Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart
Journalist, Musician and Poet of Freedom
by Alexander Hartmann
This article is reprinted with permission from Neuen Solidarität (1999) and was translated from the German by Daniel Platt.
The adage that Germany is "the land of poets and thinkers" was probably never so true as in the 18th century. But while many people remember Goethe, Lessing and Schiller, there is a fourth honoree from that century who has been forgotten: the journalist, poet, musician and composer Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart.
Schubart was ten years younger than Lessing and ten years older than Goethe; and if Goethe, Lessing and Schiller are more famous today than Schubart, it was Schubart with his magazine who made the others well known. And who knows whether the young Schiller, without the example and influence of Schubart, would not have remained only a physician?
When we think of Schubart today, it is first and foremost because he was the most famous political prisoner of his time. For more than ten years - without a hearing or verdict - he was imprisoned at Hohenasperg near Ludwigsburg, and in this regard one may compare him undoubtedly with Sakharov or Mandela. But one should not think of him only because of the injustice that he suffered at their hands, but also because of his own merits.
"...Teutsch and Deutsch at the same time ..."
[Teutsch is an archaic version of Deutsch, the word for "German."]
Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart was born on March 26, 1739 in Obersontheim in what was then the county of Limpurg. A year later his father took a job as a headmaster (at the University of Qualified Teachers) and music director in the - admittedly very small at that time - free imperial city of Aalen. The Aalen years made a lasting impression on Schubart's character, as he describes in his memoirs:
"In this city, as misunderstood as is the honest simplicity which for many centuries has nourished frugal citizens in valley of the Kocher river - citizens of an old German custom, honest, busy, wild and strong like their oaks, despisers of foreign countries, defiant defenders of their tunics, their dung heaps and their thundering dialect - here was I brought up. Here I got the first impressions, which afterwards could not be erased by all the changes in my life. What is usually the normal tone in Aalen, appears in other cities to be a defiant cry, and at the court, rage. From this first outline came my rough German tone, but also many a mishap that later propelled me forward in my life."
The word Deutsch ("German") had a special meaning for him. When he changed the name of his journal in 1776 from Deutsche Chronik ("German Chronicle") to Teutsche Chronik, he explained why:
"Fulda has taught me that "teutsch" denotes our nation and "deutsch", in a sense, denotes clarity. So in the future, I will write a "Teutsche Chronicle", and in my attitude and presentation I shall strive to be teutsch and deutsch at the same time."
Due to his impulsive character, an attempt to make a theologian of the young Schubart came to naught. Originally he intended to study in Jena, but the outbreak of the Seven Years' War led him to move instead to the University of Erlangen. However, student life drew him more than studying. When he got into debt and even spent four weeks in prison, he was summoned back after three semesters by his father.
There followed three years in which the young man lived with his parents. He had no permanent job, and sometimes helped out as an evangelical preacher or as a private tutor, and lived above all for the music. He also authored some commissioned poetry, which brought him nothing beyond a few ducats and a laudatory diploma. Later he wrote:
The Wanderer and Pegasus
W. Thou wingéd horse, where dost thou trot
With unshod hooves in motion?
P. It is a German who has brought
Me here across the ocean.
W. In London, Athens, or in Rome
Wouldst thou look better, right at home;
'Tis lack of oats thou'rt feeling.
P. My German master has no bread;
There's famine here, and so instead
My oats he's often stealing.
