It is Lessing who has given to the Faust Legend this turn. His “Faust,” unfortunately consisting only of a few fragmentary sketches, is a defense of Rationalism. The most important of these fragments, preserved to us in copies by some friends of Lessing’s, is the prelude, a council of devils. Satan is receiving reports from his subordinates as to what they have done to bring harm to the realm of God. The first devil who speaks has set the hut of some pious poor on fire; the second has buried a fleet of usurers in the waves. Both excite Satan’s disgust. “For,” he says, “to make the pious poor still poorer means only to chain him all the more firmly to God”; and the usurers, if, instead of being buried in the waves, they had been allowed to reach the goal of their voyage, would have wrought new evil on distant shores.

Much more satisfied is Satan with the report of a third devil, who has stolen the first kiss from a young, innocent girl and thereby breathed the flame of desire into her veins; for he has worked evil in the world of spirit, and that means much more and is a much greater triumph for hell than to work evil in the world of bodies. But it is the fourth devil to whom Satan gives the prize. He has not done anything as yet. He has only a plan, but a plan which, if carried out, would put the deeds of all the other devils into the shade—the plan “to snatch from God his favorite.” This favorite of God is Faust, “a solitary, brooding youth, renouncing all passion except the passion for truth, entirely living in truth, entirely absorbed in it.” To snatch him from God—that would be a victory over which the whole realm of night would rejoice. Satan is enchanted; the war against truth is his element. Yes, Faust must be seduced, he must be destroyed. And he shall be destroyed through his very aspiration. “Didst thou not say he has desire for knowledge? That is enough for perdition!” His striving for truth is to lead him into darkness. With such exclamations the devils break up, to set about their work of seduction; but, as they are breaking up, there is heard from above a divine voice: “Ye shall not conquer.”

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