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Home | 2017 | May | Schubart

Some relief, 1778

Posted by Richard on UTC 2017-05-15 18:42.

Out of the dungeon

On the third of February 1778, after just over a year in the cell, on the Duke's orders Schubart was suddenly taken out of his dank cell and led to a dry, airy room with a window, from which, at last, he could see people: children playing in the courtyard, even his loyal brother, who had been told to come to the fortress but who was still not allowed to meet him in person: his brother just had a walk-on part in Rieger's sadistic play. By their deeds shall ye know them.

Of his relief and gratitude Schubart later wrote 'Never have I felt a deeper love for humanity than at that blessed moment'. [Leben 2:203f]

Had he been left in the dungeon cell much longer he would certainly have died. His death in captivity after such treatment would have sparked outrage: clearly, he had to be kept alive. We cynics would also point out that his release took place only a few days before Duke Carl Eugen had his 'acknowledgement of his sins' read from the pulpit of every church in Württemberg on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday – not a good time to have poor Schubart squatting in his rotting shirt in a dungeon.

Although the worst of the physical suffering was past, the mental pressure continued. The lamp was snuffed at eight in the evening: he was in the winter dark for twelve hours. He still had no writing materials and no piano. No one could speak to him and he could speak to no one. His brother came to see him, but was turned away.

Just over a fortnight after Schubart had been moved out of the dungeon the Chaplain did indeed visit him again. He wrote a long letter to Zilling detailing the evidence for Schubart's remorse and readiness for communion. [Briefe 1:273] To Schubart's surprise Zilling added his own positive recommendation and placed the request before the Ducal Consistory. [Briefe 1:275f] On 25 February 1778, Schubart was told he could have communion. His communion must not be in private, in order to keep him out of public view. He received it on 13 March and thus re-entered the Lutheran Church, eight years after his 'deserved' excommunication. [Leben 2:211]

Rieger visited him frequently during this time. On 24 June 1778 his brother was finally allowed to visit him, and then two days later the theologians and preachers Lavater and Hahn. [Leben 2:234] Unfortunately, Schubart's stay in this airy room was not to last. After six months he was moved to another room on 23 July, this one not quite so light and airy. He later wrote that his health had obviously improved enough for his tormentors to start his punishment again. [Leben 2:236]

Schubart in his autobiography wrote of his delight at Rieger's visits – a passage clearly intended for the eyes of the censor, possibly Rieger himself, should his book ever become public:

The visits of my Commander became ever more frequent and cheering for me. His cheerful disposition, his wise conversations, his news he brought from the wide world, various, often very good things, that he brought me to read and the bodily sustenance to sustain me, held my spirits aloft, when they threatened to sink.

Leben 2:232.

Ludwig Schubart, the editor of his father's autobiography, notes drily that his father had told him that the bodily sustenance only came after Schubart had composed an important letter or a celebratory poem for Rieger. In the inner depths of Schubart's mind that almost never surfaces in the autobiography, Rieger will always be the sadistic beast that persecuted him for years. Schubart's description of Reiger's 'cheerful disposition' is satire of the highest order, given what we know of that moody tyrant.

Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart: silverpoint by Anton Karcher based on a work by Philipp Gottfried Lohbauer, 1788.

Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, silverpoint by Anton Karcher based on a work by Philipp Gottfried Lohbauer (1745-1816), 1788. Image: ©Tobias-Bild Universitätsbibliothek Tübingen.

He was given books to read, but only those that would 'heal his soul'. Helene, his wife, sent him a copy of the latest book from their friend Johann Miller, The Story of Karl von Burgheim and Emilia von Rosenau in Letters. Rieger wrote to her to say that the book was 'novel-like' and that he could therefore not give it to her husband, who anyway no longer had any taste for worldly books.

If she wanted to send him a book it should be Bengel's Sixty improving disquisitions on the Revelations of St. John. Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) was an extremely influential Pietist theologian in Württemberg and sometimes called the father of Swabian Pietism: yet another grim-faced finger-wagger. Rieger added that Helene should not lose any time in sending the book, since Schubart's soul was certainly in immediate need of it.

