VII. SCHILLER AND GOETHE: 1794-1805

It fell for a moment when, in June, 1794, both men attended in Jena a session of the Society for Natural History. Encountering Goethe as they left the hall, Schiller remarked that the biological specimens exhibited at the conference lacked life, and could offer no real help to understanding nature. Goethe emphatically agreed, and the conversation kept them together till they reached Schiller’s home. “The talk induced me to go in” with him, Goethe later recalled. “I expounded to him … The Metamorphosis of Plants”—atreatise in which Goethe had argued that all plants were variations of one primitive type, the Urpflanze, and that nearly all parts of a plant were variations or developments of the leaf. “He heard … all this with much interest and distinct apprehension; but when I had done he shook his head and said, ‘This is not experiment, it is an idea’ “; i.e., it was a theory not yet verified by observation or test. The comment nettled Goethe, but he saw that Schiller had a mind of his own, and his respect for him grew. Schiller’s wife, “whom I had loved and valued since her childhood, did her best to strengthen our reciprocal understanding.”111

In May of 1794 Schiller, had signed a contract to edit a literary monthly to be called Die Horen. (The Horae, in Greek mythology, were the goddesses of the seasons.) He hoped to enlist as contributors Kant, Fichte, Klopstock, Herder, Jacobu, Baggesen, Körner, Reinhold, Wilhelm von Humboldt, August Wilhelm von Schlegel, and—best catch of all—Goethe. On June 3 he sent to Weimar a letter addressed to “Hochwohlgeborener Herr, Hochzuverehrender Herr Geheimer Rat” (High and Wellborn Sir, Highly Honored Sir Privy Councilor) a prospectus of the proposed magazine, and added: “The enclosed paper expresses the wish of a number of men, whose esteem for you is unbounded, that you would honor the periodical with contributions from your pen, in regard to the value of which there can be but one voice among us. We feel, your Excellency, that your consent to support this undertaking will be a guarantee of its success.”112 Goethe replied that he would gladly contribute, and was “certain that a closer connection with the sterling men who form your committee will arouse to new life much that is now stagnant within me.”113

So began a correspondence that is among the treasures of literary history, and a friendship whose exchange of respect and aid, lasting for eleven years—till Schiller’s death—should enter into our estimate of mankind. Perhaps the most revealing of the 999 extant letters is the fourth (August 23, 1794), in which Schiller, after several meetings with Goethe, analyzed with both courtesy and candor, both modesty and pride, the differences between their minds:

My recent conversations with you have put the whole store of my ideas in motion. … Many things about which I could not come to a right understanding with myself have received new and unexpected light from the contemplation I have had of your mind (for so I call the general impression of your ideas upon me). I needed the object,the body, to several of my speculative ideas, and you have put me on the track for finding it. Your calm and clear way of looking at things keeps you from getting lost in the side roads into which speculation, as well as arbitrary imagination … are so apt to lead me astray. Your correct intuition grasps all things, and that far more perfectly than what is laboriously sought for by analysis. … Minds like yours seldom know how far they have penetrated, and how little cause they have to borrow from philosophy, which in fact can only learn from them. … Although I have done so at a distance, I have long watched the course which your mind has pursued. … You seek for the necessary in nature, but … you look at nature as a whole when seeking to get light thrown on her individual parts; you look for the explanation of the individual in the totality of all her various manifestations.114

Goethe’s answer (August 27) cleverly avoided an analysis of Schiller’s mind:

For my birthday, which occurred this week, I could have received no more agreeable gift than your letter, in which, with a friendly hand, you sum up my existence, and in which, by your sympathy, you encourage me to a more assiduous and active use of my powers.... It will be a pleasure to unfold to you at leisure what your conversation has been to me; how I too regard those days as an epoch in my life; for it seems to me that after so unexpected a meeting we cannot but wander on in life together.

