IN THIRTY VOLUMES.
LIFE OF FRIEDRICH SCHILLER.
LONDON: CHAPMAN AND HALL (LIMITED), 11 HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN.
LIFE OF FRIEDRICH SCHILLER
AN EXAMINATION OF HIS WORKS.
Quique pii vates et Phoebo digna locuti. VIRGIL.
WITH SUPPLEMENT OF 1872.
LONDON: CHAPMAN AND HALL (LIMITED).
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION vii
PART I. SCHILLER'S YOUTH. (1759-1784) 1
PART II. FROM HIS SETTLEMENT AT MANNHEIM TO HIS SETTLEMENT AT JENA. (1784-1790.) 49
PART III. FROM HIS SETTLEMENT AT JENA TO HIS DEATH. (1790-1805.) 117
SUPPLEMENT OF 1872. SCHILLER'S PARENTAGE, BOYHOOD, AND YOUTH 241
APPENDIX I. NO. 1. DANIEL SCHUBART 341 2. LETTERS OF SCHILLER 354 3. FRIENDSHIP WITH GOETHE 371 4. DEATH OF GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS 375
APPENDIX II. GOETHE'S INTRODUCTION TO GERMAN TRANSLATION OF THIS LIFE OF SCHILLER 379
SUMMARY AND INDEX 417
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
The excuse for reprinting this somewhat insignificant Book is, that certain parties, of the pirate species, were preparing to reprint it for me. There are books, as there are horses, which a judicious owner, on fair survey of them, might prefer to adjust by at once shooting through the head: but in the case of books, owing to the pirate species, that is not possible. Remains therefore that at least dirty paper and errors of the press be guarded against; that a poor Book, which has still to walk this world, do walk in clean linen, so to speak, and pass its few and evil days with no blotches but its own adhering to it.
There have been various new Lives of Schiller since this one first saw the light;—great changes in our notions, informations, in our relations to the Life of Schiller, and to other things connected therewith, during that long time! Into which I could not in the least enter on the present occasion. Such errors, one or two, as lay corrigible on the surface, I have pointed out by here and there a Note as I read; but of errors that lay deeper there could no charge be taken: to break the surface, to tear-up the old substance, and model it anew, was a task that lay far from me,—that would have been frightful to me. What was written remains written; and the Reader, by way of constant commentary, when needed, has to say to himself, "It was written Twenty years ago." For newer instruction on Schiller's Biography he can consult the Schillers Leben of Madame von Wolzogen, which Goethe once called a Schiller Redivivus; the Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethe;—or, as a summary of the whole, and the readiest inlet to the general subject for an English reader, Sir Edward Bulwer's Sketch of Schiller's Life, a vigorous and lively piece of writing, prefixed to his Translations from Schiller.
The present little Book is very imperfect:—but it pretends also to be very harmless; it can innocently instruct those who are more ignorant than itself! To which ingenuous class, according to their wants and tastes, let it, with all good wishes, and hopes to meet afterwards in fruitfuler provinces, be heartily commended.
London, 7th May 1845.
SCHILLER'S YOUTH (1759-1784).
Among the writers of the concluding part of the last century there is none more deserving of our notice than Friedrich Schiller. Distinguished alike for the splendour of his intellectual faculties, and the elevation of his tastes and feelings, he has left behind him in his works a noble emblem of these great qualities: and the reputation which he thus enjoys, and has merited, excites our attention the more, on considering the circumstances under which it was acquired. Schiller had peculiar difficulties to strive with, and his success has likewise been peculiar. Much of his life was deformed by inquietude and disease, and it terminated at middle age; he composed in a language then scarcely settled into form, or admitted to a rank among the cultivated languages of Europe: yet his writings are remarkable for their extent and variety as well as their intrinsic excellence; and his own countrymen are not his only, or perhaps his principal admirers. It is difficult to collect or interpret the general voice; but the World, no less than Germany, seems already to have dignified him with the reputation of a classic; to have enrolled him among that select number whose works belong not wholly to any age or nation, but who, having instructed their own contemporaries, are claimed as instructors by the great family of mankind, and set apart for many centuries from the common oblivion which soon overtakes the mass of authors, as it does the mass of other men.
Such has been the high destiny of Schiller. His history and character deserve our study for more than one reason. A natural and harmless feeling attracts us towards such a subject; we are anxious to know how so great a man passed through the world, how he lived, and moved, and had his being; and the question, if properly investigated, might yield advantage as well as pleasure. It would be interesting to discover by what gifts and what employment of them he reached the eminence on which we now see him; to follow the steps of his intellectual and moral culture; to gather from his life and works some picture of himself. It is worth inquiring, whether he, who could represent noble actions so well, did himself act nobly; how those powers of intellect, which in philosophy and art achieved so much, applied themselves to the every-day emergencies of life; how the generous ardour, which delights us in his poetry, displayed itself in the common intercourse between man and man. It would at once instruct and gratify us if we could understand him thoroughly, could transport ourselves into his circumstances outward and inward, could see as he saw, and feel as he felt.
But if the various utility of such a task is palpable enough, its difficulties are not less so. We should not lightly think of comprehending the very simplest character, in all its bearings; and it might argue vanity to boast of even a common acquaintance with one like Schiller's. Such men as he are misunderstood by their daily companions, much more by the distant observer, who gleans his information from scanty records, and casual notices of characteristic events, which biographers are often too indolent or injudicious to collect, and which the peaceful life of a man of letters usually supplies in little abundance. The published details of Schiller's history are meagre and insufficient; and his writings, like those of every author, can afford but a dim and dubious copy of his mind. Nor is it easy to decipher even this, with moderate accuracy. The haze of a foreign language, of foreign manners, and modes of thinking strange to us, confuses and obscures the sight, often magnifying what is trivial, softening what is rude, and sometimes hiding or distorting what is beautiful. To take the dimensions of Schiller's mind were a hard enterprise, in any case; harder still with these impediments.
Accordingly we do not, in this place, pretend to attempt it: we have no finished portrait of his character to offer, no formal estimate of his works. It will be enough for us if, in glancing over his life, we can satisfy a simple curiosity, about the fortunes and chief peculiarities of a man connected with us by a bond so kindly as that of the teacher to the taught, the giver to the receiver of mental delight; if, in wandering through his intellectual creation, we can enjoy once more the magnificent and fragrant beauty of that fairy land, and express our feelings, where we do not aim at judging and deciding.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller was a native of Marbach, a small town of Wuertemberg, situated on the banks of the Neckar. He was born on the 10th of November 1759,—a few months later than our own Robert Burns. Schiller's early culture was favoured by the dispositions, but obstructed by the outward circumstances of his parents. Though removed above the pressure of poverty, their station was dependent and fluctuating; it involved a frequent change of place and plan. Johann Caspar Schiller, the father, had been a surgeon in the Bavarian army; he served in the Netherlands during the Succession War. After his return home to Wuertemberg, he laid aside the medical profession, having obtained a commission of ensign and adjutant under his native Prince. This post he held successively in two regiments; he had changed into the second, and was absent on active duty when Friedrich was born. The Peace of Paris put an end to his military employment; but Caspar had shown himself an intelligent, unassuming and useful man, and the Duke of Wuertemberg was willing to retain him in his service. The laying-out of various nurseries and plantations in the pleasure-grounds of Ludwigsburg and Solitude was intrusted to the retired soldier, now advanced to the rank of captain: he removed from one establishment to another, from time to time; and continued in the Duke's pay till death. In his latter years he resided chiefly at Ludwigsburg.
This mode of life was not the most propitious for educating such a boy as Friedrich; but the native worth of his parents did more than compensate for the disadvantages of their worldly condition and their limited acquirements in knowledge. The benevolence, the modest and prudent integrity, the true devoutness of these good people shone forth at an after period, expanded and beautified in the character of their son; his heart was nourished by a constant exposure to such influences, and thus the better part of his education prospered well. The mother was a woman of many household virtues; to a warm affection for her children and husband, she joined a degree of taste and intelligence which is of much rarer occurrence. She is said to have been a lover of poetry; in particular an admiring reader of Utz and Gellert, writers whom it is creditable for one in her situation to have relished. Her kindness and tenderness of heart peculiarly endeared her to Friedrich. Her husband appears to have been a person of great probity and meekness of temper, sincerely desirous to approve himself a useful member of society, and to do his duty conscientiously to all men. The seeds of many valuable qualities had been sown in him by nature; and though his early life had been unfavourable for their cultivation, he at a late period laboured, not without success, to remedy this disadvantage. Such branches of science and philosophy as lay within his reach, he studied with diligence, whenever his professional employments left him leisure; on a subject connected with the latter he became an author. But what chiefly distinguished him was the practice of a sincere piety, which seems to have diffused itself over all his feelings, and given to his clear and honest character that calm elevation which, in such a case, is its natural result. As his religion mingled itself with every motive and action of his life, the wish which in all his wanderings lay nearest his heart, the wish for the education of his son, was likely to be deeply tinctured with it. There is yet preserved, in his handwriting, a prayer composed in advanced age, wherein he mentions how, at the child's birth, he had entreated the great Father of all, "to supply in strength of spirit what must needs be wanting in outward instruction." The gray-haired man, who had lived to see the maturity of his boy, could now express his solemn thankfulness, that "God had heard the prayer of a mortal."
[Footnote 1: She was of humble descent and little education, the daughter of a baker in Kodweis.]
