Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller 1759 – 1805 was a German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright.
Schiller said “A physician whose horizon is bounded by an historical knowledge of the human machine, and who can distinguish terminologically and locally the coarser wheels of this intellectual clock work, may be perhaps, idolised by the mob; but he will never raise the Hippocratic art above the narrow sphere of a mere bread earning craft.”
Schiller was born on November 10, 1759 in Marbach, Württemberg as the only son, besides five sisters, of military doctor Johann Kaspar Schiller (1733–96), and Elisabeth Dorothea Kodweiß (1732–1802).
On 22 February 1790, he married Charlotte von Lengefeld (1766–1826). Two sons (Karl and Ernst) and two daughters (Luise and Emilie) were born between 1793 and 1804. The last living descendent of Schiller was a grandchild of Emilie, Baron Alexander von Gleichen-Rußwurm, who died at Baden-Baden, Germany in 1947.
His father was away in the Seven Years’ War when Friedrich was born. He was named after Frederick II of Prussia, the king of the country his father was fighting for, Prussia, but he was called Fritz by nearly everyone. Kaspar Schiller was rarely home at the time, which was hard on his wife, but he did manage to visit the family once in a while and his wife and children also visited him occasionally wherever he happened to be stationed.
When the war ended in 1763, Schiller’s father became a recruiting officer and was stationed in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The family moved with him, of course, but since the cost of living – especially the rent -soon turned out to be too high, the family moved to nearby Lorch.
Although the family was happy in Lorch, Schiller’s father found his work unsatisfying. He did, however, take young Friedrich with him occasionally. In Lorch Schiller received his primary education, but because the schoolmaster was lazy, the quality of the lessons was fairly bad and Friedrich regularly cut class with his older sister.
Because his parents wanted Schiller to become a pastor himself, they had the pastor of the village instruct the boy in Latin and Greek. The man was a good teacher, which led Schiller to name the cleric in Die Räuber after Pastor Moser. Schiller was excited by the idea of becoming a cleric and often put on black robes and pretended to preach.
In 1766, the family left Lorch for the Duke of Wuerttemberg’s principal residence, Ludwigsburg. Schiller’s father had not been paid for three years and the family had been living on their savings, but could no longer afford to do so. So Kaspar Schiller had himself assigned to the garrison in Ludwigsburg. The move was not easy for Friedrich, since Lorch had been a warm and comforting home throughout his childhood.
He came to the attention of Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg. He entered the Karlsschule Stuttgart (an elite military academy founded by the Duke), in 1773, where he eventually studied medicine. During most of his short life, he suffered from illnesses that he tried to cure himself.
While at the Karlsschule, Schiller read Rousseau and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and discussed Classical ideals with his classmates. At school, he wrote his first play, Die Räuber (The Robbers), which dramatizes the conflict between two aristocratic brothers: the elder, Karl Moor, leads a group of rebellious students into the Bohemian forest where they become Robin Hood like bandits, while Franz Moor, the younger brother, schemes to inherit his father’s considerable estate.
The play’s critique of social corruption and its affirmation of proto-revolutionary republican ideals astounded its original audience, and made Schiller an overnight sensation. Later, Schiller would be made an honorary member of the French Republic because of this play.
In 1780, he obtained a post as regimental doctor in Stuttgart, a job he disliked.
Following the remarkable performance of Die Räuber in Mannheim, in 1781, he was arrested and forbidden by Karl Eugen himself from publishing any further works. He fled Stuttgart in 1783, coming via Leipzig and Dresden to Weimar, in 1787.
In 1789, he was appointed professor of History and Philosophy in Jena, where he wrote only historical works. He returned to Weimar in 1799, where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe convinced him to return to playwriting. He and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe founded the Weimar Theater which became the leading theater in Germany, leading to a dramatic renaissance in Germany.
He remained in Weimar, Saxe Weimar until his death at 45 from tuberculosis.
The coffin containing Schiller’s skeleton is in the Weimarer Fürstengruft (Weimar’s Ducal Vault), the burial place of Houses of Grand Dukes (großherzoglichen Hauses) of Saxe Weimar Eisenach in the Historical Cemetery of Weimar.
On 3 May 2008 it was announced that the DNA tests have shown that the skull of this skeleton is not Schiller’s. The similarity between this skull and the extant death mask as well as portraits of Schiller had led many experts to believe that the skull was Schiller’s.
In September 2008, Schiller was voted by the audience of the TV channel Arte as the second most important playwright in Europe after William Shakespeare.
Some Freemasons speculate that Schiller was a Freemason, but this has not been proven (this claim is contradicted by The Masonic Press in Berlin who published Schiller’s membership of the Rudolstadt Lodge in 1911) though Schiller remained aloof from the Illuminati.
