3 trips to Weimar in 2 years and it’s already a custom to spend a couple of hours browsing (and spending lots of cash) in my favourite bookshop. There are lots of excellent bookshops in Weimar but my favourite without a shadow of a doubt is the one in the Bauernhaus, tucked just behind the marketsquare: the Eckermann-Buchhandlung, with its wall of books dedicated to literary history in Weimar, and its two literary giants Goethe and Schiller. The selection ranges from the highly academic to the distinctly quirkly. I now have a capsule collection and it has been my great pleasure in the run-up to Schiller Reading Week to refer to these time and time again. As the knowledge from these has contributed significantly to my posts about Schiller, it’s only right to give them their five minutes of fame.
Gnädigster Herr, Ich habe Familie – Schillers Bitt- und Bettelbriefe (Most gracious Sir, I have a family – Schiller’s requests and begging letters) is a judicious selection of Schiller’s letters with commentary from Christiana Engelmann. The first letter dating from November 1780 is from the time when the young Schiller was looking for an agent to help him publish The Robbers. He’s trying to persuade his former school friend to take on the role and in the P.S he promises:
Höre Kerl! Wenn’s reussiert. Ich will mir ein paar Bouteillen Burgunder drauf schmecken lassen.
Listen Mate. If it succeeds, I’ll drink to it with a couple of bottles of burgundy.
The final letter, dated 20 August 1804 is addressed to Princess Caroline of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and asks her to become the godmother of his fourth child. The tone is markedly different.
Werden Sie mir verzeihen, gnädigste Prinzessin, dass ich mir die Freiheit genommen habe, Sie als Patin meiner kleinen Emilie zu nennen?
Most gracious Princess, will you excuse me for taking the liberty of naming you little Emily’s godmother?
The letters inbetween chart the difficulties, struggles and triumphs of Schiller’s life. All I can say is that his supporters must have worshipped him, because at times, despite desperately needing every penny they can send him, he comes across as quite imperious. And yet, when writing to the aristocracy he never forgets his position. He’s a fawning groveller par excellence – no more so than in his sign-off to Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg.
Euerer Herzoglichen Durchlaucht untertanigst treugehorsamster Schiller
Your Excellency’s most submissive and obedient Schiller
The book is illustrated through with cartoons by Gottfried Müller.
Schillers Frauen (Schiller’s Women) consists of 42 portraits of the women – both real and fictional – in Schiller’s life. It provides a look at the man from another angle as well as insights into which woman inspired which character. For example Charlotte von Kalb – the married woman with whom Schiller had an affair before fleeing Mannheim when all became too intense. Her feelings are projected onto Elisabeth von Valois, married to the King of Spain but still in love with his son, Don Carlos, to who, she was formerly betrothed.
The chapters are presented chronologically with fictional women inserted into the timeline of the real. All are visualised either by painting, drawing, lithograph or in silhouette.
It’s not a book I’m likely to read cover to cover but it is a book I’ll reference again and again.
So too, the final book in this selection, Torsten Unger’s Freiheitsschwabe und Moral-Trompeter: Schillers Kritiker (Freedoms’s Swabian and Moral Trumpeter: Schillers Critics). A book full of insults and invective spanning the centuries from the C18th right up to the present day. A quick scan of the contents page reveals that the world of German literature hasn’t universally acclaimed dear old Fritz, who had a penchant for making enemies. It seems the fire in the writer of The Robbers never diminished and he didn’t reserve his criticism to his literary works. That feud with the early Romantics I alluded to in the A-Z that began Schiller week was more or less an outright war at times. C19th and C20th giants of German culture added their tuppence worth to the mix. Heine, Buechner, Jean Paul, Grillparzer, Hebbel, Nietzsche, Fontane, Brecht, Enzensberger, Duerrenmatt, they’re all here. They can’t all be wrong, or can they?
Grillparzer is particularly damming in his faint praise. Schiller geht nach oben, Goethe kommt von oben. (Schiller is on his way to the top, Goethe comes from there.)
This book is wicked and I can’t read a chapter without a gleeful smile on my face. I recommend this to those who, scarred by school experiences, think reading Schiller is torture. (I know you’re out there.) There is a companion volume Fuerstenknecht und Idiotenreptil: Goethes Kritiker (Prince’s henchman and reptile of idiots: Goethe’s Critics). No-one is safe from a literary critic it seems.
(Apologies for the lack of umlauts in the second half of this post – they will return when I retrieve my ipad from the office. I was in such a rush to leave earlier today ….)