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better than he its true office and limitations. The whole striving of his life, the sole object of his tireless energy was directed to the discovery and elaboration of the principles underlying the chief objects of intellectual pursuit — literature, art, science and theology. And in this work he never lost sight of the great ends of all true criticism — founding, and building. He never stopped with division, separation and denial, but advanced with sure instinct to combination and the discovery of new relations. Frederick Schlegel hias happily characterized his criticism, in contrast with the negative, as the productive. Through the destruction of falsehoods, the dethroning of venerated autliorities, relentless iconoclasm, scathing ridicule and unsparing exposure of hollow pretension and respectable mediocrity, there appear a creative purpose, a striving to find room for truth where the rubbish of tradition has been removed, and a genuine constructive aim. Although radical and destructive in his criticism, he never destroys for the sake of destroying, or because he finds pleasure in destruction as such, but for the sake of a true, conservative object kept ever in view for the sake of an Ideal which is only to be realized by conflict and the overthow of principalities and powers.
To say that Lessing was a doubter expresses the truth respecting the tendency of his mind, but not the whole truth. His whole life was occupied withi investigation, the testing of opinions, the combatting of established tenets and venerated traditions. Doubt precedes all work of this kind, and is an essential element of the critical mind. If, according to the highest authority, it is the beginning of philosophy, it is no less the beginning of critical research, and the first step in the investigation that leads to progress through tlie rejection or overthrow of traditional errors. The critic, who is necessarily a doubter, suspected, as he always is, by the timid and hated by the time-serving, is the true pioneer of intellectual progress. He is the benefactor of his kind, who is least understood and least appreciated of all men in his own age. His is the unwelcome task of assaulting what is most venerated, and
dethroning what is most worshipped. His is the fate to be censured and maligned, as the destroyer of the truth, and to await in vain in his own time the recognition and gratitude of men, that he may establish principles to which eternal honor shall at length be accorded, and win a fame that comes too late to be enjoyed. But doubt, essential element as it was in the mind of Lessing as a critic, was by no means a dominant tendency in his thought. His ruling passion was the search after truth. He not only maintained the right of free investigation, and the testing of accepted opinions and beliefs, but found in this occupation the highest satisfaction. To him the peaceful possession of truth yielded no joy. It was intellectual death. “Not the truth,” he says in an oft-quoted passage of the “ Duplik," 2 " of which a man is, or believes himself to be, possessed, but the sincere effort le lias made to come behind the truth, makes the worth of the man. For not through the possession, but through the investigation of truth does he develop his powers. Possession makes the miad stagnant, indolent, proud. If God held enclosed in His right hand all truth, and in His left simply the ever-moving impulse towards truth, although with the condition that I should eternally err, and said to me, Choose!' I should humbly bow before His left hand, and say, “Father, give! Pure truth is for Thee alone!'
“ The Luther of the eighteenth century," is a title which Lessing's friends have often given him. And though the two men were strikingly unlike in many prominent qualities, there is a fitness in the comparison in the sense that Lessing may be said to have been the first after Luther to carry Protestantism to its logical consequences, in so far as he represented its critical spirit, the authority of reason as against the domination of the Church, the right of free investigation, and the most liberal toleration. He was the ideal Protestant in an age of degenerate Protestantism. “Luther," he exclaims, “great, misjudged man! Thou hast freed us from the yoke of Tradition, who shall free us from the intolerable yoke of the Let
2 Sämmtliche Schriften, x. p. 63.
ter? Who shall finally teach us a Christianity as thou wouldst now teach it, as Christ himself would teach it?” Holding as he did the untrammelled search after truth to be the su. preme object of intellectual pursuit, he could not but have a deep and intense repugnance to sectarianism. For it is of the very nature of a sect that it takes a supposed truth under its protection, and by the assumption that it possesses a finality, a completed system which is to be defended, and which it is treason to doubt, stifles or suppresses the spirit of investigation, and engenders in the mind a comfortable self-satisfaction and an indolent content. Hence it is not surprising to hear him say: "I hate from the bottom of my heart all people who wish to found sects. For not error, but sectarian error, yes, even sectarian truth makes the unhappiness of men, or would make it if truth should found a sect." To what extent the sectarian abuses which passed under his notice may be responsible for the vigor of the above-quoted expression, we cannot tell; but to one whose whole warfare was against dogmatism and intolerance, such a feeling is natural, and, where sectarianism is but another name for these, the sign of intellectual and moral health.