Finally Schubart, in order to have a regular income and become independent from his father, accepted a position as a teacher in the town of Geislingen, which belonged to the free imperial city of Ulm. Years later he published in the Deutschen Chronik the following - not entirely joking - "communique":
"Which academician wants to be a pedagogue in *? - He must understand Latin, Greek and Hebrew well, as well as a little French and Italian. In divinity, arithmetic, writing, drawing, history, geography, and field measuring, he must be a master. He may not give instruction for more than 12 hours during the day, but he can earn a little extra with private lessons. Since the organization would like to economize with him, it were nice if he played the organ, was good at playing the violin, and could blow the cornet from the tower. He'll assist the priest at times in preaching and catechism. Because he must also sing for the dead at funerals, he must have a very good voice. His salary is 100 guilders in money, some payment in kind, free apartment, 6 cubits of cabbage land, free acorns and related fodder, and a dungheap in front of the house. He ranks directly below the mayor, who is currently a tanner; beyond that, young boys are not allowed to shoot him with peas.
"The magistrate would be pleased if the candidate were single. The previous holder of this office has left behind a very domestic and god-fearing widow. Although she is admittedly in her fifties, she can still live many years, because she eliminates bodily impurities with the fontanell." [FN The fontanell was an 18th Century surgical practice of deliberately inducing an infection and suppuration, with the belief that the production of pus purifies the body.]
In fact, the schoolmaster Schubart had to pay support money out of his salary to his predecessor who had become incapacitated. In the Geislinger "school dungeon", as he called it, he taught 120-150 students daily for nine hours in the German and the Latin School, and he took over the church music of the village with a population of 1,500. From that time, some texts from his pupils have survived, which he dictated into their booklets:
"Dear Mr. Schoolmaster, I think you are a fool. Of course you want to keep my boy in school until he gets a beard like a coachman. Why does my Jörg need such foolish things, need to learn such nonsense? My son will be a weaver and so follow God's commands ... You know that, Mr. Schoolmaster! My boy is going to get the spinner's weasel, whether he understands mortography or not ..."
Schubart also included the answer:
"The above letter is written in such a stupid and brutal manner that it scarcely deserves reply ... You may wish to become shoemakers, tailors, spinners, weavers, bakers, coppersmiths or turners, and so it will always befit you to be wise, and not so stupid as to argue all day long like Master Dabbler, Michael Heavy-Jaw and Jake Leather-Apron ... "
Even though he had accepted the position as a teacher only from embarrassment, and it is said that because he was in despair at the stupidity of the unruly louts, he spent several days hanging around in the woods instead of teaching, Schubart took his work seriously. Stupidity and ignorance were an abomination to him all his life, and the fight against them remained a leitmotif - and cause - of his unstable life, because he encountered them more often from his superiors than among the "little people", whom he loved.
He married the daughter of the local customs master, Helene Buhler. But his loose tongue and pen, his unconventional teaching style and his tendency to carouse with friends, soon led to a split with his father-in-law, who complained to Schubart's superiors about his conduct and called for him to be disciplined. His bar-hopping would have been more likely forgiven than the fact that he "wasted" his money on books, especially by such "new-fangled" authors such as Wieland, Lessing and Klopstock ...
The peerless musician
After five years, an opportunity finally arose for Schubart to escape the cramped Geislinger "school dungeon": In Ludwigsburg, a position for organist and music director had opened up. Even as a child, Schubart had proven to be extremely talented:
"There particularly manifested itself in me such a fortunate musical genius that I would have become one of the greatest musicians, had I followed this natural propensity alone. At eight years of age I exceeded my father at the piano, sang with feeling, played the violin, taught my brothers music, and at nine or ten I put together galant and church pieces without more than cursory instruction."
Meanwhile, the gifted child had become a noted musician:
"I played at that time with winged speed, sight-reading very difficult pieces set for the piano or another instrument, with and without bass, played in all keys with the same skill, improvised with fiery emotional power and displayed the facility of a great organist. I could play with such fire, that everything around me faded, and I just lived in the tones that my imagination created. My version was completely of my own creation."
After all, Goethe recalls as late as 1817 in his Italienische Reise ("Italian Journey"), so long after Schubart's death, that the latter during the 1880s was known as the greatest piano and organ virtuoso of his time:
"And so that the musical history connoisseurs will immediately know what we are talking about, I will note that during his time, Schubart was considered to be without peer; and as well, the execution of variations was highly regarded as a test of a trained pianist, where a simple theme, varied in the most artistic manner possible, would only allow the listener to catch his breath with its final, natural reappearance."
