Read by Mark Rice-Oxley (Unabridged: 1hr 2mins)
Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller was born on 10th November 1759, in Marbach, Württemberg, the sole son of six children, into a very religious family.
During his childhood his father was away, engaged in the Seven Years War and contact was sporadic until with the War’s end in 1763. His father became a recruiting officer and the family moved to Lorch.
It was here that Schiller received his early education, the quality of which was poor, not helped by the child’s frequent truancy. His parents sought a clerical career for him and a local priest was engaged to teach him Latin and Greek. As a boy, Schiller was excited by the idea of becoming a cleric and often wore black robes and pretended to preach.
In 1766, the family left Lorch. Schiller's father had not been paid for three years, and the family’s savings were depleted, so his father Kaspar, joined the garrison in Ludwigsburg for the Duke of Württemberg.
There the boy Schiller came to the attention of the Duke. He entered the elite military academy, the Karlsschule Stuttgart, in 1773, and eventually studied medicine, which led him to frequently attempt cures for his various illnesses.
At the academy, he wrote his first play, ‘The Robbers’, which dramatizes the conflict between two aristocratic brothers. The play's themes of social corruption and proto-revolutionary republican ideals astounded its original audience. Schiller became an overnight sensation.
In 1780, he obtained a post as regimental doctor in Stuttgart. In order to attend the first performance of ‘The Robbers’ in Mannheim, Schiller left his regiment without permission. As a result, he was arrested, sentenced to 14 days imprisonment, and forbidden from publishing any further works.
He fled Stuttgart in 1782, going via Frankfurt, Mannheim, Leipzig, and Dresden to Weimar. Along this journey he had an affair with an army officer's wife, Charlotte von Kalb. She was at the centre of an intellectual circle and known for her cleverness and instability.
Schiller settled in Weimar in 1787. Two years later he was appointed professor of History and Philosophy in Jena, where he wrote only historical works.
On 22nd February 1790, he married Charlotte von Lengefeld who bore him two sons and two daughters.
Schiller returned with his family to Weimar from Jena in 1799. There Johann Wolfgang von Goethe convinced him to return to playwriting and together they founded the Weimar Theater, which led to a renaissance of drama now referred to as Weimar Classicism. They also worked together on Xenien, a collection of short satirical poems in which they challenged opponents of their philosophical vision.
For his achievements, Schiller was ennobled in 1802 by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, adding the nobiliary particle ‘von’ to his name.
Schiller died on 9th May 1805, at age 45, from tuberculosis, at Weimar.
Although primarily admired for his plays Schiller also wrote histories, poetry and some notable translations.
In his short story ‘The Criminal from Lost Honour’ the layers of a man’s life are examined as perhaps only Schiller and his literary genius can.