Supplementary Appendix 199.1

Correspondence between Goethe and Schiller on the Performances of
August Wilhelm Iffland in Weimar 24 April–4 May 1798

Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller 2:77–89.

Goethe to Schiller on 11 April 11:

. . . Iffland is going to give five performances beginning on the 24th. If I do not mistake, the rush to see him will be even greater than on his first appearance here. For in the town itself there are now more strangers than formerly, and the fondness for the theatre has increased both here and in the neighbouring towns. . . .

Schiller to Goethe on 24 April 1798:

. . . I wish you all the more enjoyment from Iffland’s visit to the theatre. Here we have been wondering at the choice of the pieces to be played, and I am particularly astonished at the choice of Pygmalion. [1] For if this is the monodrama which, as I think, was set to music by Benda, you and Meyer will see a curious proof of the unsuccessful effects of a mistake as regards subject. It is to me absolutely inconceivable, how an actor — even though he be quite an ordinary one — can so entirely lose sight of the object of his art, to labour before the public in a farce that is cold, wanting in action and unnatural. In addition to this, Iffland has never in all his life been able either to see or to represent any enthusiasm or any exalted state of mind, and he has always been abominable as a lover.

However, you will see for yourself, and perhaps it is not the Pygmalion to which I am referring that has been thought of. . . .

Goethe to Schiller on 25 April 1798:

. . . Iffland has played the Essigmann splendidly. [2] Naturalness, study, care, conscientiousness, his old and familiar way of playing the part, moderation, variety, grace, and power, were all admirable in him. The play, as a whole, did not go off with sufficient fluency, for our actors had only learned their parts a short time beforehand, and did not even play as well as they are capable of doing; hence, much was lost in Iffland’s acting, for in place of being unrestrained he had every now and again to resort to gesticulation, which, however, he did in a masterly style.

To-day we have Der Hausvater; [3] we do not know yet what is to be given on Friday.
It is Benda’s Pygmalion that is to be performed; I am exceedingly curious to see it. The play I know, and have seen it several times; it is a very strange undertaking, and yet! Iffland is much too wise an actor to choose anything where he is not sure of producing a certain effect. . . .

Schiller to Goethe on 27 April 1798:

. . . I hear that Iffland plays Pygmalion to-day. I never doubted that he knew well how to calculate upon his public. In this character, also, he will be great and intellectual, but I cannot retract what I said about the play itself, and its success will not disprove my remarks. . . .

Goethe to Schiller on 29 April 1798:

. . . Yesterday we had an exceedingly interesting representation. Pygmalion demands the highest dramatic dignity and fullness, and from the manner in which Iffland plays Wallen it becomes a representation of the vanity of life puffed out and equipped with frolicksome humour. No words can describe the way in which he acquitted himself in both parts . . .

On Monday we are to have Benjowski; [4] on Wednesday Der taube Apotheker; [5] I do not know yet what he is going to give on Thursday as a finale. . . .

I may, as Director, be also allowed, with some degree of triumph, to remark that my calculations were right. For notwithstanding that the prices of the seats were raised, the house was even fuller than on the last occasion, so that, if things only continue as they are, we shall make almost as much by the seven performances as we did last time with fourteen. Should Schröder come we might double the prices; and even if Iffland should come back at some future time, I should raise the prices, for money will continue to become cheaper. . . .

Schiller to Goethe on 1 May 1798:

. . . I certainly regret extremely not to be able, in any way, to profit by Iffland’s performances . . . That Iffland should have triumphed so much beyond my expectation and predictions, is still incomprehensible to me, and it is difficult for me even to take your word for what would rob me of faith in my firmest ideas and convictions. However, no more can be said about it as you hold up a fact against my a priori proofs; and I, not having been able to convince myself, cannot, of course, venture upon a reply. Moreover, I have only to do with your judgment, because public opinion can prove nothing in this case, as the point at issue is only one of objective demands, and the world at large is satisfied provided only it is interested. . . .

Goethe to Schiller on 2 May 1798:

Iffland continues doing his work admirably and proves himself a true artist. Praiseworthy characteristics in him are, his lively imagination, whereby he discovers all that belongs to his part; then his power of imitating, whereby he contrives to represent what he has found, and, so to say, created; lastly, his spirit (Humor), by means of which he carries on what he has to do in an animated manner from beginning to end. The way in which he characterises the various personages he represents, by means of dress, gesture and style of language, the distinction he makes in the various situations, and again their subdivision into evident subordinate parts, is admirable. I will at present not mention those other points, which we already know in detail.

He appears to the eyes of the audience a living picture both of nature and of art, whereas the other actors — even though they do not play their parts badly — appear, as it were, mere reporters, representing the affairs of some other persons from written records; we indeed learn what is happening and what has happened, but cannot take any further interest in them.

Very significant to me was the observation I made, that he almost invariably had it in his power to command the purest and most appropriate state of mind in his audience, which, of course, is possible only by a union of genius, art, and study.

The attendance has been pretty equal. The number has hitherto wavered between 380 and 430, and I can foresee that we shall not have either so large or so small a house as on the last occasion. Raising the prices affects only a certain class of the spectators. We can be satisfied with the receipts . . .

Otherwise I have not heard anything comforting except a pretty general feeling of satisfaction which has been freely expressed. How few we find productive compared with the artist! I have, on the other hand, occasionally heard some very stupid negations. To-morrow we are to have Der taube Apotheker, and after that I mean again to enjoy a time of rest; but I will not deny that his acting, on this occasion, has been more a necessity to me than when he was here last. I can say that, in every respect, he has had a good influence upon me, and I hope that when I come to you, the months of May and June will bring forth good fruits. . . .

Schiller to Goethe on 4 May 1798:

My wife has had a great deal to tell me in praise of the friendly welcome she received from you, of the gay and animated company in your house, and of Iffland’s merry Apotheker. It is in such ridiculous parts that Iffland always delighted me; for natural disposition does so much in cases like this, everything appears to be the thought and feeling of the moment; hence it seems inconceivable, and one feels both delighted and utterly surprised. On the other hand, in noble, serious and affecting parts I find more to admire in his ability, his understanding, his calculation and self-possession. Here he is to me always significant, full of intention, engaging and riveting one’s attention and reflection, but I cannot say that I really felt charmed or enthusiastic about him in such parts, and this I have been with much less perfect actors; hence he would scarcely put me into a poetic humour for tragedy.


[1] Jean Jacques Rousseau, Pygmalion: Ein Monodrama, music by Georg Benda (Leipzig 1780). Back.

[2] Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s La brouette du vinaigrier (Neuchatel 1775), apparently translated by Friedrich Ludwig Schröder as Der Essigmann mit seinem Schubkarren: Schauspiel in 2 Acten (publication uncertain) was given on the previous day; Iffland performed the principal part. Back.

[3] Otto Heinrich von Gemmingen-Hornberg, Der deutsche Hausvater, ein Schauspiel (Mannheim 1790). Iffland took the part of Count Wodmar. Back.

[4] August von Kotzebue, Graf Benjowsky oder die Verschwörung auf Kamtschatka: Ein Schauspiel in fünf Aufzügen (Leipzig 1795). Back.

[5] Carl Goldoni, (Der Apotheker; correct title:) Die verstellte Kranke, oder, Der rechtschaffene Arzt: Ein Lustspiel von drey Aufzügen, trans. Josef Gottwill von Laudes (Vienna 1767). Back.

© 2012 Doug Stott