History of Literature

German literature



Origins and Middle Ages

Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance

The 18th century

The 19th century

The 19th century. Fin de siecle movements

The 20th century


German literature

The 18th century

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Christoph Gottsched
Johann Jakob Bodmer
Johann Jakob

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
"Nathan the Wise"

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
Christoph Martin Wieland
Sophie von La Roche
Johann Gottfried von Herder
Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz
Friedrich Maximilian Klinger
Johann Anton Leisewitz
Karl Philipp Moritz
Heinrich Jung-Stilling

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Faust"      PART I, PART II, PART III
Illustrations by Eugene Delacroix and Harry Clarke

Friedrich von Schiller
"Love and Intrigue"

Jean Paul

Friedrich Hölderlin

Heinrich von Kleist

Rudolf Erich Raspe
"The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen"

Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten

Immanuel Kant
"Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals"


Friedrich Schleiermacher

Johann Friedrich Herbart



The 18th century

Age of Enlightenment Recovery from the devastating Thirty Years’ War was reflected in the cultural life of the Holy Roman Empire and in the various German states. The era of confessional conflict and war had come to an end in 1648, but urban culture continued to decline, and the empire became a country of innumerable courts. Dependent mostly upon princely patronage, cultural life became decentralized and very provincial. By the middle of the 18th century, however, after decades of exhaustion, stagnation, and provincialization, a significant cultural and literary revival occurred that was to provide the basis of one of Germany’s most exalted literary periods, the Weimar Classicism of the 1790s (sometimes called the “age of Goethe”).


This recovery was accompanied by a new understanding of man’s ability to master nature and by a belief in his rational capacity to set his own moral course. Enlightenment optimism envisioned progress as attainable through education and science. The foundations of this rationalism were laid in science by
Sir Isaac Newton and in philosophy by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, with his Essais de Théodicée (1710; Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil) and his Monadologie (1714; Monadology). To Leibniz this was the best of all possible worlds. He constructed a model for the universe as an absolutist state with God as the monarch, or central monad, which all other monads, including man, reflect and strive to emulate. This metaphysical model of the universe influenced European writers from Voltaire (who satirized Leibniz in Candide) to Goethe, who as late as 1832 represented the protagonist of Faust as a monad seeking salvation.

During the period of economic decline in the second half of the 17th century, the German courts and the educated class had sought to profit from the progressive developments in France by adopting not only the standards of French civilization but also its language. Leibniz wrote most of his essays in French or in Latin, which was the language of university scholarship. Those who wrote in German needed to free themselves from charges of provinciality and from foreign dominance. Considering popular German culture plebeian and vulgar, the aristocracy read only French literature and listened to Italian opera. By the 1750s the effort to demonstrate that German was capable of literary expression led to a search for roots in national history and a discovery of an indigenous German tradition in folk songs and ballads. These enterprises would serve as models for a national literature.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

German philosopher and mathematician

born July 1 [June 21, old style], 1646, Leipzig
died November 14, 1716, Hannover, Hanover

German philosopher, mathematician, and political adviser, important both as a metaphysician and as a logician and distinguished also for his independent invention of the differential and integral calculus.

Early life and education
Leibniz was born into a pious Lutheran family near the end of the Thirty Years’ War, which had laid Germany in ruins. As a child, he was educated in the Nicolai School but was largely self-taught in the library of his father, who had died in 1652. At Easter time in 1661, he entered the University of Leipzig as a law student; there he came into contact with the thought of men who had revolutionized science and philosophy—men such as Galileo, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, and René Descartes. Leibniz dreamed of reconciling—a verb that he did not hesitate to use time and again throughout his career—these modern thinkers with the Aristotle of the Scholastics. His baccalaureate thesis, De Principio Individui (“On the Principle of the Individual”), which appeared in May 1663, was inspired partly by Lutheran nominalism (the theory that universals have no reality but are mere names) and emphasized the existential value of the individual, who is not to be explained either by matter alone or by form alone but rather by his whole being (entitate tota). This notion was the first germ of the future “monad.” In 1666 he wrote De Arte Combinatoria (“On the Art of Combination”), in which he formulated a model that is the theoretical ancestor of some modern computers: all reasoning, all discovery, verbal or not, is reducible to an ordered combination of elements, such as numbers, words, sounds, or colours.

After completing his legal studies in 1666, Leibniz applied for the degree of doctor of law. He was refused because of his age and consequently left his native city forever. At Altdorf—the university town of the free city of Nürnberg—his dissertation De Casibus Perplexis (“On Perplexing Cases”) procured him the doctor’s degree at once, as well as the immediate offer of a professor’s chair, which, however, he declined. During his stay in Nürnberg, he met Johann Christian, Freiherr von Boyneburg, one of the most distinguished German statesmen of the day. Boyneburg took him into his service and introduced him to the court of the prince elector, the archbishop of Mainz, Johann Philipp von Schönborn, where he was concerned with questions of law and politics.

King Louis XIV of France was a growing threat to the German Holy Roman Empire. To ward off this danger and divert the King’s interests elsewhere, the Archbishop hoped to propose to Louis a project for an expedition into Egypt; because he was using religion as a pretext, he expressed the hope that the project would promote the reunion of the church. Leibniz, with a view toward this reunion, worked on the Demonstrationes Catholicae. His research led him to situate the soul in a point—this was new progress toward the monad—and to develop the principle of sufficient reason (nothing occurs without a reason). His meditations on the difficult theory of the point were related to problems encountered in optics, space, and movement; they were published in 1671 under the general title Hypothesis Physica Nova (“New Physical Hypothesis”). He asserted that movement depends, as in the theory of the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, on the action of a spirit (God).

In 1672 the Elector sent the young jurist on a mission to Paris, where he arrived at the end of March. In September, Leibniz met with Antoine Arnauld, a Jansenist theologian (Jansenism was a nonorthodox Roman Catholic movement that spawned a rigoristic form of morality) known for his writings against the Jesuits. Leibniz sought Arnauld’s help for the reunion of the church. He was soon left without protectors by the deaths of Freiherr von Boyneburg in December 1672 and of the Elector of Mainz in February 1673; he was now, however, free to pursue his scientific studies. In search of financial support, he constructed a calculating machine and presented it to the Royal Society during his first journey to London, in 1673.

Late in 1675 Leibniz laid the foundations of both integral and differential calculus. With this discovery, he ceased to consider time and space as substances—another step closer to monadology. He began to develop the notion that the concepts of extension and motion contained an element of the imaginary, so that the basic laws of motion could not be discovered merely from a study of their nature. Nevertheless, he continued to hold that extension and motion could provide a means for explaining and predicting the course of phenomena. Thus, contrary to Descartes, Leibniz held that it would not be contradictory to posit that this world is a well-related dream. If visible movement depends on the imaginary element found in the concept of extension, it can no longer be defined by simple local movement; it must be the result of a force. In criticizing the Cartesian formulation of the laws of motion, known as mechanics, Leibniz became, in 1676, the founder of a new formulation, known as dynamics, which substituted kinetic energy for the conservation of movement. At the same time, beginning with the principle that light follows the path of least resistance, he believed that he could demonstrate the ordering of nature toward a final goal or cause.

The Hanoverian period
Leibniz continued his work but was still without an income-producing position. By October 1676, however, he had accepted a position in the employment of John Frederick, the duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. John Frederick, a convert to Catholicism from Lutheranism in 1651, had become duke of Hanover in 1665. He appointed Leibniz librarian, but, beginning in February 1677, Leibniz solicited the post of councillor, which he was finally granted in 1678. It should be noted that, among the great philosophers of his time, he was the only one who had to earn a living. As a result, he was always a jack-of-all-trades to royalty.

Trying to make himself useful in all ways, Leibniz proposed that education be made more practical, that academies be founded; he worked on hydraulic presses, windmills, lamps, submarines, clocks, and a wide variety of mechanical devices; he devised a means of perfecting carriages and experimented with phosphorus. He also developed a water pump run by windmills, which ameliorated the exploitation of the mines of the Harz Mountains, and he worked in these mines as an engineer frequently from 1680 to 1685. Leibniz is considered to be among the creators of geology because of the observations he compiled there, including the hypothesis that the Earth was at first molten. These many occupations did not stop his work in mathematics: In March 1679 he perfected the binary system of numeration (i.e., using two as a base), and at the end of the same year he proposed the basis for analysis situs, now known as general topology, a branch of mathematics that deals with selected properties of collections of related physical or abstract elements. He was also working on his dynamics and his philosophy, which was becoming increasingly anti-Cartesian. At this point, Duke John Frederick died on Jan. 7, 1680, and his brother, Ernest Augustus I, succeeded him.

France was growing more intolerant at home—from 1680 to 1682 there were harsh persecutions of the Protestants that paved the way for the revocation of the Edict of Nantes on Oct. 18, 1685—and increasingly menacing on its frontiers, for as early as 1681, despite the reigning peace, Louis XIV took Strasbourg and laid claim to 10 cities in Alsace. France was thus becoming a real danger to the empire, which had already been shaken on the east by a Hungarian revolt and by the advance of the Turks, who had been stopped only by the victory of John III Sobieski, king of Poland, at the siege of Vienna in 1683. Leibniz served both his prince and the empire as a patriot. He suggested to his prince a means of increasing the production of linen and proposed a process for the desalinization of water; he recommended classifying the archives and wrote, in both French and Latin, a violent pamphlet against Louis XIV.

During this same period Leibniz continued to perfect his metaphysical system through research into the notion of a universal cause of all being, attempting to arrive at a starting point that would reduce reasoning to an algebra of thought. He also continued his developments in mathematics; in 1681 he was concerned with the proportion between a circle and a circumscribed square and, in 1684, with the resistance of solids. In the latter year he published Nova Methodus pro Maximis et Minimis (“New Method for the Greatest and the Least”), which was an exposition of his differential calculus.

Leibniz’ noted Meditationes de Cognitione, Veritate et Ideis (Reflections on Knowledge, Truth, and Ideas) appeared at this time and defined his theory of knowledge: things are not seen in God—as Nicolas Malebranche suggested—but rather there is an analogy, a strict relation, between God’s ideas and man’s, an identity between God’s logic and man’s. In February 1686, Leibniz wrote his Discours de métaphysique (Discourse on Metaphysics). In the March publication of Acta, he disclosed his dynamics in a piece entitled Brevis Demonstratio Erroris Memorabilis Cartesii et Aliorum Circa Legem Naturae (“Brief Demonstration of the Memorable Error of Descartes and Others About the Law of Nature”). A further development of Leibniz’ views, revealed in a text written in 1686 but long unpublished, was his generalization concerning propositions that in every true affirmative proposition, whether necessary or contingent, the predicate is contained in the notion of the subject. It can be said that, at this time, with the exception of the word monad (which did not appear until 1695), his philosophy of monadology was defined.

In 1685 Leibniz was named historian for the House of Brunswick and, on this occasion, Hofrat (“court adviser”). His job was to prove, by means of genealogy, that the princely house had its origins in the House of Este, an Italian princely family, which would allow Hanover to lay claim to a ninth electorate. In search of these documents, Leibniz began travelling in November 1687. Going by way of southern Germany, he arrived in Austria, where he learned that Louis XIV had once again declared a state of war; in Vienna, he was well received by the Emperor; he then went to Italy. Everywhere he went, he met scientists and continued his scholarly work, publishing essays on the movement of celestial bodies and on the duration of things. He returned to Hanover in mid-July 1690. His efforts had not been in vain. In October 1692 Ernest Augustus obtained the electoral investiture.

Until the end of his life, Leibniz continued his duties as historian. He did not, however, restrict himself to a genealogy of the House of Brunswick; he enlarged his goal to a history of the Earth, which included such matters as geological events and descriptions of fossils. He searched by way of monuments and linguistics for the origins and migrations of peoples; then for the birth and progress of the sciences, ethics, and politics; and, finally, for the elements of a historia sacra. In this project of a universal history, Leibniz never lost sight of the fact that everything interlocks. Even though he did not succeed in writing this history, his effort was influential because he devised new combinations of old ideas and invented totally new ones.

In 1691 Leibniz was named librarian at Wolfenbüttel and propagated his discoveries by means of articles in scientific journals. In 1695 he explained a portion of his dynamic theory of motion in the Système nouveau (“New System”), which treated the relationship of substances and the preestablished harmony between the soul and the body: God does not need to bring about man’s action by means of his thoughts, as Malebranche asserted, or to wind some sort of watch in order to reconcile the two; rather, the Supreme Watchmaker has so exactly matched body and soul that they correspond—they give meaning to each other—from the beginning. In 1697, De Rerum Originatione (On the Ultimate Origin of Things) tried to prove that the ultimate origin of things can be none other than God. In 1698, De Ipsa Natura (“On Nature Itself”) explained the internal activity of nature in terms of Leibniz’ theory of dynamics.

All of these writings opposed Cartesianism, which was judged to be damaging to faith. Plans for the creation of German academies followed in rapid succession. With the help of the electress Sophia Charlotte, daughter of Ernest Augustus and soon to become the first queen of Prussia (January 1701), the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin was founded on July 11, 1700.

On Jan. 23, 1698, Ernest Augustus died, and his son, George Louis, succeeded him. Leibniz found himself confronted with an uneducated, boorish prince, a reveller who kept him in the background. Leibniz took advantage of every pretext to leave Hanover; he was constantly on the move; his only comfort lay in his friendship with Sophia Charlotte and her mother, Princess Sophia. Once again, he set to work on the reunion of the church: in Berlin, it was a question of uniting the Lutherans and the Calvinists; in Paris, he had to subdue Bishop Bénigne Bossuet’s opposition; in Vienna (to which Leibniz returned in 1700) he enlisted the support of the Emperor, which carried great weight; in England, it was the Anglicans who needed convincing.

The death in England of William, duke of Gloucester, in 1700 made George Louis, great-grandson of James I, a possible heir to the throne. It fell to Leibniz, jurist and historian, to develop his arguments concerning the rights of the House of Braunschweig-Lüneburg with respect to this succession.

The War of the Spanish Succession began in March 1701 and did not come to a close until September 1714, with the Treaty of Baden. Leibniz followed its episodes as a patriot hostile to Louis XIV. His fame as a philosopher and scientist had by this time spread all over Europe; he was named a foreign member by the Academy of Sciences of Paris in 1700 and was in correspondence with most of the important European scholars of the day. If he was publishing little at this point, it was because he was writing Théodicée, which was published in 1710. In this work he set down his ideas on divine justice.

Leibniz was impressed with the qualities of the Russian tsar Peter the Great, and in October 1711 the ruler received him for the first time. Following this, he stayed in Vienna until September 1714, and during this time the Emperor promoted him to the post of Reichhofrat (“adviser to the empire”) and gave him the title of Freiherr (“baron”). About this time he wrote the Principes de la nature et de la Grâce fondés en raison, which inaugurated a kind of preestablished harmony between these two orders. Further, in 1714 he wrote the Monadologia, which synthesized the philosophy of the Théodicée. In August 1714, the death of Queen Anne brought George Louis to the English throne under the name of George I. Returning to Hanover, where he was virtually placed under house arrest, Leibniz set to work once again on the Annales Imperii Occidentis Brunsvicenses (1843–46; “Braunschweig Annals of the Western Empire”). At Bad-Pyrmont, he met with Peter the Great for the last time in June 1716. From that point on, he suffered greatly from gout and was confined to his bed until his death.

Leibniz was a man of medium height with a stoop, broad-shouldered but bandy-legged, as capable of thinking for several days sitting in the same chair as of travelling the roads of Europe summer and winter. He was an indefatigable worker, a universal letter writer (he had more than 600 correspondents), a patriot and cosmopolitan, a great scientist, and one of the most powerful spirits of Western civilization.

Yvon Belaval

Early Enlightenment

The first literary reforms in Germany between 1724 and 1740, however, were based on French 17th-century Classicism. Its primary proponent was Johann Christoph Gottsched, a professor at Leipzig whose Versuch einer kritischen Dichtkunst vor die Deutschen (1730; “Essay on a German Critical Poetic Theory”) provided examples for German writers to follow. Gottsched’s principal criterion for the production and reception of literature was reason. Basing his precepts on a literal interpretation of
Aristotle’s Poetics, he argued that Nature was governed by reason and that it was the task of poets to imitate reason as it manifested itself in Nature. He also initiated a reform of the German theatre aimed on the one hand against the Baroque extravagance of the aristocratic theatre and on the other against the vulgarity of popular theatre. He introduced tragedies and comedies conforming to the models of French Classicism, and he expelled from the stage the popular figure of the clown along with the clown’s crude jokes and ad-libbing. In addition, Gottsched edited some of the first German moral weeklies (so called because they were published for the moral edification of the middle class), which were patterned after English models such as The Spectator and The Tatler. While the plays of French Classicism, written for the court theatre, proved uncongenial to the German middle class, the moral weeklies provided acceptable reading material for Gottsched’s audience and contributed to the establishment of a middle-class public opinion.

Gottsched’s derivative, rule-governed poetics made him an unlikely candidate for founder of modern German literature. He functioned, instead, as the barrier to be overcome. Opposition arose on various fronts. Basing their arguments on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, two Swiss critics, Johann Jakob Bodmer and Johann Jakob Breitinger, called for a stronger emphasis on imagination in literary production: something virtually ruled out by Gottsched’s mechanical recipes for writing poetry. With the first cantos of his epic poem Der Messias (1748; The Messiah), Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock succeeded in re-creating the visionary heroism of Milton’s theological epics in a German poem on the life of Christ. It created a sensation in 1748, more by its poetic language and bold images than by its theme.


Johann Christoph Gottsched

born Feb. 2, 1700, Judithenkirch, near Königsberg, Prussia [now Kaliningrad, Russia]
died Dec. 12, 1766, Leipzig, Saxony [Germany]

literary theorist, critic, and dramatist who introduced French 18th-century classical standards of taste into the literature and theatre of Germany.

After studying at Königsberg, Gottsched was appointed professor of poetry at the University of Leipzig in 1730, becoming professor of logic and metaphysics there in 1734.

Earlier, in 1725 and 1726, Gottsched had published Die vernünftigen Tadlerinnen (“The Reasonable Female Critics”), a journal aimed at improving the intellectual and moral standards of women. A second journal, Der Biedermann (1727–29; “The Honest Man”), undertook the broader task of introducing the new rationalist creed to German letters. In 1730 he brought out his most important theoretical work, Versuch einer kritischen Dichtkunst vor die Deutschen (“Essay on a German Critical Poetic Theory”), the first German treatise on the art of poetry to apply the standards of reason and good taste advocated by Nicolas Boileau, the foremost exponent of classicism in France.

Gottsched’s poetic theory, which was circumscribed largely by artificial rules, proved to have little lasting influence upon later German literature. His most enduring achievement resulted from his collaboration with the actress Caroline Neuber, which led to the establishment of the Leipzig school of acting and criticism. Following classicist models, they effectively transformed the nature of the German theatre from a type of low entertainment, delighting in coarse sensual appeal, into a respected vehicle for serious literary effort. Gottsched’s Deutsche Schaubühne, 6 vol. (1741–45; “German Theatre”), containing chiefly translations from the French, provided the German stage with a classical repertory to replace the improvisations and melodramas previously popular. His own dramatic efforts (e.g., Sterbender Cato [1732; “The Dying Cato”]), however, are considered to be little more than mediocre tragedies in the classical style. His concern for style, advanced by his Ausführliche Redekunst (1736; “Complete Rhetoric”) and Grundlegung einer deutschen Sprachkunst (1748; “Foundation of a German Literary Language”), helped to regularize German as a literary language.




Johann Jakob Bodmer

born July 19, 1698, Greifensee, Switz.
died Jan. 2, 1783, near Zürich

Swiss historian, professor, and critical writer who contributed to the development of an original German literature in Switzerland.

Bodmer taught Helvetian history at the Zürich grammar school from 1725 until 1775 and from 1737 was a member of the Grosser Rat (cantonal legislature). In conjunction with others, he published (1721–23) Die Discourse der Mahlern, a weekly journal after the model of The Spectator. His most important writings are the treatises Von dem Einfluss und Gebrauche der Einbildungs-Kraft (1727), Von dem Wunderbaren in der Poesie (1740), and Critische Betrachtungen über die poetischen Gemälde der Dichter (1741), in which he pleaded for freeing the literary imagination from the restrictions imposed upon it by French Neoclassicism. Bodmer also engaged in studies of William Shakespeare, Torquato Tasso, Dante, and Miguel de Cervantes; translated Homer (in hexameters); espoused the causes of Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and thus played a part in European literature as a precursor of Johann Gottfried von Herder. In his own country he was an influential national educator. As a poet he was unsuccessful.



Johann Jakob Breitinger

born March 1, 1701, Zürich, Switz.
died Dec. 13, 1776, Zürich

Swiss-German writer, one of the most influential 18th-century literary critics in the German-speaking world.

He studied theology and became professor at the Collegium Carolinum in Zürich. He lectured on Hebrew, Greek, Latin, logic, and rhetoric; showed excellence as a philologist in many editions; and advocated education on humanist lines (Zürich school reform, 1765–75).

Under the inspiration of The Spectator papers of England’s Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, Breitinger founded and wrote essays for the weekly Discourse der Mahlern (1721–23). In Critische Dichtkunst (1740), one of the most important of his many publications, he attacked the narrowly rationalist Dichtkunst (1730) of the Leipzig “literary pope” Johann Christoph Gottsched. Breitinger stressed the place of the imagination and the wonderful in poetry; fired the German-speaking public with enthusiasm for Homer; and spread the ideas of John Locke, Lord Shaftesbury, and Alexander Pope. He was visited by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and others, and his pupils included the poet and prose writer Johann Kaspar Lavater and the writer and educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.


Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

The major representative of the Enlightenment in German literature was
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. He surmounted Gottsched’s strictures, declaring in 1759, in Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend, Nr. 17 (“Letters Concerning the Newest Literature, No. 17”), “Nobody will deny that the German stage owes a great share of its early improvement to Professor Gottsched. I am this Nobody!” It was Lessing who became, through his own impressive output of plays and theoretical writings for the theatre, the founder of modern German literature. Interestingly enough, he urged the story of Faust on his contemporaries as a subject particularly appropriate to the German stage.