[Footnote 2: His book is entitled Die Baumzucht im Grossen (the Cultivation of Trees on the Grand Scale): it came to a second edition in 1806.]
Friedrich followed the movements of his parents for some time; and had to gather the elements of learning from various masters. Perhaps it was in part owing to this circumstance, that his progress, though respectable, or more, was so little commensurate with what he afterwards became, or with the capacities of which even his earliest years gave symptoms. Thoughtless and gay, as a boy is wont to be, he would now and then dissipate his time in childish sports, forgetful that the stolen charms of ball and leapfrog must be dearly bought by reproaches: but occasionally he was overtaken with feelings of deeper import, and used to express the agitations of his little mind in words and actions, which were first rightly interpreted when they were called to mind long afterwards. His schoolfellows can now recollect that even his freaks had sometimes a poetic character; that a certain earnestness of temper, a frank integrity, an appetite for things grand or moving, was discernible across all the caprices of his boyhood. Once, it is said, during a tremendous thunderstorm, his father missed him in the young group within doors; none of the sisters could tell what was become of Fritz, and the old man grew at length so anxious that he was forced to go out in quest of him. Fritz was scarcely past the age of infancy, and knew not the dangers of a scene so awful. His father found him at last, in a solitary place of the neighbourhood, perched on the branch of a tree, gazing at the tempestuous face of the sky, and watching the flashes as in succession they spread their lurid gleam over it. To the reprimands of his parent, the whimpering truant pleaded in extenuation, "that the lightning was very beautiful, and that he wished to see where it was coming from!"—Such anecdotes, we have long known, are in themselves of small value: the present one has the additional defect of being somewhat dubious in respect of authenticity. We have ventured to give it, as it came to us, notwithstanding. The picture of the boy Schiller, contemplating the thunder, is not without a certain interest, for such as know the man.
Schiller's first teacher was Moser, pastor and schoolmaster in the village of Lorch, where the parents resided from the sixth to the ninth year of their son. This person deserves mention for the influence he exerted on the early history of his pupil: he seems to have given his name to the Priest 'Moser' in the Robbers; his spiritual calling, and the conversation of his son, himself afterwards a preacher, are supposed to have suggested to Schiller the idea of consecrating himself to the clerical profession. This idea, which laid hold of and cherished some predominant though vague propensities of the boy's disposition, suited well with the religious sentiments of his parents, and was soon formed into a settled purpose. In the public school at Ludwigsburg, whither the family had now removed, his studies were regulated with this view; and he underwent, in four successive years, the annual examination before the Stuttgard Commission, to which young men destined for the Church are subjected in that country. Schiller's temper was naturally devout; with a delicacy of feeling which tended towards bashfulness and timidity, there was mingled in him a fervid impetuosity, which was ever struggling through its concealment, and indicating that he felt deeply and strongly, as well as delicately. Such a turn of mind easily took the form of religion, prescribed to it by early example and early affections, as well as nature. Schiller looked forward to the sacred profession with alacrity: it was the serious daydream of all his boyhood, and much of his youth. As yet, however, the project hovered before him at a great distance, and the path to its fulfilment offered him but little entertainment. His studies did not seize his attention firmly; he followed them from a sense of duty, not of pleasure. Virgil and Horace he learned to construe accurately; but is said to have taken no deep interest in their poetry. The tenderness and meek beauty of the first, the humour and sagacity and capricious pathos of the last, the matchless elegance of both, would of course escape his inexperienced perception; while the matter of their writings must have appeared frigid and shallow to a mind so susceptible. He loved rather to meditate on the splendour of the Ludwigsburg theatre, which had inflamed his imagination when he first saw it in his ninth year, and given shape and materials to many of his subsequent reveries. Under these circumstances, his progress, with all his natural ability, could not be very striking; the teachers did not fail now and then to visit him with their severities; yet still there was a negligent success in his attempts, which, joined to his honest and vivid temper, made men augur well of him. The Stuttgard Examinators have marked him in their records with the customary formula of approval, or, at worst, of toleration. They usually designate him as 'a boy of good hope,' puer bonae spei.
[Footnote 3: The first display of his poetic gifts occurred also in his ninth year, but took its rise in a much humbler and less common source than the inspiration of the stage. His biographers have recorded this small event with a conscientious accuracy, second only to that of Boswell and Hawkins in regard to the Lichfield duck. 'The little tale,' says one of them, 'is worth relating; the rather that, after an interval of more than twenty years, Schiller himself, on meeting with his early comrade (the late Dr. Elwert of Kantstadt) for the first time since their boyhood, reminded him of the adventure, recounting the circumstances with great minuteness and glee. It is as follows: Once in 1768, Elwert and he had to repeat their catechism together on a certain day publicly in the church. Their teacher, an ill-conditioned, narrow-minded pietist, had previously threatened them with a thorough flogging if they missed even a single word. To make the matter worse, this very teacher chanced to be the person whose turn it was to catechise on the appointed day. Both the boys began their answers with dismayed hearts and faltering tongues; yet they succeeded in accomplishing the task; and were in consequence rewarded by the mollified pedagogue with two kreutzers apiece. Four kreutzers of ready cash was a sum of no common magnitude; how it should be disposed of formed a serious question for the parties interested. Schiller moved that they should go to Harteneck, a hamlet in the neighbourhood, and have a dish of curds-and-cream: his partner assented; but alas! in Harteneck no particle of curds or cream was to be had. Schiller then made offer for a quarter-cake of cheese; but for this four entire kreutzers were demanded, leaving nothing whatever in reserve for bread! Twice baffled, the little gastronomes, unsatisfied in stomach, wandered on to Neckarweihingen; where, at length, though not till after much inquiry, they did obtain a comfortable mess of curds-and-cream, served up in a gay platter, and silver spoons to eat it with. For all this, moreover, they were charged but three kreutzers; so that there was still one left to provide them with a bunch of St. John grapes. Exhilarated by such liberal cheer, Schiller rose into a glow of inspiration: having left the village, he mounted with his comrade to the adjacent height, which overlooks both Harteneck and Neckarweihingen; and there in a truly poetic effusion he pronounced his malediction on the creamless region, bestowing with the same solemnity his blessing on the one which had afforded him that savoury refreshment.' Friedrich von Schillers Leben (Heidelberg. 1817), p. 11.]
This good hope was not, however, destined to be realised in the way they expected: accidents occurred which changed the direction of Schiller's exertions, and threatened for a time to prevent the success of them altogether. The Duke of Wuertemberg had lately founded a Free Seminary for certain branches of professional education: it was first set up at Solitude, one of his country residences; and had now been transferred to Stuttgard, where, under an improved form, and with the name of Karls-schule, we believe it still exists. The Duke proposed to give the sons of his military officers a preferable claim to the benefits of this institution; and having formed a good opinion both of Schiller and his father, he invited the former to profit by this opportunity. The offer occasioned great embarrassment: the young man and his parents were alike determined in favour of the Church, a project with which this new one was inconsistent. Their embarrassment was but increased, when the Duke, on learning the nature of their scruples, desired them to think well before they decided. It was out of fear, and with reluctance that his proposal was accepted. Schiller enrolled himself in 1773; and turned, with a heavy heart, from freedom and cherished hopes, to Greek, and seclusion, and Law.
His anticipations proved to be but too just: the six years which he spent in this establishment were the most harassing and comfortless of his life. The Stuttgard system of education seems to have been formed on the principle, not of cherishing and correcting nature, but of rooting it out, and supplying its place with something better. The process of teaching and living was conducted with the stiff formality of military drilling; every thing went on by statute and ordinance, there was no scope for the exercise of free-will, no allowance for the varieties of original structure. A scholar might possess what instincts or capacities he pleased; the 'regulations of the school' took no account of this; he must fit himself into the common mould, which, like the old Giant's bed, stood there, appointed by superior authority, to be filled alike by the great and the little. The same strict and narrow course of reading and composition was marked out for each beforehand, and it was by stealth if he read or wrote any thing beside. Their domestic economy was regulated in the same spirit as their preceptorial: it consisted of the same sedulous exclusion of all that could border on pleasure, or give any exercise to choice. The pupils were kept apart from the conversation or sight of any person but their teachers; none ever got beyond the precincts of despotism to snatch even a fearful joy; their very amusements proceeded by the word of command.
How grievous all this must have been, it is easy to conceive. To Schiller it was more grievous than to any other. Of an ardent and impetuous yet delicate nature, whilst his discontentment devoured him internally, he was too modest and timid to give it the relief of utterance by deeds or words. Locked up within himself, he suffered deeply, but without complaining. Some of his letters written during this period have been preserved: they exhibit the ineffectual struggles of a fervid and busy mind veiling its many chagrins under a certain dreary patience, which only shows them more painfully. He pored over his lexicons and grammars, and insipid tasks, with an artificial composure; but his spirit pined within him like a captive's, when he looked forth into the cheerful world, or recollected the affection of parents, the hopes and frolicsome enjoyments of past years. The misery he endured in this severe and lonely mode of existence strengthened or produced in him a habit of constraint and shyness, which clung to his character through life.
