In the present instance, however, the half may be prized more than the whole, since, by the study of three individual opinions on the same subject, the reader may to a greater extent be stimulated and incited to form an individual conception of the significant life and character of Winckelmann, which can now be easily accomplished by the aid of the earlier and more recently published materials. We therefore hope to merit gratitude if, instead of waiting for a later opportunity and promising a future achievement, we freely offer, in Winckelmann’s own refreshing manner, only that which is already prepared, even though it be not complete, in order that it may after its own fashion exert a timely influence in the great world of life and culture.
The memory of noteworthy men and the presence of important works of art, awaken from time to time a spirit of contemplation. Both stand before us as legacies of each succeeding generation, the former by reason of their deeds and fame, the latter actually preserved as indefinable realities. Every judicious observer knows full well that only the contemplation of these men and monuments in their entirety would be of real value, and yet we are always attempting to make them more comprehensible by our reflection and our words.
One is especially impelled to this when something new relating to such subjects is discovered and made known. We trust therefore that the public will find our renewed observations on Winckelmann, his character and his achievements a timely contribution, since the letters which are now published throw a more vivid light upon his mode of thought and the conditions under which he labored.
Even to ordinary mortals Nature has not denied a very precious endowment—I refer to that lively impulse felt from earliest childhood, to take hold of the external world, to learn to know it, to enter into relation with it, and to form with it a complete whole. Certain chosen spirits, on the other hand, often have the peculiarity of feeling a kind of aversion to actual life, withdraw into themselves, and create in themselves a world of their own, in this wise achieving the highest inner development.
But when, in especially gifted men, appears the need common to all of us of seeking in the external world a corresponding realization for all the gifts with which Nature has endowed them, thereby raising their inner being to a self-relying whole, we may be assured of the development of a character in which both the present and the future world will rejoice.
Winckelmann was a man of this kind. Nature had placed in him whatever makes and adorns the true man. Furthermore, he devoted his entire life to the search for that which is harmonious and worthy in man and in art, which is primarily concerned with man.