Goethe followed this up (September 4) with an invitation to Schiller to come and spend some days with him in Weimar. “You could take up any kind of work you like without being disturbed. We would converse together at convenient hours, … and I think we would not part without some profit. You should live exactly as you like, and as much as possible as if you were in your own home.” Schiller readily accepted, but warned Goethe that “the asthmatic spasms from which I suffer oblige me to stay in bed all morning, since they leave me no peace at night.” So, from September 14 to 28, Schiller was Goethe’s guest, almost his patient. The older man took tender care of the ailing poet, guarded him against annoyance, gave him dietetic counsel, taught him to love fresh air. Back in Jena, Schiller wrote (September 29): “I find myself at home again, but my thoughts are still in Weimar. It will take me a long time to unravel all the ideas which you have awakened in me.” Then (October 8), with characteristic eagerness, he urged: “It seems to me necessary that we should come at once to some clear understanding about our ideas of the beautiful.”

There followed three months of preparation for the first number of Die Horen. This appeared on January 24, 1795; the second, on March 1; the rest monthly for three years. Goethe reported from Weimar (March 18): “People are running after it, snatching the numbers from one another’s hands; we could not want more for a beginning.” On April 10 Schiller informed Goethe: “Kant has written me a very friendly letter, but begs for a delay in sending his contributions.... I am glad we have induced the old bird to join us.” Goethe asked that his own pieces be unsigned, for they included several of his Roman Elegies, and he knew that their lusty sensuality would seem unbecoming in a privy councilor.

In the rash enthusiasm of success Schiller persuaded Goethe to join him in another periodical, Der Musenalmanach , which appeared yearly from 1796 to 1800. The liveliest pieces in this were the Xenien that the two poets wrote on the model of Martial’s Xenia— epigrams written as gifts to guests. Schiller described the project to Körner: “The whole affair consists in a conglomeration of epigrams, of which each is a single couplet. They are chiefly wild and impish satires, especially against authors and their works, interspersed here and there by sudden flashes of poetical or philosophical ideas. There will be no less than six hundred of such monodistichs.”115 Goethe had suggested this plan as a way to strike back at their critics, to make fun of pompous authors and bourgeois tastes, and to stir the German reading public to a keener interest in literature; they would send these “gifts” into the camp of the Philistines “like foxes with burning tails.”116 The epigrams were unsigned, and some of them were the joint product of the two conspirators. Since many of these burning tails were directed at authors or controversies now forgotten, time has extinguished their fire; but one of them, by Goethe, especially merits remembrance:

Immer strebe zum Ganzen, und kannst du selber kein Ganzes
Werden, als dienendes Glied schliess an ein Ganzes dich an!

—“Always strive for the whole, and if you yourself cannot become a whole, tie yourself to some whole as a serving part.” Another distich, usually credited to Schiller, extends the thought:

Vor dem Tod erschrickst du? Du wünschest unsterblich zu leben?
Leb’ im Ganzen! Wenn du lange dahin bist, es bleibt.

—“You are frightened by death? You wish to live undying? Live in the Whole! When you are long gone hence, it will remain.” The satirical part of the Xenien brought counterattacks, which made Schiller suffer and Goethe laugh. Goethe advised Schiller to let his work be his sole reply. “After our mad venture with the Xenien, we must take pains to work only on great and dignified works of art, and shame all our adversaries by transforming our Protean natures into noble forms.”117

It was done. In these years of their developing friendship Goethe and Schiller wrote some of their finest poems: Goethe “The Bride of Corinth” and “The God and the Bayadere”; Schiller “The Walk” (1795), “The Cranes of Ibycus” (1797), and “The Song of the Bell” (1800). Schiller added a major essay Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung (1795), and Goethe sent forth Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1796).

By “naïve and sentimental poetry” Schiller meant poetry born of objective perception versus poetry developed by reflective feeling; secretly he was comparing Goethe and Schiller. The “naïve” poet is not simple or superficial or deluded; he is one who is so readily adjusted to the external world that he feels no opposition between himself and nature, but approaches reality through direct and unhesitating intuition; Schiller cites Homer and Shakespeare as examples. As civilization becomes more complex and artificial, poetry loses this objective immediacy and subjective harmony; conflict enters the soul, and the poet has to recapture through imagination and feeling—as an ideal remembered or hoped for—this concord and union of the self with the world; poetry becomes reflective, clouded with thought.118 Schiller believed that most Greek poetry was of the naïve or direct sort, and most modern poetry the result of discord, disunity, and doubt. The ideal poet is he who will fuse both the simple and the reflective approaches in one vision and poetic form. Goethe later pointed out that this essay became a fountain-head of the debate between classical and Romantic literature and art.

