Saturday, July 18, 2015

Is It Idiotic Of Me To Be Reading Schiller's Historical Works?

Nietzsche warned me: in Goetzen-Daemmerung, Schiller is the 3rd-listed of his "Unmoeglichen," his "impossible people." Nietzsche calls him the "Moral-Trompeter von Saeckingen."

Der Trompeter von Saeckingen (The trumpeter of Saeckingen) is an epic poem published in 1853 by Joseph Viktor von Scheffel which was an immediate and huge popular success. Viktor Nessler made it into a popular opera which debuted in Leipzig in 1884, just a few years before the extremely avid opera-goer Nietzsche published Goetzen-Daemmerung. If I had read Scheffel's poem or or seen or heard Nessler's opera, perhaps Nietzsche's one-liner about Schiller would've made me laugh.

Even as it is I schmunzelte. I get how Schiller tends to trumpet morality. I find it very tiresome how in the midst of an historical work he gets carried away and begins to shout at the reader about the Genius of This People and the Crushing of That Despot and The Laws of History and The Way that The Age of Heroes is Past and that We Today Can Only Look Upon Them like an Old Man Who Has lost His Nerve contemplating The Manly Caprices of His Youth, before settling down again and returning to the facts and figures and quotes and other things for which I came there -- there being Schillers historical writings. That last bit, about The Age of Heroes being Past, was especially troubling to me, because I had thought that we here in Western Civilization had left behind such ideas about past Golden Ages. I thought we had done that some time before Schiller. Maybe most of us had.

And anyhow, how much of this stuff, how much of works by Schiller such as Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung (History of the Dutch Revolution) and Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Krieges (History of the Thirty Years; War), is actually any sort of worthwhile historical writing at all?

What I don't know, what I've started to ask myself, is, Who reads Schiller's historical works, besides me? No one ever recommended to me that I read them, and quite a few people have recommended his poems and plays quite heartily, and a few are even enthused about such theoretical works of his as the one about naive and sentimental poetry. But I've never read or heard a thumbs-up about these historical works.

Perhaps if I'd never gotten that volume in Fraktur, vol 2 of a 2-vol collection of Schiller's works published in 1869 by the J G Cotta'sche Buchhandlung. That volume which begins with the works on the Dutch Revolution and the Thirty Years' War. I've had that thing for decades, and I finally came to grips with the fact that the Fraktur was keeping me from reading more than a paragraph or 2 at a sitting, and so, with not inconsiderable difficulty, I got this volume of the historical works in Antiqua, which is what Germans call the regular typeface the rest of the world uses and they have too for the most part for the last century or so. (Schiller's plays and poems are so easy to get, maybe the difficulty in obtaining his historical works should have warned that no sensible person wants them.)

Maybe if decades ago I'd gotten a volume of Schiller's historical works in a typeface more like this one, which I could read with less difficulty (How much difficulty? I'm not even completely sure that "J G Cotta'sche Buchhandlung" is a correct transcription, that's how much.), I would've been done with Schiller even before I became a fan of Nietzsche.

And yet, and yet, with a stupid serious look on my face -- very much, in fact, like the one Schiller himself seemed to be wearing whenever a painting or sculptor was nearby -- and against the sneers of the Nietzsches (I'm usually totally a Nietzsche!), I shall soldier on and see if maybe there is in fact a pony in here somewhere.

But, but -- I already mentioned, apart from my general disgust at the frequent melodramtic solos of the moral trumpeter about No Two Other Peoples were Ever So Dissimilar and It must Enliven The Heart of Every Friend of Freedom and so forth, the bit about the Forever Lost Golden Age really gave me pause. Another thing which made me throw the volume down and stomp around the room yelling "What?! What?!" was Schiller's assertion that printing was invented in Haarlem in 1482.

I mean, that's sure what it looks like to me he's saying: "Im Jahre 1482 wurde die Buchdruckerkunst in Haarlem erfunden," and one thing which really makes me wonder whether anybody at all is reading this stuff for the sake of historical edification, is that I can't find anybody anywhere saying that Schiller was off by at least 50 years and 1 country about the invention of printing. Even allowing for 230 years' worth of progress in process of writing history, this is the sort of thing which makes me wonder just how much Schiller was carried away with the moral--trumpeting, and whether the trumpeting left much actual worthwhile historical writing at all in its wake.

Hold everything: in the volume in Fraktur from 1869 it sez: "Im Jahre 1432 wurde die Buchdruckerkunst in Haarlem erfunden." This is why it's good to have more than 1 edition of the same book. Maybe 1482 is a misprint. Then Schiller would only be off by 1 country and not by 50 years. Or maybe not even by a country: there is a certain Laurens Janszoon Coster who, according to some Dutch patriots, invented printing before Gutenberg.

I'm not going to get into the middle of that fight.

CV Wedgewood doesn't mention Schiller in her history of the Thirty Years' War. Not in the bibliography, nowhere. In his biography of Wallenstein, Golo Mann, like his father a great fan of Schiller's poems and plays, quotes a line here and there from Schiller's Wallenstein-trilogy of plays, and otherwise mentions him twice entirely in passing, with absolutely no hint of a positive or negative opinion of him as an historian.

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