Schubart got the job after the duke decided that the right to nominate candidates belonged to the magistrate and the representative of secular authority, bailiff Kerner (the father of Justinus Kerner), and not to one Zilling who held the title of Spezial ("Special,") who wanted to push through another candidate. Zilling's position was comparable to that of a dean; he was the highest Church dignitary in Ludwigsburg. He was a fanatical pietist, who attempted with almost messianic conviction to subject everyone to the pietistic teachings. Friedrich Schiller was confirmed under Zilling, and one can assume that he, inter alia, was inspired by Zilling to write his poem An die Proselytenmacher ("To the Proselytizers.")
Since that unsuccessful test of strength with the secular authorities, Zilling harbored a grudge against Schubart. And the fact that many churchgoers came not because Zilling's sermons, but for Schubart's organ playing was as little likely to appease the man of the Church, as were Schubart's taunts about the pharisaical clericalism:
The Exemplary Preacher
Pathetic preacher Stax: "My people, do not steal,
Let each man keep what's his, the scriptures teach repentance."
His clever words don't fit with what his deeds reveal;
He stole the sermon, every sentence.
A stolen sermon? Please, think twice.
Why, that's a slander! Have a care!
I saw Stax buy it, I was there,
He paid good cash to get that merchandise.
Zilling became something like Schubart's nemesis: again and again, Schubart became the victim of Zilling's fanaticism.
Schubart as a Court Figure
Ludwigsburg was, beginning in 1764, the residence of the Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg. Like many other petty princes, he emulated the example of the French "Sun King". He constructed magnificent buildings, and got himself some hunting carriages and stud horses.
"But more than anything, his theater and his mistresses cost him. He had French comedy, Italian serious and comic opera and twenty Italian dancers, each of which had held a leading role at one of the first rank of Italian theaters. Noverre was his choreographer and ballet director; he used sometimes up to 100 figurants," reported Casanova. The Ludwigsburg Opera was the largest in Germany, and the theater devoured about a fifth of the state budget! Of the approximately 10,000 inhabitants of the city, 1800 belonged to the royal household. Schubart makes fun in a letter about life at court:
"From now on I'm a courtier! Proud, two-faced, ignorant, posh, without money and wearing velvety pants that, God willing, will be paid for before the blessed end of my days ... My study room has been transformed into a stateroom, my desk into a lavatory... I rejoice with all my heart over the privilege: to be stupid and aristocratic, and to laugh at you authors with your papery immortality. God forgive me! that I was a fool and memorized the 'Messiah'. Now I can stutter a little French and Italian."
He played the organ, gave music lessons and concerts and recited literature in the salons of the court aristocracy. But soon there was trouble again with "Special" Zilling:
"I'm not aware of any outrage so much as some things that this country regards as state error. In the first place I smoked a pipe of tobacco in the post office. Secondly, I looked around with binoculars during a concert, and thirdly, I am charged with speaking with too much fire in polite society, and they have the audacity to judge me."
And there were some amorous adventures as well. Finally, he was excommunicated by Zilling, which made his further service as a church musician impossible. In May 1773 Schubart was dismissed from his post and expelled from the country.
While his wife and children found shelter with her parents, he himself - equipped only with his musical skills - went wandering. Heilbronn, Mannheim, Heidelberg and Schwetzingen were the stations. Again, there was trouble with academics and Jesuits. He went to Munich, but the desired position at the electoral court went nowhere, as the word came out of Ludwigsburg that Schubart did not believe in the Holy Spirit. Schubart even planned to emigrate, to the dismay of his wife, to Stockholm, St. Petersburg or Vienna. But when an Augsburg printer proposed to him that he publish a magazine, he seized the opportunity and became a journalist.
