Thomas De Quincey

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John Christopher Frederick von Schiller, was born at Marbach, a small town in the duchy of Wurtemberg, on the 10th day of November, 1759. It will aid the reader in synchronizing the periods of this great man’s life with the corresponding events throughout Christendom, if we direct his attention to the fact, that Schiller’s birth nearly coincided in point of time with that of Robert Burns, and that it preceded that of Napoleon by about ten years.

The position of Schiller is remarkable. In the land of his birth, by those who undervalue him the most, he is ranked as the second name in German literature; everywhere else he is ranked as the first. For us, who are aliens to Germany, Schiller is the representative of the German intellect in its highest form; and to him, at all events, whether first or second, it is certainly due, that the German intellect has become a known power, and a power of growing magnitude, for the great commonwealth of Christendom. Luther and Kepler, potent intellects as they were, did not make themselves known as Germans. The revolutionary vigor of the one, the starry lustre of the other, blended with the convulsions of reformation, or with the aurora of ascending science, in too kindly and genial a tone to call off the attention from the work which they performed, from the service which they promoted, to the circumstances of their personal position. Their country, their birth, their abode, even their separate existence, was merged in the mighty cause to which they lent their cooperation. And thus at the beginning of the sixteenth century, thus at the beginning of the seventeenth, did the Titan sons of Germany defeat their own private pretensions by the very grandeur of their merits. Their interest as patriots was lost and confounded in their paramount interest as cosmopolites. What they did for man and for human dignity eclipsed what they had designed for Germany. After them there was a long interlunar period of darkness for the land of the Rhine and the Danube. The German energy, too spasmodically excited, suffered a collapse. Throughout the whole of the seventeenth century, but one vigorous mind arose for permanent effects in literature. This was Opitz, a poet who deserves even yet to be read with attention, but who is no more worthy to be classed as the Dryden, whom his too partial countrymen have styled him, than the Germany of the Thirty Years’ War of taking rank by the side of civilized and cultured England during the Cromwellian era, or Klopstock of sitting on the same throne with Milton. Leibnitz was the one sole potentate in the fields of intellect whom the Germany of this country produced; and he, like Luther and Kepler, impresses us rather as a European than as a German mind, partly perhaps from his having pursued his self-development in foreign lands, partly from his large circle of foreign connections, but most of all from his having written chiefly in French or in Latin. Passing onwards to the eighteenth century, we find, through its earlier half, an absolute wilderness, unreclaimed and without promise of natural vegetation, as the barren arena on which the few insipid writers of Germany paraded. The torpor of academic dulness domineered over the length and breadth of the land. And as these academic bodies were universally found harnessed in the equipage of petty courts, it followed that the lethargies of pedantic dulness were uniformly deepened by the lethargies of aulic and ceremonial dulness; so that, if the reader represents to himself the very abstract of birthday odes, sycophantish dedications, and court sermons, he will have some adequate idea of the sterility and the mechanical formality which at that era spread the sleep of death over German literature. Literature, the very word literature, points the laughter of scorn to what passed under that name during the period of Gottsched. That such a man indeed as this Gottsched, equal at the best to the composition of a Latin grammar or a school arithmetic, should for a moment have presided over the German muses, stands out as in itself a brief and significant memorial, too certain for contradiction, and yet almost too gross for belief, of the apoplectic sleep under which the mind of central Europe at that era lay oppressed. The rust of disuse had corroded the very principles of activity.

