Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller

Associated Locations:

  • Marbach am Neckar, Württemberg, Germany – Birthplace

Associated Dates:

  • November 10, 1759 – Born

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.

“Schiller is considered by modern Germans as their poet of liberty. His influence reached its zenith with the production of his drama ‘’William Tell’’. In this play, Schiller unfurls freedom to the then awaiting world, establishing its standard on the most elevated peaks of Europe. As the story unfolded he aligned freedom with nature, clothing it in such eloquence that it would never again return, clothing it in such eloquence that it would never again return to the oblivion from which he had plucked it. Though his life spanned but a brief forty-five years, Schiller attained the great heights in the application of his intellectual and moral talents. In all his writings there is a profound reverence for all that is good. His histories came alive with great men and great deeds. ” 1

“I loathe this ink-wasting century, when I read in any Plutarch of great men.”

– Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller

Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.

German Poet, Dramatist, Historian 1759-1805

In the later part of the eighteenth century, Europe fell under the spell of the pursuit of liberty and freedom, much of it springing from the results of the American revolution. Such success kindled in the people of Europe a desire for their own freedom.

This compelling spirit rumbled and boiled in France, finally giving way to a major eruption. So massive was its convulsions that it was some time before the effects of the French Revolution brought any benefits to its people.

Germany, unlike united France, was still in a semi-feudal state with powerful Dukes exercising great control over a small area and limited number of people. These conditions precluded revolt. Nevertheless, Germany’s people felt the pull, and its revolution was carried out in their literature and dramas. The German literary revolution, or “The Storm and Stress” as it is often called, had its lead in author Friedrich Schiller.

Early Life

Schiller’s parents, Johann Kaspar Schiller and Elizabeth Dorothea Kodweis

Schiller was born in Marbach on 10 November 1759, to Johann Kaspar Schiller and Elizabeth Dorothea Kodweis. Most of his childhood days were spent in the beautiful countryside of Lorch and Ludwigsburg. Born under one of the more restrictive dukes in Germany, the Duke of Wurtemburg, even as a child Schiller felt in a very personal way the loss of his freedoms. During the first four years of Schiller’s life, his father was away at war on orders of the duke. Only on occasional leaves did Schiller see his father.

In his father’s absence, Schiller’s entire education and rearing fell to his mother. Those who knew her observed that she was deeply religious and had a great reverence and a love of nature. From her letters it can be observed that she was the most tender of mothers. She read a good deal, and her favorite books were historical in nature. She particularly liked to study the biographies of famous men. Young Schiller adored his mother, and he attributes his own deep spiritual search and development to his mother.

He and his sister loved to hear her tell them Bible stories. Schiller’s sister, Christophine, wrote in her memoirs:

Once, when we two, as children, had set out walking with dear Mamma to see our grandparents, she took the way from Ludwigsburg to Marbach, which leads straight over the hill [a walk of some four miles]. It was a beautiful Easter Monday, and our Mother related to us the history of the two disciples to whom, on their journey to Emmaus, Jesus had joined himself. Her speech and narrative grew ever more inspired; and when we got upon the Hill, we were all so much affected that we knelt down and prayed. This hill became a Tabor to us.

It was by these means—through Bible-passages, tales of history, and poems that their mother guided the soul of Germany’s future voice of freedom. Because she also nourished his sense for the beauties of nature, he loved to be out in it. Nature became his refuge for inspiration during his writing years.

When their father was released from the army, he was appointed steward of the duke’s nurseries. The family moved from its beautiful countryside to Ludwigsburg. Because their father was in the duke’s employ, the children were allowed to attend the theater structed the plays at home, using paper-doll actors. Schiller considered his sister his truest friend, a faithful companion in his poetic dreams.

Selected to go to a Military School

Schiller cherished a few years he was tutored under his father who, from his earliest years, had planned that his only son should go into the clergy. But these plans were shattered in Schiller’s fourteenth year. The duke has established a military school for young boys, where under his personal direction future servants and directors of state would be trained. Knowing of young Schiller’s abilities, the duke selected him for the school.

This was a devastating blow. How could the family contest such an action when their livelihood depended on the duke? In spite of the risks, Schiller’s father approached the duke, seeking permission for their son to continue his studies for the church. The duke refused. Again the father approached the duke, but he would hear no objections. The duke did not simply request Schiller’s attendance at his school; he ordered it.

