“I have always been bewildered and frightened before the world. I could never understand that nothing was wanted of me by the world but money—or why it was that I must ask nothing of the world but money. I soon found, however, that if I did not submit I would be crushed. I tried beauty instead of money and I was threatened with starvation. I tried raising a decent-sized family, and I was starved. I have temporarily escaped with nothing left but many of my paintings, my family and pride – the latter vice created in me, as it were, by those who would starve me.” (written shortly after Schmitt’s return to America from Europe in late 1939)
“As long as a person (or an institution) is the servant of the means (wealth) he is doomed. This decadent person will have been redeemed only when we see means mastered.” (1946)
“To strive constantly to see beyond the things in which we are immediately interested requires great courage because it means the death but not destruction of those immediate interests. For all death has the germ of birth within it. To keep on is to redeem.” (August 21, 1931)
“Unless the personal conscience challenges and checks the social conscience, we will go to the devil. The Barbarian will have triumphed.”
—from the essay “Socialism” (1943)
Carl Schmitt was overwhelmed by the beauty of Dalmatia from the time he first set foot there in January, 1914. His visit was purely serendipitous. Sailing through the Adriatic on its way to Italy, his ship stopped briefly in Split and Schmitt disembarked to explore the ancient city. He heard the ship whistle the “all aboard,” but, enchanted by the people and the scenery, he decided to remain. When he returned to the port, the ship was gone, and thus began Schmitt’s first sojourn in Croatia.
Schmitt made the most of his stay, sketching peasants, army officers, musicians, and others he met on the streets and in the cafes of the city. As he described it to Catholic activist and writer Peter Maurin, in Dalmatia “People still combine cult, that is to say liturgy, with culture, that is to say literature, with cultivation, that is to say agriculture.”
Schmitt’s constant sketching and his association with some newfound friends of a revolutionary stripe attracted the attention of local authorities. In the politically charged days before the ourbreak of the Great War, they took him for a spy and after a brief interrogation, let him go. He decided to go on to Italy as planned, but always pined for Dalmatia.
The brief sojourn in the city made a deep impression on the artist, and Schmitt even considered settling there with his family after a subsequent visit to the region 1926. The sketches he made of the island of Korčula off the Dalmatian coast during this later trip formed the basis of a series of prints published in the February 1929 issue of Scribners Magazine. In the article Schmitt described his attraction to the picturesque town in almost rhapsodic terms:
“Korčula is a town of 3,000 people on an island of the same name. It is on the regular steamboat route between Split and Dubrovnik. Since I was first in Dalmatia fourteen of the principal cities of the mainland have lost their character of peasant homeliness and something fine is gone out of their hospitality. But not so Korčula.
“I could write at length of the health (and consequent beauty) of the imaginations and bodies of the people of Korčula, due, I think, in part to a providential weakness in modern banking ability and in part to a beneficent sun. But the city, the buildings, the boats, and the indescribable water of the Adriatic are also a part of the picture. The city rises out of this clean blue water of carved white glowing stone and climaxes in the cathedral which was begun in the thirteenth century. There are no automobiles here. The limestone-paved streets rising steep to the cathedral are built only for the prince and the peasant, one on foot, the other on a donkey. For this is the story of Korčula.”
Schmitt would return to his beloved Dalmatia only once more, this time with his wife for a second honeymoon in 1934, shortly after their tenth child’s second birthday. For him, the region embodied his ideal of becoming a true “peasant,” one whose role is to “intuitively envision, act, create.” He longed to form a firm “base of culture and religion” for his family by “a long memory and experience of [a] place.” For him, such a place is “where body and soul become one.” Silvermine would fulfill that role for him and his family in the years ahead, but for Schmitt, Europe would always remain “an island of the Fine Arts; the locus of the full liberation of the imagination.”