Sites of the Weimar Classicism – Introduction
When I traveled to Erfurt in 2017, I not only collected some more castles, but I also made a sort of pilgrimage. England got Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon; Germany got Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) and Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) and the towns of Weimar and – to a lesser extent – Jena, connected with the Weimar Classicism.
Weimar, the Ducal House (Fürstenhaus) (1)
Since the Weimar Classicism was one of my thematic priorities at university, I could come up with some pretty detailed essays for those of my readers who've not encountered either author during the school / university curriculum, but that would shift the focus of the blog away from history to literature. Therefore I'll only give a brief introduction here, illustrated with photos of the buildings connected with these authors and the Weimar Classicism. Some more information – including biographies of Goethe and Schiller – will come with further posts where we visit those places in more detail.
Monument of Goethe (left) and Schiller (right) in front of the National Theatre Weimar (2)
The denomination Weimar Classicism was established in the 19th century, but the exact timeframe was never agreed upon. Some count it from the time Goethe came to Weimar in 1776 until his death in 1832, others restrict the period to the time of Goethe's friendship and cooperation with Schiller from 1994 until Schiller's death in 1805 (3).
The Weimar Classicism grew out of the Enlightenment and the Sturm und Drang movement and occured pretty much parallel to the Romanticism which had one of its centres in Jena – a relationship that varied from fruitful exchange about philosophical and literary concepts to competition and a downright nasty feud.
The market square in Weimar
At that time, Germany was a quilt of principalities, duchies and countdoms that were more or less independent; without a central government, though sometimes several of those states formed alliances and confederations. One of them was the duchy of Saxe-Weimar (later Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach; 4).
Duke Carl August, born 1757, was a minor when his father died a year after his birth. His mother Anna Amalia (1739-1807), a princess of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, became regent until Carl August's majority in 1775. She laid the foundation of the rise of Weimar as one of the cultural centres in Germany.
Weimar, Anna Amalia Library
One of the buildings connected with her is the Anna Amalia Library. The building dates to the 1560ies; it was converted into a library by the dowager duchess in 1761. She moved the book collection and the music collections from the ducal palace to the new place and kept adding books. Later, Goethe would become one of the most important patrons of the library.
Photographing is not allowed inside, so there will be no pics of rows and rows of books and pretty white and gilded Rococo decorations, alas. But you can find some with the help of Uncle Google.
The collection would later serve as base of the Goethe and Schiller Archive Weimar, founded in 1885.
Dowager Palace (Wittumspalais)
In 1772, Anna Amalia appointed Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813) as tutor for Carl August and his younger brother Constantin. Wieland was a philosopher of the Enlightenment and poet of renown, at the time professor for philosophy in Erfurt. He had written the first bildungsroman, Agathon's Story ('Agathons Geschichte'), and translated the plays of Shakespeare into German. He also founded a periodical literary journal, Der teutsche Merkur in 1773; it would remain one of the most influential journals until 1789.
Carl August reached maturity in 1775. That autumn, he traveled to Karlsruhe to marry Luise Auguste, daughter of Ludwig IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt. During that journey, he met with Johann Wolfgang Goethe (no von at that time) in Frankfurt.
Dowager Palais, the round table chamber;
a place of many meetings of the Weimarian intellectual élite
Goethe had become famous overnight as author of the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther ('Die Leiden des jungen Werther', 1774, about a young man who falls in love with a woman already betrothed, and commits suicide) though he already had written several plays and a number of poems as well, all in the traditon of the Sturm und Drang. The two young men – Goethe was 26, the duke 18 – took a liking to each other, and Carl August offered Goethe to join him in Weimar.
Goethe, who had studied the law in Leipzig and Strasbourg, had a job in a chancellery in Frankfurt, but he spent most of his time writing. His parents were well off, so he didn't need an income. But he looked for a challenge at the time, and the small duchy of Weimar offered better opportunities to make a mark than the large town of Frankfurt with its established government.
Goethe's garden house in the Park at the Ilm (5)
Between the duke and Goethe a genuine friendship developed. Carl August wasn't eager to rule his duchy during the first years and left the job to his ministers. Goethe took over the Mines and Highway Commissions, the War Commission, and later the Exchequery as well which made him basically the prime minister of Weimar. He was a member of the Privy Council, responsible for the University in Jena .... well, he had his hands full during those first ten years, and his writing took a backstage to his other work.
