LESSING Makes Himself At Home

(The following is a continuation of this post.)

We left our hero when he came to Wolfenbuettel (Ger., Eng.). The year is 1770.
The first part of the 1760s LESSING had worked as secretary of the already mentioned Prussian general von TAUENTZIEN. In 1765 he went back to Berlin, back to the existence as free lance writer, critic, man of the theater. In 1767 he goes to Hamburg, with high hopes, to work on the newly founded Nationaltheater (Ger., Eng.). And because he learned a little from his earlier adventures, LESSING becomes partner in a printing house, what is meant as economical basis for his literary work. This also allows him to publish his own writings and a journal. He is back in the saddle, so to speak, after his military detour. The work at the theater leads to his “Hamburgische Dramaturgie” (Ger., Eng., here you go), other publications follow. LESSING arrives in the Hamburgian society, meets people there – he does not inhabit the proverbial ivory tower. Among people he got acquainted with is the family of the merchant KÖNIG.
In 1769 the party is over, LESSING is more or less banquerotte.
He accepts the position as librarian in Wolfenbuettel. I think he is interested in the library itself, but the need for a steady income is also a non deniable factor. His departure from Hamburg gets delayed several times, in the end he has to sell his private library (!) – achGOtt, who can imagine & appreciate what this means to a man whose existence is based on the written word ?
On the other hand is the Herzog-August-Bibliothek waiting, the HAB (Ger., Eng.). But let’s face it : Wolfenbuettel was in the 18th century a tiny town in the Northern marshlands where the proverbial dog is buried. The geographical situation did not change (and the dog was not exhumed), it was the same after WWII, just with the addition of the inner-German border ; and when the famous librarian RAABE (Ger.) came here (in the 1960s) he described (at least in my memory) the fog first. And the wetness. The darkness and the cold. It was not cold and wet when LESSING was presented as librarian there in May 1770 ; but in one of the next winters they could not work, because the ink had frozen in the bottles.
The building itself could kindly be described as a multi-purpose-hall. But one can concisely call it the Marstall (Ger., Eng.), the horse stables, with some galleries for book storing. The famous Rotunde was the arena where horses were trained and moved. Simple creature comfort for librarians was not in the specification book, or at least not high up : Heating, anyone ?
LESSING found himself billeted in the old castle (Ger., Eng.) – the court had moved to Braunschweig, the house was empty since 1753 – and there he lived alone in some rooms for the next seven years.
He found a vast book repository, some old servants, and a secretarius called Karl Johann Anton von CICHIN (1723-1795), he will survive LESSING. I found no biographical information about von CICHIN, but according to all I read about the man, and according to the notes CICHIN left (cited by LESSINGS biographer HILDEBRANDT), he was a very unpleasant character. A Dominican monk, what alone is enough to prod my curiosity – how comes a canis DOmini  to the Protestant court of Braunschweig, and how does he stay there ?
The older idea about LESSING as librarian was not very nice, some even thought that he did more harm than good in this position. But I think nowadays the common persuasion is that LESSING immersed himself into the task, he did draw a plan for cataloguing, but the realisation of this project was torpedoed by CICHIN.
Even in the biographical entry for LESSINGs successor, the first real librarian of the HAB, Ernst Theodor LANGER (1743-1820), the “Unbrauchbarkeit des Bibliotheksecretärs v. Cichin” (the uselessness of secretary v. CICHIN) is mentioned.
But LESSING makes the best from his situation. He works himself into the library and its treasure of manuscripts. The first fruit is his publication about “Berengar Turonensis”. He writes for the theatre, his “Emilia Galotti” comes out and goes over the ramp in 1772. He starts – or better : gets dragged into – his worst public polemic fight with the Hamburgian Pastor GOEZE (Ger., Eng.), about the Fragmente eines Ungenannten, “Fragments of an Unknown’s Text” (Ger.). These “fragments” are not “found in the library”, as LESSING states, in fact he smuggled the manuscript in. It was written by REIMARUS (Ger, Eng.), and can be understood to be one of the most important texts of the age of enlightenment (think : Deism) –  the public fight was pretty ugly, nevertheless.
But the important things are happening outside the Gelehrtenrepublik.
LESSING, past forty in 1770, gets engaged to Eva KÖNIG (Ger., Eng.), the widow of the mentioned Hamburgian merchant, who had died on a business trip in Venezia. They engage in 1771, but it will take some time until they tie the knot, on the 8th of October 1776.
And things get better !
The court decides to ramp up his income. And : They even pay it !
An adequate housing is taken care for : What today is known as Lessinghaus (Ger., Eng.) is cleared, cleaned and modernised for the bibliothecarius and his wife. He gets his own entrance to the HAB.
In the new house they live, here she gives birth to their first son, Traugott, on the 25th of December 1777.
Here the son dies right after birth.
Here Eva dies on the 10th of January 1778.
Here he writes in a letter : “My wife is dead ; now I too had this experience. I am glad that no such experiences are left for me to make ; I am feeling light.”

