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Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700-1766): Harbinger of German Classicism.

Gottsched was a towering figure, literally and physically, in the intellectual landscape of early eighteenth-century Germany. Indefatigably energetic, he played a major part in revivifying German literary culture through lecturing, writing, reviewing, organizing societies, and publishing journals. He was one of the most important disseminators of the 'popular philosophy' of the Enlightenment and the author of large and important works on German grammar and poetics. Not least, he took the first steps towards the creation of the modern German drama by precept, example, and active collaboration with the working theatre. But his literary taste soon came to seem excessively French-oriented and rationalistic, and by subsequent generations of patriotic German literary critics and historians he was generally denigrated as the man who tried, fortunately without success, to set German literature off on a false track. Only in the present century have his role and reputation been seriously reap-praised. As Professor Mitchell observes, 'Sic transit gloria mundi indeed, but - to use a vernacular phrase - it all turns out right in the end.' Professor Mitchell has devoted many years of a long career to Gottsched, but his book is a sad disappointment. There is a good deal of paraphrase of Gottsched's poetics and philosophy, but little critical analysis. The book is carelessly written, marred by frequent obscurities and downright errors, and gives no coherent picture of the social, political, and literary background against which Gottsched's work must be seen. The condition of the German 'nation' is alluded to, but nowhere clearly explained, and the Holy Roman Empire appears to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church; the account of German drama before Gottsched contains no mention of Baroque tragedy - Gryphius is mentioned only as a writer of comedies, Lohenstein as a lyric poet. Meissen German is described as the language of 'lower Saxony'; Lessing's 'cousin' (a common error: they were not blood relations) Christlob Mylius appears as 'Christoph'; Deschamps, the author of the French model for Gottsched's Cato, is twice confused with Destouches; Cicero's De officiis appears twice as De officii; other names and titles are misspelt, and copy-editing and proofreading have in general been grossly defective. A definitive English monograph on Gottsched would be a welcome contribution to critical literature on the Enlightenment, but Professor Mitchell's book falls far short of meeting that need.

F. J. LAMPORT Worcester College, Oxford

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Author:Lamport, F.J.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1996
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