During the course of the 18th century German literary language slowly took shape, poetic theory and aesthetics fell under the influence of Enlightenment philosophy, and ancient poetic styles and genres were adopted and adapted, with didactic poems and fables being the most popular forms at Enlightenment's peak.
The 18th century produced around 18 well-known German poets and writers who can be considered part of the Enlightenment, and their works and writings are known, read, quoted and researched to this day. They therefore undisputedly form part of the history of German literature. Their number is small, and before introducing the virtual library of 18th century German literature, it makes sense to list their names here, as they are the principal authors in the broad canon to which reference will be made later: Johann Christoph Gottsched and Christian Fürchtegott Gellert in Leipzig - two leading authors of their time, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and his friends Moses Mendelssohn and Friedreich Nicolai, Justus Möser from Osnabrück, Christoph Martin Wieland, Johann Joachim Winckelmann - the rediscoverer of ancient art, Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder, in Göttingen Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, in Zurich Johann Kaspar Lavater, and finally the philosophers of the Late Enlightenment Jacob Wilhelm Heinse, Karl Philipp Moritz, Georg Forster, Adolph Freiherr Knigge, Ulrich Bräker and Johann Gottfried Seume.
Another group of poets and authors of similar size also played a decisive role in the development of German literature in the 18th century. They, however, are nowadays of more interest to German language researchers than to contemporary book publishers. Their names include: Barthold Heinrich Brockes and Friedrich von Hagedorn from Hamburg, Albrecht von Haller from Switzerland, Johann Jakob Bodmer and Johann Jakob Breitinger, the Anacreontics Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim, Johann Nikolaus Götz and Johann Peter Uz, Hainbund members Gottfried August Bürger and Johann Heinrich Voss, the Stolberg brothers, Ludwig Hölty, the Sturm und Drang poets Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz and others. Each one of these authors produced books and poetry, some of which have withstood the test of time, thereby underlining the importance of German literature in the century of the Enlightenment.
Generally literary historical research is limited to more or less this canon of 18th century writers. Another dozen well-known names can be added to them, e.g. Christian Ludwig Liscow, Ewald von Kleist, Gottlieb Wilhelm Rabener, Salomon Gessner, Heinrich Wilhelm Gerstenberg, Karl Wilhelm Ramler, Gottlieb Conrad Pfeffel, Peter Helfrich Sturz, Gottlieb Theodor von Hippel, and Karl Friedrich Bahrdt. Incidentally, the number of 18th-century female writers is very small: apart from the Karschin (Anna Louisa Karsch), Sophie Schwarz, and Friederike Lohmann, the others are all but forgotten.
The 18th century produced a far greater number of distinguished poets and authors than the mere 50 mentioned here. The online-edition 18th Century German Literature Online
lists 642 authors as the creators of 2,675 books in 4,494 volumes, and makes use of the bibliographical entries in Karl Goedeke's "Grundriss zur Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung" and Leopold Hirschberg's "Taschengoedeke", both of which have been critically edited and supplemented for the purposes of this edition. In addition to the well-known poets and authors, a large number of poetae minores have also been included, most of which are only of regional or even local importance. The inclusion of so many unknown or insignificant names needs no explanation in view of the use of the two authorities, Karl Goedeke and Leopold Hirschberg. Worthy of elaboration are, however, the possibilities opened up to users by the online edition. To put it succinctly, they are unique. Users can naturally use the database to find works or texts by a particular author, the advantage compared to looking up the information in a bibliography being that users can not only find the title of a book quickly and see the table of contents, they can also view the full body of the text on-screen.
(taken from Paul Raabe: 18th Century German Literature and its Authors. An Introduction