With his play Miss Sara Sampson (1755), Lessing also introduced to the German stage a new genre: the bürgerliches Trauerspiel (“bourgeois tragedy”). It demonstrated that tragedy need not be limited to the highborn, as Gottsched had maintained in his interpretation of Aristotle’s Poetics. Lessing reinterpreted Aristotle in his Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767–69; Hamburg Dramaturgy), asserting that the cathartic emotions of pity and fear are felt by the audience rather than by figures in the drama. With this stress on pity and on compassion, Lessing interpreted Aristotle in terms of Christian middle-class virtues and established Shakespeare as the model for German dramatists to follow. According to Lessing, Shakespeare’s tragedies arouse fear, pity, and compassion more successfully than the dramas of French Classicism. In Emilia Galotti (1772), his major “bourgeois tragedy,” Lessing adapted the Roman legend of Virginia to the setting of 18th-century absolutism: a father is forced to kill his own daughter in order to protect her from seduction by an absolutist prince. This obvious indictment of a political system escaped contemporary audiences but inspired the later dramatists of the Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”) movement, which exalted nature and human feeling and individualism.

In Minna von Barnhelm (1767), Lessing’s most successful comedy, he deals with love and honour in 18th-century Prussia. The play shows the protagonists’ emancipation from the Prussian code of honour and from societal conventions of marriage. Lessing’s lighthearted yet profound questioning of severe codes made his play the first work in German literature with a significant contemporary content.

His final, blank-verse drama, Nathan der Weise (1779; Nathan the Wise), is representative of the Enlightenment. Set in 12th-century Jerusalem during the Crusades, the play deals with religious tolerance. The dramatic conflicts are oriented to the conflicts of the three religions involved—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—and coalesce in the love of a Knight Templar for the daughter of Nathan, the wise Jew who embodies the ideal of humanity. At the core of the play is the parable of the ring that Nathan offers as an answer to the question of which of the three religions is the true one. A father has one precious ring but three sons whom he loves equally. To avoid favouring one son, he obtains two identical copies of the ring, but only the “genuine” ring has the power to make its possessor beloved of God and men. The brothers are advised to prove through their actions which of the three received the original ring. The parable implies that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are involved like the three brothers in a competition to prove by ethical conduct—rather than by prejudice, warfare, and bickering over dogma—the truth of their respective religions. With this play Lessing was far ahead of his time, not only in terms of religious tolerance but also in his dramatic subversion of one of the stereotypes of European religious anti-Semitism: the evil Jew and his beautiful daughter. Lessing’s use of a wise Jew was a tribute to his friend Moses Mendelssohn, a philosopher who was the central figure of German Jewish emancipation.

Nathan der Weise shows that Lessing was involved in one of the central theological debates about religious revelation in 18th-century Germany, a debate in which he yielded neither to orthodoxy nor to superficial rationalism. The play was first conceived as a religious statement opposing Protestant orthodoxy rather than as a stage play, but the censorship that threatened to curtail Lessing’s long drawn-out polemics against dogmatic Protestant theologians encouraged him to make it a powerful drama. He never expected the play to be staged.


Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

"Nathan the Wise"

German author

born Jan. 22, 1729, Kamenz, Upper Lusatia, Saxony [Germany]
died Feb. 15, 1781, Braunschweig, Brunswick [Germany]

German dramatist, critic, and writer on philosophy and aesthetics. He helped free German drama from the influence of classical and French models and wrote plays of lasting importance. His critical essays greatly stimulated German letters and combated conservative dogmatism and cant while affirming religious and intellectual tolerance and the unbiased search for truth.

Education and first dramatic works.
Lessing’s father, a highly respected theologian, was hard put to support his large family even though he occupied the position of pastor primarius (chief pastor). At the age of 12, Lessing, even then an avid reader, entered the famous Fürstenschule (“elector’s school”) of St. Afra, in Meissen. A gifted and eager student, Lessing acquired a good knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, while his admiration for the plays of the Latin dramatists Plautus and Terence fired him with the ambition to write comedies himself.

In the autumn of 1746 Lessing entered the University of Leipzig as a student of theology. His real interests, however, lay toward literature, philosophy, and art. Lessing became fascinated by the theatre in Leipzig, which had recently been revitalized by the work of a talented and energetic actress, Caroline Neuber. Neuber took an interest in the young poet and in 1748 successfully produced his comedy Der junge Gelehrte (“The Young Scholar”). The play is a delightful satire on an arrogant, superficial, vain, and easily offended scholar, a figure through which Lessing mocked his own bookishness. The other comedies belonging to this Leipzig period of 1747–49 (Damon, Die alte Jungfer [“The Old Maid”], Der Misogyn [“The Misogynist”], Die Juden [“The Jews”], Der Freigeist [“The Free Thinker”]) are witty commentaries on human weaknesses—bigotry, prejudice, nagging, fortune hunting, matchmaking, intrigue, hypocrisy, corruption, and frivolity. Set against this background are virtuous men and women who are considerate and selfless, sensitive and helpful, forthright, and faithful in love. In Die Juden Lessing praised unappreciated nobility of mind and thus struck a blow against bigotry toward the Jews at a time when they were still confined to a ghetto life. Lessing had set himself the goal of becoming the German Molière: in these comedies he most interestingly begins to draw his characters as recognizable individuals, breaking away from the traditional dramatic “types.”

Early in 1748 Lessing’s parents, who disapproved of his association with the theatre in Leipzig, summoned him home. But he managed to win their consent to begin studying medicine and was soon allowed to return to Leipzig. He quickly found himself in difficulties because he had generously stood surety for some members of the Neuber company—although himself heavily in debt. When the company folded, he fled from Leipzig in order to avoid being arrested for debt. He eventually reached Berlin in 1748, where he hoped to find work as a journalist through his cousin Mylius, who was by this time an established editor. In the next four years he undertook a variety of jobs, mainly translating French and English historical and philosophical works into German. But he also began to make a name for himself through his brilliant and witty criticism for the Berlinische Privilegierte Zeitung, on which he was book review editor. He also launched a periodical of his own, Beiträge zur Historie und Aufnahme des Theaters (“Contributions to the History and Improvement of the Theatre”), which was discontinued in 1750.

Rising reputation as dramatist and critic.
From 1751 to 1752 Lessing was in Wittenberg, where he took his degree in medicine. He then returned to Berlin, where he started another periodical, Theatralische Bibliothek (“Theatrical Library”), but this too had to be closed down after only four volumes. The most significant event during this time was the publication in 1753–55 of a six-volume edition of his works. Apart from some witty epigrams, the edition contained the most important of his Leipzig comedies. It also contained Miss Sara Sampson, which is the first major bürgerliches Trauerspiel, or domestic tragedy, in German literature. Middle-class writers had long wanted to do away with the traditional class distinctions in literature, whereby heroic and tragic themes were played out by aristocratic figures, while middle-class characters appeared only in comedy. Lessing was, in fact, not the first German writer to challenge this tradition, but it is fair to say that his play marks the decisive break with the classical French drama that still dominated the German stage. Miss Sara Sampson was inspired by George Lillo’s London Merchant (1731) and by the novels of Samuel Richardson—with their praise of middle-class feminine virtue—and, to a lesser degree, by the sentimental comédie larmoyante (“tearful comedy”), originated in France by the early 18th-century dramatist Pierre-Claude de La Chausée. It is the first German play in which bürgerlich (middle-class) characters bear the full burden of a tragic fate, and it had its successful premiere at Frankfurt an der Oder in 1755. Its reflective prose skillfully lays bare the psychology of the situation—a conflict between the demands of virtue and the heart, between conscience and passion—and its characters are finely drawn. The plot centres on an innocent, sensitive heroine of a bourgeois family; she becomes the victim of Lady Marwood, her vampirelike rival in love, who disregards all restraints and inhibitions, and of Mellefont, a weak man who vacillates between the two women but finally atones for his guilt by his death.

Characteristic of Lessing’s writings at this period is his Rettungen (“Vindications”), which is outstanding for its incisive style and clarity of argument. In its four essays he aimed to defend independent thinkers such as the Reformation-period writers Johannes Cochlaeus and Gerolamo Cardano, who had been unjustly slandered and persecuted. His scintillating and biting polemic Ein Vade Mecum für den Herrn Samuel Gotthold Lange (1754) was directed against the carelessly corrupt translations of the poetry of Horace by the arrogant scholar S.G. Lange, whose literary reputation was demolished by Lessing’s attack. From this point on, Lessing was justly feared as a literary adversary who used his command of style as a finely honed weapon. The philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and the writer and publisher C.F. Nicolai stand out among Lessing’s Berlin friends. With these men Lessing conducted a truly epoch-making correspondence (Briefwechsel über das Trauerspiel, 1756–57; “Correspondence About Tragedy”) on the aesthetic of tragic drama. Tragedy, Lessing maintained, should not preach morality but rather should arouse admiration and pity in the audience as evidence of emotional involvement.

Between November 1755 and April 1758 Lessing lived again at Leipzig, but in May he moved back to Berlin. There he contributed regularly to Nicolai’s weekly, Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend (“Letters Concerning the Latest Literature”), writing a number of essays on contemporary literature. The central point of these was a vigorous attack on the influential theatre critic J.C. Gottsched for his advocacy of a theatre modeled on French drama, especially that of the 17th-century tragedian Pierre Corneille. Lessing maintained that the courtly, mannered drama of France was alien to the German mentality. Instead, he demanded a truly national drama, belonging to the people, based on faithfulness to nature and reality. He urged German playwrights to take Shakespeare as their model. In the 17th Literaturbrief he published a stirring scene from his own fragmentary Faust drama. In this scene, Lessing sketches out a “Faust without evil” whose relentless spirit of inquiry is justified before God, notwithstanding his pact with the devil. He thus paved the way for his young contemporary Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his great dramatic version of the Faust story. In 1759 Lessing published some masterly prose fables, largely social criticism, and with them an essay on the fable form itself, in which he formulated the particular laws of the genre by analyzing its didactic and allegorical structure.

In 1760 Lessing went to Breslau as secretary to General Tauentzien, the military governor of Silesia. Lessing’s studies in philosophy and aesthetics there brought forth two important literary works. One is the great treatise Laokoon: oder über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie (1766; “Laocoon; or, On the Limits of Painting and Poetry”). Here he took issue with the contemporary art historian Johann Winckelmann, specifically over his interpretation of the “Laocoon,” a famous sculpture of Hellenistic times (c. 1st century bc), which shows the priest Laocoon and his sons as they are about to be killed by the serpents that hold them entwined. In the Laokoon Lessing attempted to fundamentally define the separate functions of painting and of poetry. He pointed out that whereas painting is bound to observe spatial proximity—and must, therefore, select and render the seminal and most expressive moment in a chain of events—poetry has the task of depicting an event organically and in its temporal sequence. The essence of poetry thus lies not in description but in the representation of the transitory, of movement.

The second great Breslau work is Minna von Barnhelm (1767), which marks the birth of classical German comedy. Goethe was to praise it for its contemporary relevance and for its central theme (the struggle between Prussia and Saxony in the Seven Years’ War), which was an event of national significance. The central characters are a Prussian officer, Major Tellheim, and a young gentlewoman from Thuringia, Minna. The upright officer’s conscientiousness and rigid interpretation of the code of honour has endangered his relationship with Minna. Charming and spirited, Minna takes matters into her own hands and, prompted by her heart’s perceptions, resolutely overcomes the obstacles that war and occupation have placed in the way of their union. She resolves the conflict between the claims of conscience and those of happiness. Thus, in thinking and acting like true representatives of the Enlightenment, the two eventually behave like ordinary people and so bear witness to Lessing’s concept of humanity. The two protagonists are supported by forcefully drawn secondary characters. Lessing’s dialogue enhances a lively dramatic action that still today commands the attention of theatre audiences.

On returning to Berlin in 1765 Lessing applied for the post of director of the royal library; but since he had quarreled with Voltaire, who lived as a favourite at Frederick the Great’s court, the king (who in any case thought little of German authors) rejected his application. Lessing then accepted the offer of some Hamburg merchants to act as adviser and critic in their privately funded venture of a national theatre. Within a year, however, the project collapsed, and Lessing recognized with some bitterness that the time for a German national theatre was not yet ripe. Even so, his reviews of more than 50 performances were published, in the form of 104 brief essays on basic principles of the drama, under the title of Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767–69). Here, too, Lessing argued against tragedy modeled on that of Corneille and Voltaire, although he praised the realism of the contemporary French writer Denis Diderot’s descriptions of middle-class life. Lessing interpreted Aristotle’s concept of tragic catharsis (purging) as meaning the emotional release that follows tension generated in spectators who witness tragic events; he concludes that the sensations evoked by pity and fear should afterward exert a moral influence on the audience by being transformed into virtuous action. In 1768–69 he published Briefe antiquarischen Inhalts (“Letters of Antiquarian Content”), an attack on the pretentious learning and elitist attitudes of the Halle professor C.A. Klotz. Another result of this dispute was the lucid and perceptive essay Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet (“How the Ancients Depicted Death”).

Final years at Wolfenbüttel.
Being extremely poor, in 1770 Lessing had no choice but to accept the badly paid post of librarian at Wolfenbüttel, which he had earlier visited in 1766. His years there were unhappy and tempestuous but rich in achievement. His tragedy Emilia Galotti was performed in 1772. Written in intense and incisive prose, this brilliantly constructed play deals with a conflict of conscience at the court of an Italian prince. Lessing became involved in perhaps the most bitter controversy of his career when he also published extracts containing extremely radical ideas from the papers of the recently deceased biblical critic and scholar H.S. Reimarus under the title Fragmente eines Ungenannten (1774–77; “Fragments of an Unknown”). Theologians viewed these publications as a serious challenge to religious orthodoxy, even though Lessing himself had taken up a mediating position toward the radical theses of Reimarus, who had rejected the basic tenets of the Christian faith. Lessing went into battle against the orthodox clergy, involving himself in violent controversies with their leader, the chief pastor of Hamburg, J.M. Goeze. Against this rigid dogmatist, who was a man of almost pharisaical narrow-mindedness, Lessing launched some of his most cutting polemics, notably “Anti-Goeze” (1778), in which he expounded his belief that the search for truth is more valuable than the certainty gained by clinging to doctrinaire orthodoxy.

This controversy culminated in Nathan der Weise (1779), Lessing’s “dramatic poem” in iambic pentameter. This is a didactic play of a theological and philosophical nature, combining ethical profundity with many comic touches, and is a work of high poetic quality and dramatic tension. Nathan der Weise symbolizes the equality of three great religions in regard to their ethical basis, for the play celebrates man’s true religion—love, acting without prejudice and devoted to the service of mankind. Among the representatives of the three religions—Islāmic (Saladin), Christian (the Templar), and Jewish (Nathan)—only the Jew, in whose character Lessing paid tribute to his old friend Moses Mendelssohn, lives up to the ideal of full humanity; he alone is capable of complete self-abnegation and has the courage to speak the truth even to the mighty. The fact that the main characters discover in the end that they are blood relatives serves to underscore their common membership in the larger family of mankind.

Lessing’s last work, Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts (1780; The Education of the Human Race), is a treatise that closely reflects the working of his mind and expresses his belief in the perfectibility of the human race. In the history of the world’s religions, Lessing saw a developing moral awareness that would, he believed, eventually attain the peak of universal brotherhood and moral freedom that would transcend all dogmas and doctrines.

Thus the last decade of his life spent at Wolfenbüttel produced a rich harvest of philosophical and literary works. But his life there was otherwise full of tribulations. His health had begun to give way, and it was a lonely existence, with only a few trips to break the monotony. In October 1776 he had finally been able to marry Eva König, the widow of a Hamburg merchant and a friend of long standing. In December 1777 she gave birth to their only child, a son, but he died soon after; she herself died the following month. Lessing’s last years were lonely and poor.

Joachim Müller



Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Christoph Martin Wieland

Although known mainly as the author of the epic Der Messias, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock was in fact the major poet of the German Enlightenment, liberating lyric poetry from the standing rules and stressing innovative language, images, and metres. His alleged discovery of a Germanic genre—the Bardiet (adapted from barditus, Tacitus’s term for a Germanic war song, and signifying a lyrical drama of national content)—was pure fiction, but the occasion revealed the nationalistic overtones of 18th-century German literature. Although this nationalism cannot be compared to that of the 19th and 20th centuries, it showed the central role of literature in the formation of German national consciousness.

Christoph Martin Wieland was the foremost novelist of the German Enlightenment. He introduced the Miguel de Cervantes model of Don Quixote in his Die Abentheuer des Don Sylvio von Rosalva (1764; The Adventures of Don Sylvio von Rosalva) and the Henry Fielding model of Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews in his Geschichte des Agathon (1766–67; The History of Agathon). The hero of each is a visionary dreamer who, after many failures and erotic temptations, eventually adopts an enlightened outlook on life. Another of Wieland’s major contributions was his prose translation of Shakespeare into German, which served as an inspiration to Sturm und Drang dramatists. Although Wieland’s novels were forerunners of the bildungsroman, they missed the temper of the time in Germany by placing their protagonists in a fictitious Spain or ancient Greece rather than in 18th-century Germany. Sophie von La Roche, Wieland’s onetime fiancée and his protégé, wrote the first woman’s novel by a German, Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim (1771; History of Lady Sophia Sternheim); its female protagonist inhabited contemporary German and English society.

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock

born July 2, 1724, Quedlinburg, Saxony [Germany]
died March 14, 1803, Hamburg

German epic and lyric poet whose subjective vision marked a break with the rationalism that had dominated German literature in the early 18th century.

Klopstock was educated at Schulpforta, a prestigious Protestant boarding school, where he read John Milton’s Paradise Lost in the translation by the influential Swiss critic Johann Jakob Bodmer. That experience prompted Klopstock to begin planning a great religious epic poem. In 1749 the first three cantos of his Der Messias (The Messiah), written in unrhymed hexameters, appeared in the Bremer Beiträge and created a sensation.

To fulfill what he considered his poetic mission, Klopstock left his studies at the University of Leipzig and became a private tutor at Langensalza, Thuringia. There he fell in love with a cousin, the “Fanny” of his odes. Disappointed in romance, he went to Zürich (1750), staying for six months with Bodmer.

An invitation and an annuity from Frederick V of Denmark took him to Copenhagen, where he remained for 20 years. While there Klopstock composed historical plays dealing with the ancient Germanic hero Arminius. In 1754 he married Margarethe (Meta) Moller of Hamburg, who was the “Cidli” of his odes. Grief over her early death affected his creativity. A collection of his Oden (“Odes”) was published in 1771. In 1770 he retired to Hamburg, where the last five cantos of Der Messias were produced with waning inspiration three years later. In 1791 he married Johanna Elisabeth von Winthem, his first wife’s niece and a close friend for many years.

Although widely known as the author of Der Messias—the work was translated into 17 languages—Klopstock established his reputation chiefly as a lyric poet. The free verse forms he used in his hymnlike odes permitted a more natural and expressive use of language.




Christoph Martin Wieland

born Sept. 5, 1733, Oberholzheim, near Biberach [Germany]
died Jan. 20, 1813, Weimar, Saxe-Weimar

poet and man of letters of the German Rococo period whose work spans the major trends of his age, from rationalism and the Enlightenment to classicism and pre-Romanticism.

Wieland was the son of a Pietist parson, and his early writings from the 1750s were sanctimonious and strongly devotional. During the 1760s, however, he discovered another, more sensual aspect of his nature and moved toward a more worldly, rationalistic philosophy. Although some of Wieland’s work of this period includes erotic poetry, he began to find the balance between sensuality and rationalism that marked his mature writing. His Geschichte des Agathon, 2 vol. (1766–67; History of Agathon), which describes the process, is considered the first Bildungsroman, or novel of psychological development.

Between 1762 and 1766 Wieland published the first German translations of 22 of William Shakespeare’s plays, which were to be influential models for Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”) dramatists. Wieland was professor of philosophy at Erfurt (1769–72) and was then appointed tutor to the Weimar princes. He was not a successful teacher but spent the rest of his life in or near the court circle as an admired man of letters. In 1773 he established Der teutsche Merkur (“The German Mercury”), which was a leading literary periodical for 37 years. Late in life, he considered himself a classicist and devoted most of his time to translating Greek and Roman authors. His allegorical verse epic Oberon (1780) foreshadows many aspects of Romanticism.



Sophie von La Roche

born Dec. 6, 1731, Kaufbeuern, Bavaria [Germany]
died Feb. 18, 1807, Offenbach, Hesse

German writer whose first and most important work, Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim (1771; History of Lady Sophia Sternheim), was the first German novel written by a woman and is considered to be among the best works from the period in which English novels, particularly those of Samuel Richardson, had great influence on many German writers.

She was engaged to her close friend and cousin, the well-known writer Christoph Martin Wieland, but the betrothal was dissolved, and in 1754 she married G.M. Franck von La Roche. She was to become the grandmother of Bettina von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, both associated with the Romantic movement. From 1771 she maintained a literary salon in Ehrenbreitstein to which the young J.W. von Goethe belonged. In that year Wieland edited and published her first novel. Both its insistent didacticism and its partially epistolary form follow English models, but it also is related to the new phase of fiction introduced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel La Nouvelle Héloïse; in La Roche’s novel, passion begins to take a place beside rational morality and virtue. Fräulein von Sternheim’s melancholy moods and the “confessional” aspect lent to the novel by its letter form won it fame. This, like all La Roche’s works, is imbued with the rational spirit of the Enlightenment and shows her interest in economic and social problems, including women’s education.


Johann Gottfried von Herder

The temper of the time demanded a concept of German national identity liberated from the tyranny of Rome and Paris, and it demanded a literature that would express this new national self-awareness. Johann Gottfried von Herder, who had abandoned a comfortable position as pastor in provincial Riga (then part of the Russian Empire) on the Baltic Sea in order to pursue philosophical interests, was a central figure in this movement. He was a transitional figure, belonging to the Enlightenment as well as to the Sturm und Drang movement. His Journal meiner Reise im Jahr 1769 (Journal of My Travels in the Year 1769) is a diary of his ocean journey from Riga to Nantes, France, and at the same time an allegory of a progress away from unthinking German provincialism to the kind of strongly individualistic rebellion that was to set the tone for his generation of German intellectuals and poets. Herder conceived the idea of cultural relativism and historicism that regards each culture as possessing a distinct collective identity, an “ethnic soul” (Volksseele) that allows it to be studied and judged within its own context. The existence of a Volksseele, in Herder’s view, creates national destinies: to realize and perfect the authentic characteristics of the Volk and prevent their nature from being lost through ignorance or foreign dominance. This mission is especially critical for peoples who have forgotten or abandoned or not yet found their own identities, and the latter certainly applied to the Germans in the mid-18th century, when a German nation-state did not exist.

Herder’s theory legitimated the study of folk literature and privileged its naive but expressive discourse as a model for 18th-century poetry. It was precisely popular oral poetry (Volksdichtung) that contained and defined the Volksseele. While Herder contributed two seminal essays, on Ossian (the counterfeit 3rd-century Gaelic poet created by James MacPherson) and on Shakespeare, to the volume Von deutscher Art und Kunst (1773; “Concerning German Character and Art”), the Sturm und Drang manifesto on language and drama, he continued to support Enlightenment ideas in his Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität (1793–97; “Letters for the Advancement of Humanity”). His concept of Humanität (“humanism”), reconciling intellect and feeling, provided continuity between the Enlightenment and Weimar Classicism.

