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remarkable work, imbued with deep and generous feeling, and full of profound thought. It is a work that exercises a strong influence on the reader;—a work which, though polemical, is nevertheless so tolerant-because indeed it only contends for tolerance, and contends generously-that all classes, however diversified their opinions, must unite in admiration of it. The leading design is to inculcate tolerance of the opinions of others: not by destroying the groundwork of all belief-(which is too often the method of those who reach tolerance)—but by showing that all creeds, if sincere, and accompanied by benevolence, are to be honoured; because although each cannot be the true creed, yet each will, in that way, fulfil the object of all religion. This is the moral of that beautiful story of the three rings, which Lessing has taken from Boccaccio: this moral is further developed by the whole piece. The dénouement-where Recha and the Templar are discovered to be brother and sister, Saladin their uncle, and Nathan their spiritual father, the three families united into one family—is a type of the three religions, Christi

a anity, Judaism, and Mahometanism, harmoniously united ;-of unity of purpose, not excluding diversity of character.

This tolerance doubtless springs from a profound scepticism ; but a scepticism which has nothing sneering or disparaging in it; -scepticism as to the possibility of man's ever attaining absolute truth; not scepticism as to the virtue of the endeavour. Truth can only be sought, not found ; indeed, in a memorable passage, Lessing declares that if the choice were offered him, he should prefer the search after truth to the attainment of truth; *-thus, according to him, the aims of action are but the fitting stimulants to action, and not otherwise very desirable. In the search of truth be spent his life. In Nathan he teaches us to do the same. Believe sincerely and act uprightly, then no creed will be foolishness. Such was his belief. Connected with this idea, there is another equally needful to be adverted towe mean the independence of morality on religion. In many passages has Lessing enforced this; in none more openly than in the following:

"Go; but remember
How easier far devout enthusiasm is
Than a good action ; and how willingly
Our indolence takes up with pious rapture,
Though at the time unconscious of its end,
Only to save the toil of useful deeds.' †

* Plato, in bis dialogue of the Rivals—if it be his seems to have entertained a similar idea. See


134, Nathan the Wise, translated by W. Taylor.

The character of Nathan himself, is by critics considered a masterpiece. He certainly rivets attention, and retains our sympathies. He is a fine philosophical figure, whose wisdom and tolerance endow him with a dignity which strongly impresses the reader. But it seems to us that there is

a fundamental error in the conception. Nathan is meant for a Jew, he is always called a Jew, but he is only a Jew in name.

His sentiments and his religion are not those of a Jew; it was therefore worse than superfluous to give him the name. For let us distinctly understand Lessing's object. Toleration was to be taught. Christian intolerance was to be shamed by contrast with Judaic tolerance. The force of the contrast was artisti. cally conceived, but it was in a great degree obliterated by the conception of Nathan's character ; because, by that conception, he was exalted from out the sphere of Judaism, into that of Philosophy. If Nathan has none of the bigotry of his race, he

, cannot be a perfect type of that race. If he can regard Christianity with forbearance, he is no longer a Jew; and if he is no longer a Jew, the lesson meant to be conveyed is rendered inept.

All know that Philosophy can be tolerant. Lessing is constantly applauded for having chosen a representative of the most exclusive and fiercely bigoted of all races, as the exemplar of tolerance; but this is surely either inconsistent or erroneous. Nathan is an exemplar of tolerance; but assuredly his tolerance is not that of a Jew He would be denounced on all sides by his race; he would be hated by them as a heretic. The very qualities which make him fit to teach intolerant Christians a lesson, are those which separate him from the Jews. That which is great in Nathan, is not Jewish ; it has grown up in his large soul in spite of Judaism. We are quite aware that Lessing is said to have copied his Nathan from Spinoza and Moses Mendelssohn ; but we are also aware that, in respect of mental characteristics, no two men could with less propriety be styled Jews. Lessing's contrast, therefore, is not a new one; it is the old antagonism of philosophy and bigotry.

It is curious to turn from the calm and far-reaching tolerance of Nathan der Weise, to the impetuous onset upon existing tastes in the Hamburgische Dramaturgie-the work which, of all critical works ever published, perhaps achieved the most instantaneous victory. It is difficult to appreciate the sensation' this work caused, now that its fundamental ideas have been long popularised in all shapes. But on a slight examination of the state of public opinion at the time that Lessing wrote, the importance of his views will only appear equalled by their audacity. The German stage willingly, serlively, submitted to the yoke of France. Voltaire was not only



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the favourite of Frederick, he was the Dictator of literature. His tragedies were thought perfect. Zaïre was 'dictated by love itself.' Semiramis was the consummation of tragic taste-the highest flight of dramatic imagination. Voltaire's reign was undisputed. But at length a critic, with as much wit as audacity, and more sound judgment than wit or courage, raised his potent voice. With an eye to see, and courage to proclaim what he saw, Lessing undertook to examine the chefs-d'oeuvre of the French stage. Great was the astonishment of the prince of wits,' the great master

of ridicule,' to find himself the object of ridicule as sharp and cutting as his own. Great was the astonishment of the public. It is pleasant to introduce Herr Voltaire to the reader,' said his critic: “ there is always somethivg to be learned from • him, if not from what he says, then from what he should have said. I know of no writer from whom one could better ascer

tain whether one has reached the first stage of wisdom-falsa intelligere-as from Voltaire ; but also of no writer from whom

one could gain so little assistance in attaining the second stage, 6 vera cognoscere.' In this strain did be banter the great Poet; but the bantering was the smallest part of his polemics. Perhaps no man, except the late admirable and excellent Sydney Smith, ever bantered so much, who did not confine himself merely to banter. With him it was nothing but the pleasantry of argument; never did it stand in place of argument.

