LESSING, GOTTHOLD Emrnapr, an illustrious German author and literary reformer, was b. Jan. 22, 1729, at Kamenz, in Saxon Upper Lusatia, where his father was a clergy man of the highest orthodox Lutheran school. After spending five years at a school in Meissen, where lie worked very hard, lie proceeded to the university of Leipsic in 1746, with the intention of studying theology. But he soon began to occupy himself with other matters, made the acquaintance of actors, contracted a great fondness for dramatis entertainments, and set about the composition of dramatic pieces and Anacreontic poems. This sort of life pained his severe relatives, who pronounced it "sinful," and for a short time Leasing went home; but it was his destiny to revive the national character of Ger man literature; and after one or two literary ventures at Leipsic of a trifling character, lie proceeded to Berlin in 1750, where he commenced to publish, in conjunction with his friend Mylius, a quarterly, entitled Beard ge zur Historic tend Aufnahme des Theaters, which only went the length of four numbers. About this time also appeared his collec tion of little poems, entitled Eleinigkeiten. After a brief residence at Wittenberg, in compliance, once more, with the wishes of his parents, he returned to Berlin in 1753, and in 1755 produced his Miss Sara Sampson, the first specimen of bourgeoisie tragedy in Germany, which, in spite of some hostile criticism, became very popular. Lensing now formed valuable literary friendships with Gleim, Ramler, Nicolai, Moses Mendelssohn, and others. In company with the last two, he started (1757) the Ilibliothek der Selionen Wissenschaften, the best literary journal of its time, and still valuable for its clear natural criticism; he also wrote his Pabeln, his Literaturbriefe, and a variety of miscellaneous articles on literature and aesthetics. Between 1760 and 1765 he lived at Breslau as secretary to geu. Tauenzien, governor of Silesia. The year after his return to Berlin, he published
his masterpiece, Laocoon, perhaps the finest and most clasgical treatise on aesthetic criticism in the German or any other language. In 1767 appeared Minna eon Barn helm, a national drama, hardly less celebrated than the Laoeoon; and in 1768, his Dra maturgic, a work which exercised a powerful influence on the controversy between the French and the English styles of dramatic art—i.e., between the artificial and the natural, between the conventional and the true, between shallow and pompous rhetoric, and genuine human emotion. In 1770 Leasing appointed keeper of the Wolfenbfittel library. Two years later appeared his Emilia Galotti; and between 1774 and 1778, the far famed Wolfenbilttelsclte Fragments eines Ungenannten. These Wolfenbiittel fragments are now known to have been the composition of Reimarus (q.v.), but the odium of their authorship fell at the time on Leasing, and he was involved in much bitter controversy. In 1779 lie published his Nathan der Weise, a dramatic exposition of his religious opin ions (his friend Moses Mendelssohn is said to have been the original of Nathan); and in 1780 his Erziehung des Menschingeschlechts, a work which is the germ of Herder's and all later works on the Education of the Human Race. He died Feb. 15, 1781. Leasing is one of the greatest names in German literature. If his works seem hardly equal to his fame, it is because be sacrificed his own genius, as it were, for the sake of others. When he appeared, the literature of his country was corrupted and enslaved by French influ ences. The aim of Leasing was to reinvigorate and emancipate the national thought and taste; and the splendid outburst of national genius that followed was in a large measure the result of his labors. See Stahr's Leasing (1859); Sime's Lensing: his Life and Works (1877); and Miss Zimmern's Leasing (1878).