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Unformatted text preview: t/aff, BY GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM Ml LESSING "Introite, nam et heic Dii suntl' Apud GelKum. 1 TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY PATRICK MAXWELL Edited, with an Introduction, coma Biographical Sketch of the prising Author, a Critical Analysis of the Poem, and an Account of the Relations between Leasing and Moses Mendelssohn BY GEORGE ALEXANDER KOHUT NEW YORK BLOCK PUBLISHING COMPANY 1917 PT Copyright, 1917, by BLOCH PUBLISHING COMPANY New York 607187 TO JACOB H. SCHIFF THE AMERICAN NATHAN THE WISE THIS VOLUME IS REVERENTLY INSCRIBED BY THE EDITOR "Welch tinjudtl Und der so ganz nur Jude (ACT III, tcheinen toiUl SCENE VII, end.) CONTENTS EDITOR'S PREFACE 9 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 15 INTRODUCTION I. II. III. IV. V. Genesis of the Poem 23 Lessing and Mendelssohn 33 75 Analysis of the Plot The Characters The Parable of the Three Rings . . 80 93 NATHAN THE WISE Act I Act II Act III Act IV Act V 127 176 224 274 319 NOTES BY THE TRANSLATOR 367 NOTE BY THE EDITOR 387 ILLUSTRATIONS Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Frontispiece Moses Mendelssohn Lessing, Mendelssohn and Lavater at Chess 33 . . 65 Facsimile of Title-Page of the First Edition of "Nathan the Wise" 127 Facsimile of a Page of the First Draft of the Poem Adolph von Sonnenthal 203 247 EDITOR'S PREFACE INTRODUCTION EDITOR'S PREFACE It would seem to be almost superfluous to write a Foreword to the present edition of Lessing's immortal epic. It is so plainly a preachment, that its stirring emotional appeal should, in itself, suffice. However, living at a time when at least one half of the civilized world is engaged in a war of extermination when the lofty ideals which Mendelssohn and strove to inculcate are in Lessing imminent danger of being swept aside in this vortex of passion and race antagonism, it behooves us to call against the other half, and attention, at the outset, to the masterful plea for intolerance and brotherhood which the poet makes in this vivid and picturesque drama. It is essentially a human document, with a message as vital and purwhen the great poseful in these latter days as then, Reformer strove to throw off the shackles of race Indeed, pride, prejudice and religious fanaticism. it might have been written for those of present day, istry who and whose us, in the victims of stubborn sophpatriotism is largely a compound are still of arrogance and unreasoning egotism. It is not for us to say who is responsible for this recrudescence of the savage instinct which has made itself felt for many decades and has flashed, like a flaming sword, dubiously guarding the gates to the 9 EDITOR'S PREFACE 10 pathway of peace. But it is a significant fact that the Berlin Congress of 1878, from which Disraeli brought back "peace with honor" after imposing upon all the delegates with regard to the emancipation of the Jews in Roumania was, after all, a fruitless victory in the cause of civilization. his will political Treaty obligations then, as now, were either altogether ignored or adroitly avoided, and the fate of "the little people" held in bondage still hangs in the balance. We have, to be sure, made great progress in the cause of the human brotherhood: Tribunal, with The establishment of gospel of arbitration, honored in the breach than in Hague its though perhaps more the observance, has brought us inevitably nearer to the ideal of universal brotherhood, preached by the prophets of Israel, and however calamitous for the human race the terrible ordeal may be through which the nations are passing, the struggle for mastery is so a tgst of the survival of what is best in our distinctly civilization, blessing in that it wake. its can not pass without leaving a Out of this holocaust must come a saner and sweeter humanity, and the realization that nation is linked to nation, not so much by ties of blood, a common tradition, a common language, and J by other selfish considerations, but by the higher ideal of mutual responsibility and a sense of universal fellowship. It is spirit, to read the powerful lay-sermon good Lessing, that intrepid regenerator of the which German preached from his stage-pulpit, just one hundred Seldom has such an utterance thirty-seven years ago. EDITOR'S PREFACE 11 Nor was his a His enlightened example been heard from a literary chancel. voice in the wilderness. was followed by no less a man than Joseph II, Emperor who established the poll tax and the Jews' Budget (1781), and issued a Patent of Tolerance (January 2, 1782), removing all restrictions from the of Austria, Jews. This illustrious monarch is the author of the following sublime prayer, which one cannot read without a quickening of the pulse and a feeling of pro- found gratitude: "Eternal, incomprehensible Being! Thou art perand love. Thy sun shines for the Chris- fect toleration tian as well as for the atheist. Thy rain fructifies the of the erring as that of the orthodox; and the germ of every virtue lies in the hearts of