Enlightenment and Sensitivity
In the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment, the philosophers R. Descartes, B. Spinoza, G. W. Leibniz, C. Thomasius, I. Kant, C. Wolff, A. G. Baumgarten and J. K. Lavater provided the theoretical foundation for the works of poetry.
It was about principles of critical reason and liberated nature, in the stylistic about the ideal of clarity and simplicity. Literature was a means of education; The scientific and entertaining magazines and moral weeklies based on the English model became influential (including J. C. Gottsched’s “Die vernüßigen Tadlerinnen” and the “Discourse of the Mahlers” by the Swiss J. J. Bodmer and J. J. Breitinger). The courts lost their importance for culture; The centers were now the universities in Leipzig, Halle, Heidelberg and sociable circles in other cosmopolitan cities.
One of the main centers of the Enlightenment was Leipzig, its literary head was Gottsched until about 1740, who referred to Opitz’s poetology. He took the basis of his “Attempt at Critical Poetry before the Germans” (1730) from C. Wolff’s logical systematization of the world. For him poetry was a rational order, a mirror of universal harmony. Gottsched made great contributions to a German stage reform, which aimed to promote a literary German spoken theater, based on professional actors, for an educated audience. His model drama “The Dying Cato” (1732), in regular Alexandrians, was modeled on the French classical drama. As the creator of the German comedy, the so-called Saxon type comedy, is his wife, Luise Adelgunde Viktorie Gottsched (called the Gottschedin), with the “laughable comedies for the better” (“The Pietisterey in the whalebone skirt…”, 1736).
The supremacy of Gottsched was shaken by the literary feud with Bodmer and Breitinger, who sharply attacked his strictly rationalist view of literature. The opposition formed in the group of Bremen contributors, a transition to sensitivity was also evident in Gottsched’s most important students, C. F. Gellert and J. E. Schlegel.
Both created works for the theater that were contrary to the previous regularity: Gellert followed the French Comédie larmoyante with his comedies (“Die Betschwester”, 1745; “Die Zärtlichen Schwestern”, 1747), Schlegel brought convincing characters to the stage in his comedies; his “Comparison of Shakespeare and Andreas Gryphs” (1741) presented the great dramatic qualities of the English poet for the first time.
Another important center of the new intellectual movement was the circle around F. Nicolai, who worked in Berlin and Potsdam and published the “Letters, Concerning the Latest Literature” (24 parts, 1759–65, collected 1766) (with M. Mendelssohn, GE Lessing, C. F. Weisse).
In 1733, S. G. Lange and I. J. Pyra founded the “Society for the Promotion of the German Language, Poetry and Eloquence” in Halle, which followed pietistic principles.
For the poetry of the 18th century, the poems of J. C. Günther were momentous. His much-read love, student and lamentation songs fundamentally deviated from the formulaic character of the Baroque and gave space to personal feelings and experiences. The religious-philosophical poems by B. H. Brockes (“Earthly Pleasure in God”, 9 volumes, 1721–48) referred to a new way of experiencing nature; the Swiss A. von Haller opened up the world with his epic poem “The Alps” (1732) aesthetic appeal of the monumental mountain landscape. Also S. Gessner’s “Idylls” (1756) bear witness to a new relationship to nature. On the other hand, the poems of Anakreontik (among others in F. von Hagedorn, J. W. L. Gleim, J. P. Uz) an Arcadian pastoral world as an ideal spiritual landscape of cheerful harmony. F. G. Klopstock understood the poet as religiously called and ingeniously creative, who interprets the world beyond all knowledge of reason. In his religious epic “The Messiah” (1748–73) and in his poetry of Odendom, he took the expressiveness of the German language to an unprecedented level. The philosophical natural poems E. C. von Kleist were influenced by Klopstock.
The change in bourgeois interests around the middle of the 18th century is particularly clear with Gellert: He created both rococo-like small forms (songs that have become very popular, “Fables and Stories”, 2 volumes, 1746–48) and “Lives of the Swedish Countess von G. «(2 volumes, 1747–48) the first bourgeois German novel.
