The New International Encyclopædia/Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph

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LICHTENBERG, Georg Christoph (1742-99). A German physicist and satirist, born at Oberramstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse. He received his first instruction in mathematics and physical studies from his father, and after studying at Göttingen was appointed professor in the University of Göttingen in 1769. At the end of that year he went to England, where he mingled and studied with many of the leading scientists of his day. The results of his investigations appeared later in numerous discoveries in the field of electricity, of which the most important were the electrical figures named after him. In England he became a frequent visitor to, and student of, the theatre in which Garrick was then a distinguished figure. Moreover, a keen observer by nature and training, in his study of English literature he was soon impressed by the inferiority of the German wit to that of such men as Swift, after whom he later patterned to some extent his own satiric method. After a second visit to England (1774-75), he resumed his lectures on experimental physics at Göttingen. He continued, however, to devote much time to literary pursuits. His keenness of wit and his boundless resources of ridicule resulted in his publication of several well-aimed satires, of which the best known are his Ueber Physiognomik wider die Physiognomen, against the new science of physiognomy of Lavater, and his Ueber die Pronunciation der Schöpse des alten Griechenland, against Voss. From 1778 he edited the Göttingischer Taschenkalender, in which he severely attacked the ‘Storm and Stress’ writers. Here he published in part his articles on Hogarth, whom he did much to popularize in Germany. In the completed work, the Erklärung der Hogarthischen Kupferstiche (1794 et seq.), he gave the most brilliant proof of his critical power, by his clear explanation and interpretation of the English artist's work. In later years he was affected by hypochondria, but, though forced to withdraw from society, continued his studies and writings. His Gedenkbücher, or Diaries, contain interesting maxims, epigrams, and brief essays. Consult Lauchert, Lichtenbergs schriftstellerische Thätigkeit (Göttingen, 1893).