27.11—David L. Smith

­­­­­­­­­The Role of Einbildungskraft in Lenz’s Der Waldbruder:
Ein Pendant zu Werthers Leiden
David L. Smith, East Carolina University


Criticism of J. M. R. Lenz (1751-1792) has often focused on his mental instability, especially after his breakdown in 1778, and his apparent inability or unwillingness to reconcile personal longings with the reality of his situation. His unrequited emotional attachments to Goethe’s former lovers have been well documented, for example, as has his apparent need to gain the approval of his colleague before publishing his own work. In the past two decades, scholarship has shifted toward assessing and appreciating Lenz’s literary creations beyond his accomplishments as a dramatist of uncommon wit and form to include also his poetry and prose. In the last category especially, much more work needs to be done; Der Waldbruder: Ein Pendant zu Werthers Leiden (1776) presents a case in point.

Generally regarded a fragment, a qualification I dispute below, Der Waldbruder consists of 32 letters written not by one interlocutor to an absent pen pal, á la Goethe’s Werther, but rather by the main protagonist Herz and six of his acquaintances. All of the epistles focus on Herz’s behavior toward female objects of his affection as well as his seemingly inexplicable decision to recuse himself to a shed in the woods to live the life of a hermit. The similarities between Herz and Werther are too numerous to mention here, and a reader of both texts will recognize them without trouble. It should be noted, though, that Lenz penned his work from the confines of nearby Berka where he had sought refuge following his expulsion from Weimar in 1776. What Lenz did to become a persona non grata remains famously unclear, as Goethe refers to the misdeed that soured the friendship only as “Lenzens Eseley” (qtd. in Luserke 26).[1] Equally perplexing is Lenz’s decision to send the manuscript to Goethe, in whose possession it would languish for some 23 years until Schiller convinced him to release it for publication in Die Horen. Had Goethe recognized himself in Herz’s friend Rothe, an opportunist that manipulates people and relationships for social and sexual gain? Was Lenz openly criticizing his erstwhile friend or was he seeking his counsel once again? Scholars have expounded on Herz’s self-imposed isolation as social criticism and on the Herz-Lenz, Rothe-Goethe allusions.[2] Literary criticism has been quick also to view Herz and his creator as Werther-figures overwhelmed by fancy. While once fashionable, this characterization is too easy and ultimately unsatisfying because it overlooks their commentary on Einbildungskraft—the imaginative faculty (emphasis mine) that Immanuel Kant, Lenz’s former professor, deemed to play a critical, if not also elusive, role in human understanding.[3]

Drawing on references from Goethe’s Werther and Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft, this study contends that Lenz’s Der Waldbruder is to be read as a commentary on the human faculty of imagination, both on its function and its limitations. In particular, Lenz’s Waldbruder puts the onus on the reader to piece together the disparate, often contradictory accounts of the various letter writers into a manageable, comprehensible whole. It achieves this aim by omitting editorial guidance, in contrast to Werther, and by featuring an episodic structure comprised of letters from multiple characters about whom the reader knows very little, if anything at all.[4] It is the faculty of imagination, as outlined by Kant, that allows readers to divine meaning from the cacophony of observations and impressions; it also allows Herz to transcend the physical and emotional boundaries separating him from the objects of his desire. Though Herz credits this faculty for his attainment of happiness, however fleeting, he concedes that any understanding it facilitates is similarly tenuous because the human mind barters in symbolic representations and not the objects of its attention.


[Werther:] Auch schätzt er meinen Verstand und meine Talente mehr als dies Herz, das doch mein einziger Stolz ist, das ganz allein die Quelle von allem ist, aller Kraft, aller Seligkeit und alles Elendes. Ach, was ich weiß, kann jeder wissen – mein Herz habe ich allein. (Goethe 4: 67)[5]

Kant was keenly aware of and interested in distinctions among the many forms and connotations of Einbildung even as his use of the terms reflects usages of the time (Zammito 2).[6] On the one hand, einbilden means to form a mental picture based on sensory data. As such, it signals a detachment from external circumstances—a shift toward the interior of the mind that can, whether consciously or not, lead to an emphasis on fantasy over reality; Einbildung refers to its product. By contrast, Einbildungskraft refers to the capacity to synthesize stimuli and perceived data. As such, it is both receptive and active, allowing us in particular to envision ideas and objects physically or temporally not present (Grimm 3: 150-153). How this faculty of imagination functions, and how its synthetic function relates to human understanding, impacts Kant’s philosophical project in particular even as it offers insight into tensions between rationality and sentimentality at the dawn of German Romanticism.

For Kant, the faculty of imagination facilitates synthesis without which we would have no recognition (“Erkenntnis”) (B103). This faculty is receptive in that it receives stimuli and data, but it is productive also in that allows for the combination of data upon which understanding remains based. While it allows us to recall past experiences, it also allows us to conceive of things never seen. This faculty is endemic to all humanity, but its execution lies with the individual. It is both common to, and yet unique to, each person; it is simultaneously passive yet active:

so ist alle Verbindung, wir mőgen uns ihrer bewuβt werden oder nicht, es mag eine Verbindung des Mannigfaltigen der Anschauung oder mancherlei Begriffe, und an der ersteren der sinnlichen oder nichtsinnlichen Anschauung sein, eine Verstandeshandlung, die wir mit der allgemeinen Benennung Synthesis belegen würden [. . . , eine] Verbindung [. . . , die] nur vom Subjecte selbst verrichtet werden kann, weil sie ein Actus seiner Selbstthätigkeit ist (Kant B130).[7]

As John Zammito has noted, this Einbildungskraft is central to Kant’s deliberations even if its exact location within his taxonomy of the mind remains unclear. Is it primarily sensory or rational, or does it constitute a fundamental condition of our thought processes—an a priori function that receives and acts (through combination), orders and untangles? (Zammito 6-10) Lenz’s Waldbruder does not answer this conceptual question definitively; it does, however, challenge the reader’s expectation of understanding by forcing her to make sense of the disparate perspectives on Herz’s actions. As it does, it also offers commentary on how Einbildungskraft operates through the words of Herz himself.

To understand Lenz’s Waldbruder, specifically its engagement with our faculty of imagination, one must first consider Werther, not only because Lenz terms his work a “Pendant” to Goethe’s novel but because Werther alludes to the faculty’s importance already in its opening exclamation: “Wie froh bin ich, daß ich weg bin!” (4: 8).[8] Here, Werther expresses a happiness facilitated by his physical and emotional distance from his earlier abode. As he then remarks to Wilhelm, this contentment is short-lived because the human faculty of imagination constantly recalls past events into the present: “Gewiβ, du hast recht, Bester, der Schmerzen wären minder unter den Menschen, wenn sie nicht – Gott weiβ, warum sie so gemacht sind! – mit so viel Emsigkeit der Einbildungskraft sich beschäftigten, die Erinnerungen des vergangenen Übels zurückzurufen, eher als eine gleichgültige Gegenwart zu ertragen” (4: 8).[9] Important to note about Werther’s first letter and that of Herz in Der Waldbruder is that they are not beginnings. While we may expect to commence a new work, one firmly located as much as Werther would hope in an ambivalent present (‘gleichgültige Gegenwart’), both texts subvert this expectation by beginning in media res. Like Werther, readers stand under the influence of transpired events and their recollections even as they might expect (or wish) to be removed from them. Werther’s behavior upon returning to his birthplace emphasizes this point.

In the letter from 5 May, Werther tells Wilhelm of his plan to visit his former home and shares with him his excitement about the trip—a naive giddiness when one considers his earlier statement about the intrusion of memories into one’s present thoughts. Here, though, Werther wishes to visit the place where he was born; he desires, as becomes clear, to re-experience the beginning of his life’s narrative as if it were a static occurrence. The folly of this attempt reveals itself when he exclaims that nothing is the same as it once was: “Wie anders!” (4: 66).[10] Though understandable, Werther’s lament is a striking reminder that nothing retains its form; life is eternally in flux, a point Goethe expands upon when he has Werther travel to the river he often visited as a young man. Retracing the steps of his youth, Werther walks downriver while reflecting on the potential and limits of his imagination:

Ich erinnerte mich so lebhaft, wenn ich manchmal stand und dem Wasser nachsah, mit wie wunderbaren Ahnungen ich es verfolgte, wie abenteuerlich ich mir die Gegenden vorstellte, wo es nun hinflösse, und wie ich da so bald Grenzen meiner Vorstellungskraft fand; und doch mußte das weitergehen, immer weiter, bis ich mich ganz in dem Anschauen einer unsichtbaren Ferne verlor. – Sieh, mein Lieber, so beschränkt und so glücklich waren die herrlichen Altväter! so kindlich ihr Gefühl, ihre Dichtung! Wenn Ulyß von dem ungemeßnen Meer und von der unendlichen Erde spricht, das ist so wahr, menschlich, innig, eng und geheimnisvoll. Was hilft mich’s, daß ich jetzt mit jedem Schulknaben nachsagen kann, daß sie rund sei? (4: 66-67)[11]

Belying his indebtedness to Winckelmann, Werther opines that the ancients possessed a childlike sensibility unencumbered by an emphasis on rational inquiry, a freedom he no longer enjoys as an educated adult. Aside from criticizing society for limiting individual identity, a theme Herz will address as well, Werther’s invocation of the river functions as a metaphor for his life also in that it evokes Heraclitus’s famous quip that one does not step into the same river twice: Its waters are always moving, both through space and time, as is the human subject himself.[12] Each constituent member of the scene occupies only that one particular moment. If we expand this lesson to the workings of the faculty of imagination, that present is connected and informed by that which has already transpired—at least in the human mind capable of recalling it. Though Werther had looked forward to visiting the site of his youth, he must regretfully concede that it has not remained unchanged. This realization is important because as much as his opening letter had advocated for an indifferent present, Werther yearns in fact for a static past.  Here, his faculty of imagination forces him to confront this impossibility by bringing his memories into the present moment for comparison and emendation instead of allowing him to possess them as unchanging images for his perusal.

Like Werther, Lenz’s Waldbruder begins with a description of the main character’s self-imposed exile, not just from a physical location but also, he hopes, from his immediate past. In his opening letter to Rothe, described only as friend, Lenz’s protagonist Herz laments the intellectual confines of society in the town below: “Wenn ich denn einmal herunter gehe und den engen Kreis von Ideen in dem die Adamskinder so ganz existieren, die einfachen und ewig einförmigen Geschäfte und die Gewißheit und Sicherheit ihrer Freuden übersehe, so wird mir das Herz so enge und ich möchte die Stunde verwünschen, da ich nicht ein Bauer geboren bin” (2: 380).[13] Herz bemoans the conceits of society as limitations on the individual mind; like Werther, he wishes to return to a more naïve time in his life, in this case his birth. With this desire, Lenz gives us a difficult picture to reconstruct as different characters weigh in on Herz’s circumstances, and many of the writers have no first-hand knowledge of events. There is no one single contributor with whom readers can easily form a connection, as with Werther, and there is no editor to provide commentary, however short. The letters themselves bear also no dates and thus no easily discernible chronology. Even with these aids, Werther’s account is not always easy to reconstruct. Indeed, as Robyn Schiffman has recently shown, Goethe’s bestseller often references events and letters to which we readers are not privy, and letters appear, at times, not to have reached their destination (Schiffman 421-438). Werther’s editor admits on two occasions to having collected and organized Werther’s letters as best as possible, but this admission suggests not only that some material is missing but that the editor has assembled what remains so as to facilitate our understanding. As Schiffman points out, epistolary novels appear to be as much about communication as the lack thereof (Schiffman 421). Lenz’s epistles present a unique challenge to the reader in that she must connect disparate accounts to approach an understanding of the events, and she must do so entirely on her own; the sequence of the letters helps little as many refer to occurrences or opinions of questionable validity or that are clarified only later.

