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Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.1 (2005) 134-137

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German Classicism and the French Revolution

University of California, Los Angeles
High, Jeffrey L. Schillers Revolutionskonzept und die Französische Revolution, Studies in German Language and Literature, vol. 35 (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004). Pp. 175. $109.95
Wilson, W. Daniel, ed. Goethes Weimar und die Französische Revolution: Dokumente der Krisenjahre (Cologne, Weimar: Böhlau, 2004). Pp. 741. €74.90

As dominant literary icons in the history of German identity, Schiller and Goethe have been used again and again as referees to decide current issues in Germany, especially in the realm of politics. During the 19th century, the German revolutionaries of 1848 rallied around Schiller as a symbol of political freedom during the Schiller celebrations of 1859, while Goethe played a major role in the establishment of the ideological foundation of the German Empire of 1871. The standard Goethe biography of 1895 by Albert Bielschowsky reminded the German educated middle class that "without Goethe, [there was] no Bismarck" and likewise "without Goethe no German Reich!" The statues of Goethe and Schiller standing together, hand in hand, created by Ernst Rietschel and erected in front of today's Weimar National Theater in 1857, became a symbol of German identity. During the 20th century, Goethe's name was invoked in 1919, when the constitution of the Weimar Republic was ratified and its first president was elected, and again in 1949, when two German states were founded during the Cold War and both claimed to embody his heritage on their side of the iron curtain. While the Nazis had little use for Goethe, they celebrated Schiller as a fore-runner of their so-called "national revolution." Hitler placed red roses on Schiller's desk in the Schiller house in Weimar in 1934, while Thomas Mann completed his Goethe novel The Beloved Returns: Lotte in Weimar during his exile in Princeton in 1939, presenting a highly critical assessment of German nationalism during the Wars of Liberation (1813–1815). The Goethe and Schiller celebrations during the last fifty-six years have offered ample evidence of the ideological exploitation of these two national icons for political causes.

Therefore it makes sense to combine the above titles for a review, especially since they are dealing with Schiller's and Goethe's relationship to the French Revolution, which is an ideal litmus test for their political stance. Both were affected [End Page 134] and deeply influenced by the French Revolution. Schiller was even inducted as honorary citizen of the French Republic in 1792—together with numerous other intellectuals and revolutionaries, among them Thomas Paine and George Washington. Research has shown that the nomination of Schiller was based on a poor translation of Die Räuber and a melodramatic production of the play as Robert, chef des brigands in Paris in 1792 that presented the dramatic characters as Jacobins.

Jeffrey L. High's monograph is an attack on the traditional paradigm of a three-stage development of Schiller's concept of revolution: first his pro-revolutionary stance in his early dramas, then his disappointment by the French Revolution in 1793, and finally his escape into aesthetic theory. High seeks to replace this paradigm with a new reading that includes Schiller's major works before and after the French Revolution. His macro-analysis has all the benefits of a comprehensive documentation that includes not only Schiller's works and letters, but also the comments of his contemporaries with regard to Schiller's reactions. Moral-aesthetic education was most important for Schiller, and any rebellion that did not pass the test of avoiding barbarism was to be condemned. The French Revolution did not pass this test, while the Swiss, Dutch, and American revolutions did. Schiller had planned to write a treatise in defense of Louis XVI, but the king's execution took place before his German defender was able to begin this task. Schiller's position is often contradictory, and it takes a highly differentiated approach to show his opposition to feudalism, on the one hand, and his defense...


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