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Literary and Philosophical Essays.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Introductory Note

LESSING’S life has been sketched in the introduction to his “Minna von Barnhelm” in the volume of Continental Dramas in The Harvard Classics.

“The Education of the Human Race” is the culmination of a bitter theological controversy which began with the publication by Lessing, in 1774–1778, of a series of fragments of a work on natural religion by the German deist, Reimarus. This action brought upon Lessing the wrath of the orthodox German Protestants, led by J. M. Goeze, and in the battle that followed Lessing did his great work for the liberalizing of religious thought in Germany. The present treatise is an extraordinarily condensed statement of the author’s attitude towards the fundamental questions of religion, and gives his view of the signification of the previous religious history of mankind, along with his faith and hope for the future.

As originally issued, the essay purported to be merely edited by Lessing; but there is no longer any doubt as to his having been its author. It is an admirable and characteristic expression of the serious and elevated spirit in which he dealt with matters that had then, as often, been degraded by the virulence of controversy.