When Schiller reached Weimar Goethe was in Italy. The almost penniless poet admitted jealousy of the absent councilor. “While he is painting in Italy, the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys are sweating for him like beasts of burden. He is squandering a salary of 1,800 thalers there, and here they have to work double tides for half the money.”83 On August 12, 1787, he wrote more favorably:
Goethe is spoken of here by many with a sort of devotion, and is even more loved and admired as a man than as an author. Herder says he has a most clear judgment, great depth of feeling, and the purest sentiments. … According to Herder, Goethe is free from all spirit of intrigue; he has never done harm to anyone.... In his political transactions he acts openly and boldly. … Herder says that as a man of affairs Goethe is more deserving of admiration than as a poet, … that he has a mind large enough for anything.84
The Duke was away when Schiller came, but Anna Amalie and Charlotte von Stein received him cordially. Wieland told him that he “was wanting in polish, clearness, and taste,”85 and offered to polish him; soon the eager poet was contributing to Wieland’sTeutsche Merkur. He found more intimate entertainment with Charlotte von Kalb, who, like the other Charlotte, had a broad-minded husband. “People begin to whisper pretty loudly here about my connection with Charlotte. … Herr von Kalb has written to me. Hecomes here at the end of September, and his arrival will greatly influence my arrangements. His friendship for me remains unchanged, which is astonishing, for he loves his wife, and is aware of my intimacy with her. … But he can never for one moment doubt her fidelity. … He still remains the honest, goodhearted fellow he always was.”86
On August 27, 1787, Don Carlos had its première in Hamburg. Schiller was too fond of Weimar to attend. This, his first play in verse, was both praised and condemned as a surrender to the style of French tragedy, but it lacked the dramatic unity required by Aristotelian rules. It began with the conflict between Philip II and his son for the love of Elizabeth of Valois; then, mid-play, the center of interest shifted to the struggle of the Netherlands to free themselves from Spanish suzerainty and Alva’s cruelty. Schiller tried to give an impartial portrait of Philip, and Protestant readers applauded the appeal of Marquis Posa to the King:
I lately passed through Flanders and Brabant—
So many rich and blooming provinces,
Filled with a valiant, great, and honest people!
To be the father of a race like this
I thought must be divine indeed! And then
I stumbled on a heap of burned men’s bones! . . .
Restore us all you have deprived us of,
And, generous and strong, let happiness
Flow from your horn of plenty; let man’s mind
Ripen in your vast empire, … and become
Amidst a thousand kings a king indeed! . . .
Let every subject be what once he was—
The end and object of the monarch’s care,
Bound by no duty save a brother’s love.87
Despite the success of Don Carlos, Schiller for a long time abandoned drama. In 1786 he had written to Körner: “History has with each successive day new attractions for me.... I wish I had studied nothing else for ten years together; I think I should have been another sort of being. Do you think there is yet time to make up for what I have lost?”88 He could not support himself, much less a family, on the proceeds of occasional plays that even after an applauded première might wither to an early death. Perhaps some successful work of history would give him sufficient reputation as a scholar to win a professorship in the University of Jena. There he would be only fourteen miles from Weimar, and still within the jurisdiction and bounty of the Duke.
So, after finishing Don Carlos, he gave his pen to a Geschichte des Abfalls der Vereinigten Niederlande (History of the Fall of the United Netherlands) . As Schiller could not read Dutch, he relied on secondary authorities, from whose narratives he put together a compilation of no lasting worth. Körner criticized Volume I (1788) with his usual honesty: “The present work, with all its talent, does not bear the stamp of that genius of which you are capable.”89 Schiller abandoned the Netherlands; no second volume came.
On July 18, 1788, Goethe returned from Italy, and in September met Schiller in suburban Rudolstadt. Schiller reported to Körner: “The high idea I had conceived of him is not lessened in the slightest degree, … but I doubt if we shall ever draw very close to each other. … He is so far ahead of me … that we cannot meet on the road. His whole life from the very beginning has run in a direction contrary to mine. His world is not my world. On some points our notions are diametrically opposed.”90 And indeed the two poets seemed providentially designed to dislike each other. Goethe, thirty-nine, had arrived and matured; Schiller, twenty-nine, was climbing and experimenting; only in proud egotism did they agree. The younger man was of the people, poor, writing semirevolutionary lines; the other was rich, a man of rank and state, a privy councilor deprecating revolution. Schiller was just emerging from Sturm und Drang; he was the voice of feeling, sentiment, freedom, romance; Goethe, wooing Greece, was all for reason, restraint, order, and the classic style. In any case, it is not natural for authors to like one another; they are reaching for the same prize.