The "German Chronicle"
Now Schubart was finally in his element: The Deutsche Chronik was his weapon for freedom and fatherland, against ignorance and illiteracy. It appeared twice weekly from March 1774 with eight pages per issue.
Schubart provided the content almost exclusively himself. Much was reported to him, but he also subscribed to 25-30 newspapers whose announcements he - in his own style, reminiscent of Hans Sachs, which made the Chronicle immensely popular - reshaped and added commentary. Often he dictated his texts in the pub.
The German Chronicle had a circulation of about 4000 copies. Thus, it was one of most widely read newspapers of its time. Unlike Claudius' famous Wandsbeker Messenger, whose 200 copies circulated mainly among intellectuals - even Schubart read it - the Chronicle was also read by many "little people": valets, hairdressers, teachers and even farmers read the Chronicle, they passed it from hand to hand, and memorized entire articles.
The program of the Chronicle was - although Schubart largely produced it by himself - amazingly comprehensive. The common thread, however, was that he considered it to be an instrument of education - the political education, economic education, cultural education and the education of the heart. The shape of the contributions varied widely: The Chronicle contained, besides articles about current political events, small essays on music, discussions of current Literature, fables, short stories and poems. Schubart used the Chronicle, to bring the great minds of his time to the attention of the "little people". He wrote in May 1774:
"I was extraordinarily pleased when I heard that Götz von Berlichingen, this play which outweighs a hundred French plays, and most German ones, in importance, was not only performed three times, one after the other in Berlin (this temple of good taste) with the greatest success, but then also repeated by popular demand. How patriotically my heart beats upon hearing this news! For just once, can't the German audience have had its fill of comic operas, of tragi-comedies, of these monstrosities from abroad, and of empty farces, and instead ask our first-rate geniuses Klopstock, Goethe and Lessing to provide us with more pieces with German names, such as Die Herrmannsschlacht, Götz and Minna? - I recommend to those frail souls who have no taste for Götz von Berlichingen, that they proceed forthwith to the lepers' hospital of Cervantes at the foot of Parnassus."[FN A reference to Cervantes' Viaje al Parnaso ("Journey to Parnassus"), a satirical work that mocks those who pretend to be great poets.]
Schubart added a further footnote:
"Allow me to add an anecdote here that occurred to me during Götz. Count Schm... of the Palatine court, who through his heart, his taste and his experience has distinguished himself above thousands of others, spoke the following as Götz von Berlichingen was read to him: I don't know whether I'd rather have written all of Voltaire, or just this single comedy."
In a similar way, Schubart recommended to his readers Leibniz, Wieland, Abbt, Mendelssohn, Nikolai, Voss, Moser, Forster and Schiller, among others. He also sought to develop the musical tastes of his readers:
"There are no more organ players! Since they go through the year playing one measly prelude; play their chorales without feeling; hammer out dragoons' marches in church; desecrate the communion with preludes in the style of Ach schläft denn alles schon("Oh, is everyone asleep?") and die Tochter soll ins Kloster gehn("Daughter ought to go to the convent"); know no other interlude than Himmel, was wird's noch werden? ("Heaven, what will come of it?") Immortal spirit of the great Sebastian Bach, on which planet are you? and are you astonishing your comrades in bliss with heavenly chords? - Just be patient! All is not lost. His great son Friedemann is still alive and has recently let himself be heard, with exceptional applause, by the connoisseurs and the general public in Berlin. Rich imagination, daring, surprising modulations, knowledge of registers, and gigantic strength on the pedals is his character. - You feeble organists of the H. Rom. Empire, who trample down your fancies without intellect and taste, lay your hands on your hearts and recognize, if your musical conscience is beating, that you are sinners!"
He also called attention in the Chronicle to the other Bach sons, to Gluck, Zumsteeg and other musicians. He repeatedly pointed to attempts at improving the education system, such as the Philanthropist, founded by Basedow in Dessau, where Campe, the teacher of the Humboldt brothers, was working.