The study of Law, for which he had never felt any predilection, naturally grew in his mind to be the representative of all these evils, and his distaste for it went on increasing. On this point he made no secret of his feelings. One of the exercises, yearly prescribed to every scholar, was a written delineation of his own character, according to his own views of it, to be delivered publicly at an appointed time: Schiller, on the first of these exhibitions, ventured to state his persuasion, that he was not made to be a jurist, but called rather by his inclinations and faculties to the clerical profession. This statement, of course, produced no effect; he was forced to continue the accustomed course, and his dislike for Law kept fast approaching to absolute disgust. In 1775, he was fortunate enough to get it relinquished, though at the expense of adopting another employment, for which, in different circumstances, he would hardly have declared himself. The study of Medicine, for which a new institution was about this time added to the Stuttgard school, had no attractions for Schiller: he accepted it only as a galling servitude in exchange for one more galling. His mind was bent on higher objects; and he still felt all his present vexations aggravated by the thought, that his fairest expectations from the future had been sacrificed to worldly convenience, and the humblest necessities of life.
Meanwhile the youth was waxing into manhood, and the fetters of discipline lay heavier on him, as his powers grew stronger, and his eyes became open to the stirring and variegated interests of the world, now unfolding itself to him under new and more glowing colours. As yet he contemplated the scene only from afar, and it seemed but the more gorgeous on that account. He longed to mingle in its busy current, and delighted to view the image of its movements in his favourite poets and historians. Plutarch and Shakspeare; the writings of Klopstock, Lessing, Garve, Herder, Gerstenberg, Goethe, and a multitude of others, which marked the dawning literature of Germany, he had studied with a secret avidity: they gave him vague ideas of men and life, or awakened in him splendid visions of literary glory. Klopstock's Messias, combined with his own religious tendencies, had early turned him to sacred poetry: before the end of his fourteenth year, he had finished what he called an 'epic poem,' entitled Moses. The extraordinary popularity of Gerstenberg's Ugolino, and Goethe's Goetz von Berlichingen, next directed his attention to the drama; and as admiration in a mind like his, full of blind activity and nameless aspirings, naturally issues in imitation, he plunged with equal ardour into this new subject, and produced his first tragedy, Cosmo von Medicis, some fragments of which he retained and inserted in his Robbers. A mass of minor performances, preserved among his papers, or published in the Magazines of the time, serve sufficiently to show that his mind had already dimly discovered its destination, and was striving with a restless vehemence to reach it, in spite of every obstacle.
[Footnote 4: The feeling produced in him by Shakspeare he described long afterwards: it throws light on the general state of his temper and tastes. 'When I first, at a very early age,' he says, 'became acquainted with this poet, I felt indignant at his coldness, his hardness of heart, which permitted him in the most melting pathos to utter jests,—to mar, by the introduction of a fool, the soul-searching scenes of Hamlet, Lear, and other pieces; which now kept him still where my sensibilities hastened forward, now drove him carelessly, onward where I would so gladly have lingered * * He was the object of my reverence and zealous study for years before I could love himself. I was not yet capable of comprehending Nature at first-hand: I had but learned to admire her image, reflected in the understanding, and put in order by rules.' Werke, Bd. viii 2, p. 77.]
Such obstacles were in his case neither few nor small. Schiller felt the mortifying truth, that to arrive at the ideal world, he must first gain a footing in the real; that he might entertain high thoughts and longings, might reverence the beauties of nature and grandeur of mind, but was born to toil for his daily bread. Poetry he loved with the passionateness of a first affection; but he could not live by it; he honoured it too highly to wish to live by it. His prudence told him that he must yield to stern necessity, must 'forsake the balmy climate of Pindus for the Greenland of a barren and dreary science of terms;' and he did not hesitate to obey. His professional studies were followed with a rigid though reluctant fidelity; it was only in leisure gained by superior diligence that he could yield himself to more favourite pursuits. Genius was to serve as the ornament of his inferior qualities, not as an excuse for the want of them.
But if, when such sacrifices were required, it was painful to comply with the dictates of his own reason, it was still more so to endure the harsh and superfluous restrictions of his teachers. He felt it hard enough to be driven from the enchantments of poetry by the dull realities of duty; but it was intolerable and degrading to be hemmed-in still farther by the caprices of severe and formal pedagogues. Schiller brooded gloomily over the constraints and hardships of his situation. Many plans he formed for deliverance. Sometimes he would escape in secret to catch a glimpse of the free and busy world to him forbidden: sometimes he laid schemes for utterly abandoning a place which he abhorred, and trusting to fortune for the rest. Often the sight of his class-books and school-apparatus became irksome beyond endurance; he would feign sickness, that he might be left in his own chamber to write poetry and pursue his darling studies without hindrance. Such artifices did not long avail him; the masters noticed the regularity of his sickness, and sent him tasks to be done while it lasted. Even Schiller's patience could not brook this; his natural timidity gave place to indignation; he threw the paper of exercises at the feet of the messenger, and said sternly that "here he would choose his own studies."
Under such corroding and continual vexations an ordinary spirit would have sunk at length, would have gradually given up its loftier aspirations, and sought refuge in vicious indulgence, or at best have sullenly harnessed itself into the yoke, and plodded through existence, weary, discontented, and broken, ever casting back a hankering look upon the dreams of youth, and ever without power to realise them. But Schiller was no ordinary character, and did not act like one. Beneath a cold and simple exterior, dignified with no artificial attractions, and marred in its native amiableness by the incessant obstruction, the isolation and painful destitutions under which he lived, there was concealed a burning energy of soul, which no obstruction could extinguish. The hard circumstances of his fortune had prevented the natural development of his mind; his faculties had been cramped and misdirected; but they had gathered strength by opposition and the habit of self-dependence which it encouraged. His thoughts, unguided by a teacher, had sounded into the depths of his own nature and the mysteries of his own fate; his feelings and passions, unshared by any other heart, had been driven back upon his own, where, like the volcanic fire that smoulders and fuses in secret, they accumulated till their force grew irresistible.
Hitherto Schiller had passed for an unprofitable, a discontented and a disobedient Boy: but the time was now come when the gyves of school-discipline could no longer cripple and distort the giant might of his nature: he stood forth as a Man, and wrenched asunder his fetters with a force that was felt at the extremities of Europe. The publication of the Robbers forms an era not only in Schiller's history, but in the Literature of the World; and there seems no doubt that, but for so mean a cause as the perverted discipline of the Stuttgard school, we had never seen this tragedy. Schiller commenced it in his nineteenth year; and the circumstances under which it was composed are to be traced in all its parts. It is the production of a strong untutored spirit, consumed by an activity for which there is no outlet, indignant at the barriers which restrain it, and grappling darkly with the phantoms to which its own energy thus painfully imprisoned gives being. A rude simplicity, combined with a gloomy and overpowering force, are its chief characteristics; they remind us of the defective cultivation, as well as of the fervid and harassed feelings of its author. Above all, the latter quality is visible; the tragic interest of the Robbers is deep throughout, so deep that frequently it borders upon horror. A grim inexpiable Fate is made the ruling principle: it envelops and overshadows the whole; and under its louring influence, the fiercest efforts of human will appear but like flashes that illuminate the wild scene with a brief and terrible splendour, and are lost forever in the darkness. The unsearchable abysses of man's destiny are laid open before us, black and profound and appalling, as they seem to the young mind when it first attempts to explore them: the obstacles that thwart our faculties and wishes, the deceitfulness of hope, the nothingness of existence, are sketched in the sable colours so natural to the enthusiast when he first ventures upon life, and compares the world that is without him to the anticipations that were within.
Karl von Moor is a character such as young poets always delight to contemplate or delineate; to Schiller the analogy of their situations must have peculiarly recommended him. Moor is animated into action by feelings similar to those under which his author was then suffering and longing to act. Gifted with every noble quality of manhood in overflowing abundance, Moor's first expectations of life, and of the part he was to play in it, had been glorious as a poet's dream. But the minor dexterities of management were not among his endowments; in his eagerness to reach the goal, he had forgotten that the course is a labyrinthic maze, beset with difficulties, of which some may be surmounted, some can only be evaded, many can be neither. Hurried on by the headlong impetuosity of his temper, he entangles himself in these perplexities; and thinks to penetrate them, not by skill and patience, but by open force. He is baffled, deceived, and still more deeply involved; but injury and disappointment exasperate rather than instruct him. He had expected heroes, and he finds mean men; friends, and he finds smiling traitors to tempt him aside, to profit by his aberrations, and lead him onward to destruction: he had dreamed of magnanimity and every generous principle, he finds that prudence is the only virtue sure of its reward. Too fiery by nature, the intensity of his sufferings has now maddened him still farther: he is himself incapable of calm reflection, and there is no counsellor at hand to assist him; none, whose sympathy might assuage his miseries, whose wisdom might teach him to remedy or to endure them. He is stung by fury into action, and his activity is at once blind and tremendous. Since the world is not the abode of unmixed integrity, he looks upon it as a den of thieves; since its institutions may obstruct the advancement of worth, and screen delinquency from punishment, he regards the social union as a pestilent nuisance, the mischiefs of which it is fitting that he in his degree should do his best to repair, by means however violent. Revenge is the mainspring of his conduct; but he ennobles it in his own eyes, by giving it the colour of a disinterested concern for the maintenance of justice,—the abasement of vice from its high places, and the exaltation of suffering virtue. Single against the universe, to appeal to the primary law of the stronger, to 'grasp the scales of Providence in a mortal's hand,' is frantic and wicked; but Moor has a force of soul which makes it likewise awful. The interest lies in the conflict of this gigantic soul against the fearful odds which at length overwhelm it, and hurry it down to the darkest depths of ruin.
