde ich bas gedenken din,
Des haete ich willeclichen muot.
I have wished to give a trustworthy account of Schiller and his works on a scale large enough to permit the doing of something like justice to his great name, but not so large as in itself to kill all hope and chance of readableness. By a trustworthy account I mean one that is accurate in the matters of fact and sane in the matters of judgment. That there is room for an English book thus conceived will be readily granted, I imagine, by all those who know. At any rate Schiller is one of those writers of whom a new appreciation, from time to time, will always be in order.
I have thought it important that my work, while taking due note of recent German scholarship, should rest throughout on fresh and independent study. Accordingly, among all the many books that have aided me more or less, I have had in hand most often, next to the works of Schiller, the collection of his letters, as admirably edited by Jonas. Among the German biographers I owe the most to Minor, Weltrich and Brahm, for the period covered by their several works; for the later years, to Wychgram and Harnack. Earlier biographers, notably Hoffmeister and Palleske, have also been found helpful here and there.
Of course I have not flattered myself, in writing of a man whose uneventful career has repeatedly been explored in every nook and cranny, with any hope of adding materially to the tale of mere fact. One who gleans after Minor and Weltrich and Wychgram will find little but chaff, and I have tried to avoid the garnering of chaff. One of my chief perplexities, accordingly, has been to decide what to omit. If there shall be those who look for what they do not find, or find what they did not expect, I can only say that the question of perspective, of the relative importance of things, has all along received my careful attention. Thoroughness is very alluring, but life is short and some things must be taken for granted or treated as negligible. Otherwise one runs a risk, as German experience proves, of beginning and never finishing.
My great concern has been with the works of Schiller–to interpret them as the expression of an interesting individuality and an interesting epoch. It is now some twenty years since I first came under the Weimarian spell, and during that time my feeling for Schiller has undergone vicissitudes not unlike those described by Brahm in a passage quoted at the very end of this volume. At no time, indeed, could I truthfully have called myself a “Schiller-hater”, but there was a time, certainly, when it seemed to me that he was very much overestimated by his countrymen; when my mind was very hospitable to demonstrations of his artistic shortcoming. Time has brought a different temper, and this book is the child of what I deem the wiser disposition.
For the poet who wins the heart of a great people and holds it for a century is right; there is nothing more to be said, so far as concerns his title to renown. The creative achievement is far more precious and important than any possible criticism of it. This does not mean that in dealing with such a poet the critic is in duty bound to abdicate his lower function and to let his scruples melt away in the warm water of a friendly partisanship; it means only that he will be best occupied, speaking generally, in a conscientious attempt to see the man as he was, to “experience the savor of him”, and to understand the national temperament to which he has endeared himself.
This, I hope, defines sufficiently the spirit in which I have written. In discussing the plays I have endeavored to deal with them in a large way, laying hold of each where it is most interesting, and not caring to be either systematic or exhaustive. Questions of minute and technical scholarship, such as have their proper place in a learned monograph, or in the introduction and notes to an edition of the text, have been avoided on principle. Everywhere–even in the difficult thirteenth chapter–my aim has been to disengage and bring clearly into view the essential, distinctive character of Schiller’s work; and where I have had to fear either that the professional scholar would frown at my sins of omission, or that the mere lover of literature would yawn at my sins of commission, I have boldly accepted the first-named horn of the dilemma.
New York, Nov. 6, 1901.
Parentage and Schooling
Captain Schiller and his wife–Sojourn at Lorch–Traits of Friedrich’s childhood–Removal to Ludwigsburg–Karl Eugen, Duke of Wuerttemberg–Impressions from court, theater and school–Poetic beginnings–Duke Karl’s change of heart–Franziska von Hohenheim–The Academy at Solitude–Schiller at the Academy–School exercises–From law to medicine–Early poems and orations–An ardent friend–Books read and their effect–Dramatic plans–Dissertation rejected–Genesis of ‘The Robbers’–Morbid melancholy–Release from the Academy–Value of the education received.
General characterization–The Schubart story–Schiller and Schubart–The contrasted brothers–Comparison with Klinger and Leisewitz–Influence of Rousseau and Goethe–Unlike earlier attacks on the social order–Outlawry in the eighteenth century–The noble bandit in literature–Karl Moor’s crazy ambition–His sentimentalism–Schiller’s sympathy with his hero–Character of Franz–Influence of Shakespeare–Ethical attitude of Franz–A dull villain–Character of Amalia–The subordinate outlaws–A powerful stage-play–Defects and merits.
The Stuttgart Medicus
Schiller’s position at Stuttgart–Personal appearance–Convivial pleasures–Visits at Solitude–Revision of ‘The Robbers’ for publication–The two prefaces–Reception of ‘The Robbers’–A stage-version prepared for Dalberg–Changes in the stage-version–Popularity of the play–Medicus and poet–The ‘Anthology’ of 1782–Character of Schiller’s youthful verse–Various poems considered–The songs to Laura–Poetic promise of the ‘Anthology’–Journalistic enterprises–Schiller as a critic of himself–Quarrel with Duke Karl–The Swiss imbroglio–The duke implacable–Flight from Stuttgart.
The Conspiracy of Fiesco at Genoa
General characterization–The historical Fiesco–Influence of Rousseau–The conflicting authorities–Fact and fiction in the play–Not really a republican tragedy–Character of Fiesco–Of Verrina–Schiller’s vacillation–Fiesco’s inconsistency–Lack of historical lucidity–The changed conclusion–Weak and strong points–Fiesco and the Moor–The female characters–Extravagant diction.
The Fugitive in Hiding
Reception at Mannheim–An elocutionary failure–‘Fiesco’ rejected by Dalberg–Refuge sought in Bauerbach–A new friend–Relations with outside world–Interest in Lotte von Wolzogen–Literary projects and employments–Beginnings of ‘Don Carlos’–Friendly overtures from Dalberg–Work upon ‘Louise Miller’–Jealousy and resignation–Flutterings of the heart–Departure from Bauerbach with new play completed.
Cabal and Love
General characterization–English Beginnings of bourgeois tragedy–‘Miss Sara Sampson’–Development of the tragedy of social conflict–Love in the age of sentimentalism–Rousseau and the social conflict–Wagner and Lenz–Diderot’s ‘Father of the Family’–Gemmingen’s ‘Head of the House’–Evolution of Schiller’s plan–Debt to predecessors–Hints from Wagner and Lessing and ‘Siegwart’–Weakness of the tragic conclusion–Character of Louise–Her religious sentimentalism–Fearsomeness–Lack of mother-wit–A cold heroine–Character of Ferdinand–Sentimental extravagance–Father and son–Prototypes of President von Walter.
Theater poet in Mannheim
Mannheim in 1783–Dalberg and his theater–The situation on Schiller’s arrival–Letter to Frau von Wolzogen–Contract with Dalberg–Illness and disappointments–Pecuniary troubles–‘Fiesco’ on the stage–Triumph of ‘Cabal and Love’–Critical notices–Discourse on the theater–Contract with Dalberg not renewed–Disappointments and distractions–Relations to women–Charlotte von Kalb–The poems ‘Resignation’ and ‘Radicalism of Passion’–A friendly message from Leipzig–Project of the _Rhenish Thalia_–Honored by the Duke of Weimar–Unhappiness and longing for friendship–Escape from Mannheim.
The Boon of Friendship
Gottfried Koerner and the Stock sisters–Huber–Schiller’s arrival in Leipzig–A proposal of marriage–Sojourn at Gohlis–Schiller and Koerner–An enthusiastic letter–Koerner’s helpfulness–With the new friends in Dresden–Influence of Koerner–A poetic ‘Petition’–The ‘Song to Joy’–Contributions to the _Thalia_–Quickened interest in history–Letters of Julius and Raphael–‘The Ghostseer’ begun–Unwillingness to leave Dresden–A dramatic skit–Affair with Henriette von Arnim–From Dresden to Weimar.
Poetic merit of ‘Don Carlos’–Its slow genesis–Schiller’s explanation–St. Real’s ‘Dom Carlos’–The original plan–Ripening influences–Decision in favor of verse–Change of attitude toward Carlos and Philip–Influence of Koerner–Completion of the play–Character of Prince Carlos–The Marquis of Posa–Posa and the king–Posa’s heroics in the last two acts–Character of Philip–General estimate.
Anchored in Thuringia
Weimar in Schiller’s time–Renewal of relations with Charlotte von Kalb–First meeting with Herder and Wieland–Visit to Jena–Pleased with Weimar–New literary pursuits–Visit to Meiningen and introduction to the Lengefeld family–Charlotte von Lengefeld–A summer idyl–Awakening interest in the Greeks–First meeting with Goethe–Appointed professor at Jena–Bitterness toward Goethe–Love, betrothal and marriage–‘The Gods of Greece’–‘The Artists’–‘The Ghostseer’–The ‘Letters on Don Carlos’–Review of ‘Egmont’–‘The Misanthrope’–Translations from Euripides and other minor writings.
Schiller’s merit as a historian–Genesis of ‘The Defection of the Netherlands’–The author’s self-confidence–His readableness–Freedom the animating idea–Attitude toward past and present–Position as a historian–Too little regard for the fact–First lecture at Jena–Influence of Kant–Theory of the Fall–The ‘Historical Memoirs’–Inchoate Romanticism–‘History of the Thirty Years’ War’–Skill in narrating–Conception of the war as a struggle for freedom–View of Gustav Adolf.
Dark Days Within and Without
A happy year–Disastrous illness in January, 1791–Feud with Buerger–Interest in epic poetry–Second illness and desperate plight–Help from Denmark–Resolution to master Kant’s philosophy–Visit to Suabia–Enterprise of the _Horen_–Attitude toward the Revolution–Sympathy for Louis XVI.–Prediction of Napoleon–Made a citizen of the French Republic–Disgust with politics–Program of the _Horen_–Genius and vocation.
Value of philosophy to a poet–Goethe’s opinion–Schiller’s early philosophizing–The essays on Tragedy–Plan of ‘Kallias’–Kant’s aesthetics–Schiller’s divergence from Kant–Beauty identified with freedom-in-the-appearance–Explication of the theory–Essay on ‘Winsomeness and Dignity’–Essay on ‘The Sublime’–Remarks on Schiller’s general method–Letters to the Duke of Augustenburg–The ‘Letters on Aesthetic Education’–Some minor papers–Essay on ‘Naive and Sentimental Poetry’.
The Great Duumvirate
Goethe and Schiller–Six years of aloofness–Beginning of intimacy–The ‘happy event’–Campaign for the conquest of Goethe—Schiller, on Goethe’s genius–A friendly relation established–Comparison of the duumvirs–Fortunes of the _Horen_–Return to poetry–Significance of the essay on ‘Naive and Sentimental Poetry’–Goethe on Schiller’s theory–Enemies assail the _Horen_–The Xenia planned in retaliation–A militant league formed–The fusillade of the Xenia–Effect of the Xenia–Return to the drama–Further relations of Goethe and Schiller.
General character of Schiller’s poetry–‘The Veiled Image at Sais’–‘The Ideal and Life’–Idealism of Goethe and Schiller–‘The Walk’–Poems of 1796–‘Dignity of Women’–‘The Eleusinian Festival’–The ballads–Attitude toward the present–Lyrics of thought–‘The Maiden’s Lament’–Popularity of Schiller’s cultural poems–‘The Song of the Bell’–Latest poems.
General characterization–Preparatory studies–Difficulties of the subject–Study of Sophocles and Aristotle–Decision in favor of verse–Completion of the play–‘Wallenstein’s Camp’–The historical Wallenstein–Schiller’s artistic achievement–Character of the hero–His impressiveness–Effect of contrast–Octavio Piccolomini–Max Piccolomini–Max and Thekla–Lyrical passages–Absence of humor and irony.