both heathen field and Thou heretic. teachest me thus, Eternal Being! and love teachest me that diverse views do not deter Thee from being a beneficent Father to toleration all And people. shall I, Thy creature, be less tolerant, my subjects may worShall I persecute those me, and convert the erring not conceding that everyone of ship Thee who in his own manner ? think differently from by the sword? No, Omnipotent! with Thy love, embracing Being, I shall be far from doing so. I all- will resemble Thee as far as a creature can resemble Thee will be tolerant as Thou art! Henceforth be tolerance in country removed. Where all in- a religion my that doth not teach the love of virtue and the abhor- rence of vice? Everybody shall, therefore, is be tolerated Let everyone worship Thee, incomprehensible in the manner which seemeth to him best. Do Being! by me. EDITOR'S PREFACE 12 errors of severity, mind deserve banishment from society? indeed, the means of winning the people; converting the erring? infamous Broken shall fetters of intolerance! Is of henceforth be the Instead of may it, the sweet bond of toleration and brotherly love unite forever ! Amen." As nobleness enkindles nobleness, it is but natural same exalted sentiment voiced on behalf to find the of Israel by a humble parish priest in Germany, who, in 1804, included this soulful plea in his "Prayer for Enlightened Catholic Christians": Book "Almighty, Everlasting God! I entreat Thee on behalf of a dispersed nation that has had to suffer much oppression and humiliation in days of yore. Ah ! the misery of these unhappy people seemed to many to be a triumph of the teachings of Jesus, and in order to make this victory their misery more luminous, they magnified and destroyed every vestige of civic and domestic happiness in this industrious race. "The religion of Jesus became hateful to them, because not a few professors of the same were their perpetual and almost sworn enemies. Never shall such an unworthy and inimical pride of creed beguile and corrupt me! "Since, O my God, I have learned from Jesus that all men are brothers, I shall respect the human rights privileges which they hold in common with me. Their very wretchedness and civic degradation shall imbue me, at all times, with the most lively desire to comfort them, to mitigate their sorrows, and to uplift them from the stupefying blow of their erstwhile de- and EDITOR'S PREFACE struction by the sympathy which I 13 cherish for their Amen." destiny. How fortunate for the human leaves Himself without a witness race that and God never that, in of great stress, some high-minded leader champion the cause of righteousness is moments found to ! Is it much too hope that the blood which to now is so generously spilt on the battlefields of Europe will wash away the guilt of race-pride and prejudice ob; dark memories of German anti-semitism of the Dreyfus scandal, and of the nameless horrors of the Russian pogroms, which are still a blot on the escutcheon of our common humanity? literate the The ; version of "Nathan the Wise" here printed, follows the text of Major-General Patrick Maxwell, published in The Scott Library series by Walter Scott, in curate of London. It is esteemed to be the most ac- all existing English translations, although perhaps not quite so graceful and elastic in style as Miss Ellen Frothingham's rendering (New York, 1867 reprinted in G. A. Kohut's "Hebrew Anthology," Cincinnati, 1913, Volume II). Like many of Les; dramas and comedies, it has been translated into Hebrew and Judaeo-German, proving that his popularity with the Jews is on a par with that of sing's Schiller. The volume include excellent and Mendelssohn; a likeness of the celebrated Austrian actor, Adolph von Sonnenthal, illustrations portraits of Lessing in the EDITOR'S PREFACE 14 Nathan, which has made him worldand a famous; reproduction from an old drawing, showing Lessing and Lavater at chess with their muin his character of tual friend, the celebrated Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn. The facsimile of the original of a leaf of the author's first page, as well as draught of the poem, in title possession of a member of the Mendelssohn family in Berlin, should prove of considerable interest to the book-lover and antiquarian. GEORGE ALEXANDER KOHUT. New York, November 8, 1916. BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM LESSING was born Camenz, in Upper Lusatia, and died at Brunswick, February 15, 1781. He comes of a line of learned ancestors. For many generations, his family had been one of jurists, curates and burgo-masters. His father was a clergyman and His earliest known his mother a pastor's daughter. progenitor, likewise a curate, was one of the signers of the formula concordiae, published in 1580, which was designed to harmonize certain doctrinal dissensions. It January is 22, 1729, at significant that he derived his liberal views by heredity, for we find that his grandfather had written a doctoral dissertation on the "Tolerance of Religions." His brothers followed academic pursuits, and to one of them we owe not