A favorite topic of Schubart was the struggle against superstition. When in the Chronicle he urged the authorities to take action against the charlatan Gaßner - a Catholic priest, who pretended to cure diseases by laying on of hands, and thus triggered a whole series of pilgrimages - his opponents arranged his expulsion from Augsburg early in 1775. Now Schubart had gotten on the bad side not only of the Pietists, but also of the Catholic fanatics. Emperor Joseph II, however, banned Gaßner's performances.
Once again homeless, Schubart went to Ulm. The change proved to be advantageous, because the following two years were the happiest of his life: At last he could have his wife and children brought to him, and - protected by the Free Imperial City of Ulm - he could write his Chronicle, whose circulation was becoming ever stronger. His income increased accordingly.
The Political Chronicler
Had Schubart limited himself to literature and music, he would have been spared much grief. But he reported and commented on current political events and did not hide the fact that he was a resolute opponent of despotism by the landed nobility. He was aware that this was dangerous, and he intimated this in the Chronicle:
"Fanaticism begins to play its old role once again, placing its idols upon the altars of truth. --
The magnificent educational institutions, that fill the heart of the patriot with many a sweet notion, are in danger of suffocating again in childbirth. --
True scholarship is being pushed aside by false reasoning. We lack true scholars and make schoolboys into professors. --
Our cameralists are not wise custodians of the state treasury, but have become profiteers instead...
Merit is no longer determined by our head, heart and deeds, but by the flexibility of our backbones. --
The police --
O my heart is seething, a patriotic tear falls, and I shall say no more, because I may not say everything that I want to in this tragic monologue."
He often presented his political propaganda in the form of visions, or he dressed it up as fairy tales or fables:
"A lion once died in Libya. A fox gave his eulogy: Lament, ye forests, he began, your jewel is gone! Howl, sublime animal meeting, your chief is no more! Love of the animals was the support of his throne. Order accompanied him in the broad regions of his empire. He was a friend of the arts and sciences and - oh! he is no more! Lament, ye oaks! Lament, ye cliffs! Howl, ye beasts! - How this guy lies, said the lynx to the dog. - The lion's throne was made of bones from lacerated animals! In the forest ruled the most terrible disorder - the weak were always the prey of the strong. Under his rule, the wise elephants fled into the deserts; the domestic beaver destroyed his home and died in quicksand; and the baboon Matz, the greatest painter of his court, who depicted him 20 times and painted his cave with frescoes, kicked the bucket yesterday from hunger. And that surprised you, lynx? said the dog. You can see it well, he was never among humans."
Another time he writes:
To the hatter Städele in Memmingen
Hans Marx, a fine aristocrat
Has ordered up a brand new hat,
With such exquisite trim enhanced,
Like dandys wear in Paris, France;
And Städele, we ask you that
You make a head to fit the hat.
Propagandist of the American Revolution
Among the political issues that Schubart regularly addressed was the situation in America. Almost every week he reported on the growing tensions between the colonies and the English mother country, as in 1774:
"The spirit of liberty is becoming ever more vibrant in these regions; not an impetuous spirit that degenerates into licentiousness, but rather a spirit that is directed by wisdom, temperance and fortitude. Philadelphia has for many years been an amalgamation of different nations; in particular there are a lot of Germans, who work the land there with German diligence, so that there is no shortage of what is needed for the preservation and the comfort of the people. So they do not need to procure foreign products: for their land provides them with everything. All these circumstances are a strong stimulus toward freedom, and we shall be surprised if they don't form a free state, now, or soon, that can defy the courage and the wisdom of the British. In Boston companies are already forming to invest their money in manufacturing. They are closing the local port, thereby preparing the ground for future growth of this town ... It is calculated that there are 4 to 5 million people and over 100,000 men who are skilled in arms in the English colonies. If these people continue to be governed in a spirit of unity, they shall be invincible against agression by any power."