In 1787, in his tenth letter about Don Carlos Schiller wrote:
“I am neither Illuminati nor Mason, but if the fraternization has a moral purpose in common with one another, and if this purpose for the human society is the most important one for the Society of Men… What the former seek to accomplish through a secret alliance of many active members scattered throughout the World, the latter wants to put into effect more perfectly and within a shorter length of time by means of a single subject, namely, by means of a Prince who has the expectation of ascending the greatest throne in the World… To many people this subject might seem too abstract and too serious for dramatic treatment.. it seemed to me not totally unworthy of an attempt “to draw truths, which to each person who has good intentions towards his kind must be the most holy, and which till now were the property of scholarship alone, over to the sphere of arts, to inspire them with light and warmth, and, planted in the human heart as actively operative motives, to show them in a powerful battle with passion” If the spirit of tragedy was sniffing around at me for this infringement of boundaries, then for that very reason some not entirely unimportant ideas that are set down here are not lost on the sincere finder….“
In a letter from 1829, two Freemasons from Rudolstadt complain about the dissolving of their Lodge Günther zum stehenden Löwen that was honoured by the initiation of Schiller.According to Schiller’s great grandson Alexander von Gleichen Rußwurm, Schiller was brought to the Lodge by Wilhelm Heinrich Karl von Gleichen Rußwurm, but no membership document exists.
Schiller wrote many philosophical papers on ethics and aesthetics. He synthesized the thought of Immanuel Kant with the thought of Karl Leonhard Reinhold. He developed the concept of the Schöne Seele (beautiful soul), a human being whose emotions have been educated by his reason, so that Pflicht und Neigung (duty and inclination) are no longer in conflict with one another; thus “beauty,” for Schiller, is not merely an aesthetic experience, but a moral one as well: the Good is the Beautiful.
His philosophical work was also particularly concerned with the question of human freedom, a preoccupation which also guided his historical researches, such as the Thirty Years War and The Revolt of the Netherlands, and then found its way as well into his dramas (the “Wallenstein” trilogy concerns the Thirty Years War, while “Don Carlos” addresses the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain.)
Schiller wrote two important essays on the question of the Sublime (das Erhabene), entitled “Vom Erhabenen” and “Über das Erhabene”; these essays address one aspect of human freedom – the ability to defy one’s animal instincts, such as the drive for self preservation, when, for example, someone willingly sacrifices himself for conceptual ideals.
Schiller is considered by most Germans to be Germany’s most important classical playwright. Critics like F.J. Lamport and Eric Auerbach have noted his innovative use of dramatic structure and his creation of new forms, such as the melodrama and the bourgeois tragedy.
A pivotal work by Schiller was On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a series of Letters, (Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen) first published 1794, which was inspired by the great disenchantment Schiller felt about the French Revolution, its degeneration into violence and the failure of successive governments to put its ideals into practice.
Schiller wrote that “a great moment has found a little people,” and wrote the Letters as a philosophical inquiry into what had gone wrong, and how to prevent such tragedies in the future. In the Letters he asserts that it is possible to elevate the moral character of a people, by first touching their souls with beauty, an idea that is also found in his poem Die Künstler (The Artists): “Only through Beauty’s morning gate, dost thou penetrate the land of knowledge.”
On the philosophical side, Letters put forth the notion of der sinnliche Trieb / Sinnestrieb (“the sensuous drive”) and Formtrieb (“the formal drive”). In a comment to Immanuel Kant‘s philosophy, Schiller transcends the dualism between Form and Sinn, with the notion of Spieltrieb (“the play drive”) derived from, as are a number of other terms, Kant’s The Critique of the Faculty of Judgment.
The conflict between man’s material, sensuous nature, and his capacity for reason (Formtrieb being the drive to impose conceptual and moral order on the world), Schiller resolves with the happy union of Form and Sinn, the “play drive,” which for him is synonymous with artistic beauty, or “living form.”
On the basis of Spieltrieb, Schiller sketches in Letters a future ideal state (an eutopia), where everyone will be content, and everything will be beautiful, thanks to the free play of Spieltrieb. Schiller’s focus on the dialectical interplay between Form and Sinn has inspired a wide range of succeeding aesthetic philosophical theory, including notably Jacques Ranciere‘s conception of the “aesthetic regime of art.” as well as social philosophy in Herbert Marcuse in the second part of his important work Eros and civilization where he finds Schiller notion of Spieltrieb useful in thinking a social situation without the condition of modern alienation.
He writes “Schiller´s Letters,…, aim at remaking of civilization by virtue of the liberating force of the aesthetic function: it is envisaged as containing the posibility of a new reality principle.”
For his achievements, Schiller was ennobled, in 1802, by the Duke of Weimar. His name changed from Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller to Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller.