Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Goethe-Schiller Friendship

I have begun reading Goethe & Schiller: Geschichte einer Freundschaft (yes, the "&" is in the German title) by the eminent German man of letters, Rüdiger Safranski, which looks like it will be a delight. In the first two chapters Safranksi shows the two writers moving along parallel paths, with only a single cursory encounter before 1787. This was on December 11, 1779, when Schiller was 20 and a student at the elite military academy in Stuttgart that had been founded by Karl Eugen, the duke of Wurttemberg. Schiller, portrayed below when he was studying medicine at the academy, was already filled with a burning desire to be a writer. Within two years his play The Robbers would make him famous.

Goethe's arrival at the military school in late 1779 coincided with the visit to Karl Eugen in the company of Carl August of Weimar, with whom Goethe was returning from a trip to Switzerland. The students at Karl Eugen's academy, including Schiller, revered Goethe, the author of Götz von Berlichingen and The Sorrows of Young Werther. As Safranski writes, Goethe's reputation was a symptom of the transformation of literary life in this period: "Writing, reading, and living had moved closer together. Readers wanted to encounter their own life in literature and to find it enhanced [aufgewertet]. They wanted to see themselves [in the books they read], but also the author, whose life had become of interest." Sounds like the beginnings of celebrity culture.

By 1779, however, the transformation of literary life that Götz and Werther represented was in the process of being rejected by the one who had written those works, i.e., Goethe himself.

Goethe had gone to Weimar in 1775, and though at first it appeared that he would bring some life to the court there, it was he who was changed. He left his Sturm und Drang enthusiasms behind, and indeed Schiller's The Robbers would be an uncomfortably reminder of those enthusiasms. By then he was more and more devoted to administrative work for the duchy. In turn, his poetic work suffered, and, as was noted by his friends in Weimar, he was in the process of becoming stiff and reserved. But just as Goethe was being trapped by the life at the court, Schiller was making plans to leave the court of Karl Eugen behind, in particular the plans for a medical career for which the duke intended him. As The Robbers was being performed to great acclaim in Mannheim -- it was The Rite of Spring of its day -- he literally escaped from Stuttgart. The date was September 22, 1782 when, according to Safranski, half of Stuttgart was occupied with festivities that had been arranged to honor the visiting Russian Grand Princess. Karl Eugen's castle "Solitude" was illumined for the occasion, and fireworks filled the night sky as Schiller left.

For the next several years Schiller would seek to craft the independent life of a writer and thinker, which was not easy for a man of such a modest background. Goethe, by contrast, seemed to have it easy, but, by 1786, he would also respond to his need to escape from the life of the court and head for Italy. Stay tuned for further installments in the history of this friendship.

Picture credits: Joachim Frank; Anatomy Lesson

1 comment:

Zentrist said...

Safranski on Nietzsche and Heidegger was awesome--I devoured these two books and look forward to reading his work on Schopenhauer...and now Goethe-Schiller, AFTER it is translated! Thanks for sharing about this, one of my favorite topics.