Not quite. Education, except in the ecclesiastical principalities, had passed from church to state control. University professors were appointed and paid (with shameful parsimony) by the government, and held the status of public officials. Although all teachers and students were required to subscribe to the religion of the prince, the faculties, until 1789, enjoyed a growing measure of academic freedom. German replaced Latin as the language of instruction. Courses in science and philosophy multiplied, and philosophy was spaciously defined (at the University of Königsberg in Kant’s day) as “the ability to think, and to investigate the nature of things without prejudices or sectarianism.”50 Karl von Zedlitz, the devoted Minister of Education under Frederick the Great, asked Kant to suggest means of “holding back the students in the universities from the bread-and-butter studies, and making them understand that their modicum of law, even their theology and medicine, will be much more easily acquired and safely applied if they are in possession of philosophical knowledge.”51
Many poor students obtained public or private aid for a university education; pleasant is Eckermann’s story of how he was helped by kind neighbors at every step of his development.52 There were no class distinctions in the student body.53 Any graduate was allowed to lecture under university auspices, for whatever fees he could collect from his auditors; Kant began his professorial career in this way; and such competition from new teachers kept old pundits on their toes. Mme. de Staël judged the twenty-four German universities to be “the most learned in Europe. In no country, not even England, are there so many means of instruction, or of bringing one’s capacities to perfection. … Since the Reformation the Protestant universities have been incontestably superior to the Catholic; and the literary glory of Germany depends upon these institutions.”54
Educational reform was in the air. Johann Basedow, inspired by reading Rousseau, issued in 1774 a four-volume Elementarwerke, which outlined a plan for teaching children through direct acquaintance with nature. They were to acquire health and vigor through games and physical exercises; they were to receive much of their instruction outdoors instead of being tied to desks; they were to learn languages not through grammar and rote but through naming objects and actions encountered in the day’s experience; they were to learn morals by forming and regulating their own social groups; and they were to prepare for life by learning a trade. Religion was to enter into the curriculum, but not as pervasively as before; Basedow openly doubted the Trinity.55 He established at Dessau (1774) a sample Philan-thropinum, which produced pupils whose “sauciness and pertness, omniscience and arrogance”56 scandalized their elders; but this “progressive education” harmonized with the Enlightenment, and spread rapidly throughout Germany.
Experiments in education were part of the intellectual ferment that agitated the country between the Seven Years’ War and the French Revolution. Books, newspapers, magazines, circulating libraries, reading clubs, multiplied enthusiastically. A dozen literary movements sprouted, each with its ideology, journal, and protagonists. The first German daily, Die Leipziger Zeitung, had begun in 1660; by 1784 there were 217 daily or weekly newspapers in Germany. In 1751 Lessing began to edit the literary section of theVossische Zeitung in Berlin; in 1772 Merck, Goethe, and Herder issued Die Frankfurter gelehrte Anzeigen, or Frankfurt Literary News; in 1773-89 Wieland made Der teutsche Merkur the most influential literary review in Germany. There were three thousand German authors in 1773, six thousand in 1787; Leipzig alone had 133. Many of these were part-time writers; Lessing was probably the first German who, through many years, made a living by literature. Almost all authors were poor, for copyright protected them only in their own principality; pirated editions severely limited the earnings of author and publisher alike. Goethe lost money on Götz von Berlichingen, and made little on Werther, the greatest literary success of that generation.
The outburst of German literature is among the major events of the second half of the eighteenth century. D’Alembert, writing from Potsdam in 1763, found nothing worthy of report in German publications;57 by 1790 Germany rivaled, perhaps surpassed, France in contemporary literary genius. We have noted Frederick’s scorn of the German language as raucous and coarse and poisoned with consonants; yet Frederick himself, by his dramatic repulse of so many enemies, inspired Germany with a national pride that encouraged German writers to use their own language and stand up before the Voltaires and the Rousseaus. By 1763 German had refined itself into a literary language, and was ready to voice the German Enlightenment.
This Aufklärung was no virgin birth. It was the painful product of English deism coupled with French free thought on the ground prepared by the moderate rationalism of Christian von Wolff. The major deistic blasts of Toland, Tindal, Collins, Whiston, and Woolston had by 1743 been translated into German, and by 1755 Grimm’s Correspondance was disseminating the latest French ideas among the German elite. Already in 1756 there were enough freethinkers in Germany to allow the publication of a Freidenker-lexikon. In 1763-64 Basedow issued his Philalethie (Love of Truth), which rejected any divine revelation other than that of nature itself. In 1759 Christoph Friedrich Nikolai, a Berlin bookseller, began Briefe die neueste Literatur betreffend; enriched with articles by Lessing, Herder, and Moses Mendelssohn, these Letters concerning the Latest Literature continued till 1765 to be a literary beacon of the Aufklärung, warring against extravagance in literature and authority in religion.
Freemasonry shared in the movement. The first lodge of Freimaurer was founded at Hamburg in 1733; other lodges followed; members included Frederick the Great, Dukes Ferdinand of Brunswick and Karl August of Saxe-Weimar, Lessing, Wieland, Herder, Klopstock, Goethe, Kleist. Generally these groups favored deism, but avoided open criticism of orthodox belief. In 1776 Adam Weishaupt, professor of canon law at Ingolstadt, organized a kindred secret society, which he called Perfektibilisten, but which later took on the old name of Illuminati. Its ex-Jesuit founder, following the model of the Society of Jesus, divided its associates into grades of initiation, and pledged them to obey their leaders in a campaign to “unite all men capable of independent thought,” make man “a masterpiece of reason, and thus attain the highest perfection in the art of government.”58 In 1784 Karl Theodor, elector of Bavaria, outlawed all secret societies, and the Order of the Illuminati suffered an early death.
Even the clergy were touched by the “Clearing Up.” Johann Semler, professor of theology at Halle, applied higher criticism to the Bible: he argued (precisely contrary to Bishop Warburton) that the Old Testament could not be inspired by God, since, except in its final phase, it ignored immortality; he suggested that Christianity had been deflected from the teachings of Christ by the theology of St. Paul, who had never seen Christ; and he advised theologians to consider Christianity as a transient form of the effort of man to achieve a moral life. When Karl Bahrdt and others of his pupils rejected all of Christian dogma except belief in God, Semler returned to orthodoxy, and held his chair of theology from 1752 to 1791. Bahrdt described Jesus as simply a great teacher, “like Moses, Confucius, Socrates, Semler, Luther, and myself.”59 Johann Eberhard also equated Socrates with Christ; he was expelled from the Lutheran ministry, but Frederick made him professor of philosophy at Halle. Another clergyman, W. A. Teller, reduced Christianity to deism, and invited into his congregation anyone, including Jews, who believed in God.60 Johann Schulz, a Lutheran pastor, denied the divinity of Jesus, and reduced God to the “sufficient ground of the world”;61 he was dismissed from the ministry in 1792.
These vocal heretics were a small minority; perhaps silent heretics were many. Because so many clergymen offered a welcome to reason, because religion was much stronger in Germany than in England or France, and because the philosophy of Wolff had provided the universities with a compromise between rationalism and religion, the German Enlightenment did not take an extreme form. It sought not to destroy religion, but to free it from the myths, absurdities, and sacerdotalism that in France made Catholicism so pleasing to the people and so irritating to the philosophers. Following Rousseau rather than Voltaire, German rationalists recognized the profound appeal that religion makes to the emotional elements in man; and the German nobility, less openly skeptical than the French, supported religion as an aid to morals and government. The Romantic movement checked the advance of rationalism, and prevented Lessing from being to Germany what Voltaire had been to France.