*Schröder, Rudolf Alexander
Schröder, Rudolf Alexander
For the first half of his life Rudolf Alexander Schröder was a profusely productive poet whose verse was shaped by fin-desiècle aestheticism, and by a stylistic versatility that is indebted to the canon of European classics. Above all, he cultivated a talent for absorbing and reactivating a diverse array of historical forms (odes, elegies, sonnets). Thus he saw himself as a creative assimilator of time-honored literary and artistic models rather than as a critical innovator. His predilection for refinement, and indeed his sense of cultural superiority, derived from his social status—he came from a patrician merchant family in Bremen—and reflect the social values of the German haute bourgeoisie at the century’s end: faith in a broad humanistic education, retreat from public controversies into inwardness and a dignified style of leisure, promotion of the arts as a way to foster civic sociability. The privileges of wealth and talent are employed most legitimately, in other words, when they serve the conciliatory purposes of moderation and continuity.
This attitude of conservative guardianship is sustained by an essentially aesthetic response to the uncertainties of life, experienced both as private contradictions and as the encounter with sociopolitical controversies. Schröder did not really question, much less abandon, this orientation when, during the mid–1920s as a belated reckoning with the consequences of World War I, he curtailed his lyrical output significantly in favor of essays, articles, and speeches—and of his work as an architectural designer. It was his program after 1918 to contribute toward the preservation of a national culture that he felt was being threatened with obliteration from many different directions. The rhetorical approach he thought best suited for such a task reflects two seemingly contradictory features of his personality: the self-conscious elitism of the connoisseur, and a strong need for recognition, even for public acclaim. Schröder was never a haughty loner like his friend Rudolf Borchardt, or a melancholy recluse like the cautiously admired Rilke.
Rather, he found in the classical literature of Europe and in the company of conservative artists a world of congenial sociability into which he could easily enter. And he always valued the appreciation of a discriminating audience.
Consequently, his essayistic prose often recaptures the style of knowledgeable colloquies in which a small group of people explore a variety of agreeable topics and concerns. They may not always arrive at a consensus, but they never argue dialectically or with polemical sharpness. Such a manner of presentation, for all its erudition and authoritative command over the material at hand, proceeds with graceful, or at least
effortless and at times casual, naturalness. Its ease only rarely slips into folksiness, or assumes the egalitarian voice of intimacy. It does keep its distance but eschews at the same time anything more forceful than a slight hint of confrontational acerbity. Schröder never employs harsh tropes or strident metaphors, never uses sarcasm. He is clearly uncomfortable with irony and bathos. His preferred mode of expression is a gently didactic tone, learned, with touches of wisdom, and free as much as possible from pedantry. It is a diction that allows his readers and listeners to share their preceptor’s delight in his pleasurable duties. His writing, in other words, is not driven by any sense of urgency, nor is it animated by a struggle with incongruities or by the perplexity of multiple viewpoints.
This was possible only because Schröder remained distant from politics or social problems, both during the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic and under the dictatorship of the Third Reich. Such aloofness from the tensions of public life and from ideological hostilities was voluntary and not the consequence of a defiantly powerless capitulation before a ruthless enemy. It accorded easily with his concept of history and with his distaste for the immediacy of mundane problems. While the fate of German democracy and ultimately the future of Europe was at stake, Schröder sought to reassert the indelible values of the Western cultural tradition, for example, by giving four different lectures on bibliophilism (1929) and by translating Homer, Cicero, the complete poetry of Horace and Virgil, the classics of French drama (especially Racine and Molière), and after 1945 the plays of T.S.Eliot. But there is no hint in any of his work, including over 150 essays, nearly all of which deal with poets and their environment, that any Modernist author or recent aesthetic debate or even the great writers of the 19th century attracted his attention. Among his contemporaries there is almost no one but Hugo von Hofmannsthal, perhaps the closest of his acquaintances, who elicited more than a few courteous observations, and this only post mortem, in the form of five commemorative appreciations. The rest of German (and world) literature might well have ended with Hölderlin, Brentano, and Jean Paul.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Schröder’s interests did not fluctuate or expand significantly, either after 1936, when he moved from his native Bremen to the village of Bergen (Upper Bavaria), or after 1945 when he was greatly in demand as a speaker at memorial and other festive occasions. His response to the Nazi regime, whose favors he never courted, was an intensified search for spiritual assurances, which brought him close to the members of Martin Niemöller’s Bekennende Kirche (Confessing church) and to the existentialist theology of Karl Barth. As a lay preacher (Lektor) in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church (1942–53) he wrote and delivered some 90 sermons, all meditative and consolatory; his few public statements that included a political message (for example, “Horaz als politischer Dichter” [1935; Horace as a political poet], “Dichter und Volk” [1937; Poet and people], or “Christentum und Humanismus” [1942; Christianity and humanism]) were formulated in such cautiously general terms as to give no specific offense or encouragement. This was inevitable because Schröder’s concept of Geist (spirit or intellect) has little regard for the impermanence of earthly things. His attention, rather, is focused on the eternal and on those emanations both of the Holy Spirit and of the human mind which have withstood the ravages of time. Most prominent in Schröder’s purview of timeless values are the piety expressed, for example, in baroque church hymns (he wrote essays on six of their authors), and the humanistic universalism he attributed to the genius of Goethe.
Born 26 January 1878 in Bremen. Studied architecture, art history, and music at the University of Munich, 1897–99. Cofounder, Die Insel, 1899. Lived in Paris, from 1901, and Berlin, 1905–08. Architectural designer, until 1931. Lay preacher for the EvangelicalLutheran Church, 1942–53; appointed member of the Protestant Church Synod, 1948.
Awards: several, including the Lessing Prize, 1947; Bremer Literature Prize, 1959; honorary degrees from five European universities.
Died in Bad Wiessee, Bavaria, 22 August 1962.
Essays and Related Prose
Die Aufsätze und Reden, 2 vols., 1939
Meister der Sprache, 1953
Über die Liebe zum Menschen, edited by Johannes Pfeiffer, 1966
Aphorismen und Reflexionen, edited by Richard Exner, 1977
Other writings: many volumes of poetry. Also translated Homer, Virgil, and others.
Collected works edition: Gesammelte Werke, 8 vols., 1951–65.
Adolph, Rudolf, Schröder Bibliographie, Darmstadt: Winter, 1953
Adolph, Rudolf, editor, Leben und Werk von Rudolf Alexander Schröder, Frankfurt-on- Main: Suhrkamp, 1958
Noltenius, Rainer, Hofmannsthal, Schröder, Schnitzler: Moglichkeiten und Grenzen des modernen Aphorismus, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1969
Tgahrt, Reinhard, and others, editors, Rudolf Borchardt, Alfred Walter Heymel, Rudolf Alexander Schröder: Eine Ausstellung des Deutschen Literaturarchivs im Schiller- Nationalmuseum, Marbach am Neckar, Munich: Kösel, 1978
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