When they returned to Weimar, Goethe and Schiller lived only a short walk from each other, but they did not communicate. Matters were worsened by the appearance of Schiller’s hostile review of Goethe’s Egmont. Goethe decided that “little Athens” was not large enough to contain both of them. In December, 1788, he recommended Schiller for a chair in history at Jena. Schiller gladly accepted, and called on Goethe to thank him, but in February, 1789, he wrote to Körner:
It would make me unhappy to be a great deal in Goethe’s society. He never warms even toward his best friends; nothing attaches him. I verily believe he is an egotist of the first water. He possesses the talent of putting men under an obligation to him by small as well as great acts of courtesy, but he always manages to remain free himself.... I look upon him as the personification of a well-calculated system of unbounded selfishness. Men should not tolerate such a being near them. He is hateful to me for this reason, though I cannot do otherwise than admire his mind, and think nobly of him. He has aroused in me a curious mixture of hatred and love.91
On May 11, 1789, Schiller took up his duties at Jena, and on May 26 he delivered his “inaugural address” on “What Is, and to What End Does One Study, Universal History?” Admission being free, the audience proved far too large for the room assigned, and the professor moved with his auditors in a gay stampede to a hall at the other end of town. This lecture was highly praised; “the students gave me a serenade that night, and three rounds of cheers”;92 but enrollment for the course—for which admission was charged—was small, and Schiller’s scholastic income was meager.
He added to it by writing. In 1789-91 he brought out, in three installments, Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Krieges (History of the Thirty Years’ War). Here he was at home at least with the language, though again he was too harassed to go to the primary sources, and his predilection for judging and philosophizing colored and halted the tale. Nevertheless Wieland hailed the work as indicating Schiller’s “capacity for rising to a level with Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon.”93 Seven thousand copies of Volume I were sold in its first year.
Schiller now felt that he could indulge his longing for a home, and for a woman to give him love and care. He had had a brief glimpse of Charlotte and Caroline von Lengefeld at Mannheim in 1784. He saw them again at Rudolstadt in 1787; “Lotte” was living there with her mother, and Caroline, unhappily married, was living next door. “Both, without being pretty,” Schiller wrote to Körner,94 “are interesting, and please me exceedingly. They are well read in the literature of the day, and give proofs of a highly finished education. They are good performers on the piano.” Frau von Lengefeld frowned upon the idea of her daughter marrying an impecunious poet, but Karl August gave him a small pension of two hundred thalers, and the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen secured him a patent of nobility. He warned Lotte that he had many faults; she told him she had noticed them, but added: “Love is loving people as we find them, and, if they have weaknesses, accepting them with a loving heart.”95 They were married on February 22, 1790, and took a modest home in Jena. Lotte brought her own income of two hundred thalers a year, gave him four children, and proved, through all his tribulations, a patient and tender wife. “My heart swims in happiness,” he wrote, “and my mind draws fresh strength and vigor.”96
He worked hard, preparing two lectures a week, writing articles, poems, and history. For months he labored fourteen hours a day.97 In January, 1791, he suffered two spells of “catarrhal fever,” involving gastric pains and expectoration of blood. For eight days he lay in bed, his stomach rejecting all food. Students helped Lotte to care for him, and “vied with one another as to who should sit up with me at night. … The Duke sent me half a dozen of old Madeira, which, with some Hungarian wine, has done me good service.”98In May he was attacked by “a fearful spasm, with symptoms of suffocation, so that I could not but think that my last moment had come.... I took farewell of my loved ones, and thought to pass away any minute. … Strong doses of opium, camphor, and musk, and the application of blisters, relieved me most.”99
A false report of his death alarmed his friends, and reached even to Copenhagen. There—on suggestions from Karl Reinhold and Jens Baggesen—two Danish noblemen, Duke Friedrich Christian of Holstein-Augustenburg and Count Ernst von Schimmelmann, offered Schiller an annual gift of a thousand thalers for three years. He received it gratefully. The university excused him from teaching, but he lectured to a small private circle. Part of his new leisure he gave, at Reinhold’s urging, to the study of Kant’s philosophy, which he accepted almost completely, to Goethe’s amusement and Herder’s disgust, and perhaps with some detriment to Schiller’s poetry.