Goethe also met with Charlotte Baroness von Stein (1742-1827), lady in waiting to the dowager duchess Anna Amalia. A deep, platonic friendship evolved between him and Charlotte.
Goethe developed administrative skills, courtly manners and took a keen interest in a lot of different subject like geology, botany, anatomy, physics. He also took lessons in drawing which he would continue in Italy. It was during that time he became a genuine polymath. Today, his plays, novels and poems are best known, but Goethe also wrote a number of essays about the Metamorphosis of the Plant, Colour Theory ('Farbenlehre') and other subjects.
Goethe's House at the Frauenplan
Carl August was grateful for the work Goethe did. In 1782, he ennobled his friend who now could call himself Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The same year, the duke rented the western half of the house Am Frauenplan for Goethe to use. The Ducal Chamber bought the house in 1792, and Carl August gifted it to Goethe who now had the chance to alter the house to fit his taste and life style; a combination of representative and private rooms. The house is a museum now.
Goethe had met Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) in Strasbourg and kept the contact via letters. Herder was a poet, theologian and cultural philosopher with roots in the Enlightenment. Goethe asked the duke to call Herder to Weimar, where he became general superintendent and first preacher at the town church in 1776. So the first three of the Famous Four – Wieland, Herder, Goethe, Schiller – of the Weimar Classicism had assembled.
House at the Frauenplan, Goethe's study
After ten years of working as minister in Weimar, Goethe felt increasingly trapped and his creative well dried up. He asked the duke for leave and travelled to Italy in what he considered a 'flight' in September 1786, where he spent the next two years. Upon return, Goethe reduced the official work in Weimar, but he remained member of the Privy Council and assissted the duke when he asked for it; for example, he accompagnied Carl August on the ill fated campaign to France in the aftermath of the French revolution in 1792.
Goethe's private life changed as well. He met with Christiane Vulpius, a young woman from a lower social class, who became his lover and later also his housekeeper, which caused quite a scandal with the court and the circles of the Bildungsbürgertum (6). Charlotte von Stein, already miffed about Goethe's sudden departure for Italy, was very much not happy about the relationship. In December 1789, Goethe's son August was born. More details about Goethe's biography will be presented in the posts about his houses in Weimar.
House at the Frauenplan, the garden side
The sojourn in Italy had helped to bring Goethe's creativity back. He wrote the plays Iphigenie in Tauris, Egmont and Tasso, the poetry collection Roman Elegies (some of those poems are quite naughty and were inspired by his love live with Christiane), and the first draft of Wilhlem Meister's Apprenticeship ('Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre'), a bildungsroman (7).
Goethe was moving away from the Sturm und Drang movement that put the protagonists with their personal emotions against the expectations and norms of society, which could only end badly for said characters. He now strove to find harmony between the individuum and society (which reflected his own career) and wanted to further the education of man towards moral and aesthetical perfection. Models for this concept could be found in the Classical literature and art of the Greek Antiquity – Goethe's time in Italy offered the chance to see the ancient ruins and works of the first predecessor of Antiquity, the art of the Renaissance.
Jena, Schiller's garden house
Schiller's life had been very different from Goethe's secure position and finances. Schiller studied medicine at the Military Academy Hohe Karlsschule in Stuttgart and worked as military surgeon (it was not his choice, but he could not disobey his sovereign Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg). Schiller secretly wrote the play The Robbers ('Die Räuber') in the best Sturm und Drang tradtion, which was staged in Mannheim 1782 – outside the jurisdiction of Karl Eugen; Mannheim belonged to the County Palatine of the Rhine. The performance was a success and a scandal.
Since Schiller had attended the performance of his play in Mannheim against the order of the duke, he now was considered a deserter and had to flee and hide from the duke's henchmen, with an empty purse to boot.
Jena, Schillers garden house – his room in the attic floor
Schillers life, too, will be covered in detail in a separate post. He found friends who assissted him finacially and offered him safe asylum. Several years he spent in Bauerbach in Thuringia where a friend from the time on the Karlsschule, Wilhelm von Wolzogen, had a manor. Schiller wrote several more plays – among them Don Carlos ‒ as well as poems, but the income from those never was sufficient to make a living.
In 1785 he traveled to Leipzig where his friend Christian Gottfried Körner (1756-1831), writer and publisher, supported him (8). In 1787, Schiller moved to Weimar where he met with Wieland and Herder, though those two didn't get along well, and Schiller as a result never got close to either. Goethe was still in Italy.
