1902 Encyclopedia > Germany > [German Literature] The Period of Revival

(Part 37)


The Period of Revival

For five centuries there had been no great literary period in Germany which deserves to be named with the famous periods in the history of England, France, Italy, and Spain. The Reformation was a spiritual achievement of splendid originality, but in literature Germany had for the most part followed timidly in the footsteps of her neighbours. She was soon to make up amply for this tardy progress ; and we have now reached the age in which she fairly awoke to a consciousness of her strength,—an age mainly of preparation, but one which has also an independent interest, since it includes names that rank high in the history of European as well as of German culture. We have seen that in the midst of the period of decay there were already symptoms of revival. These became more and numerous, and with they increased, Germany was suddenly startled by the appearance in her midst of a great warrior and statesman. It is impossible to estimate with any approach to exactness the impression produced by Frederick II. ; but it is beyond doubt that he profoundly affected the intellectual life not only of Prussia but of Germany. After the Thirty Years’ War the people had lost confidence in themselves. They forgot that they had a magnificent history ; they only saw that the structure of society had been rudely battered, and that nearly every enterprise of the nation as a whole ended in failure. Frederick the Great restored to them faith in their own vigour ; he convinced them that it depended on themselves whether or not they should rise to their ancient place in Europe ; and by the prompt, faithful, and energetic discharge of his personal duties he set before them an example which was widely felt. Literature shared the impulse which penetrated the national life. It became stronger, more independent, and moved forward with the assured step of a power conscious of high destinies.
Several causes of a purely literary character contributed to promote this advance. One of these was the revival of classical study in the best sense. Classical study had been pursued with ardour by the humanists ; but after them it became dry, pedantic, and tedious, and was subordinated to theological controversy. In the 18th century a number of scholar arose, who, ceasing to interest themselves in merely verbal criticism, sought to pierce to the meaning of classical writers, to understand and enjoy their imaginative effects, their ideas, and their style. They also strove to construct what the Germans call "Alterthumswissenschaft," the science of antiquity—that is, to comprehend the life of the Greeks and Romans, their religion, art, and philosophy, and to interpret their literature in the light of this knowledge. The movement passed from one university to another and soon made itself felt in the public schools. Thus the best class of minds were familiarized with higher ideals than they had yet known, and received, almost without being aware of it, the germs of new activity. Another cause, which co-operated with the more intelligent study of the classics, was acquaintance with English literature. Hitherto the foreign influences with had affected the German had come from Italy, Spain, and above all, France, but now they began to know something of contemporary English writers, and gradually worked their way back to Shakespeare. The English genius was instinctively recognized as more in harmony with that of Germany than any other, and it products stimulated the free exercise of the imagination and the reason, while the ancient classics led to the perception of the greatest laws of form.

Among the poets who helped to effect the revival of a truly national literature a place of honour belongs to Haller (1708-77), who, although chiefly famous as a man of science, revealed imagination and poetic sympathies in his descriptive and didactic poem Die Alpen ("The Alps"). Hagedorn (1708-54) was for a time the most popular poet of his day in virtue of his songs, odes, fables, and narratives in verse. He was of a genial happy temper ; and no author who preceded him was master of so clear, bright, and animated a style. One of the chief characteristics of the time was the tendency of writers to group themselves in schools. If two or three writers who lived in the same place happened to become friends, they forthwith called themselves a school ; and the result was that they usually developed some marked common characteristics. These coteries inevitably became more or less narrow and exclusive ; but they also stimulated each other to fresh effort, and the clash of their ideals sometimes helped the outside world to new points of view. The Saxon school, whose headquaters were in Leipsic, was for some years more prominent than any of its rivals. It was founded by Gottsched (1700-66), who. Although he made himself ridiculous by pedantry and vanity, became the ruling literary man of Germany. He was appointed a professor in Leipsic in 1724, and founded there "The German Society," which soon became the centre of a number of similar bodies for the cultivation of literature. Gottsched aimed at nothing short of the complete reformation of German poetry. He had the sense that if he wished to reach the people he must begin with the drama, and he was fortunate enough to find in Frau Neuber, who had formed a company in Leipsic, an intelligent actress capable of giving effect to hid ideas. With her help he banished Hanswurst from the stage ; and she was forthwith supplied with plays by himself, by his clever wife Louisa Victoria, and by several disciples. He gave him attention chiefly to tragedy, and unfortunately he had but one idea in regard to it—that it had reached the utmost possible excellence in the classic drama of France. The English drama, he admitted, had some merit, but only in so far as it had modelled itself on the work of Corneille and Racine. Hence, in his chief tragedy Der Sterbende Cato ("The Dying Cato") he avaled himself freely of Addison’s Cato ; the Elizabethan dramatists, of whom his direct knowledge was slight, he believed to be mere barbarians. His taste gave the law in nearly every theatre in which German plays were acted ; and it was certainly a good consequence that Lohenstein fell into permanent disrepute, while even the groundlings began to feel that the uncouth works actors themselves had hitherto produced were, to say the least, far from perfection. On the other hand, the German genius was forced to submit to arbitrary laws antagonistic to its true nature ; and so long as its submission lasted, a genuinely native drama was impossible. It was not only in regard to drama that Gottsched insisted on absolute subservience to France. In regard to all species of verse his sympathies were with the court poets, and both by example and by critical precept he insisted that in poetry as in everything else the understanding must be supreme, and that clearness of statement, correctness in the management of figures, and logical arrangement are the highest literary virtues. Regarding the function of imagination and feeling in poetry he had no suggestion to offer.

