Schiller and Our Times
VII. Schiller's Influence During the 19th Century
4 March 1905, Berlin
I want to speak to-day of the way in which Schiller's influence was active during the Nineteenth Century and then to pass over to his significance for the present and finally to what he may yet be to the future. In my last lecture I will give a sort of summing-up of Schiller.
If we want to describe Schiller's place in the Nineteenth Century, we can certainly not go into details; and so we shall not pause over single incidents if they are not of symptomatic importance. Our business is with the whole cultural life of the century and Schiller's place within it. In general, it is very difficult to decide what is Schiller's influence on individual periods; we cannot follow each path in detail. Schiller's influence may be compared, in a way, to that of Herder at the beginning of the century when Goethe said in a conversation to Eckermann: “Who nowadays reads Herder's philosophical works? And yet everywhere we meet the ideas which he has sowed.” That is a more intense influence than one which is associated only with a name; and it is the case with Schiller also.
His influence cannot be separated from that of the great classical period. One thing we may emphasise, that his influence and the recognition expressed by the national celebration on 10th November 1859, did not come into being easily and unopposed. Schiller did not establish his position so smoothly. Much was necessary for the spirit of Schiller to have its effect, quite imperceptibly, on the young especially. Thus the Glocke (“Song of the Clock”) produced at first the most violent opposition in romantic circles. Caroline v. Schlegel, wife of W. v. Schlegel, called it the poem of a provincial Philistine.
But not only in those cases which we meet in the Xenien, but in general in the so-called romantic circles, we shall find active opposition to Schiller. The Romantics found their ideal in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and had raised Goethe to a pinnacle, at the cost of that friend of his, to whom Goethe had cried after his death:
Weit hinter ihm im wesenlosen Scheine
Lag, was uns alle bändigt, das Gemeine.
Schiller's great gift, to be able to raise the moral and the ethical to such heights, found no sympathy with them. Hard words were uttered by the Romantics against Schiller, “the provincial moralist.” People who have grown up in an atmosphere of reverence for Schiller, will hardly understand remarks like that of Friedrich v. Schlegel in his essays on Goethe and Schiller. He called Schiller's Imagination disordered. Here there is no sign of the quality which attracted all hearts to Schiller. About the end of the 1820's there appeared the Goethe — Schiller correspondence, that memorial set up by Goethe to his friend and their friendship. We can learn much from it and its importance for the understanding of German art is immeasurable. Here also the Romantics were bitterly contemptuous and cold. We can gather how hard it was for Schiller to establish his fame when we realise the megalomania of the chief people who were his opponents. A. W. Schlegel, the excellent translator of Shakespeare, wrote a sonnet about himself, which shows what his own view was of his importance in German literature; he talks of his poetic significance with a pride which strikes us very strangely:
What name the future's lips shall give to him Is still unknown, this generation recognised him His name was August Wilhelm Schlegel.
Nor does he present a unique phenomenon; he is typical of the romantic theory; we can only understand him if we can understand what the romantic school was after. The Romantics aimed at a new art, a comprehensive view of all art. Their theory had as a matter of fact grown out of what Schiller had said in his aesthetic essays; but it was a caricature. Schiller's aphorism that man is only truly man when he is playing, became a sort of motto of theirs. This was the origin of their romantic irony which turned everything into the play of genius. People almost began to believe that it lay in the power of a man's will to turn himself into a genius.
But when Schiller called art play, he meant the word “play” in full seriousness. The true secret of a master lay, said Schiller, in the conquest of the material by the form; but the romantics despised the form and demanded of the matter in itself that it should have artistic effect. This attitude, which I am not criticising but only stating, was fundamentally opposed by Schiller. Hence the correspondence of Goethe and Schiller was regarded by them as very tiresome; the art-rules there discussed they took as naive. A. W. v. Schlegel, under the stimulus of the correspondence, wrote some bitter epigrams. Among themselves the Romantics thoroughly admired one another.
