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From Sharpe's London Magazine. LIFE AND WRITINGS OF SCHILLER.
Poetry and imaginative literature must always suffer from translation; and thus it is impossible duly to estimate their merit, where we cannot read them in their proper tongue. But no poets and imaginative
writers have suffered so deeply in the esti
mation of our countrymen, as those of Germany. This, at first, appears paradoxical; since the German language is exactly that, of all others, (unless we except the kindred dialects,) which is most easily transferred into our own, and the spirit of which has the closest affinity with the English. But the cause is external to the nature of the subject. Prejudice was early excited against German literature, and on two very distinct grounds, moral and literary. About the time of the first French revolution, anarchical and immoral publications were imported from Germany no less than from France. German poetry, indeed, was born at a period when all departments of literature were more or less tainted with revolutionary principles, which were too hastily identified with the temper of the people; and, as it was from translations of lax writings that the idea of German literature Wol. WIll. No. IV. 64
was mainly collected by the English public, it was concluded that all German fiction must be anarchical and immoral. It seems needless seriously to rebut such a conclusion. From the literature of our own country, probably the purest in the world, it would be easy to export an equivalent for our imported German impurities. It is to be admitted, however, that most of the noblest productions of German imagination have appeared since the period alluded to. Another objection was, that the literature of Germany was not modelled on the principles of those of Greece and Rome, which were supposed to be the casting-moulds of the English mind; though, in reality, a French caricature was the standard, and the reader of Racine flattered himself that he understood Sophocles. It was forgotten that the great charm of the Greek literature was its originality and freshness; and that thus the qualities condemned in the German were really the very same which those inconsistent censors admired in the Greek. These prejudices are not wholly passed away; but a better and a juster spirit is awakening. The German writers gave an impulse to the poetry of our own country, and sent our language to its native resources. Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, Scott, among the foremost—all more or less influenced by German literature—have rescued us from being mere imitators. We have, accordingly, revised our condemnation of our German brethren, and soughl to be better acquainted with them. The result has been that we have found our judgment as erroneous as it was rash. We find the imaginative literature of Germany perhaps the noblest and most splendid in the world, next to our own, and even more copious.
It must be remembered that it is only of the imaginative part of German literature that we are here treating. With its refinements in metaphysics, and its melancholy wanderings in theology, we are not now concerned. That portion which we have here been considering, is not only little asfected by these things, but favorable and conducive to worthier objects. We are not unaware that the case of Goethe, the most conspicuous of German imaginative writers, may be cited as an example against us. Yet, eminent as he is, he is but one ; and from his voluminous writings much might be selected which would even strengthen our position.
Our present purpose, however, is to apply these remarks to the compositions of Schiller, a writer who disputes with Goethe himself the throne of German imagination, but whose imaginative writings, with little more than one early well-known exception, are conducive to pure amusement or elevated instruction. It is not, of course, our intention to present a formal criticism on compositions so varied and so numerous as Schiller's. We shall preser illustrating, in broad outline, his more celebrated pieces, in connexion with a biographical sketch, which will, with our brief extracts and criticisms, serve the purpose of mutual illustration. Our source will be chiefly a memoir, written in the year 1812, by his friend Körner of Dresden, father of the youthful patriot whose biography we have sketched in a former number. From the year 1785, he was one of Schiller's most intimate friends, and wrote from personal knowledge chiefly; and, when this was not the case, from the most authentic information. This sketch we shall illustrate, where convenient, from the lives of Schiller, by Mr. Carlyle and Sir Bulwer Lytton; the latter of whom is not only an able biographer, but an abbreviator of those who had the best opportunities for the successful prosecution of the task.
John Christopher Frederick Schiller, best known by the last of his Christian names, was born November 10, 1759, at Marbach, on the Neckar, in the duchy of Wurttemburg. His father, John Caspar Schiller, was originally an army surgeon, who afterwards entered the army itself, and ended his days as manager of a very extensive nursery plantation at Ludwigsburg, belonging to the duke. Though not a welleducated man, he strove to compensate this defect by diligent labor; and a thanksgiving prayer of his is still extant, written after his son had attained celebrity, in which he commemorates the fact, that, from the birth of his son, he had not ceased to pray that the deficiencies of his boy's educational means might in some way be supplied to him. He appears to have been a good parent and a good man : nor were the excellencies of his wife inferior. She was afsectionately attached to her husband and her children, and mutually and deeply beloved. Although of slender education, she could relish the religious poetry of Utz and Gellert. The early characteristics of young Schiller, as described by Körner, were piety, gentleness, and tenderness of conscience. He received the rudiments of his education at Lorch, a frontier village of the Württemburg territory, where his parents were residing from 1765 to 1768. His tutor here was a parochial minister, named Moser, after whom, perhaps, he drew the character of Pastor Moser, in “The Robbers.” The son of this tutor was his earliest friend, and is thought to have excited the desire which he long felt of entering
Schiller's poetical temperament was early developed. When scarcely past the period of infancy, it is said, he was missed during a thunderstorm. His father sought him, and found him in a solitary place, on a branch of a tree, gazing on the scene. On being reprimanded, he is said to have replied, “The lightning was very beautiful, and I wished to see whence it came.” Another anecdote of his childhood is better authenticated. At the age of nine years, he, and a friend of the like age, received two kreutzers apiece for repetition of their catechism in church. This money they resolved to invest in a dish of curds and cream at Harteneck; but here the young adventurers failed to obtain the desired delicacy, while the whole sour kreutzers were demanded for a quarter cake of cheese, without bread ' Thus foiled, they proceeded to Neckarweihingen, where they accomplished their object for three kreutzers, having one to spare for a bunch of grapes. On this, young Schiller ascended an eminence which overlooks both places, and uttered a grave poetical anathema on the barren land, and a like benediction on the region of cream. On his father's return to Ludwigsburg, young Schiller, then nine years old, first saw the interior of a theatre. This circumstance seemed at once to disclose his genius. From that moment, all his boyish sports had reference to the drama; and he began to forecast plans for tragedies. Not that his inclination to the profession of his early choice diminished. He only regarded dramatic literature and exhibitions as amusements and relaxations from severer pursuits. He now continued his studies in a school at Ludwigsburg, where he was conspicuous for energy, diligence, and activity of mind and body. The testimonials which he here received induced the duke to offer him a higher education, in a seminary at Stuttgart, which he had lately founded. His father, who felt his obligations to the duke, and not least the favor which was now offered him, reluctantly abandoned his original intention of indulging his son with the profession of his wishes; and young Schiller, still more reluctantly, in 1773, surrendered the Church for the bar. In the following year, when each scholar of the establishment was called on to delineate his own character, he openly avowed “that he should deem himself much happier if he could serve his country as a divine.” And he found legal studies so little attractive, thet, on the addition of a medical school to the establishment, in 1775, he availed himself of the duke's permission to enrol himself a member. During this period, Schiller was not inattentive to the revolution, or rather, creation, then working in the poetry of Germany. The immense resources of the German language were, in great measure, unknown to the Germans themselves. They studied and composed in the classical tongues, and, finding their own so far removed from those which they contemplated as the only models, regarded it as barbarous; or, if they condescended to use it, endeavored to cast both words and sentiments in a classical mould. But there were minds anong them who were beginning to perceive that the defects of German litera
ture were not inherent, but the natural result of endeavoring to bind a singularly free and original language to rules and imagery foreign to its genius. Klopstock, Utz, Lessing, Goethe, and Gerstenberg, were, in different manners and degrees, of this order. From the study of these, Schiller caught the spirit of a German originality, which he afterwards so remarkably contributed to advance. Becoming, about the same time, acquainted (through Wieland's translation) with the writings of Shakspeare, he studied them with avidity and delight; though, as he acknowledges, with an impersect comprehension of their depth. During his residence at Stuttgart, he had composed an epic, entitled “Moses,” and a tragedy called “Cosmo de' Medici,” part of which was afterwards worked up in “The Robbers.” But he had no sooner decided on the medical profession, than he resolved to abandon poetry for two years. He wrote a Latin treatise “On the Philosophy of Physiology,” and defended a thesis “On the Connexion of the Animal and Spiritual Natures in Man.” He afterwards received an appointment as a military surgeon, and was esteemed able in his prosession. On the expiration of his probational course, he held himself free to prosecute his favorite study. Accordingly, in the year 1780, the famous play of “The Robbers” saw the light. It was published at his own expense, no bookseller venturing to undertake it.