Genesis of the play–Schiller’s removal to Weimar–‘Mary Stuart’ characterized–The fundamental difficulty–Unhistorical inventions–Effect of these–The meeting of the queens–Character of Elizabeth–Romantic tendencies–Mary conceived as a purified sufferer–Pathos of the conclusion–Ugly portrait of Elizabeth accounted for–The historical background–Dramatic qualities–Character of Mortimer.
The Maid of Orleans
Variety in Schiller’s work–Genesis of ‘The Maid of Orleans’–Schiller’s Johanna–Miraculous elements–Attitude of the critics–Difficulty of the subject–Johanna’s tragic guilt–Her supernatural power–The scene with Lionel–Schiller’s poetic intention–A drama of patriotism–The subordinate characters–Excellence of the composition.
The Bride of Messina
Genesis of the play–General characterization–Disagreement of the critics–Relation to Sophocles–Substance of the plot–Ancients and moderns–Fate and responsibility–Schiller’s invention–Unnaturalness of the action–Strange conduct of Don Manuel, Beatrice and the mother–Lavish use of silence–Schiller’s contempt of realism–Don Cesar’s expiatory death the real tragedy–Use of the fate idea–Apologia for the chorus–Poetic splendor.
‘Tell’ and ‘The Robbers’–General characterization–Genesis–Attention to local color–An interruption–Success on the stage–The theme of ‘Tell’–A drama of freedom–The play intensely human–Goodness of the exposition–Departures from usual method–Character of Tell–The apple-shooting scene–The scene in the ‘hollow way’–Tell’s long soliloquy–Introduction of Parricida–Bertha and Rudenz.
The End.–Unfinished Plays and Adaptations
A Russian theme chosen–Berlin negotiations–Work on ‘Demetrius’–‘The Homage of the Arts’–Last illness and death–The unfinished ‘Demetrius’–The historical Dmitri–The original plan modified–Character of the hero–Poetic promise of ‘Demetrius’–‘Warbeck’–‘The Princess of Celle’–‘The Knights of Malta’–Other unfinished plays–Adaptation of ‘Egmont’–Of ‘Nathan the Wise’–Of ‘Macbeth’–Of ‘Turandot’–Interest in the French drama–Adaptations from the French.
The Verdict of Posterity
Schiller a national poet–His idealized personality–Estimate of Dannecker–Of Madame de Stael–Goethe’s ‘Epilogue’–Controversy over Goethe and Schiller–Attitude of Schlegel–Of Menzel–Goethe’s loyalty to his friend–The mid-century epoch–Unreasonable criticism–Interesting prophecy of Gervinus–Schiller’s aesthetic idealism often misunderstood–Schiller as a friend of the people–Partisan misconceptions–The enthusiasm of 1859–Epoch of the philologers–Present opinion of Schiller–Conclusion.
LIVE AND WORKS OF SCHILLER
Parentage and Schooling
Nur, Vater, mir Gesaenge.
_From the poem ‘Evening’, 1776._
When the Austrian War of Succession came to an end, in the year 1748, a certain young Suabian who had been campaigning in the Lowlands as army doctor was left temporarily without employment. The man’s name was Johann Kaspar Schiller; he was of good plebeian stock and had lately been a barber’s apprentice,–a lot that he had accepted reluctantly when the poverty of a widowed mother compelled him to shift for himself at an early age. Having served his time and learned the trade of the barber-surgeon, he had joined a Bavarian regiment of hussars. Finding himself now suddenly at leisure, after the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, he mounted his horse and rode away to the land of his birth to visit his relations. Reaching Marbach–it was now the spring of 1749–he put up at the ‘Golden Lion’, an inn kept by a then prosperous baker named Kodweis. Here he fell in love with his landlord’s daughter Dorothea, a girl of sixteen, and in the course of the summer married her. He was at this time about twenty-six years old. He now settled down In Marbach to practice his crude art, but the practice came to little and Kodweis soon lost his property in foolish speculation. So the quondam soldier fell out of humor with Marbach, went into the army again, and when the Seven Years’ War broke out, in 1756, he took the field with a Wuerttemberg regiment to fight the King of Prussia. He soon reached the grade of lieutenant, in time that of captain; fought and ran with his countrymen, at Leuthen, floundered at peril of life in the swamps of Breslau and otherwise got his full share of the war’s rough-and-tumble. From time to time, as the chance came to him, he visited his young wife in Marbach.
These were the parents of the poet Schiller, who was born November 10, 1759, ten years after Goethe, ten years before Napoleon. It is worth remembering that he who was to be in his way, another great protestant came into the world on an anniversary of the birth of Lather. He was christened Johann Christoph Friedrich.
The childhood of little Fritz unfolded amid conditions that must have given to life a rather somber aspect. After the close of the war Captain Schiller moved his little family to Lorch, a village some thirty miles east of Stuttgart, where he was employed by the Duke of Wuerttemberg in recruiting soldiers for mercenary service abroad. This hateful business, which was in due time to form a mark for one of the sharp darts of ‘Cabal and Love’, seems to have been managed by him with a degree of tact and humanity; for he won the esteem of all with whom he had to do. At home, being of a pious turn and setting great store by the formal exercises of religion, he presided over his household in the manner of an ancient patriarch. Between him and his son no very tender relation ever existed, though the poet of later years always revered his father’s character. The child’s affections clung rather to his mother, whom he grew up to resemble in form and feature and in traits of character. She was a woman of no intellectual pretensions, but worthy of honor for her qualities of heart. Of education in the modern sense she had but little. Her few extant letters, written mostly in her later years, tell of a simple and lovable character, tenderly devoted to husband and children. Tradition credits her with a certain liking for feeble poets of the Uz and Gellert strain, but this probably did not amount to much. Her sphere of interest was the little world of family cares and affections. Her early married life had been darkened by manifold sorrows which she bore at first with pious resignation, becoming with the flight of time, however, more and more a borrower of trouble. At Lorch her trials were great, for Captain Schiller received no pay and the family felt the pinch of poverty. Here, then, was little room for that merry comradeship, with its _Lust zum Fabulieren_, which existed between the boy Goethe and his playmate mother at Frankfurt-on-the-Main.
In after-time, nevertheless, Schiller was wont to look back upon the three years at Lorch as the happiest part of his childhood. The village is charmingly situated in the valley of the Rems, a tributary of the Neckar, and the region round about is historic ground. A short walk southward brings one to the Hohenstaufen, on whose summit once stood the ancestral seat of the famous Suabian dynasty, and close by Lorch is the Benedictine monastery in which a number of the Hohenstaufen monarchs are buried. Here was the romance of history right at hand, but we can hardly suppose that it meant much to the child. The Middle Ages were not yet in fashion even for adults, and little Fritz had other things to think of. With his sister Christophine, two years older than himself, he was sent to the village school, where he proved so apt a pupil that his parents became ambitious for him and sent him to the village pastor, a man named Moser, to be taught Latin. The child looked up to his august teacher and resolved to become himself some day a preacher of the word. Not much is known of Moser, but to judge from his namesake in ‘The Robbers’, where all passions and qualities are raised to the _n_th power, he must have been a man for whom the reproof of sinners was not only a professional duty but a personal pleasure. The plan of making their Fritz a man of God was eagerly embraced by the pious parents and became a settled family aspiration.
The boy himself was very susceptible at this time to religious impressions. Sister Christophine carried with her through life a vivid memory of his appearance at family worship, when the captain would solemnly intone the rimed prayers that he himself had composed for a private ritual. ‘It was a touching sight’, she says in her recollections of this period, ‘to see the reverent expression on the child’s winsome face. The pious blue eyes lifted to heaven, the light yellow hair falling about his forehead, and the little hands folded in worship, suggested an angel’s head in a picture.’ From the same source we learn that Fritz was very fond of playing church, with himself in the role of preacher. Another reminiscence tells how he one day ran away from school and, having unexpectedly fallen under the paternal eye in his truancy, rushed home to his mother in tearful excitement, got the rod of correction and besought her to give him his punishment before his sterner parent should arrive on the scene. Still another, from a somewhat later period, relates how the mother was once walking with her children and told them a Bible story so touchingly that they all knelt down and prayed. This is about all that has come down concerning Schiller’s early childhood. He may have seen the passion-play at Gmuend, but this is uncertain. In any case it only added one more to the religious impressions that already dominated his life.
Toward the end of the year 1766, having exhausted his private resources at Lorch, Captain Schiller applied for relief and was transferred to duty at Ludwigsburg, where the family remained under somewhat more tolerable conditions for about nine years. At Ludwigsburg he began to interest himself in agriculture and forestry. In 1769 he published certain ‘Economic Contributions’, which exhibit him as a sensible, public-spirited man, eagerly bent upon improving the condition of Suabian husbandry. In 1775, having become known as an expert in arboriculture, he was placed in charge of the ducal forests and nurseries at Castle Solitude, and there he spent the remainder of his days in peaceful and congenial activity. He died in 1796.
For the impressionable Fritz one can hardly imagine a more momentous change of environment than this which took him from a quiet rural village to the garish Residenz of a licentious and extravagant prince. Karl Eugen, Duke of Wuerttemberg, whom men have often called the curse, but the gods haply regard as the good genius, of Schiller’s youth, came to power in 1744 at the age of sixteen. The three preceding years he had spent at the Prussian court, where Frederick the Second (not yet the Great) had taken a deep interest in him and tried to teach him serious views of a ruler’s responsibility. But the youth had no stomach for the doctrine that he was in the world for the sake of Wuerttemberg. Having come to his ducal throne prematurely, through the influence of the King of Prussia, he began well, but after a few years shook off the restraints of good advice and entered upon a course of autocratic folly that made Wuerttemberg a far-shining example of the evils of absolutism under the Old Regime. Early in his reign he married a beautiful and high-minded princess of Bayreuth, but his profligacy soon drove her back to the home of her parents. Then a succession of mistresses ruled his affections, while reckless adventurers in high place enjoyed his confidence and fleeced the people at pleasure. To gratify his passion for military display he began to raise unnecessary troops and to hire them out as mercenaries. In 1752 he agreed with the King of France, in consideration of a fixed annual subsidy, to supply six thousand soldiers on demand. The money thus obtained was mostly squandered upon his private vices and extravagances. On the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War the French king demanded the promised troops; and so it came about that the Suabian Protestants were compelled, in defiance of public sentiment, to make war against their co-religionists of Prussia. In the inglorious campaigns which followed, the Duke of Wuerttemberg cut a rather sorry figure, but criticism only exasperated him. He promised another large body of troops to France, and the men were raised by harsh measures of conscription. The Estates of the duchy protested against this autocratic procedure, and, as Stuttgart sided with the opposition, the duke determined to punish his unruly capital by removing his court to Ludwigsburg, where an ancestor of his, early in the century, had founded a city to match Versailles and serve the express purpose of a ‘Trutz-Stuttgart’.
The removal of the court to Ludwigsburg took place in 1764, three years before the Schiller family found a home there. From the first a purely artificial creation, the little city had been going backwards, but it now leaped into short-lived glory as the residence of a prodigal prince who was bent on amusing himself magnificently. The existing ducal palace was enlarged to huge dimensions and lavishly decorated. Great parks and gardens were laid out, the market-place was surrounded with arcades, and an opera-house was built, with a stage that could be extended into the open air so as to permit the spectacular evolution of real troops. Everything about the place was new and pretentious. The roomy streets and the would-be gorgeous palaces, flaunting their fresh coats of yellow and white stucco, teemed with officers in uniform, with blazing little potentates of the court and with high-born ladies in the puffs and frills of the rococo age. Here Karl Eugen gave himself up to his dream of glory, which was to rival the splendors of Versailles. He maintained a costly opera, procuring for it the most famous singers and dancers in Europe, and squandered immense sums upon ‘Venetian nights’ and other gorgeous spectacles. For all this barbaric ostentation the people of Wuerttemberg were expected to foot the bills. ‘Fatherland!’ said his Highness, when a protest was raised on behalf of the country, ‘Bah! I am the fatherland.’