Accordingly Schiller was sent to the institute. There, he studied not theology, as was his want, but law. The school was demanding with strict rules. The record is not clear as to whether families could visit the school. Thomas Carlyle wrote that visitations were limited to the sisters and the mothers on some Sundays.

There were no vacations and few holidays. Each day the students spent long hours in class, and they were forbidden to read books inconsistent with their lessons. Schiller, responding to a divine edict withing himself, devoured Plutarch and Shakespeare in secret.

In spite of its restrictions, the institute had one advantage. It had gathered the best and brightest, the most promising young men from all parts of Germany. One of Schiller’s friends was Cuvier, the father of paleontology. Cuvier became the instructor of the eminent natural scientist, Louis Agassiz. Schiller’s associations provided intellectual comradeship of the very best kind.

Allowed to Study Medicine

But his poetic soul chaffed against the rigidity and mourned the loss of freedom. Reading and writing poetry was strictly forbidden, but this restriction could not quench the poetic fire that was already smoldering withing him. His disdain for the restrictions placed on him extended on the course of study chosen for him. He disliked law. His hatred for it grew to the point that he was allowed to abandon it and study medicine. Referring to law Schiller wrote, “Law has never yet made a great man, but liberty breeds colossuses and extremes.”

Shiller completed his studies, writing his final thesis in the field of medicine. However, the duke was displeased and retained him in the institute for another year. Schiller, now twenty years old, was still told what he was to wear, eat, and read and when he was to go to bed. To have been unjustly forced to remain in such circumstances filled him with a burning hatred of all tyranny and oppression, and he swore eternal enmity toward tyranny of every kind.

It was in the depth of his soul that Schiller found a release for his long-suppressed rebellion. During these years he wrote a drama simply entitled ‘’Robbers’’. It was young, it was forceful, it was rebellious and with it Schiller began to ride the waves of the literary revolution. His duke, alarmed, forbade Schiller to ever write poetry again. He even imprisoned him for a short time. To all of this Schiller acquiesced for fear of retribution to his family.

After his release from the institute, the duke had him work as a doctor in the military. The duke’s promises of good pay and status were not forth-coming, and once again the chains of oppression tried his determined soul. He had read records of the great deeds of heroes of the past, and he felt his soul akin to theirs and wanted to be like them. But to do so while in the power of the duke was impossible. He decided that the way to follow the yearnings of his spirit was to flee beyond the control of his duke.

Friedrich von Schiller

Becoming a Theater Poet

One last time he went to his parents’ home. His sister had told their mother of his intentions, but none dared tell his honorable father. As the evening progressed he and his mother were able to slip away unnoticed. Returning after nearly an hour, Striecher, Schiller’s friend, noticed the wet red eyes of both, betraying the intense pain of parting once more.

Schiller and his friend fled to Mannhem, hoping that the director of the theater there could give them a job. The director, Baron von Dalberg, was the first to produce ‘’Robbers’’, and they hoped he would be sympathetic towards them. Dalberg however, was unable to be of assistance at that time. Schiller had published ‘’Robbers’’ with borrowed money, and was now deeply in debt and in desperate need of help. Baroness von Wolzogen, the mother of two of his former classmates, brought him under her roof with her family and did much to restore his confidence and self-esteem.

Finally, in 1783, his bargaining with Dalberg saw results, and he was appointed as the theater-poet. Through his position he was able to make enough money to pay off a portion of his debts. However, because of his illness, he was unable to finish his contract with the theater. An intermittent fever confined him to a sick bed, and although he eventually regained some health, he was never fully well again. Too ill to finish his contract, he was unable to pay his debts.

Shiller desperately needed help, and help came from Christian Korner, a man who became his close friend. He invited Schiller to come and live with them until his health improved, saying that he would “loan” Schiller money to live. Korner offered a loan because he knew that Schiller’s integrity would not allow him to accept a dole. Under these blessed circumstances Schiller was once again able to concentrate on his works.