only valuable comments on his published works, but an adequate and brilliant biography of this greatest regenerator of German litera- ture. When he was scarcely thirteen, Lessing was sent grammar school at Meissen, where he finished the prescribed course of study earlier than to the celebrated the The dean, in answer to his inquiry concerning the boy's progress, "He is a horse that needs double fodder. The lessons which are hard for others are nothing for average student. father's plied : IS re- BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 16 We can not use him much longer." In Sephim. tember, 1746, he entered the University of Leipsic as a theological student. After a few years at Wittenberg and Berlin, he took the degree of Master of Arts, on April 29, 1752. Already in these early years, he showed a marked The first fruit of talent for dramatic composition. was a comedy, entitled "The Young was a study from life, based largely upon his own experiences. It was produced with considerable success in Leipsic and gave him the first impetus to a literary career. While at grammar school, he had written several fugitive pieces, and, upon behis literary labors Scholar." It coming acquainted with an interesting philosophic coterie at Leipsic, notably the young journalist Mylius, who exerted a marked influence over him, he wrote poetic burlesques of scientific subjects. His relations Madame Neuber, whose troupe presented his first production, brought him into contact with the people of the stage, ^his displeased his parents, who feared with was leading would inevitably His letters home were full of filial piety and devotion, yet they showed an independence of spirit and a maturity of thought which that the kind of life he jeopardize his future. gave indication of great promise. Characteristic following passage from one of these letters is the : "The Christian religion is not a thing that ought to be received on trust from one's parents. The great mass of mankind, it is true, inherit it as they do their property, but their conduct are." shows what Christians they BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH It is significant that these letters young man scarcely twenty years 17 were written by a old. In Berlin, Lessing devoted himself to translations in conjunction with My- from foreign languages and, founded a periodical devoted to the dramatic arts. soon parted company with his friend, however, owing to a disagreement on literary subjects and became a contributor to Voss's Gazette. It was not lius, He long before he became well-known, through the inHe maintained that dividuality of his utterances. there were no established canons of art and that every modifies principles already recognized. He new genius turned the searchlight of philosophy on literary icism and blazed a new path for German letters. crit- He denounced the pedantry and sentimentality which prevailed in high circles and inveighed against the dominance of the French classic drama, which was the model in Germany at the time. In consequence of his efGerman language and literature were eman- forts, the It cipated, once and for all, from foreign influence. must be remembered that Frederick the Great and his court had succumbed to the spell of Voltaire to such an extent that the great monarch was actually incapable of writing good idiomatic German. It was Lessing and, through him, his friend, Moses Mendelssohn, who gave to German style that tone and dignity which make the literature of the time so rich and distinctive. Permeated by English culture, Lessing endeavored to prove that the soul of man, and not his environment, represents all that is great and noble in dramatic poetry. To vindicate his point of view, he wrote, in BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 18 1753-55, a tragedy in prose, entitled "Miss Sara Sampson," which proved a complete success and liberated the German playwrights from their traditional limitaThis tragedy was first presented at Frankfort- tions. on-the-Oder, July 10, 1755, and it is said that the spectators "sat for hours like statues and wept an4 wept". Although it was considered a theatrical tri- umph and had the distinction of being translated into French and English, its importance now is chiefly After all, Lessing's fame rests upon his historical. maturer contributions to dramatic literature, of which at least three, "Minna von Barnhelm", "Emilia Galotti" and "Nathan the Wise", representing, respectively, comedy, tragedy and didactic drama, have an intrinsic and permanent value. The salient feature of "Minna von Barnhelm," pub- The chief lished in 1767, is its national character. in the love are made to story symbolize personages the natural ties of race which should bind together the members of the German family, then alien- different ated and antagonized by dynastic jealousies and interests. Goethe recalls the tremendous impression comedy made upon the young people of his day and speaks of it with reminiscent enthusiasm. Although the scene in "Emilia Galotti" is laid in Italy and gives a vivid picture of the