Here it was, then, that the young Friedrich Schiller got his first childish impressions of the great world; of sovereignty exercised that a few might strut in gay plumage while the many toiled to keep them in funds; of state policies determined by wretched court intrigues; of natural rights trampled upon at the caprice of a prince or a prince’s favorite. There is no record that the boy was troubled by these things at the time, or looked upon them as anything else than a part of the world’s natural order. It is a long way yet to President von Walter.
The house occupied by Captain Schiller at Ludwigsburg was situated close by the theater, to which the duke’s officers had free admission. As a reward of industry little Fritz was allowed an occasional evening in front of the ‘boards that signify the world’. The performances, to be sure, were French and Italian operas, wherein the ballet-master, the machinist and the decorator vied with one another for the production of amazing spectacular effects. People went to stare and gasp–the language was of no importance. It was not exactly dramatic art, but from the boy’s point of view it was no doubt magnificent. At any rate it made him at home in the dream-world of the imagination, filled his mind with grandiose pictures and gave him his first rudimentary notions of stage effect. We are not surprised to learn, therefore, that in his home amusements playing theater now took the place of playing church. Sister Christophine was a faithful helper. A stage could be made of big books, and actors out of paper. When the puppet-show was outgrown, the young dramatist took to framing plays for living performers of his own age,–with a row of chairs for an audience, and himself as manager and protagonist.
Christophine relates that her brother’s fondness for this sort of diversion lasted until he was thirteen years old. In the mean time, however, his chosen career was kept steadily in view. He was sent to the Latin school, from which, if his marks should be good, he might hope to advance in about five years to one of the so-called convent schools of Wuerttemberg. After this his theological education would proceed for about nine years more at the expense of the state. The Ludwigsburg school was a place in which the language of Cicero and the religion of Luther were thumped into the memory of boys by means of sticks applied to the skin; Fritz Schiller was a capable scholar, though none of his teachers ever called him, as in the case of the boy Lessing at Meissen, a horse that needed double fodder. The ordinary ration sufficed him, but he memorized his catechism and his hymns diligently, fussed faithfully over his Latin longs and shorts, and took his occasional thrashings with becoming fortitude. On one occasion we hear that he was flogged by mistake and disdained to report the incident at home. Religious instruction consisted of mechanical repetition insisted on with brutal severity,–a mode of presenting divine things that must have contrasted painfully, for the sensitive boy, with his mother’s simple religion of the heart. When it is added that he was often nagged and punished by a too exacting father, we get a not very sunny picture of our poet’s boyhood. It is told, and it may well be true, that he was subject to fits of moodiness, in which he would complain of his lot and brood gloomily over his prospects. Nevertheless a schoolmate has left it on record that Schiller as a lad was normally high-spirited, a leader in sports as well as in study, and very steadfast in his friendships.
While at Ludwigsburg he read from the prescribed Latin authors, making the acquaintance of Ovid, Vergil and Horace, and in time won praise for his facility in writing Latin verses. Some of his school exercises have chanced to be preserved. The earliest, dated Jan. 1, 1769, is a Latin translation in prose of some verses which seem to have been supplied by his teacher for the purpose. The handwriting and the Latin tell of faithful juvenile toil and moderate success–nothing more. Nor can we extract much biographic interest from the later distichs and _carmina_ which he turned out at school festivals. Such things have flowed easily from the pen of many a bright schoolboy whom the bees of Hymettus failed to visit.
According, to Schiller’s own testimony his earliest attempt at German verse was made on the occasion of his confirmation, in April, 1772. On the day before the solemn ceremony he was playing about with his comrades in what seemed to his mother an all too worldly frame of mind. She rebuked him for his unseasonable levity, whereat the youngster went into himself, as the Germans say, and poured out his supposed feelings in a string of verses so tender and soulful as to draw from his amazed father the exclamation: ‘Fritz, are you going crazy?’
After such a beginning we are not surprised to learn that German poetry made its first strong appeal to him through the pious muse of Klopstock. His earliest more ambitious note is heard in a ‘Hymn to the Sun’, written in his fourteenth year. It is the note of supernal religious pathos. In rimeless lines of unequal length he celebrates the glory of God in the firmament, soars into celestial space and winds up with a vision of the last great cataclysm. All this is sufficiently Klopstockian, as is also the boyish dream of an epic about Moses, and of a tragedy to be called ‘The Christians’.
But the time came when our young psalmodist of Zion was to be pulled out of his predetermined course and made to sing another song. Were the overruling powers malign or benevolent? Who shall say, remembering the Greek proverb that a man is not educated save by flaying? Let us not pause to speculate; but proceed as quickly as may be across the interval that separates these innocent religious effusions from the opening of a great literary career with the cannon-shot of ‘The Robbers’.
About the year 1770 Duke Karl began to undergo a change of heart. Wearying at last of life’s vanities and frivolities, the middle-aged sinner took up virtue and philanthropy, as if to show mankind that he too could be a benevolent father to his people. The new departure was due in part to the political success of the Estates in curbing his extravagance, but rather more, no doubt, to the personal influence of his mistress, Franziska von Hohenheim. This lady, whose maiden name was Bernerdin, had been given in marriage as a girl of sixteen to a worthless Baron von Leutrum, who misused her. Escaping from him with thoughts of divorce in her mind, she went to visit friends in Ludwigsburg. Here the inflammable duke fell in love with her, and, after a not very tedious resistance, carried her away to his castle. This was in 1772. Her divorce followed soon after, and she remained at court as the duke’s favorite mistress. He presently procured for her an imperial title, that of Countess Hohenheim, and after the death of his duchess, in 1780, he married her. She was not beautiful or talented, but she possessed amiable qualities that made and kept her the object of Karl’s honest affection. She knew how to humor his whims without crossing his stubborn will, and she chose to exert her influence in promoting humane enterprises and leading her liege lord in the paths of virtuous frugality. On the whole, the people of Wuerttemberg, who had suffered much from mistresses of a different ilk, had reason to bless their ruler’s fondness for his amiable ‘Franzele’. She was not unworthy to sit for the portrait of Lady Milford.
An educational project, the founding of a school which later came to be known as the Karlschule, marks the beginning of the duke’s career in his new role. He began very modestly in the year 1770 by gathering a few boys, the sons of officers, at his castle called Solitude, and undertaking to provide for their instruction in gardening and forestry. This Castle Solitude was itself an outcome of the same lordly mood that had led to the removal of the court to Ludwigsburg. It was situated on a wooded height some six miles west of Stuttgart. Here, by means of forced labor and at enormous expense,–and this was only one of many similar building enterprises,–he had cleared a site in the forest and erected a huge palace which, according to the inscription over the door, was to be ‘devoted to tranquillity’. But how was a prince to enjoy tranquillity without the necessaries of life? In a short time a score of other buildings, including an opera-house and a barracks, had sprung up about the castle in the woods, while an immense outlying tract had been converted into a park with exotic attractions in the style of the time. Here, then, was need of expert forestry–whence the opening of the school as aforesaid. Once started, it became the duke’s special pet and pride. His immense energy had found a new fad–that of the schoolmaster. He was bent on having a model training-school for the public service. In his own house, under his own eye, he proposed to mould the future servants of the state like potter’s clay. In this way he would have them as he wanted them. To provide the clay for his experiment he began to look around for promising boys, and thus his eye fell on Friedrich Schiller. Summoning the father and making some gracious inquiries, he offered to provide for the boy’s education at the new school. The anxious captain, knowing that divinity was not to be on the program at Castle Solitude, sought to evade his sovereign’s kindness by pleading that Fritz had set his heart upon the service of the church. The reply was that something else, law for example, would no doubt do as well. Resistance to the earthly Providence was not to be thought of by a man in Captain Schiller’s position; and so the step was taken which deprived some Suabian flock of a shepherd and gave the world instead a great poet.
It was on the 17th of January, 1773, that schoolboy Schiller, with disappointment in his heart, said farewell to his tearful mother and took his cold way up the long avenue which led from Ludwigsburg to Castle Solitude. According to the official record he arrived there with a chillblain, an eruption of the scalp, fourteen Latin books, and forty-three kreutzers in money. Soon afterwards his father signed a document whereby he renounced all control of the boy and left him in the hands of his prince.
The school at Solitude had now come to be known as the Military Academy, and well it deserved its name. The duke himself was the supreme authority in large matters and in small. The nominal head, called the intendant, was a high military officer who had a sufficient detail of majors, captains and lower officers to assist him in maintaining discipline. Under the eye of these military potentates the _eleves_, as they were called,–for the official language of the school was French,–lived and moved in accordance with a rigid routine. They rose at six and marched to the breakfast-room, where an overseer gave them their orders to pray, to eat, to pray again, and then to march back. Then there were lessons until one o’clock, when they prepared for the solemn function of dinner. Dressed in the prescribed uniform,–a blue coat with white breeches and waistcoat, a leather stock and a three-cornered hat, with pendent queue and at each temple four little puffs,–they marched to the dining-room and countermarched to their places. When his Highness gave the command, _Dinez, messieurs_, they fell to and ate. From two to four there were lessons again, then exercise and study hours. At nine they were required to go to bed. There were no vacations and few holidays. Visits to and from parents were prohibited, and letters sent or received had to be submitted to the Intendant. Books of a stirring character were proscribed, along with tobacco and toothsome edibles, and quarters were often searched for contraband articles. Whoso transgressed received a ‘billet’, which he took to headquarters. Punishments were numerous, if not very severe, and were sometimes administered by his Highness in person. The duke wished his proteges to regard him as their father, but his system tended to the encouragement not so much of honest gratitude as of rank sycophancy. On occasion he could be very gracious and condescending,–would take the youngsters into his carriage, give them fatherly counsel, box their ears, suggest subjects for essays, offer himself as opponent at their disputations, and so forth. He was very proud of showing off the school to visitors. His birthday and Franziska’s were festal occasions, at which he would distribute the prizes in person and allow the winners, if of gentle birth, to kiss his hand; if commoners, to kiss the hem of his garment.
A modern reader will be very ready with his criticism of these educational arrangements. The constant and petty surveillance, the deliberate alienation of boys from all ties of home and kindred, the systematic training in duplicity and adulation, were certainly not well calculated for a school of manhood. Schiller himself, after his escape from the academy, was wont to speak very bitterly of the education that he had received there. Nevertheless the school had its good points, especially after the removal to Stuttgart, in 1775. Here it became a combination of university (minus the theological faculty) with a school of art, a school of technology and a military academy proper. Several of the professors were inspiring teachers who made friends of their students. The fame of the institution brought together promising young men from all parts of Germany and from foreign parts; and several of them besides Schiller attained distinction in after-life. There was thus intellectual comradeship of the very best kind. And there was much freedom in the choice of studies.
