Something of His Own

Jonathan Rée

  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: His Life, Works and Thought by H.B. Nisbet
    Oxford, 734 pp, £85.00, September 2013, ISBN 978 0 19 967947 8

One of the curiosities of German literature is a spirited little pamphlet called Pope ein Metaphysiker!, which appeared anonymously in Berlin bookshops in 1755. The argument is tendentious, convoluted and slightly mad, but the overall purpose is clear: to make fun of the learned members of the Royal Prussian Academy and accuse them of dishonouring the memory of their founding president, Gottfried Leibniz. The academy had decided to offer a prize for a dissertation about Pope’s Essay on Man, concentrating on what it called ‘Pope’s system, as contained in the proposition daß alles gut sey (that all is well)’. This sounded innocent enough, but according to the pamphlet the competition was really a sneaky way of declaring open season on Leibniz’s doctrine that ‘everything is for the best,’ and implicitly on German philosophy as a whole.

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