There were writers who instinctively felt that this could not be a complete theory ; and of these the chief were Bodmer and Breitinger, the leaders of the Swiss school, which was formed in Zürich. These writers, although destitute of creative genius, had nourished their imagination on English poetry, especially on Paradise Lost, and it was incredible to them that a critical doctrine could be correct which left out of account or condemned their favourite writers. At first they were on friendly terms with Gottsched, but when the latter harshly criticized a translation of Milton’s epic issued by Bodmer, his Swiss rivals prepared to defend themselves ; and thus broke out a literary controversy which made much noise at the time, and in which the angry critics, to the edification of onlookers, pelted each other unmercifully with abusive epithets. Neither party was fully conscious of the significance of its attack, and sometimes the warriors seemed almost to change sides. But the general tendency of the dispute was that the Swill school, amid much exaggeration, defended that claims of free poetic impulse, while the Saxon school, in a narrow and pedantic spirit, maintained those of conscious art. It is hard work now to follow their arguments, but at the time they interested a considerable public in literature, and opened fresh lines of investigation. One of the results was that Baumgarten, a disciple of Wolf, published a book which Germans, regard as the beginning of modern aesthetics,—a branch of mental science to which their philosophers have ever since devoted thought and labour.

While this warfare of critics was going on, there were in Leipsic a number of young writers who more or less attached themselves to Gottsched, but who gradually shook off his authority. They founded a periodical, the Bremer Beiträge (the "Bremen Contributions"), which had considerable influence in forming their own style, and in keeping alive the popular interest excited by the central controversy. After a while many of them were scattered over different parts of Germany, but they retained their original impulse, and continued to be known as members of the Saxon school. Gellert (1715—69) was by far the most famous of the circle. It is impossible to mention without respect this amiable writer. His plays are unimportant, but this fables and tales reveal so gentle and pure a spirit that we cannot wonder at his great popularity. He was a favourite among all classes, even Frederick the Great himself, who rarely condescended to notice a German author, declaring after a long interview that he was "the most reasonalbe of German scholars." His supreme defect was a tendency to weak sentimentalism and pious commonplace. Rabener (1714-71) acquired fame as a good-humoured satirist. His prose is fresh and clear, but the he has not sufficient grasp of any important principle to entitle him to a very high rank among moralists. Christian Felix Weisse (1726-1804), the friend of Lessing’s youth, failed as a writer of tragedy, but was a favourite author of comic operettas. He was also the first successful German writer for children, and edited for many years a periodical (the Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschften) which had a favourable influence on popular culture. Johann Elieas Schlegel (1718-49), uncle of the two Schlegels who became long afterwards leaders of the Romantic school, gave evidence of high dramatic talent, but died when he was beginning to be conscious of his power. Arnold Ebert distinguished himself by good translations from English ;and Zachariä wrote with some success mock heroic in the style of the Rape of the Lock. Kästner, whose disputations at the Leipsic university were diligently attended by young Lessing, made himself feared as a biting epigrammatist. Cramer became one of the most eloquent preachers of the day, wrote popular religious odes, and edited The Northern Guardian, a well-meaning but rather commonplace imitation of the Guardian of Steele. These writers, who from being Gottsched’s friend all became more or less hostile to him, have a clearness and grace of style which were unknown in the previous century. Another author who was from the beginning Gottsched’s enemy, but who had no relation with this particular school, may be mentioned,—Liscow (1701-60). His prose has nerve and animation, and few satirists have dealt severer blows at literary pretence.

The Halle school of poets was in some respects different both from the Saxon and the Swiss schools. Its original members were Glein (1719-1803), Uz (1720-96), and Götz (1721-81). These three writers formed a friendship in their student days of Halle, where they came under the influence of the poets, Pastor, Lange, and the tutor of his children, Immanuel Pyra, ardent disciples of Bodmer and Breitinger. The young students, while feeling sincere respect for the Swiss critics, did not attempt any very serious flight ; they preffered to amuse themselves with lively little anacreonic verses they soon brought into high repute. Afterwards Gleim settled in Halberstadt, where he lived to an extreme age. His didactic poem Halladat, which he wrote, he himself modestly explained, in order to gratify a wish of his youth to produce a book like the Bible, has no vitality ; but during the Seven Year’s War he composed War Songs of a Grenadier, which were everywhere read, and have yet lost their popularity. They were edited by Gleim’s friend Lessing, who, however, protested against their patriotic vehemence. Gleim was one of the most kindly of men, and became the patron of young poets, several of whom he always had in his pleasant bachelor’s home. He also kept up an extensive correspondence with other writers, which is now an important source of information respecting the movements of contemporary literature. One of his most intimate friends, who resembled him only in geniality of disposition, was the noble-hearted Ewald Christian von Kleist (1715-59), who was fatally wounded on the battle-field of Kunersdorf. He would still deserve to be remembered as the man whom, of all others equally noble Lessing most loved. His descriptive poem Frühling ("Spring") is partly an imitation of Thomson ; but it is also the work of an independent lover of nature, who knew how give beautiful utterance to true and simple feeling. Ramler (1725-98), another friend of Gleim, and the friend, too, of Kleist and Lessing, wrote spirited odes in Horatian metres, which, like the War Song of a Grenadier, gave pleasure because of their strongly patriotic tone,—the direct result in both cases of Frederick’s influence. Anna Louisa Karsch (1722-91), a poetess who owed much to Gleim’s goodness, was a favourite among the literary men of the day, but her verses are ruder then they ought to have been at so late a date. Idyllic poetry, which Kleist and Götz to some extent cultivated, was taken up in earnest by Solomon Gessner (1730-87), whose prose idylls, The Death of Abel, the First Sailor, and others, were translated into French and English, and were better received in their foreign dress than in their original forms. They are written in an easy style, and express much harmless although somewhat tedious sentiment. He was imitated by Xaver Bronner, a Catholic priest, whose idylls have not half the merit of his autobiography, which affords remarkable insight into the religious life of Catholic Germany about life middle of the 18th century.

The religious lyric, which had shared the general decay during the latter half of the 17th century, displayed more vitality during part of this period. It owed its fresh life mainly to the pietists, who reopened fountains of spiritual feeling that had been apparently dried up by theologians. Among the best of this younger generation of hymn writers were Freylinghausen, Neumeister, and Tersteegen. Their fame was, however, less extensive then that of Count von Zinzendorf (1700-60), the founder of the sect of Herrnhüter or Moravian Brethren. Besides hymns he wrote religious works in prose, and made himself one of the most prominent figures of his time by ardent missionary zeal. His followers, like all deeply religious sects in Germany, delighted in hymns ; and many of those they produced are remarkable for the sensuous, sometimes almost sensual, forms in which their emotions are expressed.

Fables were at this an extremely popular class of writings, and nearly every imaginative writer sought to distinguish himself as a fabulist. The Swiss school, indeed, in their zeal for a combination of the wonderful and the useful in literature, maintained that the fable was the highest type of literature. As a rule, Lafontaine was taken as the model in works of this kind, but we look in vain among his German imitators for his exquisite grace and naiveté. Gellert stands at the head of the more sentimental fabulists ; after him may be named Willanow an Lichwear. The latter (1719-83) has humour as well as sentiment, and some of his fables have an artistic finish that indicates a faculty by which he might have won distinction in more important labours.

