Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller - Biography
Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) is an influential dramatist, poet, historian and philosopher. Friedrich Schiller’s early career interests were to join the clergy. To further these ends, he attended the Latin School of Ludwigsburg. However, his father’s patron, Duke Karl Eugen of Wurttemberg, insisted that Friedrich Schiller attend the military academy at Castle Solitude. Unable to further his liturgical study, Friedrich Schiller pursued legal studies and then after the school was moved to Stuttgart he began to study medicine.
Friedrich Schiller’s early days at the academy were restrictive. However after the school moved, Schiller found a more liberal atmosphere. He used this increased freedom to read the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Shakespeare, Klinger, Lenz, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. Friedrich Schiller, in pursuit of a more thorough understanding of aesthetics, turned to the works of Immanuel Kant. These thinkers and artists encouraged the revolutionary tenor found in Friedrich Schiller’s creative works.
In 1780, his studies finished and he began to work as a regimental physician. This was also the year that he finished Die Rauber, a play which he would self-publish in 1781. In 1782, Die Rauber was performed to a rapt crowd. The Sturm und Drang play in which a noble attempts to resist the moral strictures of the eighteenth century revealed Friedrich Schiller’s revolutionary spirit. During a climatic scene, the character Charles (Karl) Moor expresses the ideal “Death or Liberty!” This character also voices the belief that the goal justifies any transgressions used to achieve it. To this end, Friedrich Schiller indicates in his writing that “man is the being who wills.” This crucial feature of his artistic work has had clear implications to the development of aesthetics and philosophy over the eighteenth and nineteenth century. There can be little doubt that this assertion has manifested with a profound resonance throughout Continental thought. As one of the predominate influences of the great German poet. Some critics see Charles Moor as one of the literary forebears of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. There seems to be an absolute correlation between the importance of will for Schiller and that in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche.
In a letter that outlines his political and ethical thought, Friedrich Schiller exclaims:
Now the term natural condition can be applied to every political body, which owes its establishment originally to forces and not to laws, and such a state contradicts the moral nature of man, because lawfulness can alone have authority over this. At the same time this natural condition is quite sufficient for the physical man, who only gives himself laws in order to get rid of brute force.
He continues to verify the reality of the physicality of man. He continues to indicate that the man of morality is a difficult to assert. Reason acts as an arbitrator between the physicality and morality of man against the needs of society. Yet reason moves man away from what he is to what he might be. To this end, reason may even deprive man what he needs to provide him a sense of humanity.
Duke Karl Eugen jailed Friedrich Schiller for two weeks for his attending the performance twice. The duke also declared that Schiller would only be allowed to publish medical treatises. Facing creative suffocation, Fredrich Schiller absconded to Mannheim. In hiding, he published Antologie auf das Jahr, his first poetry collection. This collection was the start of a period of prodigious that culminated with his appointment of dramatist in Mannheim. From Mannheirm, Friedrich Schiller moved on to Leipzig and Dresden.
During this period, Friedrich Schiller wrote An Die Freude, which Beethoven incorporated in the Ninth Symphony. Schiller also composed Don Carlos, a tragedy that further explored resistance to autocratic power. This work is noted for transcending the Sturm und Drang style of Schiller’s early work. Friedrich Schiller moved to Weimar in 1787. He studied Classical literature and history. Schiller began to translate Greek and Latin texts. In 1789, Friedrich Schiller was appointed to a history professorship at the University of Jena. In Jena, Friedrich Schiller taught alongside such luminaries as Johann Ludwig Tieck, Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg), Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The faculty of the University of Jena helped fuel the development of German Idealism and Romanticism. Until 1792, research, historical writing and translated dominated Schiller’s life. This marked a period of comfort and financial security for Friedrich Schiller. However, severe pulmonary illness forced Schiller to stop teaching. As Friedrich Schiller struggled with his health, he also struggled financially. Some financial aid came from Prince Friedrich Christian Von Schleswig-Holstein and Count Ernst von Schimmelmann. The prince and count supported Friedrich Schiller for three years. Schiller used the time offered by this patronage to study the writings of Immanuel Kant, which influenced the aesthetic theory of Schiller: Anmut und Wurde , Uber das Erhabene , Uber die Aesthetische Erziehung des Menschen, and Uber Naïve und Sentimentalische Dichtung. In this philosophical work, Schiller gave full voice to his argument that beauty, truth and goodness are linked. Schiller also used his poetic work to embody his philosophic abstractions. The philosophic and poetic programs of Friedrich Schiller are united toward a vision of humans that act outside of the strictures of society.
Friedrich Schiller’s exploration of the sublime also expounded his line of political and ethical thought. One can see the will of man to struggle even against nature in his essay, “On the Sublime.” Schiller argues that the forces of nature are countless and stronger than the resources available to an individual man. However, Friedrich Schiller indicates that the power of intelligence allows mankind a weapon against the seemingly invincible strength of the natural world. Schiller continues to suggest that the augmentation of man’s forces by his intelligence will allow him victory over physical existence.
From 1795 until 1797, Friedrich Schiller produced Die Horen, a literary journal. His promotion of contemporary writing led Schiller into mutual friendship with many literary giants including the indomitable German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After the journal collapsed, Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe attacked their critics with a satirical collection. This friendship also saw Schiller’s relocation to Weimar to help translate and adapt William Shakespeare’s Macbeth for the German Stage. Also at this time Johann Wolfgang von Goethe fostered Friedrich Schiller’s own dramaturgy leading to the penning of a proliferation of plays. Dying in 1805, Schiller was unable to complete his final play, Demetrius.
The work of Friedrich Schiller has had and continues to have a lasting impact on culture. This impact is certainly visible in the continued popularity of his works. But it is also relevant in the influence he has exerted over those who followed him. Through Friedrich Nietzsche’s ubermensh, Schiller reaches beyond his own work into the works of the most prominent philosophers of the nineteenth century, the twentieth century and the twenty-first century.
Friedrich Schiller’s writings include the essays: Anmut und Wurde, Uber das Erhabene, Uber die Aesthetische Erziehung des Menschen, and Uber Naive und Sentimentalische Dichtung; the poems: Anthologie auf das Jahr, Das Madchen aus der Fremde, Die Teilung der Erde, Pegasus im Joche, Die Ideale, Das Ideal und das Leben, Der Tanz, Der Genius, and Der Spaziergang ; the ballads: Balladenalmanach, Der Taucher, Der Handschuh, Der Ring des Polykrates, Die Kraniche des Ibykus, Der Gang nach dem Eisenhammer, Die Burgschaft, and Der Kampf mit dem Drachen; the plays: Die Verschworung des Fiesko zu Genua, Louise Millerin, Don Carlos, Der Verbrecher aus Verlorener Ehre, Der Geisterseher, Maria Stuart, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, Die Braut von Messina, Wilhelm Tell, and Demetrius.