But the solid merits of the academy were the growth of time; in the beginning it was, for Schiller at least, mere chaos and misery. The boy grew rapidly into a lank, awkward youngster for whom the military discipline was a great hardship; he never got entirely rid of the stiff gait and ungainly bearing which resulted from these early struggles with the unattainable. Frequent illness led to a bad record on the books of the faculty. In ‘conduite’ he made but a poor showing, and he was several times billeted for untidiness. In Latin and religion he got along fairly well, and in Greek he actually took a prize toward the end of the year 1773. But the Greek which procured him this distinction hardly went beyond the rudiments and was mostly brought with him from Ludwigsburg. For mathematics he had but little talent. His bitterest trial, however, came with the law studies which he was obliged to take up in his second year. A dry subject, a dull teacher and an immature, reluctant pupil made a hopeless combination. And so he got the name of a dullard. During the whole of the year 1775 it is recorded that he was at the foot of his class.
Two bits of writing have come down to give us a glimpse of the boy’s mind during these two years of helpless floundering. A detestable practice of the school authorities required the pupils to criticise one another in moral disquisitions. On one occasion the duke gave out the theme: ‘Who is the meanest among you?’ Schiller did his task in Latin distichs which have been preserved. They show a healthy feeling for the odiousness of the business, but he cleverly shifts the responsibility to _Dux serenissimus_, who must of course know what is good for him. Then he proceeds to depict one Karl Kempff as the worst boy in school,–_defraudans socios, rudis ignarusque_,–but he hopes that the wretched sinner will yet mend his ways and become worthy of his gracious prince’s favor.
In a much longer prose document he portrays the characters of some two score schoolmates and finally his own. He begins modestly with a deprecatory address to his most gracious sovereign, without whose wise order he would never think of setting himself up as a judge of his fellows. The portraits are amusingly ponderous in style, but their substance is very creditable to their author’s head and heart. Toward the end he burns more incense to the duke: ‘This prince who has enabled my parents to do well by me; this prince through whom God will attain his ends with me; this father who wishes to make me happy, is and must be much more estimable to me than parents who depend upon his favor.’ He frankly confesses his own shortcomings: ‘You will find me’, he writes, ‘often overhasty, often frivolous. You will hear that I am obstinate, passionate and impatient; but you will also hear of my sincerity, my fidelity and my good heart.’ He owns that he has not thus far made the best use of his gifts, but he pleads illness in excuse. His gracious prince knows how eagerly he has taken up the study of the law and how happy he will be some day to enter the service of his country. But, he ventures to insinuate, he would be very much happier still if he could serve his country as a teacher of religion.
The divinity was out of the question, but relief was at hand. Toward the end of 1775, having come to terms with the Stuttgart people, Duke Karl transferred his academy to more commodious quarters in the city. A department of medicine was added and Schiller gladly availed himself of the duke’s permission to enroll in the new faculty. His professional studies were now more to his taste and he applied himself to them with sufficient zeal to make henceforth a decent though never a brilliant record. His heart was already elsewhere. For some time past he had been nourishing his soul on forbidden fruit,–books that had to be smuggled in and were of course all the more seductive for that very reason. With a few intimates–Scharffenstein, the Von Hovens and Petersen–he formed a sort of literary club which read and discussed things. What they read spurred them to imitation and to mutual criticism. Presently they commenced sending their productions to the magazines. Schiller began to indulge in pleasing dreams of literary fame; and with this new-born confidence in himself there came, as his health improved, a firmer step, a more erect bearing and an increased energy of character. To be a poet by grace of God was better than the favor of princes.
For some time, however, the youth’s effusions gave little evidence of a divine call. His first poem to get into print was the one entitled ‘Evening’, which appeared in Haug’s _Suabian Magazine_ in the autumn of 1776. In irregular rimed verses–the rimes often very Suabian–we hear of sunset glories producing in the bard a divine ecstasy that carries him away through space. Then he returns to earth and hears in the voices of evening a general symphony of praise. It is still the Klopstockian strain of magniloquent religiosity, tempered somewhat by the influence of Haller. In ‘The Conqueror’, a poem published in 1777, the Klopstockian note is still more audible. The form is a pseudo-antique strophe such as Klopstock often used; the substance a rhetorical denunciation of military ambition. The most awful curses are imprecated upon the head of the ruthless ‘conqueror’, whose badness is portrayed in lurid images and wild syntax that fairly rack the German language. No wonder that editor Haug cautioned the young poet against nonsense, obscurity and exaggerated metatheses.
Nor is there much more of promise in the few occasional poems that have come down from Schiller’s salad days in the academy. One of them was inspired by a visit of the emperor Joseph, whom our poet glorifies in strains almost too fervid for utterance. The other two are birthday greetings to Franziska von Hohenheim–effusions of ‘gratitude’, as it is called. The gratitude purports to come, in one of the poems, from the _ecole des demoiselles_, which Franziska had founded as a feminine pendant to the academy. Schiller’s verses, truth to tell, sound like rank fustian. The duke’s mistress is glorified as a paragon of virtue. ‘Her sweet name flies high on the wings of glory, her very glance promises immortality. Her life is the loveliest harmony, irradiated by a thousand virtuous deeds.’ And so on. As poetic spokesman of the girls he pours out those ‘Elysian feelings’ which he supposes them to cherish toward their kind and virtuous ‘mother’.
There are two or three extant school orations which likewise exhibit him in the role of a fervid eulogist. The rhetoric of them is very highfalutin, and the flattery would be nauseating if one did not remember that it was largely a matter of fashion. Custom required that a prince be addressed in the language of adulation, and nothing in that line was too extravagant for the taste of the time. As for Schiller, he had got the reputation of an orator and he only did what was expected of him as the public representative of the school. Nor should we think too harshly of the duke for encouraging the foolishness, since he too only conformed to the custom of the Old Regime. At the same time it is a pleasure to learn from certain well authenticated anecdotes that he and his _eleves_ did not always live in a fool’s paradise of sycophancy. There is a story, vouched for by Weltrich, to the effect that Schiller, who had acquired fame as a mimic, was one day asked by the duke, with Franziska on his arm, to give an impromptu specimen of his powers by imitating his sovereign. The youth hesitated, but after some urging borrowed the duke’s cane and proceeded to examine him. As his Highness did not answer well, Schiller exclaimed: ‘Oh, you are an ass!’ Then he took Franziska’s arm and began to walk away with her. Serenissimus looked on with mixed emotions, but only said: ‘Come now, leave Franzele to me!’
The young Schiller was nothing if not intense. When an emotion took possession of him it set him on fire, and the expression of it was like the eruption of a volcano. Toward the end of his course at the academy he had a misunderstanding with his dear friend Scharffenstein, with whom he had sworn eternal brotherhood. The result was a long letter of wild expostulation in this vein:
What was the bond of our friendship? Was it selfishness? Was it frivolity? Was it folly? Was it an earthly, vulgar, or a higher, immortal, celestial bond? Speak! Speak! Oh, a friendship erected like ours might have endured through eternity…. If you or I had died ten times, death should not have filched from us a single hour! What a friendship that might have been! And now! Now! What has become of it?… Hear, Scharffenstein! God is there! God hears me and thee, and may God judge!
And so on for six mortal pages, octavo print. The modern cynic will smile at this ecstatic cultus of friendship, but let him at the same time recall the saying of Goethe that what makes the poet is a heart completely filled with one emotion.
It is now time to glance at the really important phase of Schiller’s youthful development–his reading. While his native Suabia, just then rather backward in literary matters, was still chewing the cud of pious conventionality, a prodigious ferment had begun in the outside world. What is called the ‘Storm and Stress’ was under way. The spirit of revolt, which in France was preparing a political upheaval, was abroad in Germany, where it found expression in stormy or sentimental plays and novels,–works composed on the principle that everything is permissible except the tame and the conventional. The productions of these young innovators differed widely from one another, but they had a common note in their vehement would-be naturalism. There were over-wrought pictures of daring sin and terrible punishment; novels and plays laying bare the _misere_ of the social conflict; tragedies of insurgent passion at war with conventional ideas; of true love crossed and done to death by the prejudice of caste. And so forth.
How much of this literature fell into the hands of Schiller at the academy can not be told with perfect certainty, but it would seem that very little of it escaped him. He read and was deeply touched by Gerstenberg’s ‘Ugolino’, with its horrific picture of the agonies of starvation. He read the early writings of Goethe, of Leisewitz and of Klinger, and was touched by the woes of Miller’s Siegwart. In ‘Emilia Galotti’, with its drastic comment upon the infamies of princely lust, he saw the subject of court life in a light very different from that in which it habitually appeared to the carefully guarded pupils of the Stuttgart academy. He became acquainted with Ossian, and the shadowy forms of the Celtic bard, big with their indefinable woe, increased the turmoil of his soul. Probably he read Rousseau more or less, though direct evidence of the fact is lacking. At any rate the air was surcharged with Rousseauite feeling. Certainly he read Plutarch and Cervantes, and along with all these came Shakspere, to whom he was introduced–in the Wieland translation–by his favorite teacher, Abel.
The effect of this reading upon the mind of Schiller was prodigious. It changed the native docility of his temper, weaned him completely from his seraphic proclivities and carried him with a rush into the mid-current of the literary revolution. There came a time when the young medical student, faithfully pursuing his routine and on festal occasions spouting fervid panegyrics of the noble Karl and the divine Franziska, was not altogether what he seemed to be. There was another Schiller, burning with literary ambition and privately engaged in forging a thunderbolt.
Two dramatic attempts preceded ‘The Robbers’. The first had to do with Cosmo dei Medici; the second, called ‘The Student of Nassau’, was based upon a newspaper story of suicide. Both were destroyed by their disgusted author, in what stage of progress we do not know. Still he was not discouraged; the tragic drama was clearly his field and he might succeed better the next time. But where to find a subject? His perplexity became so great that, as he said later, he would have given his last shirt for a good theme. Finally, in the year 1777, his friend Hoven drew his attention to a story by Schubart that had lately been published in the _Suabian Magazine_,–a story of a father and his two dissimilar sons, one of them frank and noble-minded but wild, the other a plausible moralist but at heart a scoundrel. Schiller took the hint and began to write, his interest being no doubt increased by the miserable fate of Schubart, who was then languishing in the Hohenasperg as the helpless victim of Karl Eugen’s pusillanimous tyranny.
Just how much progress was made with ‘The Robbers’ in the year 1777 is not known; probably not much, for Schiller soon decided to drop his literary pursuits for the present and devote himself closely to his medical studies. Perhaps he may have hoped by hard work to finish his course in four years instead of the expected five. At any rate he now bent to his toil and allowed the play to lie dormant in his mind. In 1779 he submitted a thesis on ‘The Philosophy of Physiology’, but it was judged unfit for print. The professors condemned it variously as tedious, florid, obscure, and, worst of all, disrespectful toward recognized authorities such as Haller. In these judgments the duke concurred. He found that Eleve Schiller had said many fine things and in particular had shown much ‘fire’. But the fire was too strong; it needed to be ‘subdued’ by another year of study.
It has usually been assumed by Schiller’s biographers that in his intense longing for liberty he was embittered by this disappointment, and that in his mood of wrath he now took up his neglected play and poured into it, hissing hot, the whole fury of his quarrel with the world. There is, however, no evidence that he really hoped to win his release from the academy in the year 1779, or that the thesis just spoken of was regarded as a graduation thesis. Neither his own letters nor those of his friends indicate that he was angry at being kept in school another year. Probably the critics have made too much out of this factor of personal disgruntlement. Schiller was a poetic artist, and his first play is much more than the wild expression of a plucked student’s resentment. Nevertheless it is only natural to suppose that his proud and ambitious spirit chafed more or less under the requirements of an academic routine that his manhood had outgrown. That he succeeded after all, at the end of the year 1779, in capturing a number of prizes and received them in the presence of Goethe and the Duke of Weimar, who happened just then to be visiting Stuttgart, could do but little to sweeten the bitter dose that had been prescribed for him.
He now set about the preparation of a new thesis, and in the intervals of his professional occupation he worked with feverish energy upon ‘The Robbers’. To gain time for writing he would often feign illness, and when the duke or an inspector surprised him would hide his manuscript in a big medical treatise kept at hand for the purpose. A few comrades who were in the secret eagerly watched the progress of his work and vociferously applauded the scenes which he now and then read to them. One of these comrades has left it on record that in the excitement of composition Schiller would often stamp and snort and roar.–And thus it was, in the stolen hours of the night and driven by the demon that possessed him, that he bodied forth his titanic drama of revolt. It was virtually finished during the year 1780. In after-time Schiller reasoned himself into the conviction that art must be ‘cheerful’, but very little of cheerfulness went to the composition of ‘The Robbers’. It was the disburthening of an oppressed soul that suffered horribly at times from morbid melancholy–the chicken-pox of youthful genius. A letter of June, 1780, shows how he had battled with the specters of despair. Writing to Captain von Hoven, whose son had lately died, he says:
A thousand times I envied your son as he was wrestling with death, and would have given up my life as calmly as I go to bed. I am not yet twenty-one years old, but I can tell you frankly that the world has no further charm for me. I have no delight in thinking of the world, and the day of my departure from the academy, which a few years ago would have been a day of festal joy, will not be able to force one happy smile from me. With each step, as I grow older, I lose more and more of my contentedness; and the nearer I come to the age of maturity, the more I could wish that I had died in childhood.
This sounds gloomy enough, but the desperate mood did not last long, A number of medical reports written in the summer of 1780 indicate that Schiller was able to take the calm professional view of a case very similar to his own. A fellow-student named Grammont was afflicted with hypochondria, and Schiller was set to watch him. His analysis of the case is eminently sane. He finds it difficult to decide whether the young man’s malady has its seat in the mind or in the bowels: whether too much brooding over hard problems has ruined his digestion and given him a headache, or whether a physical derangement has confused his ideas of duty and religion. He thinks there is a fair chance of curing the patient by means of medicine and good advice.–A youth who can talk thus of another’s _Weltschmerz_ is himself in no great danger from the malady.
In November, 1780, he submitted a new thesis upon ‘The Connection between Man’s Animal and Spiritual Nature’. In this essay he considers the question whether, for the purposes of moral perfection, the body is to be regarded as the enemy and gaoler of the soul, or as its friend and coadjutor. The drift of his argument is to show in detail the dependence of the spirit upon the flesh. Finding that philosophers have been unjust to the body, he comes to its rescue,–expounding good doctrine in an interesting though rather florid and unprofessional style. In the course of his philosophizing he perpetrates the sly joke of quoting from his own manuscript play and ascribing the words to an imaginary ‘Life of Moor’, by one Krake.–Further comment upon the essay may be dispensed with, seeing that Schiller as a medical man does not greatly interest us at the present time. Enough that it was accepted and procured him his release from bondage toward the close of the year.
Afterwards, in the bitterness of his quarrel with the Duke of Wuerttemberg, Schiller took an altogether gloomy view of the training he had received at the Military Academy. He saw only the forcing process to which he had been subjected, the narrow life that had kept him from a knowledge of the world, and the petty restrictions that had prevented his love of poetry from developing in a sane and natural manner. However, it is always the poet’s fate to grow strong through his own gifts and his own trials; what schools of any kind can do for him or against him is of comparatively little moment. Had Schiller enjoyed in his youth the freedom of a real university, his literary career would no doubt have opened differently, and with another beginning the whole would have been different; but whether it would then have interested the world after a hundred years, as that of the real Schiller does, is a question for omniscience. Speaking humanly one can only say that the misguided paternalism of Karl Eugen in rousing the tiger proved a blessing in disguise. And the schooling itself was by no means so despicable. Schiller left the academy a good Latinist, though with but little Greek. He had learned to read French, if not English. He had dabbled in such philosophy as there was going and acquired an interest in the fundamental problems. He had read not widely but intensely–which is always better. He had made a number of good friends. And not least important for his future career, he had had an excellent opportunity to observe the forms and usages of high life.
[Footnote 1: What is known of her has been put together by Ernst Mueller, in “Schillers Mutter, ein Lebensbild”, Leipzig, 1894.]
[Footnote 2: “Unsere Mutter naehrt sich gleichsam von bestaendiger Sorge”, wrote her son to his sister in 1784.]
[Footnote 3: As quoted by Schiller’s sister-in-law, Karoline von Wolzogen, in her ‘Life of Schiller’, first published in 1830. The Baroness von Wolzogen quoted from a manuscript by Christophine, which was at that time in the family archives and has since been published in the _Archiv fuer Litteraturgeschichte_, I, 452. Christophine wrote down her recollections in order to counteract the false stories of Schiller’s childhood which began to get into print soon after his death. Of this character, for example, is the oft-repeated tale of his climbing a tree during a thunder-storm in order to see where the lightning came from. This is an invention of Oemler, his earliest biographer, who invented much besides.]
[Footnote 4: An excellent account of him is to be found in Vol. 15 of “Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie”.]
[Footnote 5: By Schiller’s youthful friend Petersen, _Morgenblatt_, 1807; quoted by Weltrich, “Friedrich Schiller”, I, 77, and by other biographers.]
[Footnote 6: Wilhelm von Hoven, quoted by Karoline von Wolzogen.]
[Footnote 7: As reported by his friend Conz, _Morgenblatt_, 1807. Cf. Weltrich, p. 80, foot-note.]
[Footnote 8: For example: Cuvier, Dannecker and the musician Zumsteeg. The pros and cons of the Karlschule are discussed very fully by Weltrich and also by Minor in their biographies of Schiller.]
[Footnote 9: For example:
Und mit offenem Schlund, welcher Gebirge schluckt, Ihn das Weltmeer mir nach,–ihn mir der Orkus nach Durch die Hallen des Todes–
Deinen Namen, Eroberer!]
[Footnote 10: Weltrich, p. 182, argues that the poem is spurious. The question is hard to decide.]
[Footnote 11: “Goetz von Berlichingen”, Act I.]
[Footnote 12: The acquaintance began, it would seem, in 1775 or 1776. At first Schiller was repelled by Shakspere’s ‘coldness’,–his intermixture of humor and buffoonery with pathos. Of this first impression he wrote many years later, in his essay on ‘Naive and Sentimental Poetry’, as follows: “Durch die Bekanntschaft mit neueren Poeten verleitet, in den Werken den _Dichter_ zuerst aufzusuchen, _seinem Herzen_ zu begegnen … war es mir unertraglich, dasz der Poet sich hier gar nirgends fassen liesz und mir nirgends Rede stehen wollte. Mehrere Jahre hatte er meine ganze Verehrung, und war mein Studium, ehe ich sein Individuum lieb gewinnen konnte. Ich war noch nicht faehig, die Natur aus erster Hand zu verstehen.”]
[Footnote 13: Schubart’s crime was the utterance of a mild poetic lampoon to the effect that ‘when Dionysius of Syracuse was compelled to go out of the tyranny business he became a Schulmeisterlein.’ He had also commented too frankly on the duke’s relation to Franziska. Angered by these things Karl caused him to be tricked over the borders into Wuerttemberg, seized, and without trial shut up in the dungeon of Hohenasperg, where he was kept for ten years (1777-1787). Schiller visited him in November, 1781, and was received with tears of joy as the author of ‘The Robbers’.]
[Footnote 14: Cf. Weltrich, I, 278.]
[Footnote 15: “Ernst ist das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst.”–_Prologue to ‘Wallenstein’_.]
[Footnote 16: Weltrich, I, 298 ff., analyzes it and discusses its scientific value at some length.]
[Footnote 17: Kuno Fischer, “Schiller-Schriften”, I, 139, has some very interesting remarks on this subject. “Woher gewann er [says Fischer], der Sohn eines Dorfbarbiers,… eine solche sichere und eingelebte Anschauung, ich moechte sagen, Fuehlung fuerstlichen Wesens, wenn nicht Herzog Karl, ein Meister in der Kunst fuerstlichen Repraesentierens, ihn zum Modell gedient haette?”]
O ueber mich Narren, der ich waehnete die Welt durch Greuel zu verschoenern und die Gesetze durch Gesetzlosigkeit aufrecht zu erhalten.–‘_The Robbers_’.
After leaving the academy Schiller soon began to look about for a publisher of his precious manuscript. Not finding one he presently decided to borrow money and print the play at his own expense. It appeared in the spring of 1781, accompanied by a modest preface in which the anonymous author pronounced his work unsuited to the stage but hoped it would be acceptable as a moral contribution to literature. In less than a year it had been played with ever memorable success and ere long it was the talk of Germany.
In dealing with ‘The Robbers’ it has always been much easier to point out faults than to do justice. Schiller himself set the fashion of a drastic criticism which had the effect of advertising ‘The Robbers’ as a violent youthful explosion containing more to be apologized for than to be admired. And indeed it is not a masterpiece of good taste. Upon an adult mind possessing some knowledge of the world’s dramatic literature at its best, and particularly if the piece be read and not seen, Schiller’s first play is very apt to produce the impression of a boyish extravaganza. The sentimental bandit who nourishes his mighty soul on the blood of his fellow-men, and undertakes to right a private wrong by running amuck against society in another part of the world, is a figure upon which we decline to waste our sympathy. We have no place for him in our scheme of art unless it be in comic opera or in the penny dreadful. Emotionally we have lost touch with him as we have with Byron’s Corsair. When he stalks across the serious stage and rages and fumes and wipes his bloody sword, we are inclined to smile or to yawn. As for the villain Franz, with his abysmal depravity, and Amalia, with her witless sentimentalism, we find it hard to take them seriously; they do not produce a good illusion. And then the whole style of the piece, the violent and ribald language, the savage action, the rant and swagger, the shooting and stabbing,–all this seems at first calculated for the entertainment of young savages, and moves one to approve the oft-quoted _mot_ of the German prince who said to Goethe: ‘If I had been God and about to create the world, and had I foreseen that Schiller would write ‘The Robbers’ in it, I should not have created it.'
This is one side of the story. The other side is that ‘The Robbers’ made an epoch in German dramatic literature. Not only is it the strongest and completest expression of the eighteenth-century storm and stress, but it proved a highly effective stage-play. Nor was its success ephemeral. Its author quickly outgrew it, but it maintained itself during the entire period of Germany’s leadership in matters of dramatic art, and even to-day it preserves much of its old vitality. It is true that when a modern audience assembles to see a performance of ‘The Robbers’, they are not impelled solely by the intrinsic merits of the piece. Loyalty to the great dramatic poet of the nation plays its part. People think: Thus our Schiller began,–and they expect to make allowances. But when all such allowances are made, it remains true that ‘The Robbers’ is a powerful stage-play which reveals in every scene the hand of the born dramatist. We may call it boyish if we will, but its boyishness is like that of ‘Titus Andronicus’. Each is the work of a young giant who in learning the use of his hammer lays about him somewhat wildly and makes a tremendous hubbub. But Thor is Thor, and such boys are not born every day.