For Karin Wurst, Waldbruder’s featuring of multiple contributors with varying degrees of proximity to Herz provides readers “Perspektivismus” (70). This aesthetic, she argues, is characterized by a tendency to provide disparate points of views without reconciling them so as to encourage their combination (70). Wurst correctly identifies combination as an objective, but she does not recognize that Lenz’s work does so in order to engage readers’ faculty of imagination. In particular, Lenz’s text draws readers’ attention to the construction of connections critical for understanding in order to draw attention to their tenuousness. These links are thin and fragile, as Waldbruder points out, because our mind barters in symbolic representations and not the things in themselves. While Herz and Waldbruder can be seen as promoting subjectivity—one recalls Herz’s opening criticism of society as limiting individual thought, for example—the work also acknowledges the danger of what David Hume notes in his work on understanding to be humans’ apparent inclination to “repose faith in their senses” (104). Hume contends that when people do, they “suppose the very images, presented by the senses, to be the external objects, and never entertain any suspicion that the one are nothing but representations of the other” (104). As we shall see, Waldbruder evinces this point when Herz discusses the woman of his desire and insists on possessing her portrait.

Waldbruder’s plot line appears deceptively simple given the complex and often contradictory viewpoints offered by the characters. Prior to the beginning of the work, Herz overhears the reading of letters by Gräfin Stella and becomes interested in her. He then meets a woman at a masquerade ball with whom he feels a connection, and he believes this woman to be the Gräfin, though it was in fact a substitute, Frau von Weylach. After befriending Witwe Hohl, Herz commissions a portrait of Gräfin Stella, but Hohl intercepts the artwork and sends it to Herz’s friend Rothe. Herz demands to have the portrait so he can take it with him when he leaves to fight in the American Revolution; Plettenberg, a soldier, expresses to Rothe his opposition to letting Herz have the portrait of Stella, his fiancée. The work concludes with no resolution; indeed, the final lines consist only of Plettenberg’s cryptic rejoinder to Rothe: “Freund, ich merke an meinen Haaren, daß ich alt werde. Sollte Stella, wenn ich wiederkomme und von den Beschwerden des Feldzugs nun noch älter bin – Kommen Sie, Sie werden mein Engel sein. Es gibt Augenblicke wo mir’s so dunkel in der Seele wird daß ich wünschte –” (2: 412).[14]

Likely because of this open ending, Sigrid Damm considers Waldbruder a fragment, but not an intentionally incomplete work indicative of unfulfilled Romantic longing, but rather as part of what should have been a whole, a “Fragment gebliebende[r] Briefroman” (Damm 871). My reading suggests that Lenz’ novel is complete as he envisioned it because we, the readers, are called upon through our own faculty of imagination to consider what comes next both for Plettenberg, the final contributor, and Herz, the would be mercenary. This understanding leaves open myriad possibilities for us as individual consumers of Herz’s story; it allows, in fact, each individual reader a certain amount of freedom to construct his or her own account of Herz’s life, unhindered by the type of societal consensus that Herz himself criticizes in his opening epistle. There is no burial to limit our cogitations about Herz’s future; we, like a youthful Werther at the river, are invited to ponder what lies beyond what has been provided for us to see.

As we piece together our own view of Herz, we must be aware that it is but one account of him and that our own understanding of Herz, the man, is not a true representation of who he is. Herz emphasizes the deceptiveness of appearance when he describes meeting a woman believed by him to be Stella. Unlike Werther, who spies Lotte from afar and describes her in terms worthy of the Virgin Mary, Herz meets the object of his affection at a masquerade ball, a setting that emphasizes the fictionality of how we view others and how they present themselves to us. Writing to Rothe, Herz recalls the event:

Wenn ich mir noch den Augenblicke denke, als ich sie das erstemal auf der Maskerade sah, als ich ihr gegenüber am Pfeiler eingewurzelt stand und mir’s war, als ob die Hölle sich zwischen uns beiden öffnete und eine ewige Kluft unter uns befestigte. Ach wo ist ein Gefühl, das dem gleich kommt, so viel unaussprechlichen Reiz vor sich zu sehen mit der schrecklichen Gewißheit, nie, nie davon Besitz nehmen zu dürfen. (2: 382)[15]