Now (1793) he sent forth his long essay On Grace and Dignity, which began the romantic cultivation of die schöne Seele. “A beautiful soul” he defined as one in which “reason and the senses, duty and inclination, are in harmony, and are outwardly expressed in grace.”100 The Copenhagen donors must have been alarmed to receive, as some return for their gift, a little volume entitled Briefe über dieästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind, 1793-94). Starting with Kant’s conception of the sense of beauty as a disinterested contemplation of harmonious forms, Schiller argued (with Shaftesbury) that “the feeling developed by the beautiful refines manners,” and the aesthetic sense becomes one with morality.—It is a consolation to read, in this pronouncement from Weimar’s halcyon days, that Schiller (like Goethe) thought his generation decadent, sunk in “profound moral degradation.”101
When he turned back from philosophy to poetry he found it difficult to recapture “that boldness and living fire I formerly possessed; … critical discussion has spoiled me.”102 But he insisted that “the poet is the only authentic human being; the best philosopher is a mere caricature compared with him”;103 and he exalted to the plane of celestial inspiration the function of the poet to teach and raise mankind. In a long ode, Die Künstler (The Artists, 1789), he described poets and artists as guiding mankind to the union of beauty with morality and truth. In another poem, Die Götter Griechenlands (The Gods of Greece, 1788) he lauded the Greeks for their aesthetic sensibility and artistic creations, and argued, with cautious obscurity, that the world had become gloomy and ugly since the replacement of Hellenism by Christianity. He was already falling under Goethe’s spell, as Goethe had fallen under Winckelmann’s.
Probably in both Schiller and Goethe the romantification of Hellas was an escape from Christianity. Despite some pious passages Schiller, as well as Goethe, belonged to the Aufklärung; he accepted the eighteenth-century faith in salvation by human reason rather than by divine grace. He retained a deistic belief in God—personal only in poetry—and a misty immortality. He rejected all churches, Protestant as well as Catholic. He could not bear sermons, even Herder’s. In an epigram entitled “Mein Glaube” (My Faith) he wrote two famous lines:
Welche Religion ich bekenne? Keine von alien
Die du mir nennst. Und warum keine? Aus Religion.
—“Which religion do I acknowledge? None of all those that you name to me. And why none? Because of religion.”104 He wrote to Goethe, July 9, 1796: “A healthy and beautiful nature—as you yourself say—requires no moral code, no law for its nature, no political metaphysics. You might as well have added that it requires no godhead, no idea of immortality wherewith to support and maintain itself.” Nevertheless there were factors of imagination and tenderness in him that drew him back toward Christianity:
I find that Christianity virtually contains the first elements of what is highest and noblest; and its various outward forms seem distasteful and repulsive to us only because they are misrepresentations of the highest. … No sufficient emphasis has been placed upon what this religion can be to a beautiful mind, or rather what a beautiful mind can make of it. … This explains why this religion is so successful with feminine natures, and why it is that only in women is it at all supportable.105
Schiller was not, like Goethe, physically built for thorough paganism. His face was handsome but pale, his frame tall but thin and frail. He distrusted the diurnal vacillations of the weather, and preferred to sit in his room smoking and taking snuff. He contrasted himself with Goethe as idea versus nature, imagination versus intellect, sentiment versus objective thought.106 He was at once timid and proud, shrinking from hostility but always fighting back; occasionally irritable and impatient,107 perhaps because aware that his time was running out; often critical of others, sometimes envious.108 He had a tendency to moralize about everything, and to take a high idealistic tone. It is a relief to find him enjoying the eroticism of Diderot’s Les Bijoux indiscrets.109 He analyzed his own talent well in an early letter to Goethe:
The poetic mind generally got the better of me when I ought to have philosophized, and my philosophical mind when I wished to poetize. Even now it often happens that imagination intrudes upon my abstractions, and cold reason upon my poetical productions. If I could obtain such mastery over these two powers as to assign to each its limits [as Goethe did], I might yet look forward to a happy fate. But, alas, just when I have begun to know and to use my moral energies rightly, illness seizes me, and threatens to undermine my physical powers.110
His ailment returned with fury in December, 1793; he recovered, but the sense that he could not be cured, and must expect recurrent seizures, darkened his mood. On December 10 he wrote to Körner: “I struggle against this with all the force of my mind, … but I am always driven back. … The uncertainty of my prospects; … doubts of my own genius, which is not sustained and encouraged by contact with others; the total absence of that intellectual conversation which has become a necessity to me”: these were the mental accompaniments of his physical trials. He looked with longing, from Jena to Weimar, to the enviably healthy Goethe, that mens sana in corpore sano; there, Schiller felt, was the man who could give him stimulus and support, if only the ice between them would melt, if only that fourteen-mile barrier would fall away!