The Essays on the Sublime
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The Essays on the Sublime

Translated from German by J. Marc Rakoto-Lahy

About the Book

As an adjective, sublime means a subject that is causing deep emotions and feelings of wonder or joy. The noun sublime describes a subject that is without equal, that is supreme or of great moral, artistic or spiritual value. The verb derived from these words describes the capacity of a subject to reach the highest level without going through intermediary steps. To sublimate also means to direct any energy available to something beneficial.

More simply, F. Schiller uses the notion of sublime as a tool available to anyone for overcoming all the inconvenient aspects of the experiences we must go through in life. For Schiller, the sublime is never possible without a determined inclination towards the good and the beautiful.

“On the sublime” is his famous dissertation about the extent and limits of what it is to be a human being. One trait of the human being is the specific rapport he or she observes with what he or she perceives as power expressed upon him or her.

“On grace and dignity”: Mere submission to power being not a goal of Humanity, therefore, one should always show grace when obliging and dignity when being the one who is obliged.

“On the pathetic” specifically deals with our desire not to leave to arbitrariness the care of managing our happiness and sorrow. Therefore, we create these in our own ways; that is pathetically, through destinies, arts and culture in general.

In “Further comments on the sublime”, he extends his inquiry of the sublime to many subjects and objects, and makes a remarkable assessment of greatness and sublime in the actions of the human being.

“Scattered reflections”: In this document, Schiller disserts about the specificities of as well as the common ground among the good, the pleasant, the beautiful and the sublime subjects and their applications in gauging various aesthetical subjects.

“On Beauty” is one of the early documents with which Friedrich Schiller started his long inquiry about aesthetics in general. The letters are presented here in their full content hence leaving the reader the freedom to assess the scope of his early, rather controversial research about physical and moral Beauty.

About the Author

F. Schiller
F. Schiller

F. Schiller is a major figure of Enlightenment, who influenced many other philosophers, writers and statesmen and historians with his insightful rendition of such topics as the State, History, Religion, the Sublime. but also Love and Nature.

1759.Frederick Schiller is born in Marbach, in the state of Wurttemberg, where his father serves as an officer in the ducal army.

1772.Against his will and that of his parents, he is enrolled in the military academy of the Duke of Wurttemberg in Ludwigsburg, as cadet.

1774.His parents sign a bond linking their son to the service of the Duke. During these years, he will be subjected to several physical and moral mistreatments. However, he still secretly hopes to become a Lutheran pastor.

As the years go by, he would finally give up this idea as no theology classes would be allowed in the academy. 

He would then, still secretly, prepare himself to become a writer. In parallel with his formal study, he would read as much as he can the great classic works. It is during this time that he also discovers the great thinkers of Enlightenment. 

From 1777 on, he works on “The robbers”, his play about the emancipation from the traditional conception of rule and order.

1780.Schiller graduates as a medical officer, only after submitting his third dissertation, and is appointed regiment physician. The Duke would refuse him the right to carry a weapon as a further sign of humiliation.

1781.With the help of friends, he prints his work, and soon, the play is rehearsed in Mannheim, without the consent of the Duke of Wurttemberg. 

1782.He would be put in jail for insubordination. To avoid further punishment, and to assert his choice to become a writer, he flees the city of Stuttgart with his friend Streicher in direction of Mannheim.

1782-84.For almost three years, he would live as a fugitive, fleeing from one place to another, experiencing sickness and deprivation, to secure his life. He authored three plays during this period: “Fiesco”, “Intrigue and Love” and “Don Carlos”.

He is acquainted with many young ladies and his reputation as a romantic writer is established.

1785.He leaves Mannheim to join Körner and his group of friends, in Leipzig and then, in Dresden. He composes during this period “Ode to Joy” and other short stories among which “Lost honor” and “The mind reader”.