Herz and the object of his desire share no moment of sublime union as Werther does when he touches Lotte’s elbow, turns to face the approaching storm and the two consummate the moment with Lotte’s mention of “Klopstock” (Goethe 4: 26). By contrast, Herz remains a wallflower rooted to his spot, from whence he envisions a chasm opening between them. Herz’s recognition of this gulf and his impending sense of connection to her are important. Though he longs for union with her, he realizes its impossibility given that the two are fundamentally and eternally separated by their own individuality. Unlike Werther’s first meeting with Lotte, there is never any description of the woman’s appearance; indeed her physical form appears insignificant, a fact emphasized by the mask she wears at this public event. Her public persona appears of little interest to Herz; instead, as Rothe later notes, it is the idea of woman, and of union with another that attracts Herz, not a woman in particular (2: 384). This becomes apparent when it is revealed in the next letter that someone lied to Herz about the woman’s identity. The unimportance of who it really is and what she looks like meshes with Lenz’s view on Goethe’s Werther—that it is a novel espousing the ideal of woman, and not about the physical attributes of any one lady (2: 679). Herz reiterates this point when he admits later that the next object of his affection, Witwe Hohl, is not physically attractive but that he is drawn to her nonetheless.

Fundamental to Herz’s dilemma, both its characteristic joy and its sorrow, is the notion that all representation is suspect; the human mind cannot, as Hume, Kant and others have argued, access the Ding an sich. Herz admits as much when he attempts to describe the object of his affection to Rothe: “Zwar weiß ich wohl, wie vielen Schaden ich ihr durch meine Beschreibungen tue, aber dennoch wirst Du, wenn Du klug bist und Seele hast, Dir aus meinem Gestotter ein Bild zusammensetzen können” (2: 385).[16] Though Herz writes fluidly and cogently, he describes his statements as stutterings, ones he hopes Rothe will be able to piece together to form an (mental) image of the woman of his dreams. What appears as insecure self-deprecation is instead an astute recognition of how Einbildungskraft may function. In this regard, two aspects of Herz’s observation should be noted.

            First, Herz recognizes that writing is destructive in that it cannot represent the woman of his desire for who she really is. In describing her, he is always writing about her. While the woman cannot be possessed, an account of her can be, and Herz takes solace in this conviction.

Second, Herz’s hope that Rothe will be able to construct his own unique image of the woman reveals an awareness of imagination’s inherent subjectivity. Herz does not profess to possess an image of Stella at the exclusion of all others; indeed he later asserts his desire for everyone to have such imaginative freedom—including, by implication, us readers: “Niemanden im Wege – welch eine erhabene Idee! ich will niemanden in Anspruch nehmen, niemand auch nur einen Gedanken kosten, der die Reihe seiner angenehmen Vorstellungen unterbricht” (2: 388).[17] Rothe responds with his own view of Herz, an observation in which he notes for the first time that he believes his friend to be mad: “Dein Brief trägt die offenbaren Zeichen des Wahnsinns, würde ein andrer sagen, mir aber, der ich Dir ein für allemal durch die Finger sehe, ist er unendlich lieb” (2: 385).[18] Rothe’s statement includes an idiom most useful for conceptualizing Lenz’s work.         In everyday parlance, “To view through one’s fingers” implies to turn a blind eye to a situation one should see. In Sebastian Brant’s Narrenschiff (1494), for example, the saying is used to reprimand men turning a blind eye to their adulterous wives.[19] While this usage implies an ability to see what is taking place before one’s eyes if one is only willing to look and perceive it, I would like to suggest that it gives us a means by which to comprehend Lenz’s work. Instead of presenting us a narrative or voice to help guide us through the story, Lenz instead provides us these multiple perspectives, but he does not facilitate their synthesis for us through commentary from an editor or omniscient narrator. Thus, we readers are left to view the letters as if we are observing them between our fingers. Lenz has provided that which is visible; what lies between—what has been occluded—is left for us to divine through our individual acts of imagination. As we join the various accounts into one assessment of the situation, we must realize that that our own description of events cannot completely and truthfully represent conditions as they were and are. Our understanding is enabled and yet limited by the symbolic representations with which our mind barters, and it is through this process that our subjectivity finds its expression and form.

Given Herz’s emotional connection to women regardless of their appearance, it comes as a surprise to learn that he is adamant about possessing a tangible portrait of the Gräfin. Scholarship has tendered several explanations for this behavior. As Helga Madland has noted, Herz commissioned the painting and is thus its rightful owner. It makes sense, then, that he would want to own it, especially since he is a man of little means and, unlike Plettenberg, does not have a relationship with Gräfin Stella herself. Inasmuch, Herz resembles the Prinz in Emilia Galotti who speaks both of Emilia and her portrait as commodities to be possessed (Madland 135-137). While Madland is correct to draw the comparison, I would like to offer a different interpretation, one that understands the image within our discussion of Einbildungskraft so far.

First, Herz did order the portrait but he was also present when it was painted, an experience he describes in muted, erotic terms:

Sie saß ihm [dem Maler] schon – saß da in aller ihrer Herrlichkeit – und ich konnte mich ihr gegenüberstellen und mit nimmersatten Blicken Reiz für Reiz, Bewegung für Bewegung einsaugen.  [. . . ] Und ihr Busen, auf dem sich mein ehrfurchtsvoller Blick nicht zu verweilen getraute [. . .] – Bruder ich möchte den ganzen Tag auf meinem Angesicht liegen, und danken, danken, danken— [.] (2: 397)[20]

Herz’s imagined prostrate positioning and sensual description of an objectified woman suggests that the portrait is not just about the woman represented but rather about that moment in time when he felt this erotic, religiously tinged awakening. By wishing to possess the portrait, Herz demonstrates a longing for a record of this transitory moment. He wants, like Werther, to possess the moment as static object, conceivably in this case so he can recall his memory of her into the present moment whenever he desires. Lessing’s Prinz sees Emilia’s painting only because Conti just happened to have brought it along, and though the portrait reminds the Prinz of having met Emilia, the portrait does not depict that moment. Furthermore, while the Prinz could have stopped with owning just the painting, he chooses not to because he wishes also to possess the girl—a desire that leads to confrontation with Odoardo. By contrast, Herz realizes the futility of trying to possess a woman an sich, even as he is tempted by the prospect of being with her. He notes as much when he writes to Rothe about the inscription he has made in the door to his hut: “Du nicht glücklich, kümmernd Herz? Was für Recht hast du zum Schmerz? Ist’s nicht Glück genug für dich, Daß sie da ist, da für sich?” (2: 388).[21] With this rhetorical question, Herz articulates both the cause of his unhappiness as well as its remedy: It is not the woman that is the problem but rather his need to possess her. Her portrait offers a solution. With it, he can jog his memory into bringing the recollection of his observation of her into the present.[22] He cannot possess a static past or live in an indifferent present, as Werther had hoped. Nevertheless, he can steer his faculty of imagination even if he remains unable to control it.

Second, the portrait garners significance through Herz’s description of it as a talisman, a qualification that imbues it with magical properties: “Und ihr Bild nehme ich mit. Mit diesem Talisman in tausend bloße Bajonetter zu stürzen” (2: 396).[23] Men taking images of women into battle for good luck occurs elsewhere in Lenz’s writings (Kagel 112). Important to note, though, is that Herz wishes to take the portrait so he can stay connected to the moment he observed Stella being painted and thereby with his erotic connection to her physicality. In that he describes the portrait as a talisman, Herz conveys the material image an intangible connection to a supernatural power. Though passionate and superstitious, Herz proves also to be a sober, reflective realist. He recognizes the image as appearance, and thus as deception, but he wants it nevertheless. He does not want what he cannot have, i. e. the woman herself, though he does long for a connection to the ideal she suggests. Perhaps we are guilty of the same; we long for ever-present union where there is none; for some observers this may be humanity’s ever-abiding flaw, for others its redemption. For Herz, and perhaps even for Lenz, embracing such temporary deceptions facilitates our happiness: “Indessen, der Mensch sucht seine ganze Glückseligkeit im Selbstbetrug. Vielleicht betrüge ich mich auch. Sei es was es wolle, ich will das Bild wieder haben, oder ich bringe mich um” (2: 399).[24]

If we are to take away just one lesson from this work, it must be that Lenz structured his composition to engage readers’ faculty of imagination. Only through this productive, receptive force can readers approach comprehension by combining disparate accounts and points of view; as they do, though, readers are forced to recognize the tenuousness of representation and, thus, of their own human understanding. For Werther, this Einbildungskraft makes it impossible to occupy an indifferent present as it connects past events with the Gegenwart via recollection and memory. For Herz, isolated from the objects of his desire, the human faculty of imagination makes it possible to rise above the constraints of temporality to envision union with another, if only for a moment. It is this faculty that marks us as human even as it points to the possibility of transcendence beyond our corporal confines.


Works Cited

 Brant, Sebastian. Das Narrenschiff. 1494. SLUB Dresden. 8 August 2008. Web. 10 June 2010.

Damm, Sigrid. Notes. Werke und Briefe in drei Bänden. By J. M. R. Lenz. Ed. Damm. Frankfurt:

Insel, 1992. 841-955. Print.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. The Sorrows of Young Werther. Trans. Elizabeth Mayer and Louise Bogan. New York: Random House, 1990. Print.

—. Werke. Ed. Emil Staiger. Frankfurt: Insel, 1966. Print.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Deutsches Wörterbuch. 33 vols. München: DTV, 1999. Print.

Heine, Thomas. “Lenz’s Waldbruder: Inauthentic Narration and Social Criticism.” German Life and Letters 33.3 (1980): 183-189. Print.

“Heraclitus.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 5 July 2007. Web. 10 June 2010.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Ed. Eric Steinberg. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993. Print.

Kagel, Martin. “La Chercheuse D’Esprit: Gender, Mobility, and the Crisis of Authorship in J. M. R. Lenz’s Conception of Soldiers’ Marriages.” German Life and Letters 61.1 (January            2008): 98-117. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Norman Kemp Smith. Rev. 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave, 2007.

—. Kants Werke: Akademie Textausgabe. Vol. 3. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1968. Print.

Kasties, Bert. J. M. R. Lenz unter dem Einfluß des frühkritischen Kant: Ein Beitrag zur      Neubestimmung des Sturm und Drang. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2003. Print.

Lenz, J. M. R. Werke und Briefe in drei Bänden. Ed. Sigrid Damm. Frankfurt: Insel, 1992. Print.

Luserke, Matthias, ed. Goethe und Lenz. Frankfurt: Insel, 2001. Print.

Madland, Helga Stipa. Image and Text: J. M. R. Lenz. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994. Print.

Schiffman, Robyn L. “Werther and the Epistolary Novel.” European Romantic Review 19.4         (October 2008): 421-438. Print.

Schweitzer, Christoph E. Men Viewing Women as Art Objects: Studies in German Literature.        Columbia: Camden House, 1998. Print.

Wurst, Karin. “Überlegungen zur Ästhetischen Struktur von J. M. R. Lenz’ Der Waldbruder Ein Pendant zu Werthers LeidenNeophilologus 74 (1990): 70-86. Print.

Zammito, John. “Kant’s Theory of Imagination.” Forthcoming. Kant-Lexikon. Ed. Georg Mohr, Jürgen Stolzenberg and Marcus Willaschek. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012. Print.

[1] “Lenz’s Eseley” means most innocuously “Lenz’s folly,” but given the connection to donkey “Esel”, one can understand it also as “asininity.”

[2] See, for example, Heine 183.

[3] For a discussion of Lenz as a student of Kant, see Kasties 58-67.

[4] All translations of Lenz’s work are my own. All translations of Goethe’s Werther are provided by Elizabeth Mayer and Louise Bogan.

[5] “Besides, he admires my intelligence and my talents more than my heart, which is, after all, my only pride, and the fountainhead of all—all strength, happiness and misery. Anyone can know what I know. My heart alone is my own” (May 9, 1772).

[6] Zammito’s piece, “Kant’s Theory of Imagination,” was to be published in De Gruyter’s Kant-Lexikon in 2011; that date has now been moved to September 2013. Zammito emailed his manuscript to this author in 2010. Numbers refer to Zammito’s pagination.

[7] “[…] all combination—be we conscious of it or not, be it a combination of the manifold of intuition, empirical or non-empirical, or of various concepts—is an act of the understanding. To this act the general title ‘synthesis’ may be assigned [. . .]. Being an act of the self-activity of the subject, it cannot be executed save by the subject itself” (Trans. Norman Kemp Smith).

[8] “How happy I am to have come away!” (May 4, 1771).


