For the appreciation of this beauty Winckelmann was by nature fitted. He first learned of it in the writings of the ancients, but encountered it personified in the works of art, in which we all first learn to know it, that we may recognize and treasure it in nature’s living creations.
When, however, the requirements of friendship and of beauty both find inspiration in the same object, the happiness and gratitude of man seem to pass all bounds. All that he possesses he would gladly give as a feeble testimony of his attachment and his devotion.
So we often find Winckelmann in friendship with beautiful youths, and never does he appear more animated and lovable than in such, though often only flitting, moments.
With such opinions, with such needs and longings, Winckelmann for a long time served objects alien to his own desires. Nowhere about him did he see the least hope of help and assistance.
Count Buenau, in his capacity of a private gentleman, needed only to buy one valuable book less in order to open for Winckelmann the road to Rome; as a minister of state he had influence enough to have helped this excellent man out of every difficulty; but he was probably unwilling to lose so capable a servant, or else he had no appreciation of the great service he would have rendered the world by encouraging a gifted man. The Court at Dresden, from which Winckelmann might eventually hope for adequate support, professed the Roman faith, and there was scarcely any other way to attain favor and consideration than through confessors and other members of the clergy.
The example of a Prince is a mighty influence in his country, and incites with secret power every citizen to like actions in private life, especially to moral actions. The religion of a Prince always remains in a certain sense the ruling religion, and the Roman faith, like a whirlpool, draws the quietly passing waves to itself and into its vortex.
In addition to this Winckelmann must have felt that a man, in order to be a Roman in Rome, in order to identify himself with the life there, and to enjoy confidential association, must necessarily profess the religion of his associates, must yield to their faith, and accommodate himself to their usages. The final result actually shows that he could not have attained his end without this early decision, which was made much easier for him by the fact that, as a thorough heathen by nature, he had never become Christianized by his Protestant baptism.
Yet this change in his condition was not achieved without a bitter struggle. We may, in accordance with our convictions, and for reasons sufficiently weighty, make a final decision which is in perfect harmony with our volition, desires and needs, which indeed seems unavoidable for the maintenance and continuance of our very existence, so that we are in perfect accord with ourselves. But such a decision may contradict the prevailing opinion and the convictions of many people. Then a new struggle begins, which, while it may cause no uncertainty, yet may occasion discomfort, impatience and annoyance, because we discover occasional inconsistencies in our actions while we suspect the existence of many more in ourselves.