Schiller's Life and Characteristic Quality
IT will be a hundred years on 9th May, 1905,
since Schiller died, and the educated world in Germany will
certainly celebrate the memory of this event. Three generations
lie between Schiller and us; and so our first task would appear
to be to survey the meaning of Schiller to us to-day. The last
great Schiller festival took place in 1859, but with quite a
different significance from what ours can have to-day. Times
have changed enormously. The pictures, problems and thoughts
which occupy our contemporaries are quite different. The
celebration held in 1859 was something which penetrated deep
into the heart of the German people.
1859 there were still men who themselves lived wholly in
the ideas which had been brought out by Schiller's poetic
power. It may be that this year we shall see more exuberant
festivities; but no such participation from the depths of
the soul is any longer possible.
question therefore forces itself on us, what has happened since
then? and how can Schiller still mean anything to us? The grand
pictures (and ideas) of the Goethe-Schiller period have
vanished. In 1859 these ideas were still incorporated in
individuals with whom the older among us became acquainted when
we were young. These leading spirits, who were rooted
completely in the traditions of the time, are now with the
dead. The youngest among us have no longer any knowledge of
person of my teacher Schröer, who put the Goethe period
before us in enthusiastic fashion, I had been privileged to
know a man who was rooted wholly in that period. In Herman
Grimm the last example died of those whose souls were
completely at one with that period. To-day, all that is past
history. Other problems concern us. Political and social
questions have become so pressing that we no longer understand
that intimate artistic attitude.
that period would have a strange effect on us; we have lost
their deep, “soulful” attitude to art. That
is no reproach; our times have become hard. Let us take three
leading thinkers of the present and see how differently they
talk of the movements of their time.
Ibsen: we see how he deals comprehensively with the
problems of our modern culture, how he has found the most
penetrating melody to suit the modern heart and a civilisation
which is passing into chaos. Then, Zola: What is to be the
relation at the present between our art and a life which is
threatening to explode in social struggles — that is the
question he thrusts upon us. That life appears to us rigid and
impenetrable, decided by quite other forces than our fantasy
and soul. Lastly, Tolstoi, who started from art, and only later
became a preacher and social reformer. To-day such a purely
aesthetic culture as Schröer depicted to us for the
Goethe-Schiller period seems quite impossible.
that period the decisive problem of life was what we might call
the aesthetic conscience. Beauty, taste and artistic
sensitivity were regarded as problems quite as serious and
pressing as politics and freedom are to-day. Art was regarded
as something which must have its part in the machinery of
culture. But to-day, Tolstoi, who has created masterpieces in
the sphere of art, deserts his art and looks for other means of
speaking to the sensibility of his contemporaries.
Schiller therefore is not to be judged in our times as he was
in the Eighteenth Century. But what has remained, is the
impressive depths of his “Weltanschauung”
(worldview). Quantities of questions receive a wholly new
light as a result of Schiller's view of the world. Our business
in these lectures is to try to look at them from this
dealing with the various problems of our times and our culture,
in science as in artistic effort, there is nowadays great
confusion and obscurity. Every youthful author thinks it
his business to establish a new philosophy; literature is
choked with books on questions which have been long ago solved.
Questions are unfolded which, in the form we see, reach no
conclusion because those who are trying to solve them have not
really occupied themselves with the problems. Often indeed, the
questions are not even asked properly, so that the problem
really lies in the way in which the questions are put.
are two currents out of which we can see the personality of
Schiller growing up: — on the one side the growth of
materialism, on the other the longing for the assertion of the
personality. What we call “Illumination”
Aufklärung has its roots in these two currents.
Age-old traditions were tottering during the Eighteenth
Century. In the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries the deepest
questions of the human spirit were solved on the basis of
tradition; and no shocks were dealt to man's fundamental
relationship with the world and its deepest foundations.
came a difference; it was impossible to solve the basic
problems dealing with the human life of the spirit in the same
sense as had been done for centuries. In France, stimulated by
English “Sensationalism,” a rationalistic,
materialistic philosophy was growing up. The soul was beginning
to be deduced from material conditions; everything was to be
explained out of the physical. The Encyclopaedists made spirit
originate in matter. The ups and downs in the world around us
were a whirl of atomic movement. “Man is a machine”
— that was more or less the form in which La Mettrie
formulated his materialistic creed. Goethe already
complained, when he grew acquainted with the writings of
these French materialists (Holbach's
Système de la Nature), and was indignant at men's presumption
in trying to explain the whole world by a few barren ideas.
side of this was a second stream which derived from Rousseau.
Rousseau's writings made an enormous impression on the most
important men of the time. There is a story about Kant, who was
a great pedant, and took his daily walk so punctually that the
inhabitants of Königsberg could set their clocks by him.
But there was one occasion when to the astonishment of the
inhabitants the philosopher did not appear for some days: he
had been reading Rousseau, whose writings had gripped him so
hard that he had forgotten his daily walk.
foundations of a whole civilisation had been shaken by
Rousseau. He put the question whether mankind had risen as a
consequence of civilisation; and his answer was a negative. In
his view men were happier at a stage of nature than at their
present stage when they allowed their personality to decay in
times when men, basing themselves on tradition, still believed
they knew something of the relationships of the world,
they were not so intent on the personality. Now, when the
personality had cut asunder the bonds between itself and the
world, men began to ask how that personality was to establish
itself firmly in the world.
believed that it was impossible to know anything about the
deepest foundations of the world and the soul. But if, as a
result, there was nothing any longer secure in the world, the
longing towards better material conditions was bound to
increase in everyone. The revolutionary efforts of the
Eighteenth Century had their origin here; connected with the
materialistic current. A good Christian of the Seventeenth
Century could not have spoken thus of Liberty, Equality and
Fraternity. This striving after liberty (freedom) must be
regarded as the fundamental current of the time.
Schiller was young when these ideas of freedom were ripening.
Rousseau's ideas had, as we have just said, a colossal
influence on the most important men in Germany, like Kant,
Herder and Wieland. The young Schiller was also fascinated; and
we find him, even at the Karlsschule, engaged in reading
Rousseau, Voltaire, etc.
age had reached a dead end. The upper classes had lost all
moral soundness. An external tyranny dominated in school as
well. In Schiller there was a peculiar depth of temperament
which appeared, even in boyhood, as a tendency towards
religion. For that reason he had, moreover, originally intended
to study theology; his whole disposition urged him to the
deepest problems of existence. The peculiar form taken in
Germany by this striving for freedom was in the union of piety
with an infinite longing for emancipation. The urge towards the
freedom of personality, and not merely religion, is also the
atmosphere of Klopstock's Messiah: it is in his
religious feeling that the German wants to be free. The
Messiah made a great impression on Schiller.
Schiller chose the faculty of medicine; and the way in which he
tackled the subject, is related to the questions which were
particularly occupying him. He tried to reach some
conclusion on these questions by a serious study of nature. The
teaching in the Karlsschule was to have a deeply
comprehensive and all-round effect on him. The weaknesses
to be seen in modern secondary education did not exist in that
school. The natural sciences were studied thoroughly; and the
centre of study was philosophy. Deepest questions of
metaphysics and logic were discussed.
Schiller entered on his medical studies with a philosophic
spirit. The way in which he took them is important and
significant for his life. We cannot understand Schiller wholly
if we do not read the two dissertations which he wrote after
finishing his studies. They deal with the questions:
is the relation between spirit and matter?
are the relations of the animal and spiritual natures in
first only little survives. In the second Schiller puts to
himself the question how we have to understand the working of
the material in the human body.
Schiller, even the material body has something spiritual. There
are men who see in the body only something low and animal.
There is no depth of content in a view which thus lowers and
abominates the body; nor was it the view of the young Schiller.
For Schiller the body is the temple of the spirit, built by
wisdom, and not to no purpose possessing influence on the
is the significance of the body for the soul? that is the
question which Schiller, who felt the physical also to be holy,
sought to solve. He describes, for example, how the quality of
soul expresses itself in gesture and in feeling. He seeks to
explain to himself, in fine and illuminating fashion, what
remains permanently of the movement of soul thus expressed. He
says at the close of his dissertation: —
Matter breaks up again, at death, into its ultimate elements,
which henceforward wander through the kingdoms of nature in
other forms and relationships, to serve other purposes. The
soul departs, to exercise its power of thought in other spheres
and to observe the universe from other sides. We may say, of
course, that it has by no means exhausted the possibilities of
this sphere, that it might have left this sphere more perfect;
but do we know that this sphere is lost to it? We lay aside
many a book which we do not understand, but which we may
perhaps understand better some years hence.
is how Schiller tries to make clear to himself the eternal of
the spirit in its relation to physical nature — without
however under-estimating the physical. That remained the
central problem for all Schiller's life: How is man born from
out the physical and how does his soul and the freedom of his
personality stand towards the world? How is the soul to find
its centre now that the old traditions have gone?
having in the dramas of his youth thundered forth all his
passion for emancipation, and won over the heart of his
people, he busied himself with history and philosophy, and we
touch the deepest problems of the history of civilisation or
cultural history when we study the dramas of Schiller. Everyone
had a piece of Marquis Posa in himself, and so Schiller's
problem took on a new feature. The deepest questions in
relation to the human soul and the meaning of life were
discussed. He saw how little had been achievable on the
external plane. In Germany the effort was being made to solve
the problem of freedom in an artistic way; and that resulted in
what we may call the “aesthetic conscience.”
Schiller, too, had put the question to himself in this way; and
he was sure that the artist could give man of the highest. He
dealt with this problem in later years. In his “Letters
on the aesthetic Education of Man” he says: Man acts
unfreely in the external world from necessity; in the world of
reason he is subject to necessity, to logic. Man is thus hedged
in by the real world and by his ideal of reason. But there is
another, middle condition between reason and the sense world,
the aesthetic. Anyone who has artistic sensibility, appreciates
the spirit in the sensible; he sees spirit enwoven in nature.
Nature is to him a beauty-filled picture of the spiritual. The
sense world is therefore only the expression of the spirit; in
a work of art the sensible is ennobled by the spirit. The
spirit is removed from the kingdom of necessity. In beauty man
Eves as in freedom. Art is thus the intermediary between the
senses and reason in the realm of freedom.
felt the same in presence of the works of art in Italy. In the
beautiful the impulse of mankind towards freedom finds its
satisfaction; here he is raised above iron necessity. Not by
force or state-laws. In aesthetic enjoyment Schiller saw an
education into harmony. As man, he feels himself free through
art; and so he would like to transform the whole world into a
work of art.
we see the difference between that time and our own. To-day,
art is kept in a corner; then, Schiller wanted to give life an
immediate impression through art. To-day Tolstoi has to condemn
art, while Ibsen, in his art, becomes the critic of social
life. At that time Schiller wanted to interfere direct on life
by means of art. When he wrote his pamphlet on “The Stage
as a moral Institution,” during the period when he
was acting as reporter at the Mannheim theatre, he did it
because he wanted to give a direct impulse to civilisation by
means of art.