The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 03 Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. in Twenty Volumes

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Language: English
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THE LIFE OF SCHILLER

BY CALVIN THOMAS, LL.D.

Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Columbia University

  He kept the faith. The ardent poet-soul,
  Once thrilled to madness by the fiery gleam
  Of Freedom glimpsed afar in youthful dream,
  Henceforth was true as needle to the pole.
  The vision he had caught remained the goal
  Of manhood's aspiration and the theme
  Of those high luminous musings that redeem
  Our souls from bondage to the general dole
  Of trivial existence. Calm and free
  He faced the Sphinx, nor ever knew dismay,
  Nor bowed to externalities the knee,
  Nor took a guerdon from the fleeting day;
  But dwelt on earth in that eternity
  Where Truth and Beauty shine with blended ray.[2]

Friedrich Schiller, the greatest of German dramatic poets, was born November 10, 1759, at Marbach in Swabia. His father was an officer in the army which the Duke of Württemberg sent out to fight the Prussians in the Seven Years' War. Of his mother, whose maiden name was Dorothea Kodweis, not much is known. She was a devout woman who lived in the cares and duties of a household that sometimes felt the pinch of poverty. After the war the family lived a while at the village of Lorch, where Captain Schiller was employed as recruiting officer. From there they moved, in 1766, to Ludwigsburg, where the extravagant duke Karl Eugen had taken up his residence and was bent on creating a sort of Swabian Versailles. Here little Fritz went to school and was sometimes taken to the gorgeous ducal opera, where he got his first notions of scenic illusion. The hope of his boyhood was to become a preacher, but this pious aspiration was brought to naught by the offer of free tuition in an academy which the duke had started at his Castle Solitude near Stuttgart.

This academy was Schiller's world from his fourteenth to his twenty-first year. It was an educational experiment conceived in a rather liberal spirit as a training-school for public service. At first the duke had the boys taught under his own eye at Castle Solitude, where they were subjected to a strict military discipline. There being no provision for the study of divinity, Schiller was put into law, with the result that he floundered badly for two years. In 1775 the institution was augmented by a faculty of medicine and transferred to Stuttgart, where it was destined to a short-lived career under the name of the Karlschule. Schiller gladly availed himself of the permission to change from law to medicine, which he thought would be more in harmony with his temperament and literary ambitions. And so it proved. As a student of medicine he made himself at home in the doctrines and practices of the day, and for several years after he left school he thought now and then of returning to the profession of medicine.

For posterity the salient fact of his long connection with the Karlschule is that he was there converted into a fiery radical and a banner-bearer of the literary revolution. Just how it came about is hard to explain in detail....