Harald Graf, ”Kung och bonde äro bröder”. Schillers tidigaste reception i Sverige (1790–1794) (“King and peasant are brothers”. The earliest reception of Schiller in Sweden (1790–1794)
According to the common view of the Swedish reception of Schiller his greatest influence was on Swedish Romanticism and thus he has often been portrayed as a predecessor of the Swedish Romantics: Schiller’s influence on this literary period, especially after 1809, has therefore been examined quite thoroughly. However, very little interest has been taken in the beginning of the reception of Schiller in Sweden. It has been considered very strange that Carl Gustaf af Leopold, this Enlightenment-writer and “royal secretary” as he has been called very condescendingly, was the first Swedish recipient of Schiller, regarded as the forerunner of Romanticism.
This essay deals with the very first beginning of Schiller’s reception during the years 1790– 1794, which essentially has been neglected in the Swedish literary history. New research shows that the main emphasis of the Swedish reception of Schiller is on the 1790’s and not on the period after 1809. The main focus is thereby not on the Romantic era but on the Enlightenment. The Swedish Enlightenment has, if its existence has not been totally denied, usually been connected with French models. This view needs to be modified, and this essay will hopefully contribute to such a modification.
As a matter of fact, the reception of Schiller in Sweden does not start with Leopold at all but with the ordinary readers of that period. Schiller titles can be found from the beginning of the 1790’s in the commercial circulating libraries, where Schiller appears to have been a popular writer. The very first title by Schiller, Don Carlos, had already been catalogued in Friedrich August Cleve’s circulating library in Stockholm in 1790. Cleve increased his collection every year, which means that his library 1793 could offer almost all Schiller’s works published up to that year.
Only a few months after the murder of King Gustav III the first translations and publications of Schiller’s works in Swedish started in Sweden. After the King’s death there was a liberalisation of the press and censorship and several newspapers appeared with a Jacobin freedom of speech, something totally new in Sweden. The “Rabulists”, as I chose to call these “grub street writers”, were opposed to the so called Gustavians Kellgren and Leopold. The controversy between these two groups was about politics, religion, aesthetics and ethics. The main difference between the Rabulists (as far as it affects the Schiller-reception) and the Gustavians was not just that the latter were established, something the former strived to become, but the fact, that the rabulists regarded themselves as the true representatives of the Enlightenment. The Gustavian form of Enlightenment was considered a materialistic and hedonistic semi-enlightenment, neglecting the “heart”, one of Schiller’s key-words. In two of these newspapers several translations of Schiller’s works were printed, mostly without reference to Schiller.
The most remarkable is not that the reception of Schiller’s works could be put in a much earlier context but into another non-romantic context and that it took place first amongst the middle classes and then amongst the upper echelons of society: from the popular commercial circulating libraries to the Rabulists, and from them to the Gustavians. Schiller was received within a radical Enlightenment; which was partly defined in opposition to the French-inspired and materialistic ideals represented by Kellgren and Leopold. It was thus only after Schiller’s works had been in Cleve’s catalogue in his circulating library, and after the Rabulists had published several of Schiller’s texts that in 1793 Leopold started to devote himself to the translation of some of Schiller’s poems.
In Sweden in 1793 Schiller was probably considered to be the most prominent contemporary German writer; a new star on the literary sky. And apparently many looked forward to his new publications. Leopold had by no means “misinterpreted” these poems in his translations: on the contrary his changes presented a brilliant control of both the form and the content of the poems. Leopold’s translation is not at all “strange”: An die Freude and Resignation are written in the Spirit of the Enlightenment and deal with theological problems being discussed during this period, and are written by a poet who himself had his roots in the ideas of the Enlightenment.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2010. Vol. 131, 108-169 p.