During those years, Schiller wrote a novel, The Ghost Seer ('Der Geisterseher') that was published as serial, and historical essays about the Dutch Independence War and the Thirty Years War – those texts sold better than the right to his plays.
Schiller's excursion into history would pay off. In 1789 he was appointed extraordinary professor for history at the university of Jena. A few months later, he managed to wheedle a salary of 200 thaler per annum (Goethe earned ten times that sum) out of Duke Carl August, which allowed him to marry Charlotte von Lengefeld, a daughter from a minor noble family with connections to the court at Weimar.
Jena, yard of the Collegium Jenaicum, the only remaining building of the university at Schiller's time
The management of the university of Jena, finances, organisation, appointments etc. was one of the tasks Goethe took up after his return from Italy. He enhanced the botanical garden and the library, built a mineralogical collection and an observatory. But most important, he succeeded in appointing leading members of a young generation of philosophers, philologists and men of letters – the generation born around 1770: Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the Kantian philosopher, joined the university in 1794; Friedrich Schelling came in 1798; his friend Hegel, another philosopher, taught in Jena 1801-1807.
Those names attracted other young poets and philosophers like the Schlegel brothers: August Wilhelm Schlegel, philologist, poet, translator – his translation of the work of Shakespeare would become the 'official' German versions for generations to come – and his brother Friedrich Schlegel, he too a philologist and translator. Those men would form the core of the Jena Romanticism – also know as Early Romaticism ‒, together with the poets Tieck, Novalis and others (9).
Others who lived at least temporarily in Jena played an important role as well and were friends of both Goethe and Schiller; the Humboldt brothers: Friedrich was a linguist and social theorist, his more famous brother Alexander von Humboldt was a polymath and explorer, best known for his travels in the Americas. Heinrich Voß, the translator of Homer's epics, joined the group as well.
Schiller's garden in Jena, with the little 'Writer's Tower'
Schiller's circumstances had changed for the better, but his health detoriated after a severe lung inflammation that broke through the diaphragm (January to May 1791). He was left with a lingering infection that would flare up several times during the next years and would be the cause of his early death at the age of 48 (10).
Goethe and Schiller met in society, but at first the relationship was rather cold. Schiller, who admired Goethe, thought him proud, and Goethe, confronted with the ongoing success of The Robbers that reminded him of his own Sturm und Drang time he had overcome, failed to realise that Schiller – who was ten years his junior – had left that period behind himself. Moreover, Goethe's fame still rested more on his Werther than his recent works which irked him.
Also, Goethe at the time was not interested in philosophy while Schiller started reading Kant during his illness. Goethe would later take read Kant as well and attend Fichte's lectures, though he never became a philosopher like Schiller – his focus lay in the natural sciences. On the other side, Schiller, too, began to take an interest in the Antiquity, he read Homer and Greek plays and wrote a poem, The Gods of Greece ('Die Götter Griechenlands') which Goethe liked.
Weimar, Schillers house where he lived from 1802 until his death
Nevertheless, Goethe assissted Schiller's career and Schiller wanted Goethe to participate in the monthly literary journal he had started with the publishing House Cotta, The Horae ('Die Horen'). Goethe accepted. Others of the Jena group contributed as well, Fichte, the Schlegels, the Humboldt brothers, Herder. The journal would only run from 1795-1797, a too ambitious project to gain the amount of readers to make it a financial success.
The differences between Goethe and Schiller had decreased during the years of their first meeting in 1788 and the famous one in summer 1794 that started their friendship. To simplify a complicated philosophical development: Both had come to the conclusion that the only way to change mankind was to better man – this was very much a reaction to the French Revolution in 1789 and the Years of Terror that shocked many who at first had welcomed the revolution. For Goethe, it was basically the idea of metamorphosis and growth (exactly not a revolution), whereas Schiller saw the way in education and 'play' (11).
Both men met at a lecture about botany in Jena, started a discussion and went in to Schiller where Goethe sketched his image of a Urpflanze, a model from which he thought all plants had developed. That is not an Experience, Schiller said, it is an Idea, summarising the difference between their approaches to life. But Goethe realised that the difference was in their approach, not in the final goal. Schiller would later interpret it as the difference between Goethe's Intuiton versus his own Reflection – differences that were now used to enhance each other's perception.
