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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Lessing’s Estimate of Himself
By Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781)
 
In the Concluding Number of the ‘Hamburg Dramaturgy’

I AM neither an actor nor a poet. People have honored me occasionally with the latter title, but it is because they have misunderstood me. The few dramatic attempts which I have ventured upon do not justify this generosity. Not every one who takes a brush in his hand and dabbles in colors is a painter. The earliest of these attempts of mine were dashed off in those years when desire and dexterity are easily mistaken for genius. If there is anything tolerable in those of a later date, I am conscious that I owe it all to criticism alone. I do not feel in myself that living fountain that rises by its own strength, and by its own force shoots up in jets so rich, so fresh, so pure! I am obliged to press it all up out of myself with forcing-pump and pipes. I should be so poor, so cold, and so short-sighted if I had not learned in some measure modestly to borrow foreign treasures, to warm myself at another’s fire, and to strengthen my sight with the lenses of art. I have therefore always been ashamed and vexed when I have read or heard anything derogatory to criticism. Criticism, it is said, stifles genius; whereas I flatter myself I have received from it something very nearly akin to genius. I am a lame man, who cannot be edified by a lampoon against crutches.  1
  Criticism, we may add, is like the crutch too in this respect,—that it helps the cripple move from place to place, but can never make a racer of him. If through criticism I have produced something better than a man of my talents could have produced without its aid, still it costs me so much time, I must be so free from other pursuits and so uninterrupted by involuntary diversions, I must have all my reading so at command, must be able at every step so quietly to run over all the observations I have ever made of manners and passions, that no one in the world could be more unsuited than I, to be a worker whose task it should be to supply a theatre with novelties.  2
 
 
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