And, as if the double night of academic dulness, combined with the dulness of court inanities, had not been sufficient for the stifling of all native energies, the feebleness of French models (and of these moreover naturalized through still feebler imitations) had become the law and standard for all attempts at original composition. The darkness of night, it is usually said, grows deeper as it approaches the dawn; and the very enormity of that prostration under which the German intellect at this time groaned, was the most certain pledge to any observing eye of that intense reaction soon to stir and kindle among the smouldering activities of this spell-bound people. This reaction, however, was not abrupt and theatrical. It moved through slow stages and by equable gradations. It might be said to commence from the middle of the eighteenth century, that is, about nine years before the birth of Schiller; but a progress of forty years had not carried it so far towards its meridian altitude, as that the sympathetic shock from the French Revolution was by one fraction more rude and shattering than the public torpor still demanded. There is a memorable correspondency throughout all members of Protestant Christendom in whatsoever relates to literature and intellectual advance. However imperfect the organization which binds them together, it was sufficient even in these elder times to transmit reciprocally from one to every other, so much of that illumination which could be gathered into books, that no Christian state could be much in advance of another, supposing that Popery opposed no barriers to free communication, unless only in those points which depended upon local gifts of nature, upon the genius of a particular people, or upon the excellence of its institutions. These advantages were incommunicable, let the freedom of intercourse have been what it might. England could not send off by posts or by heralds her iron and coals; she could not send the indomitable energy of her population; she could not send the absolute security of property; she could not send the good faith of her parliaments. These were gifts indigenous to herself, either through the temperament of her people, or through the original endowments of her soil. But her condition of moral sentiment, her high-toned civic elevation, her atmosphere of political feeling and popular boldness; much of these she could and did transmit, by the radiation of the press, to the very extremities of the German empire. Not only were our books translated, but it is notorious to those acquainted with German novels, or other pictures of German society, that as early as the Seven Years’ War, (1756–1763,) in fact, from the very era when Cave and Dr. Johnson first made the parliamentary debates accessible to the English themselves, most of the German journals repeated, and sent forward as by telegraph, these senatorial displays to every village throughout Germany. From the polar latitudes to the Mediterranean, from the mouths of the Rhine to the Euxine, there was no other exhibition of free deliberative eloquence in any popular assembly. And the Luise of Voss alone, a metrical idyl not less valued for its truth of portraiture than our own Vicar of Wakefield, will show, that the most sequestered clergyman of a rural parish did not think his breakfast equipage complete without the latest report from the great senate that sat in London. Hence we need not be astonished that German and English literature were found by the French Revolution in pretty nearly the same condition of semi-vigilance and imperfect animation. That mighty event reached us both, reached us all, we may say, (speaking of Protestant states,) at the same moment, by the same tremendous galvanism. The snake, the intellectual snake, that lay in ambush among all nations, roused itself, sloughed itself, renewed its youth, in all of them at the same period. A new world opened upon us all; new revolutions of thought arose; new and nobler activities were born; “and other palms were won.”

But by and through Schiller it was, as its main organ, that this great revolutionary impulse expressed itself. Already, as we have said, not less than forty years before the earthquake by which France exploded and projected the scoria of her huge crater over all Christian lands, a stirring had commenced among the dry bones of intellectual Germany; and symptoms arose that the breath of life would soon disturb, by nobler agitations than by petty personal quarrels, the deathlike repose even of the German universities. Precisely in those bodies, however, it was, in those as connected with tyrannical governments, each academic body being shackled to its own petty centre of local despotism, that the old spells remained unlinked; and to them, equally remarkable as firm trustees of truth, and as obstinate depositories of darkness or of superannuated prejudice, we must ascribe the slowness of the German movement on the path of reascent. Meantime the earliest torch-bearer to the murky literature of this great land, this crystallization of political states, was Bodmer. This man had no demoniac genius, such as the service required; but he had some taste, and, what was better, he had some sensibility. He lived among the Alps; and his reading lay among the alpine sublimities of Milton and Shakspeare. Through his very eyes he imbibed a daily scorn of Gottsched and his monstrous compound of German coarseness with French sensual levity. He could not look at his native Alps, but he saw in them, and their austere grandeurs or their dread realities, a spiritual reproach to the hollowness and falsehood of that dull imposture which Gottsched offered by way of substitute for nature. He was taught by the Alps to crave for something nobler and deeper. Bodmer, though far below such a function, rose by favor of circumstances into an apostle or missionary of truth for Germany. He translated passages of English literature. He inoculated with his own sympathies the more fervent mind of the youthful Klopstock, who visited him in Switzerland. And it soon became evident that Germany was not dead, but sleeping; and once again, legibly for any eye, the pulses of life began to play freely through the vast organization of central Europe.

Klopstock, however, though a fervid, a religious, and for that reason an anti-Gallican mind, was himself an abortion. Such at least is our own opinion of this poet. He was the child and creature of enthusiasm, but of enthusiasm not allied with a masculine intellect, or any organ for that capacious vision and meditative range which his subjects demanded. He vas essentially thoughtless, betrays everywhere a most effeminate quality of sensibility, and is the sport of that pseudo-enthusiasm and baseless rapture which we see so often allied with the excitement of strong liquors. In taste, or the sense of proportions and congruencies, or the harmonious adaptations, he is perhaps the most defective writer extant.