From about the middle of the 18th century onwards a number of prose writers, who may be classed together as popular philosophers, worked effectively for the enlightenment of ordinary readers. They attached themselves to some extent to Wolf ; they also came under the influence, although not in any great degree, of the French Encyclopedists ; and they were admiring students of the English deists, and of Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson. They are often condemned for the shallowness of their thought ; and if we compare them with the great thinkers who followed them, the condemnation is just. They did not grasp the significance of the problems which had been handed down by Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz, with which Hume was now grappling, and which were soon to enter upon a new phase in the critical philosophy of Kant. In regard to religion they had a very imperfect appreciation of every element that could not be expressed in clear logical statements ; feeling and imagination were rigidly subordinated to the understanding. And they had not even a remote suspicion of what is now familiar as the historical spirit, so that they displayed amazing narrowness of vision in their treatment of past spiritual developments, and of contemporary creeds with they did not happen to agree. But if we are to do justice to those popular philosopher, they must be compared rather with their predecessors than with their successor. An important place belongs to them in the movement by which vital human interests have been raised above theological disputes, by which morality has received a basis independent of dogmatic religion, and by which toleration has been secured for men of every faith. They were penetrated by a truly for men of every faith. They were penetrated by a truly humane sentiment ; and it must be counted a high merit that in a country which had been more or less dominated by pedants, and whose great writers of a later age have not always attempted to be both profound and clear, they sought to express themselves in unpretending and straightforward German. The chief of the popular philosopher was Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), not a deep or massive thinker, but a man of fine moral sympathies, an enthusiast for freedom—from the lack of which he himself, as a Jew, keenly suffered—and an incisive psychological analyst. His friend. Frederick Nicolai (1733-1811), the Berlin bookseller, had the misfortune to outlive his epoch. He had only words of contempt for Goethe and Schiller ; and Kant, whom he did not profess to understand, seemed to him a sort of cross between a bungler and an impostor. These terrible mistakes have made poor Nicolai, notwithstanding his lifelong warfare against bigotry, the type of a narrow-minded bigot. Yet in his earlier days he was recognized by such a judge as Lessing, with whose friendship he was honoured, as a writer of talent. And his Bibliothek ("Library"), the most important literary periodical of his day, did excellent service by providing the popular philosophers with a medium for the expression of their opinions on all the great questions which then agitated Germany. Other popular philosopher were George Sulzer (1720-79), who devoted himself to aesthetics in the spirit of the Swiss school, but with the advantage of later lights ; Thomas Abbt (1738-66), whose style was one of uncommon vigour ; Christian Garve (1742-98), whod did not attempt any great original work, but in letters and articles examined many individual philosophic questions from new points of view ; and Johann Jacob Engel (1741-1802), whose Philosoph für die Welt ("Philosopher for the World") interested a class of readers who would have been unable to follow a more adventurous guide. Zimmermann (1728-95) hardly deserves to be mentioned in such good company ; but his Betruchtungen über Einsamkeit ("Observations on Solitude") by its sentimentalism and rhetoric carried his name far beyond the bounds of Germany. Som theologians, without exactly sharing the beliefs of the popular philosophers, were profoundly affected by them. Among these were Mosheim, the ecclesiastical historian ; Spalding, the translator of Shaftesbury ; and Jerusalem, the father of the young writer whose suicide suggested some elements in Goethe’s Werther. These liberal theologians did not hold a very intelligible logical position, but they were of some importance by their attempts to introduce a freer and more polished style of eloquence than had hitherto marked the German pulpit. In regard to the permanent movements of thought, their influence was greatly inferior to that of Michaelis and Semler, whose labours heralded the approach of modern Biblical criticism.

In history Germany produced at this time at least one writer of high eminence, Justus Möser (1720-94), author of the Osnabrückischte ("History of Osnabrück") and Patriotische Phantasien ("Patriotic Fancies"). Möser was the first German historian who wrote a good style and attempted to penetrate to the meaning of events and to present them in the light of great principles. Her also produced a strong impression by his enlightened patriotism and by his burning scorn of wrong. Schröck and Schlözer were prominent historians, and the latter made himself known as a clear writer on contemporary politics. Karl von Moser, of Stuttgart, applied to political subjects a faculty for wit and satire that was estimated highly in his own day.