old Roman Republic, the plot is wholly German in spirit and was the designed to depict the tyrannical princelings of Lessing's own time and nation. The characters are ad- mirably portrayed. The dialogue is simple and the and dramatic movement remarkably direct and plot BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 19 It was first presented at Brunswick, March i, and has retained its popularity with German 1772, rapid. theatre-goers to this day. Regarding "Nathan the Wise", the scene of which is laid in Jerusalem, during the Third Crusade, in the latter half of the I2th Century, more will be said in the subjoined INTRODUCTION to the poem. dialogue in iambics, illustrating Lessing's religious toleration and is was published on April 4, 1783. in a of German 1779 and presented From It generally recognized as one of the greatest masterpieces of It is own views that day to this, literature. in it Berlin, has de- and the has fame Nathan character of made the of at least Adolf one distinguished actor von Sonnenthal, who played the title role for almost two generations and was finally knighted by the Austrian emperor. Struggling against poverty and forced into signifilighted vast audiences, wherever produced, cant positions, in order to maintain himself, yet conscientiously providing for his family, who did not scruple to draw heavily upon his meager resources, astonishing that he should have been able to produce works of transcending merit, in his early manhood. Among these may be mentioned his "Fables", to which he subsequently added a Critical Commentit is ary; his "Dramaturgic", a series of dramatic essays, as epoch-making in this field as the Laokoon is in the realm of art; the "Wolfenbuttel Fragments", which famous controversy with Goze, the pastor in Hamburg, resulting in a series of learned and sa- led to the tirical papers, which are unique in polemic literature; BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 20 and numerous other works on ethical, philosophical and literary subjects, which round out a life of great achievement. A special interest attaches to his "Five Conversations for Freemasons" and his "Education of Human Race", which express his ideas of government and society and embody his views of religious the development. When Lessing was about forty years old and his became irksome, the post of Librarian at Wolpoverty fenbiittel was tendered him by the Duke of Brunswick, who, though a literary snob, was anxious to plume himself by attaching the now-celebrated author The six years he spent there proved Routine work palled upon but congenial. anything finances him and his were still so uncertain that he to his court. could not afford to marry, after having faithfully waited for his friend Konig's widow for years, during which time the strain of a romantic correspondence with her told upon his buoyant temperament. The "letters* are full of the most beautiful sincerity, unselfishness and common-sense, regarding all matand emotions". It was not until ters of the intellect 1776 that he finally married Eva Konig, only to lose her within a year. The days which followed were full of loneliness, though not from lack of friends or privation. He had again gone into debt to secure his wife's property to her children. In this, as in all other concerns of his life, he showed himself truly It has heroic, chivalrous, gentle and sympathetic. been well said that the dominant passion in his heart was not criticism but sympathy, and, while he was BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 21 forced into controversy, he contrived to retain his splendid bravado, poise and noble courage, which made him He fought for a principle and never degraded his literary warfare to the level of calumny. He was a brave champion of a formidable antagonist. human rights and exemplified in himself the traits which adorn his noblest character in fiction "Nathan the Wise". In 1775, Lessing accompanied the Crown Prince of Brunswick to Italy and met with an enthusiastic ovation wherever he went. In Vienna, the Empress Maria Theresa sent for him and consulted him with regard to the intellectual development of the Empire. He was presented to the Pope, and the honors ac- corded to him on that occasion form a marked contrast to his treatment at the at hands of eminent persons, home. He enjoyed, however, the confidence, esteem and group of noted literati. The greatest affection of a minds of day bowed before him, and it was esMoses Mendelssohn which afforded him much pleasure and satisfaction. The two men reciprocally influenced each other, and it is not too much to say that each owes to the other the impetus which has made them both noble his pecially his intimate relations with in character It is and great in achievement. interesting to record Lessing's own estimate of himself, which gives striking evidence of his sin- and modesty: neither an actor nor a poet. People have honored me occasionally with the latter title, but it is because The few they have misunderstood me. cerity "I am...
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