“Dare to be wise! Energy and spirit is needed to overcome the obstacles which indolence of nature as well as cowardice of heart oppose to our instruction. It is not without significance that the old myth makes the goddess of Wisdom emerge fully armed from the head of Jupiter; for her very first function is warlike. Even in her birth she has to maintain a hard struggle with the senses, which do not want to be dragged from their sweet repose. The greater part of humanity is too much harassed and fatigued by the struggle with want, to rally itself for a new and sterner struggle with error. Content if they themselves escape the hard labor of thought, men gladly resign to others the guardianship of their ideas, and if it happens that higher needs are stirred in them, they embrace with a eager faith the formulas which State and priesthood hold in readiness for such an occasion.“ (Friedrich Schiller)
|Schiller’s portrait by the painter Ludovike Simanowiz |
(1759 – 1827), dated 1793/1794
It stormed and urged in the hearts of the young poets in the German States of the late 18th century. And the signs of the times pointed at a storm brewing indeed. Enlightenment had provided Europe with a new set of tools to question and realign the reality of the ruling absolutistic courts and the still considerable influence of the church, Britain’s rebellious colonies in North America had proven that a fight for freedom was a realistic endeavour and Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” taught that introspection and intuition could make things a reality as well that were never experienced before. Traditional rules were discarded in favour of individual cognitive faculties and creative power. It was the beginning of the 19th century’s genius cult and the transition of sentimentalism’s delicateness into the rebel’s anger and lust for revenge – a proto-romantic movement without the things that go bump in the night, the ruins and the far-away places. And amidst the “Sturm und Drang” (lit “storm and urge”), the scion of the Swabian genius hothouse Friedrich Schiller began to write his first plays and poems.
|Sturm und Drang - Schiller reading "Die Räuber"|
“The Robbers”, Schiller’s debut play, premiered in Mannheim in January 1782 and made the young poet an overnight sensation. The tale of two hostile brothers and the conflict between sense and sensibility climaxed in an exegesis of liberty, virility and the nature of good and evil, told in a highly emotional language astonished the good people of Mannheim and soon the whole German-speaking audience, from storming and urging youths discussing Schiller’s ideas in their “robber bands” to the authorities – to the point that the poet had to flee from his post as regimental surgeon in the Army of Württemberg to Thuringia. Ten years later, “The Robbers” earned Schiller a French citizenship, awarded by the Revolutionary Government, before the terror began. Schiller continued to write and publish, theoretical texts as well as plays and his famous poems until he became a professor in Jena and met with Goethe and the French Revolution began in earnest.
|Not quite "Sturm and Drang" anymore - the Muses' Court at Weimar, 1805|
The terror in France made the world hold its breath and everyone’s individual “Sturm und Drang” usually ends at some point in life. Tales and reflections of anger and revenge that ended with a mob cheering the guillotine were no longer en vogue with the self-reflecting genius. Schiller and Goethe became the bright spots among the quadruple stars that made up the period of Weimar Classicism. Not classicist in the original sense, the recourse on ideals of an imagined antiquity with the postulated noble simplicity and quiet grandeur of the 1750s was prominent, but it was paired with the ideas of enlightenment as well as the emotionality of the dawning Romantic movement into an educational counterdraft to revolutionary and emotional turmoil, political and individual. The time-transcending concept of the “beautiful soul”, aspiring after harmony, political and individual, and humanity via art and literature became a program as well as an ideal of bourgeois society for the decades after Schiller’s death of pneumonia in 1805 at the age of 45. Calm became the first civic duty, often with fatal results, when political developments did not follow the ideals of Weimar Classicism. They seldom did.
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