A year later, you could read in the Chronicle:
"War has formally been declared upon the brave freedom fighters in America. But they battle using the fiery shields of holy freedom. Men and women, old men and boys prefer to shed the last drop of blood than to wear the yoke of despotism. We have confirmed reports they have an army of 80,000 men on foot, which I prefer to our slaves in Europe who are hired for a daily allowance of a couple of groschen. Not enthusiasm, but the threat of being flogged is what makes our European soldiers fierce."
Schubart was particularly outraged at the practice by many German nobles of selling soldiers:
"Here is a sample of the latest estimates of human value - The Count of Hesse-Kassel gets 450,000 talers a year for his 12,000 valiant Hessians, the majority of which will find their graves in America. The Duke of Brunswick receives 56,000 talers for 3964 infantrymen and 360 light cavalrymen, and it is likely that very few of them will see their country again. The Prince of Hesse-Kassel also provides a regiment of infantry for the price of 25,000 talers. It is known that 20,000 Hanoverians are already bound for America, as well as 3000 Mecklenburgers (for 50,000 talers). Now, they say, the Elector of Bavaria will offer 4,000 men for English pay. - A terrible text to preach for patriots whose hearts beat, if their fellow citizens have the same fate as negro slaves, and are sent as sacrifices in foreign worlds."
A few days later appeared this message under the heading "A legend":
"The Duke of Württemberg is lending 3,000 troops to England, and this is the reason for his current stay in London!!!"
Lured into the trap
It must have been most uncomfortable for the absolute princelings in Germany, that twice a week their subjects were informed about the progress of a successful rebellion against the most powerful princes of Europe. Since most of the soldiers for sale were forcibly recruited, there prevailed in the population a corresponding displeasure with the princes, and apparently it was feared that the spark of rebellion might spread to Germany. And Schubart must have been regarded as a potential ringleader: He was a famous man, and he spoke and wrote with the fire of a tribune of the people.
Karl Eugen of Württemberg finally silenced the unwanted voice of Schubart. On January 18, he issued an order to the monastery senior magistrate Scholl in Blaubeuren at Ulm:
"The monastery senior magistrate Scholl at Blaubeuren will not be unaware that some years ago in Ludwigsburg, a man employed as city organist, Schubart, partly due to his poor and annoying performances and partly because of his evil and even blasphemous mode of writing, was removed from his office and driven away at the request of the humble Ducal Privy Council and Consistorii.
This man, who is now residing at Ulm, has continued along the same path and has already followed it so far into insolence that almost no crowned head and no prince on earth has not been touched by him, which after a considerable time has brought his ducal highness to the decision that it is necessary to apprehend him and detain his person, in order to keep human society safe from this unworthy and contagious member.
His Highness considers it too cumbersome to address the magistrate in Ulm, and it may miss the ultimate objective: whereas the best means to achieve it would be if Schubart, under a pretext suitable to his manners and passions, could be lured onto lands that are indisputably those of Duke Württemberg, and there immediately held captive."
There remained no option for the chief official, father of eleven children, than to take on the nefarious mission - and he succeeded in luring Schubart to Blaubeuren. Schubart was arrested and taken immediately to the fortress of Hohenasperg where the Duke personally selected a dungeon for him that can still be seen today.
The prisoner at Hohenasperg
The Princely Crypt
So there they lie, the haughty princely wreckage,
The ancient coffins glow within the gravesite
In here the wanderer is gripped by horror,
How horrible is here the sound of echos,
Alas! Here lies the noble prince, the good one!