Helene Schubart knew her husband all too well, though: 'Oh God, Oh God', she wrote to Miller, 'has he fallen into the blackest melancholy?' As far as we know, Rieger never even returned Miller's book to Helene. [Briefe 1:282-4]

Schubart began to suffer repeated and serious attacks of dizziness, with paralysis, trembling and chest pains – he expected his end to come at any moment. Although the room was better than the dungeon, his time there was very bitter, made worse by Rieger's punishments and bad moods. His joy at his release from the dungeon had now faded completely. At the end of October 1778 with a nail on some paper he scratched what he thought would be his last letter to Helene, dating it the '642nd day of my imprisonment'.

Keeping the sinner alive

Rieger's conscientious thoroughness in grinding Schubart's refractory spirit down has to be balanced against his conscientiousness in the physical welfare of his charge. However, that care for Schubart's welfare should not be interpreted as a humanitarian streak in Rieger – there is no evidence that he had such a thing. Rieger obviously just didn't want Schubart to die in his custody.

With a hard winter setting in particularly early that year Rieger wrote to Schubart's brother, who was Town Clerk in Aalen, asking him to send his brother 'a really good, warm dressing gown and a pair of good warm stockings' and 'the sooner the better'. [Briefe 1:285] Rieger's acknowledgement on 7 November 1778 of the arrival of the goods on behalf of Schubart reveals something of what Schubart had to endure in Hohenasperg:

He is healthy, praise God, and daily increases in his understanding that faith and love of Him, who alone is our salvation and in whose name alone we can, should and will be blessed and whom he recommends to you all in shared faith so that you may meet again in Heaven, which would otherwise not be the case.

Briefe 1:287.

At the beginning of December 1779, Rieger visited Schubart's wife, who thanked him effusively for all the mercies he had shown her husband. Helene had a simple and direct heart and we can be sure that she did this with full conviction. Rieger responded with some news of Schubart: he was healthy, 'the healthiest he had ever been in his life', in fact; he had asked for permission to write a commentary on a religious passage, but this had been refused. Helene tells us on 16 December 1779 that Rieger closed with some advice for her:

He asked me to stop troubling myself pleading on Schubart's behalf. My husband requested no help from humans, but was instead completely convinced that the dear God had brought him to this imprisonment and would be the one who led him out of it.

Briefe 1:299.

Writing of this meeting to their friend Miller, Helene, in her simple piety, accepted that this last statement was theologically correct but wondered aloud whether her husband was really thinking that.

The ban on any kind of writing was a continual source of sorrow for Schubart. He was not even allowed to have a pencil with which to underline passages in the Bible. On one occasion Helene had hidden a pencil in the watch-pocket of a pair of trousers she sent him. He found it, wrote a few poems, but then threw the pencil out of the window for fear of being caught with it.

The astonishing thing is that, once freed from the dungeon cell, once past the depression and the suffering of the second year, the characteristically 'Schubart' in Schubart seems to have begun to reawaken. Schubart could not show this openly to his captors, nor do we have any direct statement of his to this effect, but the old Schubart shines through in everything he does from now on.

He now raged at the hypocrisy of Rieger and Zilling. As soon as he was able to write to his wife without censorship he describes his disgust at Rieger's hypocrisy: the stern preacher of the simple, pious life was in reality an inhumane despot, a 'beast', whose preening vanity and worldliness shocked him deeply when he came out of his dungeon and saw it with his own eyes. As for Zilling, the man who had shaped his Pietist re-education, Schubart wrote to his wife in 1785 that 'Special Zilling from Ludwigsburg, the 62 year-old vicar-[obscenity: Pfaffenf...l] has remarried – a sprightly widow of 40, the sister of the Jewish Steinheil.' [Briefe 2:154]

However, all was not black. The new room they put him in on 23 July brought Schubart an advantage that neither he nor his captors had ever expected. An advantage that must have also appealed to the deeply subversive streak in Schubart's character.