But if no patriarch of German literature, in the sense of having shaped the moulds in which it was to flow, in the sense of having disciplined its taste or excited its rivalship by classical models of excellence, or raised a finished standard of style, perhaps we must concede that, on a minor scale, Klopstock did something of that service in every one of these departments. His works were at least Miltonic in their choice of subjects, if ludicrously non-Miltonic in their treatment of those subjects. And, whether due to him or not, it is undeniable that in his time the mother-tongue of Germany revived from the most absolute degradation on record, to its ancient purity. In the time of Gottsched, the authors of Germany wrote a macaronic jargon, in which French and Latin made up a considerable proportion of every sentence: nay, it happened often that foreign words were inflected with German forms; and the whole result was such as to remind the reader of the medical examination in the Malade Imaginaire of Moliere,

“Quid poetea est a faire?



Ensuita purgare,” &c.

Now is it reasonable to ascribe some share in the restoration of good to Klopstock, both because his own writings exhibit nothing of this most abject euphuism, (a euphuism expressing itself not in fantastic refinements on the staple of the language, but altogether in rejecting it for foreign words and idioms,) and because he wrote expressly on the subject of style and composition?

Wieland, meantime, if not enjoying so intense an acceptation as Klopstock, had a more extensive one; and it is in vain to deny him the praise of a festive, brilliant, and most versatile wit. The Schlegels showed the haughty malignity of their ungenerous natures, in depreciating Wieland, at a time when old age had laid a freezing hand upon the energy which he would once have put forth in defending himself. He was the Voltaire of Germany, and very much more than the Voltaire; for his romantic and legendary poems are above the level of Voltaire. But, on the other hand, he was a Voltaire in sensual impurity. To work, to carry on a plot, to affect his readers by voluptuous impressions,—these were the unworthy aims of Wieland; and though a good-natured critic would not refuse to make some allowance for a youthful poet’s aberrations in this respect, yet the indulgence cannot extend itself to mature years. An old man corrupting his readers, attempting to corrupt them, or relying for his effect upon corruptions already effected, in the purity of their affections, is a hideous object; and that must be a precarious influence indeed which depends for its durability upon the licentiousness of men. Wieland, therefore, except in parts, will not last as a national idol; but such he was nevertheless for a time.