The marble spirits on their urns are weeping,
There lie the skulls with long extinguished gazes,
Now is the hand decayed to bony fingers
Speak, courtiers, with reverence on your lips, and
He will not smile upon your acclamation,
They all lie now within this chilly grotto,
If they wake not at your uneasy moaning,
Let here no wretched German's whip be cracking
Let's have no wailing here from pallid orphans
The tormentors should not awake too early,
And where death-angels come to clutch at tyrants,
Schubart dictated this poem in 1780 to a petty officer. It found its way out of the fortress, was published in the in Frankfurter Musenalmanach für das Jahr 1781 ("Frankfurt Almanac of the Muses for the year 1781") and in Deutsches Museum ("German Museum"), also in 1781. The Duke as well heard about it and had it read to himself. "This circumstance has, I am sure, contributed much to the extension of his arrest," writes Schubart's son Louis in Schubarts Charakter. For the later edition of his poems, with the permission of the Duke, he added four conciliatory verses on the good prince
Schubart was neither questioned nor brought before a court, but simply locked away. The whole proceeding was completely illegal by the standards of that time: Schubart was no Württemberger, his Chronicle was neither written nor printed in Württemberg - it was never forbidden - and he did not live in Württemberg. Were Schubart a subject of the Duke, he would have had the right to a jury trial. His otherwise hostile father-in-law was outraged by the actions of the duke. Many noted thinkers, among others Lavater and Nikolai, tried to intercede with the Duke on Schubart's behalf - without success.
For a full year, Schubart remained in a poorly ventilated, damp and cold dungeon, where the clothes rotted on his limbs. But the Duke did not intend to physically destroy him. He wanted to make an even crueler example: Under the supervision of his intimate enemy, Zilling, a pietistic reeducation program was imposed on Schubart, which has been referred to by several modern commentators rightly as brainwashing: The sociable musician was isolated from all people, the voracious reader was restricted to a few selected texts, and the writer was denied any writing instrument. Despite repeated requests, communion was denied for two years. It was not until the end of 1780, after more than three Years in prison, that he was allowed to write letters to his wife. Schiller's description of the prison of Mary Stuart gives an idea of the conditions to which Schubart was subjected.
Only when Schubart was physically and mentally at the end of his rope, and there was a risk that he would die - as was related by another prisoner who was held previous to him in the cell - he was transferred to a tolerable cell.
Any improvement of prison conditions was made dependent upon the so-called "progress" of the prisoner. The duke repeatedly disappointed him by empty promises which were intended to demoralize him. In his anger, that a date had elapsed for which the Duke had held out the prospect for his release, Schubart wrote the poem Die Fürstengruft ("The princely crypt"), in which his old rebel spirit may be seen.
Whoever reads the contrite memoirs that Schubart dictated through a stovepipe to a cellmate, who had been imprisoned for 19 years, will note that the psychological terror was effective; or was it only a calculated tactic that Schubart used to get less severe prison conditions? At any rate, he soon recovered his old fighting spirit.
A year later, the Berlin writer Nikolai visited the prisoner, and also the young Friedrich Schiller was presented to Schubart - perhaps in the hope of taming him by the chilling example. Schubart's wife, however, was not allowed to visit her husband until 1785 - after eight Years in prison! His children were housed in the Ducal educational institutions. So Ludwig Schubart came to the Karlsschule - the same "slave plantation" at which Friedrich Schiller had to suffer.
Schubart and Schiller
Schubart's example had a major impact on Schiller. The basic structure of Schiller's play Die Räuber ("The Robbers") - the story of a Count, with two dissimilar sons, who casts out the kind-hearted son due to an intrigue by other son, but is rescued by the kind-hearted one just as the other, an impatient would-be heir, is about to do away with him - Schiller took from a contribution by Schubart to the Schwäbischen Magazin. Also the valet scene in Kabale und Liebe, in which the selling off of subjects into foreign Military service is attacked, is very much in the mode of Schubart. But Schiller was especially impressed by the "Princely Crypt." His partner in escape Streicher reported:
"Schiller ... immediately produced a booklet of unpublished poems by Schubart, from which he read aloud some of the most significant to his companion. The most remarkable among them was the "Princely Crypt", which S chubart had dug in the wet walls of his prison with the corner of a narrow trousers buckle in during the months of his captivity. At that time, in 1782, Schubart was still in the fortress, where he was held now however very tolerably. In many of the poems were found allusions that were not difficult to interpret and did not permit one to expect any early liberation of the author. -- Schiller had high regard for the poetic talents of the prisoner. He had also visited him a few times on the Asperg."
