Our friend was thus intently occupied with the Stosch possessions before their dispersal and with the ever increasing Albani collection; and everything which passed through his hands, either for collection or dispersal, increased the treasure with which he was storing his mind.
Even when Winckelmann first approached the study of art and learned to know the artists in Dresden, appearing in this branch as a beginner, he was fully developed as a writer. He had a comprehensive view of ancient history and, in many ways, of the development of the various sciences. Even in his previous humble condition he felt and knew antiquity, as well as what was worthy in the life and in the character of the present. He had already formed a style. In the new school which he entered, he listened to his masters, not only as a docile pupil but as a learned disciple. He easily acquired their special attainments, and began immediately to use and to adapt to his purposes everything that he learned.
In a higher sphere of action than was his at Dresden, in the nobler world revealed to him at Rome, he remained the same. What he learned from Mengs, what he was taught by his surroundings, he did not keep long to himself; he did not let the new wine ferment and clarify; but rather as we say that one learns from teaching, so he learned while planning and writing. How many a title has he left us, how many subjects has he not mentioned upon which a work was to follow! Like this beginning was his entire antiquarian career. We find him always active—occupied with the moment, which he seizes and holds fast as if it only could be complete and satisfactory, and even so he let himself be instructed by the following moment. This attitude of mind should be remembered in forming an estimate of his works.
That they ultimately received their present form, printed directly from Winckelmann’s manuscript notes, is due to many often unimportant circumstances. A single month later and we should have had works, more correct in content, more precise in form, perhaps something quite different. Just for this reason we so deeply regret his premature death, because he would have constantly rewritten his works and enriched them with the attainments of the (ever) later phases of his life.
Everything that he has left us, therefore, was written as something living for the living, not for those who are dead in the letter. His works, combined with his correspondence, are the story of a life; they are a life itself. Like the life of most people, they resemble rather a preparation for a work than the latter in its accomplishment. They give cause for hopes, for wishes, for premonitions. If one tries to correct them he sees that he must first correct himself; if he wishes to criticize them, he sees that he might himself, upon a higher plane of knowledge, be subjected to the same criticism; for limitation is everywhere our lot.