The starting-point of Schiller’s invention was the conception of the two hostile brothers, and this he had from Schubart, although other writers, notably Klinger and Leisewitz, had already made use of it in dramatic productions. In the Schubart story we hear of a nobleman with two sons, of whom the elder, Karl, is high-minded but dissolute, while the younger, Wilhelm, is a hypocritical zealot. Karl plays the role of the prodigal son and his excesses are duly reported at home by his brother. After a while the sinner repents and writes his father a remorseful letter, which is intercepted by Wilhelm. Then the older brother returns to the vicinity of his home and takes service with a poor farmer. Here it falls to his lot to rescue his father from the hands of assassins. It turns out that the instigator of the murder was no other than Wilhelm. When the plot is discovered the magnanimous Karl entreats pardon for his vile brother. His prayer is granted, Wilhelm receives a share of the estate and all ends in happy tears.–In publishing the sketch Schubart recommended it to the geniuses of the day as an excellent foundation for a novel or a comedy. Here was a chance, he thought, to prove that the Germans, notwithstanding the servility of their pens, were not the spiritless race that foreigners saw in them; ‘to show that we too, in spite of our oppressive forms of government, which permit only a condition of passivity, are men who have their passions and can act, no less than a Frenchman or a Briton.’ He therefore cautioned any playwright who might try his hand upon the subject to lay the scene not in a foreign country but in contemporary Germany.
We see here the thought that struck fire in the mind of young Schiller, whose bent was all for tragedy. If there was to be a proof that strong passion and bold action were still possible, notwithstanding the degeneracy of the age, what better object could there be for the passion to wreak itself upon than the age itself? If life had become vapid, and the German character servile and pusillanimous, here was the very field for a mad Ajax who should make havoc among the cowards and the pigmies. In Schubart’s tragi-comedy there are no heroic passions whatever. Nothing is conceived in a large and bold way. The characters live and move throughout in the little world of their own selfish interests. Such a piece, in which the penitent hero bends his back to the plow and weakly pardons an abominable crime, did not comport with Schiller’s mood of fierce indignation. So he converted the story into a tragedy and turned Schubart’s meek and forgiving prodigal into a terrible avenger of mankind.
In the contrasted brothers we see what Minor well enough calls the hot and cold passions. Karl is a hotspur whose emotions are always keyed up to the highest pitch; he is never calm and is incapable of sober reasoning. His boiling blood and his insensate ambition are his only oracles. We may say that his motives are lofty, but in trying to set the world right and make it conform to his perfervid dreams of justice and freedom, he becomes a madman and a criminal. Franz, on the other hand, represents the scheming intellect sundered from conscience and natural feeling. He is a monster of cool, calculating, hypocritical villainy. At the end he cowers in abject terror before the phantom conscience that he has reasoned out of existence in the first act. The portrait of the two brothers, as thus conceived, is crudely simple. There are no delicacies of shading, no subtleties of psychological analysis. In short, Robber Moor and his brother give the impression of having been made to a scheme rather than copied from nature. Nevertheless the scheme is conceived with superb audacity and executed with a dramatic power and insight that had never been surpassed in Germany.
To understand the furore created by ‘The Robbers’ one should read two other storm-and-stress plays, by writers of no mean dramatic talent, which present the same fundamental situation,–‘The Twins’, by Klinger, and ‘Julius of Tarentum’, by Leisewitz. Both these plays came out in the year 1776 and were evidently studied with care by Schiller. Both follow the timid example which had been set by Lessing of laying the scene in a foreign land, Klinger gives us two brothers, Guelfo and Ferdinando, of whom neither the mother nor her physician can tell which was born first. But Ferdinando has always been treated as the elder, has enjoyed the favor of his father, risen to power and distinction and won the prize in love. He is of a noble and forgiving temper and plays only a subordinate part. The hero is Guelfo, who, like Schiller’s Karl Moor, has read Plutarch and would fain do something great, like Brutus or Cassius. But he remains after all only a poor knight. His hand is unnerved and his heroic spirit paralyzed by the suspicion that he has been the life-long victim of a conspiracy; that he and not Ferdinando is the elder brother. The whole interest of the play turns upon the portraiture of his morbid, insensate jealousy. In the fourth act he takes a morning ride with his brother and murders him. Then he defiantly reports the deed at home and is himself slain by his father.
In ‘Julius of Tarentum’ the younger brother, Guido, is, again, the man of action; a _miles gloriosus_ who boasts of his strong arm and dreams of glory. He looks with contempt and hatred upon his gentle, sentimental brother Julius, who, though heir to the throne, prepares to renounce his career because he is thwarted in love. The girl Blanca, upon whom he has fixed his affections, is not deemed a suitable bride for him by his father and has been shut up in a convent. He determines to abduct her by night and flee with her to some romantic spot in the far north. In the execution of this purpose he is killed by his jealous brother Guido, who is then made to suffer death at the hands of his own father.
In both these plays we have, as in ‘The Robbers’, an aged father whose dynastic hopes center in an excellent son; this son the object of mad jealousy on the part of a younger brother, and both brothers in love with the same girl. The plays exhibit talent of a high order, but talent that always falls short of genius. Psychical states are portrayed by means of talk, and the talk is big enough; but very little actually happens. The mighty passions have to be taken largely upon trust and the conversation often drags. Dramatic possibilities are not fully grasped, the situations are felt but not seen, and there is an obvious reluctance to make unusual demands upon the stage. Even Klinger, whose play of ‘Storm and Stress’ gave a name to the whole contemporary movement in German literature, reads tamely enough in comparison with ‘The Robbers’. But what is most noteworthy of all, Klinger and Leisewitz give us simply dynastic tragedies. In both the outlook is limited to the fortunes of a single house. In both we miss the great dramatist who looks upon life with a roving eye and intertwines his tale of private woe with the larger tangle of human destiny.
This last is what the young Schiller did with masterly insight. He converted the dynastic tragedy of his predecessors into a tragedy of the social revolution; and his work has lived because we can hear in it the preliminary roar of the storm which was soon to burst in the streets of Paris. He laid his scene not in far-off Italy nor in the remote past, but in Germany and in the middle of the century which boasted of its enlightened philosophy and its excellent police regulations. Of the two brothers he took the sentimentalist for his hero, but made him at the same time a man of action, a man of heroic mould and a self-helper. The logic of Rousseau finds in Karl Moor a practical interpreter. What the Frenchman had preached concerning the infamies of civilization, the badness of society and politics, the reign of injustice and unreason, the petty squabbles of the learned, the necessity of a return to nature,–all this seethes in the blood of Moor, but he does not content himself with indignant rhetoric or sentimental repining. He takes arms against the sea of troubles. Instead of an excellent youth pitifully done to death by a jealous brother, we get a towering idealist who is the moulder of his own fate. With sublime [Greek: hubris] he takes it upon himself to wield the avenging bolts of Jove, but finds that Jove rejects his assistance. He errs disastrously in his judgment, like any short-sighted mortal, and his work goes all agley. But when the end comes it is not depressing. We see no longer a revolting fratricide and the painful sacrifice of virtue to the meanest of passions, but the verdict of the gods upon human presumption.
In making his hero a defiant self-helper and sending him with sword in hand against the minions of the established order, Schiller was obviously influenced by the example of ‘Goetz von Berlichingen’. Like Goetz, Karl Moor regards himself as the champion of freedom against the law, which is its enemy. Both are friends of the oppressed and haters of pedantry and pettifoggery. Both fight like lions against tremendous odds. Both assume the leadership of a band of outlaws whom they cannot control, and thus become responsible for revolting crimes not foreseen or intended. But along with these and other resemblances that might be pointed out there is an important difference. In the fourth act of the earlier play a Heilbronn Councillor says to Goetz: ‘We owe no faith to a robber.’ Whereat Goetz exclaims: ‘If you did not wear the emperor’s emblem, which I honor in the vilest counterfeit, you should take back that word or choke upon it. Mine is an honorable feud.’ That is, the knight of the sixteenth century repudiates the name in which Karl Moor glories. Says Schiller’s Pater in the second act: ‘And you, pretty captain! Duke of cutpurses! King of scoundrels! Great Mogul of all rogues under the sun!’ To which Moor replies: ‘Very true. Very true. Just proceed.’ In comparison with such a daredevil Goethe’s hero seems to roar like a sucking dove. In his own mind Goetz never really burns the bridge behind him. He is at heart a loyalist who recognizes the emperor’s claim to his allegiance. As a free imperial knight he feels himself within his right under the feudal system. In resisting his enemies he does not set himself in opposition to governmental authority _per se_, but only to the abuse of authority by subordinates who disgrace their master and his. And in assuming the leadership of the insurgent rabble he thinks to restrain their ferocity and thus earn the thanks of the supreme authority.–It remained for Schiller to convert this rude self-helper in the age of expiring feudalism into a savage anarchist in the boastful age of enlightenment.
It was a bold idea to be conceived by a youth in a school where every third word was of virtue and philanthropy. Not that there was anything particularly audacious in a strong presentation of the spirit of revolt. For some time past this spirit had been nourished by the writings of Rousseau and those who followed in his wake, until attacks upon the social order, in some phase of it, had come to be almost the staple of literature. But the attacks had not been very dangerous. Either they were veiled by a distant setting of the scene, or the indictment of the age was presented incidentally in connection with some lacrimose tragedy of the individual. People had learned to sigh and weep that things should be so, but there the matter ended. The German princeling could look on with equanimity, assured that the rhetoric and the tears did not mean him, or that if they did it did not matter. In real life those who felt themselves oppressed by the civilization of Europe could emigrate, and they did emigrate in large numbers. This was one form of the return to nature. In literature, however, the usual expedient was to let the hero chafe himself to death and go down, without striking a blow, before the irresistible tyranny of the established order. Schiller’s hero is of another ilk. Romantic flight with his lady-love does not occur to him. Surrender to the wrong is out of the question. He finds another form for the return to nature and puts into practice the maxim, Here or nowhere is America. He stays and fights at the head of a troop of bandits. Thus the play which was originally to have been called ‘The Lost Son’ became ‘The Robbers’.
In their way, then, Schiller’s outlaws stand for the state of nature. They represent natural man rising in brute strength against the oppressions of a depraved society. Such at least is Karl Moor’s construction of the matter when he says to the Pater: ‘Tell them that my business is retribution, that my trade is vengeance.’ Under our modern development of the social sentiment we can hardly imagine a really high-minded youth setting out in such a Quixotic and fanatical enterprise. This feature of Schiller’s plot, which has for us something of the burlesque about it, has been taken more than any other to prove his inexperience of life. But the fact is that the thing was after all not so unthinkable. Outlawry on a large scale was by no means unknown, and the romance of outlawry was familiar in literature. The Thirty Years’ War had familiarized Germany with marauding bands who recognized no authority save that of their leader. Even in the eighteenth century the brigandage which was common in the Mediterranean countries continued to flourish in Southern Germany. As late as 1781, the very year in which ‘The Robbers’ appeared, we hear of the capture in Bavaria of a band of outlaws numbering nearly a thousand men. The year 1771 witnessed the execution of the robber-chieftain Klostermayer, who, under the name of the Bavarian Hiesel, became the subject of an idealizing saga in which we recognize the essential features of Karl Moor.
Schiller’s main fiction was thus, in a sense, warranted by the facts; and it gains further in artistic plausibility when we consider that the idealized bandit was already a familiar type in literature. The author of ‘The Robbers’ was acquainted with Robin Hood, and he had probably read ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, in which the banished Valentine becomes the captain of a band of outlaws on condition that they “do no outrages on silly women or poor passengers”, and the outlaws reply that they “detest such vile, base practices.” He had also read, in ‘Don Quixote’, of the high-toned robber, Roque Guinart, who had more of compassion, in his nature than cruelty. Cervantes makes Roque comment thus upon his mode of life: “Injuries which I could not brook and thirst for revenge first led me into it contrary to my nature; for the savage asperity of my present behavior is a disgrace to my heart, which is gentle and humane.” At the end of the episode Roque sends his captives away “admiring his generosity, his gallantry, and his extraordinary conduct, and looking upon him rather as an Alexander the Great than as a notorious robber.” Here was a sufficient hint for a criminal in the grand style, who should imagine himself the spiritual congener of Plutarch’s heroes.