[9] “You are certainly right, best of friends, that there would be far less suffering in the world if human beings—God knows why they are made like that—did not use their imaginations so busily in recalling the memories of past misfortunes, instead of trying to bear an indifferent present” (May 4, 1771).

[10] “How different from the present moment!” (May 9, 1772).

[11] “I clearly remembered how often I stood there, following the river with my eyes, with strange presentiments in my heart; how colorfully my imagination painted the countries through which the river flowed, and how soon I discovered that my imagination had limits. Still I knew that the river ran on and on, and I completely lost myself in the vision of an unseen country. –You see, dear friend, how limited and how happy were the glorious Ancients! how naïve their emotions and their poetry! When Ulysses speaks of the immeasurable sea and the infinite earth, everything is true, human, deeply felt, intimate, and mysterious. What is the use of my present knowledge, which I share with any schoolboy, that the earth is round?” (May 9, 1772).

[12] There is a dispute as to how much of this thought can be attributed to Heraclitus. See “Heraclitus.”

[13] “When, however, I go down and overlook the narrow circle of ideas in which the descendants of Adam exist, their simple and eternally uniform transactions and the certainty and security of their joys, then my heart becomes so constricted and I would like to curse the hour because I wasn’t born a farmer.”

[14] “Friend, I notice by my hair that I am getting old. Should Stella, when I return and am still even older on account of the troubles of the campaign – Come, you will be my angel. There are moments when my soul becomes so dark that I would wish – [.]” Plettenberg’s incomplete utterance is striking for its similarity to Herz’s earlier statement that his heart feels restricted when he considers the limitations placed upon the individual by society. See 2: 379-380.

[15] “When I think about the moment that I saw her for the first time at the masquerade ball, as I stood rooted at the pillar across from her, and it seemed to me as if hell opened up between us both and an eternal abyss solidified itself under us. Ah, where is a feeling that resembles that, to see so much unspeakable enticement before oneself, the terrible certainty, never, never to be permitted to take possession of it.”

[16] “Indeed, I know full well how much damage I do to her through my descriptions, but nevertheless, if you are smart and of good character, you will be able to construct an image from my stuttering.”

[17] “To have no one in the way, what a grand idea! I do not want to make demands on anyone or cost anyone even one thought that may interrupt the succession of his [own] pleasant imaginations.”

[18] “Your letter displays the open signs of madness, another [person] would say. To me, however, because I view you once and for all through my fingers, your letter is infinitely dear.”

[19] See Brant, chapter 33.

[20] “She was sitting for him [the painter] already—[she] sat there in all of her splendor—and I could place myself across from her and, with glances that were never satiated, imbibe [her,] charm for charm, movement for movement. [ . . . ] And her bosom, on which my reverential gaze didn’t trust itself to linger [. . .] —brother, I would like to lie the whole day face down and give thanks, thanks, thanks. ”

[21] “You [are] not happy, Herz, you who care for others? What right do you have to [feel] pain? Is it not enough for you to be happy that she exists, exists for herself?”

[22] Madland recognizes the portrait’s importance as “symbolic representation,” but she does not explore in sufficient detail the relationship between representation, imagination and identity as evinced by the masquerade scene (137). She also does not comment on the portrait’s significance as “Talisman” and thus its inspirational role as static image. Madland emphasizes instead Herz’s pursuit of “pleasure”: “Herz is content with the symbolic representation of that which he desires and pursues it with the same vigor with which he would pursue the represented object. That pleasure, in the absence of the thing itself, can be derived from its representation becomes evident in the intensity with which Herz seeks possession of the portrait” (137).

[23] “And I’m taking her image with me. To stumble into thousands of bare bayonets with this talisman.”

[24] “Inasmuch, humans search for bliss in self deception. Perhaps I’m deceiving myself as well. Be that as it may, I want that image back or I’m going to kill myself.” Schweitzer misses the relationship between self-deception and happiness when he comments rather succinctly: “Herz is an emasculated romantic whose idealization of women works as a safeguard against ever having to have physical contact with a woman” (26). As irrational as it may be to threaten suicide, Herz differentiates himself from Lessing’s Prinz and Goethe’s Werther in that he demands possession only of the artwork as opposed to the woman herself. In this sense, Herz appears the most reasonable of them all.