The present is the only collected edition of the principal works of Schiller which is accessible to English readers. Detached poems or dramas have been translated at various times, and sometimes by men of eminence, since the first publication of the original works; and in several instances these versions have been incorporated, after some revision or necessary correction, into the following collection; but on the other hand a large proportion of the contents have been specially translated for this edition, in which category are the historical works which occupy this volume and a portion of the next.
Schiller was not less efficiently qualified by nature for an historian than for a dramatist. He was formed to excel in all departments of literature, and the admirable lucidity of style and soundness and impartiality of judgment displayed in his historical writings will not easily by surpassed, and will always recommend them as popular expositions of the periods of which they treat.
Since the first publication of this edition many corrections and improvements have been made, with a view to rendering it as acceptable as possible to English readers.
From the beginning of the religious wars in Germany, to the peace of Munster, scarcely any thing great or remarkable occurred in the political world of Europe in which the Reformation had not an important share. All the events of this period, if they did not originate in, soon became mixed up with, the question of religion, and no state was either too great or too little to feel directly or indirectly more or less of its influence.
Against the reformed doctrine and its adherents, the House of Austria directed, almost exclusively, the whole of its immense political power. In France, the Reformation had enkindled a civil war which, under four stormy reigns, shook the kingdom to its foundations, brought foreign armies into the heart of the country, and for half a century rendered it the scene of the most mournful disorders. It was the Reformation, too, that rendered the Spanish yoke intolerable to the Flemings, and awakened in them both the desire and the courage to throw off its fetters, while it also principally furnished them with the means of their emancipation. And as to England, all the evils with which Philip the Second threatened Elizabeth, were mainly intended in revenge for her having taken his Protestant subjects under her protection, and placing herself at the head of a religious party which it was his aim and endeavour to extirpate. In Germany, the schisms in the church produced also a lasting political schism, which made that country for more than a century the theatre of confusion, but at the same time threw up a firm barrier against political oppression. It was, too, the Reformation principally that first drew the northern powers, Denmark and Sweden, into the political system of Europe; and while on the one hand the Protestant League was strengthened by their adhesion, it on the other was indispensable to their interests. States which hitherto scarcely concerned themselves with one another's existence, acquired through the Reformation an attractive centre of interest, and began to be united by new political sympathies. And as through its influence new relations sprang up between citizen and citizen, and between rulers and subjects, so also entire states were forced by it into new relative positions. Thus, by a strange course of events, religious disputes were the means of cementing a closer union among the nations of Europe.
Fearful indeed, and destructive, was the first movement in which this general political sympathy announced itself; a desolating war of thirty years, which, from the interior of Bohemia to the mouth of the Scheldt, and from the banks of the Po to the coasts of the Baltic, devastated whole countries, destroyed harvests, and reduced towns and villages to ashes; which opened a grave for many thousand combatants, and for half a century smothered the glimmering sparks of civilization in Germany, and threw back the improving manners of the country into their pristine barbarity and wildness. Yet out of this fearful war Europe came forth free and independent. In it she first learned to recognize herself as a community of nations; and this intercommunion of states, which originated in the thirty years' war, may alone be sufficient to reconcile the philosopher to its horrors. The hand of industry has slowly but gradually effaced the traces of its ravages, while its beneficent influence still survives; and this general sympathy among the states of Europe, which grew out of the troubles in Bohemia, is our guarantee for the continuance of that peace which was the result of the war. As the sparks of destruction found their way from the interior of Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria, to kindle Germany, France, and the half of Europe, so also will the torch of civilization make a path for itself from the latter to enlighten the former countries.
All this was effected by religion. Religion alone could have rendered possible all that was accomplished, but it was far from being the SOLE motive of the war. Had not private advantages and state interests been closely connected with it, vain and powerless would have been the arguments of theologians; and the cry of the people would never have met with princes so willing to espouse their cause, nor the new doctrines have found such numerous, brave, and persevering champions. The Reformation is undoubtedly owing in a great measure to the invincible power of truth, or of opinions which were held as such. The abuses in the old church, the absurdity of many of its dogmas, the extravagance of its requisitions, necessarily revolted the tempers of men, already half-won with the promise of a better light, and favourably disposed them towards the new doctrines. The charm of independence, the rich plunder of monastic institutions, made the Reformation attractive in the eyes of princes, and tended not a little to strengthen their inward convictions. Nothing, however, but political considerations could have driven them to espouse it. Had not Charles the Fifth, in the intoxication of success, made an attempt on the independence of the German States, a Protestant league would scarcely have rushed to arms in defence of freedom of belief; but for the ambition of the Guises, the Calvinists in France would never have beheld a Conde or a Coligny at their head. Without the exaction of the tenth and the twentieth penny, the See of Rome had never lost the United Netherlands. Princes fought in self-defence or for aggrandizement, while religious enthusiasm recruited their armies, and opened to them the treasures of their subjects. Of the multitude who flocked to their standards, such as were not lured by the hope of plunder imagined they were fighting for the truth, while in fact they were shedding their blood for the personal objects of their princes.
And well was it for the people that, on this occasion, their interests coincided with those of their princes. To this coincidence alone were they indebted for their deliverance from popery. Well was it also for the rulers, that the subject contended too for his own cause, while he was fighting their battles. Fortunately at this date no European sovereign was so absolute as to be able, in the pursuit of his political designs, to dispense with the goodwill of his subjects. Yet how difficult was it to gain and to set to work this goodwill! The most impressive arguments drawn from reasons of state fall powerless on the ear of the subject, who seldom understands, and still more rarely is interested in them. In such circumstances, the only course open to a prudent prince is to connect the interests of the cabinet with some one that sits nearer to the people's heart, if such exists, or if not, to create it.
In such a position stood the greater part of those princes who embraced the cause of the Reformation. By a strange concatenation of events, the divisions of the Church were associated with two circumstances, without which, in all probability, they would have had a very different conclusion. These were, the increasing power of the House of Austria, which threatened the liberties of Europe, and its active zeal for the old religion. The first aroused the princes, while the second armed the people.
The abolition of a foreign jurisdiction within their own territories, the supremacy in ecclesiastical matters, the stopping of the treasure which had so long flowed to Rome, the rich plunder of religious foundations, were tempting advantages to every sovereign. Why, then, it may be asked, did they not operate with equal force upon the princes of the House of Austria? What prevented this house, particularly in its German branch, from yielding to the pressing demands of so many of its subjects, and, after the example of other princes, enriching itself at the expense of a defenceless clergy? It is difficult to credit that a belief in the infallibility of the Romish Church had any greater influence on the pious adherence of this house, than the opposite conviction had on the revolt of the Protestant princes. In fact, several circumstances combined to make the Austrian princes zealous supporters of popery. Spain and Italy, from which Austria derived its principal strength, were still devoted to the See of Rome with that blind obedience which, ever since the days of the Gothic dynasty, had been the peculiar characteristic of the Spaniard.