Around 1750 the Enlightenment reached a new quality. Representative for this were J. J. Winckelmann, C. M. Wieland, G. E. Lessing and J. G. Hamann.
Winckelmann’s “Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Mahlerey and Sculpture Art” (1755) established the new ideal of “noble simplicity and quiet greatness”. Wieland processed the Greek model in a variety of ways and made it fruitful for German literature in its own way. In his enlightenment intentions he strove both for the perfection of the individual and for the development of a perfect national literature. His contribution to this was significant, v. a. with his novels (with the “Geschichte des Agathon”, 2 volumes, 1766/67, final edition 1794, he created the first German Bildungsroman), with his magazines “Der Teutsche Merkur” (1773-1819) and “Attisches Museum” (1797–1807) and with his translations (Shakespeare,Aristophanes, Euripides).
The rise of the novel in Germany began with and alongside Wieland. J. G. Schnabel’s “Wonderful Fata of Some Seafarers” (4 volumes, 1731–43, from 1828 under the title “Die Insel Felsenburg”), a mixture of adventure novel and social utopia, was already on the threshold of the Enlightenment. J. J. W. Heinses ‘Ardinghello and the blissful islands’ (2 volumes, 1778) is also utopian. In the tradition of the sensitive travel novel stood M. A. von Thümmel, J. G. Jacobi, J. G. Schummel and A. von Knigge; F. Nicolai wrote his satirical novel “The life and opinions of Herr Magister Sebaldus Nothanker” (3 volumes, 1773–76); With “Hermann und Ulrike” (4 volumes, 1780) J. Wezel brought the novel closer to the ideal of the “bourgeois epic”.
K. A. Musäus and J. T. Hermes represented the humorous novel; Sophie von La Roche continued the epistolary novel popular in the Enlightenment with the “Story of Fraulein von Sternheim” (2 volumes, 1771). C. F. von Blankenburg dealt with the theory of the novel for the first time (“Trial on the Roman”, 1774), he defined the genre as the epic form of modern times, which describes the “inner” history of a person in his or her individual peculiarity.
Lessing is the dominant figure in German Enlightenment literature.
His work v. a. For the German drama: In sharp contrast to Gottsched, formulated in the famous 17th literary letter of February 16, 1759 (“Letters, concerning the latest literature”), he advocated a psychologically motivated action in the drama, for the dissolution of the rigid Rules of the three units and for a national theater. With his own dramatic works he opened up the bourgeois world as a scene of tragic conflicts for German literature: “Miss Sara Sampson”, 1755, the first German bourgeois tragedy; the tragedy »Emilia Galotti«, 1772, in which the contrast between courtly and bourgeois principles of life ends tragically. In the comedy “Minna von Barnhelm” (1767) he resolved the conflict between love and honor in favor of love and finally created a work with the dramatic poem “Nathan the Wise” (1779) whose humanistic message is timeless. Lessing also contributed to literary and art theory Significant (»Laocoon: or Beyond the Limits of Mahlerey and Poetry«, 1766; »Hamburgische Dramaturgie«, 1767–69). All of his writings are shaped by the ideas of the continuous perfection of humanity and historical progress.
Hamann criticized the Enlightenment’s one-sided image of man; his style of thought and language (“Socratic Memories”, 1759; “Aesthetica in nuce”, in: “Crusades of the Philologist”, 1762) is radically opposed to the traditional scientific prose. LikeHamann, J. G. Herder also saw in language the key to the divine mystery of the world and of man (“Treatise on the Origin of Language”, 1772): The poet alone has access to the origins of the living organism.
Herder went back to the vernacular and became an ingenious stimulator and mediator for the following generations (“About the newer German literature”, 3 collections, 1766-67; “Volkslieder”, 1778-79, 1807 under the title “Voices of the Nations.” in songs «).