The original conception of such a work as this betrays the inexperience no less than the vigour of youth: its execution gives a similar testimony. The characters of the piece, though traced in glowing colours, are outlines more than pictures: the few features we discover in them are drawn with elaborate minuteness; but the rest are wanting. Every thing indicates the condition of a keen and powerful intellect, which had studied men in books only; had, by self-examination and the perusal of history, detected and strongly seized some of the leading peculiarities of human nature; but was yet ignorant of all the minute and more complex principles which regulate men's conduct in actual life, and which only a knowledge of living men can unfold. If the hero of the play forms something like an exception to this remark, he is the sole exception, and for reasons alluded to above: his character resembles the author's own. Even with Karl, the success is incomplete: with the other personages it is far more so. Franz von Moor, the villain of the Piece, is an amplified copy of Iago and Richard; but the copy is distorted as well as amplified. There is no air of reality in Franz: he is a villain of theory, who studies to accomplish his object by the most diabolical expedients, and soothes his conscience by arguing with the priest in favour of atheism and materialism; not the genuine villain of Shakspeare and Nature, who employs his reasoning powers in creating new schemes and devising new means, and conquers remorse by avoiding it,—by fixing his hopes and fears on the more pressing emergencies of worldly business. So reflective a miscreant as Franz could not exist: his calculations would lead him to honesty, if merely because it was the best policy.
Amelia, the only female in the piece, is a beautiful creation; but as imaginary as her persecutor Franz. Still and exalted in her warm enthusiasm, devoted in her love to Moor, she moves before us as the inhabitant of a higher and simpler world than ours. "He sails on troubled seas," she exclaims, with a confusion of metaphors, which it is easy to pardon, "he sails on troubled seas, Amelia's love sails with him; he wanders in pathless deserts, Amelia's love makes the burning sand grow green beneath him, and the stunted shrubs to blossom; the south scorches his bare head, his feet are pinched by the northern snow, stormy hail beats round his temples—Amelia's love rocks him to sleep in the storm. Seas, and hills, and horizons, are between us; but souls escape from their clay prisons, and meet in the paradise of love!" She is a fair vision, the beau ideal of a poet's first mistress; but has few mortal lineaments.
Similar defects are visible in almost all the other characters. Moor, the father, is a weak and fond old man, who could have arrived at gray hairs in such a state of ignorance nowhere but in a work of fiction. The inferior banditti are painted with greater vigour, yet still in rugged and ill-shapen forms; their individuality is kept up by an extravagant exaggeration of their several peculiarities. Schiller himself pronounced a severe but not unfounded censure, when he said of this work, in a maturer age, that his chief fault was in 'presuming to delineate men two years before he had met one.'
His skill in the art of composition surpassed his knowledge of the world; but that too was far from perfection. Schiller's style in the Robbers is partly of a kind with the incidents and feelings which it represents; strong and astonishing, and sometimes wildly grand; but likewise inartificial, coarse, and grotesque. His sentences, in their rude emphasis, come down like the club of Hercules; the stroke is often of a crushing force, but its sweep is irregular and awkward. When Moor is involved in the deepest intricacies of the old question, necessity and free will, and has convinced himself that he is but an engine in the hands of some dark and irresistible power, he cries out: "Why has my Perillus made of me a brazen bull to roast men in my glowing belly?" The stage-direction says, 'shaken with horror:' no wonder that he shook!
Schiller has admitted these faults, and explained their origin, in strong and sincere language, in a passage of which we have already quoted the conclusion. 'A singular miscalculation of nature,' he says, 'had combined my poetical tendencies with the place of my birth. Any disposition to poetry did violence to the laws of the institution where I was educated, and contradicted the plan of its founder. For eight years my enthusiasm struggled with military discipline; but the passion for poetry is vehement and fiery as a first love. What discipline was meant to extinguish, it blew into a flame. To escape from arrangements that tortured me, my heart sought refuge in the world of ideas, when as yet I was unacquainted with the world of realities, from which iron bars excluded me. I was unacquainted with men; for the four hundred that lived with me were but repetitions of the same creature, true casts of one single mould, and of that very mould which plastic nature solemnly disclaimed. * * * Thus circumstanced, a stranger to human characters and human fortunes, to hit the medium line between angels and devils was an enterprise in which I necessarily failed. In attempting it, my pencil necessarily brought out a monster, for which by good fortune the world had no original, and which I would not wish to be immortal, except to perpetuate an example of the offspring which Genius in its unnatural union with Thraldom may give to the world. I allude to the Robbers.'
[Footnote 5: Deutsches Museum v. Jahr 1784, cited by Doering.]
Yet with all these excrescences and defects, the unbounded popularity of the Robbers is not difficult to account for. To every reader, the excitement of emotion must be a chief consideration; to the mass of readers it is the sole one: and the grand secret of moving others is, that the poet be himself moved. We have seen how well Schiller's temper and circumstances qualified him to fulfil this condition: treatment, not of his choosing, had raised his own mind into something like a Pythian frenzy; and his genius, untrained as it was, sufficed to communicate abundance of the feeling to others. Perhaps more than abundance: to judge from our individual impression, the perusal of the Robbers produces an effect powerful even to pain; we are absolutely wounded by the catastrophe; our minds are darkened and distressed, as if we had witnessed the execution of a criminal. It is in vain that we rebel against the inconsistencies and crudities of the work: its faults are redeemed by the living energy that pervades it. We may exclaim against the blind madness of the hero; but there is a towering grandeur about him, a whirlwind force of passion and of will, which catches our hearts, and puts the scruples of criticism to silence. The most delirious of enterprises is that of Moor, but the vastness of his mind renders even that interesting. We see him leagued with desperadoes directing their savage strength to actions more and more audacious; he is in arms against the conventions of men and the everlasting laws of Fate: yet we follow him with anxiety through the forests and desert places, where he wanders, encompassed with peril, inspired with lofty daring, and torn by unceasing remorse; and we wait with awe for the doom which he has merited and cannot avoid. Nor amid all his frightful aberrations do we ever cease to love him: he is an 'archangel though in ruins;' and the strong agony with which he feels the present, the certainty of that stern future which awaits him, which his own eye never loses sight of, makes us lenient to his crimes. When he pours forth his wild recollections, or still wilder forebodings, there is a terrible vehemence in his expressions, which overpowers us, in spite both of his and their extravagance. The scene on the hills beside the Danube, where he looks at the setting sun, and thinks of old hopes, and times 'when he could not sleep if his evening prayer had been forgotten,' is one, with all its improprieties, that ever clings to the memory. "See," he passionately continues, "all things are gone forth to bask in the peaceful beam of the spring: why must I alone inhale the torments of hell out of the joys of heaven? That all should be so happy, all so married together by the spirit of peace! The whole world one family, its Father above; that Father not mine! I alone the castaway, I alone struck out from the company of the just; not for me the sweet name of child, never for me the languishing look of one whom I love; never, never, the embracing of a bosom friend! Encircled with murderers; serpents hissing around me; riveted to vice with iron bonds; leaning on the bending reed of vice over the gulf of perdition; amid the flowers of the glad world, a howling Abaddon! Oh, that I might return into my mother's womb;—that I might be born a beggar! I would never more—O Heaven, that I could be as one of these day-labourers! Oh, I would toil till the blood ran down from my temples, to buy myself the pleasure of one noontide sleep, the blessing of a single tear. There was a time too, when I could weep—O ye days of peace, thou castle of my father, ye green lovely valleys!—O all ye Elysian scenes of my childhood! will ye never come again, never with your balmy sighing cool my burning bosom? Mourn with me, Nature! They will never come again, never cool my burning bosom with their balmy sighing. They are gone! gone! and may not return!"
No less strange is the soliloquy where Moor, with the instrument of self-destruction in his hands, the 'dread key that is to shut behind him the prison of life, and to unbolt before him the dwelling of eternal night,'—meditates on the gloomy enigmas of his future destiny. Soliloquies on this subject are numerous,—from the time of Hamlet, of Cato, and downwards. Perhaps the worst of them has more ingenuity, perhaps the best of them has less awfulness than the present. St. Dominick himself might shudder at such a question, with such an answer as this: "What if thou shouldst send me companionless to some burnt and blasted circle of the universe; which thou hast banished from thy sight; where the lone darkness and the motionless desert were my prospects—forever? I would people the silent wilderness with my fantasies; I should have Eternity for leisure to examine the perplexed image of the universal woe."
Strength, wild impassioned strength, is the distinguishing quality of Moor. All his history shows it; and his death is of a piece with the fierce splendour of his life. Having finished the bloody work of crime, and magnanimity, and horror, he thinks that, for himself, suicide would be too easy an exit. He has noticed a poor man toiling by the wayside, for eleven children; a great reward has been promised for the head of the Robber; the gold will nourish that poor drudge and his boys, and Moor goes forth to give it them. We part with him in pity and sorrow; looking less at his misdeeds than at their frightful expiation.
The subordinate personages, though diminished in extent and varied in their forms, are of a similar quality with the hero; a strange mixture of extravagance and true energy. In perusing the work which represents their characters and fates, we are alternately shocked and inspired; there is a perpetual conflict between our understanding and our feelings. Yet the latter on the whole come off victorious. The Robbers is a tragedy that will long find readers to astonish, and, with all its faults, to move. It stands, in our imagination, like some ancient rugged pile of a barbarous age; irregular, fantastic, useless; but grand in its height and massiveness and black frowning strength. It will long remain a singular monument of the early genius and early fortune of its author.