The major achievement of the Enlightenment in Germany was the formation of a public opinion expressing the concerns of the educated middle class of writers and readers. The first vehicles of this opinion were the moral weeklies, which focused on ethical instruction. Then came the literary periodicals, as edited by Lessing and others; these concentrated on aesthetics. Lastly, national group enterprises, as manifested in works such as Von deutscher Art und Kunst, dealt with national history and national identity. Thus occurred a development and shift from morals to aesthetics and, finally, to national concerns.

Johann Gottfried von Herder

born August 25, 1744, Mohrungen, East Prussia [now Morag, Poland]
died December 18, 1803, Weimar, Saxe-Weimar [Germany]

German critic, theologian, and philosopher, who was the leading figure of the Sturm und Drang literary movement and an innovator in the philosophy of history and culture. His influence, augmented by his contacts with the young J.W. von Goethe, made him a harbinger of the Romantic movement. He was ennobled (with the addition of von) in 1802.

Early life and travels
Herder was the son of poor parents and attended local schools. Beginning in the summer of 1762 he studied theology, philosophy, and literature at Königsberg, coming into close contact with Immanuel Kant, the founder of critical philosophy, as well as with Johann Georg Hamann, one of the Enlightenment’s prominent critics.

In November 1764 Herder went to teach and preach in Riga (then part of the Russian Empire). There he published his first works, which included two collections of fragments, entitled Über die neuere deutsche Literatur: Fragmente (1767; “On Recent German Literature: Fragments”) and Kritische Wälder, oder Betrachtungen die Wissenschaft und Kunst des Schönen betreffend (1769 and 1846; “Critical Forests, or Reflections on the Science and Art of the Beautiful”).

In the summer of 1769 he set out on an ocean voyage from Riga to Nantes, which brought him a deeper understanding of his destiny. His Journal meiner Reise im Jahr 1769 (1769; “Journal of My Voyage in the Year 1769”), completed in Paris in December, bears witness to the change that it effected in him. Herder saw himself as a groundless being who had left the safe shore and was journeying into an unknown future. It became his vocation to unveil that future through insights gained from the past, so that its character might be felt by his contemporaries. Herder’s prophetic criticisms of his own time anticipated the possibilities of intellectual developments generations ahead, including the ideas of Goethe, the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich von Schlegel, and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in poetical and aesthetic theory; Wilhelm von Humboldt in the philosophy of language; G.W.F. Hegel in the philosophy of history; Wilhelm Dilthey and his followers in epistemology; Arnold Gehlen in anthropology; and the Slav nationalists in political thought.

During a visit to Strasbourg, where he arrived in September 1770 as the companion of Prince Peter Frederick William of Holstein, Herder experienced a momentous meeting with the young Goethe, who was stirred to recognize his own artistic faculties through Herder’s observations on Homer, Pindar, William Shakespeare, and on literature and folk songs.

Career at Bückeburg
In April 1771 Herder went to Bückeburg as court preacher. The works that he produced there were fundamental to the Sturm und Drang, a literary movement with Promethean and irrationalist motifs, without which German Classical and Romantic literature could not have arisen. In the Romanticism Herder espoused, the medium of thought is feeling (Gefühl), which he compared to the sense of touch. Whereas sight apprehends things at a distance, feeling enjoys an immediate experience of reality, which it apprehends as a power reacting against an individual’s own vital energy. At the same time, however, the individual experiences his own body, in which a vital power asserts itself against the world. At the moment when a person recognizes the limits imposed by the environment without becoming dependent on it, a balance of forces is achieved between the two in which the individual body is converted into the aesthetic gestalt (or integral structure) and the identification of the individual with reality is consummated.

Among his works of this period are Plastik (1778), which outlines his metaphysics, and Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache (1772; “Essay on the Origin of Language”), which finds the origin of language in human nature. For Herder, knowledge is possible only through the medium of language. Although the individual and the world are united in feeling, they separate themselves in consciousness in order to link themselves anew in the “intentional,” or object-directed, act in which the objective meaning of a word is rooted. Thus, what earlier had been apprehended dimly but not specifically recognized in feeling is expressly designated. Feeling and reflection thus interpenetrate each other; and the word, being at once sound and significance, is the cause of this union. Every signification of something therefore includes an emotional attitude toward it that reflects the particularity and the outlook of its users. Thus, the structure of language is a true image of human nature.

Whereas the psychologists of the time were carefully distinguishing various human faculties (conation, feeling, knowledge), Herder stressed the unity and indivisible wholeness of human nature. Consciousness and Besonnenheit (“reflective discernment”) are not simply “higher” faculties added to an animal foundation; instead, they designate the structure of the individual as a whole with qualitatively unique human desires and human sensitivities. Since human instincts and sensitivities are subject to reflection, or “broken off” (gebrochen), however, the human individual is “the first liberated member of creation.”

Herder’s philosophy of history also began to take form at this time, springing from his attempt to use the past in order to assess the present situation and future probabilities. He had already outlined in the Fragmente the scheme of a typical historical development on the analogy of the ages of a man’s life. By this means he tried to determine the situation of German poetry that was then current. The essay on Shakespeare and Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit (1774; “Another Philosophy of History Concerning the Development of Mankind”), opposing Rationalism in historiography, were the first writings to show a deeper understanding of historical existence as the product of the contradiction between individuation and the whole of history; this contradiction itself forms the logical basis of historical development. If two forces are in conflict, one can be seen as striving to persevere and to emerge from the whole as an individual structure. Yet the whole is not satisfied with any single form: in historical catastrophes it frees itself to shape a new form of things, which is shattered again in turn when its time is past. The individual is not only an end but also a blind, unfree instrument taken or rejected by God. Even the philosopher can see the future only by tracing its conditions from patterns of past development in order to counteract it.

Further works prepared during this period were his Älteste Urkunde des Menschengeschlechts (1774–76; “Oldest Records of the Human Race”) on Hebrew antiquities and his An Prediger: Fünfzehn Provinzialblätter (1744; “To Preachers: Fifteen Provincial Papers”). Two especially important works were his essay on Shakespeare and “Auszug aus einem Briefwechsel über Ossian und die Lieder alter Völker” (1773; “Extract from a Correspondence About Ossian and the Songs of Ancient Peoples”), published in a manifesto to which Goethe and Justus Möser, a forerunner of Sturm und Drang, also contributed. As Herder showed in his exposition of Shakespeare and Homer, in the genuine poetic utterance, hitherto-hidden aspects of man’s life are revealed by virtue of the creative function of language. “A poet is the creator of the nation around him,” he wrote, “he gives them a world to see and has their souls in his hand to lead them to that world.” Poetic ability is no special preserve of the educated; as the true “mother tongue of mankind” (Hamann), it appears in its greatest purity and power in the uncivilized periods of every nation. For Herder, this ability was proved by the Old Testament, the Edda, and Homer: hence Herder’s concern to retrieve ancient German folk songs and his attention to Norse poetry and mythology, to the work of the minnesinger, and to the language of Martin Luther.

First years at Weimar
Thanks to Goethe’s influence, Herder was appointed general superintendent and consistory councillor at Weimar in 1776. There, anticipating Goethe, he developed the foundations of a general morphology, which enabled him to understand how a Shakespearean play, for instance, or the Gospel According to John, in the historical context of each, was bound to assume the individual form that it did instead of another. Herder’s method achieves its results by recognizing contradictions and by resorting to a higher unity—a method by which Herder earns a place in the history of dialectical logic.

It was at this time also that Herder completed his transition to Classicism. Among the works of this period are Vom Erkennen und Empfinden der menschlichen Seele (1778; “Of the Knowing and Sensing of the Human Soul”), Briefe, das Studium der Theologie betreffend (1780–81; “Letters Concerning the Study of Theology”), Vom Geist der ebräischen Poesie (1782–83; The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry), and his collection of Volkslieder (1778–79; “Folk songs”). Herder regarded poetry as a mode of coming to terms with reality. Whereas most of his contemporaries saw it either as a product of learning or as a means of amusement, he considered poetry to spring from the natural and historical environment experienced by feeling, rather as an involuntary reaction to the stimulus of events than as a deliberate act. Such feeling is the organ of a dynamic relationship between man and the world, which is expressed far more readily in the sounds, stresses, and rhythms of speech than in an image. This “voice of feeling” achieves the status of art only when it is detached from the man and from the historical environment that created it and becomes rounded off to constitute a world by itself.

Summit and later years of his career
Herder’s work at Weimar reached its peak in Zerstreute Blätter (1785–97; “Sporadic Papers”) and in the unfinished Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784–91; Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man). In the latter work, the result of his intercourse with Goethe, Herder attempted to demonstrate that nature and history obey a uniform system of laws. Already in the development from earth to mankind, a striving of forces was at work, aiming to balance one another by generating determinate forms or individual existences. This same phenomenon could be observed as a law of “humanity” in man’s communal life, in which contending forces are reconciled. At any passing moment the measure is individual, but the principle of the development toward form is general. Too often, however, man in his freedom works against nature, for his sense of the measure of things and his reason are immature. Despite these shortcomings, one must trust that growing insight and goodwill will lead men to act according to the truth that they recognize and, through the conflict of nations, will reach the equilibrium of a structure embracing all mankind.

The basic premises underlying the Ideen are resumed in the dialogues Gott: einige Gespräche (1787; 2nd ed., Einige Gespräche über Spinozas System, 1800; “Several Discourses on Spinoza’s System”), in which Herder combines the views of the rationalists Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Benedict de Spinoza, and Anthony, Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury.

Financial difficulties, differences of opinion over the French Revolution, and, above all, his self-assertive nature, which could not bear the proximity of a greater man, led to an estrangement of Herder from Goethe. On Herder’s side this resulted in a bitter enmity toward the whole Classical movement in German poetry and philosophy. His Briefe zu Beförderung der Humanität (1793–97; “Letters for the Advancement of Humanity”) and his Adrastea (1801–03), containing treatises on history, philosophy, and aesthetics, emphasized the didactic purpose of all poetry, thus contradicting that very theory of the autonomy of the work of art that he himself had helped to establish. With the Christliche Schriften (1794–98; “Christian Writings”), the Metakritik zur Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1799; “Metacritique of the Critique of Pure Reason”), and the Kalligone (1800), a metacritique of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, Herder began his attack on Kant, whose philosophy he saw as a threat to his own historical view of the world. In this attack he had the support of Christoph Martin Wieland, an influential poet and novelist, and of Jean Paul.

Herder died in 1803. The first collected edition of Herder’s works was produced by his widow, 45 vol. (1805–20). There is also a critical edition by B. Suphan, 33 vol. (1877–1913; reprinted 1967–68).

Hans Dietrich Irmscher


Late Enlightenment

(Sturm und Drang)

The Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”) movement, with its emphasis on feeling and individualism, has often been described as having developed in opposition to the Enlightenment, but it also adapts and extends such basic ideas of early 18th-century rationalism as natural law, constitutional government, and the rights of the middle class, especially those of middle-class women. The Enlightenment as a European movement had begun in England and Holland and spread from there to France. When it finally arrived in Germany, English authors became the models for German literature to follow during the latter half of the 18th century, after the influence of French Classicism had faded. Even a literary forgery of poetic fragments by the fictional Ossian exerted an immense influence, because it corresponded to the German authors’ new understanding of popular oral poetry and seemed to provide a representative national poet in whom the Volksseele of the Scottish Celts lived on unspoiled.

In lyric poetry, the Sturm und Drang movement continued in admiration of the standards set by Herder in his essay on Ossian and by Klopstock in his poetry. An influential group of Göttingen poets named themselves the Göttinger Hain (“Göttingen Grove”) in 1772 after a line from a Klopstock poem stressing the authenticity of native poetry vis-à-vis Classical Greek models, thus demonstrating their enthusiastic allegiance to Klopstock. The Sturm und Drang dramatists admired Lessing and his bourgeois tragedies, especially Emilia Galotti, with its social and political criticism. Besides bourgeois tragedy, they favoured historical drama, such as Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen (1773), and dramatic satire; however, bourgeois tragedy remained the prime vehicle of Sturm und Drang drama. In their plays, the dramatists attacked social and political conditions such as prostitution, sexual exploitation of middle-class women by the nobility, private education of the nobility by tutors, primogeniture, and capital punishment for infanticide. Next to the young Goethe, and the young Friedrich Schiller as a latecomer in 1781 with Die Räuber (The Robbers), the major dramatists were Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, Johann Anton Leisewitz, Heinrich Leopold Wagner, and Friedrich Müller. Their favourite male protagonists are titanic, revolutionary characters with self-destructive passions, fighting against the evils of the world and ending in defeat. With the dramatization of problems of primogeniture (Leisewitz, Klinger, and Schiller), fratricide as a motif assumed biblical dimensions. A favourite female stage figure is the deserted mother who resorts to infanticide to avoid the social stigma of illegitimate motherhood and faces capital punishment as a result. This topic also formed the core of Goethe’s Urfaust (begun in the early 1770s but not published until 1887), the first version of his treatment of the Faust figure.

The novelists, introducing the autobiographical novel, continued a search for authentic bourgeois voices that had begun during the Enlightenment. Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774, but substantially revised in 1787; The Sorrows of Young Werther) was an immense success, not only in Germany but also throughout Europe. Changing the conventions of the epistolary novel from an exchange of letters to a passionate monologue, Goethe captured and addressed the malaise and Weltschmerz (“world-weariness”) of his generation. Werther narrates the desperate love affair of a sensitive young poet-dilettante with a married woman; it ends in the young man’s suicide. The novel sets the passionate intensity of a fatally flawed artist type against the plodding reliability of the middle class and the callous stupidity and self-satisfaction of the aristocracy. As passionate in rebellion as it was futile in reform, Werther reflected its generation’s opposition to societal convention and at the same time their inability to effect change.

The other novels of this period show lower-middle-class protagonists in works such as Karl Philipp Moritz’s Anton Reiser, 4 vol. (1785–90; Anton Reiser: A Psychological Novel), Ulrich Bräker’s Lebensgeschichte und natürliche Ebenteuer des Armen Manns im Tockenburg (1789; “Life Story and Natural Adventures of the Poor Man in Tockenburg”), and Heinrich Jung-Stilling’s Heinrich Stillings Jugend: eine wahrhafte Geschichte (1777; “Heinrich Stilling’s Youth: A True Story”).

When Goethe accepted a civil service position at the court of the duke of Saxony-Weimar in 1775, this conservative turn by one of the leading figures of the movement marked the end of the Sturm und Drang movement as a period of generational protest.

Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz

born Jan. 12, 1751, Sesswegen, Livonia, Russia
found dead May 24, 1792, Moscow

Russian-born German poet and dramatist of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period, who is considered an important forerunner of 19th-century Naturalism and of 20th-century Expressionistic theatre.

Lenz studied theology at Königsberg University but gave up his studies in 1771 to travel to Strasbourg as a tutor and companion to two young barons von Kleist. In Strasbourg he became a member of Goethe’s circle and was strongly influenced by the Sturm und Drang sentiments of that group of dramatists. Lenz made his reputation with plays from the Strasbourg years, an eccentric didactic comedy, Der Hofmeister oder Vortheile der Privaterziehung (published 1774, performed 1778, Berlin; “The Tutor, or the Advantages of Private Education”), and his best play, Die Soldaten (performed 1763, published 1776; “The Soldiers”). His plays have dramatic and comic effects arising from strong characters and the swift juxtaposition of contrasting situations. Anmerkungen übers Theater (1774; “Observations on the Theatre”) contains a translation of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and outlines Lenz’s theories of dramaturgy, summarizing conceptions of theatre that he shared with other members of the Sturm und Drang movement. These include contempt for classical conventions, particularly the unities of time and place, and a search for utterly realistic depiction of character.

Consumed by the ambition to become Goethe’s equal, Lenz made himself ridiculous by imitating both Goethe’s writing style and his personal life in Strasbourg and at court in Weimar, where Lenz followed Goethe in 1776. His eccentricities were thought to be harmless and amusing until a tactless parody angered Duke Charles Augustus, who therefore expelled Lenz from the court in disgrace. Lenz, showing signs of mental illness, was eventually placed in the care of the Lutheran pastor Johann Friedrich Oberlin. (These weeks in Oberlin’s household supplied the material for Georg Büchner’s novella Lenz [1839].) Lenz later returned to Russia, spending the remaining years of his life in aimless drifting and poverty and, eventually, in insanity. He was found dead in a street in Moscow.



Friedrich Maximilian Klinger


born Feb. 17, 1752, Frankfurt am Main
died March 9, 1831, Dorpat, Estonia

dramatist and novelist, a representative of the German literary revolt against rationalism in favour of emotionalism known as the Sturm und Drang movement. Indeed, it took its name from his play Der Wirrwarr, oder Sturm und Drang (1776; “Confusion, or Storm and Stress”).

The reckless, rebellious style of Klinger’s early life seems the very embodiment of Sturm und Drang in its simpler interpretation. His numerous plays, written at top speed and in the fury of inspiration, are usually built around a Promethean hero, but they lack probability, psychological depth, and dramatic form. Many of their scenes and incidents are borrowed from Shakespeare. The best of these works, Die Zwillinge (1776; “The Twins”), like Schiller’s Die Räuber (“The Robbers”), deals with a favourite theme of the period, the enmity of brothers.

After touring for a few years as theatre poet with a troupe of actors, Klinger in 1780 entered the Russian army and rose eventually to the rank of general. He married a natural daughter of the empress Catherine, filled several important posts, and was curator of the University of Dorpat (1803–17). In his later years, having outgrown the angry resentment of his early period, he wrote two tragedies on the Medea theme and a cycle of nine romances that express a Rousseauan longing for simplicity and idyllic nature.




Johann Anton Leisewitz


born May 9, 1752, Hannover, Hanover [Germany]
died Sept. 10, 1806, Braunschweig, Brunswick

German dramatist whose most important work, Julius von Tarent (1776), was the forerunner of Friedrich Schiller’s famous Sturm und Drang masterpiece Die Räuber (1781; The Robbers).

Leisewitz studied law at the University of Göttingen from 1770 and joined the Göttinger Hain group in 1774. He entered the Brunswick administrative service, in which he rose to high position. His tragedy Julius von Tarent shows Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s influence. The play, treating the favourite Sturm und Drang theme of fratricide, postulated a fundamental conflict between the political state and the individual heart. It exhibits calculated restraint and finely drawn characters. Leisewitz’s short dramatic sketches Die Pfändung (1775; “The Distraint”) and Der Besuch um Mitternacht (1775; “The Midnight Visit”) pursue the Sturm und Drang trend toward the theme of social injustice, which he had divorced from the tragic conflict in Julius von Tarent.



Karl Philipp Moritz

born Sept. 15, 1756, Hameln, Hannover [Germany]
died June 26, 1793, Berlin, Prussia

German novelist whose most important works are his two autobiographical novels, Andreas Hartknopf (1786) and Anton Reiser, 4 vol. (1785–90). The latter is, with J.W. von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, the most mature 18th-century German novel of contemporary life.

Moritz’ family was very poor, and he was apprenticed to a hatter, but patrons helped him to study theology. His restless and unhappy nature led him to abandon theology in an attempt to become an actor. This attempt failed, however, and, after completing his studies, he taught in Dessau and Potsdam and finally in a Gymnasium in Berlin, where he was briefly editor of the Vossische Zeitung (with which Gotthold Ephraim Lessing had been associated). In 1786 he traveled to Italy, where he met Goethe, whom he later advised on artistic theory. After his return to Berlin in 1789 he became professor of aesthetics and archaeology at the Academy of Arts.



Heinrich Jung-Stilling

born Sept. 12, 1740, Grund, Westphalia [Germany]
died April 2, 1817, Karlsruhe

German writer best known for his autobiography, Heinrich Stillings Leben, 5 vol. (1806), the first two volumes of which give a vividly realistic picture of village life in an 18th-century pietistic family.

Jung-Stilling worked as a schoolteacher at age 15 and later was an apprentice in various trades and a private tutor, among other occupations. He then studied medicine at Strasbourg, where he met J.W. von Goethe. Jung-Stilling impressed Goethe, who arranged the publication of the first (and best) two volumes of Heinrich Stillings Jugend (1777; “Heinrich Stilling’s Youth”). This work’s piety and simplicity was influential in the pietistic tide opposed to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. In 1772 Jung-Stilling settled as a physician at Elberfeld and made a name for himself with his successful operations for cataract. In 1778 he became a lecturer in economics and other related subjects at the Kameralschule in Kaiserslautern and then in 1787 at Marburg. In 1803 he received a pension from the prince-elector of Baden. In addition to his autobiography and economic textbooks, he wrote mystical-pietistic works and novels, the best known of which is the allegorical novel Das Heimweh (1794–97; “Homesickness”).

Weimar Classicism:
Goethe and Schiller

Monument to the poets Goethe and Schiller at Weimar, Germany

It took
Goethe more than 10 years to adapt himself to life at the court. After a two-year sojourn in Italy from 1786 to 1788, he published his first Neoclassical work, the drama Iphigenie auf Tauris (1779–87; Iphigenie in Tauris), which reflects his reading of the great Greek dramas, specifically of Euripides’ Iphigeneia en Taurois. Goethe’s Iphigenie, in blank verse, marks the beginning of Weimar Classicism, with its projection of objectivity of form and a new ethical message of Humanität in opposition to barbarism. (Weimar Classicism owes its name to Goethe’s and Schiller’s residence at Weimar.) Iphigenie rescues her brother Orestes from the death to which he is condemned by the harsh customs of the island of Tauris, where she lives in exile. She softens the harshness of the “barbarian” king Thoas, calling forth his forgiveness by throwing herself and her brother completely at his mercy and facing death rather than lie to save her family. He is so moved by her honesty and trustfulness, by what Goethe would call some years later her “pure humanity” (reine Menschlichkeit), that he releases her and her Greek countrymen to return home. Iphigenie’s “humanity” not only conquers barbaric customs; it also lifts the curse that pursues her entire family, the descendants of Tantalus—the same curse that had driven her brother Orestes to kill his own mother, Clytemnestra.

Goethe completed his Renaissance drama Torquato Tasso (1790) on the eve of the French Revolution. It deals with the fate of the bourgeois poet in courtly society and arises from Goethe’s own dilemma at the court of Weimar. The poet Tasso finds himself isolated and misunderstood by the court. He feels that he can no longer glorify his noble patron and the aristocratic society that nurtures and protects him but must respond to a higher calling that commands him to express his individual suffering. In the final scene, Tasso, exiled in favour of the courtier and diplomat Antonio, embraces his rival, who saves him from self-destruction and helps him to accept his new identity as a bourgeois poet.

