Full text of "Laocoon"
Presented to the
library of the
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
The Estate of the late
PROFESSOR A. S. P. WOODHOUSE
Head of the
Department of English
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Motto by Lessing.
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Motto by Translator.
“Macaulay told me that the reading of this little book
formed an epoch in his mental history, and that he learned
more from it than he had ever learned elsewhere.”
Lewes, Life of Goethe , p. 57.
GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM LESSING
TRANSLATED JV1TH PREFACE AND NOTES
BY THE LATE
Rt. Hon. Sir ROBERT PHILLIMORE, Bart.
GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS, Limited
NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & CO.
i <\ or
1 0 0 0 0 1 [
Gbe IRfgbt Ibonourable HCl. £. ©labstone
OF LONG FRIENDSHIP
AND A COMMON LOYE OF HOMER
ARE AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED
BY THE WRITER.
Note.— This edition is reprinted, with the kind consent of
Sir Walter Phillimore, Bart., from the edition published by-
Messrs Macmillan in 1874. A few misprints have been
corrected, and the notes haye been transposed to the end of
the .volume. The publishers take this opportunity of express-
ing their sincere thanks to the family of the late Sir Robert
Phillimore for permission to include his work in their New
Translator’s Preface 1
V . . 85
VIII . . . . . . . .102
XIII ‘ 124
1. Birth and Education of Lessing i; 2. State of German Literature
when Lessing began his career as author; 3. Lessing’s Works
generally; 4. Winkelinann. Lessing’s Laocoon ; 5. Ancient
Versions of the story of Laocoon ; 6. Notice of some of the prin-
cipal Modern Authors referred to by Lessing ; 7. Notice of
Modern Authors not referred to by Lessing, but who wrote, before
the publication of the Laocoon , on Poetry and Painting.
1. The territory which once formed the ancient
| German margraviate of Lusatia was divided into
Upper and Lower Lusatia. It lay between the
Elbe and the Oder, situated to the north of Bohemia,
to the south of Brandenburg, and to the west of
Silesia. The race which dwelt on the northern de-
clivities of the Giant mountains (Riesen Gebirge),
which separate Silesia from Bohemia, were men
of robust and vigorous minds ; and early in the
seventeenth century intellectual life began to
develop itself simultaneously in Upper Lusatia
In one of the six towns of Upper Lusatia, of
which Gorlitz was the intellectual centre, Johann
Gottfried Lessing and his wife, Justine Salome,
J whose maiden name was Feller, dwelt. He was
- the Lutheran pastor of Kamenz ; and of these
| parents, on the 22nd of January, 1729, Johann
£ 1 The principal authorities to which I have had recourse for the
■•j materials of this sketch are : G. E. Lessing’s Leben und Werke, vol. i,
" by Danzel ; vol. ii, by Gurauer: Leipzig, 1849. G. E. Lessing’s Sein.
^ Leben und Seine Werke , von A. Stahr : Berlin, 1859. Goedeke’s
4 Grundriss zur Geschichte der Deutschen Dichtung , 1, Oil, § 221. Ger-
i vinus’s Geschichte der Poetisclien National-Literatur, 4, 318 : Leipzig,
1843. Germtin Classics, by Dr Bucliheim, vol. iii, Clarendon Press
. ( Series: Oxford, 1873. Gostwick and Harrison’s Outlines of German
1S \ Literature , 201.
Gotthold Ephraim, commonly called Gotthold
Ephraim Lessing, the writer of the Laocoon , was
bom. He died at Brunswick in 1781.
Logical powers of a high order, an intense love
of study, which he derived from his father’s ex-
ample and teaching, restless incessant eagerness
of inquiry into every subject unchecked by any
reverence for authority, keen susceptibilities, con-
stant literary and polemical controversy, unsettled
religious opinions, very straitened circumstances,
unquiet habits, a craving for excitement which
sometimes led him to the gaming table, a passion
for that kind of society — in which the stream of
life ran rapidly, though turbidly — and domestic
sorrow, combined to chequer the fifty -two years of
his very distinguished and very unhappy life.
His public education, begun at Meissen in the
year 1741, was continued at the University of
Leipzig in 1746, where he renounced the studies
and career of a Theologian, which his father had
wished him to follow. He went to Berlin in 1748.
He resided for some time at Leipzig, and in 1760
became a member of the Academy there. He sup-
ported himself by translating foreign works, and
taught himself French, Italian, and Spanish. He
resided at Breslau 1760-1764, where he was official
secretary to General Tauenzien. He was at Berlin
from 1765 to 1767. He lived at Hamburg, where
he became a journalist, during 1767-1769. He was
appointed by the Duke of Brunswick Privy Coun-
cillor and Librarian of a great Library at Wolfen-
biittel ; there he took up his abode in May 1770. In
this library he discovered, and afterwards published,
a treatise of Berengarius \ supposed to be lost,
respecting the Holy Eucharist. In 1775 he accom-
panied Prince Leopold of Brunswick in his journey
to Italy. He married, in April, 1776, a widow, Eva
Konig, who died in 1778. He appears to have felt
her loss very deeply.
i Gurauer, 2, 11 ; Goedeke, 611, 612, 663.
2. German literature is one of the youngest 1 of
the European family. At the time when Lessing
began to write it was in a very meagre condition.
Leibnitz and Wolff had indeed, in their different
paths, attained deserved literary honours. The
former had been dead nearly half a century, and
wrote his great works in a foreign language. The
latter was too ponderous and too scholastic to be
popular. Neither left any abiding marks upon their
native language or literature 2 .
Gottsched and his school had done their utmost
to lower the national taste to the level of a base
imitation of French literature ; and the efforts of
the Swiss, Breitinger and Bodmer, from whom
works of considerable merit appeared simultane-
ously at Zurich in 1740, and upon whom the dawn of
a better day had shone, had not sufficient power to
stem the tide. Haller, Hagedorn, Kastners, Rabe-
ner, Liscow, keeping aloof from the contest between
Gottsched and the Swiss, contributed something,
but not much, to the improvement of German
literature. Klopstock, indeed, vindicated the higher
claims of poetry to be the fruit of genius — unat-
tainable by the intellect alone or mere learned
industry — and to be far above the frozen mediocrity
and petty conventional decencies, within which
Gottsched, in his absence of all the susceptibility of
genius, his blind admiration for the French imita-
tion of classical antiquity, would have confined it.
But it was reserved for Lessing thoroughly to
awaken the sleeping German mind, and imbue it
with a true philosophy, which included the romantic
as well as the classical school within the domain of
poetry ; from which Gottsched’s narrow and unin-
spired mind would have excluded Shakspere, Milton,
Ariosto, and Tasso. ‘ Lessing schrieb deutsch ’, says
1 ‘Die deutsche Literatur ist eine derjiingsten unter der Europa*
isclien’, Schlegel, Kritische Schrtften , i, 1.
2 Danzel, 1, 118; De Quincey, vol. xii, 282; Gervlnus, 4, 63;,