The embryology of Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre illustrates Goethe’s method of creation. He conceived the story in 1777, completed Book I in 1778, put it aside, and did not finish Book II until July, 1782. He worked on Book III until November of that year, and on Book IV till November, 1783; Books V and VI dragged along for three years more. He called these six books “Wilhelm Meisters theatralische Sendung,” and read parts of them to friends; then he laid them aside. He took up the tale again in 1791 on the urging of Herder and Anna Amalie; added two books by June, 1794; submitted the growing manuscript to Schiller, who sent back criticisms, suggestions, and encouragement as the pages came; it was almost a picture of a midwife assisting at a long-overdue birth. At last, in 1796, the whole was delivered to the press. No wonder the final product was slightly deformed, weak in structure, adipose and confused, excellent only in parts and in its mirroring of Goethe’s uncertain wandering amid conflicting interests and vague ideals. That decisiveness and self-confidence which Schiller ascribed to him were the proud concealment of internal vacillation and strife.

Lehrjahre— “learning years”—expressed the period of apprenticeship in the German guilds; through that time of tutelage Wilhelm became Meister, master; so the meandering theme of the novel is Wilhelm’s slow and painful apprenticeship in the guild of life. Because of the puppet shows Goethe had loved as a child, and his continuing interest in the theater, he tied the tale to a troupe of actors passing through a dozen towns and a hundred vicissitudes as lessons in living and pictures of German ways. Faithful to his own unfaithfulness, he made his hero enter upon the scene by deserting his mistress Marianne. Wilhelm is not an alluring character. He lets himself be carried from one situation or idea to another by the whim of circumstance or the power of personality; it is the woman who takes the initiative in his love affairs. Born a bourgeois, he flounders in admiration for men of noble birth, and humbly hopes that these will someday recognize the aristocracy of the mind. Philine is more attractive: a pretty actress who waltzes lightly from love to love, but graces her erotic tourism with a contagious gaiety and an absolving unconsciousness of sin. Unique is little Mignon, who follows her old father dutifully as he strums his harp in penny-gathering peregrinations. Goethe describes her as speaking “very broken German,”119 but puts into her mouth that perfect song, “Kennst du das Land.” She falls in adolescent love with Wilhelm, who loves her as a child, and she dies in grief when she sees him in Theresa’s arms. Ambroise Thomas plucked her out of these eight hundred pages to make of her a sad and delightful opera (1866).

Schiller praised the calm serenity of the style in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, and the truth to life in the description of a wandering troupe; but he pointed out contradictions in chronology, psychological improbabilities, offenses against taste, and faults in characterization and design.120 He proposed changes in the plot, and gave his ideas as to how the story should end.121 Goethe assured him, “I shall certainly comply with your just wishes as far as I possibly can”;122 but he confessed to Eckermann, thirty-three years later, that it was all he could do to protect his novel from Schiller’s influence.123 Other critics were less friendly; one described the book as a brothel on tour; and Charlotte von Stein complained that “when Goethe deals with lofty emotions he always flings some dirt at them, as if to deprive human nature of any pretensions to the divine.”124 The novel did not deserve these indiscriminate censures; it has many pleasant pages, and can still carry the interest of readers freed from the tumult of the world.

On March 23, 1796, Schiller went again to Weimar as Goethe’s guest. There they worked together for the theater. Goethe was a strict manager, chose the plays to be presented, and trained the actors. “All that was morbid, weak, lachrymose, or sentimental, as well as all that was frightful, horrible, or offensive to decorum, was utterly excluded.”125 The audience was usually confined to the court, except when some students were invited from Jena. August von Schlegel remarked, acidly: “Germany has two national theaters—Vienna, with a public of fifty thousand, and Weimar, with a public of fifty.”126

Schiller returned to Jena April 12, stimulated by his renewed contact with the stage to revert from history, philosophy, and incidental poetry to the drama. He had long thought of writing a play on Wallenstein; Goethe urged him to proceed with it. In November Goethe went to Jena, and lived for some time in daily communication with Schiller. Back in Weimar, Goethe wrote: “Do not fail to make use of your best hours, so as to get on with your tragedy, that we may begin to discuss it.”127

While Schiller worked on Wallenstein, Goethe, stirred to rivalry by the success of Johann Heinrich Voss’s verse idyl of German life and sentiment, Luise (1795), tried his hand at this favorite genre, and published in 1798 Hermann und Dorothea. Hermann is the strong and healthy, shy and quiet son of a bilious father and tender mother, who keep the Golden Inn and an extensive farm in a village near the Rhine. They learn that hundreds of refugees are approaching from a frontier town captured by the French; the family make up parcels of clothing and food, which Hermann conveys to the refugees. He finds among them a lass with “swelling bosom” and “neatly shaped ankles,”128 who is serving them with aid and comfort. He falls in love with her, and, after due tribulations, brings her home to his parents as his bride. The story is told in fluent hexameters; vignettes of rural life give color to the tale; calls for the expulsion of the French invaders pleased patriotic Germans who had found Iphigenie auf Tauris and Torquato Tasso foreign and recondite; and the little epic gave new popularity to an author who, since Werther, had had few readers outside the Saxe-Weimar duchy.

Schiller’s star was in the ascendant from 1798 to 1800. On November 28, 1796, he wrote to Körner: “I am still brooding seriously over Wallenstein, but the unfortunate work is still before me, shapeless and endless.” He began it in prose, put it aside, then started it again in verse. The material was partly familiar to him from his studies for his History of the Thirty Years’ War, but it was so abundant, so complex in characters and events, that he abandoned the attempt to compress it into five acts. He decided to preface the drama with a one-act prologue called Wallensteins Lager (Wallensteiris Camp), and to divide the remainder into two plays. Die Ficcolomini expounded the plot to depose the rebellious general, and set it off with a fiery love affair between Wallenstein’s daughter and the son of a leader in the plot. The final and essential drama would be Wallensteins Tod.

When Goethe read the prologue he was so struck by the realistic portrayal of an army camp, and the clever preparation for later developments, that he insisted on staging Wallensteins Lager in the Weimar theater (October 12, 1798) before Die Piccolomini was complete; perhaps it was a subtle way of keeping the poet to his task. Early in 1799 Schiller went to Weimar to stage Die Piccolomini; it had its première on January 30, and was well received; he returned to Jena and worked feverishly on The Death of Wallenstein.A letter of March 19, 1799, reveals the mood of a writer emerging from the ardor of creation: “I have long dreaded the moment when I should be rid of my work, much as I wished that moment would come; and in fact I feel my present freedom to be worse than the state of bondage that I have been in heretofore. The mass which has hitherto drawn and held me to it has now gone, and I feel as if I were hanging indefinitely in empty space.”

Excitement enough came with the rehearsals and première (April 20, 1799) of Wallensteins Tod. Its success was complete; even the highly critical Weimar audience felt that it had witnessed a masterpiece of dramatic presentation. Schiller had now reached the peak of his development. He had shortened the speeches and intensified the action; he had drawn all the leading characters with vitality and power; he had brought all the threads of the plot together in the tragic denouement—the ignominious death of a great man ruined by limitless ambition and pride. Schiller felt that he could now stand on an equality with Goethe;129 and in the field of drama he was justified. Probably at Goethe’s suggestion, the Duke added two hundred thalers to Schiller’s pension, and invited him to reside in Weimar. On December 3, 1799, the family moved to a house so close to Goethe’s that for a time the two poets saw each other every day.130