The meeting of Goethe and Schiller in Weimar and Jena in 1794 began not only a friendship but also a dialogue that proved mutually productive and creative. It was at Schiller’s insistence that Goethe resumed his major work, Faust, Part I, which he completed three years after Schiller’s death in 1808. Weimar Classicism was the “shared achievement” (as T.J. Reed puts it in his 1984 biography Goethe) of Goethe and Schiller and is considered the culmination of German literature. Goethe’s and Schiller’s move toward Greek Classicism at the end of the 18th century was motivated by the search for aesthetic standards in contemporary literature. Both were aware that they could not repeat the achievements of Greek Classicism but that an infusion of Classical Greek aesthetics would contribute to new forms for their culture and literature, forms suited to the character of their time. Their Classicism was to be an integration of individualism into a higher form and a reformulation of Herder’s concept of Humanität. For this purpose Goethe employed Classical metres and genres such as the epigram, the elegy, and even the epic, as in his idyll Hermann und Dorothea (1797), for example, which portrays in Greek hexameters the fate of German refugees from the French Revolution. But Goethe and Schiller did not shun modern genres, such as the ballad or, in Goethe’s case, the novel. With his Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795–96; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship), Goethe provided the “founding text” of the German bildungsroman. The concept of Bildung (“formation”), linked to Humanität as harmonious development of individuality, was central to Goethe’s work. His protagonist, Wilhelm Meister, progresses through a series of metamorphoses of role and character, eventually abandoning ill-conceived plans for a career in the theatre. Gradually in the course of the novel and its much later continuation, Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821–29; Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Travel), the notion of a significant destiny toward which the hero develops—inward compulsion finding direction through experience, the ego-driven goal of formation of the inner kernel of selfhood—gives way to a more modest ideal of restraint and self-control achieved through adapting to wise and authoritative models outside the self. Wilhelm ends his development modestly by becoming an ordinary medic. In spite of the hero’s incomplete and modest Bildung, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre became a model for the German novel of education until the 20th century.

Like Goethe, Schiller was a many-sided talent. Alongside his lyric and historical works (a history of the Thirty Years’ War among them), he had established a reputation with his powerful dramas of the Sturm und Drang period, but his Classical period produced his major dramas, the Wallenstein trilogy (1800–01, drawing on his historian’s knowledge of the Thirty Years’ War) and Maria Stuart (1800), probably his most successful play. The figure of the condemned rival of Queen Elizabeth for the throne of England is the dramatic realization of Schiller’s idea of erhabene Seele (“sublimity of soul”). Schiller’s Mary Stuart attains sublimity by facing her death with a noble dignity that overcomes all desire and worldly ambition and makes her in death superior to her successful rival, Elizabeth.

In Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801; The Maid of Orleans), Schiller’s Joan of Arc dies a sublime death on the battlefield, instead of perishing at the stake as the historical Joan did. His last drama, Demetrius (1805)—on the deluded pretender to the Russian throne at the end of the 16th century—remains a fragment.

Schiller had found the philosophical essay useful in his early days, but the form came to fruition in his Classical period. His most influential philosophical works were Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (1795; Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man), Über Anmut und Würde (1793; “On Grace and Dignity”), and Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung (1795–96; Naive and Sentimental Poetry). Schiller developed his ideas of Anmut (“grace”) and Würde (“dignity”) under the influence of Immanuel Kant. The Kantian notion of the sublime allowed Schiller to articulate an ideal of the subjection of Neigung (“impulse”) to Pflicht (“duty”), which results in an inner composition and control expressed outwardly in grace and composure. The dramatic protagonists of his Classical dramas (particularly Mary Stuart and Joan of Arc) embody the ethical message essential to grace and dignity by maintaining Humanität in the face of adversity. The essay Naive and Sentimental Poetry presents itself as a reflection on two types of poetry—one spontaneous and natural (naiv), the other forced and calculated, a product of will and laborious poetic engineering (sentimentalisch). In it Schiller also reflects on the difference between himself, the “sentimental” writer, and his envied friend Goethe, the “naive” poet. According to Schiller, all truly modern literature is “sentimental”; “naive” poetry is a lost mode from a no-longer-attainable phase of creativity, one that is only recoverable in individual geniuses like Goethe, not in the spirit of the contemporary world.

An important accomplishment of their friendship was the completion of Goethe’s Faust, Part I (1808). The play’s core was the infanticide tragedy Urfaust (from the 1770s), in which a village girl, Margarete, is destroyed along with her whole family by her love affair with Faust. The latter, a scholar and professor glutted with dry book learning and hungry for experience, resorts to magic, arranges a pact with the Devil, and embarks on a journey with his new companion, Mephistopheles, that leads him straight to Margarete and their fatal love affair. The greater drama of 1808 fits this tragic love story into the cosmic frame of a wager between God and Mephisto, modeled on the wager of God with Satan in the biblical book of Job. The wager is not that Faust will shun evil but that his association with the Devil will not deter him from ultimately striving for God as the central monad (see above for a discussion of Leibnitz’s Monadology). The bet is ultimately resolved in Faust, Part II (1832), in favour of God—contrary to the Renaissance tradition in which Faust forfeits his soul. Faust can be redeemed because of his striving for God and the supernal love that comes to his aid. The cosmic drama of the play’s final scenes is an apocalyptic allegory reminiscent of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Faust’s soul is wrested from the Devil partly by the intercession of his former beloved, Margarete, who comes to earth from heaven, in a chorus including other redeemed women as well as the Mater Gloriosa (“Glorious Mother,” an epithet for the Virgin Mary present in Catholic litany), to receive Faust’s earthly remains and to inspire the closing lines of the drama:

Alles Vergängliche
Ist nur ein Gleichniss;
Das Unzulängliche
Hier wird’s Ereigniss;
Das Unbeschreibliche
Hier ist’s getan
Das Ewig-Weibliche
Zieht uns hinan.

All that is transitory
Is but a parable;
The unattainable
Here it is done;
The ineffable
Here becomes fact:
The Eternal Feminine
Shows us the way to transcend.

A chorus of angels sings that his redemption is realized through his “constant striving”: “Wer immer strebend sich bemüht,/ Den können wir erlösen” (“We can give redemption to him who struggles in constant questing”). But human striving would be in vain if it were not for the “Liebe von oben” (“supernal love”), the divine love embodied in Margarete.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Faust"      PART I, PART II, PART III
Illustrations by Eugene Delacroix and Harry Clarke

Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1786) by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

born Aug. 28, 1749, Frankfurt am Main [Germany]
died March 22, 1832, Weimar, Saxe-Weimar

German poet, novelist, playwright, andnatural philospoher, the greatest figure of the German Romantic period and of German literature as a whole.

One of the giants of world literature, Goethe was perhaps the last European to attempt the mastery and many-sidedness of the great Renaissance personalities: critic, journalist, painter, theatre manager, statesman, educationalist, natural philosopher. The bulk and diversity of his output is in itself phenomenal: his writings on science alone fill about 14 volumes. In the lyric vein he displayeda command of a unique variety of theme and style; in fiction he ranged from fairy tales, which have proved a quarry for psychoanalysts, through the poetic concentration of his shorter novels and Novellen (novellas) to the “open,” symbolic form of Wilhelm Meister; in the theatre, from historical, political, or psychological plays in prose through blank-verse drama to his Faust , one of the masterpieces of modern literature. He achieved in his 82 years a wisdom often termed Olympian, even inhuman; yet almost to the end he retained a willingness to let himself be shaken to his foundations by love or sorrow. He disciplined himself to a routine that might armour him against chaos; yet he never lost the power of producing magical short lyrics in which the mystery of living,loving, and thinking was distilled into sheer transparency.

And at the last there was granted him a gift, uncanny even to himself, of tapping at will the springs of creativity in order to complete the work he had carried with him for 60 years. When, a few months before his death, he sealed his Faust, he bequeathed it with ironic resignation to the critics of posterity to discover its imperfections. Its final couplet, “Das Ewig-Weibliche/Zieht uns hinan” (“Eternal Womanhead/Leads us on high”), epitomizes his own feeling about the central polarity of human existence: woman was to him at once man's energizer and his civilizer, source of creative life and focus of the highest endeavours of both mind and spirit.

There was in Goethe a natural, if not always painless, swing between poles of existence often thought to be mutually exclusive and an innate commitment to change and process.And, in the last letter he was to write, he rounded off what has sometimes been called his greatest work, his life, by setting the seal of his approval on a mode of growth that sees the art of living as the intensification of inborn talents through a judicious surrender to the natural rhythm of opposing tendencies.

Early life and influences

Goethe came of middle-class stock, the Bürgertum that he never ceased to praise as a breeding ground of the finest culture. His father, Johann Kaspar Goethe, was of north German extraction. A retired lawyer, he was able to lead a life of cultured leisure, travelling in Italy and amassing a well-stocked library and picture gallery in his handsomely furnished house. Goethe's mother, Katharine Elisabeth Textor, was the daughter of a Bürgermeister (mayor) of Frankfurt; she opened up to her son valued connections with the patriciate of the free city. Thus even in his heredity Goethe unites those opposing tendencies that have always prevailed in German lands: the intellectual and moral rigour of the north and the easygoing artistic sensuousness of the south. Of eight children, only Wolfgang, the firstborn, and his sister, Cornelia, survived.

In his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit (“Poetry and Truth”), Goethe left an unforgettable picture of a happy childhood. Here are set out with acute psychological insight the emotional complexities of his bond with Cornelia, which found expression in numerous portrayals of the brother–sister relationship in his works; his passionate attachment to a barmaid, Gretchen, which foreshadowed the rejection pattern of many of his loves; the broadening of outlook that came with French occupation during the Seven Years' War; the coronation of Joseph II in the Frankfurt Römer, with its indelible impressions of medieval pageantry;and the fervent religiosity of Pietistic circles, which led him to declaim F.G. Klopstock's Messias (“Messiah”) as a kind of Lenten exercise, to write a prose epic on Joseph and a poem on Christ's descent into hell. The French army had brought itsown troupe of actors, and their performances intensified a passion for the stage, first kindled in him by his grandmother's gift of a puppet theatre, and inspired a lifelong devotion to Racine. A love of things English was fostered by friendship with a young clothier from Leeds (Goethe's paternal grandfather was a fashionable tailor) with whom Cornelia, seeing herself as the heroine of a Richardsonian novel, fell hopelessly in love. Wolfgang's reaction was the inception of a novel in letters, a kind of linguistic exercise in which four brothers correspond in different languages.

In October 1765 Goethe was sent to study law at his father'sold University of Leipzig, though he himself would have preferred to read classics in the newly founded university at Göttingen, where English influence prevailed. In Leipzig, or “little Paris” as he calls it in Faust, by contrast, a world of elegance and fashion made the young provincial feel like a fish out of water. The Frenchifying influence of the critic J.C. Gottsched still dominated the theatre and provided a repertory of the best plays of contemporary Europe. But C.F. Gellert, poet and author of fables and hymns, now in the heyday of his fame, presented the new sensibility of Edward Young, Laurence Sterne, and Samuel Richardson. Goethe praised Gellert's lectures as “the foundation of German moral culture” and learned from them invaluable lessons in epistolary style and in social conduct. Gellert's literary influence was reinforced by the robust elegance and ironic sagacity of the novels, tales, and epics of C.M. Wieland. Wieland's work was brought to Goethe's notice by A.F. Oeser, a friend and teacher of the archaeologist and art historian J.J. Winckelmann, who profoundly influenced European fashions in art. From Oeser, Goethe learned a loveof Greek art and two things that stood him in good stead all his life: to use his eyes and to master the craft of whatever he undertook. A visit to Dresden, “the Florence of the north,” as the poet and critic J.G. Herder called it, opened his eyes to the splendours of Rococo architecture as well as classical statuary. Nor was music neglected in his education; a new 18th-century concert society, under the direction of the musician and composer J.A. Hiller, provided splendid performances, which became world famous as the Gewandhaus concerts.

The literary harvest of Goethe's Leipzig period manifested itself in a songbook written in the prevailing Rococo mode—songs praising love and wine in the manner of the Greek poet Anacreon. Appropriately titled Das Leipziger Liederbuch (The Leipzig Song Book), it was ostensibly inspired by the daughter of the wine merchant at whose tavern he took his midday meal. But neither his 1766–67 poems Das Buch Annette (“The Book Annette”; as he called her in Rococo fashion) nor the Neue Lieder (“New Songs”) of 1769 made any pretense of real passion. Yet it was in connection with these literary trifles that he subsequently made the famous and much abused statement that all his works were “fragments of a great confession.” The same note is struck in two plays written in alexandrine verse (a 12-syllable iambic line borrowed from the French), Die Launedes Verliebten (“The Mood of the Beloved”) and a more sombre farce, Die Mitschuldigen (“The Accomplices”), which foreshadows the psychological preoccupations of later works. From then on, Rococo was one element in Goethe's repertoire, to be drawn on as occasion demanded. It was to reappear in the setting of Torquato Tasso and Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elected Affinities); he was to pay tribute to its charm in Anakreons Grab (“Anacreon's Grave”; 1806) and amalgamate it with Eastern influence in enchanting poems of the West-östlicher Divan (“Divan of East and West”).

Works of the storm and stress period

Goethe's stay in Leipzig was cut short by severe illness, andby the autumn of 1768 he was back home. A long convalescence fostered introspection and religious mysticism. He played with alchemy, astrology, and occult philosophy, all of which left their mark on Faust. On his recovery it was decided that he should pursue legal studies in Strassburg as a first stage on the way to Paris and the Grand Tour (never actually completed). His stay there proved a turning point for his whole life and work. In this German capital of a French province, he experienced a reaction against the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Leipzig and under the impact of the great cathedral proclaimed his conversion to the Gothic German ideal. More decisive still was the influence of J.G. Herder, who spent the winter of 1770–71 there undergoing treatment for his eyes. From him Goethe learned the role played by touch, the haptic sense, in the growth of the mind; a new view of the artist as a creator fashioning forms expressive of feeling; a new theoryof poetry as the original and most vital language of man; the virtues of a new style, that of the Volkslied (folk song) and the poetry of “primitive” peoples as enshrined in the Bible, the epics of Homer, and the poems attributed (falsely) to Ossian, a 3rd-century Celtic poet. It is this new sense of felt immediacy, and of the plasticity of his linguistic medium, that informs the lyrics Goethe wrote to one of his early loves, Friederike Brion, the pastor's daughter of Sesenheim. They mark the beginning of a new epoch in the German lyric. Such poems as “Mailied” (“May Song”) and “Willkommen und Abschied” (“Welcome and Farewell”) are still the most popular, though not the greatest, of his Lieder. The latter, especially in its revised form of 1790, touchingly expresses the guilt he felt that this time he himself had the role of deserter and rejecter, and the whole idyll as recounted in Dichtung und Wahrheit reveals that cross-fertilization of life and literature that he increasingly saw as a potent factor in human development.

If, as Herder maintained, energy was one of the marks of poetry, it was clearly in the passions acted out on the stage that it could find its most vital expression. And where more vital than in the colossal figures of the “Gothic Shakespeare”? In writing the Geschichte Gottfriedens von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand dramatisiert (1771; “TheDramatized History of Gottfried von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand”), Goethe was deliberately vying with Shakespeare. For the real Götz, who died two years before Shakespeare was born, was near enough in time to represent that bustling spacious 16th century, the animal vitality of which contrasted so forcibly with the straitlaced affectations of Goethe's own day. With the publication in 1773 of Götz von Berlichingen , a radically tautened version of that “History,” the Shakespeare cult was launched, and the Sturm und Drang(storm and stress) movement was provided with its first major work of genius. The manifesto of the movement, heralded by Goethe's enthusiastic Rede zum Schakespears Tag (“Conversation from Shakespeare's Day”), had appeared after Goethe's return to Frankfurt in August 1771. “Von deutscher Art und Kunst” (“Concerning German Natureand Art”), as it was called, contained a defense of German nationality by the historian J.M. Möser, two essays by Herder championing Ossian and Shakespeare, and a rhapsody on Gothic architecture by Goethe.

Though ostensibly in practice as a lawyer, the young poet now found himself caught up in a whirl of literary and social duties—helping to edit the Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen (“Frankfurt Scholarly Reviews”), for instance—and it was to break loose from this that he left for Wetzlar, seat of the supreme court of the Empire. But again literature won the day over law, and an impassioned yet self-ironic ode in free verse, “Wandrers Sturmlied” (“Wanderer's Storm Song”), is testimony both to a recently inspired admiration for Pindar, the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece, and to a hesitant certainty that he himself might be destined for greatness. And in Wetzlar he experienced a new passion, this time for a girl safely out of reach from the start, Charlotte Buff. Her betrothed, Johann Christian Kestner, showed great understanding until, as it seemed to him, he found the affair exposed to public gaze in Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther; 1774).

But much besides the Wetzlar experience had gone into the making of this novel: Herder's scathing comments on his young pupil's lack of formal- and self-mastery; the recent indictment by G.E. Lessing of the Neoplatonic doctrine of artistic creation in Emilia Galotti; a passing attraction to Maximiliane, the daughter of the German novelist Sophie von La Roche, who probably endowed his heroine with her black eyes. And it was only when Kestner reported the suicide of a Wetzlar acquaintance who had killed himself out of hopeless love that all this was precipitated into a plot. If Werther took the world by storm it was because, in Thomas Carlyle's words, it gave expression to “the nameless unrest and longing discontent which was then agitating every bosom.” But this first novel is no sentimental tearjerker. Nor is disappointed love its real theme. It is rather what the 18th century called Enthusiasm: the fatal effects of a predilectionfor absolutes, whether in love, art, society, or the realm of thought. The mind that conceived its symmetry, wove its intricate linguistic patterns, and handled the subtle differentiation of hero and narrator was moved by a formal as well as a personal passion. Even the title has been trivialized in translation: Sorrows (instead of “Sufferings”) obscures the allusion to the Passion of Christ and individualizes what Goethe himself thought of as a “general confession,” in a tradition going back to St. Augustine.

Besides Werther and Götz, the period 1771–75 saw the appearance of a number of magnificent hymns—lyrical or dramatic, according to whether the influence of Pindar or Shakespeare prevailed—“Cäsar,” “Mahomets Gesang” (“Mahomet's Singing”), “Der Ewige Jude” (“The Eternal Jew”), “Prometheus,” “Sokrates,” “Satyros,” “Der Wandrer” (“The Wanderer”); the inception of Egmont and Faust (this so-called Urfaust, or “original” version of Faust, was discovered by a lucky chance in 1887); the completion of Clavigo , a play of more “regular” form on a theme of the French playwright Beaumarchais, and of Stella (1775), with its conciliatory ending of a mariage à trois, subsequently conventionalized into tragedy. Two operettas, Erwin und Elmire and Claudine von Villa Bella, reflect a return to the elegance of Rococo inspired by Goethe's betrothal to Lili Schönemann, daughter of a rich banker, who moved in fashionable circles that were soon to prove unbearably restrictive to the young Stürmer und Dränger. From the conflicts of this love he took refuge, as so often, in nature; and in a poem written on the lake of Zürich, “Auf dem See” (“On the Lake”), created the first of those many short lyrics in which language of radiant simplicity is made the vehicle of inexhaustible significance. With his departure for Weimar in November 1775, the engagement was allowed to lapse.

The mature years at Weimar

Going to Weimar was the major turning point of Goethe's life. He went on a visit to the reigning duke, Charles Augustus. It remained his home—despite Napoleon's invitation to Paris—until his death there on March 22, 1832. From now on, mastery of life became his chief concern; and Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship ; 1824), the title he eventually gave his next novel (1795–96), suggests the long apprenticeship such mastery involves. He served his own in the innumerable and ever increasing official duties the young duke heaped on his willing shoulders until, as indispensable minister of the little state, he was inspecting mines, superintending irrigation schemes, and even organizing the issue of uniforms to its tiny army.

He served his apprenticeship, too, in his passionate devotionto the wife of a court official, Charlotte von Stein. For the first time he found himself in love with a woman who could also meet him on the intellectual plane. From the 1,500 or so letters he wrote her we can see her become the guiding principle of his life, teaching him the graces of society, dominating the details of his daily existence, engaging his imagination and desire, yet insisting on a relation governed by decorum and conventional virtue. She would be his sister and nothing more, and the sublimation she increasingly enforced on him, though irksome, could inspire the almost psychoanalytical probings of “Warum gabst du uns die tiefen Blicke?” (“Why did you give us the deep glances?”), the tortures of Orestes and their assuagement by Iphigenie, the delicate one-act play, Die Geschwister (“Brother and Sister”; 1776), and such well-loved lyrics as “An den Mond” (“To the Moon”), “Der Becher” (“The Cup”), “Jägers Abendlied” (“Hunter's Evening Song”), “Seefahrt” (“Sea Journey”), and the two exquisite “Wandrers Nachtlieder” (“Wanderer's Night Songs”).

In these and other poems of this period—“Grenzen der Menschheit” (“Limits of Mankind”), “Gesang der Geister über den Wassern” (“Singing of the Spirits over the Water”), “Das Göttliche” (“The Divine”), “Harzreise im Winter” (“Journey in the Harz Mountains in Winter”), “Ilmenau”—nature has ceased to be a mere reflection of man's moods and has become something existing in its own right, a setting for an idea or a force indifferent, even hostile to him. This new “objectivity” is in tune with Goethe's growing scientific preoccupations. Yet such is his versatility that he could, when he chose, revert to the temper of “Der König in Thule” (“The King in Thule”; written in 1774) and compose ballads such as “Erlkönig” (“King of the Elves”) or “Der Fischer” (“The Fisherman”), in which nature bears the projection of unconscious forces; while a number of Singspiele, or musical plays, betoken his readiness and ability to provide light entertainment for the court. Der Triumph der Empfindsamkeit (“The Triumph of Sensibility”) even satirizes the sensibility his own Werther had helped to foster.

But neither the cares of state nor those of a frustrating love affair were conducive to the peace and leisure required to complete works of such magnitude as Egmont, Faust, Tasso, and Iphigenie (a prose version of this last was sufficiently advanced to be put on before the court in 1779 with Goethe himself in the role of Orestes). And in September 1786, in dramatic secrecy and with the haste of one pursued, he set out on his long-postponed Italian journey. This flight was at once a death and a rebirth. And it was in these terms that he wrote of it in his letters. He sought the renewal of himself, both as man and artist, and so deliberately cut himself off from his emotional, literary, and cultural past, scorning the “Gothic follies” he had once acclaimed, rejecting Juliet's tomb in Verona in favour of the Greek steles in the museum, finding delight in Palladio's churches rather than in San Marco or the doge's palace, devoting barely three hours to Florence, and ignoring completely the medieval glories of Assisi for the sake of its temple of Minerva, feverishly bent on arriving in Rome, “capital of the ancient world,” but seeing even that as a prelude to Magna Graecia, to the temples of Paestum, and the revelation of classical grandeurin Sicily, “key to the whole,” a prelude to the world of Homer, which he recaptured in a glorious dramatic fragment, Nausikaa (1787). And just as he sought and found the Urmensch, or archetypal man, in the forms of Greek antiquity, so in these landscapes there came to his mind the extension of this idea to plants as well. In his literary work these pursuits led to the creation of beings who are individual manifestations but of a clearly discernible type; tothemes that are universal and timeless but treated in a highly differentiated way; to the measured cadences of verse that are yet vibrant with personal passion.

This new conception of form is apparent in the revision of the four plays he had taken with him to Italy. Faust, Ein Fragment (“Faust, a Fragment”), published in 1790, is quite clearly, by its excisions as well as its additions, a step in the direction of the stupendous cultural symbol the play would eventually become rather than any attempt to weld into dramatic unity the sharply individualized episodes of the original version, the Urfaust. Egmont, though not actually cast into verse, is raised to the level of poetic drama not by virtue of its frequent iambic rhythms but by a thickening of the verbal texture, so that when music finally takes over it seems the inevitable culmination of a gradual convergence and sudden contraction of themes rather than the “salto mortale (i.e., somersault) into the world of opera” Schiller was to dub it. By such means, the personal and the political aspects of the problem become completely interfused—Egmont and his beloved Klärchen, the most lovable characters Goethe ever created, are embodiments of an inner freedom that is a heightened form of the easygoing independence of the Netherlands people—and what had started as a dramatic portrayal of a daemonic individual is transformed into a tragedy of the very idea of freedom, of its fate in a world ruled not just by calculation or intrigue but by unpredictable conjunctures of persons and events.

In Torquato Tasso such linguistic density is carried to lengths possible only in verse. Goethe spoke of having expended a positively “unlawful care” on it. But this is not inappropriate to a play about a poet, an artist whose mediumis the ordinary vehicle of communication between men. The tragic conflict here arises from misunderstandings about the various modes of language, and the temperamental clashes are presented as concomitants of this rather than as the prime focus of interest (though there is enough psychology to justify the description by the French writer Mme de Staël of Goethe as “le Racine de l'Allemagne”). The slightness of the outward action in Torquato Tasso has been much criticized, but it can be justified in a study of the “poetical character” per se—a creature for whom “any little vexation grows in five minutes into a theme for Sophocles.” By placing him in a society that, far from being indifferent or hostile, cherishes him and values his work, Goethe has thrown into sharpest relief the incurable “discrepancy” between poet and world, and this rift is not healed by Tasso'sdiscovery that even the extremes of anguish can be transmuted into imperishable verse.

But it was perhaps Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787) that benefitted most from his encounter with classical antiquity. And yet Schiller was right in calling it “astonishingly modern and un-Greek.” Like Tasso, it too treats of the problems of communication: of the unforeseeable power of words once they are released into the world; of the double face of language, which conceals as much as it reveals; of truth, whose opposite is not just an outright lie but the withholding of self. But it treats, too, of man's power to free himself from his myths by recognizing them as projections of his own unconscious, of his power to break the chain of events that seems to determine his present (symbolized in the monotonously regular crime sequence of the race of Tantalus) by a reorientation of outlook. The conciliatory ending, which Euripides contrived by the sudden appearanceof the goddess Athena, here comes with the apparent suddenness of new insight: the words of the oracle are susceptible to a different interpretation. In its synthesis of Greek and Christian values, its elevation of the physical to the spiritual through the identification of Iphigenie with the divine sister, Diana, this play represents the highest achievement of 18th-century humanism.

The chief lyrical product of the Italian journey was the Römische Elegien (“Roman Elegies”; written 1788–89). In their plastic beauty and unabashed sensuality, their blending of erotic tenderness with an enhanced sense of our cultural heritage, these pagan, highly civilized poems are unique in any modern language. Had they been written in themetre of Byron's Don Juan, Goethe acknowledged, they might easily have been offensive; but the classical distichs (couplets) lend them that veil of aesthetic distance that reveals even as it shrouds. The true begetter of these elegies was not some passing Roman amour but Christiane Vulpius, daughter of a humble official, whom Goethe had taken into heart and home soon after his return from Italy in April 1788. Christiane bore him several children; but it was not until 1806, when life and property were threatened by the French invasion, that the nonconformist eventually conformed and in grateful recognition of its indissoluble bonds regularized their union in the eyes of society.

His first Italian journey finally brought home to Goethe that,for all his interest and talent, he was not destined to be a painter. Despite diligent practice with his artist friends in Rome, he was never able to master this medium to the point at which it became expressive of his deepest feeling, and with rare exceptions his numerous drawings have no more than the charm of a sensitive amateur. But his abiding preoccupation with the visual arts left an indelible mark on his literary as well as his scientific work and gave added precision to his many critical and aesthetic essays. And it was on this first visit to Italy, too, that he finally reached the decision that he must shed his administrative duties and devote himself henceforth to his true vocation of literature and science.

A return visit to Italy in 1790 brought nothing but disappointment, and a restlessness aggravated by the revolutionary events in the outer world. The Epigramme. Venedig 1790. (“Venetian Epigrams of 1790”) reflect something of this discontent. In 1792 Goethe accompanied his duke on the disastrous campaign into France, was present at the battle of Valmy, and wrote up his experiences in two still very readable war books, Campagne in Frankreich 1792 and Belagerung von Mainz (“Siege of Mainz”). His liberal-conservative attitudes found expression in Reineke Fuchs (“Reynard the Fox”), a recasting of the Low German satire, the Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (“Conversations of German Emigrants”), and three plays. Der Gross-Cophta, Die Aufgeregten (“The Agitated”), and Der Bürgergeneral (“The Citizen General”), which, though artistically unsuccessful, are of interest in being among the few examples of political literature produced by German poets. But it was only as the French Revolution receded that he was able to transmute its overwhelming actuality into timeless poetry. It still forms the background of his Homeric treatment of the refugee problem, Hermann und Dorothea (1797). It fills the whole canvas of Die Natürliche Tochter (“The Natural Daughter”; 1804). Planned as a trilogy but never completed, this was Goethe's final reckoning with the greatest event of his time. Beneath the coolness of its formalperfection there stirs a profound concern with revolutionary phenomena, with the role of death and destruction in the perpetuation of social and cultural, no less than of natural, forms of life.

Schiller and the classical ideal

The human and spiritual isolation in which Goethe found himself on his return from Italy was unexpectedly relieved by the development of a friendship with Schiller. His acceptance of a formal invitation to contribute to a new journal, Die Horen (1795–97; “The Horae”), called forth Schiller's now-famous letter of August 23, 1794, in which, with marvelous insight, he summed up Goethe's whole existence. Here, it seemed to him, was the very embodiment of the naive poet—but consciously naive, moving from feeling to reflection and then transforming reflection back into feeling, concepts of the mind back into percepts of the senses. It was this conscious assent to a mode of thinking different from Schiller's own more abstractive reflection thatmade possible their immensely fruitful partnership, and the four volumes of their daily correspondence offer not only an invaluable commentary on the ideals and achievements of the greatest period of German literature but astonishing insight into the processes of artistic creation. Some of the works Goethe produced during the next few years are embodiments of their classical ideal. Hermann und Dorothea, one of the best loved, is his attempt to “produce a Greece from within.” In it he claimed to have “separated the purely human from the dross.” The characters are types—except forthe hero and heroine, they have no proper names, and even theirs are symbolic—and like those of the Odyssey they vindicate peace and home and the domestic virtues. Yet, as always in Goethe's works, these are shown as never secure for long, as constantly in need of being fostered by man's efforts to be human and humane. In the Helena act of Faust, Part II, in which the meeting and mating of Faust and Helen ofTroy marks the synthesis of paganism and Christianity, of Greece and Germany, he captured the Greek spirit so successfully that competent critics hold that if translated into Attic Greek it might well pass for a lost fragment of the Athenian stage.

A never completed epic, Achilleis, is his last attempt to “be a Greek after his own fashion.” Other works of this period are in tune with Schiller's growing conviction that the only future for literature in a world that increasingly clamoured for the naturalistic and the tendentious lay in a hermetic closing of the poetic world by a frank introduction of symbolic devices. Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung (“Wilhelm Meister'sTheatrical Mission”; a manuscript of this version turned up in1910) is now widened to a vocation for life, a theme dear to the heart of Schiller, who had himself just completed a treatise Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen (1795; “On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters”) and wholly in tune with their joint conviction that art, though not the handmaid of either truth or morality, has nevertheless its own peculiar part to play in making better men and better citizens. Fictional realism is now blended with abstraction; characterization, however psychologically acute, subordinated to an overall poetic significance; and the presence in a novel of contemporary society of such mysteriously compelling figures as the Harper and Mignon seems to justify Goethe's claim that his novel is “thoroughly symbolic.”

It was Schiller, too, who turned his thoughts to the continuation of Faust and discerned the difficulties involved in reconciling this “barbarous composition” with their classical ideal, in blending the evident seriousness of its “idea” with that element of “play” that was the prerequisite of the art of the future. By his insistence on such problems, he inspired the fictional framework of Faust's “Prelude on the Stage” no less than the philosophical framework of the “Prologue in Heaven.” If, in spite of such indications, the world insisted on reading Faust, Part I (1808) as a love story, which stamped its author as a Romantic, it was because at this stage the almost unbearable pathos of the Gretchen tragedy had not yet found its place in the wider tragedy of Western man.

Goethe and Schiller blamed the failure of the journals in which they strove to propagate their ideals of art and literature (Goethe's Propyläen, 1798–1800, was a quasi-successor to Schiller's Horen) on the indifference of anuncultivated public and vented their disappointment in Xenien, approximately 400 mordant distichs in the manner of Martial. A more positive reply to their detractors was a wonderful harvest of ballads. Goethe's own—“Der Schatzgräber” (“The Treasure Digger”), “Die Braut von Korinth” (“The Bride from Corinth”), “Der Zauberlehrling” (“The Sorcerer's Apprentice”)—differ from his earlier ones in that man rather than nature now holds sway. The “white” magic of reflection is consciously, even ironically, introduced. And in the ballad, with its blend of lyric, epic, and dramatic elements, Goethe now discerned the Urei, or archetypal form, of poetry by analogy with the Urpflanze (archetypal plants) he had discovered in the vegetable world.

Goethe's relation to the Romantics

With Schiller's death in 1805, Goethe felt he had lost “the half of his existence,” and he wrote a magnificent tribute to his great friend in Epilog zu Schillers Glocke (“Epilogue to Schiller's Bells”). His intellectual loneliness was eased in some measure by his relations to the new school of Romantics then flourishing in Jena, for they had much in common. Friedrich von Schlegel had begun his career with a book extolling Greek culture and gone on to praise the Orientas the summit of Romantic thought and poetry. His brother Wilhelm's absorption in form and metre was after Goethe's own heart, and he could not be indifferent to their enthusiastic praise of Wilhelm Meister or to Novalis' description of him as “the viceregent of poetry upon earth.” In Bettina Brentano, daughter of his old love, Maximiliane von La Roche, he found an ardent response to both his genius and his humanity, and her Briefwechsel Goethes mit einem Kinde (1835; “Goethe's Correspondence with a Child”) remains one of the most readable books in German literature, whatever doubts may be cast on its reliability. Though Goethe decried the Romantics as “forced talents,” amateurishly oblivious of the virtues of form, though he deplored their catholicizing tendencies, their uncritical addiction to all things medieval, their attempts to blur the literary genres and confuse the boundaries between art and life, he yet remained open to many of their enthusiasms, even letting himself be moved to a renewed interest in Gothic architecture. And in Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809) he drew heavily for his thematic material upon their preoccupation with “the night-side of nature,” with the animal, magnetic affinities that attract human beings to each other, as elements are attracted in the chemical world.

But this novel offers no support at all for a superstitious surrender to forces natural or supernatural, for a subhuman abdication of moral responsibility. Catastrophe follows inexorably upon the arbitrary interpretation of signs and portents; the heroine enters upon a path of renunciation thatbrings her near sainthood; marriage may be presented with ruthless realism as “a synthesis of impossibilities,” but it remains nevertheless “the beginning and end of all civilization.” The Romantics were here taught a lesson of social behaviour—and of artistic form. The narrative is conducted with a serene impartiality, and all the classical values of plasticity, restraint, and symmetry are brought to bear on a subject that is sensational to the point of improbability.

By their translations—Romanticism is translation, Clemens Brentano declared—the Romantics were opening up the literary treasures of the world, and Weltliteratur was to become one of Goethe's most treasured concepts. Its aim was, as he put it, to advance civilization by encouraging mutual understanding and respect—whether through translation or criticism (his own attempts to interpret Serbianpoetry to the Germans is an excellent example of this latter) or through the blending of different literary traditions. Two great ballads, “Der Gott und die Bajadere” (“God and the Dancing Girl”) and “Paria” (“Outcast”), and two exquisite cycles, the late and lesser known Chinesisch-Deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten (“Chinese-German Hours and Seasons”; 1830) and the West-östlicher Divan (1819), are hisown outstanding attempts to marry East with West. This latter is a book of love in all its aspects—tender, playful, sensuous, ironic, wise, and wanton—all of it irradiated by that quality of Geist—of intellect, spirit, wit—which he discerned as “the predominant passion” of Persian poetry. His living muse this time, Marianne, the young wife of his friend von Willemer, was perhaps the most completely satisfying of all his loves, so attuned to him in spirit that she could even take a hand in the creation of some of these poems.

The last decade

But the world vision of the aging poet did not only find expression in a silent communing with the past. In his last years, Goethe found himself a world figure, and little Weimar became a Mecca that drew a constant stream of pilgrims from both the Old World and the New. Reports of his stiffness and reserve in the face of almost daily invasions are far outweighed by the testimony of those to whom he showed warmth, understanding, an insatiable curiosity aboutwhat was going on in the outside world, and an abiding openness to the present and the future. This is nowhere moreapparent than in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821–29; “Wilhelm Meister's Travels”), with its commitment to social and technological progress (what he would most like to see before he died, Goethe once said, was the completion of thePanama and Suez canals), to a type of education better adapted to modern specialization than the old humanistic studies, to a world no longer centred wholly in Europe—a major “complication” of his plot is a resettlement plan for emigrants in the land of the future (“Amerika, du hast es besser!” [“America, you are better off!”]). Wilhelm Meister points the truth that mastery of life is not conferred at the end of the “apprentice years” and henceforth an inalienable possession, but a ceaseless wandering in which the goal turns out to be the way, and the way the goal.

At first sight the subtitle, Die Entsagenden (“The Renunciants”), seems curiously at odds with such purposefulunrest. But renunciation for Goethe implies no passive resignation to the status quo. It is a growing acceptance of the limits imposed by life itself, limits arising from the nature of space and time and from the conflict of interests and potentialities. The apparent formlessness of the novel reflects the duality of its title. It meanders, its narrative interspersed with tales, anecdotes, episodes and maxims, having but the loosest connection with the plot but a formal, if often subterranean, connection with the poetic significance. These interpolations, like the increasingly symbolic characters, display the whole spectrum of human modes of renunciation. The “whole man” is here representednot by any single individual but by a constellation of many, and the informing principle is the spatial one of configuration rather than the temporal one of succession.

Faust, too, is often decried as formless, though the climate ofcriticism is now more propitious to the discovery of its “law.”The array of lyric, epic, dramatic, operatic, and balletic elements, of almost every known metre, from doggerel through terza rima (an Italian form of iambic verse consisting of stanzas of three lines) to six-foot trimeter (a line of verse consisting of three measures), of styles ranging from Greek tragedy through medieval mystery, baroque allegory, Renaissance masque, commedia dell'arte, and the “temerities of the English stage,” to something akin to the modern revue, all suggest a deliberate attempt to make these various forms a vehicle of cultural comment rather than any failure to create a coherent form of his own. And thecontent with which Goethe invests his forms bears this out. He draws on an immense variety of cultural material—theological, mythological, philosophical, political, economic, scientific, aesthetic, musical, literary—for the more realistic Part I no less than for the more symbolic Part II(first published posthumously in 1832): if Faust's wooing of Helena in the “Classic-Romantic Phantasmagoria” (as the first publication of the scene in 1827 called it) is accomplished by teaching her the unfamiliar delights of rhymed verse, his seduction of Gretchen is firmly set in the long tradition of erotic mysticism going back to the Song of Solomon. The Faust myth is here made the medium of a profoundly serious but highly ironic commentary on our cultural heritage, presented not as historical pageant—Faust's “progress” from his 18th- to 16th-century beginnings back through the Middle Ages and classical antiquity to the origins of life, and beyond that to the “Mothers,” timeless source of all forms of being, annuls the historical time sequence—but as a drama of the diverse potentialities that coexist in Western civilization.

This Faust, unlike his creator, is the very type of Western man, with two souls warring within his breast and a restlesslyinquiring spirit. To the 19th century his ceaseless striving seemed a good thing in itself. To a generation shocked into doubts about progress and the value of action, the disastrous consequences of his attempts to experience “the weal and woe of all mankind” (the libido sciendi of Marlowe'sFaustus is here but briefly indulged and as swiftly transcended) loom larger than the quotable “message” of any of the speeches, and his ultimate “salvation” becomes correspondingly suspect. Yet the love that bears his mortal remains to “higher spheres” does not mitigate the ironic defeat of his highest mortal endeavour. If the seal of approval is set on a spirit that has eluded Mephisto's every effort to lull him into sloth, the evil into which it led him is notcondoned. It needs the combined intercession of human wisdom and human suffering, human innocence and human experience, before compassionate verdict is passed on the erring and straying of this soul “in ferment.” Indeed, none of Goethe's conciliatory endings, except that of Iphigenie, really removes the sting of tragedy. Critics have tended to excuse or deplore them by reference to his own konziliante Natur (his “conciliatory nature”). But at least as relevant is his preoccupation with the form of Greek trilogies and tetralogies and his unorthodox interpretation of Aristotle's catharsis as an effect only likely to be produced in the spectator if there is a corresponding element of “reconciliation” in the structure of the play itself. The apotheosis of the hero, whether Faust's, Egmont's, or Ottilie'sin the Wahlverwandtschaften, is always set in a context reminiscent of a theophany and of the ritual origins of tragedy.

Nor can his interest in the cathartic effect of music be ignored. Unlike the German Romantic poet Novalis, for whommusic was “the key to the universe,” Goethe was profoundly aware of its dual nature and as suspicious as Plato of its orgiastic power. As in every art he looked for the taming of the Dionysiac by the Apolline, nowhere more movingly symbolized than by the taming of the lion through the piping of the little child in his Novelle of 1828, a theme he had already discussed with Schiller as far back as 1797. And increasingly he turned to music for assuagement of his own suffering. His Trilogie der Leidenschaft (“Trilogy of Passion”; 1823–27) is at once the lyrical precipitate of an oldman's anguished love for a girl of 18 and a tribute to the cathartic effect of this “heavenly art,” which restores to life even as it soothes. His Zauberflöte, Zweiter Teil is a tribute to his favourite Mozart's Magic Flute: Mozart would, he thought, have been the ideal composer for Faust. And one of the comforts of his later years was an intimate friendship with the composer K.F. Zelter, whose most brilliant pupil, the young Mendelssohn, afforded him hours of musical delight and deepened his musical understanding—though he never succeeded in reconciling him to the daemonic aspects of Beethoven's music.

By common consent, Faust is one of the supreme, if as yet unclassified, achievements of literature. But there were moments when Goethe rated his scientific work higher than all his poetry. His predilection for his Farbenlehre (“Theory of Colour”; 1805–10) has something of the love of a parent for a problem child, and nothing is easier than for the physicist to pick holes in his systematic attempt to prove Newton wrong, or for the psychologist to find the cause of hisstubbornness in his sense of mathematical inadequacy or in his neurotic attachment to the doctrine that light is one and indivisible and never to be explained by any theory of particles. On the other hand, the usefulness of the Psycho-Physiological Section, together with his study Entoptische Farben (“Entoptic Images”), is generally acknowledged, while the Historical Section is something of a pioneer work in the writing of the history of science. His work in botany and biology is less controversial. His Metamorphose der Pflanzen (“Attempt to Explain the Metamorphosis of Plants”; 1790) is a model of presentation, and the drawings in it are a botanist's delight. His main thesis, that all the parts of the plant are modifications of a type-leaf, has met with a measure of acceptance, though his categorical neglect of the root is regarded as an unscientific exclusion of a possible area of relevance. His hypothesis of atype-plant, by contrast, commands no interest among orthodox botanists today. His discovery in 1784, arrived at independently even if he was not the first to make it, of a recognizable os intermaxillare (the premaxilla of modern anatomists) in the human species was yet another result of his sustained quest for unity and continuity in nature and caused Darwin to hail him as a forerunner.

But what makes for the continuing interest of Goethe's science is not his discoveries: he could not always claim priority for them at the time, nor was he in the least interested in doing so. It is his insight into his methods of arriving at them. Few have been as aware of the mental processes involved in the study of natural phenomena; few have been more alive to the hazards that beset the scientist,at every level, from sheer observation to the construction of a theory; and few have been more conscious of the unwittingtheorizing involved in even the simplest act of perception. And no one has argued more convincingly that the only way of coping with this inescapable involvement of the observer in the phenomena to be observed is to let “knowledge of self” develop with “knowledge of world.”

Such scrupulous awareness of his own mental operations was, of course, of paramount importance in morphology, the science Goethe founded and named. Morphology, as he understood it, was the systematic study of formation and transformation—whether of rocks, clouds, colours, plants, animals, or the cultural phenomena of human society—as these present themselves to sentient experience. He did not propose it as a substitute for the quantitative sciences, which break down forms as we know them and by converting them into mathematical terms ensure a measure of prediction and control. He was not, contrary to common belief, opposed to analysis—one of his favourite maxims was that analysis and synthesis must alternate as naturally as breathing in and breathing out—and his only objection to physics was its increasing tendency to claim monopoly of understanding. What he was aiming at was rather a humanizing supplement, an understanding of nature in all itsqualitative manifestations; and one of his most impassionedpleas is for a concert of all the sciences, a cooperation of all types of method and mind.