The publication of such a work as this naturally produced an extraordinary feeling in the literary world. Translations of the Robbers soon appeared in almost all the languages of Europe, and were read in all of them with a deep interest, compounded of admiration and aversion, according to the relative proportions of sensibility and judgment in the various minds which contemplated the subject. In Germany, the enthusiasm which the Robbers excited was extreme. The young author had burst upon the world like a meteor; and surprise, for a time, suspended the power of cool and rational criticism. In the ferment produced by the universal discussion of this single topic, the poet was magnified above his natural dimensions, great as they were: and though the general sentence was loudly in his favour, yet he found detractors as well as praisers, and both equally beyond the limits of moderation.
One charge brought against him must have damped the joy of literary glory, and stung Schiller's pure and virtuous mind more deeply than any other. He was accused of having injured the cause of morality by his work; of having set up to the impetuous and fiery temperament of youth a model of imitation which the young were too likely to pursue with eagerness, and which could only lead them from the safe and beaten tracks of duty into error and destruction. It has even been stated, and often been repeated since, that a practical exemplification of this doctrine occurred, about this time, in Germany. A young nobleman, it was said, of the fairest gifts and prospects, had cast away all these advantages; betaken himself to the forests, and, copying Moor, had begun a course of active operations,—which, also copying Moor, but less willingly, he had ended by a shameful death.
It can now be hardly necessary to contradict these theories; or to show that none but a candidate for Bedlam as well as Tyburn could be seduced from the substantial comforts of existence, to seek destruction and disgrace, for the sake of such imaginary grandeur. The German nobleman of the fairest gifts and prospects turns out, on investigation, to have been a German blackguard, whom debauchery and riotous extravagance had reduced to want; who took to the highway, when he could take to nothing else,—not allured by an ebullient enthusiasm, or any heroical and misdirected appetite for sublime actions, but driven by the more palpable stimulus of importunate duns, an empty purse, and five craving senses. Perhaps in his later days, this philosopher may have referred to Schiller's tragedy, as the source from which he drew his theory of life: but if so, we believe he was mistaken. For characters like him, the great attraction was the charms of revelry, and the great restraint, the gallows,—before the period of Karl von Moor, just as they have been since, and will be to the end of time. Among motives like these, the influence of even the most malignant book could scarcely be discernible, and would be little detrimental, if it were.
Nothing, at any rate, could be farther from Schiller's intention than such a consummation. In his preface, he speaks of the moral effects of the Robbers in terms which do honour to his heart, while they show the inexperience of his head. Ridicule, he signifies, has long been tried against the wickedness of the times, whole cargoes of hellebore have been expended,—in vain; and now, he thinks, recourse must be had to more pungent medicines. We may smile at the simplicity of this idea; and safely conclude that, like other specifics, the present one would fail to produce a perceptible effect: but Schiller's vindication rests on higher grounds than these. His work has on the whole furnished nourishment to the more exalted powers of our nature; the sentiments and images which he has shaped and uttered, tend, in spite of their alloy, to elevate the soul to a nobler pitch: and this is a sufficient defence. As to the danger of misapplying the inspiration he communicates, of forgetting the dictates of prudence in our zeal for the dictates of poetry, we have no great cause to fear it. Hitherto, at least, there has always been enough of dull reality, on every side of us, to abate such fervours in good time, and bring us back to the most sober level of prose, if not to sink us below it. We should thank the poet who performs such a service; and forbear to inquire too rigidly whether there is any 'moral' in his piece or not. The writer of a work, which interests and excites the spiritual feelings of men, has as little need to justify himself by showing how it exemplifies some wise saw or modern instance, as the doer of a generous action has to demonstrate its merit, by deducing it from the system of Shaftesbury, or Smith, or Paley, or whichever happens to be the favourite system for the age and place. The instructiveness of the one, and the virtue of the other, exist independently of all systems or saws, and in spite of all.
But the tragedy of the Robbers produced some inconveniences of a kind much more sensible than these its theoretical mischiefs. We have called it the signal of Schiller's deliverance from school tyranny and military constraint; but its operation in this respect was not immediate; at first it seemed to involve him more deeply and dangerously than before. He had finished the original sketch of it in 1778; but for fear of offence, he kept it secret till his medical studies were completed. These, in the mean time, he had pursued with sufficient assiduity to merit the usual honours; in 1780, he had, in consequence, obtained the post of surgeon to the regiment Auge, in the Wuertemberg army. This advancement enabled him to complete his project, to print the Robbers at his own expense, not being able to find any bookseller that would undertake it. The nature of the work, and the universal interest it awakened, drew attention to the private circumstances of the author, whom the Robbers, as well as other pieces of his writing, that had found their way into the periodical publications of the time, sufficiently showed to be no common man. Many grave persons were offended at the vehement sentiments expressed in the Robbers; and the unquestioned ability with which these extravagances were expressed, but made the matter worse. To Schiller's superiors, above all, such things were inconceivable: he might perhaps be a very great genius, but was certainly a dangerous servant for his Highness the Grand Duke of Wuertemberg. Officious people mingled themselves in the affair: nay, the graziers of the Alps were brought to bear upon it. The Grisons magistrates, it appeared, had seen the book: and were mortally huffed at being there spoken of, according to a Swabian adage, as common highwaymen. They complained in the Hamburg Correspondent; and a sort of Jackal, at Ludwigsburg, one Walter, whose name deserves to be thus kept in mind, volunteered to plead their cause before the Grand Duke.
[Footnote 6: On this subject Doering gives an anecdote, which may perhaps be worth translating. 'One of Schiller's teachers surprised him on one occasion reciting a scene from the Robbers, before some of his intimate companions. At the words, which Franz von Moor addresses to Moser: Ha, what! thou knowest none greater? Think again! Death, heaven, eternity, damnation, hovers in the sound of thy voice! Not one greater?—the door opened, and the master saw Schiller stamping in desperation up and down the room. "For shame," said he, "for shame to get into such a passion, and curse so!" The other scholars tittered covertly at the worthy inspector; and Schiller called after him with a bitter smile, "A noodle" (ein confiscirter Kerl)!']
[Footnote 7: His Latin Essay on the Philosophy of Physiology was written in 1778, and never printed. His concluding thesis was published according to custom: the subject is arduous enough, "the connection between the animal and spiritual nature of man,"—which Dr. Cabanis has since treated in so offensive a fashion. Schiller's tract we have never seen. Doering says it was long 'out of print,' till Nasse reproduced it in his Medical Journal (Leipzig, 1820): he is silent respecting its merits.]
[Footnote 8: The obnoxious passage has been carefully expunged from subsequent editions. It was in the third scene of the second act; Spiegelberg discoursing with Razmann, observes, "An honest man you may form of windle-straws; but to make a rascal you must have grist: besides, there is a national genius in it, a certain rascal-climate, so to speak." In the first edition, there was added: "Go to the Grisons, for instance: that is what I call the thief's Athens." The patriot who stood forth on this occasion for the honour of the Grisons, to deny this weighty charge, and denounce the crime of making it, was not Dogberry or Verges, but 'one of the noble family of Salis.']
Informed of all these circumstances, the Grand Duke expressed his disapprobation of Schiller's poetical labours in the most unequivocal terms. Schiller was at length summoned to appear before him; and it then turned out, that his Highness was not only dissatisfied with the moral or political errors of the work, but scandalised moreover at its want of literary merit. In this latter respect, he was kind enough to proffer his own services. But Schiller seems to have received the proposal with no sufficient gratitude; and the interview passed without advantage to either party. It terminated in the Duke's commanding Schiller to abide by medical subjects: or at least to beware of writing any more poetry, without submitting it to his inspection.
We need not comment on this portion of the Grand Duke's history: his treatment of Schiller has already been sufficiently avenged. By the great body of mankind, his name will be recollected, chiefly, if at all, for the sake of the unfriended youth whom he now schooled so sharply, and afterwards afflicted so cruelly: it will be recollected also with the angry triumph which we feel against a shallow and despotic 'noble of convention,' who strains himself to oppress 'one of nature's nobility,' submitted by blind chance to his dominion, and—finds that he cannot! All this is far more than the Prince of Wuertemberg deserves. Of limited faculties, and educated in the French principles of taste, then common to persons of his rank in Germany, he had perused the Robbers with unfeigned disgust; he could see in the author only a misguided enthusiast, with talents barely enough to make him dangerous. And though he never fully or formally retracted this injustice, he did not follow it up; when Schiller became known to the world at large, the Duke ceased to persecute him. The father he still kept in his service, and nowise molested.
In the mean time, however, various mortifications awaited Schiller. It was in vain that he discharged the humble duties of his station with the most strict fidelity, and even, it is said, with superior skill: he was a suspected person, and his most innocent actions were misconstrued, his slightest faults were visited with the full measure of official severity. His busy imagination aggravated the evil. He had seen poor Schubart wearing out his tedious eight years of durance in the fortress of Asperg, because he had been 'a rock of offence to the powers that were.' The fate of this unfortunate author appeared to Schiller a type of his own. His free spirit shrank at the prospect of wasting its strength in strife against the pitiful constraints, the minute and endless persecutions of men who knew him not, yet had his fortune in their hands; the idea of dungeons and jailors haunted and tortured his mind; and the means of escaping them, the renunciation of poetry, the source of all his joy, if likewise of many woes, the radiant guiding-star of his turbid and obscure existence, seemed a sentence of death to all that was dignified, and delightful, and worth retaining, in his character. Totally ignorant of what is called the world; conscious too of the might that slumbered in his soul, and proud of it, as kings are of their sceptres; impetuous when roused, and spurning unjust restraint; yet wavering and timid from the delicacy of his nature, and still more restricted in the freedom of his movements by the circumstances of his father, whose all depended on the pleasure of the court, Schiller felt himself embarrassed, and agitated, and tormented in no common degree. Urged this way and that by the most powerful and conflicting impulses; driven to despair by the paltry shackles that chained him, yet forbidden by the most sacred considerations to break them, he knew not on what he should resolve; he reckoned himself 'the most unfortunate of men.'
[Footnote 9: See Appendix I., No. 1.]
Time at length gave him the solution; circumstances occurred which forced him to decide. The popularity of the Robbers had brought him into correspondence with several friends of literature, who wished to patronise the author, or engage him in new undertakings. Among this number was the Freiherr von Dalberg, superintendent of the theatre at Mannheim, under whose encouragement and countenance Schiller remodelled the Robbers, altered it in some parts, and had it brought upon the stage in 1781. The correspondence with Dalberg began in literary discussions, but gradually elevated itself into the expression of more interesting sentiments. Dalberg loved and sympathised with the generous enthusiast, involved in troubles and perplexities which his inexperience was so little adequate to thread: he gave him advice and assistance; and Schiller repaid this favour with the gratitude due to his kind, his first, and then almost his only benefactor. His letters to this gentleman have been preserved, and lately published; they exhibit a lively picture of Schiller's painful situation at Stuttgard, and of his unskilful as well as eager anxiety to be delivered from it. His darling project was that Dalberg should bring him to Mannheim, as theatrical poet, by permission of the Duke: at one time he even thought of turning player.
[Footnote 10: See Appendix I., No. 2.]
Neither of these projects could take immediate effect, and Schiller's embarrassments became more pressing than ever. With the natural feeling of a young author, he had ventured to go in secret, and witness the first representation of his tragedy, at Mannheim. His incognito did not conceal him; he was put under arrest during a week, for this offence: and as the punishment did not deter him from again transgressing in a similar manner, he learned that it was in contemplation to try more rigorous measures with him. Dark hints were given to him of some exemplary as well as imminent severity: and Dalberg's aid, the sole hope of averting it by quiet means, was distant and dubious. Schiller saw himself reduced to extremities. Beleaguered with present distresses, and the most horrible forebodings, on every side; roused to the highest pitch of indignation, yet forced to keep silence, and wear the face of patience, he could endure this maddening constraint no longer. He resolved to be free, at whatever risk; to abandon advantages which he could not buy at such a price; to quit his step-dame home, and go forth, though friendless and alone, to seek his fortune in the great market of life. Some foreign Duke or Prince was arriving at Stuttgard; and all the people were in movement, occupied with seeing the spectacle of his entrance: Schiller seized this opportunity of retiring from the city, careless whither he went, so he got beyond the reach of turnkeys, and Grand Dukes, and commanding officers. It was in the month of October 1782.
This last step forms the catastrophe of the publication of the Robbers: it completed the deliverance of Schiller from the grating thraldom under which his youth had been passed, and decided his destiny for life. Schiller was in his twenty-third year when he left Stuttgard. He says 'he went empty away,—empty in purse and hope.' The future was indeed sufficiently dark before him. Without patrons, connexions, or country, he had ventured forth to the warfare on his own charges; without means, experience, or settled purpose, it was greatly to be feared that the fight would go against him. Yet his situation, though gloomy enough, was not entirely without its brighter side. He was now a free man, free, however poor; and his strong soul quickened as its fetters dropped off, and gloried within him in the dim anticipation of great and far-extending enterprises. If, cast too rudely among the hardships and bitter disquietudes of the world, his past nursing had not been delicate, he was already taught to look upon privation and discomfort as his daily companions. If he knew not how to bend his course among the perplexed vicissitudes of society, there was a force within him which would triumph over many difficulties; and a 'light from Heaven' was about his path, which, if it failed to conduct him to wealth and preferment, would keep him far from baseness and degrading vices. Literature, and every great and noble thing which the right pursuit of it implies, he loved with all his heart and all his soul: to this inspiring object he was henceforth exclusively devoted; advancing towards this, and possessed of common necessaries on the humblest scale, there was little else to tempt him. His life might be unhappy, but would hardly be disgraceful.
Schiller gradually felt all this, and gathered comfort, while better days began to dawn upon him. Fearful of trusting himself so near Stuttgard as at Mannheim, he had passed into Franconia, and was living painfully at Oggersheim, under the name of Schmidt: but Dalberg, who knew all his distresses, supplied him with money for immediate wants; and a generous lady made him the offer of a home. Madam von Wolzogen lived on her estate of Bauerbach, in the neighbourhood of Meinungen; she knew Schiller from his works, and his intimacy with her sons, who had been his fellow-students at Stuttgard. She invited him to her house; and there treated him with an affection which helped him to forget the past, and look cheerfully forward to the future.
Under this hospitable roof, Schiller had leisure to examine calmly the perplexed and dubious aspect of his affairs. Happily his character belonged not to the whining or sentimental sort: he was not of those, in whom the pressure of misfortune produces nothing but unprofitable pain; who spend, in cherishing and investigating and deploring their miseries, the time which should be spent in providing a relief for them. With him, strong feeling was constantly a call to vigorous action: he possessed in a high degree the faculty of conquering his afflictions, by directing his thoughts, not to maxims for enduring them, or modes of expressing them with interest, but to plans for getting rid of them; and to this disposition or habit,—too rare among men of genius, men of a much higher class than mere sentimentalists, but whose sensibility is out of proportion with their inventiveness or activity,—we are to attribute no small influence in the fortunate conduct of his subsequent life. With such a turn of mind, Schiller, now that he was at length master of his own movements, could not long be at a loss for plans or tasks. Once settled at Bauerbach, he immediately resumed his poetical employments; and forgot, in the regions of fancy, the vague uncertainties of his real condition, or saw prospects of amending it in a life of literature. By many safe and sagacious persons, the prudence of his late proceedings might be more than questioned; it was natural for many to forbode that one who left the port so rashly, and sailed with such precipitation, was likely to make shipwreck ere the voyage had extended far: but the lapse of a few months put a stop to such predictions. A year had not passed since his departure, when Schiller sent forth his Verschwoerung des Fiesco and Kabale und Liebe; tragedies which testified that, dangerous and arduous as the life he had selected might be, he possessed resources more than adequate to its emergencies. Fiesco he had commenced during the period of his arrest at Stuttgard; it was published, with the other play, in 1783; and soon after brought upon the Mannheim theatre, with universal approbation.
It was now about three years since the composition of the Robbers had been finished; five since the first sketch of it had been formed. With what zeal and success Schiller had, in that interval, pursued the work of his mental culture, these two dramas are a striking proof. The first ardour of youth is still to be discerned in them; but it is now chastened by the dictates of a maturer reason, and made to animate the products of a much happier and more skilful invention. Schiller's ideas of art had expanded and grown clearer, his knowledge of life had enlarged. He exhibits more acquaintance with the fundamental principles of human nature, as well as with the circumstances under which it usually displays itself; and far higher and juster views of the manner in which its manifestations should be represented.
In the Conspiracy of Fiesco we have to admire not only the energetic animation which the author has infused into all his characters, but the distinctness with which he has discriminated, without aggravating them; and the vividness with which he has contrived to depict the scene where they act and move. The political and personal relations of the Genoese nobility; the luxurious splendour, the intrigues, the feuds, and jarring interests, which occupy them, are made visible before us: we understand and may appreciate the complexities of the conspiracy; we mingle, as among realities, in the pompous and imposing movements which lead to the catastrophe. The catastrophe itself is displayed with peculiar effect. The midnight silence of the sleeping city, interrupted only by the distant sounds of watchmen, by the low hoarse murmur of the sea, or the stealthy footsteps and disguised voice of Fiesco, is conveyed to our imagination by some brief but graphic touches; we seem to stand in the solitude and deep stillness of Genoa, awaiting the signal which is to burst so fearfully upon its slumber. At length the gun is fired; and the wild uproar which ensues is no less strikingly exhibited. The deeds and sounds of violence, astonishment and terror; the volleying cannon, the heavy toll of the alarm-bells, the acclamation of assembled thousands, 'the voice of Genoa speaking with Fiesco,'—all is made present to us with a force and clearness, which of itself were enough to show no ordinary power of close and comprehensive conception, no ordinary skill in arranging and expressing its results.
But it is not this felicitous delineation of circumstances and visible scenes that constitutes our principal enjoyment. The faculty of penetrating through obscurity and confusion, to seize the characteristic features of an object, abstract or material; of producing a lively description in the latter case, an accurate and keen scrutiny in the former, is the essential property of intellect, and occupies in its best form a high rank in the scale of mental gifts: but the creative faculty of the poet, and especially of the dramatic poet, is something superadded to this; it is far rarer, and occupies a rank far higher. In this particular, Fiesco, without approaching the limits of perfection, yet stands in an elevated range of excellence. The characters, on the whole, are imagined and portrayed with great impressiveness and vigour. Traces of old faults are indeed still to be discovered: there still seems a want of pliancy about the genius of the author; a stiffness and heaviness in his motions. His sublimity is not to be questioned; but it does not always disdain the aid of rude contrasts and mere theatrical effect. He paints in colours deep and glowing, but without sufficient skill to blend them delicately: he amplifies nature more than purifies it; he omits, but does not well conceal the omission. Fiesco has not the complete charm of a true though embellished resemblance to reality; its attraction rather lies in a kind of colossal magnitude, which requires it, if seen to advantage, to be viewed from a distance. Yet the prevailing qualities of the piece do more than make us pardon such defects. If the dramatic imitation is not always entirely successful, it is never very distant from success; and a constant flow of powerful thought and sentiment counteracts, or prevents us from noticing, the failure. We find evidence of great philosophic penetration, great resources of invention, directed by a skilful study of history and men; and everywhere a bold grandeur of feeling and imagery gives life to what study has combined. The chief incidents have a dazzling magnificence; the chief characters, an aspect of majesty and force which corresponds to it. Fervour of heart, capaciousness of intellect and imagination, present themselves on all sides: the general effect is powerful and exalting.
Fiesco himself is a personage at once probable and tragically interesting. The luxurious dissipation, in which he veils his daring projects, softens the rudeness of that strength which it half conceals. His immeasurable pride expands itself not only into a disdain of subjection, but also into the most lofty acts of magnanimity: his blind confidence in fortune seems almost warranted by the resources which he finds in his own fearlessness and imperturbable presence of mind. His ambition participates in the nobleness of his other qualities; he is less anxious that his rivals should yield to him in power than in generosity and greatness of character, attributes of which power is with him but the symbol and the fit employment. Ambition in Fiesco is indeed the common wish of every mind to diffuse its individual influence, to see its own activity reflected back from the united minds of millions: but it is the common wish acting on no common man. He does not long to rule, that he may sway other wills, as it were, by the physical exertion of his own: he would lead us captive by the superior grandeur of his qualities, once fairly manifested; and he aims at dominion, chiefly as it will enable him to manifest these. 'It is not the arena that he values, but what lies in that arena:' the sovereignty is enviable, not for its adventitious splendour, not because it is the object of coarse and universal wonder; but as it offers, in the collected force of a nation, something which the loftiest mortal may find scope for all his powers in guiding. "Spread out the thunder," Fiesco exclaims, "into its single tones, and it becomes a lullaby for children: pour it forth together in one quick peal, and the royal sound shall move the heavens." His affections are not less vehement than his other passions: his heart can be melted into powerlessness and tenderness by the mild persuasions of his Leonora; the idea of exalting this amiable being mingles largely with the other motives to his enterprise. He is, in fact, a great, and might have been a virtuous man; and though in the pursuit of grandeur he swerves from absolute rectitude, we still respect his splendid qualities, and admit the force of the allurements which have led him astray. It is but faintly that we condemn his sentiments, when, after a night spent in struggles between a rigid and a more accommodating patriotism, he looks out of his chamber, as the sun is rising in its calm beauty, and gilding the waves and mountains, and all the innumerable palaces and domes and spires of Genoa, and exclaims with rapture: "This majestic city—mine! To flame over it like the kingly Day; to brood over it with a monarch's power; all these sleepless longings, all these never satiated wishes to be drowned in that unfathomable ocean!" We admire Fiesco, we disapprove of him, and sympathise with him: he is crushed in the ponderous machinery which himself put in motion and thought to control: we lament his fate, but confess that it was not undeserved. He is a fit 'offering of individual free-will to the force of social conventions.'
Fiesco is not the only striking character in the play which bears his name. The narrow fanatical republican virtue of Verrina, the mild and venerable wisdom of the old Doria, the unbridled profligacy of his Nephew, even the cold, contented, irreclaimable perversity of the cutthroat Moor, all dwell in our recollections: but what, next to Fiesco, chiefly attracts us, is the character of Leonora his wife. Leonora is of kindred to Amelia in the Robbers, but involved in more complicated relations, and brought nearer to the actual condition of humanity. She is such a heroine as Schiller most delights to draw. Meek and retiring by the softness of her nature, yet glowing with an ethereal ardour for all that is illustrious and lovely, she clings about her husband, as if her being were one with his. She dreams of remote and peaceful scenes, where Fiesco should be all to her, she all to Fiesco: her idea of love is, that 'her name should lie in secret behind every one of his thoughts, should speak to him from every object of Nature; that for him, this bright majestic universe itself were but as the shining jewel, on which her image, only hers, stood engraved.' Her character seems a reflection of Fiesco's, but refined from his grosser strength, and transfigured into a celestial form of purity, and tenderness, and touching grace. Jealousy cannot move her into anger; she languishes in concealed sorrow, when she thinks herself forgotten. It is affection alone that can rouse her into passion; but under the influence of this, she forgets all weakness and fear. She cannot stay in her palace, on the night when Fiesco's destiny is deciding; she rushes forth, as if inspired, to share in her husband's dangers and sublime deeds, and perishes at last in the tumult.
The death of Leonora, so brought about, and at such a time, is reckoned among the blemishes of the work: that of Fiesco, in which Schiller has ventured to depart from history, is to be more favourably judged of. Fiesco is not here accidentally drowned; but plunged into the waves by the indignant Verrina, who forgets or stifles the feelings of friendship, in his rage at political apostasy. 'The nature of the Drama,' we are justly told, 'will not suffer the operation of Chance, or of an immediate Providence. Higher spirits can discern the minute fibres of an event stretching through the whole expanse of the system of the world, and hanging, it may be, on the remotest limits of the future and the past, where man discerns nothing save the action itself, hovering unconnected in space. But the artist has to paint for the short view of man, whom he wishes to instruct; not for the piercing eye of superior powers, from whom he learns.'
In the composition of Fiesco, Schiller derived the main part of his original materials from history; he could increase the effect by gorgeous representations, and ideas preexisting in the mind of his reader. Enormity of incident and strangeness of situation lent him a similar assistance in the Robbers. Kabale und Liebe is destitute of these advantages; it is a tragedy of domestic life; its means of interesting are comprised within itself, and rest on very simple feelings, dignified by no very singular action. The name, Court-Intriguing and Love, correctly designates its nature; it aims at exhibiting the conflict, the victorious conflict, of political manoeuvering, of cold worldly wisdom, with the pure impassioned movements of the young heart, as yet unsullied by the tarnish of every-day life, inexperienced in its calculations, sick of its empty formalities, and indignantly determined to cast-off the mean restrictions it imposes, which bind so firmly by their number, though singly so contemptible. The idea is far from original: this is a conflict which most men have figured to themselves, which many men of ardent mind are in some degree constantly waging. To make it, in this simple form, the subject of a drama, seems to be a thought of Schiller's own; but the praise, though not the merit of his undertaking, considerable rather as performed than projected, has been lessened by a multitude of worthless or noxious imitations. The same primary conception has been tortured into a thousand shapes, and tricked out with a thousand tawdry devices and meretricious ornaments, by the Kotzebues, and other 'intellectual Jacobins,' whose productions have brought what we falsely call the 'German Theatre' into such deserved contempt in England. Some portion of the gall, due only to these inflated, flimsy, and fantastic persons, appears to have acted on certain critics in estimating this play of Schiller's. August Wilhelm Schlegel speaks slightingly of the work: he says, 'it will hardly move us by its tone of overstrained sensibility, but may well afflict us by the painful impressions which it leaves.' Our own experience has been different from that of Schlegel. In the characters of Louisa and Ferdinand Walter we discovered little overstraining; their sensibility we did not reckon very criminal; seeing it united with a clearness of judgment, chastened by a purity of heart, and controlled by a force of virtuous resolution, in full proportion with itself. We rather admired the genius of the poet, which could elevate a poor music-master's daughter to the dignity of a heroine; could represent, without wounding our sense of propriety, the affection of two noble beings, created for each other by nature, and divided by rank; we sympathised in their sentiments enough to feel a proper interest in their fate, and see in them, what the author meant we should see, two pure and lofty minds involved in the meshes of vulgar cunning, and borne to destruction by the excess of their own good qualities and the crimes of others.
Ferdinand is a nobleman, but not convinced that 'his patent of nobility is more ancient or of more authority than the primeval scheme of the universe:' he speaks and acts like a young man entertaining such persuasions: disposed to yield everything to reason and true honour, but scarcely anything to mere use and wont. His passion for Louisa is the sign and the nourishment rather than the cause of such a temper: he loves her without limit, as the only creature he has ever met with of a like mind with himself; and this feeling exalts into inspiration what was already the dictate of his nature. We accompany him on his straight and plain path; we rejoice to see him fling aside with a strong arm the artifices and allurements with which a worthless father and more worthless associates assail him at first in vain: there is something attractive in the spectacle of native integrity, fearless though inexperienced, at war with selfishness and craft; something mournful, because the victory will seldom go as we would have it.
Louisa is a meet partner for the generous Ferdinand: the poet has done justice to her character. She is timid and humble; a feeling and richly gifted soul is hid in her by the unkindness of her earthly lot; she is without counsellors except the innate holiness of her heart, and the dictates of her keen though untutored understanding; yet when the hour of trial comes, she can obey the commands of both, and draw from herself a genuine nobleness of conduct, which secondhand prudence, and wealth, and titles, would but render less touching. Her filial affection, her angelic attachment to her lover, her sublime and artless piety, are beautifully contrasted with the bleakness of her external circumstances: she appears before us like the 'one rose of the wilderness left on its stalk,' and we grieve to see it crushed and trodden down so rudely.
The innocence, the enthusiasm, the exalted life and stern fate of Louisa and Ferdinand give a powerful charm to this tragedy: it is everywhere interspersed with pieces of fine eloquence, and scenes which move us by their dignity or pathos. We recollect few passages of a more overpowering nature than the conclusion, where Ferdinand, beguiled by the most diabolical machinations to disbelieve the virtue of his mistress, puts himself and her to death by poison. There is a gloomy and solemn might in his despair; though overwhelmed, he seems invincible: his enemies have blinded and imprisoned him in their deceptions; but only that, like Samson, he may overturn his prison-house, and bury himself, and all that have wronged him, in its ruins.
The other characters of the play, though in general properly sustained, are not sufficiently remarkable to claim much of our attention. Wurm, the chief counsellor and agent of the unprincipled, calculating Father, is wicked enough; but there is no great singularity in his wickedness. He is little more than the dry, cool, and now somewhat vulgar miscreant, the villanous Attorney of modern novels. Kalb also is but a worthless subject, and what is worse, but indifferently handled. He is meant for the feather-brained thing of tags and laces, which frequently inhabits courts; but he wants the grace and agility proper to the species; he is less a fool than a blockhead, less perverted than totally inane. Schiller's strength lay not in comedy, but in something far higher. The great merit of the present work consists in the characters of the hero and heroine; and in this respect it ranks at the very head of its class. As a tragedy of common life, we know of few rivals to it, certainly of no superior.
The production of three such pieces as the Robbers, Fiesco, and Kabale und Liebe, already announced to the world that another great and original mind had appeared, from whose maturity, when such was the promise of its youth, the highest expectations might be formed. These three plays stand related to each other in regard to their nature and form, as well as date: they exhibit the progressive state of Schiller's education; show us the fiery enthusiasm of youth, exasperated into wildness, astonishing in its movements rather than sublime; and the same enthusiasm gradually yielding to the sway of reason, gradually using itself to the constraints prescribed by sound judgment and more extensive knowledge. Of the three, the Robbers is doubtless the most singular, and likely perhaps to be the most widely popular: but the latter two are of more real worth in the eye of taste, and will better bear a careful and rigorous study.
With the appearance of Fiesco and its companion, the first period of Schiller's literary history may conclude. The stormy confusions of his youth were now subsiding; after all his aberrations, repulses, and perplexed wanderings, he was at length about to reach his true destination, and times of more serenity began to open for him. Two such tragedies as he had lately offered to the world made it easier for his friend Dalberg to second his pretensions. Schiller was at last gratified by the fulfilment of his favourite scheme; in September 1783, he went to Mannheim, as poet to the theatre, a post of respectability and reasonable profit, to the duties of which he forthwith addressed himself with all his heart. He was not long afterwards elected a member of the German Society established for literary objects in Mannheim; and he valued the honour, not only as a testimony of respect from a highly estimable quarter, but also as a means of uniting him more closely with men of kindred pursuits and tempers: and what was more than all, of quieting forever his apprehensions from the government at Stuttgard. Since his arrival at Mannheim, one or two suspicious incidents had again alarmed him on this head; but being now acknowledged as a subject of the Elector Palatine, naturalised by law in his new country, he had nothing more to fear from the Duke of Wuertemberg.
Satisfied with his moderate income, safe, free, and surrounded by friends that loved and honoured him, Schiller now looked confidently forward to what all his efforts had been a search and hitherto a fruitless search for, an undisturbed life of intellectual labour. What effect this happy aspect of his circumstances must have produced upon him may be easily conjectured. Through many years he had been inured to agitation and distress; now peace and liberty and hope, sweet in themselves, were sweeter for their novelty. For the first time in his life, he saw himself allowed to obey without reluctance the ruling bias of his nature; for the first time inclination and duty went hand in hand. His activity awoke with renovated force in this favourable scene; long-thwarted, half-forgotten projects again kindled into brightness, as the possibility of their accomplishment became apparent: Schiller glowed with a generous pride when he felt his faculties at his own disposal, and thought of the use he meant to make of them. 'All my connexions,' he said, 'are now dissolved. The public is now all to me, my study, my sovereign, my confidant. To the public alone I henceforth belong; before this and no other tribunal will I place myself; this alone do I reverence and fear. Something majestic hovers before me, as I determine now to wear no other fetters but the sentence of the world, to appeal to no other throne but the soul of man.'
These expressions are extracted from the preface to his Thalia, a periodical work which he undertook in 1784, devoted to subjects connected with poetry, and chiefly with the drama. In such sentiments we leave him, commencing the arduous and perilous, but also glorious and sublime duties of a life consecrated to the discovery of truth, and the creation of intellectual beauty. He was now exclusively what is called a Man of Letters, for the rest of his days.
FROM SCHILLER'S SETTLEMENT AT MANNHEIM TO HIS SETTLEMENT AT JENA. (1783-1790.)
If to know wisdom were to practise it; if fame brought true dignity and peace of mind; or happiness consisted in nourishing the intellect with its appropriate food and surrounding the imagination with ideal beauty, a literary life would be the most enviable which the lot of this world affords. But the truth is far otherwise. The Man of Letters has no immutable, all-conquering volition, more than other men; to understand and to perform are two very different things with him as with every one. His fame rarely exerts a favourable influence on his dignity of character, and never on his peace of mind: its glitter is external, for the eyes of others; within, it is but the aliment of unrest, the oil cast upon the ever-gnawing fire of ambition, quickening into fresh vehemence the blaze which it stills for a moment. Moreover, this Man of Letters is not wholly made of spirit, but of clay and spirit mixed: his thinking faculties may be nobly trained and exercised, but he must have affections as well as thoughts to make him happy, and food and raiment must be given him or he dies. Far from being the most enviable, his way of life is perhaps, among the many modes by which an ardent mind endeavours to express its activity, the most thickly beset with suffering and degradation. Look at the biography of authors! Except the Newgate Calendar, it is the most sickening chapter in the history of man. The calamities of these people are a fertile topic; and too often their faults and vices have kept pace with their calamities. Nor is it difficult to see how this has happened. Talent of any sort is generally accompanied with a peculiar fineness of sensibility; of genius this is the most essential constituent; and life in any shape has sorrows enough for hearts so formed. The employments of literature sharpen this natural tendency; the vexations that accompany them frequently exasperate it into morbid soreness. The cares and toils of literature are the business of life; its delights are too ethereal and too transient to furnish that perennial flow of satisfaction, coarse but plenteous and substantial, of which happiness in this world of ours is made. The most finished efforts of the mind give it little pleasure, frequently they give it pain; for men's aims are ever far beyond their strength. And the outward recompense of these undertakings, the distinction they confer, is of still smaller value: the desire for it is insatiable even when successful; and when baffled, it issues in jealousy and envy, and every pitiful and painful feeling. So keen a temperament with so little to restrain or satisfy, so much to distress or tempt it, produces contradictions which few are adequate to reconcile. Hence the unhappiness of literary men, hence their faults and follies.
Thus literature is apt to form a dangerous and discontenting occupation even for the amateur. But for him whose rank and worldly comforts depend on it, who does not live to write, but writes to live, its difficulties and perils are fearfully increased. Few spectacles are more afflicting than that of such a man, so gifted and so fated, so jostled and tossed to and fro in the rude bustle of life, the buffetings of which he is so little fitted to endure. Cherishing, it may be, the loftiest thoughts, and clogged with the meanest wants; of pure and holy purposes, yet ever driven from the straight path by the pressure of necessity, or the impulse of passion; thirsting for glory, and frequently in want of daily bread; hovering between the empyrean of his fancy and the squalid desert of reality; cramped and foiled in his most strenuous exertions; dissatisfied with his best performances, disgusted with his fortune, this Man of Letters too often spends his weary days in conflicts with obscure misery: harassed, chagrined, debased, or maddened; the victim at once of tragedy and farce; the last forlorn outpost in the war of Mind against Matter. Many are the noble souls that have perished bitterly, with their tasks unfinished, under these corroding woes! Some in utter famine, like Otway; some in dark insanity, like Cowper and Collins; some, like Chatterton, have sought out a more stern quietus, and turning their indignant steps away from a world which refused them welcome, have taken refuge in that strong Fortress, where poverty and cold neglect, and the thousand natural shocks which flesh is heir to, could not reach them any more.
Yet among these men are to be found the brightest specimens and the chief benefactors of mankind! It is they that keep awake the finer parts of our souls; that give us better aims than power or pleasure, and withstand the total sovereignty of Mammon in this earth. They are the vanguard in the march of mind; the intellectual Backwoodsmen, reclaiming from the idle wilderness new territories for the thought and the activity of their happier brethren. Pity that from all their conquests, so rich in benefit to others, themselves should reap so little! But it is vain to murmur. They are volunteers in this cause; they weighed the charms of it against the perils: and they must abide the results of their decision, as all must. The hardships of the course they follow are formidable, but not all inevitable; and to such as pursue it rightly, it is not without its great rewards. If an author's life is more agitated and more painful than that of others, it may also be made more spirit-stirring and exalted: fortune may render him unhappy; it is only himself that can make him despicable. The history of genius has, in fact, its bright side as well as its dark. And if it is distressing to survey the misery, and what is worse, the debasement of so many gifted men, it is doubly cheering on the other hand to reflect on the few, who, amid the temptations and sorrows to which life in all its provinces and most in theirs is liable, have travelled through it in calm and virtuous majesty, and are now hallowed in our memories, not less for their conduct than their writings. Such men are the flower of this lower world: to such alone can the epithet of great be applied with its true emphasis. There is a congruity in their proceedings which one loves to contemplate: 'he who would write heroic poems, should make his whole life a heroic poem.'