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Brandellius has written a most sublime panegyric on Mogusius.' * And, prithee, what has Mogusius done to deserve so great a favour?' 'He has written an excellent poem in praise of Brandellius.'” Lessing was not the man who could narrow himself to the proportions of a clique ; lifelong he was the terror of the Brandellii and Mogusii, and, at the signal given by him,
“They, but now who seemed
Throng numberless.” Besides whatever other reasons Lessing may have had for leaving Berlin, we fancy that his having exhausted whatever means it had of helping his spiritual growth was the chief, Nine years later, he gave as a reason for not wishing to stay long in Brunswick, "Not that I do not like Brunswick, but because nothing comes of being long in a place which one likes." Whatever the reason, Lessing, in 1760, left Berlin for Breslau, where the post of secretary had been offered him under Frederick's tough old General Tauentzien. “I will spin myself in for a while like an ugly worm, that I may be able to come to light again as a brilliant winged creature," says his diary. Shortly after his leaving Berlin, he was chosen a member of the Academy of Sciences there. Herr Stahr, who has no little fondness for the foot-light style of phrase, says, “It may easily be imagined that he himself regarded his appointment as an insult rather than as an honour.” Lessing himself merely says that it was a matter of indifference to him, which is much more in keeping with his character and with the value of the intended honour.
The Seven Years' War began four years before Lessing took up his abode in Breslau, and it may be asked how he, as a Saxon, was affected by it. We might answer, hardly at all. His position was that of armed neutrality. Long ago at
A favourite phrase of his, which Egbert has preserved for us with its Saxon accent, was, Es kommt doch nischt dabey heraus, implying that one might do something better for a constancy than shearing swine.
Leipzig he had been accused of Prussian leanings; now in Berlin he was thought too Saxon. Though he disclaimed any such sentiment as patriotism, and called himself a cosmopolite, it is plain enough that his position was simply that of a German. Love of country, except in a very narrow parochial way, was as impossible in Germany then as in America during the Colonial period. Lessing himself, in the latter years of his life, was librarian of one of those petty princelets who sold their subjects to be shot at in America--creatures strong enough to oppress, too weak to protect their people. Whoever would have found a Germany to love must have pieced it together as painfully as Isis did the scattered bits of Osiris. Yet he says that “the true patriot is by no means extinguished” in him. It was the noisy ones that he could not abide ; and, writing to Gleim about his “Grenadier” verses, he advises him to soften the tone of them a little, he himself being a “declared enemy of imprecations,” which he would leave altogether to the clergy. We think Herr Stahr makes too much of these anti-patriot flings of Lessing, which, with a single exception, occur in his letters to Gleim, and with reference to a kind of verse that could not but be distasteful to him, as needing no more brains than a drum, nor other inspiration than serves a trumpet. Lessing undoubtedly had better uses for his breath than to spend it in shouting for either side in this "bloody lawsuit," as he called it, in which he was not concerned. He showed himself German enough, and in the right way, in his persistent warfare against the tyranny of French taste.
He remained in Breslau the better part of five years, studying life in new phases, gathering a library, which, as commonly happens, he afterwards sold at great loss, and writing his Minna and Laocoon. He accompanied Tauentzien to the siege of Schweidnitz, where Frederick was present in person. He seems to have lived a rather free-and-easy life during his term of office, kept shockingly late hours, and learned, among other things, to gamble-a fact for which Herr Stahr thinks it needsul to account in a high philosophical fashion. We prefer to think that there are some motives to which remarkable men
are liable in common with the rest of mankind, and that they may occasionally do a thing merely because it is pleasant, without forethought of medicinal benest to the mind. Lessing's friends (whose names were not, as the reader might be tempted to suppose, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) expected him to make something handsome out of his office ; but the pitiful result of those five years of opportunity was nothing more than an immortal book. Unthrifty Lessing, to have been so nice about your fingers (and so near the mint, too), when your general was wise enough to make his fortune! As if ink-stains were the only ones that would wash out, and no others had ever been covered with white kid from the sight of all reasonable meni In July 1764 he had a violent fever, which he turned to account in his usual cheerful way—“The serious epoch of my life is drawing nigh. I am beginning to become a man, and flatter myself that in this burning fever I have raved away the last remains of my youthful follies. Fortunate illness !” He had never intended to bind himself to an official career. To his father he writes_“I have more than once declared that my present engagement could not continue long, that I have not given up my old plan of living, and that I am more than ever resolved to withdraw from any service that is not wholly to my mind. I have passed the middle of my life, and can think of nothing that could compel me to make myself a slave for the poor remainder of it. I write you this, dearest father, and must write you this, in order that you may not be astonished if, before long, you should see me once more very far removed from all hopes of, or claims to, a settled prosperity, as it is called.” Before the middle of the next year he was back in Berlin again.
