German writer Friedrich Schiller was educated in a military academy dedicated to French Enlightenment education reforms, writes Michael Lipkin in the Paris Review. Schiller, who became a noted playwright, poet and literary critic, absolutely hated it.
The Hohe Carlsschule was founded by Carl-Eugen, Duke of Württemburg, “to create a bureaucratic class free of the aristocracy’s tangled family loyalties,” writes Lipkin.
From a young age, the students learned Greek, Latin, French, philosophy, and were set on a professional path as doctors, lawyers, or civil servants—all extremely enviable positions. They studied rhetoric and contemporary literature and learned, through style exercises, to write poetry. The teachers were scarcely older than the students, and instead of lecturing held informal chats in which the students were invited to participate. The Carlsschulers were encouraged to look on them as their friends and confidants, to whom closely guarded secrets could be trusted. Schiller enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Jakob Friedrich Abel, a philosophy teacher only seven years his senior. He credited Abel with the deep moral and aesthetic convictions that would run through his plays and his poetry, even as Abel reported on Schiller to the duke.
. . . classes were given regular essay assignments like “Which student among you has the worst moral character?” Time was set aside for the students to write detailed studies of another’s characters and habits. The first existing piece of Schiller’s writing is one such essay, written when the poet was fifteen years old. Asked to analyze an older student named Karl Kempff, the young Schiller pulls no punches. With an astonishing mix of eloquence, astuteness, and coldness for a fifteen-year-old, Schiller accuses Kempff of mediocrity, egotism, crudeness, envy, malice, and false modesty.
Isolated from their families and from women, the boys were encouraged to look on the duke as their father and his young mistress as their mother.
Schiller’s writing was obsessed with “rape, patricide, the abuse of power, betrayal, imprisonment, and suicide,” writes Lipkin. In a letter to a critic, he wrote, “it’s in the deepest dungeons that the most beautiful dreams of freedom are dreamt.”