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  • Transcendental Soldiers:Warfare in Schiller’s Wallenstein and Die Jungfrau von Orleans
  • Elisabeth Krimmer (bio)

Like all wars, the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are characterized by asymmetries. With their varying coalitions and short-lived peace accords, the wars around 1800 were a patchwork of wide though uneven geographic spread. Armed conflict started on 20 April 1792 when the new French Republic declared war on Austria and ended in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna. When Austria first responded to France's challenge, Prussia joined its ally in the campaign. By the end of 1794, France had rid itself of its invaders and the revolutionary troops now resumed the offensive into Germany. In 1795 Prussia signed the Peace of Basle.1 Prussia re-entered the fight in 1806, only to suffer another defeat in the battle of Jena and Auerstädt on 14 October 1806.

Prussia's retreat from the war between 1795 and 1806 led to a paradoxical situation. While the war raged in the rest of Europe, German intellectuals and writers enjoyed a brief respite when they were free to ponder the effects and meaning of war from a safe distance. During this period, Germany witnessed a lively debate about the possibility of eternal peace, to which many of the greatest literary and [End Page 99] philosophical minds, including Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis, and Johann Gottfried Herder, contributed thought-provoking essays.2 Side by side with the ardent wish for peace existed another tradition that considered war a moral institution and lavished praise on its ennobling features.3 Wilhelm von Humboldt, for example, called war "eine der heilsamsten Erscheinungen zur Bildung des Menschengeschlechts."4 Similarly, Ludwig Heinrich Jacob claimed that peace makes a nation weak whereas "der Krieg die gute Folge hat, daß der Geist erhoben wird, daß er rüstige Affekte erzeugt und allenthalben Gelegenheit schafft, daß sich die schönsten Tugenden zeigen können."5 Even Kant, whose "Zum ewigen Frieden" (1795) sparked the debate on eternal peace and who called war the source of all evil and corruption, attributed to war a sublime quality: "Selbst der Krieg, wenn er mit Ordnung und Heiligachtung der bürgerlichen Rechte geführt wird, hat etwas Erhabenes an sich und macht zugleich die Denkungsart des Volks, welches ihn auf diese Art führt, nur um desto erhabener, je mehreren Gefahren es ausgesetzt war und sich mutig darunter hat behaupten können: dahingegen ein langer Frieden den bloßen Handelsgeist, mit ihm aber den niedrigen Eigennutz, Feigheit und Weichlichkeit herrschend zu machen und die Denkungsart des Volkes zu erniedrigen pflegt."6 The writings of Kant's contemporary Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) are characterized by a similar ambivalence. In Schiller's works, [End Page 100] war is both a sordid reality and a transcendental endeavour. This metonymic slippage from warfare as a killing machine to warfare as the practice of man's most sublime freedom produces an amalgamation of metaphysical aspiration and national politics that leaves a potentially explosive legacy in the history of German representations of war.

War and the Poet

To the young Schiller, warfare and the military formed an integral part of everyday life. Schiller's father, Johann Kaspar Schiller (1723–96), was a surgeon and captain in the Württemberg army, and his godfather Philipp Friedrich Rieger (1722–82), who was to become the director of the Hohenasperg prison, first secured Duke Karl Eugen's favour by substantially enlarging the Duke's army through his brutal recruitment methods. Schiller himself was educated in the Karlsschule, an institution that imposed military discipline on its students. After his graduation, he worked as a regimental doctor, but does not seem to have taken to military life. Determined to become a writer, Schiller broke with his sovereign Karl Eugen, who did not look kindly on his subject's artistic aspirations. When Schiller later drafted a letter of reconciliation, the request for permission to wear civilian clothing was listed right along with the wish to publish and travel without restrictions.7

During his lifetime, Schiller's eventual home, the duchy of Weimar, was largely spared by the war, although its sovereign Duke Karl August...


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