This is perhaps the proper place for an observation which we should like to make, in view of recent events—that no scholar can afford to reject, oppose, or scorn the great philosophical movement begun by Kant, except the true investigators of antiquity, who by the peculiarity of their study seem to be especially favored above all other men. For since they are occupied with the best that the world has produced and only examine the trivial and the inferior in their relation to the most excellent, their attainments reach such fullness, their judgment such certainty, their taste such consistency, that they appear within their own circle most wonderfully, even astonishingly, cultured. Winckelmann also attained this good fortune, in which indeed he was greatly assisted by the influence of the fine arts and of life itself.
Although Winckelmann in reading the ancient authors paid great attention to the poets, an exact examination of his studies and of the course of his life reveals no particular inclination to poetry; on the contrary, an aversion occasionally appears. His preference for the old and accustomed Lutheran church hymns and his desire to possess an uncensored song book of this kind in Rome reveals the typical and sturdy German, but not the friend of poetry.
The works of the poets of past ages appear to have interested him at first as documents of ancient languages and literature, later as witnesses for the fine arts. It is all the more wonderful and gratifying when he himself appears as a poet, as an able, unmistakable one, in his description of statues and in almost all of his later writings. He sees with his eyes, he grasps with his mind, works indescribable, and yet he feels an irresistible impulse to master them by the spoken and the written word. The perfect master-work, the idea in which it had its origin, the emotion that was awakened in him in beholding it, he wishes to impart to the hearer or the reader. Reviewing the array of his aptitudes, he finds himself compelled to seize upon the most powerful and dignified expression at his command. He is compelled to be a poet, whatever he may think, whether he wishes or not.
As much value as Winckelmann placed upon the world’s esteem, as much as he desired a literary reputation, as much as he endeavored to present his work in the best form and to elevate it by a certain dignified style, he was nevertheless in no wise blind to its faults, but rather was the first to observe them, as one would expect from a man of his progressive nature, always seizing upon and working over new materials. The more he had labored upon a subject, dogmatically and didactically, had maintained and established this or that interpretation of a monument, this or that explanation or application of a passage, the more conspicuous did his own mistakes seem to him. As soon as he had convinced himself of them by new data, the more quickly was he inclined to correct them in any way possible.