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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Goethe and Schiller
By George Henry Lewes (1817–1878)
 
From ‘The Life of Goethe’

THERE are few nobler spectacles than the friendship of two great men; and the history of literature presents nothing comparable to the friendship of Goethe and Schiller. The friendship of Montaigne and Étienne de la Boétie was perhaps more passionate and entire: but it was the union of two kindred natures, which from the first moment discovered their affinity; not the union of two rivals, incessantly contrasted by partisans, and originally disposed to hold aloof from each other. Rivals Goethe and Schiller were and are; natures in many respects directly antagonistic; chiefs of opposing camps, and brought into brotherly union only by what was highest in their natures and their aims.  1
  To look on these great rivals was to see at once their profound dissimilarity. Goethe’s beautiful head had the calm victorious grandeur of the Greek ideal; Schiller’s the earnest beauty of a Christian looking towards the future. The massive brow and large-pupiled eyes,—like those given by Raphael to the infant Christ, in the matchless Madonna di San Sisto; the strong and well-proportioned features, lined indeed by thought and suffering, which have troubled but not vanquished the strong man; a certain healthy vigor in the brown skin,—make Goethe a striking contrast to Schiller, with his eager eyes, narrow brow, tense and intense; his irregular features, worn by thought and suffering and weakened by sickness. The one looks, the other looks out. Both are majestic; but one has the majesty of repose, the other of conflict. Goethe’s frame is massive, imposing: he seems much taller than he is. Schiller’s frame is disproportioned; he seems less than he is. Goethe holds himself stiffly erect; the long-necked Schiller “walks like a camel.” Goethe’s chest is like the torso of the Theseus; Schiller’s is bent, and has lost a lung.  2
  A similar difference is traceable in details. “An air that was beneficial to Schiller acted on me like poison,” Goethe said to Eckermann. “I called on him one day; and as I did not find him at home, I seated myself at his writing-table to note down various matters. I had not been seated long before I felt a strange indisposition steal over me, which gradually increased, until at last I nearly fainted. At first I did not know to what cause I should ascribe this wretched and to me unusual state, until I discovered that a dreadful odor issued from a drawer near me. When I opened it, I found to my astonishment that it was full of rotten apples. I immediately went to the window and inhaled the fresh air, by which I was instantly restored. Meanwhile his wife came in, and told me that the drawer was always filled with rotten apples, because the scent was beneficial to Schiller, and he could not live or work without it.”  3
  As another and not unimportant detail, characterizing the healthy and unhealthy practice of literature, it may be added that Goethe wrote in the freshness of morning, entirely free from stimulus; Schiller worked in the feverish hours of night, stimulating his languid brain with coffee and champagne.  4
  In comparing one to a Greek ideal, the other to a Christian ideal, it has already been implied that one was the representative of realism, the other of idealism. Goethe has himself indicated the capital distinction between them: Schiller was animated with the idea of freedom; Goethe, on the contrary, was animated with the idea of nature. This distinction runs through their works: Schiller always pining for something greater than nature, wishing to make men demigods; Goethe always striving to let nature have free development, and produce the highest forms of humanity. The fall of man was to Schiller the happiest of all events, because thereby men fell away from pure instinct into conscious freedom; with this sense of freedom came the possibility of morality. To Goethe this seemed paying a price for morality which was higher than morality was worth; he preferred the ideal of a condition wherein morality was unnecessary. Much as he might prize a good police, he prized still more a society in which a police would never be needed.  5
  Goethe and Schiller were certainly different natures; but had they been so fundamentally opposed as it is the fashion to consider them, they could never have become so intimately united. They were opposite and allied, with somewhat of the same differences and resemblances as are traceable in the Greek and Roman Mars. In the Greek mythology, the god of war had not the prominent place he attained in Rome; and the Greek sculptors, when they represented him, represented him as the victor returning after conflict to repose, holding in his hand the olive branch, while at his feet sat Eros. The Roman sculptors, or those who worked for Rome, represented Mars as the god of war in all his terrors, in the very act of leading on to victory. But different as these two conceptions were, they were both conceptions of the god of war. Goethe may be likened to the one, and Schiller to the other: both were kindred spirits united by a common purpose.  6