‘A singular Don Quixote whom we abominate and love, admire and pity’,–such was Schiller’s own formula for his first dramatic hero. From the standpoint of ordinary logic it must be admitted that Moor’s motive for becoming a robber (the lying letter that he receives from Franz) is quite insufficient. He is duped too easily and should have known his brother better. He is too ready to give up everything dear to him, including the dear Amalia. ‘I have no sweetheart any more’, is a weak surrender for a man of his heroic stamp. In any case the wrong that has been done him is a private wrong that has nothing to do with the constitution of society. One does not see how it is to be righted or how the world is to be purged of such baseness by killing and plundering people in the Bohemian Forest.
The only reply which our drama makes to this objection is to be found in Moor’s crazy ambition for distinction. He has the ‘great-man-mania’. What attracts him in the career of crime is not the wickedness but the bigness of it; the opportunity of lifting himself above the common herd and sending his name down to posterity as that of a very extraordinary person. ‘I loathe this ink-spattering century’, he says, ‘when I read in my Plutarch of great men…. I am to squeeze my body into a corset and lace up my will in laws…. Law has never made a great man, but freedom hatches out colossi and extremes, O that the spirit of Hermann were still glowing in the ashes! Place me at the head of an army of fellows like myself, and Germany shall become a republic in comparison with which Rome and Sparta were nunneries.’ Such, monstrous egotism needs no motive, but only an occasion, for breaking with the order of civilization. An occasion is furnished by the letter.
But that which marks Karl Moor as a genuine child of Schiller’s imagination and of the sentimental age is his combination of virile energy with soft-heartedness and true nobility of feeling. In all his robbings and burnings he does not become vulgarized like his comrades. He imagines that he is engaged in a righteous work and has God on his side. For this reason he has a right to his melting moods, as, for example, in the famous and oft-praised scene on the Danube. This delicacy of feeling, which to an American or Englishman is apt to seem absurd in a bandit-chief who is engaged in wholesale crime, is an essential part of Moor’s character. It is this which, on German soil, gave to ‘The Robbers’ tragic interest and insured its immortality. One sees all along that Moor is a wanderer in the dark, and one can sympathize with his purposes and his dreams while detesting his conduct. This makes him a heroic figure. And when the clearing-up comes and he discovers that he has been the victim not of society but of an individual villain; that his attempt to right wrongs by committing new wrongs, to enforce the laws by lawlessness, and to correct violence by violence, was nothing but presumptuous and criminal folly,–when all this becomes clear to him, we have a tragic situation of the most pathetic character. This element of high tragic pathos was first given to a German drama by Schiller. It had not been given by Goethe and Lessing, nor was it in them to give it. This is why German tragedy in the true sense may be said to have its beginning in ‘The Robbers’.
That Schiller in a sense sympathized with his hero is undeniable. What gives vitality to the character is here as always the fact that the author looked into his own heart and then wrote. This, however, only means that the moods of Moor are veritable moods of Schiller, raised to a white heat and translated into action. The young student, dreaming the dreams of youth and pining for freedom and action, had more than once felt his gorge rise to the choking-point as he found himself forced to plod on among the dull, oppressive, unheroic facts of life; and those acts of official villainy against which Moor draws the sword he had himself seen flourishing unavenged in his native Wuerttemberg. But, on the other hand, he was never for a moment insensible to the moral hideousness and the tragic folly of Moor’s conduct. It was to be sublime, but insane and calamitous nevertheless. One is justified in thinking, therefore, that Goedeke goes too far, or does not express the truth felicitously, when he says that the author of ‘The Robbers’ ‘felt himself one’ with his hero. He felt himself one with certain phases of Moor’s thought and feeling; for the rest, however, the robber-chieftain was to be abominated as well as admired. There has been too much of the tendency to see in ‘The Robbers’ only a personal document; only a youth’s incoherent cry for liberty. The piece is a work of art, duly calculated with reference to artistic effects.
Turning now from the figure of Karl to that of his brother, one is struck at once with the artificiality of the portrait. We seem to have before us in Franz Moor the result of a deliberate effort to conceive the vilest possible travesty of human nature. Nothing here that was copied from nature, nothing that Schiller found in his own heart. It is all a brain-spun creation, born of his dramatic reading and of his studies in medicine and philosophy. In the first place we can observe that Franz is studiously contrasted with his brother. Karl is an idealist and a man of sentiment; Franz is a materialist to whom the natural emotions of the heart are objects of cynical derision. For Karl, who knows his Klopstock as well as his Plutarch, love is a transcendental dream foretelling a spiritual union in a world without end; for Franz it is carnal appetite. Karl wears his heart upon his sleeve; Franz is wily and hypocritical. The one is handsome and chivalrous, the other ill-favored and cruel.
The jealous cadet who plots criminally against his more fortunate brother is common to both Leisewitz and Klinger, but in neither is he an intriguing villain. In ‘Julius of Tarentum’ Guido is really the more masterful man of the two. He despises his brother as a weakling and asserts no other claim than that of the strongest. In Klinger’s play, as we have seen, everything is made to turn upon Guido’s cankering doubt of his brother’s seniority. One gets the impression that if the doubt could be settled by indisputable evidence in favor of Ferdinando, there would be no _casus belli_; the younger son would bow to the law of primogeniture and that would end the matter. Schiller, however, felt the need of a bolder contrast to his hero. The ‘sublime criminal’ required a colossal foil; and as equality with the sword was out of the question, the most obvious recourse was to pit natural depravity against natural greatness; scheming intellect against hot blood.
In working out his conception Schiller took counsel freely of Shakspere, whose name had now become for young Germany the symbol of all things great in dramatic writing. The first soliloquy of Franz Moor reminds one at once of Edmund in ‘Lear’, though there is none of the kind of borrowing which makes easy prey for the philologist. Both villains covet the wealth and station of a preferred brother; both make use of a specious obstetrical argument and both operate with forged letters. In general, however, the portrait of Franz was more influenced by Richard the Third than by Edmund, or Iago, or any of the other Shaksperian villains. Franz is the British Richard divested of his Shaksperian lordliness, transferred to a humbler sphere of action and provided with the mental outfit of an eighteenth-century _philosophe_, as seen by hostile critics. Both descant on their own deformity and confide to the public their villainous designs. But while Richard speaks in a tone of genial cynicism, as if his principal concern were only to bring a little variety into the tameness of “these fair, well-spoken days”, the German villain solemnly turns himself inside out and regales us _ad nauseam_ with the metaphysics of iniquity. This is his mode of reasoning:
Why did nature put upon me this burden of ugliness–this Laplander’s nose, this Moorish mouth, these Hottentot eyes? Death and destruction! Why was she such a partisan?–But no, I do her injustice. She gave us wit when she placed us naked and miserable on the shore of this great ocean-world. Swim who can, and whoso is too clumsy let him sink. The right is with him that prevails. Family honor? A valuable capital for him that knows how to profit by it.–Conscience? An excellent scarecrow with which to frighten sparrows from cherry-trees.–Filial love? Where is the obligation? Did my father beget me because he loved me? Did he think of me at all? Is there anything holy in his gratification of carnal appetite? Or shall I love him because he loves me? That is mere vanity, the usual predilection of the artist for his own work.
Such is the ethical attitude of Franz Moor, as we gather it from his first soliloquy. One sees that Schiller was concerned to portray a scoundrel who had read deeply and come to the conclusion that in a world like this there is no valid reason why a man should be virtuous. Evidently the author had himself breathed the mephitic air of eighteenth-century skepticism. His natural goodness of heart safeguarded him from corruption, but it pleased him as artist to dip his pen in the blackest ink and draw the picture of the devil with whom he had wrestled in moments of solitary musing.
In spite of his intellectual subtlety, however, Franz is a rather dull villain. His philosophical and physiological pedantry–for Schiller endows him lavishly with the special lore of the medical man–obfuscates his vision for the ordinary facts of human nature. He has upon the whole a more intelligible motive for his rascality than Iago, but he is much less interesting, much less picturesque, for simple lack of mother-wit. What a woeful blunder, for example, is his attempt to win Amalia by depicting her absent lover, at great length and with all manner of revolting details, as the victim of the most loathsome of diseases! And why should such a crafty schemer risk his neck and put himself in the hands of a dangerous confederate for the purpose of hastening by a few hours the demise of a childish old man who is already in his power? And in his final agony of terror, when we should expect him to hide himself or try to escape, how absurd that he should summon Pastor Moser merely for the purpose of arguing with him upon immortality and judgment! We see that he is after all a wretched coward who has merely cheated us into the belief that he has put away the superstitions of orthodox belief, while in reality they still linger in his blood. We miss in him the invincible sang-froid of villainy which might have given a touch of Shaksperian grandeur to his character. As it is, he is not grand, but pitiable and revolting. When he strangles himself with his hat-band, one is quite satisfied with the unheroic manner of his taking-off.
The subordinate characters of the piece are hardly worth discussing at any length. The elder Moor is a mere nonentity,–a dummy in a rocking-chair would have done as well. Evidently Schiller was concerned to make the way as easy as possible for the clumsy villainy of Franz. A more vigorous father, he may have felt, would have necessitated a more subtle and plausible intrigue, which would have diverted attention from the main issue of the contrasted sons. The heroine Amalia has always been recognized, and was immediately recognized by Schiller himself, as the weakest character in the play. But posterity’s criticism is hardly that formulated by him, namely, that we miss in Amalia the ‘gentle, suffering, pining thing–the maiden.' Of gentle, suffering, pining things there is no dearth in the German drama, and they were not in Schiller’s line. Nearly all of his women are made of heroic stuff, and we honor him not the less for that. No one should blame Amalia for boxing the ears of Franz or drawing the sword upon him: it is unladylike conduct, but very good storm-and-stress realism.
What one must deplore, however, is the general mental inadequacy that is paired with this spasmodic energy of scorn. Common sense is not the highest of dramatic qualities, but a modicum of it would have made Schiller’s first heroine, to say the least, more interesting. She has no power of initiative and seems made only to be duped. Her inability to recognize her lover in the fourth act is a terrible strain upon one’s patience. Indeed the whole love-affair between her and Karl is utterly un-human. What can one think, for example of a pair of ecstatically faithful lovers to whom it has evidently never occurred to write to each other? Here, if anywhere, one recalls Schiller’s oft-quoted observation that he had attempted in ‘The Robbers’ to depict human beings before he had seen any. Aside from his acquaintance with Franziska von Hohenheim, and an occasional nearer view of the coy maidens of the _ecole des demoiselles_, the female sex and the grand passion were for him only bookish mysteries.
Of the subordinate outlaws there are several whose portraits are very well drawn. Here Schiller was able to profit by the psychological observations he had made upon his comrades in the academy. There were no cutthroats there, but there were traits and exploits, animosities and fidelities, which only needed to be heated in the poetic crucible in order to befit the role of robbers in the Bohemian Forest. In particular we may guess that the blatherskite Jew, Spiegelberg, with his swaggering self-conceit and his bestial vulgarity, was copied to some extent from life, though nothing definite is known of his original. Taken as a whole the robbers form a picturesque company, each with his own character. Shakspere would probably have been content to say ‘first robber’,’second robber’, etc.; but for Schiller, accustomed to the pose of leadership among his fellows, to company drill and to the weighing of men according to their moral qualities, this was not enough. There had to be sheep and goats, classified according to their loyalty. On the one hand, closest to the leader stand the devoted Roller, the sturdy Schweizer and the romantic idealist, Kosinsky; on the other are the envious malcontent, Spiegelberg, and the wretched Schufterle. The others, less distinctly characterized, represent the mass.