The example of Schubart's captivity was certainly not the least of the reasons that motivated Schiller to flee from Stuttgart. And as Schiller later overcame the "Sturm und Drang" and became, with Goethe, the standard-bearer of Weimar Classicism: The political ideals that Schubart conveyed to him in his youth, he never gave up; like Schubart, Schiller thought of himself primarily as
an educator of the people, playing his part in the "construction of the greatest of all works of art - true political freedom."
Free at last
Schubart's poem Die Forelle ("The Trout") is best known today because of Franz Schubert's setting. Few listening today will hear a depiction of Schubart's own destiny (this is concealed to an extent because Schubert did not set the fourth strophe.) For Schubart's contemporaries, it were doubtless easier to recognize the allusions.
A crystal stream was flowing,
With's rod I saw him stand there,
Yet suddenly the bandit
By golden springs ye wander
Gradually Schubart's prison conditions were eased to the extent that he could freely move about the fortress. He could write poetry and give music lessons to the daughters of the fortress commander, and was allowed, as a poet and musician, to entertain the soldiers stationed in the fortress.
When part of the the Duke's garrison was "rented" to the Dutch East India Company, Schubart wrote two songs - the Kaplied ("Cape Song") and Für den Trupp ("For the Troop") - that immediately became tremendously popular. The Kaplied was added 30 years later as a folk song to the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
Finally, the greed of the Duke received some benefit: in 1785 an edition of Schubart's poems appeared in Switzerland. It was made known to the Duke that he could make a nice profit if the poems were to be published by the ducal printing house. This argument persuaded the Duke. Ducal privilege was invoked to solicit subscriptions for the edition - and about 3,000 people signed up, including 14 ruling princes! They were listed on 20 pages at the end of the booklet. The Duke earned 2000 guilders - Schubart only 1000.
But now the heavy pressure came down upon on the Duke to release Schubart. When, at the funeral of Frederick II Prussia, 6000 copies of a poetic obituary by Schubart were distributed gratis - Schubart's son was now a diplomat in the Prussian foreign service - the new Prussian king, as well, spoke out for Schubart. The Duke had to yield. In the spring of 1787 Schubart's captivity, after more than ten years, finally came to an end.
The last four years
Schubart was named by the Duke as head of the court theater, which was now no longer so important, and he even obtained permission to write his Chronicle again - first under the title Vaterländische Chronik, then Vaterlandschronik. Later he called the magazine only Chronik, explaining that there was more to report on in foreign countries than in Germany. The Duke relieved him of censorship (but not of the responsibility for content).
Of course, the years spent on the Hohenasperg made a noticeable difference in Schubart's style. In response to a review by Bürger, who called the style of the magazine "bristling and bloated," Schubart said only: "I believe it. The Hohenasperg yawns out of it." The program of the Chronicles remained the same as before his imprisonment: to develop his fellow citizens culturally and politically.
When in the 1789 French Revolution came to pass, Schubart was thrilled. Who can blame this man, who had suffered so severely under princely despotism? That the French people subjugated the king under a constitution and demanded accountability from him, this reconciled him with France, whose manners - which he knew only reflected in a Francophile prince - he had earlier condemned so vigorously.
We shall never know whether Schubart, like Georg Forster, would have joined the revolution, or whether instead, after the massacres of the Jacobins (which he did not live to see), he would have distanced himself as did Schiller. He died on October 10, 1791 of a lung ailment that he contracted while in prison.