Burger wrote too little of any expansive compass to give the measure of his powers, or to found national impression; Lichtenberg, though a very sagacious observer, never rose into what can be called a power, he did not modify his age; yet these were both men of extraordinary talent, and Burger a man of undoubted genius. On the other hand, Lessing was merely a man of talent, but of talent in the highest degree adapted to popularity. His very defects, and the shallowness of his philosophy, promoted his popularity; and by comparison with the French critics on the dramatic or scenical proprieties he is ever profound. His plummet, if not suited to the soundless depths of Shakspeare, was able ten times over to fathom the little rivulets of Parisian philosophy. This he did effectually, and thus unconsciously levelled the paths for Shakspeare, and for that supreme dominion which he has since held over the German stage, by crushing with his sarcastic shrewdness the pretensions of all who stood in the way. At that time, and even yet, the functions of a literary man were very important in Germany; the popular mind and the popular instinct pointed one way, those of the little courts another. Multitudes of little German states (many of which were absorbed since 1816 by the process of mediatizing) made it their ambition to play at keeping mimic armies in their pay, and to ape the greater military sovereigns, by encouraging French literature only, and the French language at their courts. It was this latter propensity which had generated the anomalous macaronic dialect, of which we have already spoken as a characteristic circumstance in the social features of literary Germany during the first half of the eighteenth century. Nowhere else, within the records of human follies, do we find a corresponding case, in which the government and the patrician orders in the state, taking for granted, and absolutely postulating the utter worthlessness for intellectual aims of those in and by whom they maintained their own grandeur and independence, undisguisedly and even professedly sought to ally themselves with a foreign literature, foreign literati, and a foreign language. In this unexampled display of scorn for native resources, and the consequent collision between the two principles of action, all depended upon the people themselves. For a time the wicked and most profligate contempt of the local governments for that native merit which it was their duty to evoke and to cherish, naturally enough produced its own justification. Like Jews or slaves, whom all the world have agreed to hold contemptible, the German literati found it hard to make head against so obstinate a prejudgment; and too often they became all that they were presumed to be. Sint Maecenates, non deerunt, Flacce, Marones. And the converse too often holds good—that when all who should have smiled scowl upon a man, he turns out the abject thing they have predicted. Where Frenchified Fredericks sit upon German thrones, it should not surprise us to see a crop of Gottscheds arise as the best fruitage of the land. But when there is any latent nobility in the popular mind, such scorn, by its very extremity, will call forth its own counteraction. It was perhaps good for Germany that a prince so eminent in one aspect as Fritz der einziger,[Footnote: ” Freddy the unique;“ which is the name by which the Prussians expressed their admiration of the martial and indomitable, though somewhat fantastic, king.] should put on record so emphatically his intense conviction, that no good thing could arise out of Germany. This creed was expressed by the quality of the French minds which he attracted to his court. The very refuse and dregs of the Parisian coteries satisfied his hunger for French garbage; the very offal of their shambles met the demand of his palate; even a Maupertuis, so long as he could produce a French baptismal certificate, was good enough to manufacture into the president of a Berlin academy. Such scorn challenged a reaction: the contest lay between the thrones of Germany and the popular intellect, and the final result was inevitable. Once aware that they were insulted, once enlightened to the full consciousness of the scorn which trampled on them as intellectual and predestined Helots, even the mild-tempered Germans became fierce, and now began to aspire, not merely under the ordinary instincts of personal ambition, but with a vindictive feeling, and as conscious agents of retribution. It became a pleasure with the German author, that the very same works which elevated himself, wreaked his nation upon their princes, and poured retorted scorn upon their most ungenerous and unparental sovereigns. Already, in the reign of the martial Frederick, the men who put most weight of authority into his contempt of Germans, —Euler, the matchless Euler, Lambert, and Immanuel Kant,—had vindicated the preeminence of German mathematics. Already, in 1755, had the same Immanuel Kant, whilst yet a probationer for the chair of logic in a Prussian university, sketched the outline of that philosophy which has secured the admiration, though not the assent of all men known and proved to have understood it, of all men able to state its doctrines in terms admissible by its disciples. Already, and even previously, had Haller, who wrote in German, placed himself at the head of the current physiology. And in the fields of science or of philosophy, the victory was already decided for the German intellect in competition with the French.

But the fields of literature were still comparatively barren. Klopstock was at least an anomaly; Lessing did not present himself in the impassioned walks of literature; Herder was viewed too much in the exclusive and professional light of a clergyman; and, with the exception of John Paul Bichter, a man of most original genius, but quite unfitted for general popularity, no commanding mind arose in Germany with powers for levying homage from foreign nations, until the appearance, as a great scenical poet, of Frederick Schiller.

The father of this great poet was Caspar Schiller, an officer in the military service of the Duke of Wurtemberg. He had previously served as a surgeon in the Bavarian army; but on his final return to his native country of Wurtemberg, and to the service of his native prince, he laid aside his medical character for ever, and obtained a commission as ensign and adjutant. In 1763, the peace of Paris threw him out of his military employment, with the nominal rank of captain. But, having conciliated the duke’s favor, he was still borne on the books of the ducal establishment; and, as a planner of ornamental gardens, or in some other civil capacity, he continued to serve his serene highness for the rest of his life.

The parents of Schiller were both pious, upright persons, with that loyal fidelity to duty, and that humble simplicity of demeanor towards their superiors, which is so often found among the unpretending natives of Germany. It is probable, however, that Schiller owed to his mother exclusively the preternatural endowments of his intellect. She was of humble origin, the daughter of a baker, and not so fortunate as to have received much education. But she was apparently rich in gifts of the heart and the understanding. She read poetry with delight; and through the profound filial love with which she had inspired her son, she found it easy to communicate her own literary tastes. Her husband was not illiterate, and had in mature life so laudably applied himself to the improvement of his own defective knowledge, that at length he thought himself capable of appearing before the public as an author. His book related simply to the subjects of his professional experience as a horticulturist, and was entitled Die Baumzurht im Grossen(On the Management of Forests.) Some merit we must suppose it to have had, since the public called for a second edition of it long after his own death, and even after that of his illustrious son. And although he was a plain man, of no pretensions, and possibly even of slow faculties, he has left behind him a prayer, in which there is one petition of sublime and pathetic piety, worthy to be remembered by the side of Agar’s wise prayer against the almost equal temptations of poverty and riches. At the birth of his son, he had been reflecting with sorrowful anxiety, not unmingled with self-reproach, on his own many disqualifications for conducting the education of the child.