Lessing's attitude towards theology is somewhat perplexing at the first view. He early showed a decided repugnance to theological studies, and while in the University at Leipzig, frankly wrote his father that he was deficient in all the qualifications for the clerical calling. And after leaving the University, where he attended no lectures on theology, lie wrote in 1768 to Ebert: “With the pro and contra coucerning religion I am utterly satiated; write rather of carved gems; you will then do little good, to be sure, but also little harm." From a right understanding of the real character of his mind, we must conclude that such utterances as this were called forth more by disgust at the manner in which theological discussion was carried on, than by a genuine dislike of theology itself. Lessing's interest in theology, especially in the critical principles which lie at the foundation of all investigation in this science, and determine the character of all conclusions
reached in its study, was really deep and intense. But he had no patience either with flippant denial or with bungling defence. Tlie effect upon his mind of the perusal of the writings on both sides of the great controversy over religion which was raging in his time is strikingly exhibited in a passage from his “ Bibliolotrie,” where, after speaking of his eager study of these writings at a time when they were the fashion, he says: “ The more decisive the writers on both sides become,
the more I felt that the effect which each produced upon me was not the desired effect.
The more convincingly the one wished to prove Christianity to me, the more doubtful I became. The more courageously and triumphantly the other sought to bring it to the ground, the more I felt inclined at least to maintain it sincerely in my heart." ;
A mind of the vigor and penetration of Lessing's could not long hold the attitude indicated in this passage. He did not wish to see Christianity overthrown, nor could he endure an irrational defence of it - a defence which only loaded it down with the rubbish of orthodox dogmas. And yet, even after he had entirely broken with the orthodox creed, he retained a certain respect for it in comparison with the impudent neologians of the day. In answer to a friend, who had reproached him with favoring the orthodox in some of his publications, he exclaims : “ What have I to do with the orthodox? I despise them as much as you do; but I despise still more our new-fashioned clergy, who are far too little of theologians, and not nearly philosophiers enough.” Satisfied with neither of the parties in the controversy, he was obliged to strike out for himself a new way both of attack and defence - attack upon dogma, defence of religion. The attitude which he assumed toward the great religious movement, to which it was reserved for him to give a new direction and impulse, is indicated in a letter to his brother, written in 1777: “I grudge that one should seek to enlighten the world ? I do not heartily wish that every one should think rationally respecting religion? I should detest myself it I had any other aim than to proinote
8 Sämmtl. Schr. XI. (2 te Abth), p. 170.
these great objects. Let me, however, do this in my own way. And what is simpler than this way? I do not wish to keep the impure water, which has long ceased to be fit for use; I only do not wish to see it poured out before we know where to obtain purer ; I only do not wish that it should be poured out without consideration whether or not the child is thereafter to be bathed in the drippings of the dunghill. And what is our new-fashioned theology, as opposed to orthodoxy, but the drippings of the dunghill as opposed to pure water? With orthodoxy, thank God, we were pretty well done. We are agreed in considering our old religious system untrue, but I could not say with you that it is a patchwork made by bunglers and half philosophers. I know nothing in the world in which human penetration has been more displayed and practised than in this. A patchwork made by bunglers and half philosophers is the religious system which they now wish to put in the place of the old.
And yet you misconstrue me in defending the old ? My neighbor's house threatens to fall in ruins. If my neighbor wishes to carry it away, I will honestly help him. He will not, however, carry it away, but to the complete ruin of my house, insists on building under it and propping it up. He must stop that, or I shall treat his falling house exactly as if it were my own." 4 That is to say,
4 Sämmtl. Schr. XII., p. 484. no half measures in the inevitable “ clearing up” process ; no “helping the downfall of the the most frightful structure of nonsense only under the pretext of giving it a new foundation"; away with the “ falling house " of orthodoxy, and let us build a new structure in its place; but away, too, with a false and shallow “enlightenment,” which is neither conserv. ative of anything, nor radical enough to supply the impulse or the principles for a genuine reform.
It is only from this point of view and in the light of these revelations of his feelings in reference to the theological controversies of his time that Lessing's motives and conduct in the celebrated “ Fragment-Controversy can be understood and appreciated. Why should he, a believer in the Christian