This impulse, to find a scientific as well as an aesthetic corrective to the inevitably esoteric tendencies of specialization, is nowhere more apparent than in his two elegies on plant and animal metamorphosis in which he tries to present to imagination and feeling what has been understood by the mind. They eventually took their place in a cycle of philosophical poems entitled Gott und Welt (“God and World”). Though no orthodox believer, Goethe was by no means the pure pagan the 19th-century critics liked to imagine. Spinoza's pantheism certainly struck a sympatheticchord, for the Deist idea of a God who, having created the world, then left it to revolve, was repugnant to him. But he was and remained a grateful heir of the Christian tradition—bibelfest, rooted in the Bible—as his language constantly proclaims. And it was from this centre that he extended sympathetic understanding to all other religions, seeking their common ground without destroying their individual excellences, seeing them as different manifestations of an Ur, or archetypal, religion and thus giving expression, in this field as elsewhere, to the essentially morphological temper of his mind. “Panentheism” has been proposed as a more exact term for his belief in a divinity at once immanent and transcendent, and he rebuked those who tried to confine him to one mode of thought by saying that as poet he was polytheist, as scientist pantheist, and that when, as a moral being, he had need of a personal God, “that too had been taken care of.” This was one of the meanings he attached to the biblical text: “In my father's house are many mansions.”


A day will come, Carlyle predicted in a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, when “you will find that this sunny-looking courtly Goethe held veiled in him a Prophetic sorrow deep as Dante's.” And since World War II there have been many attempts to replace the image of the serene optimist by that of the tortured skeptic. The one is as inadequate as the other—as inadequate as T.S. Eliot's conclusion that he was sage rather than poet—though this is perhaps inevitable when a writer is such a master of his own medium that even his prose proves resistant to translation. Even his Werther knew that the realities of existence are rarely to be grasped by Either-Or. And the reality of Goethe himself certainly eludes any such attempt. If he was a skeptic, and he often was, he was a hopeful skeptic. He looked deep into the abyss, but he deliberately emphasized life and light. He livedlife to the full at every level, but never to the detriment of the civilized virtues. He remained closely in touch with the richness of his unconscious mind, but he shed on it the light of reflection without destroying the spontaneity of its processes. He was, as befits a son of the Enlightenment, wholly committed to the adventure of science; but he stood in awe and reverence before the mystery of the universe. Goethe nowhere formulated a system of thought. He was asimpatient of the sterilities of logic chopping as of the inflations of metaphysics, though he acknowledged his indebtedness to many philosophers, including Kant. But here again he was not to be confined. Truth for him lay not in compromise but in the embracing of opposites. And this is expressed in the form of his Maximen (“maxims”), which, together with his Gespräche (“conversations”), contain the sum of his wisdom. As with proverbs, one can always find among them a twin that expresses the complementary opposite. And they have something of the banality of proverbs too. But it is, as André Gide observed, “une banalitésupérieure.” What makes it “superior” is that the thought hasbeen felt and lived and that the formulation betrays this. Andfor all his specialized talents, there was a kind of “superior banality” about Goethe's life. If he himself felt it was “symbolic” and worth presenting as such in a series of autobiographical writings, it was not from arrogance but from a realization that he was an extraordinarily ordinary man in whom ordinary men might see themselves reflected. Not an ascetic, a mystic, a saint, or a recluse, not a Don Juan or a poet's poet but one who to the best of his ability had tried to achieve the highest form of l'homme moyen sensuel—which is perhaps what Napoleon sensed when aftertheir meeting in Erfurt he uttered his famous “Voilà un homme!”

Elizabeth M. Wilkinson



Friedrich von Schiller

"Love and Intrigue"

German writer
in full Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller

born Nov. 10, 1759, Marbach, Württemberg
died May 9, 1805, Weimar, Saxe-Weimar

leading German dramatist, poet, and literary theorist, best remembered for such dramas as Die Räuber (1781; The Robbers), the Wallenstein trilogy (1800–01), Maria Stuart (1801), and Wilhelm Tell (1804).

Early years and plays.
Friedrich Schiller was the second child of Lieut. Johann Kaspar Schiller and his wife, Dorothea. After Johann Kaspar retired from military service, he devoted himself to horticulture and was appointed superintendent of the gardens and plantations at Ludwigsburg, the residence of Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg. Johann Kaspar gave his son Friedrich a sound grammar school education until the age of 13 when, in deference to what amounted to a command from his despotic sovereign, he reluctantly agreed to send his boy to the Military Academy (the Karlsschule), an institution founded and personally supervised by the Duke. Against the wishes of the parents, who had hoped to have their son trained for the ministry, the Duke decreed that young Friedrich was to prepare for the study of law; later, however, he was allowed to transfer to medicine. Having endured the irksome regimentation at the academy for eight years, Schiller left to take up an appointment as an assistant medical officer to a Stuttgart regiment.

His adolescence under the rule of a petty tyrant confronted Schiller with the problem of the use and abuse of power, a theme that recurs in most of his plays. His resentment found expression in some of his early poems and especially in his first play, Die Räuber, a stirring protest against stifling convention and corruption in high places. The hero of the play, Karl Moor, a young man of fiery spirit and abundant vitality, has led a somewhat disorderly life at the university. His villainous younger brother Franz poisons their aged father’s mind against the prodigal elder son. When the old Count Moor disowns Karl, the young man turns brigand and defies all established authority at the head of a band of outlaws, until, before long, he discovers that however corrupt the existing order may be, violence and anarchy do not offer a workable alternative and society cannot be reformed by terrorism and crime. He decides to give himself up to justice, thus submitting to the law that he had flouted. Schiller could therefore claim to have written in defense of law and morality. At the same time, Karl Moor is represented as a “sublime criminal,” and the play is a scathing indictment of a society that could drive so fundamentally noble a character to a career of crime.

In order to have the play accepted, Schiller had to prepare a stage version in which the rebellious ardour of his original text was toned down. Nevertheless, the first performance (Jan. 13, 1782) at the National Theatre at Mannheim created a sensation; it was a milestone in the history of the German theatre. Schiller travelled to Mannheim without the Duke’s permission in order to be present on the first night. When the Duke heard of this visit, he sentenced the poet to a fortnight’s detention and forbade him to write any more plays. To escape from this intolerable situation, Schiller fled from Stuttgart at night and set out for Mannheim in the hope of receiving help from Heribert Baron von Dalberg, the director of the theatre that had launched his first play. He brought with him the manuscript of a new work, Die Verschwörung des Fiesko zu Genua (1783; Fiesco; or, the Genoese Conspiracy), subtitled “a republican tragedy”: the drama of the rise and fall of a would-be dictator, set in 16th-century Genoa, picturing, in Schiller’s own phrase, “ambition in action, and ultimately defeated.”

The new play was rejected, however, and when Schiller prepared a revised version with a different ending, this was rejected, too. Dalberg, not anxious to provoke a diplomatic incident by sheltering a deserter, kept him at arm’s length. For some tense weeks Schiller led the hand-to-mouth life of a refugee, until he found a temporary home with Henriette von Wolzogen, whose sons had been fellow students of his and who invited him to stay at her house at Bauerbach in Thuringia. There he finished his third tragedy, Kabale und Liebe (1784; Cabal and Love). In this work about the love of a young aristocrat for a girl of humble origin, Schiller’s innate sense of drama comes to the fore. The appeal of its theme (the revolt of elemental human feeling against the artificialities of convention), the vigour of its social criticism, and the vitality of its dialogue and characters combine to make Kabale und Liebe great theatre.

Dalberg eventually offered Schiller an appointment as resident playwright with the Mannheim theatre. Schiller accepted and had the satisfaction of seeing Kabale und Liebe score a resounding success, but his hopes of clearing his debts and gaining a measure of financial security were doomed. When his contract expired after a year, it was not renewed; and once again Schiller needed the help of friends to extricate him from both his financial predicament and an emotional crisis caused by his attachment to a married woman, the charming but unstable Charlotte von Kalb. Schiller moved to Leipzig, where he was befriended by Christian Gottfried Körner. A man of some means, Körner was able to support Schiller during his two years’ stay in Saxony, toward the end of which Don Carlos, his first major drama in iambic pentameter, was published (1787).

Don Carlos marks a major turning point in Schiller’s development as a dramatist. On one level, the work is a domestic drama concerned with the relations between the aging King Philip II of Spain, his third consort, Elizabeth of Valois, and his son by his first marriage, Don Carlos, who is in love with his stepmother. The conflict between father and son is not confined to their private lives, however; it has broad political implications as well. The change of focus from the domestic to the political sphere produced a play of inordinate length and a tortuous plot. But positive qualities compensate for these faults: a wealth of exciting and moving scenes and a wide range of sharply individualized characters, the most memorable being the complex, brooding, and tragic figure of King Philip. The characteristically resonant note of Schiller’s blank verse is heard here for the first time. Blank verse had been used by German playwrights before (notably Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in Nathan der Weise [1779]), but it was Schiller’s Don Carlos, together with Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787), that definitely established it as the recognized medium of German poetic drama.

Historical studies.
Schiller had accepted Körner’s generous offer of hospitality and financial help in the spirit in which it was made. He gave jubilant expression to his new mood of contentment in his hymn “An die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”), which Beethoven was to use for the choral movement of his Ninth Symphony. Schiller could not stay with Körner indefinitely, however, and in July 1787 Schiller set out for Weimar, in the hope of meeting some of the men who had made Weimar the literary capital of Germany. Goethe, who was in Italy at the time, returned to Weimar in the following year. A chance meeting between Schiller and Goethe in 1794 and the ensuing exchange of letters mark the beginning of their friendship, a union of opposites that forms an inspiring chapter in the history of German letters.

In spite of the initial distance between them, Goethe had recommended Schiller for appointment to a professorship of history at the University of Jena, Schiller having presented the requisite credentials in his Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung (1788; “History of the Revolt of the United Netherlands against the Spanish Government”). His Geschichte des dreissigjährigen Krieges (1791–93; “History of the Thirty Years’ War”) further enhanced his prestige as a historian; later it also provided him with the material for his greatest drama, Wallenstein, published in 1800.

In 1790 Schiller married Charlotte von Lengefeld, a cultured young woman of good family, who bore him two sons and two daughters. In the second year of their married life, Schiller’s health gave way under the strain of perpetual overwork. For a time he lay critically ill, and, although he rallied after several relapses, he never fully recovered from a combination of chest trouble and digestive disorder that proved intractable. The rest of his life was a losing battle, fought with superb fortitude, against the inexorable advance of disease.

Philosophical studies and classical drama.
Calamitous as Schiller’s illness was, it produced a piece of great good luck. To give him time to recuperate at leisure, two Danish patrons granted him a generous pension for three years. Schiller decided to devote part of this time to studying the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. As he proceeded to assimilate Kant’s views, he soon felt the urge to formulate his own. The encounter with Kant’s philosophy thus produced between 1793 and 1801 a series of essays in which Schiller sought to define the character of aesthetic activity, its function in society, and its relation to moral experience: the essays on moral grace and dignity, “Über Anmut und Würde,” and on the sublime, “Über das Erhabene,” as well as the celebrated essay on the distinction between two types of poetic creativity, “Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung.” The latter, like his letters on the aesthetic education of man, “Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen,” first appeared in Die Horen, an ambitious but short-lived literary periodical edited by Schiller and published by Johann Friedrich Cotta, one of Germany’s leading publishers, whom Schiller had met during a visit to his native Swabia in 1793–94.

This period of critical stocktaking also produced some exquisite reflective poems: “Das Ideal und das Leben” (“Life and the Ideal”), “Der Spaziergang” (“The Walk”), “Die Macht des Gesanges” (“The Power of Song”). These are “philosophical lyrics” in the true sense: not versified philosophy, but poetic utterance inspired by an intellectual experience. They contain the quintessence of Schiller’s philosophical and critical thinking, and they are among his best poems, but they are poems for the few. On the other hand, the ballads written in 1797 (including “Der Handschuh” [“The Glove”], “Der Taucher” [“The Diver”], and “Die Kraniche des Ibykus” [“The Cranes of Ibycus”]) are among his most popular productions. In these poems and in the famous “Lied von der Glocke” (“The Song of the Bell”) Schiller shows how to make poetry accessible to the man in the street without debasing it.

In the Wallenstein cycle—a work on the grand scale, consisting of a prefatory poem, a dramatic prologue, and two five-act plays—Schiller reached the height of his powers as a dramatist. The play portrays Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein, the commander-in-chief of the armies of the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years’ War. Against the sombre background of the war there rises the sinister figure of Wallenstein, who in his secret heart is meditating high treason: by joining forces with the enemy, he hopes to make himself the arbiter of the empire. Wallenstein sees himself as a privileged being, a superman beyond good and evil, the man of destiny. While these traits repel, his bearing in the hour of crisis compels admiration and even wins a measure of sympathy. His portrayal is a profound study of the lure and the perils of power.

Working against time, Schiller produced four more plays in quick succession: Maria Stuart (first performed in 1800), a psychological drama concerned with the moral rebirth of Mary, Queen of Scots; Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801; The Maid of Orleans), a “romantic tragedy” on the subject of Joan of Arc, in which the heroine dies in a blaze of glory after a victorious battle, rather than at the stake like her historical prototype; Die Braut von Messina (1803; The Bride of Messina), written in emulation of Greek drama, with its important preface, Schiller’s last critical pronouncement); and Wilhelm Tell (1804; William Tell), which depicts the revolt of the Swiss forest cantons against Habsburg rule and the assassination of a tyrannous Austrian governor by the hero, with the underlying question of the play being the justifiability of violence in political action.

Each of these plays of Schiller’s classical period has its own distinctive merit, but as a piece of dramatic craftsmanship Maria Stuart surpasses the rest. The action of the play is compressed into the last three days in Mary’s life, before her execution at Fotheringhay; all the antecedents—her French marriage, her brief and troubled Scottish reign, her long imprisonment in England—emerge by means of retrospective analysis. Although Schiller repeatedly diverged from the recorded facts in his treatment of the subject, he displays in his play a profound grasp of the historical situation. Schiller offers a disturbing analysis of the problems that arise whenever political expediency masquerades as justice and judges are subjected to the pressures of power politics or ideological conflict. Mary turns outward disaster into inward triumph by accepting the verdict of the English tribunal—which she regards as unjust—in expiation of her sins committed in former days. By giving to the decree of her judges a meaning that they had not intended, she rises superior to their jurisdiction, a sinner redeemed and transfigured. This conforms to Schiller’s theory of tragedy, which turns on the hero’s moral rebirth through an act of voluntary self-abnegation.

Schiller was ennobled (with the addition of a von to his name) in 1802. Death overtook him in 1805 while he was working at a new play on a Russian theme, Demetrius (1805). Judging by the fragments that remain, it might well have developed into a masterpiece.

“The idea of freedom,” Goethe said, “assumed a different form as Schiller advanced in his own development and became a different man. In his youth it was physical freedom that preoccupied him and found its way into his works; in later life it was spiritual freedom.” Schiller’s early tragedies are attacks upon political oppression and the tyranny of social convention; his later plays are concerned with the inward freedom of the soul that enables a man to rise superior to the frailties of the flesh and to the pressure of material conditions; they show the hero torn between the claims of this world and the demands of an eternal moral order, striving to keep his integrity in the conflict. In his reflective poems and in his treatises, Schiller sets out to show how art can help man to attain this inner harmony and how, through the “aesthetic education” of the individual citizen, a happier, more humane social order may develop. His reflections on aesthetics thus link up with his political and historical thinking.

One of the most striking features of Schiller’s oeuvre is its modernity, its startling relevance to the life of the 20th century. Although for a time he fell out of favour with the German intelligentsia, the enduring value of his work is not likely to be obscured by fashions in criticism.

William Witte




Goethe and the Romantics

In the years after
Schiller’s death in 1805, Goethe developed a style that was in some ways Romantic, but he nevertheless maintained a distance from the younger generation of Romanticists. He shared their interest in Greek antiquity but not their nationalist politics, their inclination toward Catholicism, or their idealization of the Middle Ages. Goethe’s novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809; Elective Affinities), with its emphasis on the supranatural and spiritual as well as on the sainthood of the female protagonist, is an example of this new style. Another example is Part II of his Faust drama. This sprawling cosmic allegory dramatizes the magician’s career at the emperor’s court, his ventures into Classical Greece and union with Helen of Troy, and his final salvation in a scene of mountain gorges, replete with Catholic saints, including the Holy Virgin.

Goethe’s poetry of this period was characterized by exoticism, an assimilation of foreign genres and styles, such as those of Chinese or, especially, Persian poetry. His West-östlicher Divan (1819; Poems of the West and the East) is a collection of poetry in imitation of Hafez and other Persian poets. Sharing this exoticism with the Romantics, Goethe nevertheless was able to adapt the mode to his own expressive needs. With his continuation of Wilhelm Meister as an archival novel in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, Goethe approached 20th-century Modernism.

Jean Paul,
Friedrich Hölderlin, and Heinrich von Kleist

Three other writers belonging to this post-Classical period are Jean Paul (Johann Paul Friedrich Richter),
Friedrich Hölderlin, and Heinrich von Kleist. Often referred to as Romantics, they stood in an ambiguous relation to Goethe, one compounded of admiration and antagonism. Both Hölderlin and Kleist shared Goethe’s interest in Greek antiquity, while Jean Paul with his eccentric and discursive novels was a German successor to the 18th-century English novelist Laurence Sterne.

Jean Paul was opposed to Goethe and Schiller as well as to the Romantics, and with his humour he tried to maintain a middle path between the opposing schools of literature. Neither of his two major novels, Siebenkäs (1796–97; title is the hero’s name) and Titan (1800–03), qualifies as a bildungsroman. Siebenkäs is the story of a poor man’s lawyer who attempts to escape his marital problems by simulating death, and Titan has a number of protagonists with titanic ambitions defying the very model of balanced Bildung in the Goethean sense.

Hölderlin was able to revive with considerable success genres of Greek poetry—the Horatian ode, the elegy, and the Pindaric ode—in German literature and to fuse his love for his native land with the longing for ancient Greece. His epistolary novel Hyperion; oder, der Eremit in Griechenland (1797–99; Hyperion; or, The Hermit in Greece) integrates ideals of Platonic philosophy into a revolutionary concern for the restoration of the ancient poetical and intellectual grandeur of a Greece that had come under Turkish domination.

Kleist pushed beyond the borders of Weimar Classicism with his dramas on Greek subjects (Amphitryon in 1807 and Penthesilea in 1808) and his historical dramas (Die Hermannsschlacht, or “Hermann’s Battle,” dealing with the defeat of the Romans by Germanic tribes under Arminius [Hermann] in ad 9, and Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, a play about the conflict of Prussian military law and human compassion; both plays were posthumously published in 1821), while his novellas (Erzählungen, 1810–11; Eng. trans. The Marquise of O– and Other Stories) are remarkable for their classical mastery of form and subject matter. In Kleist’s tale Das Erdbeben in Chili (“The Earthquake in Chile”), from the Erzählungen volume, a nun (who has borne a child) and her lover are saved from execution and suicide, respectively, by an earthquake that destroys all of Santiago and their persecutors. They perceive the cataclysm as an act of redemptive grace sent by God. But their illusions of divine grace are shattered when a churchman incites a frightened mob to slay the two “sinners” (whose misdeed is understood to have caused the earthquake). The Erzählungen story Die Marquise von O– begins when a reputable young woman places an ad in the newspaper asking the father of the child she is bearing to make his identity known to her; she has become pregnant without her own knowledge or conscious participation. The theme of Michael Kohlhaas, also in Erzählungen, is the unbending search for justice of a wronged man who destroys himself seeking redress.

Kleist was more affected by the violence of his period than any other German writer and made the display of violence a central topic of his works. In his drama Die Hermannsschlacht and his Erzählungen novella Die Verlobung in St. Domingo (The Engagement in Santo Domingo), the concept of violence as a just means in the fight against imperialism takes on strong anti-French overtones, reflecting the emergence of modern German nationalism in the wars against Napoleon. Nationalism links Kleist to the Romantic Movement, which made a fierce and revolutionary patriotism into one of its programmatic features.

Ehrhard Bahr


Jean Paul


pseudonym of Johann Paul Friedrich Richter

born March 21, 1763, Wunsiedel, Principality of Bayreuth [Germany]
died Nov. 14, 1825, Bayreuth, Bavaria

German novelist and humorist whose works were immensely popular in the first 20 years of the 19th century. His pen name, Jean Paul, reflected his admiration for the French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Jean Paul’s writing bridged the shift in literature from the formal ideals of Weimar Classicism to the intuitive transcendentalism of early Romanticism.

Jean Paul, the son of a poor teacher and pastor, studied theology at Leipzig but soon gave up his studies for freelance writing. He published two collections of satiric essays in the style of Jonathan Swift, Grönländische Prozesse (1783; The Greenland Lawsuits) and Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren (1789; “Selection from the Devil’s Papers”), but these were unsuccessful, and he was forced to support himself as a private tutor (1787–90) and schoolmaster (1790–94). About 1790 a personal crisis prompted him to forsake bitter satire for sentimental humour in his writings, and Laurence Sterne replaced Swift as his model. His reputation began with the sentimental novel Die unsichtbare Loge, 2 parts (1793; The Invisible Lodge), and was established by Hesperus (1795). He became a celebrity and was lionized by the critic Johann Herder and by a patron, Frau von Kalb, who brought him to Weimar. In 1801 he married Karoline Mayer and in 1804 settled in Bayreuth, his home for the rest of his life.

The second period in Jean Paul’s work is marked by his attempts to reconcile the comic satirist and the sentimental enthusiast in himself. The novels of this period include Blumen-, Frucht-, und Dornenstücke, 3 vol. (1796; Flower, Fruit and Thorn Pieces), commonly known as Siebenkäs, for its hero; Leben des Quintus Fixlein (1796; “Life of Quintus Fixlein”); Titan, 4 vol. (1800–03), which he considered his classical masterpiece; and the unfinished Flegeljahre, 4 vol. (1804–05; “Adolescence,” Eng. trans. Walt and Vult).

The novels of his third period mirror his disillusionment with both Classicism and Romanticism. But his idyllic novels, always marked by humour, treat his predicament in a comic style. The forced figurative style of his earliest books had become second nature by this time; he thought, talked, and wrote wittily. Dr. Katzenbergers Badereise, 2 vol. (1809; “Dr. Katzenberger’s Journey to the Spa”), and Des Feldpredigers Schmelzle Reise nach Flätz (1809; Army Chaplain Schmelzle’s Journey to Flätz) were the last of his extremely popular novels. In 1808 he received a pension from Prince Karl Theodore von Dalberg, later paid by the Bavarian government, which guaranteed him financial security. He continued to write novels and treatises on education and aesthetics.

Jean Paul’s novels are peculiar combinations of sentiment, irony, and humour expressed in a highly subjective and involuted prose style that is marked by rapid transitions of mood. His books are formless, lacking in action, and studded with whimsical digressions, but to some extent they are redeemed by the author’s profuse imagination and equal capacity for realistic detail and dreamlike fantasy. One favourite theme is the tragicomic clash between the soul’s infinite aspirations and the trivial restrictions of everyday life. Jean Paul greatly influenced his contemporaries by his simple piety, humanity and warmth, his religious attitude toward nature, and his beguiling mixture of sentimentality, fantasy, and humour. After the mid-19th century the unevenness and undisciplined form of his novels began to detract rather than add to his reputation, but the deep humanity of his finest works has preserved them from oblivion.



Friedrich Hölderlin


in full Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin

born March 20, 1770, Lauffen am Neckar, Württemberg [Germany]
died June 7, 1843, Tübingen

German lyric poet who succeeded in naturalizing the forms of classical Greek verse in German and in melding Christian and classical themes.

Hölderlin was born in a little Swabian town on the River Neckar. His father died in 1772, and two years afterward his mother married the burgomaster of the town of Nürtingen, where Friedrich attended school. But his mother was again widowed, in 1779, and left alone to bring up her family—which included Friedrich, his sister Heinrike, and his half-brother Karl. His mother, a parson’s daughter and a woman of simple and rather narrow piety, wanted Friedrich to enter the service of the church. Candidates for the ministry received free education, and accordingly he was sent first to the “monastery schools” (so called since pre-Reformation times) at Denkendorf and Maulbronn and subsequently (1788–93) to the theological seminary in the University of Tübingen, where he obtained his master’s degree and qualified for ordination.

Hölderlin could not, however, bring himself to enter the ministry. Contemporary Protestant theology, an uneasy compromise between faith and reason, offered him no safe spiritual anchorage, while acceptance of Christian dogma was not wholly compatible with his devotion to Greek mythology, which made him see the gods of Greece as real living forces whose presence manifests itself to humans in sun and earth, sea and sky. The strain of divided allegiance remained a permanent condition of his existence. Although he did not feel called to be a Lutheran pastor, Hölderlin did have a strong sense of religious vocation; for him, being a poet meant exercising the priestly function of mediator between gods and humans.

In 1793, through Friedrich Schiller’s recommendation, Hölderlin obtained the first of several posts as a tutor (in most of which he failed to give satisfaction). Schiller befriended the younger man in other ways too; in his periodical Neue Thalia, he published some of the poetry that Hölderlin had written, as well as a fragment of his novel Hyperion. This elegiac story of a disillusioned fighter for the liberation of Greece remained unfinished. Hölderlin held Schiller in great reverence; he saw him again when in 1794 he left his tutor’s post in order to move to Jena. His early poems clearly reveal Schiller’s influence, and several of them acclaim the new world the French Revolution had seemed to promise in its early stages: they include hymns to freedom, to humanity, to harmony, to friendship, and to nature.

In December 1795 Hölderlin accepted a post as tutor in the house of J.F. Gontard, a wealthy Frankfurt banker. Before long, Hölderlin fell deeply in love with his employer’s wife, Susette, a woman of great beauty and sensibility, and his affection was returned. In a letter to his friend C.L. Neuffer (February 1797), he described their relationship as “an everlasting happy sacred friendship with a being who has really strayed into this miserable century.” Susette appears in his poems and in his novel Hyperion, the second volume of which appeared in 1799, under the Greek name of “Diotima”—a reincarnation of the spirit of ancient Greece. Their happiness was short-lived; after a painful scene with Susette’s husband, Hölderlin had to leave Frankfurt (September 1798).

Though physically and mentally shaken, Hölderlin finished the second volume of Hyperion and began a tragedy, Der Tod des Empedokles (The Death of Empedocles), the first version of which he nearly completed; fragments of a second and a third version have also survived. Symptoms of great nervous irritability alarmed his family and friends. Nevertheless, the years 1798–1801 were a period of intense creativity; in addition to a number of noble odes, they produced the great elegies “Menons Klagen um Diotima” (“Menon’s Lament for Diotima”) and “Brod und Wein” (“Bread and Wine”). In January 1801 he went to Switzerland as tutor to a family in Hauptwyl, but in April of the same year Hölderlin returned to Nürtingen.

Late in 1801 he once more accepted a post as tutor, this time at Bordeaux, France. But in May 1802, after only a few months in this position, Hölderlin suddenly left Bordeaux and traveled homeward on foot through France. On his way to Nürtingen he received news that Susette had died in June; when he arrived he was completely destitute and suffering from an advanced stage of schizophrenia. He seemed to recover somewhat as a result of the kind and gentle treatment he received at home. The poems of the period 1802–06, including “Friedensfeier” (“Celebration of Peace”), “Der Einzige” (“The Only One”), and “Patmos,” products of a mind on the verge of madness, are apocalyptic visions of unique grandeur. He also completed verse translations of Sophocles’ Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus, published in 1804. In this year a devoted friend, Isaak von Sinclair, obtained for him the sinecure post of librarian to the landgrave Frederick V of Hesse-Homburg. Sinclair himself provided a modest salary, and Hölderlin improved noticeably under his care and companionship. In 1805 Sinclair (who refused to believe that Hölderlin was insane) was falsely accused of subversive activities and held in custody for five months. By the time he was released, Hölderlin had succumbed irretrievably and, after a spell in a clinic in Tübingen, was moved to a carpenter’s house, where he lived for the next 36 years.

Hölderlin gained little recognition during his lifetime and was almost totally forgotten for nearly 100 years. It was not until the early years of the 20th century that he was rediscovered in Germany and that his reputation as one of the outstanding lyric poets in the German language was established in Europe. Today he is ranked among the greatest of German poets, especially admired for his uniquely expressive style: like no one before or since, he succeeded in naturalizing the forms of classical Greek verse in the German language. With passionate intensity he strove to reconcile the Christian faith with the religious spirit and beliefs of ancient Greece; he was a prophet of spiritual renewal, of “the return of the gods”—utterly dedicated to his art, hypersensitive, and therefore exceptionally vulnerable. In the end his mind gave way under the strains and frustrations of his existence.

William Witte



Heinrich von Kleist

in full Bernd Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist

born October 18, 1777, Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg [now in Germany]
died November 21, 1811, Wannsee, near Berlin

German dramatist, among the greatest of the 19th century. Poets of the Realist, Expressionist, Nationalist, and Existentialist movements in France and Germany saw their prototype in Kleist, a poet whose demonic genius had foreseen modern problems of life and literature.

Having grown up in military surroundings, Kleist became dissatisfied with the career of an army officer, which had been chosen for him, and resigned his commission after “the loss of seven valuable years.” For a time he studied law and mathematics, but his reading of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant destroyed his faith in the value of knowledge. Despairing of reason, he decided to place his trust in emotion. The unresolved conflict between them lies at the heart of his work.

After Kleist had abandoned his studies, he went first to Paris and then to Switzerland. There he wrote his first work, the tragedy Die Familie Schroffenstein (1803; “The Schroffenstein Family”), which depicts pathological states with ruthless clarity. Underlying this drama of error is Kleist’s recurring theme, the fallibility of human perception and the inability of the human intellect by itself to apprehend truth. At this time he was also working on the play Robert Guiskard, an ambitious work in which he attempted to unite ancient Sophoclean tragedy and the Shakespearean drama of character, but it would remain a fragment. He set out on a new journey and in Paris, overcome by despair, burned his manuscript of Guiskard (though he partially rewrote it later) and tried to volunteer for the French army. Expelled from France, he traveled to East Prussia and applied for a civil-service post in Königsberg. He resigned during training, however, and left for Dresden, where he hoped to continue writing, but was arrested by the French and imprisoned for six months as a spy.

In Dresden (1807–09) he became a member of a large circle of writers, painters, and patrons and, with the political philosopher Adam Müller, published the periodical Phöbus, which lasted only a few months. While he was in prison his adaptation of Molière’s Amphitryon (published 1807) attracted some attention, and in 1808 he published Penthesilia, a tragic drama about the passionate love of the queen of the Amazons for Achilles. Although this play received little acclaim, it is now thought to contain some of Kleist’s most powerful poetry, with the grimness of plot and intensity of feeling that have made his place unique among German poets. In March 1808 Kleist’s one-act comedy in verse, Der zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Pitcher), was unsuccessfully produced by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Weimar. The play employs vividly portrayed rustic characters, skillful dialogue, earthy humour, and subtle realism in its depiction of the fallibility of human feeling and the flaws inherent in human justice. It ranks among the masterpieces of German dramatic comedy. Toward the end of 1808, inspired by a threatened rising against Napoleon, Kleist wrote some savage war poems and a political and patriotic tragedy, Die Hermannsschlacht (1821; “Hermann’s Battle”), and in 1809 attempted to found a political periodical that would call all Germany to arms. Between 1810 and 1811 his Das Käthchen von Heilbronn (1810; Katherine of Heilbronn), a drama set in Swabia during the Middle Ages, was performed in Vienna, Graz, and Bamberg. But the Berlin stage remained closed to him.

Kleist also wrote eight masterly novellas, collected in Erzählungen (1810–11), of which “Das Erdbeben in Chili” (“The Earthquake in Chile”), “Michael Kohlhaas,” and “Die Marquise von O…” have become well-known as tales of violence and mystery. They are all characterized by an extraordinary economy, power, and vividness and by a tragic subject matter in which men are driven to the limits of their endurance by the violence of other men or of nature. Kleist’s last drama, Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (published posthumously in 1821 by Ludwig Tieck), is a brilliant psychological drama. The play’s problematical hero is Kleist’s finest figure, reflecting Kleist’s own conflicts between heroism and cowardice, dreaming and action.

For six months Kleist had edited the daily newspaper Berliner Abendblätter, and, when it ceased publication, he lost his means of livelihood. Disappointed in life and embittered by the lack of recognition accorded him by his contemporaries, particularly Goethe, he came to know an incurably sick woman, Henriette Vogel, who begged him to kill her. This gave Kleist the final incentive to end his life, and on November 21, 1811, he shot Henriette and himself on the shore of the Wannsee.




Rudolf Erich Raspe

"The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen"    PART I, PART II


Rudolf Erich Raspe (March 1736 – November 1794) was a German librarian, writer and scientist, and he was called by his biographer John Carswell a "rogue". He is best known for his collection of tall tales, The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, originally a satirical work with political aims.


Raspe was born in Hanover, studied law and jurisprudence at Göttingen and Leipzig and worked as a librarian for the university of Göttingen. From 1767 he was responsible for some collections of Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), before having to flee to England in 1775 after pilfering some gems that were supposedly in his care. He was employed by Matthew Boulton in mines in Cornwall. At the same time, he also authored books in geology and the history of art. The Trewhiddle Ingot, found in 2003, is a 150-year-old lump of tungsten found at Trewhiddle Farm. This may predate the earliest known smelting of the metal (which requires extremely high temperatures) and has led to speculation that it may have been produced during a visit by Rudolf Erich Raspe to Happy-Union mine (at nearby Pentewan) in the late eighteenth century. Raspe was also a chemist with a particular interest in tungsten.[1][2] He also worked for the famous publisher John Nichols in several projects. In 1791 he moved to Scotland, and after an involvement in a mining swindle there (salting a mine), he left. He finally moved to Ireland where he managed a copper mine on the Herbert Estate in Killarney. He died in Killarney, County Kerry, of typhoid, in November 1794.

The Baron Munchausen tales were made famous when they were 'borrowed', translated into German, and embellished somewhat by Gottfried August Bürger in 1786--and have been among the favourite reading of subsequent generations, as well as the basis of several films, including Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.




Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten

German philosopher

born July 17, 1714, Berlin, Prussia [Germany]
died May 26, 1762, Frankfurt an der Oder

German philosopher and educator who coined the term aesthetics and established this discipline as a distinct field of philosophical inquiry.

As a student at Halle, Baumgarten was strongly influenced by the works of G.W. Leibniz and by Christian Wolff, a professor and systematic philosopher. He was appointed extraordinary professor at Halle in 1737 and advanced to ordinary professor at Frankfurt an der Oder in 1740.

Baumgarten’s most significant work, written in Latin, was Aesthetica, 2 vol. (1750–58). The problems of aesthetics had been treated by others before Baumgarten, but he both advanced the discussion of such topics as art and beauty and set the discipline off from the rest of philosophy. His student G.F. Meier (1718–77), however, assisted him to such an extent that credit for certain contributions is difficult to assess. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), who used Baumgarten’s Metaphysica (1739) as a text for lecturing, borrowed Baumgarten’s term aesthetics but applied it to the entire field of sensory experience. Only later was the term restricted to the discussion of beauty and of the nature of the fine arts.

In Baumgarten’s theory, with its characteristic emphasis on the importance of feeling, much attention was concentrated on the creative act. For him it was necessary to modify the traditional claim that “art imitates nature” by asserting that artists must deliberately alter nature by adding elements of feeling to perceived reality. In this way, the creative process of the world is mirrored in their own activity.

Baumgarten wrote Ethica Philosophica (1740; “Philosophic Ethic”), Acroasis Logica (1761; “Discourse on Logic”), Jus Naturae (1763; “Natural Law”), Philosophia Generalis (1770; “General Philosophy”), and Praelectiones Theologicae (1773; “Lectures on Theology”). His brother, Siegmund Jakob Baumgarten, was an influential Wolffian theologian.




Immanuel Kant

Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals"





German philosopher

born April 22, 1724, Königsberg, Prussia [now Kaliningrad, Russia]
died February 12, 1804, Königsberg

German philosopher whose comprehensive and systematic work in the theory of knowledge, ethics, and aesthetics greatly influenced all subsequent philosophy, especially the various schools of Kantianism and Idealism.

Kant was the foremost thinker of the Enlightenment and one of the greatest philosophers of all time. In him were subsumed new trends that had begun with the Rationalism (stressing reason) of René Descartes and the Empiricism (stressing experience) of Francis Bacon. He thus inaugurated a new era in the development of philosophical thought.

Background and early years
Kant lived in the remote province where he was born for his entire life. His father, a saddler, was, according to Kant, a descendant of a Scottish immigrant, although scholars have found no basis for this claim; his mother, an uneducated German woman, was remarkable for her character and natural intelligence. Both parents were devoted followers of the Pietist branch of the Lutheran Church, which taught that religion belongs to the inner life expressed in simplicity and obedience to moral law. The influence of their pastor made it possible for Kant—the fourth of nine children, but the eldest surviving child—to obtain an education.

At the age of eight Kant entered the Pietist school that his pastor directed. This was a Latin school, and it was presumably during the eight and a half years he was there that Kant acquired his lifelong love for the Latin classics, especially for the naturalistic poet Lucretius. In 1740 he enrolled in the University of Königsberg as a theological student. But, although he attended courses in theology and even preached on a few occasions, he was principally attracted to mathematics and physics. Aided by a young professor who had studied Christian Wolff, a systematizer of Rationalist philosophy, and who was also an enthusiast for the science of Sir Isaac Newton, Kant began reading the work of the English physicist and, in 1744, started his first book, dealing with a problem concerning kinetic forces. Though by that time he had decided to pursue an academic career, the death of his father in 1746 and his failure to obtain the post of undertutor in one of the schools attached to the university compelled him to withdraw and seek a means of supporting himself.

Background and early years » Tutor and Privatdozent
He found employment as a family tutor and, during the nine years that he gave to it, worked for three different families. With them he was introduced to the influential society of the city, acquired social grace, and made his farthest travels from his native city—some 60 miles (96 kilometres) away to the town of Arnsdorf. In 1755, aided by the kindness of a friend, he was able to complete his degree at the university and take up the position of Privatdozent, or lecturer.

Three dissertations that he presented on obtaining this post indicate the interest and direction of his thought at this time. In one, De Igne (On Fire), he argued that bodies operate on one another through the medium of a uniformly diffused elastic and subtle matter that is the underlying substance of both heat and light. His first teaching was in mathematics and physics, and he was never to lose his interest in scientific developments. That it was more than an amateur interest is shown by his publication within the next few years of several scientific works dealing with the different races of men, the nature of winds, the causes of earthquakes, and the general theory of the heavens.

At this period Newtonian physics was important to Kant as much for its philosophical implications as for its scientific content. A second dissertation, the Monodologia physica (1756), contrasted the Newtonian methods of thinking with those employed in the philosophy then prevailing in German universities. This was the philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a universal scholar, as systematized and popularized by Wolff and by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, author of a widely used text, the Metaphysica (1739). Leibniz’ works as they are now known were not fully available to these writers; and the Leibnizian philosophy that they presented was extravagantly Rationalistic, abstract, and cut-and-dried. It nevertheless remained a powerful force, and the main efforts of independent thinkers in Germany at the time were devoted to examining Leibniz’s ideas.

In a third dissertation, Principiorum Primorum Cognitionis Metaphysicae Nova Dilucidato (1755), on the first principles of metaphysics, Kant analyzed especially the principle of sufficient reason, which, in Wolff’s formulation, asserts that for everything there is a sufficient reason why it should be rather than not be. Although critical, Kant was cautious and still a long way from challenging the assumptions of Leibnizian metaphysics.

During the 15 years that he spent as a Privatdozent, Kant’s renown as a teacher and writer steadily increased. Soon he was lecturing on many subjects other than physics and mathematics—including logic, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. He even lectured on fireworks and fortifications and every summer for 30 years taught a popular course on physical geography. He enjoyed great success as a lecturer; his lecturing style, which differed markedly from that of his books, was humorous and vivid, enlivened by many examples from his reading in English and French literature, and in travel and geography, science and philosophy.

Although he twice failed to obtain a professorship at Königsberg, he refused to accept offers that would have taken him elsewhere—including the professorship of poetry at Berlin that would have brought greater prestige. He preferred the peace and quiet of his native city in which to develop and mature his own philosophy.

Background and early years » Critic of Leibnizian Rationalism
During the 1760s he became increasingly critical of Leibnizianism. According to one of his students, Kant was then attacking Leibniz, Wolff, and Baumgarten, was a declared follower of Newton, and expressed great admiration for the moral philosophy of the Romanticist Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

His principal work of this period was Untersuchung über die Deutlichkeit der Grundsätze der natürlichen Theologie und der Moral (1764; “An Inquiry into the Distinctness of the Fundamental Principles of Natural Theology and Morals”). In this work he attacked the claim of Leibnizian philosophy that philosophy should model itself on mathematics and aim at constructing a chain of demonstrated truths based on self-evident premises. Kant argued that mathematics proceeds from definitions that are arbitrary, by means of operations that are clearly and sharply defined, upon concepts that can be exhibited in concrete form. In contrast with this method, he argued that philosophy must begin with concepts that are already given, “though confusedly or insufficiently determined,” so that philosophers cannot begin with definitions without thereby shutting themselves up within a circle of words. Philosophy cannot, like mathematics, proceed synthetically; it must analyze and clarify. The importance of the moral order, which he had learned from Rousseau, reinforced the conviction received from his study of Newton that a synthetic philosophy is empty and false.

Besides attacking the methods of the Leibnizians, he also began criticizing their leading ideas. In an essay Versuch, den Begriff der negativen Grössen in die Weltweisheit ein-zuführen (1763), he argued that physical opposition as encountered in things cannot be reduced to logical contradiction, in which the same predicate is both affirmed and denied, and, hence, that it is pointless to reduce causality to the logical relation of antecedent and consequent. In an essay of the same year, Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseyns Gottes, he sharply criticized the Leibnizian concept of Being by charging that the so-called ontological argument, which would prove the existence of God by logic alone, is fallacious because it confuses existential with attributive statements: existence, he declared, is not a predicate of attribution. Moreover, with regard to the nature of space, Kant sided with Newton in his confrontation with Leibniz. Leibniz’ view that space is “an order of co-existences” and that spatial differences can be stated in conceptual terms, he concluded to be untenable.

Some indication of a possible alternative of Kant’s own to the Leibnizian position can be gathered from his curious Träume eines Geistersehers erläutert durch Träume der Metaphysik (1766). This work is an examination of the whole notion of a world of spirits, in the context of an inquiry into the spiritualist claims of Emanuel Swedenborg, a scientist and biblical scholar. Kant’s position at first seems to have been completely skeptical, and the influence of the Scottish Skeptic David Hume is more apparent here than in any previous work; it was Hume, he later claimed, who first awoke him from his dogmatic slumbers. Yet Kant was not so much arguing that the notion of a world of spirits is illusory as insisting that men have no insight into the nature of such a world, a conclusion that has devastating implications for metaphysics as the Leibnizians conceived it. Metaphysicians can dream as well as spiritualists, but this is not to say that their dreams are necessarily empty; there are already hints that moral experience can give content to the ideal of an “intelligible world.” Rousseau thus acted upon Kant here as a counterinfluence to Hume.

Background and early years » Early years of the professorship at Königsberg
Finally, in 1770, after serving for 15 years as a Privatdozent, Kant was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics, a position in which he remained active until a few years before his death. In this period—usually called his critical period, because in it he wrote his great Critiques—he published an astounding series of original works on a wide variety of topics, in which he elaborated and expounded his philosophy.

The Inaugural Dissertation of 1770 that he delivered on assuming his new position already contained many of the important elements of his mature philosophy. As indicated in its title, De Mundi Sensibilis atque Intelligibilis Forma et Principiis: Dissertatio, the implicit dualism of the Träume is made explicit; and it is made so on the basis of a wholly un-Leibnizian interpretation of the distinction between sense and understanding. Sense is not, as Leibniz had supposed, a confused form of thinking but a source of knowledge in its own right, although the objects so known are still only “appearances”—the term that Leibniz also used. They are appearances because all sensing is conditioned by the presence, in sensibility, of the forms of time and space, which are not objective characteristics or frameworks of things but “pure intuitions.” But though all knowledge of things sensible is thus of phenomena, it does not follow that nothing is known of things as they are in themselves. Certainly, man has no intuition, or direct insight, into an intelligible world; but the presence in him of certain “pure intellectual concepts, such as those of possibility, existence, necessity, substance, cause, enables him to have some descriptive knowledge of it. By means of these concepts he can arrive at an exemplar that provides him with “the common measure of all other things as far as real.” This exemplar gives man an idea of perfection for both the theoretical and practical orders: in the first, it is that of the Supreme Being, God; in the latter, that of moral perfection.

After the Dissertation, Kant published virtually nothing for 11 years. Yet, in submitting the Dissertation to a friend at the time of its publication, he wrote:

About a year since I attained that concept which I do not fear ever to be obliged to alter, though I may have to widen it, and by which all sorts of metaphysical questions can be tested in accordance with entirely safe and easy criteria, and a sure decision reached as to whether they are soluble or insoluble.