But at length, reading in his own manifold imperfections but so many reiterations of the necessity that he should rely upon God’s bounty, converting his very defects into so many arguments of hope and confidence in heaven, he prayed thus: “Oh God, that knowest my poverty in good gifts for my son’s inheritance, graciously permit that, even as the want of bread became to thy Son’s hunger-stricken flock in the wilderness the pledge of overflowing abundance, so likewise my darkness may, in its sad extremity, carry with it the measure of thy unfathomable light; and because I, thy worm, cannot give to my son the least of blessings, do thou give the greatest; because in my hands there is not any thing, do thou from thine pour out all things; and that temple of a new-born spirit, which I cannot adorn even with earthly ornaments of dust and ashes, do thou irradiate with the celestial adornment of thy presence, and finally with that peace that passeth all understanding.” Reared at the feet of parents so pious and affectionate, Schiller would doubtless pass a happy childhood; and probably to this utter tranquillity of his earlier years, to his seclusion from all that could create pain, or even anxiety, we must ascribe the unusual dearth of anecdotes from this period of his life; a dearth which has tempted some of his biographers into improving and embellishing some puerile stories, which a man of sense will inevitably reject as too trivial for his gravity or too fantastical for his faith. That nation is happy, according to a common adage, which furnishes little business to the historian; for such a vacuity in facts argues a condition of perfect peace and silent prosperity. That childhood is happy, or may generally be presumed such, which has furnished few records of external experience, little that has appeared in doing or in suffering to the eyes of companions; for the child who has been made happy by early thoughtfulness, and by infantine struggles with the great ideas of his origin and his destination, (ideas which settle with a deep, dove-like brooding upon the mind of childhood, more than of mature life, vexed with inroads from the noisy world,) will not manifest the workings of his spirit by much of external activity. The fallentis semita vitae, that path of noiseless life, which eludes and deceives the conscious notice both of its subject and of all around him, opens equally to the man and to the child; and the happiest of all childhoods will have been that of which the happiness has survived and expressed itself, not in distinct records, but in deep affection, in abiding love, and the hauntings of meditative power.

Such a childhood, in the bosom of maternal tenderness, was probably passed by Schiller; and his first awaking to the world of strife and perplexity happened in his fourteenth year. Up to that period his life had been vagrant, agreeably to the shifting necessities of the ducal service, and his education desultory and domestic. But in the year 1773 he was solemnly entered as a member of a new academical institution, founded by the reigning duke, and recently translated to his little capital of Stuttgard. This change took place at the special request of the duke, who, under the mask of patronage, took upon himself the severe control of the whole simple family. The parents were probably both too humble and dutiful in spirit towards one whom they regarded in the double light of sovereign lord and of personal benefactor, ever to murmur at the ducal behests, far less to resist them. The duke was for them an earthly providence; and they resigned themselves, together with their child, to the disposal of him who dispensed their earthly blessings, not less meekly than of Him whose vicegerent they presumed him to be. In such a frame of mind, requests are but another name for commands; and thus it happened that a second change arose upon the first, even more determinately fatal to the young Schiller’s happiness. Hitherto he had cherished a day-dream pointing to the pastoral office in some rural district, as that which would harmonize best with his intellectual purposes, with his love of quiet, and by means of its preparatory requirements, best also with his own peculiar choice of studies. But this scheme he now found himself compelled to sacrifice; and the two evils which fell upon him concurrently in his new situation were, first, the formal military discipline and monotonous routine of duty; secondly, the uncongenial direction of the studies, which were shaped entirely to the attainment of legal knowledge, and the narrow service of the local tribunals. So illiberal and so exclusive a system of education was revolting to the expansive mind of Schiller; and the military bondage under which this system was enforced, shocked the aspiring nobility of his moral nature, not less than the technical narrowness of the studies shocked his understanding. In point of expense the whole establishment cost nothing at all to those parents who were privileged servants of the duke: in this number were the parents of Schiller, and that single consideration weighed too powerfully upon his filial piety to allow of his openly murmuring at his lot; while on their part the parents were equally shy of encouraging a disgust which too obviously tended to defeat the promises of ducal favor. This system of monotonous confinement was therefore carried to its completion, and the murmurs of the young Schiller were either dutifully suppressed, or found vent only in secret letters to a friend. In one point only Schiller was able to improve his condition; jointly with the juristic department, was another for training young aspirants to the medical profession. To this, as promising a more enlarged scheme of study, Schiller by permission transferred himself in 1775. But whatever relief he might find in the nature of his new studies, he found none at all in the system of personal discipline which prevailed.