Of the genius displayed in this work there can be but one opinion. The language of Coleridge concerning it is very remarkable:—
coincides with the tumultuous character of that period. And yet, we believe it is not less truly than finely said by Sir Bulwer Lytton, “Nothing could be further from the mind of the boy from whose unpractised hand came this rough Titan sketch, than to unsettle virtue, in his delineations of crime. Virtue was then, as it continued to the last, his ideal; and if at the first he shook the statue on its pedestal, it was but from the rudeness of the caress that sought to warm it into life.” Schiller's religious and virtuous feelings had, however, unconsciously to himself, been deteriorated by the French skeptical writers. Voltaire moved his scorn and disgust; but abhorrence of filth will not save us from pollution, if we permit its contact. Rousseau, insidious and visionary, harmonized but too well with the temperament of the earnest and contemplative youth; we know from the painful evidence of a little poem of Schiller's, bearing the name of that subtle anarch, that the influence had been but too effective ;” and we trace the fact even more distinctly in the “Philosophical Letters.” But it would seem from his own testimony, no less than from general evidence, that the military despotism which was the constitution of the seminary at Stuttgart was the real creative principle of the “Robbers.” It furnished Schiller's idea of order and government, while his own restlessness beneath that rigid coercion supplied his notion of liberty. It was from a translation of the “Robbers,” that the general tendency of German literature, and of the drama particularly, was estimated in England. The “Robbers” could not long be a stranger to the stage. The Freiherr von Dalberg, manager of the the*atre at Mannheim, produced it on his boards in 1782. Schiller was present at the two first representations in January and May of that year. His absence, however, was known to the duke, and he was placed under arrest for a sortnight. *... But his misfortunes did not end here. A passage in the “Robbers” gave offence to the Grisons,” who complained to the duke against his subject. The result was that Schiller was prohibited from all but professional writing, and commanded to abandon all connexion with other states. But Körner informs us that, however exasperated at the time, he spoke in cooler moments
* He had called their country “the thiefs Athens.”
kindly of the duke, and even justified his proceeding, which was not directed against the poet's genius, but his ill-taste. He, indeed, even dwelt warmly on the duke's paternal conduct, who gave him salutary advice and warning, and asked to see all his poetry. This was resolutely refused; and the refusal, as might be expected, was not inoffensive. Yet the duke seems not to have renounced his interest in his young favorite, for no measures were taken against him or his family on his subsequent departure from Stuttgart, and Schiller even paid a visit to them during the duke's life, without any molestation. For this departure he wished the duke's permission, and endeavored, through his friend Dalberg, to obtain it; but impatient at the tediousness of the negotiations, he took advantage of the festivities occasioned by the visit of the Archduke Paul of Russia, in October, 1782, and left Stuttgart unperceived. His mother and sister were in the secret; his father had not been informed, lest loyalty and military subordination should compel disclosure to the duke. There was another person left behind, in whom rumor attributes an interest to Schiller, though we are not informed whether she was apprised of his flight. This was the widow of a military officer, to whom it is said, Schiller had paid his addresses, and who is by some supposed to be the “Laura” of his early poems. A youth named Streicher was the companion of his wanderings. All Schiller's fortune lay in his tragedy, “The Conspiracy of Fiesco at Genoa,” which he had, for the most part, composed when under arrest. Arrived at Mannheim, he recited his play to the stage-manager, Meier, (for Dalberg was at Stuttgart,) with little success. His Swabian dialect, and unmelodious declamation, drove away all his audience save Iffland, to whose personation his “ Francis Moor” in the “Robbers” had been deeply indebted. But, on a perusal, Meier acknowledged the real merit of “Fiesco,” and agreed to produce it on the stage, if Schiller would make the requisite alterations. Meanwhile, Schiller and his friend were warned, by letters from Stuttgart, that their position at Mannheim was perilous. They accordingly once more took flight, and, after many hardships, took up their quarters at an inn at Oggersheim, where “Fiesco” was completed, and “Cabal and Love” begun. While at this place, Schiller was offered an asylum at Bauerbach, near Meinungen, an estate of Madame von Wollzogen, with whose sons he had studied at Stuttgart. Having disposed of his “Fiesco” to a bookseller, he with alacrity accepted the generous of. fer, and Streicher pursued his way to Hamburg. At Bauerbach, Schiller found repose and appliances for study; finished “Cabal and Love,” and sketched “Don Carlos.” Of the two first of these works our limits will not permit us to speak. They are not without evidence of their author's genius; but they are not less evidential of a taste which he lived to correct, and which, even at this period, he was correcting. “Don Carlos” is an immeasurable advance into the regions of taste and order. The wild irregular prose of the previous dramas is exchanged for rich and melodious blank heroic verse : the characters are no longer the crude imaginations of an undisciplined ardor, but finished studies from nature, in historical prototypes; no longer bold distorted sketches, but richly, yet chastely, colored pictures; no longer flung together in heedless and disorderly profusion, but grouped with consummate art and sense of harmony. Yet it is probable that the historian has in this work encroached upon the poet, and rendered it in parts obscure,and the connexion not always palpable. It is far less lucid than the great dramatic writings which formed the labors of Schiller's later days. A considerable interval elapsed between the composition of the first and last portions; and, as the former was printed, the drama could not well be rewritten, to make it harmonize with Schiller's altered feelings and opinions; but it spoke a great promise, and gave earnest of a faithful performance. It has been ably translated by Francis Herbert Cottrell,
In 1786, Schiller took up his residence at Mannheim, where he occupied himself with theatrical projects. From this place he wrote to Madame von Wollzogen, soliciting the hand of her daughter Charlotte; but it appears that the attachment was not mutual, though Schiller always continued to be received in the most friendly manner by Madame von Wollzogen and her daughters. Perhaps the young lady herself regarded Schiller's as rather a preference than an affection, which she seems to have been justified in doing, as, not long after, he formed an attachment to Margaret, daughter of his friend Schwann, the bookseller; a lady whom some suppose to have been
his “Laura.” During this period he wrote essays on dramatic subjects, edited a periodical called “The Rhenish Thalia,” composed a poem called “Conrad of Swabia,” and a second part of the “Robbers,” to harmonize the incongruities of the first. Some scenes of his “ Don Carlos,” appearing in the “Thalia,” attracted the notice of the reigning Duke of Saxe Weimar, who was then on a visit to the court of the Landgrave of Hesse Darmstadt. The duke was a lover of literature, and a poet, and he appointed Schiller a member of his council. In March, 1785, Schiller removed to Leipzig, where his poetry had prepared him many sriends, and from this year commenced what is called “the second period” of Schiller's life. He spent the summer at a village in the neighborhood, named Golis, surrounded by warm and affectionate hearts. It was during this time that he wrote his “Ode to Joy.” But his joy was sated to be overclouded. He wrote to Schwann soliciting an union with his daughter; a request to which he had no anticipation of refusal, as he and the young lady had corresponded; and, had his destiny rested in her hands, there can be little doubt that he would not have been doomed to disappointment. The father, however, had apparently seen enough of Schiller's habits to infer that his wealth was not likely to equal his fame, and the poet once more met with a refusal. From the friendly circle at Leipzig he removed to Dresden the same year. Here he completed his “Don Carlos,” which he recast, as far as was practicable; and is thought to have assimilated his princess Eboli to a certain Fraulein A , a great beauty of that city. Here, too, he sketched the plan of a drama which he named “The Misanthrope;” collected materials for a history of the revolt of the Netherlands, under Philip II., and wrote his strange romance of “The Ghost Seer;” a work suggested by the quackeries of Cagliostro. At this period, also, were written the “Philosophical Letters,” before alluded to. In 1787 he repaired to Weimar, where he was received with great enthusiasm by Herder and Wieland. Here he undertook the management of a periodical called “The German Mercury,” which he enriched with several contributions in verse and prose, and to which he imparted new life and vigor. In the same year he received an invitation from Madame von Wollzogen to visit her at Meinungen. On his return