Concerning Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Grossmann, Nicht mehr als sechs Schüsseln. Familiengemälde in fünf Aufzügen (1777) (title page above), see the contemporary assessment in the Lexikon Deutscher Dichter und Prosaistin, vol. 2, G–K, ed. Karl Heinrich Jördens (Leipzig 1807), 260–61:
The title derives from a situation involving a paterfamilias who, in the face of [his wife’s] relatives from the nobility who are trying to compel him to serve eighteen courses, perseveres with absolute intransigency with his normal six courses. This piece, which can be viewed as the model for more recent dramatic family portraits, attained considerable celebrity and was everywhere acclaimed and greeted with meritorious applause because of its excellence.
Its subject matter was new, its treatment bold, its tone more free than had hitherto been the case, and certain laughable aspects of the grand world that had hitherto not been illuminated in this way were here reproduced for the first time engaging the complete palette of a satirical brush and in rather severe caricature. The piece as a whole exhibited both vivacity and flow, notwithstanding its characters were uneven, faulty, and in part rather ordinary, and its plot and development anything but refined and artistically conceived and executed.
See by contrast Goethe’s remarks in Dichtung und Wahrheit, part 3, book 13; here Poetry and Truth. From My Own Life, 3 vols., trans. Minna Steele Smith (London 1908), 2:112–13:
The German, kind and magnanimous by nature, dislikes to see anyone ill-treated. But as no man, however good his intentions, is ever quite sure that something contrary to his inclinations will not be attributed to him, and as comedy in general, if it is to please, always presupposes or awakens some spark of malice in the spectator, so, by a natural path, people were led to approve a course which had hitherto been deemed unnatural; this consisted in disparaging the upper classes, and in attacking them more or less openly.
Satire, whether in prose or verse, had hitherto always avoided touching the court and the nobility. [Gottlieb Wilhelm] Rabener refrained from all jokes of that nature, and restricted himself to the lower circles. [Just Friedrich Wilhelm] Zachariä often deals with country gentry, and exhibits their tastes and peculiarities in a comic aspect, but without contempt. [Moritz August von] Thümmel’s Wilhelmine , a witty little composition, as amusing as it is bold, gained great applause, perhaps because the author, himself a nobleman and courtier, treated his own class so unsparingly.
But the boldest step was taken by [Gotthold Ephraim] Lessing, in his Emilia Galotti , where the passions and intrigues of the higher classes are delineated with scathing bitterness. All these things were in perfect harmony with the restless spirit of the times; and men of a lower order of mind and talent thought they might do as much, or even more; so [Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm] Grossmann, in six unsavoury dishes [play on the title, lit. “no more than six plates/dishes, i.e., courses”], served up to the malicious public all the tit-bits of his plebeian kitchen.
A respectable man, Hofrath Reinhardt [Reinhard, the protagonist in the play, also described as Justizdirektor], was the major-domo at this unpleasant board, to the comfort and edification of all his guests. From this time forward stage villains were always chosen from the higher ranks; and the character must be a gentleman of the bedchamber, or at least secretary, to be worthy of such distinction.
All examples of extreme immorality were chosen from the highest officials and dignitaries in the court and civil list, and in this aristocratic society even magistrates themselves found a place as villain of the first water.
Click on the illustration below to open a gallery of Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki’s illustrations to the play:
Translation © 2011 Doug Stott