It will now be in order to look at ‘The Robbers’ a moment from the point of view of dramatic art. In a suppressed preface to the first edition Schiller expressed himself very contemptuously with regard to the stage, declaring that he had essayed a dramatized story and not a stage-play. He would not advise that his work be put upon the boards; for the rabble of the theater would not understand him, would take him for an apologist of vice, and so forth. There seems no good reason to doubt the essential sincerity of these expressions, though their author quickly changed his tune when the staging of ‘The Robbers’ became a practical question. In the heat of authorship, however, he had aimed at a literary rather than a dramatic triumph. His chief models were literary dramas. ‘Goetz von Berlichingen’ had won its way into favor as a book for the reader. The dramatic works of Klinger, Lenz, Wagner and the like, were for the most part too extravagant and amorphous for representation, and Shakspere’s day had not yet come.
This being so, it is a fact of interest that ‘The Robbers’ first captured the public as a stage-play, and that too in a very much modified version, from which all references to contemporary society had been expunged, the action having been dated back into the fifteenth century. This indicates that the initial success of the work was not due mainly to the social ‘tendency’ which we see in it, but to its dramatic power. And the dramatic power is there. With but slender knowledge of the rules and the conventions, without ever having seen a moderately good play in his life, with little help save from the poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling, the young student had shown himself at a stroke the coming dramatist of his nation.
Let us freely admit that he had not shown himself a master of dramatic craftsmanship. Faulty the piece no doubt is in several particulars. The soliloquies of Franz are too long-winded, and the same may be said of some of the robber-scenes. Spiegelberg’s vulgar tongue is allowed to wag too freely. Contempt of quotidian probability is now and then carried so far as to produce an unintended effect of burlesque: as when the robbers, who are merely dissolute students from Leipzig, fight with twenty times their number of soldiers, lose one man and slay three hundred. Again, one does not quite see the moral necessity of honest Schweizer’s killing himself, when he has the misfortune to find Franz dead. He has indeed promised to capture him or die in the attempt, but his promise was never meant to cover the case of the villain’s suicide. Under the circumstances his shooting himself is mere exuberance of dramatic bloodshed.
But how absurd it would be to dwell upon these things as if they were serious defects! Young Schiller undertook to Shaksperize. His parole was not to be the natural and the probable, but the extraordinary, the tremendous. Why then should he have been more timid than the author of ‘Lear’ and ‘Macbeth’? One who is borne along by a whirlwind may be pardoned for ignoring the rules and the proprieties. Of course it is not intended to compare ‘The Robbers’ with the riper works of Shakspere. That would be absurd, and yet no more absurd than to gird at Schiller for doing what we pardon or even admire in Shakspere. Like every great dramatist Schiller has an indefeasible right to demand that we take his point of view, make his assumptions and enter into the spirit of his creation. And when we do this, how magnificently he carries us along! What animation in the dialogue everywhere, and what fire in the robber-scenes! From first to last the play fairly throbs with passion, and always with passion made visible. It is all action, all meant to be done and seen. Extravagant it is, no doubt; but while there are always hundreds of critics in the world who can see that and say it more or less cleverly, there is but one man in a century who can write such scenes.
[Footnote 18: The Schubart story is reprinted by Weltrich, I, p. 183 ff., who attempts to trace its provenience. It was not entirely fiction. Cf. Minor, I, 298, to whom this chapter is indebted in many places.]
[Footnote 19: Eckermann’s “Gespraeche mit Goethe”, under date of Jan. 17, 1827.]
[Footnote 20: “Schiller, sein Leben und seine Werke,” I, 299.]
[Footnote 21: Bitter family fends, and particularly the fiction of the hostile brothers,–with motives of rivalry, jealousy and hatred, with paternal curses and parricide and fratricide and filicide,–were just then a literary fashion. It is worth noting in this connection that J.M.R. Lenz published in 1776 a story entitled “Die beiden Alten”, in which a son shuts up his father in a cellar and sends a man to kill him. But the man’s heart fails him and the prisoner escapes,–to reappear like a ghost among his kin. That Schiller read this story is at any rate thinkable, though there is no direct evidence of the fact.]
[Footnote 22: Cf. Minor, I, 300: “Die Raeuber des jungen Schiller, welcher sich damals nicht einmal um den nordamerikanischen Freiheitskrieg, geschweige denn um das gewitterschwuele Frankreich bekuemmerte, waren nur ein Symptom und eine Vorahnung; eine Wirkung im Kleinen vor der groszen Katastrophe.”]
[Footnote 23: Cf. Minor, I, 313 ff.]
[Footnote 24: Act IV, scene I.]
[Footnote 25: “Don Quixote,” Chapter 89.]
[Footnote 26: “Grundrisz zur Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung”, V, 19.]
[Footnote 27: Saemmtliche Schriften, II, 365. Citations from Schiller refer, unless otherwise expressly indicated, to Goedeke’s historico-critical edition in 15 vols. Stuttgart, 1867-1876.]
[Footnote 28: Saemmtliche Schriften, III, 529.]
[Footnote 29: Cf. Bulthaupt, “Dramaturgie des Schauspiels,” I, 209, who has some excellent remarks upon the dramatic qualities of the play and the histrionic problems connected with it.]
The Stuttgart Medicus
So gewisz ich sein Werk verstehe, so musz er starke Dosen in Emeticis ebenso lieben als in Aestheticis, und ich moechte ihm lieber zehen Pferde als meine Frau zur Kur uebergeben.–_Review of ‘The Robbers’, 1782_.
The career that opened before Schiller on his release from the academy, in December, 1780, turned out a wretched mockery of his hopes. He had, or supposed he had, the right to expect a decent position in the public service and a measure of liberty befitting a man who had served his time under tutelage. What his august master saw fit to mete out to him, however, was neither the one nor the other: he was stationed at Stuttgart as ‘medicus’ to an ill-famed regiment consisting largely of invalids. His pay was eighteen florins a month–say seven or eight dollars. His duties consisted of routine visits to the hospital and daily appearance at parade, with reports upon the condition of the luckless patients whom he doctored savagely with drastic medicines. Withal he was required to wear a stiff, ungainly uniform which did not carry with it the distinction of an ‘officer’ and exposed him to the derision of his friends. A humble petition of Captain Schiller that his son be permitted to wear the dress of a civilian and extend his practice among the people of the city met with a curt refusal.
Of Schiller’s personal appearance at about this time we have two or three descriptions by friends who knew him well. Putting them together we get a picture something like the following: He was about five feet and nine inches in height, erect of bearing and knock-kneed. He had reddish hair, a broad forehead, and bushy eyebrows which came close together over a long, thin, arched nose. He was near-sighted. His eyes, of a bluish-gray color, were usually inflamed, but very expressive when he spoke with animation. One friend credits him with an ‘eagle’s glance’, another with an uncanny, demonic expression. He had a strong chin, a prominent under-lip, and sunken, freckled cheeks. Altogether his face and bearing told of immense energy.–One can imagine how the creator of Karl Moor must have felt in his new situation. The young lion had escaped from one cage into another that was even worse.
Nevertheless the new life did not altogether preclude an occasional sip from the cup of earthly cheer. The young medicus found himself within easy reach of a number of jovial friends whom he had known at the academy. With one of these, a youth named Kappf, he hired a room of a certain Frau Vischer, a widow who was to become the muse of his high-keyed songs to Laura. The furniture consisted of a table and two benches. In one corner were usually to be seen a pile of potatoes and some plates. Here the friends feasted upon sausage and potato-salad of their own make, a bottle of wine being added if the host happened to be in funds. Sometimes there were convivial card-parties at a local inn, where more than enough wine was drunk and bills were run up that still remain unpaid. Tradition tells of a military banquet from which our medicus had to be assisted home.
A nobler pleasure incident to the new life was the opportunity of frequent visits to Castle Solitude. For eight years Schiller had been cut off from intercourse with his parents and sisters, save through the medium of officially inspected letters. Returning now at last he found his mother in frail health, but his father still vigorous and active. Sister Christophine had grown into a strong and self-reliant young woman, the mainstay of the household. She took an interest in literature, loved her brother devotedly, had a sister’s boundless faith in his genius, and now became his confidante and amanuensis. Another sister, Louise, had reached the age of fourteen, two others had died, and the youngest of all, Nanette, was now three years old. It was a happy, sensible, affectionate family-circle, in which the long-lost son and brother found sweet relief from the _misere_ of Stuttgart. The only cloud in the sky was the mother’s anxiety for the welfare of her son’s soul, with the resulting necessity of replying somewhat disingenuously to her tender inquiries into his religious condition. To his parents and sister the disgruntled medicus expressed freely his disappointment at the provision which the duke had made for him. A hard fate, indeed, to have studied seven years for the privilege of starving one’s mind and body as an insignificant army doctor!
It was partly the hope of earning money that led him to seek a publisher for ‘The Robbers’. Friend Petersen was exhorted to find one, if possible, and was promised whatever he could get for the piece over and above fifty florins. But Petersen had no luck and at last the ambitious author decided, as the author of ‘Goetz’ had done before him, to print his drama at his own expense. The money that he borrowed for the purpose, on the security of a friend, involved him in debts that were to hang over him for years and cause him endless trouble.
His plan once formed he began to take counsel with friends and revise his manuscript in the light of their criticisms. Even after the printing had begun, the revision continued. Things looked differently in the cold type of the proof-sheet, and he saw that he had occasionally gone too far in the direction of coarseness and extravagance. Thus the original draft had provided that Amalia should actually be sent to a convent, and that the furious Karl should appear with his robbers and threaten to convert the nunnery into a brothel unless his sweetheart should be delivered to him. This scene was condemned and the exploit given a more appropriate place among the _res gestae_ of Spiegelberg. In many places extravagant diction was toned down. The original preface, which was mainly occupied with a labored defence of the literary drama as against the stage-play, was rejected, and a new preface written which was devoted chiefly to moral considerations. The author here admitted that he had portrayed characters who would offend the virtuous, but insisted that he could not do otherwise if he was to copy nature, because in the real world virtue shines only in contrast with vice. He went on to say:
He who makes it his object to overthrow vice, and to avenge religion, morality and social law upon their enemies, must unveil vice in all its naked hideousness and bring it before the eyes of mankind in colossal size; he must himself wander temporarily through its nocturnal labyrinths and must be able to force himself into states of feeling that revolt his soul by their unnaturalness. I may properly claim for my work, in view of its remarkable catastrophe, a place among moral books. Vice meets the end that befits it. The wanderer returns to the track of law. Virtue triumphs. Whoever is fair enough to read me through and try to understand me, from him I may expect, not that he admire the poet, but that he respect the right-minded man.
This attempt to recommend ‘The Robbers’ as a text-book in morality has now a curious sound. It is a safe guess that the young attorney for the defence wrote with his tongue in his cheek and an eye on the censor.
The first edition, which appeared in May, 1781, was styled a ‘Schauspiel’ and bore the Hippocratic motto: _Quae medicamenta non sanant, ferrum sanat; quae ferrum non sanat, ignis sanat_. The author’s name was not given and the work purported (fallaciously) to have been published at Frankfurt and Leipzig. The anonymity was not taken seriously, however, and the Stuttgart medicus soon found himself a bit of a literary lion. He was pointed out on the street as the man who had written ‘The Robbers’, and distinguished travellers began to call upon him. The reviewers mingled praise and blame, and the most thoughtful of them, one Timme, declared in the Erfurt _Zeitung_ that here if anywhere