  Having touched upon the points of contrast, it will now be needful to say a word on those points of resemblance which served as the basis of their union. It will be unnecessary to instance the obvious points which two such poets must have had in common; the mention of some less obvious will suffice for our present purpose. They were both profoundly convinced that art was no luxury of leisure,—no mere amusement to charm the idle or relax the careworn,—but a mighty influence, serious in its aims although pleasurable in its means; a sister of religion, by whose aid the great world-scheme was wrought into reality. This was with them no mere sonorous phrase. They were thoroughly in earnest. They believed that culture would raise humanity to its full powers; and they, as artists, knew no culture equal to that of art. It was probably a perception of this belief that made Karl Grün say, “Goethe was the most ideal idealist the earth has ever borne; an æsthetic idealist.” And hence the origin of the widespread error that Goethe “only looked at life as an artist,”—i.e., cared only for human nature inasmuch as it afforded him materials for art; a point which will be more fully examined hereafter. The phases of their development had been very similar, and had brought them to a similar standing-point. They both began rebelliously; they both emerged from titanic lawlessness in emerging from youth to manhood. In Italy the sight of ancient masterpieces completed Goethe’s metamorphosis. Schiller had to work through his in the gloomy North, and under the constant pressure of anxieties. He too pined for Italy, and thought the climate of Greece would make him a poet. But his intense and historical mind found neither stimulus nor enjoyment in plastic art. Noble men and noble deeds were the food which nourished his great soul. “His poetic purification came from moral ideas; whereas in Goethe the moral ideal came from the artistic.” Plutarch was Schiller’s Bible. The ancient masterpieces of poetry came to him in this period of his development, to lead him gently by the hand onwards to the very point where Goethe stood. He read the Greek tragedians in wretched French translations, and with such aid laboriously translated the ‘Iphigenia’ of Euripides. Homer in Voss’s faithful version became to him what Homer long was to Goethe. And how thoroughly he threw himself into the ancient world may be seen in his poem, ‘The Gods of Greece.’ Like Goethe, he had found his religious opinions gradually separating him more and more from the orthodox Christians; and like Goethe, he had woven for himself a system out of Spinoza, Kant, and the Grecian sages.  7
  At the time, then, that these two men seemed most opposed to each other, and were opposed in feeling, they were gradually drawing closer and closer in the very lines of their development, and a firm basis was prepared for solid and enduring union. Goethe was five-and-forty, Schiller five-and-thirty. Goethe had much to give which Schiller gratefully accepted; and if he could not in return influence the developed mind of his great friend, nor add to the vast stores of its knowledge and experience, he could give him that which was even more valuable, sympathy and impulse. He excited Goethe to work. He withdrew him from the engrossing pursuit of science, and restored him once more to poetry. He urged him to finish what was already commenced, and not to leave his works all fragments. They worked together with the same purpose and with the same earnestness; and their union is the most glorious episode in the lives of both, and remains as an eternal exemplar of a noble friendship.  8
  Of all the tributes to Schiller’s greatness which an enthusiastic people has pronounced, there is perhaps nothing which carries a greater weight of tenderness and authority than Goethe’s noble praise. It is a very curious fact in the history of Shakespeare, that he is not known to have written a single line in praise of any contemporary poet. The fashion of those days was for each poet to write verses in eulogy of his friends, and the eulogies written by Shakespeare’s friends are such as to satisfy even the idolatry of admirers in our day; but there exists no eulogy, no single verse, from him whose eulogy was more worth having than that of all the rest put together. Had literary gossip, pregnant with literary malice, produced the absurd impression that Shakespeare was cold, selfish, and self-idolatrous, this curious fact would have been made a damning proof. I have so often in these pages used Shakespeare as a contrast to Goethe, that it would be wrong not to contrast him also on this point. Of all the failings usually attributed to literary men, Goethe had the least of what could be called jealousy; of all the qualities which sit gracefully on greatness, he had the most of magnanimity. The stream of time will carry down to after ages the memory of several whose names will live only in his praise, and the future students of literary history will have no fact to note of Goethe similar to that noted of Shakespeare: they will see how enthusiastic was his admiration of his rivals Schiller, Voss, and Herder, and how quick he was to perceive the genius of Scott, Byron, Béranger, and Manzoni.  9
 
 
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