Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

German Dramatist and Playwright, Court Librarian, known as the "Fatehr of German Criticism"

"What education is to the individual man, revelation is to the whole human race... Education gives man nothing which he could not also get from within himself; it gives him that which he could get form within himself, only quicker and more easily. In the same way too, revelation gives nothing to the human race which reason could not arrive at on its own; only it has given, and still gives to it, the most important of these things sooner."

"It is not the truth which a man possesses, or believes he possesses, but the earnest effort which he puts forth to reach the truth, which constitutes the worth of a man. For it is not by the possession, by the search after truth that he enlarges his power, wherein alone consists his ever-increasing perfection. Possession makes one content, indolent, proud."

"Growing up is after all only the understanding that one's unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares."

"He who knows much has many cares."

"He who loses not his senses in certain things has no senses to lose."

"Pure truth is for God alone."

"The more we see the more we must be able to imagine; and the more we imagine, the more we must think we see."

"The superstition in which we grew up, though we may recognize it, does not lose its power over us. Not all are free who make mock of their chains."

"Think wrongly, if you please; but in all cases think for yourself."

"Revelation does not give anything to the human race which human reason, if left to itself, would not attain; but it has given and still gives the most important of these things earlier."

"What education is to the individual, revelation is to the whole human race."

"A single grateful thought toward Heaven is the most perfect prayer."

"A heretic is a man who sees with his own eyes. "

"For the will and not the gift makes the giver. "

"They make glorious shipwreck who are lost in seeking worlds. "

"The true value of man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectability is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent and proud. If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand."

"The most deadly fruit is borne by the hatred which one grafts on an extinguished friendship."

"The aspiration to truth is more precious than its assured possession."

"Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity."

"A Primer for children may fairly pass over in silence this or that important piece of knowledge or art which it expounds, respecting which the Teacher judged, that it is not yet fitted for the capacities of the children for whom he was writing. But it must contain absolutely nothing which blocks up the way towards the knowledge which is held back, or misleads the children from it."

"A man who does not lose his reason over certain things has none to lose."

"And the doctrine of Original Sin. How, if at last everything were to convince us that man standing on the first and lowest step of his humanity, is not so entirely master of his actions as to be able to obey moral laws?"

"Art is starving, Prince... That must not--shall not be, within the limits of my small dominions. But the artist must be willing to work."

"At once attracted and repelled—the combat between her head and heart must yet endure, regret, Resentment, in unusual struggle. Neither, perhaps, obtains the upper hand, and busy fancy, meddling in the fray, weaves wild enthusiasms to her dazzled spirit, now clothing Passion in the garb of Reason, and Reason now in Passion's—do I err?"

"Better counsel comes overnight."

"Better still the proverb says that monks and women are the devil's clutches; and I'm tossed to-day from one to th' other."

"An example of what I mean by "previous exercising" for the doctrine of immortality, is the Divine threatenings of punishing the misdeeds of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation."

"Absolute truth belongs to Thee alone."

"Ah! Prince, we painters expect that a portrait when finished will find the lover as warm as when he ordered it. We paint with eyes of love, and the eyes of love alone must judge our works."

"Ah, would we could at once paint with the eyes! In the long way, from the eye through the arm to the pencil, how much is lost!"

"Borrowing is not much better than begging."

"But how many moments are already past! Ah! who thinks of those that are past?"

"Dead surely not—for God rewards the good done here below, here too. Go; but remember how easier far devout enthusiasm is than a good action; and how willingly our indolence takes up with pious rapture, tho' at the time unconscious of its end, only to save the toil of useful deeds."

"Did the Almighty, holding in his right hand truth, and in his left hand search after truth, deign to proffer me the one I might prefer, in all humility, but without hesitation, I should request search after truth."

"Education gives to Man nothing which he might not educe out of himself; it gives him that which he might educe out of himself, only quicker and more easily."

"Even if the first man were furnished at once with a conception of the One God; yet it was not possible that this conception, imparted, and not gained by thought, should subsist long in its clearness."

"For God rewards good deeds done here below--rewards them here."

"For if the pious were absolutely happy, and it also of course was a necessary part of his happiness that his satisfaction should be broken by no uneasy thoughts of death, and that he should die old, and satisfied with life to the full: how could he yearn after another life? and how could he reflect upon a thing after which he did not yearn?"

"For it is possible to be faithless to a national deity, but never to God, after He has once been recognized."

"For me the greatest beauty always lies in the greatest clarity"

"He who doesn't lose his wits over certain things has no wits to lose."

"How can such deep-imprinted images sleep in us at times, till a word, a sound, awake them?"

"I have always said it--Nature meant woman to be her masterpiece."

"I shall be silent; but what of sinful in the eye of heaven springs out of it—not I, not I could help; it falls upon thy head."

"I, who ne'er went for myself a begging, go a borrowing, and that for others. Borrowing's much the same as begging; just as lending upon usury is much the same as thieving."

"If some things don’t make you lose your sense of reason, then you have none to lose."

"If the advice of a fool for once happens to be good, it requires a wise man to carry it out."

"It is infinitely difficult to know when and where one should stop, and for all but one in thousands the goal of their thinking is the point at which they have become tired of thinking."

"It is medicine, not poison, I offer you."

"It is not children only that one feeds with fairy tales."