It has been already stated that the revival of classical study was one of the chief causes by which the mind of Germany was awakened to new effort. Professors Christ and Ernesti, of Leipsic, who were the favourite teachers of many young students, including Lessing, were two of the chief writers to whom this revival was due. Incomparably greater than either, however, was Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68), whose History of Ancient Art (1764) opened a new era in the appreciation of ancient life. Later investigation has corrected Winckelmann on many points, but no critic has displayed a keener feeling for the beauty and t he significance of such works as came within his knowledge, or a truer imagination in bridging over the gulfs at which direct knowledge failed him. And his style, warm with the glow of sustained enthusiasm, yet calm, dignified, and harmonious, was worthy of his splendid theme. What he did for ancient art was to some extent done for ancient literature by the untiring editorial labours of Christian Gottlob Heyne (1729-1812).

Important as were many of these writers, Winckelmann above all, they exercised slight influence on the national mind compared with the three men whom the Germans mind compared with the three men whom the Germans justly regard as the founders of their classical literature—Klopstock (1724-1803), Wieland (1733-1813), and Lessing (1729-1781).

Klopstock stood in direct relation to the Swill writers. When a pupil at Schulpforta, one of the great Saxon schools which sent forth many of the best authors of the day, he was a diligent student of Bodmer, by whose critical principles he guided himself in reading Homer, Virgil, and Milton. The Messiah, on which his fame mainly rests, is new little read, and it is impossible evern to glance through it without becoming conscious of glaring faults. Klopstock’s genius was essentially lyrical ; he lacked the plastic force of imagination necessary for a great epic. His central figure is nowhere presented in clear sharp outlines ; it wavers between two distinct conceptions, that of a divine and that of a human character. And the facts to which he turns our gaze in the crisis of his narrative are not such as kindle the deepest sympathies ; he exhausts the powers of language to convey an impression of the Messiah’s sufferings, but we hear nothing of the qualities of soul which these sufferings rouse into action. The subordinate characters are innumerable, and except Abaddona, a repentant fallen angel, between whose character and whose fate there is an effective contrast, none of them can be said to live ; they exist only as an excuse for the utterance of Klopstock’s feelings. They talk incessantly, weep, embrace, and kiss, but they never do anything that exhibits more than a vast quantity of obtrusive sentiment. Not withstanding its obvious defects, however, the Messiah has qualities which must still command admiration ; it reveals a nature full of lofty aspiration and deep humanity, and it contains individual images of striking force and beauty.

It would be difficult to imagine anything more dreary than Klopstock’s plays, the subject of three of which is Arminius, while the others deal with scriptural themes. He knew enough neither of life nor of the stage to be a true dramatist ; his characters are mere names, and the incidents are grouped according to no principle of art. His odes, which he continued to write from the beginning to the end of his long career, are of far higher excellence. Those which derive their inspiration from Northern mythology are too remote form general sympathy and too obscure in construction to awaken interest ; but the stamp of genius is upon several of the lyrics in which he expresses his passionate feeling for the grander phenomena of nature, his ardent patriotism, his enthusiasm, for freedom and his elevated sense of human worth and destiny. Both as an epic poet and as a writer of odes he had many imitators, who, like most others of their class, exaggerated the defects of their model and left his virtues alone. His influence upon the intellectual life of Germany was deep, and, on the whole, beneficent. He encouraged the self-respect of his countrymen, intensified their desire for an independent literature, and by handling high themes, sometimes powerfully, always reveal its full capacity only by undertaking greater enterprises than any it had yet attempted.

Although Klopstock was one of the central literary figures during two generations, he was not a prolific writer ; Wieland, on the other hand, was one of the most prolific of German authors. He was continually at his desk, and in the course of his career produced a considerable library. Of his many works the romantic poem Oberon is by far the most famous, and the only one that really pleases modern readers. Agathon is perhaps the best of the prose romances in which he endeavoured to depict ancient Greek life. He was not endowed with great vividness of imagination, and his prevailing tendency is to extreme diffuseness ; but some of his descriptive passages, especially those in Oberon, have a touch of ideal grace which enables us to return to them with fresh relish. He had a fine appreciation of style, and by the study of Greek and French masterpieces persistently strove to acquire lightness, clearness, and ease. Even yet few German writers will compare with him in these qualities. In all his works he had a strongly didactic tendency, but his teaching was the opposite of that inculcated by most modern writers who deliberately aim at ethical effect. Above all, he differed from his great contemporary, Klopstock. Writing at first as a strict pietist, he ultimately became a pronounced Epicurean in the popular sense, and made it his object to proclaim an Epicurean theory of life, discouraging enthusiasm, laughing at such aspirations as those of his own youth, exalting the claims of the senses, and placing the highest virtue in kindliness and good humour. This tendency often conducts him to more slippery ground than any one which a German writer of his standing would now venture ; but it also gives him innumerable occasions for the play of a gentle and refined irony.
Whatever may be the excellences of Wieland and Klopstock, both are essentially writers of the past. This cannot be said of Lessing, the third great German of this period ; he is still a living influence. He is, indeed the only writer before Goethe whom Germans can now read without feeling themselves in a world foreign to their sympathies. Throughout his career he strove to renew and fructify the intellectual life of his nation, and he achieved his aim by important creative activity, and by the clearest, freest, and most drastic criticism of the 18th century.