Meanwhile, carried onward by his triumph, Schiller had flung himself into another play. “Thank God!” he wrote to Körner on May 8, 1799, “I have already hit upon a new subject for a tragedy.” For his Maria Stuart he studied the historical background, but he laid no claim to writing history; he proposed to write a play using history as material and background. He rearranged events and chronology for dramatic consistency and effect; he stressed the unpleasant elements in Elizabeth’s character, and made Mary an almost immaculate heroine; and he brought the two queens face to face in a dramatic confrontation. History knows of no such meeting, but the scene is one of the most powerful in the literature of the stage. When it was presented at Weimar, June 14, 1800, Schiller was again exalted with success. By July he was at work on Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Here too he revised history to his purpose: in place of burning the Maid he pictured Joan as escaping from her English captors, rushing into battle to rescue her king, and dying in victory on the field. The première at Leipzig (September 18, 1801) was the greatest triumph that Schiller ever had.

Was Goethe jealous of his friend’s sudden rise to ascendancy on the German stage? He rejoiced over it, and twenty-eight years later he still judged Wallensteins Tod “so great that there is nothing else like it of the kind.”131 However, he did not rank his rival as high in poetry as in drama; he felt that Schiller had clouded his poetry with philosophy, and had never quite mastered the music of verse.132 When some admirers of Schiller wished to stage a tribute to him in the Weimar theater, Goethe forbade it as too ostentatious.133 In July, 1800, he went to Jena for seclusion and study, while Schiller remained in Weimar; but on November 23 Schiller still spoke in terms of friendship unimpaired. He ranked Goethe as “the most gifted man since Shakespeare.... In the six years of our intimacy no slightest doubt of his integrity ever arose. He possessed the highest veracity and sense of honor, and the deepest earnestness in the pursuit of what is right and good.”134 “I wish,” he added, “that I could justify Goethe as warmly in respect of his domestic relations! … Through false notions of what constitutes domestic happiness, and through an unhappy fear of marriage, he has slipped into an entanglement which oppresses him and makes him wretched in his very home, and which he is too weak and softhearted to shake off. This is his only vulnerable spot.” Schiller’s wife, like the other ladies of Weimar, would not receive Christiane in her home, and Schiller rarely mentioned Christiane in his extant communications with Goethe.

Despite these flaws in the friendship of the Dioskuren, as they were sometimes called, it at least proved that a classic and a Romantic genius might live in harmony. They sent messages to each other almost every day; they frequently had supper together; Goethe often put his carriage at Schiller’s disposal; he sent to Schiller “a portion of the order which my wine merchant has just delivered.”135 “Let us have a walk together toward evening,” Goethe wrote on April 20, 1801; and on June 11; “Farewell; give my kind greetings to your dear wife, and gladden me, on my return [from Göttingen], by showing me some fruits of your industry”; and on June 28, 1802: “A key to my garden and garden house will be given you; I want you to have as good a time there as possible.” Twenty-two years after Schiller’s death Goethe said to Eckermann, “It was fortunate for me … that I found Schiller; for, different as our natures were, our tendencies were still toward one point, which made our connection so intimate that one really could not live without the other.”136

In the final years of their alliance each was handicapped by disease. For the first three months of 1801 Goethe suffered from nervousness, sleeplessness, violent influenza, and abscesses that for a time closed his eyes. At one stage he was unconscious for so long that Weimar expected his death. On January 12 Charlotte von Stein wrote to her son Fritz: “I did not know that my former friend Goethe was still so dear to me, and that a serious illness, which overcame him nine days ago, would so shake me to the very core.”137She took Christiane’s boy, August, into her home for a while to ease the burdens that Goethe’s sickness had laid upon his mistress, who tended him tirelessly. His recovery was slow and painful. “It is hard,” he wrote to Charlotte, “to find the way back.”138

In 1802 Schiller, now prosperous from the rising proceeds of his acted and published plays, bought a home in Weimar for 7,200 gulden, and Goethe, then in Jena, helped him to sell the house he had lived in there. On March 17, 1803, Schiller produced Die Braut von Messina, a self-confessed139 attempt to rival Sophocles’ Oedipus by portraying, with a divided chorus, the strife of two brothers in love with a woman who turns out to be their sister. The play did not please. Goethe experienced a similar setback when, in 1803, he staged Die natürliche Tochter.

