Schiller and Our Times
IV. Schiller's Weltanschauung
11 February 1905, Berlin
We cannot talk of Schiller's view of life as we can of that of other men, for it is in continual flux and continual process of ascending. Lesser personalities find it easy to reach a view of life; greater struggle through with difficulty. This is because lesser personalities are incapable of seeing into the great riddles. For the greater every experience provides a new riddle; a new basis is given for the philosophy, which has to take on a new form. This was Goethe's experience all through his life and with Schiller it was the same. Schiller himself remarked that fundamentally he knew very little of the sphere of his own development; but his spirit worked incessantly to deepen and harmonise his ideas and experience of life. Very characteristic is the way in which Schiller carried on a conversation; in which he was the antithesis of Herder; and we can get a conception of his nature by that antithesis.
When Herder was in the society of interested people, he used to develop his own views, and there were seldom any objections; his position was so firm and clear that he could not have gone any deeper into a problem by a dialectic conversation. Schiller was quite different. With him every conversation became alive; he took up every objection, every aspect was touched on, and consequently the conversation went along all sorts of side-paths; everything was illuminated from every side. In his conversation, in the personal life that existed round Schiller, we can see best how his views were in a continual flux. There is the same striving after truth which is expressed in Lessing's words: “If God stood before me, the truth in one hand, in the other the striving after truth, I should beg of him: Lord, give me the striving after truth, for the whole truth indeed exists for God alone.”
We see similarly how Schiller, in all periods of his life, is engaged in a continual struggle for a higher view of the world; how he was driven, when he took up his professorship at Jena, to make his ideas living, how he strove to grasp the great forces which are effective in the world and to fructify them in really vivid lectures. The smaller essays on subjects of world history show us how he wrestled with these ideas. Apart from the above-mentioned essay on “What is, and how should we study history universally?” he tried to describe the significance of a law-giver like Moses. Then he dealt with the period of the Crusades; and perhaps, there is nothing finer and more interesting than the way in which Schiller depicts the conditions of ownership and vassalage in the Middle Ages. From his account of the Netherlands' struggle for freedom we can learn on what inner principles historical development moves. Then he comes to the Thirty Years' War, in which he is already particularly fascinated by the figure of Wallenstein, a man with the law of his will within himself, firm in his own person but fettered by a petty ambition, unstable in his aims and in the confusion of his ideas concerning himself with the message of the stars. Later on he tried to disentangle this puzzling character in poetry. But before then he had to clear things up by studies in the work of Kant. Nor did he approach Kantianism without philosophical preparation. There was something in him which could only come out by reference to Kant.
We have to understand this point in Schiller thoroughly if we wish to understand the greatness of his personality aright. There is a series of letters, “Philosophical Letters” between Julius and Raphael; and the philosophy which he develops there is something that is born in himself. The view which grew out of the depths of his personality, is represented by the man called Julius, while in Raphael we have to imagine a man like his friend Körner who had reached a certain completeness, even if without the same depth. For in life the less often appears the cleverer and the superior over against one who struggles higher. This struggling (philosopher) who is still living amid disharmonies, outlines his view, in the “Theosophy of Julius” somewhat as follows: “Everything in the world derives from a spiritual basis. Man also originated here; he represents the confluence of all the forces in the world; he is the epitome and unification of all that is extended in nature; all existence apart from him is only the hieroglyph of a force which is like him: thus in the butterfly which rises into the air with its youth renewed from the caterpillar stage, we have a picture of human immortality. Satisfaction is only attainable if we rise to the ideal planted within us.” This view he calls the “Theosophy of Julius.” The world is a thought of God, everything lives only in the infinite love of God; everything in me and outside of me is only a hieroglyph of the highest being.
As Goethe in his Prose Hymn to Nature had put it, that man is set by nature, unasked and unwarned, into the cycle of life, that nature herself speaks and acts in him, so Schiller comes in this theosophy of Julius, to some extent, to a similar standpoint. But he is still unsatisfied, for none but God could, he feels, regard the world from this standpoint. Is it really possible for the human soul, so small and limited, to live with such a picture of the world?
From Kantianism Schiller got a new world-picture which lasted till the middle of the nineties. The problem of the world has become a problem of man, and it is the problem of freedom which now concerns him. The question that now demands answer is how man can reach his perfection. Schiller's view of things appears before us in its clearest and finest form in his “Aesthetic Letters”: on the one hand man has a lower nature and is subjected to animal impulses; and nature is thus far necessity in the things of the senses which press upon him. On the other side there is an intellectual necessity in man's thinking; and it is logic to which he must subject himself. He is the slave both of necessity in nature and of the necessity of reason.
Kant answers this contradiction by depressing the necessity of nature in favour of intellectual necessity. Schiller seized upon this gulf between the two necessities in all its depth. To him it was a problem which extends over all human relationships. The laws which control men have come partly from the necessity of nature, the dynamic forces which are active in men, partly from asserted. That was not the case, especially with his Wallenstein. Schiller started from an inner musical mood, as he called it, not from ideas. The stream of complex forces in man appeared in his inner being as melody, and solved themselves in a harmony or collapsed in disharmony. Then he looked for the thoughts, the characters, the single moods; and thus there appeared before his eyes the conflicting soul-forces of Wallenstein which led him of necessity to a vast catastrophe. Unfortunately, we cannot reproduce this mood except with intellectual means.
There may be in one case a personality built upon itself which suffers tragic collapse. But the effect is truly tragic only if it collapses upon itself. What Hebbel demanded as the necessary pre-supposition of tragedy, “That things had to happen thus,” that nothing can be tragic which might have happened otherwise, was grasped intuitively by Schiller, though he never puts it thus in words. But there is another tragic idea under the influence of which Schiller stands which does not admit of solution and which was expressed particularly in Wallenstein. This is the consciousness that there is something higher acting within human life which cannot be solved within this framework. Not till the world's end when men have reached perfection, will man's eyes be able thus to survey their destiny. Till then there must always be errors, something insoluble, for which Wallenstein looks for the solution in the stars, something imponderable in his heart.
Wallenstein believes that he can read his destiny, firmly pre-established in the stars and yet he has to see how Octavio, contrary to the oracle of the stars, deceives him.
But man's freedom still remains the highest; an inner necessity makes him search for the solution in the stars: so he faces a new riddle: — that the stars have lied.
Yet again, the stars cannot lie; man, who offends against the most sacred laws of feeling and the heart, brings the harmony of the stars into disorder.
There can be no order in nature which opposes the laws of the human spirit.
If we look at the character of Wallenstein in this way, we shall see Schiller's own personality shining through the person of Wallenstein. Schiller wanted to look this contradiction in the face and show how man lives with it. There must be a truth in the world, he tells himself, and he has sought it as he does in the letters of Julius.
The contradiction lies in the single appearances; and here Schiller reaches to the knowledge, to what the old Indians and other wise men recognised as illusion.
He wanted to live in truth, and he regarded art as a gateway through which man must travel so as to reach the dawn of beauty and freedom. In his poem “Der Künstler” he calls on artists to take their place in the world-scheme and to help in the realisation of the ideal. He cries to them: Human dignity is in your hands. Preserve it.