As an imaginative writer he was chiefly distinguished in the drama, and his most important dramatic work is Minna von Barnhelm. If it cannot be said that this is, in the highest sense, a comedy of genius, it is at any rate a comedy which contains of permanent interest. The characters are vividly presented ; the plot is systematically, yet naturally, unfolded ; the dialogue is clear, fresh, and animated. And the work has the high merit of giving artistic shape to elements taken by the dramatist from the living world around him. Emilia Galotti is marred by a deep flaw in the conception of the central figure ; but every other character in the tragedy is conceived with bold imaginative force, and it is possible for a competent actress to sotten, if not to harmonize, even the clashing elements in Emilia herself. No drama making even a distant produced in Germany ; they thus gave literature in its highest department a fresh start.

But valuable as were Lessing’s imaginative creations, they were inferior to his labours as a thinker. Here he was absolutely supreme among his contemporaries ; and in some respects he has not sense been surpassed. His method is invariably critical, but he aims at rising to the highest, most universal aspect of every subject with which he deals. As a matter of style he ranks with the greatest European writers. The structure of his sentences is clear, precise, and compact ; and he keeps the mind awake by vivid images drawn from nature and from human life, by interesting, sometimes remote, allusions, by rapid strokes of wit, and by unexpected turns of thought, as if he were abandoning his main theme, while he is in reality indirectly advancing it. He has often been called the most critical of poets ; it would be equally just to call him the most poetical of critics.

The greatest of Lessing’s purely critical writings is Laocoon, a fragment but a fragment containing the germs of much of the best thought of his won and the immediately succeeding generations. It has an enduring value as the first serious and great attempt to distinguish sharply the realms of art and poetry, and to foster both by subjecting each to its own laws. Next in importance stands his Hamburgische Dramaturgie, a series of criticisms on plays representing at the Hamburg National Theatre. By these splendid criticisms, which are based in the main on Aristotle’s Poetics, with may side-references to Diderot’s theories, he put an end to the abject submission of dramatic writers to French traditions. In his later years he issued the Wolfenbüttel Fragments, portions of a theological work by Reimarus, a deistical writer of admirable force and clearness. He thus became involved in a hot controversy with indignant professors and pastors, the noisiest of whom was Pastor Goeze of Hamburg. The tracts issued by Lessing in the course of this controversy are at once learned, keen, and witty. And in the history of Western thought they are of deep significance. His immediate object was to secure for criticism absolute freedom of movement ; but he did very much more. He foreshadowed, as a vital element of the coming time, inquiry as to the origin and growth of the Scriptures, the rise of Christianity, and the fundamental character of religion. And he indicated a far higher standpoint than that of the popular philosophers by vindicating the claims of feeling in spiritual life as opposed to those of the bare understanding. In his Education of the Human Race he gave systematic shape tot he fruitful principle that a religion which is not true absolutely or for all time may be of vast importance by meeting the needs of a portion of the race in special epochs, and that there is in history, notwithstanding apparent reactions, a progressive movement towards higher intellectual and moral ideals. The suggestions thrown out in controversy he developed artistically in one of the greatest of his writings, the fine dramatic poem, Nathan the Wise, a work which enshrines all that was noblest in the struggles and the aspirations of his age, and connects the thought of the 18th with that of the 19th century. As a drama, it has serious faults ; but it powerfully effects its purpose by revealing, in the enlightened Jew, its hero, the grandeur of a nature which, instead of binding itself in dogmatic fetters, cultivates a spirit of free and disinterested humanity.

Thus in all directions this great writer laboured for the intellectual regeneration of his people. If Goethe, Schiller, and Kant found a nation prepared to receive their work, they owed the fact to many causes ; but among these the chief were the political activity of Frederick II. and the literary activity of Lessing.

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