1787-88.Deceived by the turn of events, he decides to head to Weimar where the spirits of Wieland, Herder and Goethe reign supreme. He composes the “Gods of Greece”, a poem about the power structure he found in Saxony. Weimar has just risen from the ashes, and yet, intends to play an important role in the Prussian plan.

No position would be offered to him, and he decides, at the suggestion of his friend Wolzogen, to visit the family Lengefeld in Rudolstadt. 

It is in this city where he would meet Goethe for the first time. 

He finishes “The secession of the united Netherlands from Spanish ruling”. At the end of this year, he is appointed History Professor at Iena University.

1790.Schiller is confirmed as a counselor to the Dukedom of Saxony. Against the advice of his friends, among whom Körner, he marries, almost in secrecy, Charlotte Lengefeld.

1791.He will be often sick, and would have to cease practicing his profession. It is during this time that he begins to dissect the ideology of Emmanuel Kant.

1793.He endeavors to summarize his latest philosophical research in his famous essays, “On Grace and Dignity”, “On the Sublime” and “On the aesthetic education of the human being”.

1793.He finally returns to his homeland, 11 years after his escape, where his first son Charles would be born. He sees his father again, after so many long years.

1796.He writes, together with Goethe, the “Xenien”, and hence, prepares the groundwork for a national grouping of new, enlightened representatives.

1797.Schiller's prolific year where he would compose so many stunning ballads and songs. His interest for esoteric subjects would also increase due to his circle of friends in Iena. This interest would surprise many observers as he previously derided about esoterism.

1798.His ballads, “The diver”, “The glove”.... are published in the “Muse's Almanac”. The acknowledgment of his talent as a poet is unanimous. It is from this year that his opponents become vocal, as they augur his inevitable rise to the higher sphere.

1799.He finishes “Wallenstein”, the story of the first person in History to become supreme commander of the armies and also political leader, and begins “Mary Stuart”. He earns additional recognition for the emotionally tense quality of his dramas. He settles with his family in Weimar, the center of the Saxon power.

1800.Schiller does not feel at ease in Weimar despite his intensive literary and theatrical work. The clouds of war are ever hovering over this city.

1802.He works on “William Tell”, his play about national emancipation, and “The bride of Messina”, his play about the reconciliation of religions and generations. 

1804.“William Tell” is finished, and together with his family, they travel to Berlin where Schiller hopes to find a position at the center of the Prussian might.

1805.Upon his return to Weimar, Schiller throws himself into his theatrical and literary works, and experiences again terrible pains all over his body.

On May 9th, he dies of several medical complications and would be buried in secrecy during the night of May 11th.

After his death, many rumors about the whereabouts of his remains would circulate throughout the German-speaking world.

Only in September 1827 would his remains be buried in a proper place in Weimar, 22 years after his death, due to the perseverance of his wife Charlotte and his friends, among whom, Streicher.

Beethoven would dedicate his Ninth Symphony to him. Verdi would set into operas three of his plays. 

Schubert would also set into songs many of his poetic works. Freud would show an interest in his drawings, and their importance in his incredible capacity to have survived his difficult childhood and youth. Many other artists would devote their work to his relentless commitment to Freedom and Humanity.

In 2004, a DNA analysis of the remains buried in Leipzig near Goethe’s revealed dissimilarity with that of the other members of the Schiller family. The myth about his actual whereabouts became ever more alive among his admirers.

Table of Contents

F. Schiller: The Essays on the Sublime

1. On Beauty

2. On the Sublime

3. On Grace and Dignity

4. On the Pathetic'

5. Comments on the Sublime

6. Sparse Reflections on Various Aesthetic Subjects

About the Publisher

This book is published on Leanpub by The Schiller Translations

F. Schiller (1759-1805), a German writer and philosopher, is a major figure of Enlightenment, who influenced many other philosophers, writers and statesmen and historians with his insightful rendition of such topics as the State, History, Religion, the Sublime. but also Love and Nature.

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