Schillers house in Weimar; his study
Several letters were exchanged in the following days that resulted in ten years of a close friendship and friendly rivalry between two of the leading authors and playwrights in German literature. Goethe frequently visited Schiller in Jena (12), Schiller came to Weimar when his health allowed; he would buy a house there in 1802. And – most interesting and valuabe for the posterity – they exchanged hundreds of letters that have survived.
As said above, the experience of the excesses of the French Revolution led to a disillusionment with many of the philosophers and writers of the Weimar/Jena group who now thought that political changes could only be achieved by a continuing evolutionary betterment of society, not by revolutions. Aesthetical education, the balance between emotion and ration, were the theme of Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, and played into Schillers treatise On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters ('Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen'). It was what they wanted as goal for everyone, at least the members of the nobility and the Bildungsbürgertum.
With the increase of literacy and the rise of literary and critical journals and books, the market was swamped with novels, poetry and plays, not all of the high quality Goethe and Schiller wished for. And not a few critics disliked their works, esp. Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister. As reaction, both composed the Xenien, a collection of satirical distichs about members of the German intellectual life.
Weimar, the new ducal town palace (Stadtschloss), ‒ mostly – finished in 1816 (13)
Schiller encouraged Goethe to finish Wilhelm Meister's Apprentice Years ‒ he served as what today is called a beta reader – and take up his Faust play again (though it would only be finished after Schiller's death). Goethe wrote the epic poem Hermann and Dorothea and the play The Natural Daughter ('Die natürliche Tochter'), among others. He published the Roman Elegies in The Horae ‒ that caused a fair bit of scandal albeit he left out the two naughtiest poems.
Schiller wrote his philosophical treatise On the Aesthetic Education of Man which was published in The Horae and his famous series of plays: The Wallenstein Trilogy, Maria Stuart, The Maiden of Orleans ('Die Jungfrau von Orleans') The Bride of Messina ('Die Braut von Messina') and Wilhelm Tell. Both also wrote a serie of ballads.
Goethe and Schiller strove for harmony, perfection and congruence between form and content in their theatrical and literary work, something they found in the plays and art of Antiquity, esp. the Greek drama with its 'closed' five act structure – contrary to the 'open' form of the Shakespearean plays with their fast shifting scenes ‒ and a 'high' verse language. Though Schiller would break that mould in Wilhelm Tell and Goethe in his Faust.
Ducal palace, one of the great halls
Schiller's plays were successes, and the money he got for the right of performance every theatre had to pay, as well as the print versions finally ended his financial troubles. He was even able to buy a house in Weimar. In 1802, the duke ennobled him (14).
One of Goethe's jobs in Weimar was that of an impresario. Since 1791, Weimar had a professional court theatre. Before, there was a private theatre – Goethe himself appeared on stage on occasion – and travelling troupes of varying quality. Goethe now could assemble an ensemble of actors and singers that met up with his requirements for good acting. The serious work also helped to a better the esteem of the actors, who often were suspected of loose morals. In 1798, the theatre was transfered to a new, representative building at the site of the present Nationaltheater, with 1,000 seats. Most of Schillers plays had their premiere in that house; he served as co-director.
The relations with the Romaticism group in Jena were a mixed bag. Most of them admired Goethe, some – like Novalis – adored Schiller, but their philosophical, literary and personal differences led to some problems and quarrels. Esp. Fichte caused a lot of trouble. Schiller had a fallout with August Schlegel which Goethe tried to mediate – he was responsible for the university, after all. But the exchange of ideas and concepts continued to be fruitful for the most.
The Ducal Burial Chapel (Fürstengruft).
Goethe is buried there, by his side an empty sarcophagus (Schiller's remains are lost)
Schiller's death in May 1805 left Goethe in despair; he wrote he felt like having lost half of himself. He also thought it was the end of an epoch, and he was pretty correct in that.
A few months later, Napoleon would invade Germany. It proved the end of the Jena Romanticism whose members shattered all over Germany.
Goethe remained in Weimar until his death in 1832 (Duke Carl August had died in 1828, Herder already in 1803, and Wieland in 1813). He wrote some of his most famous works in those years, both parts of Faust, the novel Elective Affinities ('Die Wahlverwandschaften'), the poetry collection Marienbad Elegies and more. Visitors would come to see the famous poet, but the brief, glorious time when the little backwater duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was the centre of the German intellectual life was forever gone.