Although his writing was excellent it did not bring him enough income to sustain him. In 1784, Schiller was invited to read the first act of his ‘’Don Carlos’’ to the Duke of Weimar. The Duke was the patron of some of the leading men in Germany, among whom were Goethe, the father of German literature, and Wieland, who translated Shakespeare into German. After hearing Schiller’s presentation, the duke bestowed upon the young writer the title of court-councilor. Though this new title brought no new pecuniary advantage, it did much to establish Schiller’s credibility with managers and theaters. In this position he felt secure for the first time since he had fled as a fugitive from the duke. Schiller now sought for a greater expanse in his writings. He strove to include history in his dramas, rather than using merely individual interest as had been done. Much of this influence must be attributed to Korner, who encouraged Schiller to build on a firm basis.

Marriage

Charlotte von Lengegelds

The longing for a companion and a home of his own became a great desire. He began in earnest to look about for both. His travels took him to the home of his dear friends the von Wolzogens. Schiller and Wilhem von Wolzogen made an excursion to a nearby village to visit the von Lengegelds, near relatives of Wilhem.The widow had two lovely daughters, Caroline and Charlotte.

It was Charlotte who stole Schiller’s heart. Schiller felt that matrimony, along with its other benefits, ensured the full and free development of the intellectual powers. The two married and Lotte, as Schiller called his wife, was very devoted to him. It is probably from her and his queenly mother that Schiller obtained his noble conception of women and womanhood. Schiller revered, admired, and loved his wife as did all those who knew her.

During this time Schiller became acquainted with Goethe. Although their acquaintance was slow at first, the friendship soon blossomed into one that could rival Jonathan and David in its strength. Goethe used his influence to obtain for Schiller the position as a professor of history at the University of Jena. Schiller elevated Goethe’s own spiritual nature to new heights.

Schiller’s professorship was a resounding success. The university had difficulty in accommodating the large crowd of students that would gather for Schiller’s lectures. He wrote to Lotte of his new position in his typical unassuming manner: “I shall appear ridiculous to myself. Many a student probably knows more history than the professor. However, I think in this case as Sancho Panza did about his vice-regency: when God gives an office to a man, He also gives intelligence to administer it.” Although his health was still poor, Schiller often wrote and lectured fourteen hours in a single day.

During this time Schiller completed his ‘’History of the Revolt of the Netherlands’’ and ‘’The History of the Thirty Years War’’. If written today as Schiller wrote it, history would be a more popular subject. Schiller explained his ideas of history when he said: “History may be written with historic fidelity without being a strain on the reader’s patience.” He also said that “history may borrow something from a kindred art without necessarily becoming a romance.” A fine example of this may be seen in his description of the “Death of Gustavas Adolphus.”

Among Schiller’s admirers were the Duke of Augustenborg and Count Schimmelmann, both of Denmark, who when they heard of the poet’s illness granted him a three-year pension. This aid provided a welcome relief to Schiller’s struggle against poverty.

Schiller’s talents extended to a variety of literary forms, but the true home of his genius was the historical drama. In this area he found his greatest expression. In all his writing, Schiller was never unfaithful to the mission he felt as a youth. Even while the last of his health was giving way, he still wrote with wholesome and cheerful dramatic fire. He could do so because his heart and intellect were based on sound principles.

Death

In the winter of 1805 Schiller, now only forty-five years old, became totally bedridden. One early May day he asked that the curtains be draw to allow in the sunshine. When his sister-in-law asked him how he was, he whispered, “Cheerful, ever more cheerful.”

The next day he momentarily gained consciousness and his last conscious act was to kiss his beloved Lotte. Then he experienced a convulsion like an electrical shock. As his head fell back and he rested, a most perfect peace came over his face; his mission was complete.

Word of Schiller’s death was sent to Goethe’s house, but none had the courage to give so dreadful a message to the master. However, something in the behavior of the members of the household made Goethe uneasy, but he refused to ask a direct question of anyone. “I observe,” he said to his wife, Christiane, “that Schiller must be very ill.” During the night he heard sobbing. The next morning he again asked Christiane, “Is it true, is it not, that Schiller was very ill yesterday?” Christiane burst into tears. “He is dead?” again asked Goethe. Christiane, still crying, at last told him the bitter truth. “He is dead!” Goethe repeated, and covered his eyes with his hand. He had lost a friend and the world a great writer.

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. 2

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Notes:

  1. Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.
  2. Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.

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