Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Gottsched, Johann Christoph

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GOTTSCHED, Johann Christoph (1700-1766), a German author and critic of considerable influence in his own time, was born, 2d February 1700, at Judithenkirch, near Königsberg. He studied philosophy and literature at Königsberg, was appointed professor, first of poetry (1730), afterwards of logic and metaphysics (1734), at Leipsic, filled various other important offices in connexion with the university, and died 12th December 1766. His chief works were a tragedy entitled Der sterbende Cato (Leipsic, 1732) — poor enough rubbish, though it had great but short-lived popularity; Deutsche Schaubühne (1740-45), a collection of plays, some of which were written by himself, his wife, J. C. Schlegel, and their friends, whilst others were translated from the French classical dramatists; Nöthiger Vorrath zur Gesichte der deutschen dramatischen Dichtkunst (1757-1765), intended to contain an account of all previous German plays. Though not complete, the last is a very valuable and important work. Besides these, Gottsched wrote a number of educational works, and edited several journals devoted to literary criticism. He was a pedant, but there is no doubt that he did good and lasting service to German literature. When he began to write, the stage was occupied by plays in which extravagant rant did duty for eloquence, coarse vulgarity for wit, and the wildest improbabilities for inventive incident. In the writings of the second Silesian school the utmost extent of absurdity was reached. Gottsched set his face against such productions. He enunciated rules by which the playwright must be bound; he insisted on the observance of the dramatic unities, and pointed to the French drama as the best possible model for the German stage; moreover, his criticism did much to regulate and purify the German language. Unfortunately he went too far. He placed himself in opposition to the Swiss writers Bodmer and Breitinger, who were bringing before the German public several of the great English writers, more especially Milton; he refused to recognize the rising genius of Klopstock and Lessing, and still went on enunciating rules when the time for that was past, and praising mediocre writers as if they had been great geniuses. So it came to pass that his influence speedily declined, and that before his death his name became almost proverbial for pedantic folly. Of all lots his was the hardest, for he outlived his own reputation. His wife, Luise Adelgunde Victorie Kulmus (1713-1762), was his faithful helper in his literary labours, and herself an authoress of reputation. Among other works she translated the Spectator (9 vols., 1739-43) and Pope's Rape of the Lock (1744, new ed. 1772). After her death her husband edited her Gedichte, with a memoir (1763). See Danzel's Gottsched und seine Zeit, Leipsic, 1848.