Clement Theodore Perthes.

Memoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 36)
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time gives a deep insight into the machinery of our poor human
life. Niebuhr needs a friend who would be a match for him ;
he has not one such in the world. The wealth of his intellect
and the extent of his knowledge are absolutely appalling, but his
knowledge of the present is only the result of historical inquiry
and political calculations — he does not understand individual or
national life. ' I do know and understand the people,' replied
he,' when I made the above remark to him ; ' I read, and in-
quire, and hear ; and my residence abroad has afforded me an
impartial point of view.' And yet I maintain, he has no know-
ledge of human nature. One thing I am more and more sure of :
men of giant intellect and high imagination are little fitted to
govern ; the practical man, if he will avail himself of the intel-


leets of others, makes the best minister." A few days after
Perthes had left Bonn, