*Schiller, Friedrich von
Schiller, Friedrich von
Although Friedrich von Schiller is principally known as a dramatist, he also produced a substantial body of critical and theoretical writings during the course of his career, some of which might be described as essays. The term “essay” requires some qualification, however, if it is to be applied to Schiller’s work: his theoretical writings are never familiar or personal in tone and he is never concerned with trivia or with capturing the fleeting impressions of ordinary human existence. His vision is consistently broad and grand—but it is given life and energy through the dynamic, rhetorical style and organizational skills of the born dramatist, and underpinned by a distinctly practical concern (whether explicit or implicit) with how literary works can be put together effectively, and with the role they fulfill in the world.
Schiller’s earliest surviving prose works, dating from his school days at Duke Karl Eugen’s academy in Stuttgart, already exhibit the essential characteristics of his mature work. They include two speeches on the nature of virtue, composed for festive occasions at court and delivered by Schiller himself in 1779 and 1780. These display a confident, even exuberant, mastery of rhetorical structures and devices, and the ability to present an argument with persuasive forcefulness. Schiller’s medical writings from the same period offer an interesting contrast to these party pieces, with a more sober tone and a coolly analytical approach. His later prose works derive their particular strength from a combination of these qualities: a highly analytical method sustained by often breathtaking stylistic virtuosity.
During the 17808, alongside his early plays, Schiller produced a number of occasional pieces for journals, including two short essays on the theater and a number of reviews (among them reviews of Goethe’s Egmont in 1788 and Iphigenie in 1789). The themes and stylistic features of later prose works are variously prefigured in these pieces, but it was not until the early 1790s, when he was professor of history at the University of Jena, that Schiller began to investigate aesthetic and philosophical issues in greater depth, inspired by his study of Kant. The result was a number of shorter treatises: two essays on tragedy (“Über den Grund des Vergnüens an tragischen Gegenständen” [1792.; On the reason for our enjoyment of tragic subjects] and “Über die tragische Kunst” [1792.; On the art of tragedy]), essays on the sublime and on pathos (“Vom Erhabenen” and “Über das Pathetische,” which appeared in Neue Thalia in 1793), and an investigation into the nature of beauty (“Über Anmut und Würde” [1793; On grace and dignity]). Even amid the abstract speculations of these philosophical works the dramatic practitioner is constantly apparent: the analysis of tragic or literary effects veers repeatedly toward discussion of how these effects are to be achieved in practice.
Schiller’s momentous meeting with Goethe in July 1794, the beginning of their decade-long friendship, proved to be a catalyst in terms of his own work, provoking a deeper investigation of aesthetic questions and inspiring a personal creative renaissance.
In 1794 and 1795, under the impetus of this new association, Schiller produced his two major theoretical essays, Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (On the Aesthetic Education of Man) and the treatise Über naïve und sentimentalische Dichtung (On the Naive and Sentimental in Literature).
The Aesthetic Education began as a series of letters addressed to the patron who had intervened with financial assistance in 1791, when serious illness and poverty were threatening to bring Schiller’s career to an untimely end. These early letters were destroyed in a fire in Copenhagen in February 1794 and in the Fall of the same year Schiller started work on a revised version, which was published in three installments in the journal Die Horen (The muses) in 1795. Two hundred years after their composition there is still much in these 27 letters that speaks directly to a modern readership. The early letters establish the basis of the argument, with Schiller’s contention that aesthetic matters are not a peripheral issue but fundamental for the harmonious development of both society and the individual. This section of the work culminates in the tremendous fifth and sixth letters, which survey the current lamentable state of humanity: individuals torn between imagination and intuition on the one hand, and science and abstraction on the other; a fragmented society where people are just cogs in a larger machine, unable to develop fully as individuals. Schiller’s resonant condemnation of a world in which progress is attained at the expense of individual wholeness is extremely effective; echoes of his argument can be heard distinctly in Freud’s Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930; Civilization and Its Discontents). The later letters examine the concept of beauty, and argue that art has a vital function in enabling society and individuals to develop their full moral potential, through its ability to reconcile the basic drives underlying human existence (e.g. material and form, the finite and the infinite, sensation and reflection).
Much of Schiller’s argument is clearly still pertinent today, when the distances between different areas of human endeavor and the chasms of ignorance between isolated specialist fields appear greater and their implications more terrifying than ever. Other aspects of the work may seem more historically specific—Schiller’s contention, for example, that artists should turn to the Greek classics for inspiration, as a counterbalance to the stultifying conventions of the contemporary cultural scene. Yet all of it is compelling: the driving, dramatic style of presentation gives the writing immense force and presence, even where the author is dealing in abstractions. Schiller’s ideal aesthetic resolution of the fundamental tensions in human existence has its stylistic equivalent in the beautiful, almost architectonic structures of his language.
Schiller’s second major theoretical treatise, On the Naive and Sentimental in Literature, was begun at the same time as the Aesthetic Education and also appeared in installments in Die Horen, in 1795 and 1796. This work owes even more to the stimulating effect of Schiller’s friendship with Goethe. It is no more familiar in tone than any of his other prose works, but it is, in a very profound way, thoroughly an “essay”: in it Schiller is implicitly testing and defining himself (an archetypally “sentimental” or reflective writer) against literary traditions and ideals, and against his much-admired friend (an archetypal “naive” genius). In a letter to Wilhelm von Humboldt (7 September 1795), Schiller reveals that his examination of the “naive” in literature had necessarily forced upon him the question of how he could still claim to be a writer despite having no feeling of kinship with the ancient Greeks. Through this treatise he is effectively defining and validating his position as a modern writer.
The presentation of the argument in this treatise also has more traditional essay-like qualities: Schiller did not start out with an overall plan, but let the argument evolve as he progressed. He begins with an examination of the “naive” as if this is his only object of inquiry, moving on to consider the contrasts between the “naive” and “sentimental” modes (between nature and culture, feeling and thought, the finite and the infinite). This leads into an extended examination of different genres and writers. The essay ends with a more general application of the central categories to “realists” and “idealists” as human archetypes.
After 1795 Schiller devoted himself to his dramatic compositions (the plan for the Wallenstein trilogy was already under way); the correspondence with Goethe became his principal arena for literary discussion, and he produced little in the way of published theoretical writing—just the small essay on epic and dramatic poetry written jointly with Goethe, and a preface to Die Braut von Messina (1803; The Bride of Messina) on the use of the chorus in tragedy. All Schiller’s theoretical writings, and especially those of the
1790s, display the consummate rhetorical and constructional skills of this master dramatist; the two major treatises formed a basis for, and a prelude to, the great dramatic works he produced in the following decade.
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. Born 10 November 1759 in Marbach am Neckar, Wiirttemberg. Studied law and medicine at the military academy of Duke Karl Eugen of Wiirttemberg (i.e. the Karlsschule), Stuttgart, 1773–80, graduated as a regimental doctor, 1780. First play, Die Rduber (The Robbers), performed January 1782; left Wiirttemberg because his writing displeased the Duke, 1782. Contracted to write for the National Theater, Mannheim, 1783–84. Editor, Die Rheinische Thalia (later Die Thalia and Die Neue Thalia), 1785–93; joined the Korner circle, Leipzig, then Dresden, from 1785. Professor of history, University of Jena, 1789–91: resigned because of ill health. Married Charlotte von Lengefeld, 1790: two sons and two daughters. Founder and editor, Die Horen, 1794–97. He refused professorship in Tiibingen, 1795. Lived in Weimar, after 1799, and several plays produced under Goethe’s direction at the Hoftheater. Ennobled by Emperor Franz II, 1802. Died in Weimar, 9 May 1805.
Essays and Related Prose
Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, in Die Horen, 1795; edited by Wolfgang Diising, 1981; as “Upon the Aesthetic Culture of Man,” in The Philosophical and Aesthetic Letters and Essays, translated by J.Weiss, 1845; as On the Aestbetic Education of Man, translated by Reginald Snell, 1954, and Elizabeth M.Wilkinson and L.A.Willoughby, 1967
Über naive und sentimentaliscbe Dichtung, in Die Horen, 1795–96; edited by W.F.Mainland, 1950; as “On Simple and Sentimental Poetry,” in Essays Aestbetical and Philosophical, 1875; as On the Naive and Sentimental in Literature, translated by Helen Watanabe O’Kelly, 1981
The Philosophical and Aesthetic Letters and Essays, translated by J. Weiss, 1845
Aesthetical Writings, translated by Charles J.Hempel, in Schiller’s Cotnplete Works, vol. 2, 1861
Essays Aesthetical and Philosophical (various translators), 1875
Essays and Letters, translated by A.Lodge, E.B.Eastwick, and A. J.W.Morrisson, 1901
Aestbetical and Philosopbical Essays, translated anonymously, edited by Nathan Haskell Dole, 2 vols., 1902
Essays (various translators), edited by Walter Hinderer and Daniel O.Dahlstrom, 1993
Other writings: 18 plays (including Don Carlos, 1787; Wallenstein plays, 1798–99;
Maria Stuart, 1800; Wilhelm Tell [William Tell], 1804), poetry (including An die Freude [Ode to Joy], 1786), fiction, histories of the Low Countries and of the Thirty Years’ War, and letters.
Collected works editions: Works (Bohn Standard Library), 4 vols., 1847–49; Werke (Nationalausgabe), edited by Julius Petersen, Gerhard Fricke, and others, 1943– (in progress); Werke und Briefe, edited by Klaus Harro Hilzinger and others, 6 vols., 1988– 95 (in progress; 12, vols. projected).
Vulpius, W., Schiller-Bibliographie 1893–1958, Weimar: Arion, 1959; supplements by Vulpius, 1967, P.Wersig, 1977, and Roland Bärwinkel and others, 1989; other supplements in Jahrbuch der Deutschen Schillergesellschaft.
Meyer, Hermann, “Schillers philosophische Rhetorik,” Euphorion 53 (1959):91–128
Reed, T.J., The Classical Center: Goethe and Weimar, 1775–1832, Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1980; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986
Staiger, Emil, Friedrich Scbiller, Zurich: Atlantis, 1967
Üding, Gert, Schillers Rhetorik: Idealistische Wirkungsästhetik und rhetorische Tradition, Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1971
Wilkinson, Elizabeth M., and L.A.Willoughby, Introduction to their translation of On the Aesthetic Education of Man by Schiller, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982 (original translation, 1967)
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