Book Reviews

Review of: Friedrich Schiller: Medicine, Psychology and Literature, by Kenneth Dewhurst and Nigel Reeves. Oxford: Sandford Publications, 1978; pp. xii, 413+8 Plates; £12.00.

Notes and Queries, Vol. 27, No. 5, October 1980, p. 449-50


   The authors are, respectively, a psychiatrist and historian of medicine and a Professor of German. The work is one of intimate collabor­ation. To write a critical notice would require competence, at least, in either the one or the other field. Lacking this, a general appreci­ation from the psychiatric point of view must suffice. The work is scholarly, fully documen­ted and referenced. It will be of particular service in providing the first English trans­lation of Schiller's complete medical and psy­chological writings, an important contribution to the understanding of the history of psy‑ chiatry, as well as, no doubt, to the student of Schiller.

   The book falls into four parts. The first is a lively biographical account of Schiller's early life from his birth in 1759, through his medical education under a feudal tyrannical regime in the Academy of the Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg, his two years of practice as a regimental doctor, his escape to freedom and fame, with finally a reasoned discussion of the nature of his last illness and death in 1805. The second part describes the primitive contem­porary theoretical background of Schiller's education. Medical theory of his day lacked any substantial empirical basis. Depending on the humoral pathology of the ancients, it is so remote from us now that it is barely com­prehensible. Schiller's approach to the treat­ment along psychological lines of depressive illness was distinguished by its common sense, its freedom from tradition and its humanity. Step by step he was able to emerge from a prison‑house to reach a unified theory of body and mind. His thought leads in a direct line of descent to C. G. Jung and Ernst Kretschmer. This is documented by his remarkable doctoral thesis on the connection between animal and spiritual nature of man, given in translation with all his other medical and psychological writings. We are also given the assessments of his professors (rather poor stuff) and the editors' invaluable analysis of the ground out of which Schiller's theories grew. The fourth and final part of the work shows the lasting influence of early experiences. His clinical ex­perience of suffering, death and mental illness was a source of inspiration for his poems. His grasp of psychopathology and his fascination with the criminal mind provided major themes for his dramatic and prose fiction. The intel­lectual effort of his work for the doctorate developed into the philosophic and aesthetic theories of his maturity. Though much in­fluenced by Kant, many of his ideas were independently arrived at. It is surprising to find that the main influence of Goethe was to drive him into an opposite polarity. Jung saw Schiller at the 'thinking introvert' who recog­nized in Goethe his extravert opposite. Schiller's tendency towards systematization led him to an idealist, pantheist and unitary con­ception of man. 'Man as a moral creature cannot be separated from man as a psycho­pathological whole. The health of the organ­ism and the ethical quality of its actions are interrelated' (p. 346).