Period of the three “critiques”
In 1781 the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (spelled “Critik” in the first edition; Critique of Pure Reason) was published, followed for the next nine years by great and original works that in a short time brought a revolution in philosophical thought and established the new direction in which it was to go in the years to come.

Period of the three “critiques” » The Critique of Pure Reason
The Critique of Pure Reason was the result of some 10 years of thinking and meditation. Yet, even so, Kant published the first edition only reluctantly after many postponements; for although convinced of the truth of its doctrine, he was uncertain and doubtful about its exposition. His misgivings proved well-founded, and Kant complained that interpreters and critics of the work were badly misunderstanding it. To correct these wrong interpretations of his thought he wrote the Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten können (1783) and brought out a second and revised edition of the first “critique” in 1787. Controversy still continues regarding the merits of the two editions: readers with a preference for an Idealistic interpretation usually prefer the first edition, whereas those with a Realistic view adhere to the second. But with regard to difficulty and ease of reading and understanding, it is generally agreed that there is little to choose between them. Anyone on first opening either book finds it overwhelmingly difficult and impenetrably obscure.

The cause for this difficulty can be traced in part to the works that Kant took as his models for philosophical writing. He was the first great modern philosopher to spend all of his time and efforts as a university professor of the subject. Regulations required that in all lecturing a certain set of books be used, with the result that all of Kant’s teaching in philosophy had been based on such handbooks as those of Wolff and Baumgarten, which abounded in technical jargon, artificial and schematic divisions, and great claims to completeness. Following their example, Kant accordingly provided a highly artificial, rigid, and by no means immediately illuminating scaffolding for all three of his Critiques.

The Critique of Pure Reason, after an introduction, is divided into two parts, of very different lengths: A “Transcendental Doctrine of Elements,” running to almost 400 pages in a typical edition, followed by a “Transcendental Doctrine of Method,” which reaches scarcely 80 pages. The “. . . Elements” deals with the sources of human knowledge, whereas the “. . . Method” draws up a methodology for the use of “pure reason” and its a priori ideas. Both are “transcendental,” in that they are presumed to analyze the roots of all knowledge and the conditions of all possible experience. The “Elements” is divided, in turn, into a “Transcendental Aesthetic,” a “Transcendental Analytic,” and a “Transcendental Dialectic.”

The simplest way of describing the contents of the Critique is to say that it is a treatise about metaphysics: it seeks to show the impossibility of one sort of metaphysics and to lay the foundations for another. The Leibnizian metaphysics, the object of his attack, is criticized for assuming that the human mind can arrive, by pure thought, at truths about entities, which, by their very nature, can never be objects of experience, such as God, human freedom, and immortality. Kant maintained, however, that the mind has no such power and that the vaunted metaphysics is thus a sham.

As Kant saw it, the problem of metaphysics, as indeed of any science, is to explain how, on the one hand, its principles can be necessary and universal (such being a condition for any knowledge that is scientific) and yet, on the other hand, involve also a knowledge of the real and so provide the investigator with the possibility of more knowledge than is analytically contained in what he already knows; i.e., than is implicit in the meaning alone. To meet these two conditions, Kant maintained, knowledge must rest on judgments that are a priori, for it is only as they are separate from the contingencies of experience that they could be necessary and yet also synthetic; i.e., so that the predicate term contains something more than is analytically contained in the subject. Thus, for example, the proposition that all bodies are extended is not synthetic but analytic because the notion of extension is contained in the very notion of body; whereas the proposition that all bodies are heavy is synthetic because weight supposes, in addition to the notion of body, that of bodies in relation to one another. Hence, the basic problem, as Kant formulated it, is to determine “How [i.e., under what conditions] are synthetic a priori judgments possible?”

This problem arises, according to Kant, in three fields, viz., in mathematics, physics, and metaphysics; and the three main divisions of the first part of the Critique deal respectively with these. In the “Transcendental Aesthetic,” Kant argued that mathematics necessarily deals with space and time and then claimed that these are both a priori forms of human sensibility that condition whatever is apprehended through the senses. In the “Transcendental Analytic,” the most crucial as well as the most difficult part of the book, he maintained that physics is a priori and synthetic because in its ordering of experience it uses concepts of a special sort. These concepts—“categories,” he called them—are not so much read out of experience as read into it and, hence, are a priori, or pure, as opposed to empirical. But they differ from empirical concepts in something more than their origin: their whole role in knowledge is different; for, whereas empirical concepts serve to correlate particular experiences and so to bring out in a detailed way how experience is ordered, the categories have the function of prescribing the general form that this detailed order must take. They belong, as it were, to the very framework of knowledge. But although they are indispensable for objective knowledge, the sole knowledge that the categories can yield is of objects of possible experience; they yield valid and real knowledge only when they are ordering what is given through sense in space and time.

In the “Transcendental Dialectic” Kant turned to consideration of a priori synthetic judgments in metaphysics. Here, he claimed, the situation is just the reverse from what it was in mathematics and physics. Metaphysics cuts itself off from sense experience in attempting to go beyond it and, for this very reason, fails to attain a single true a priori synthetic judgment. To justify this claim, Kant analyzed the use that metaphysics makes of the concept of the unconditioned. Reason, according to Kant, seeks for the unconditioned or absolute in three distinct spheres: (1) in philosophical psychology it seeks for an absolute subject of knowledge; (2) in the sphere of cosmology, it seeks for an absolute beginning of things in time, for an absolute limit to them in space, and for an absolute limit to their divisibility; and (3) in the sphere of theology, it seeks for an absolute condition for all things. In each case, Kant claimed to show that the attempt is doomed to failure by leading to an antinomy in which equally good reasons can be given for both the affirmative and the negative position. The metaphysical “sciences” of rational psychology, rational cosmology, and natural theology, familiar to Kant from the text of Baumgarten, on which he had to comment in his lectures, thus turn out to be without foundation.

With this work, Kant proudly asserted that he had accomplished a Copernican revolution in philosophy. Just as the founder of modern astronomy, Nicolaus Copernicus, had explained the apparent movements of the stars by ascribing them partly to the movement of the observers, so Kant had accounted for the application of the mind’s a priori principles to objects by demonstrating that the objects conform to the mind: in knowing, it is not the mind that conforms to things but instead things that conform to the mind.

Period of the three “critiques” » The Critique of Practical Reason
Because of his insistence on the need for an empirical component in knowledge and his antipathy to speculative metaphysics, Kant is sometimes presented as a Positivist before his time; and his attack upon metaphysics was held by many in his own day to bring both religion and morality down with it. Such, however, was certainly far from Kant’s intention. Not only did he propose to put metaphysics “on the sure path of science,” he was prepared also to say that he “inevitably” believed in the existence of God and in a future life. It is also true that his original conception of his critical philosophy anticipated the preparation of a critique of moral philosophy. The Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (1788, spelled “Critik” and “practischen”; Critique of Practical Reason), the result of this intention, is the standard source book for his ethical doctrines. The earlier Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (1785) is a shorter and, despite its title, more readily comprehensible treatment of the same general topic. Both differ from Die Metaphysik der Sitten (1797) in that they deal with pure ethics and try to elucidate basic principles; whereas the later work is concerned with applying what they establish in the concrete, a process that involved the consideration of virtues and vices and the foundations of law and politics.

There are many points of similarity between Kant’s ethics and his epistemology, or theory of knowledge. He used the same scaffolding for both—a “Doctrine of Elements,” including an “Analytic” and a “Dialectic,” followed by a “Methodology”; but the second Critique is far shorter and much less complicated. Just as the distinction between sense and intelligence was fundamental for the former, so is that between the inclinations and moral reason for the latter. And just as the nature of the human cognitive situation was elucidated in the first Critique by reference to the hypothetical notion of an intuitive understanding, so is that of the human moral situation clarified by reference to the notion of a “holy will.” For a will of this kind there would be no distinction between reason and inclination; a being possessed of a holy will would always act as it ought. It would not, however, have the concepts of duty and moral obligation, which enter only when reason and desire find themselves opposed. In the case of human beings, the opposition is continuous, for man is at the same time both flesh and spirit; it is here that the influence of Kant’s religious background is most prominent. Hence, the moral life is a continuing struggle in which morality appears to the potential delinquent in the form of a law that demands to be obeyed for its own sake—a law, however, the commands of which are not issued by some alien authority but represent the voice of reason, which the moral subject can recognize as his own.

In the “Dialectic,” Kant took up again the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality. Dismissed in the first Critique as objects that men can never know because they transcend human sense experience, he now argued that they are essential postulates for the moral life. Though not reachable in metaphysics, they are absolutely essential for moral philosophy.

Kant is often described as an ethical Rationalist, and the description is not wholly inappropriate. He never espoused, however, the radical Rationalism of some of his contemporaries nor of more recent philosophers for whom reason is held to have direct insight into a world of values or the power to intuit the rightness of this or that moral principle. Thus, practical, like theoretical, reason was for him formal rather than material—a framework of formative principles rather than a content of actual rules. This is why he put such stress on his first formulation of the categorical imperative: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Lacking any insight into the moral realm, men can only ask themselves whether what they are proposing to do has the formal character of law—the character, namely, of being the same for all persons similarly circumstanced.

Period of the three “critiques” » The Critique of Judgment
The Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790: spelled “Critik”)—one of the most original and instructive of all of Kant’s writings—was not foreseen in his original conception of the critical philosophy. Thus it is perhaps best regarded as a series of appendixes to the other two Critiques. The work falls into two main parts, called respectively “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment” and “Critique of Teleological Judgment.” In the first of these, after an introduction in which he discussed “logical purposiveness,” he analyzed the notion of “aesthetic purposiveness” in judgments that ascribe beauty to something. Such a judgment, according to him, unlike a mere expression of taste, lays claim to general validity; yet it cannot be said to be cognitive because it rests on feeling, not on argument. The explanation lies in the fact that, when a person contemplates an object and finds it beautiful, there is a certain harmony between his imagination and his understanding, of which he is aware from the immediate delight that he takes in the object. Imagination grasps the object and yet is not restricted to any definite concept; whereas a person imputes the delight that he feels to others because it springs from the free play of his cognitive faculties, which are the same in all men.

In the second part, Kant turned to consider teleology in nature as it is posed by the existence in organic bodies of things of which the parts are reciprocally means and ends to each other. In dealing with these bodies, one cannot be content with merely mechanical principles. Yet if mechanism is abandoned and the notion of a purpose or end of nature is taken literally, this seems to imply that the things to which it applies must be the work of some supernatural designer; but this would mean a passing from the sensible to the suprasensible, a step proved in the first Critique to be impossible. Kant answered this objection by admitting that teleological language cannot be avoided in taking account of natural phenomena; but it must be understood as meaning only that organisms must be thought of “as if” they were the product of design, and that is by no means the same as saying that they are deliberately produced.

Last years
The critical philosophy was soon being taught in every important German-speaking university, and young men flocked to Königsberg as a shrine of philosophy. In some cases, the Prussian government even undertook the expense of their support. Kant came to be consulted as an oracle on all kinds of questions, including such subjects as the lawfulness of vaccination. Such homage did not interrupt Kant’s regular habits. Scarcely five feet tall, with a deformed chest, and suffering from weak health, he maintained throughout his life a severe regimen. It was arranged with such regularity that people set their clocks according to his daily walk along the street named for him, “The Philosopher’s Walk.” Until old age prevented him, he is said to have missed this regular appearance only on the occasion when Rousseau’s Émile so engrossed him that for several days he stayed at home.

With the publication of the third Critique, Kant’s main philosophical work was done. From 1790 his health began to decline seriously. He still had many literary projects but found it impossible to write more than a few hours a day. The writings that he then completed consist partly of an elaboration of subjects not previously treated in any detail, partly of replies to criticisms and to the clarification of misunderstandings. With the publication in 1793 of his work Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft, Kant became involved in a dispute with Prussian authorities on the right to express religious opinions. The book was found to be altogether too Rationalistic for orthordox taste; he was charged with misusing his philosophy to the “distortion and depreciation of many leading and fundamental doctrines of sacred Scripture and Christianity” and was required by the government not to lecture or write anything further on religious subjects. Kant agreed but privately interpreted the ban as a personal promise to the King, from which he felt himself to be released on the latter’s death in 1797. At any rate, he returned to the forbidden subject in his last major essay, Der Streit der Fakultäten (1798; “The Conflict of the Faculties”).

The large work at which he laboured until his death—the fragments of which fill the two final volumes of the great Berlin edition of his works—was evidently intended to be a major contribution to his critical philosophy. What remains, however, is not so much an unfinished work as a series of notes for a work that was never written. Its original title was Übergang von den metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft zur Physik (“Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to Physics”), and it may have been his intention to carry further the argument advanced in the Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft (1786) by showing that it is possible to construct a priori not merely the general outline of a science of nature but a good many of its details as well. But judging from the extant fragments, however numerous they are, it remains conjectural whether its completion would have constituted a major addition to his philosophy and its reputation.

After a gradual decline that was painful to his friends as well as to himself, Kant died in Königsberg, February 12, 1804. His last words were “Es ist gut” (“It is good”). His tomb in the cathedral was inscribed with the words (in German) “The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me,” the two things that he declared in the conclusion of the second Critique “fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on.”

Otto Allen Bird




Friedrich Schleiermacher

born Nov. 21, 1768, Breslau, Silesia
died Feb. 12, 1834, Berlin

German theologian, preacher, and classical philologist, generally recognized as the founder of modern Protestant theology. His major work, Der christliche Glaube (1821–22; 2nd ed. 1831; The Christian Faith), is a systematic interpretation of Christian dogmatics.

Childhood and education
Schleiermacher was the son of Gottlieb and Katharina-Maria (née Stubenrauch) Schleiermacher. His father, a Reformed (Calvinist) military chaplain, and his mother both came from families of clergymen. He had an older sister, Charlotte, and a younger brother, Carl.

From 1783 to 1785 he attended a school of the Moravian Brethren (Herrnhuters), an influential Pietistic group, at Niesky. In this milieu, individualized study was combined with a piety based on the joy of salvation and a vividly imaginative relation with Jesus as Saviour, rather than (as in the Pietism centred in Halle) on a struggle to feel sorrow and repentance. Here Schleiermacher developed his lifelong interest in the Greek and Latin classics and his distinctive sense of the religious life. Later he called himself a Herrnhuter “of a higher order.”

Yet the lifeless and dogmatic narrowness of the Moravian seminary at Barby, which he attended from 1785 to 1787, conflicted with his increasingly critical and inquiring spirit. He left in 1787 with the reluctant permission of his father, who had at first harshly rebuked him for his worldliness and accused him of hypocrisy, and at Easter he matriculated at the University of Halle. There he lived with his maternal uncle, Samuel Stubenrauch, a professor of theology, who could understand his restlessness and skepticism.

A diligent and independent student, Schleiermacher began, along with his theological studies, an intensive study of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. In his epistemology (theory of knowledge), though not in his ethics and religion, he remained a Kantian throughout his life. After two years he moved to Drossen (Ośno), near Frankfurt an der Oder, where his uncle had assumed a pastorate, and began preparing for his first theological examinations. Though he read more in ethics than in theology, he took his examinations in Reformed theology in 1790, achieving marks of “very good” or “excellent” in all fields except dogmatics, the one in which he was later to make his most original contribution.

Early career
Schleiermacher then took a position as tutor for the family of the Graf (Count) zu Dohna in Schlobitten, East Prussia. Besides tutoring, he preached regularly, chiefly on ethical themes, and continued his philosophical study, particularly of the question of human freedom. After taking his second theological examinations in 1794, the same year in which his father died, Schleiermacher became assistant pastor in Landsberg and then, in 1796, pastor of the Charité, a hospital and home for the aged just outside Berlin. In that city he found his way into the circle of the German Romantic writers through the creator of early Romanticism, Friedrich von Schlegel, with whom he shared an apartment for a time, began a translation of Plato’s works, and became acquainted with the new Berlin society.

In Über die Religion. Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern (On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers), written in 1799 as a kind of literary confession, Schleiermacher addressed the Romantics with the message that they were not as far from religion as they thought; for religion is the “feeling and intuition of the universe” or “the sense of the Infinite in the finite,” and Christianity is one individual shaping of that feeling. This work, perennially attractive for its view of a living union of religion and culture, greatly impressed the young theologians of the time. The Monologen (1800; Soliloquies), written in a somewhat artificial rhythmic prose, presented a parallel to religion in the view of ethics as the intuition and action of the self in its individuality. The individuality of each human being is here seen as a unique “organ and symbol” of the Infinite itself.

A six-year courtship of Eleonore Grunow, unhappily married to a pastor in Berlin, ended in 1802, when Schleiermacher accepted a call to a small Reformed congregation in Stolp, Pomerania (now Słupsk, Pol.), and she decided to remain with her husband, but until 1805 he continued to hope she might still consent to become his wife. In this pastorate he became aware of the deep cleavage between a church preacher and a modern man, but at the same time he came to acquire a great fondness for preaching.

Halle and Berlin
In 1804 he accepted a call to be a university preacher, becoming a member of the faculty of theology at the University of Halle. As the first Reformed theologian on that Lutheran theological faculty and as a spokesman for Romantic Idealism, he met a cool reception. But the situation changed, and after a year he was made ordinary professor of theology.

In Die Weihnachtsfeier (1805; Christmas Celebration), written in the style of a Platonic dialogue, Schleiermacher adopted the definition of religion he later incorporated into Der christliche Glaube. Instead of speaking of religion as “feeling and intuition,” he now called it simply “feeling”—namely, the immediate feeling that God lives and works in us as finite human beings.

Napoleon’s invasion of Prussia forced Schleiermacher to leave Halle in 1807. He moved to Berlin, giving lectures on his own and travelling about to encourage national resistance; he also assisted Wilhelm von Humboldt in laying plans for the new university to be founded in Berlin. He married Henriette von Willich, the widow of a close friend of his, in 1809. In that same year he became pastor of Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Trinity Church) in Berlin and, in 1810, professor of theology at the new university; this latter position he retained to the end of his life.

His activities in the years following were many and varied. He lectured on theology and philosophy; he preached in Dreifaltigkeitskirche almost every Sunday until the end of his life; he was a member (from 1800) and permanent secretary of the Berlin Academy of Sciences; he carried on an extensive correspondence; and he was active in promoting the Prussian Union, which brought Lutheran and Calvinist churches into one body. His major publications during this period were the Kurze Darstellung des theologischen Studiums (1811; Brief Outline of the Study of Theology), presenting a curriculum in which the function of theology is to shape and direct the church as a religious community, and Der christliche Glaube.

His relations with the Prussian king were tense until 1831, partly because of differences of view concerning the Prussian constitution and the relation between church and state, and partly because of machinations of his personal rivals. At one stage, an edict of banishment was issued against him, but it was not carried out.

He preached his last sermon on February 2 and gave his last lecture on Feb. 6, 1834. He died a few days later from inflammation of the lungs. His death stirred the populace of the whole city; Leopold von Ranke, a renowned historian, estimated that there were from 20,000 to 30,000 people in the long funeral procession through the streets of Berlin. He was buried in the cemetery of Dreifaltigkeitskirche.

Schleiermacher’s thought continued to influence theology throughout the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. Between about 1925 and 1955 it was under severe attack by followers of neoorthodox theology (founded by Karl Barth and Emil Brunner) as leading away from the gospel toward a religion based on human culture. Since then, however, there has been a renewed study and appreciation of Schleiermacher’s contributions, partly because the critique was one-sided, and partly because of a new interest in 19th-century theology.

Robert P. Scharlemann



Johann Friedrich Herbart

born May 4, 1776, Oldenburg
died Aug. 14, 1841, Göttingen, Hanover

German philosopher and educator, who led the renewed 19th-century interest in Realism and is considered among the founders of modern scientific pedagogy.

After studying under Johann Gottlieb Fichte at Jena (1794), Herbart worked as a tutor at Interlaken, Switz., from 1797 to 1800, during which period he made the acquaintance of Pestalozzi. Becoming a licentiate of the University of Göttingen in 1802, he was appointed extraordinary professor there in 1805. At the close of 1808 he became Kant’s successor as professor at Königsberg. There he also conducted a seminary of pedagogy until 1833, when he returned as professor of philosophy to Göttingen, where he remained until his death.

Herbart’s position in the history of philosophy is due mainly to his contributions to the philosophy of mind. His aims in this respect are expressed by the title of his textbook—Psychologie als Wissenschaft neu gegrundet auf Erfahrung, Metaphysik, und Mathematik, 2 vol. (1824–25; “Psychology As Knowledge Newly Founded on Experience, Metaphysics, and Mathematics”); of central importance is the inclusion of Mathematik. He rejected the whole concept of faculties (in Kantian terms) and regarded mental life as the manifestation of elementary sensory units or “presentations” (Vorstellungen). These he conceived as mental forces rather than as mere “ideas” in Locke’s sense. The study of their interactions gave rise to a statics and dynamics of the mind, to be expressed in mathematical formulas like those of Newtonian mechanics. Ideas need not be conscious; and they might either combine to produce composite resultants or conflict with one another so that some get temporarily inhibited or repressed “below the threshold of consciousness.” An organized but unconscious system of associated ideas formed an “apperception mass”; such a system could apperceive a new presentation and thus give it richer meaning. On this basis Herbart developed a theory of education as a branch of applied psychology.

His theory of education—known as Herbartianism—was set out principally in two works, Pestalozzis Idee eines A B C der Anschauung (1802; “Pestalozzi’s Idea of an A B C of Sense Perception”) and Allgemeine Pädagogik (1806; “Universal Pedagogy”), which advocated five formal steps in teaching: (1) preparation, a process of relating new material to be learned to relevant past ideas or memories in order to give the pupil a vital interest in the topic under consideration; (2) presentation, presenting new material by means of concrete objects or actual experience; (3) association, thorough assimilation of the new idea through comparison with former ideas and consideration of their similarities and differences in order to implant the new idea in the mind; (4) generalization, a procedure especially important to the instruction of adolescents and designed to develop the mind beyond the level of perception and the concrete; and (5) application, using acquired knowledge not in a purely utilitarian way, but so that every learned idea becomes a part of the functional mind and an aid to a clear, vital interpretation of life. This step is presumed possible only if the student immediately applies the new idea, making it his own.

Herbart maintained that a science of education was possible, and he furthered the idea that education should be a subject for university study. His ideas took firm hold in Germany in the 1860s and spread also to the United States. By the turn of the century, however, the five steps had degenerated to a mechanical formalism, and the ideas behind them were replaced by new pedagogical theories, in particular those of John Dewey.




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