Íhe grand tragedy of Semiramis did not escape his searching criticism ; he stripped it of its tinsel of mock grandeur, and exposed it to the derision of all Germany. Voltaire had imitated Shakspeare in this play; at least he said so. Lessing took him at his word, contrasted Shakspeare's ghost with that of Voltaire ; demonstrated the perfect artistic propriety of the one, and the absurdity of the other; and thus not only shattered the credit of Voltaire, but turned the eyes of his countrymen towards Shakspeare-a boon they are thankful for. In the same spirit he contrasted Othello with Zaire ; and the Merope of Maffei with the Merope of Voltaire. The victory was triumphant. Lessing hit bard blows, and they fell where his antagonist was weakest. How different from the attack of Voltaire upon Shakspeare ! Lessing's criticism was not only witty, but destructive. Voltaire's might indeed excite a laugh, but would not stand an examination. Lessing did not confine himself to Voltaire; Corneille was also his object. Rodogune, which was then held to be the masterpiece of its author, was mercilessly handled. By rigid logic, and cutting ridicule, did Lessing show his countrymen that Rodogune was not only many degrees from a masterpiece, but was a most pernicious model. From that day the reign of French taste ended. The Dramaturgie has long fulfilled its object, and almost outlived its interest. To the English reader there can be no interest in wading through critiques on German plays, and German actors no longer known; nor can there be much attraction in witnessing the assault upon a tragic system which no living Eng. lishman would pronounce a model. For our own parts we think Lessing unjustly severe on the French poets; and not at all willing to admit their peculiar merits. The critic, however, cannot glance over the Dramaturgie without profit; and scholars no less than critics will do well to read his discussion of Aristotle's definition of Tragedy.

Perhaps the characteristics of Lessing's mind are nowhere more distinctly visible than in his treatise on the Laokoon. The clearness and the directness of the style, are qualities so rare in such works, that one is apt to think lightly of its ideas ; a journey, so easily performed, does not seem difficult; ideas, so easily grasped, seem obvious. But, on closing the book, if you compare the state of your opinions on art with those entertained previous to the perusal, you will be able to estimate its value. We have heard very eminent men declare, that it taught them more about art than all the other works they had read upon the subject put together. It is a book essentially instructive. The admirable analytical sagacity with which the boundaries of each art are distinguished, opens a vast field of criticism. The clear and piercing glance thrown upon the fog and vapour of critical prejudice, has the aid of keen wit and apposite learning in the demolition of grave absurdities. The book is made up of digres. sions; and yet these digressions are so well planned as to form constituent parts. He tacks away from the port, only to fill his sails with wind. He gains the summit of a mountain by winding round it, where direct ascent would be impracticable.

There is another little treatise which may be read in conjunction with the Laokoon, entitled Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet. It contains much curious matter, and satisfactorily establishes the fact of death never having been represented as a skeleton by the ancients : whenever a skeleton is represented, it means a larva, not death. Death was held to be the brother of sleep; and, like sleep, was depicted with wings, the feet crossed. He held a torch reversed, and a chaplet ot flowers. He was always a young man. It is a mistake to suppose that all young figures with wings meant Cupids. There is a great deal of discussion, philological and critical, in this Essay; but Lessing had, above all men, the art of making such discussions amusing. Moreover, he has enlivened it with vivacious polemics. But as a specimen of how he handled an adversary, his Vade Mecum für den Herrn. Lange should be consulted. Herr Lange, a poet of some celebrity in those days, bad translated Horace. Lessing criticized this translation in a letter to a friend. The letter got into the Newspapers. Lange, furious, replied in a fiery pamphlet, accusing Lessing of ignorance, of misrepresentation, of envy, of malice. Lessing was not the man to let such an opportunity slip. He dearly loved a taste of fighting. It was wine to him. He replied in this Vade Mecuma remarkable specimen of acute criticism, minute scholarship, and galling banter. While thus with Horace, the reader will do well to give his attention to the Rettungen des Horaz. In this Essay, Lessing undertakes to clear Horace from the charges of cowardice and licentiousness. It is paradoxical, but ingenious; and exhibits his usual amazing power of bringing remote passages to bear upon his argument. The same quality is visible in his Life of Sophocles ; which still remains the best biography of that poet.

There is a peculiarity in these, which distinguishes them from all similar works. We allude to the supreme contempt of their learned author for learning. He, of whom it was said that he had read every thing worth reading, who knew every edition of the classics, and every modern work relating to them, was as completely independent of the trammels of authority, and of the prejudices of a book-devourer, as the most confident of unlettered thinkers. If he cites authorities,' is is merely to oppose them to the authorities' of some pedant whom he is chastising : willing as he is to meet an antagonist on any ground, and with any weapons, he escapes the reproach of inconsiderate levity, by showing that he is as familiar with texts and commentaries as any professor, without also being a slave to them.

The Wolfenbüttel Fragments made a great noise at the time; but the interest has now almost entirely passed away. Lessing's share in the controversy was valiantly and honourably borne. Those who wish to study the art of controversy,' as

, Gibbon studied it in Pascal, may do so in this portion of Lessing's writings ;- no one else will find them palatable. The Education of the Human Race has had the very questionable honour of having been translated and adopted by the St Simonians, and by les Humanitaires ; but in a sense which Lessing himself would have strongly repelled. Indeed, it is worthy of remark, that with so logical a mind, and with such strong philosophical tendencies, Lessing never gave himself up to what the Germans call Metaphysics. Many a worthy German has deplored that he did not give the world his solution of the problem of Seyn und Denken, and did not venture on the apodictic certainty of the absolute! To us this is but one of the many evidences of his clear


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