More than two centuries after his death, Friedrich Schiller is still considered a freedom poet and one of the most important German poets of all time.
Youth under military drill
Schiller was born in Marbach am Neckar on November 10, 1759, the son of an officer and military doctor in the ducal Württemberg regiment.
On January 16, 1773, at the age of 14, Schiller was enrolled at the Karlsschule in Solitude Palace near Stuttgart on the orders of Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg. With the school, the duke is fulfilling the dream of a specially trained elite from which the state of Württemberg is supposed to recruit its civil servants.
Carl Eugen made it possible for Schiller to study medicine. But the school and training period is like imprisonment, Schiller lives under the strictest military drill, there is almost no vacation and no free hours. Parents must cede all "educational rights" to the Duke, and each visit is under military guard.
Duke Carl Eugen von Württemberg was into military drill
Literature as Escape
In order to escape the narrow-mindedness of everyday life, Schiller begins to read and, despite all prohibitions, familiarizes himself with the works of Rousseau, Shakespeare and Klopstock. And soon Schiller begins to write himself. In 1777, while still a pupil at the Stuttgart Military Academy, he began to work on "The Robbers", which would become one of his most famous works.
Four years later - Schiller has meanwhile finished the academy and taken up a position as a regimental doctor - the play is finished and, in a roundabout way, ends up in the hands of the artistic director of the Mannheim Court and National Theater, Wolfgang Heribert von Dalberg, who premieres "Die Räuber". In one fell swoop, Schiller became famous beyond the country's borders.
Schiller wins the favor of the public in 1781 with "Die Räuber"
Schiller sneaks out of the Stuttgart barracks to Mannheim and takes part in the premiere of "The Robber". Another illegal trip to Mannheim is discovered, Schiller is given a strict warning and is sent to the detention cell for two weeks. Duke Karl Eugen strictly forbids him to write any more "comedies".
But Schiller feels he has a higher calling, he rebels against the dull daily drill in the garrison and his career as a regimental doctor. He secretly flees from Württemberg for good. His friend, the musician Andreas Streicher, accompanies him.
It is Streicher's money from which the friends initially earn their meager living. Schiller hopes to be offered a position as resident author by Dalberg at the Mannheim court theater, which would secure his financial existence as a writer.
But Dalberg refuses. He seems to get cold feet in the face of the illegal refugee Schiller, who acted contrary to the instructions of the Duke of Württemberg and is guilty of desertion. At first, Schiller was unable to place his next drama, Fiesko, with Dalberg.
Schiller flees with his friend Andreas Streicher (left).
Indebted and ill
It begins the odyssey of the young poet Schiller, who will struggle to get by for the next few years, overwhelmed by debt and plagued by creditors. His path leads him from Mannheim to Frankfurt and Oggersheim, until he finds a temporary home in Bauerbach, Thuringia, through a motherly friend from his days in Stuttgart, Katharina von Wolzogen.
Eventually Schiller returned to Mannheim, but again he was unable to maintain his position as a playwright there. There are numerous conflicts with the acting ensemble, the director Dalberg and the Mannheim publisher Schwan. Schiller is not only heavily in debt, the malaria he contracted in Mannheim is giving him serious health problems.
Schiller portrait from 1805
Career boost through four followers
Despite the circumstances, Schiller worked tirelessly on his career. "Don Carlos" is born, "Mary Stuart" and "Intrigue and Love" take shape. He was rescued from the misery in Mannheim thanks to the enthusiastic admiration of four supporters from Leipzig:Schiller found enthusiastic friendship and financial security in Oberkonsistorialrat Körner, his fiancée Minna Stock, her sister Dora and her friend and publicist Ferdinand Huber.
He spent the years 1785 to 1787 with them as a guest in Leipzig and Dresden. In addition to intellectual impulses, Schiller found the security here to complete his large "Don Carlos" project. Körner also wrote Schiller's famous "Ode to Joy", which Beethoven later set to music in the fourth movement of the 9th symphony.
Page 1 of Schiller's "Ode to Joy"
Schiller meets Goethe
In 1787 Schiller left for Weimar, which magically attracted him and where the greatest minds of the time were staying at the time. Schiller gets to know Wieland, Humboldt and Herder and meets his fellow poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for the first time. At his suggestion, Schiller received a respected, albeit unpaid, history professorship in Jena.
Schiller distinguished himself with historical works, he wrote the "History of the Apostasy of the Netherlands" and published the "History of the Thirty Years' War" in 1790. In the same year he married Charlotte von Lengefeld.
Schiller's friendship with Goethe in particular will occupy and greatly inspire him in the years to come. Finally, Schiller left Jena in 1799 and moved to Weimar with his wife and now three children to be even closer to Goethe and to intensify the poetic exchange.
Schiller lived here from 1802 until his death in 1805
poet genius Schiller
Schiller finishes his monumental work on Wallenstein. The works "Mary Stuart", "The Maid of Orleans", "The Bride of Messina" and finally "William Tell" are created. Many of the plays were premiered at the Weimar Court Theater directed by Goethe, the hub of the German theater world at the time.
In 1802 Schiller was ennobled. He is at the peak of his career, was one of the most famous poets in Germany during his lifetime and is known far beyond national borders.
The material security has now also been set in place, Schiller has fully established himself as an author and makes a good living from his fees and royalties.
But his health is ruined. As early as 1791, Schiller fell ill with smoldering malaria and severe pneumonia and pleurisy from which he never recovered. Schiller died of renewed pneumonia in 1805 at the age of only 45.
Friedrich Schiller's death mask