All this will show how in the first decades of last century Schiller's life-work was greeted with bitterest opposition. On the other hand, his personality was so powerful that even among these men he received his due of recognition and admiration: for instance, Ludwig Tieck wrote, with understanding and respect, of Schiller's Wallenstein. Schiller more and more acquired his influence and made a home for himself in the hearts of his people. Theodor Körner is the most important, though not the only, instance of a man who lived wholly in the spirit of Schiller: — and he died, moreover, a hero's death filled with the ideals planted in him by Schiller. He seemed dedicated to it by the personal friendship which united his family and Schiller's. A close friendship existed between Körner's father and Schiller, who was godfather to Theodor Körner and bought him the “Tyre” which accompanied Körner everywhere. Schiller made his way slowly but surely into the hearts of youth.
If we follow out the development of style in these opposing romantics, we find the influence of Schiller even in the words he had coined.
It was thanks to Schiller that there was formed what we may call the German culture of the first half of the Nineteenth Century. It was permeated by the special note that was given to the soul by Schiller. Things which had their origin in Herder and the other classicists, made their way into the people by the pictures and didactic applications of Schiller. However, much men might bristle at the heights of aesthetic culture, Schiller has established his position increasingly. His influence grew steadily, and on the centenary of his birth, it is the best men in the nation who honour him. The speeches made at the time have been collected, and among those who spoke we find famous names like those of Jacob Grimm, Th. F. Vischer, the great aesthetic thinker, Carl Gutzkow, Ernst Curtius, Moritz Carriere and many others. The seed had grown which Schiller had planted.
Nevertheless, the language held at the celebrations in 1859 was quite alien to the new ideas which were appearing at the time. To emphasise Schiller's ideals in 1859 fitted strangely in with the other ideas which saw the light that year. There are four things of special importance which I want to mention that appeared in them. In 1859 there appeared Darwin's Origin of Species; and secondly, Fechner's Prelude to Aesthetic. Fechner has acquired considerable influence on one of the lines of modern thought. He started from the ideas of Hegel, who had himself defended Schiller against the Romantics. Vischer, who had begun his work in the Goethe — Schiller period and whose aesthetic was of idealist type, found himself forced into opposition to his own earlier views; and Vischer's mode of thinking was completed by Fechner, who wrote a sort of aesthetic “from below,” whereas until then the ordinary aesthetic had been one “from above.” The attempt was now being made to grasp the essence of the beautiful from below, from the small symptoms.
The third work, which treated of space conditions, was in a sense opposed to Schiller's manner: he had spoken as follows in his epigram to the astronomers:
Do not chatter, I pray you, so much of nebulae and suns.
Is no greatness in nature, save that she gives you to count?
What you deal with, my friends, in space is truly sublimest;
But the sublime has not its dwelling in space.
This third work was the Spectral Analysis of Kirchhoff and Bunsen, by means of which the sun could be seen in its constituent elements, and an analysis of the most distant nebulae was made possible.
The fourth work was Marx's Critique of Political Economy. There was a marked contrast between the thoughts developed at the Schiller celebrations and the ideas which were germinating at the time. It was a unique standpoint which Schiller, and the classicists generally, held towards world culture. We cannot picture Raphael or Michelangelo out of relation to their own times, in which they were born and worked. In the same way Homeric art is in intimate contact with something that lived in everyone; Homer had only to give form to something which permeated all his contemporaries as feeling and thinking. But with the German classicists it was quite different. Homer, of whom did he tell? Of Greeks he spoke to Greeks. Similarly, Dante, Michelangelo, even Shakespeare, stood wholly within their times. But not so our classicists. Lessing was enthused by Winckelmann and formed his artistic ideas out of Winckelmann's essays; he also went back to Aristotle. Schiller and Goethe faithfully with Lessing studied Aristotle. Hence came that abstracted ideal of beauty, an art so cut off from the life of the times, particularly as the poets grew older. For Schiller's earlier plays, the Räuber, Kabale und Liebe are still connected with his own life. Goethe had developed particularly in Italy. Art had become an end in itself, abstract and isolated from everyday life. Goethe and Schiller had become neutral toward their subject matter: thus Schiller looks for his material all over the world, he has risen from the world around him and established himself on his own feet. Nothing describes Schiller's influence so well as the fact that he was followed by Romanticism which assimilated everything foreign. Translations from every sphere of world-literature are one of the chief services of the romantic school.
Schiller's attitude to art is something which had decisive influence on his relation to the Nineteenth Century.