His fight with GOEZE heats up over the following months, but I insist that it is GOEZE who takes the argument ad hominem & leaves the factual level, who starts real nastiness. In the course of events LESSINGs exemption from censorship is revoked by the court, he can not publish freely any more.
In this situation he writes his “Nathan” (Ger., Eng.), the avowal, the affirmation to tolerance, not only religious tolerance, but tolerance as a value in general. Published in April 1779 it was first not successful with the audience – too intellectual, too much reflexion. Only IFFLANDs and GOETHEs stagings after 1802 made it a success.
After that he declines. Still writing & publishing, visitors to the library, but his vigor … the end comes in the form of some strokes (“Steckfluss” they call it) at his secondary home in Braunschweig, in the house of the merchant ANGOTT – you can not criticise this man for having a bolthole at a wine merchant’s !
Present are his step-daughter Amalia KÖNIG, he dies in the arms of a young Jewish man called DAVESON, determined, serene, voll Besinnung bis in den letzten Augenblick.
What a life. What payne, what struggle – the struggle to be one self, to define oneself, to think independently – to be free.


10 thoughts on “LESSING Makes Himself At Home

  1. I had to go back to read the 06June post, as I had missed it. (The day after the birthday celebrations, remember?) Now I have to read both for content as I feel very much the “village idiot” regarding Lessing! Thank you for the education! xoxo

  2. Well, I admire people who keep moving forward in spite of the struggles and adversity they face. Life is what you make it. So make it what you want it to be and live it fully.

  3. Sorry for warbling about an 18th century writer – please, do not call yourself a “village idiot” regarding Lessing” Savannah : How many interesting biographies, how many topics are there that we both have no idea about ? Many, I guess. I only read a book about Mr Lessing, by accident, and shamelessly exploited what I had read – all borrowed plumes, fake feathers … I am just a cheap, glitzy impostor !

    He moved forwards, seriously, Eroswings. I think that’s why the original subtitle of the essay by Hildebrandt was “Biography of an Emancipation”. For the most part of his life Lessing had to struggle to free himself from shackles and chaines, while others, like Goeze f.e., happily accepted those limits and defended them.

  4. What a horrible thing to have to do – sell one’s books! I didn’t think that poor Lessing could reach such lows again, but then to lose his wife and son – what a blow. I know it wasn’t all bad, though. Life has its ups and downs for us all.

  5. LẌ says:

    “borrowed plumes, fake feathers … I am just a cheap, glitzy impostor”

    Please be careful that Beaky doesn’t attack you in the garden!

  6. Sorry for warbling about an 18th century writer – please, do not call yourself a “village idiot” regarding Lessing” Savannah :because I already employ Scarlet in this role….

  7. Giving birth was a pretty dangerous thing to do for mother and child. I think it only became a little bit less life threatening when Dr. SEMMELWEIß found out how the chidbet-fever is to be avoided. He started the hygenic change, sometime in the early 19th century.
    Having to sell the own library while still alive is something that happened to some scholars through history. Somewhere should be a list, IDV. Other private libraries burned down. Usually the books were sold after the scholar’s death – to pay the funeral costs for these notorious have-nots !

    Thank you for your concern LẌ. I do not fear Beaky, even when his mean glare is on me. Usually I get attacked by “Elstern” (pica pica).

    That is some cool action LẌ ! There are still some radiograms from WWII that are not deciphered. Some German from the end of the war, and some Japanese. I find the idea to use Grimm fairytales for recognising patterns striking.
    I wonder if it is possible to decode them all ?

    Yer fired, Scarlet ! … mumblrgrumblroverqualifiedgnagnamumble …

  8. The “Nathan” is a kind of culmination I think, doesn’t get much more “enlightened”, Eryl. I just read what I have written, he died January 1782, four years after his wife had died, three years after he had published the “Nathan” in 1779, 52 years of age – enough. I think he did what he was capable of.

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