Under the oppression of this detested system, and by pure reaction against its wearing persecutions, we learn from Schiller himself, that in his nineteenth year he undertook the earliest of his surviving plays, the Robbers, beyond doubt the most tempestuous, the most volcanic, we might say, of all juvenile creations anywhere recorded. He himself calls it “a monster,” and a monster it is; but a monster which has never failed to convulse the heart of young readers with the temperament of intellectual enthusiasm and sensibility. True it is, and nobody was more aware of that fact than Schiller himself in after years, the characters of the three Moors, father and sons, are mere impossibilities; and some readers, in whom the judicious acquaintance with human life in its realities has outrun the sensibilities, are so much shocked by these hypernatural phenomena, that they are incapable of enjoying the terrific sublimities which on that basis of the visionary do really exist. A poet, perhaps Schiller might have alleged, is entitled to assume hypothetically so much in the previous positions or circumstances of his agents as is requisite to the basis from which he starts. It is undeniable that Shakspeare and others have availed themselves of this principle, and with memorable success. Shakspeare, for instance, postulates his witches, his Caliban, his Ariel: grant, he virtually says, such modes of spiritual existence or of spiritual relations as a possibility; do not expect me to demonstrate this, and upon that single concession I will rear a superstructure that shall be self-consistent; every thing shall be internally coherent and reconciled, whatever be its external relations as to our human experience. But this species of assumption, on the largest scale, is more within the limits of credibility and plausible verisimilitude when applied to modes of existence, which, after all, are in such total darkness to us, (the limits of the possible being so undefined and shadowy as to what can or cannot exist,) than the very slightest liberties taken with human character, or with those principles of action, motives, and feelings, upon which men would move under given circumstances, or with the modes of action which in common prudence they would be likely to adopt. The truth is, that, as a coherent work of art, the Robbers is indefensible; but, however monstrous it may be pronounced, it possesses a power to agitate and convulse, which will always obliterate its great faults to the young, and to all whose judgment is not too much developed. And the best apology for Schiller is found in his own words, in recording the circumstances and causes under which this anomalous production arose. “To escape,” says he, “from the formalities of a discipline which was odious to my heart, I sought a retreat in the world of ideas and shadowy possibilities, while as yet I knew nothing at all of that human world from which I was harshly secluded by iron bars. Of men, the actual men in this world below, I knew absolutely nothing at the time when I composed my Robbers. Four hundred human beings, it is true, were my fellow-prisoners in this abode; but they were mere tautologies and reiterations of the self-same mechanic creature, and like so many plaster casts from the same original statue. Thus situated, of necessity I failed. In making the attempt, my chisel brought out a monster, of which [and that was fortunate] the world had no type or resemblance to show.”

Meantime this demoniac drama produced very opposite results to Schiller’s reputation. Among the young men of Germany it was received with an enthusiasm absolutely unparalleled, though it is perfectly untrue that it excited some persons of rank and splendid expectations (as a current fable asserted) to imitate Charles Moor in becoming robbers. On the other hand, the play was of too powerful a cast not in any case to have alarmed his serenity the Duke of Wurtemberg; for it argued a most revolutionary mind, and the utmost audacity of self-will. But besides this general ground of censure, there arose a special one, in a quarter so remote, that this one fact may serve to evidence the extent as well as intensity of the impression made. The territory of the Grisons had been called by Spiegelberg, one of the robbers, “the Thief’s Athens.” Upon this the magistrates of that country presented a complaint to the duke; and his highness having cited Schiller to his presence, and severely reprimanded him, issued a decree that this dangerous young student should henceforth confine himself to his medical studies.