Among the spectators at a performance of The Natural Daughter was a brilliant and volatile lady, Germaine Necker, Mme. de Staël, who was gathering material for her book De l’Allemagne. She saw Schiller for the first time in December, 1803, *

in the salon of the Duke and Duchess of Weimar, in a society as enlightened as it is exalted. He read French very well, but he had never spoken it. I maintained with some warmth the superiority of our dramatic system over that of all others; he did not refuse to enter the lists with me, without feeling any uneasiness from the difficulty and slowness with which he expressed himself in French.... I soon discovered so many ideas through the impediment of his words, I was so struck with the simplicity of his character, … I found him so modest, … so animated, that I vowed him, from that moment, a friendship full of admiration.140

Schiller prepared Goethe for her: “She represents the intellectual culture of France in its purity. … The only trouble with her is her quite extraordinary volubility. One has to turn oneself into one concentrated organ of hearing in order to follow her.”141 He brought her to Goethe on December 24. Goethe reported: “A most interesting hour. I didn’t get a chance to say a word. She speaks well, but far too much.” Her own report was identical except for a slight change: she said that Goethe had talked so much that she had not had a chance to speak one syllable.142 Her book served as a revelation to France of Germany as “the native land of thought.” “It is impossible,” she wrote, “that the German writers, the best-informed and the most reflecting men in Europe, should not deserve a moment’s attention to be bestowed upon their literature and their philosophy.”143

Resolved to win back the audience that had rejected The Bride of Messina, Schiller, at Goethe’s suggestion, chose for his next drama the popular story of William Tell. He was soon on fire with the theme. “After he had gathered all necessary material,” Goethe recalled in 1820, “he sat down to work and … did not get up from his chair until the play was finished. If weariness overcame him he laid his head on his arm and slept a while. So soon as he awoke he asked … for strong black coffee to keep himself awake. So the play was written in six weeks.”144

Schiller accepted as history the legend of a William Tell who had led the revolt of the Swiss against Austria in 1308. The revolt was real; so was Gessler, the hated Austrian bailiff. Gessler, in the legend, promised Tell full pardon if he proved his famed prowess with bow and arrow by shooting an apple from his boy’s head. Tell placed two arrows in his belt; with the first he shot the apple; Gessler asked for what he had intended the second; Tell answered, “For you if the first should strike my son.” The play was acclaimed at Weimar on March 17, 1804, and soon thereafter everywhere; Switzerland adopted it as part of its national lore. Published, the play sold seven thousand copies in a few weeks. Schiller was now more famous than Goethe.

But he had less than a year of life left to him. In July, 1804, he had so violent an attack of colic that his doctor feared for his death and Schiller hoped for it. He recovered slowly, and began another play, Demetrius (the “false Dmitri” of Russian ‘history). On April 28, 1805, he saw Goethe for the last time; from that meeting Goethe returned to his home and himself fell seriously ill with colic. On the twenty-ninth Schiller’s final sickness began. Heinrich Vols reported: “His eyes were sunk deep in his head, and every nerve twitched convulsively.”145 The unhealthy tensions of literary effort, the inflammation of his bowels, and the decay of his lungs joined to destroy him. “Schiller never drank much,” said Goethe later; “he was very temperate, but in such hours of bodily weakness he was obliged to stimulate his powers with spirituous liquors.”146 On May 9 Schiller met death with a strange calm: he bade farewell to his wife, his four children, and his friends; then he fell asleep, and did not wake again. An autopsy showed the left lung completely destroyed by tuberculosis, the heart degenerated, the liver, the kidney, and the intestines all diseased. The doctor told the Duke: “Under the circumstances we cannot help wondering how the poor man could have lived so long.”147

Goethe was so ill at the time that no one dared tell him of Schiller’s death. On May 10 Christiane’s sobbing revealed it to him. “I thought I was losing my own life,” he wrote to Zelter, “and instead I lost a friend who was the very half of my existence.”148 With what remained he came to his own fulfillment.

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