There he remained for nearly two years, trying the house-top way of life again, but with indifferent success, as we have reason to think. Indeed, when the metaphor resolves itself into the plain fact of living just on the other side of the roof in the garret, namely-and that from hand to mouth, as was Lessing's case, we need not be surprised to find him gradually beginning to see something more agreeable in a fixirtes Glück than he had once been willing to allow. At any rate, he was
willing, and even heartily desirous, that his friends should succeed in getting for him the place of royal librarian. But Frederick, for some unexplained reason, would not appoint him. Herr Stahr thinks it had something to do with the old Siècle manuscript business. But this seems improbable, for Voltaire's wrath was not directed against Lessing ; and even if it had been, the great king could hardly have carried the name of an obscure German author in his memory through all those anxious and warlike years. Whatever the cause, Lessing early in 1767 accepts the position of Theatrical Manager at Hamburg, as usual not too much vexed with disappointment, but quoting gaily
"Quod non dant proceres, dabit histrio."
Like Burns, he was always "contented wi' little and canty wi' mair.” In connection with his place as Manager he was to write a series of dramatic essays and criticisms. It is to this we owe the Dramaturgie-next to the Laocoön the most valuable of his works. But Lessing-though it is plain that he made his hand as light as he could, and wrapped his lash in velvet-soon found that actors had no more taste for truth than authors. He was obliged to drop his remarks on the special merits or demerits of players, and to confine himself to those of the pieces represented. By this his work gained in value ; and the latter part of it, written without reference to a particular stage, and devoted to the discussion of those general principles of dramatic art on which he had meditated long and deeply, is far weightier than the rest. There are few men who can put forth all their muscle in a losing race, and it is characteristic of Lessing that what he wrote under the dispiritment of failure should be the most lively and vigorous. Circumstances might be against him, but he was incapable of believing that a cause could be lost which had once enlisted his conviction.
The theatrical enterprise did not prosper long ; but Lessing had meanwhile involved himself as partner in a publishing business which harassed him while it lasted, and when it failed, as was inevitable, left him hampered with debt. Help
came in his appointment (1770) to take charge of the Duke of Brunswick's library at Wolfenbüttel, with a salary of six hundred thalers a-year. This was the more welcome, as he soon after was betrothed with Eva König, widow of a rich manufacturer.* Her husband's affairs, however, had been left in confusion, and this, with Lessing's own embarrassments, prevented their being married till October 1776. Eva König was every way worthy of him. Clever, womanly, discreet, with just enough coyness of the will to be charming when it is joined with sweetness and good sense, she was the true helpmate of such a man—the serious companion of his mind and the playfellow of his affections. There is something infinitely refreshing to me in the love-letters of these two persons. Without wanting sentiment, there is such a bracing air about them as breathes from the higher levels and strongholds of the soul. They show that self-possession which can alone reserve to love the power of new self-surrender-of never cloying, because never wholly possessed. Here is no invasion and conquest of the weaker nature by the stronger, but an equal league of souls, each in its own realm still sovereign. Turn from such letters as these to those of St. Preux and Julie, and you are stifled with the heavy perfume of a demirep's boudoir-to those of Herder to his Caroline, and you sniff no doubtful odour of professional unction from the sermon-case. Manly old Dr. Johnson, who could be tender and true to a plain woman, knew very well what he meant when he wrote that single poetic sentence of his—“The
* I find surprisingly little about Lessing in such of the contemporary correspondence of German literary men as I have read. A letter of Boie to Merck (10th April 1775) gives us a glimpse of him. “Do you know that Lessing will probably marry Reiske's widow and come to Dresden in place of Hagedorn? The restless spirit! How he will get along with the artists, half of them, too, Italians, is to be seen. . . . Liffert and he have met and parted good friends. He has worn ever since on his finger the ring with the skeleton and butterfly which Liffert gave him. He is reported to be much dissatisfied with the theatrical filibustering of Goethe and Lenz, especially with the remarks on the drama in which so little respect is shown for his 'Aristotle,' and the Leipzig folks are said to be greatly rejoiced at getting such an ally."