The persecution which followed exhibits such extraordinary exertions of despotism, even for that land of irresponsible power, that we must presume the duke to have relied more upon the hold which he had upon Schiller through his affection for parents so absolutely dependent on his highness’s power, than upon any laws, good or bad, which he could have pleaded as his warrant. Germany, however, thought otherwise of the new tragedy than the serene critic of Wurtemburg: it was performed with vast applause at the neighboring city of Mannheim; and thither, under a most excusable interest in his own play, the young poet clandestinely went. On his return he was placed under arrest. And soon afterwards, being now thoroughly disgusted, and, with some reason, alarmed by the tyranny of the duke, Schiller finally eloped to Mannheim, availing himself of the confusion created in Stuttgard by the visit of a foreign prince.

At Mannheim he lived in the house of Dalberg, a man of some rank and of sounding titles, but in Mannheim known chiefly as the literary manager (or what is called director) of the theatre. This connection aided in determining the subsequent direction of Schiller’s talents; and his Fiesco, his Intrigue and Love, his Don Carlos, and his Maria Stuart, followed within a short period of years. None of these are so far free from the faults of the Robbers as to merit a separate notice; for with less power, they are almost equally licentious.

Finally, however, he brought out his Wallenstein, an immortal drama, and, beyond all competition, the nearest in point of excellence to the dramas of Shakspeare. The position of the characters of Max Piccolomini and the Princess Thekla is the finest instance of what, in a critical sense, is called relief, that literature offers. Young, innocent, unfortunate, among a camp of ambitious, guilty, and blood-stained men, they offer a depth and solemnity of impression which is equally required by way of contrast and of final repose.

From Mannheim, where he had a transient love affair with Laura Dalberg, the daughter of his friend the director, Schiller removed to Jena, the celebrated university in the territory of Weimar. The grand duke of that German Florence was at this time gathering around him the most eminent of the German intellects; and he was eager to enroll Schiller in the body of his professors. In 1799 Schiller received the chair of civil history; and not long after he married Miss Lengefeld, with whom he had been for some time acquainted. In 1803 he was ennobled; that is, he was raised to the rank of gentleman, and entitled to attach the prefix of Von to his name. His income was now sufficient for domestic comfort and respectable independence; while in the society of Goethe, Herder, and other eminent wits, he found even more relaxation for his intellect, than his intellect, so fervent and so self-sustained, could require.

Meantime the health of Schiller was gradually undermined: his lungs had been long subject to attacks of disease; and the warning indications which constantly arose of some deep-seated organic injuries in his pulmonary system ought to have put him on his guard for some years before his death. Of all men, however, it is remarkable that Schiller was the most criminally negligent of his health; remarkable, we say, because for a period of four years Schiller had applied himself seriously to the study of medicine. The strong coffee, and the wine, which he drank, may not have been so injurious as his biographers suppose; but his habit of sitting up through the night, and defrauding his wasted frame of all natural and restorative sleep, had something in it of that guilt which belongs to suicide. On the 9th of May, 1805, his complaint reached its crisis. Early in the morning he became delirious; at noon his delirium abated; and at four in the afternoon he fell into a gentle unagitated sleep, from which he soon awoke. Conscious that he now stood on the very edge of the grave, he calmly and fervently took a last farewell of his friends. At six in the evening he fell again into sleep, from which, however, he again awoke once more to utter the memorable declaration, “that many things were growing plain and clear to his understanding.” After this the cloud of sleep again settled upon him; a sleep which soon changed into the cloud of death.

This event produced a profound impression throughout Germany. The theatres were closed at Weimar, and the funeral was conducted with public honors. The position in point of time, and the peculiar services of Schiller to the German literature, we have already stated: it remains to add, that in person he was tall, and of a strong bony structure, but not muscular, and strikingly lean. His forehead was lofty, his nose aquiline, and his mouth almost of Grecian beauty. With other good points about his face, and with auburn hair, it may be presumed that his whole appearance was pleasing and impressive, while in latter years the character of sadness and contemplative sensibility deepened the impression of his countenance. We have said enough of his intellectual merit, which places him in our judgment at the head of the Trans–Rhenish literature. But we add in concluding, that Frederick von Schiller was something more than a great author; he was also in an eminent sense a great man; and his works are not more worthy of being studied for their singular force and originality, than his moral character from its nobility and aspiring grandeur.

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