Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) is the most eminent literary figure of the German Enlightenment and a writer of European significance. His range of interest as dramatist, poet, critic, philosopher, theologian, philologist and much else besides was comparable to that of Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau, with all of whose ideas he engaged. He contributed decisively to the emergence of German as a literary language and was the founder of modern German literature, urging his compatriots to look to England rather than France for literary inspiration. His major plays (including the classic drama on religious tolerance, Nathan the Wise) are still regularly performed. He was a brilliant controversialist, and his philosophical and religious writings profoundly shook traditional assumptions. This book sets his life and work in the context of the intellectual, social, and cultural background of eighteenth-century Europe. It is the first comprehensive account of Lessing's life for over a century, and it serves as a reference work on all aspects of Lessing's life, work, and thought.
The German edition, published in 2008, is now regarded as definitive; it was awarded the Hamann Research Prize of the University and city of Munster and the Einhard Prize for Biography of the Einhard Foundation in Seligenstadt. The present English edition has been revised and updated in the light of relevant publications since 2008.
H. B. Nisbet is Emeritus Professor of German at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. His main research area is the German literature and thought of the eighteenth century in the context of the European Enlightenment. He has written books on Herder and Goethe and translated numerous works of Kant and Hegel into English. He has served as Germanic and General Editor of Modern Language Review and is joint General Editor of The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (nine volumes, 1989-2013). His edition and translation of Lessing's Philosophical and Theological Writings was published in 2005.
Introduction: Why Lessing? ; Kamenz, Meissen, Leipzig 1729-1748 ; Early dramas and poetry ; Berlin 1748-1752: society; journalism; didactic poetry ; Wittenberg and associated writings 1752-1754: history of scholarship; philosophy; theology and religion; classical philology; epigrams ; Berlin 1752-1755: the Academy quarrel; translations and collected Writings; social circle and the death of Mylius; Mendelssohn, Nicolai, and other new friendships; Pope a Metaphysician! ; From Comedy to Tragedy 1754-1757: the Theatrical Library; Samuel Henzi; Miss Sara Sampson; correspondence with Mendelssohn and Nicolai on tragedy ; Leipzig and Berlin 1755-1759: travels; translations and journalism; Kleist, Gleim and the Seven Years War; Philotas ; Berlin 1758-1760: Letters on Literature; Logau edition; fables and essays on the fable; translations of Diderot; Sophocles ; The middle years: war and peace in Breslau 1760-1765 ; Laocoon; last years in Berlin 1765-1766 ; Minna von Barnhelm ; Hamburg and the National Theatre ; Hamburg Writings 1767-1770: Hamburg Dramaturgy; dramatic fragments; Antiquarian Letters; How the Ancients Portrayed Death ; Wolfenbuttel and Brunswick; travels in Germany, Austria and Italy; engagement and marriage: 1770-1776 ; Lessing, the library and related publications: 1770-1782 ; Miscellaneous writings; Emilia Galotti: 1770-1775 ; Philosophy and theology 1770-1776; marriage and family life; the Mannheim theatre; bereavement: 1776-1778 ; Reimarus, Goeze, and the theological conflict: 1776-1779 ; The Education of the Human Race and Ernst and Falk ; Nathan the Wise ; The final years 1778-1781: declining health; conversations on Spinoza; last illness and death; memorials and monuments; Lessing's estate ; Lessing's reception: an outline ; Bibliography