What remains are their work, and some traces of their lives that have been preserved by the Classic Foundation Weimar ('Klassik Stiftung Weimar') since 2003 (with predecessors dating to 1885).
Weimar, Park at the Ilm
1) The ducal household moved to the building after the palace had burned down in 1774. Today it houses the University of Music.
2) The sculpture is based on a bronze double statue by Ernst Rietschel (1804–1861). It is an idealised version. In reality, Schiller was several inches taller than Goethe, and Goethe at the time of their friendship several inches rounder.
3) Cfr. the introduction in the book by Zumbusch. Other versions include Goethe's return from Italy 1886 to Schiller's death; or even count the appointment of Wieland as tutor of the young prince Carl August in 1772 as the beginning of the Weimar Classicism. In English literature histories Goethe and Schiller are usually counted among the 'European Romanticism'.
4) Carl August was duke of Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Eisenach in personal union; both duchies were united in 1809. In 1815, Carl August was elevated to grand duke.
5) The garden house was Goethe's summer residence for the first years; he spent the winter months in a hired appartment in town.
6) Bildungsbürgertum is one of those terms that can't be translated. It basically means a class of people that had wealth and valued a thorough education in the humanities, science and literature, who were involved in state affairs but who were not of the nobility. That new class emerged in the mid-18th century.
7) That original manuscript, entitled Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung ('Wilhelm Meister's Theatrical Campaign') was never published and only discovered in the early 20th century. Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, published as serial in 1795/96, is a pretty different version. There is an older version of Iphigenie as well, written in prose. It was put on stage in Weimar with Goethe himself playing Orest.
8) At the time, Schiller was quite popular and had been shown signs of estimation (Carl August of Weimar created him honorary privy councillor in 1784), so that it was no longer feasible for the Duke of Württemberg to continue his pursuit of Schiller.
9) Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1847), Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829), Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), Novalis aka Georg Philipp Friedrich Baron von Hardenberg (1772-1801). Friedrich von Humboldt (1767-1835), his brother Alexander (1768-1859); Johann Heinrich Voß (1751-1826).
10) There was a rumour that Schiller had died. When it turned out he survived, some of his admirers in Denmark set up a stipend of 1000 Thaler (five times the annual income Schiller got out of his professorship) for three years to free him from any need to earn money, so he could concentrate on his writing.
11) 'Play drive' is a combination of Kant's disctinction of the physical existence (sense drive) and the rational nature (form drive). The play drive mediates between the two: "The sense drive demands that there shall be change and that time shall have a content; the form drive demands that time shall be annulled and that there shall be no change. That drive, therefore, in which both others work in concert is the play drive, reconciling becoming with absolute being and change with identity." Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters, 1794.
12) Goethe had rooms in the Old Palace which no longer exists or the Administrator's House in the Botanical Garden which was undergoing renovation when I visited Jena. The distance between both towns is a quart of an hour by train; the Jena students sometimes would ride to the theatre performances in Weimar and return the same night.
13) Goethe was a member of the Palace Building Commission since 1789 when Duke Carl August decided to have the palace rebuilt (the old one had been destroyed by a fire in 1774). The ducal household moved into the east wing in 1803. The entire palace was finished in 1816, some work of the interior took even longer.
14) He would be Friedrich von Schiller then, but it is still common to simply refer to 'Friedrich Schiller' whereas Goethe is usually called 'Johann Wolfgang von Goethe'. Strange habit, that.
Dieter Borchmeyer: Die Weimarer Klassik – Eine Einführung (2 volumes), Athenäum-Verlag, 1980
Nicholas Boyle: Goethe – The Poet and the Age (2 volumes), 1991 / 1999
Sigrid Damm: Goethe und Carl August – Wechselfälle einer Freundschaft, Berlin 2020
Gerhart Hoffmeister: Deutsche und europäische Romantik, Stuttgart 1990
Rüdiger Safranski: Goethe und Schiller – Geschichte einer Freundschaft, Frankfurt am Main 2011
Benno von Wiese: Friedrich Schiller; 4th edition, Stuttgart 1978
Cornelia Zumbusch: Weimarer Klassik – Eine Einführung, Stuttgart 2019
The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and central Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.
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- Name: Gabriele Campbell
- Location: Goettingen, Germany
I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History, interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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