Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

The pioneer


On the 22nd day of the first month in the year 1729, in a small town in Saxony, Germany, which goes under the name of Kamenz, a boy was born. He was to become the eldest son of a clergyman, as his elder siblings had died at young age. Thus he was expected to succeed his father and was consequently sent to the University of Leipzig where he was supposed to study theology. He did not. He, now already, insisted on his independence and devoted his studies to language, literature and drama. At the age of 18 he completed a comedy which made its debut on stage.

During the entire seventeenth and also some of the eighteenth century, Germany was, at least when it came to literature and drama, barren land. There was an overpowering Gallic influence, but no own identity. No originals. It was Lessing, the boy from the small town of Kamenz, who would be the first to set foot on this path towards an own national identity.

The boy from the small town of Kamenz had with his play not made many new friends, but rather provoked the antagonism of the followers of the French literature towards him. His disregard of the pedantry, which reigned through the French influences, was seen as a sign of barbaric taste, his reluctance to studying theology as atheism. Of which the later soon was made acquaintance of by his father, whose response where several reproachful letters. Lessing remained remarkably placid, answering his father with the words "Religion is not a thing which a man should accept in simple faith and obedience from his parents".

At the age of 21 he set of to Berlin, where he met deft minds like Moses Mendelssohn, Karl Wilhelm Ramler and Johann Wilhelm Gleim. In this new liberal setting and free environment he could thrive and develop intellectually. And it was also here, where some of his famous plays were created. The first of them, Miss Sara Sampson, was a sudden breeze of fresh impulses. But it was too soon and too much and its deserved success was not acknowledged until ten years later. Thus Lessing was constantly living hand to mouth during his time in Berlin and eventually he left to find his luck elsewhere. Sadly enough he never really succeeded in finding any economic security. His life was always imbued and scourged by poverty. Additionally, his later years where not characterized by joy either, as he lost his wife, and consequently his son, in childbirth. Even though all these rebuffs constantly interfered with Lessing’s life he never became poignant but retained his down to earth character. In one his poems he says: "Fame never sought me, and would not, in any case, have found me. I have never craved riches, for why, during this short journey, where so little is needed, should one hoard it up for thieves rather than for himself? In a little while I shall be trampled under the feet of those who come after. Why need they know upon whom they tread? I alone know who I am."

Maybe this complete lack egotism is an explanation for him being almost completely overlooked when talking about the landmarks of German culture. He was succeeded by poets and philosophers who made Germany a household name when talking about culture and art, and it was this Boy from the small town of Kamenz who prepared the way for these great minds. He opposed the simple recreation of the French role models, and it was he who established appreciation for Shakespeare in Germany. And it was his plays which, even though having lots of influences from earlier English renaissance and Aristotelian theater (who hasn’t?), still today serve as a foundation for German theater.

As for him being an “enlightener”, one can ascertain that Lessing decried the belief of any religious revelations but believed in Christian reason which was oriented to the basic values of the religion. Furthermore Lessing was an advocate of tolerance towards other world religions and was keen on trying to abolish persisting prejudices.

All in all, the life and journey of the boy from the small town of Kamenz, was a rather tragic one. It was a constant, fruitless fight for tolerance, freedom and truth, which still today is not entirely appreciated. And still, had Lessing’s ideas not had the impact they had and would he still be alive today, he would still be the same patient, open-minded boy from the small town of Kamenz, waiting for his ideas to strike root in the zeitgeist. And if he could not achieve acceptance for himself, he at least fought for the acceptance for others.  Goethe wrote after his death: "We lose much in him, much more than we think."


//Baloo Peinkofer

Postat av: uulvge

2011-08-16 @ 04:19:14

Kommentera inlägget här:

Kom ihåg mig?

E-postadress: (publiceras ej)



RSS 2.0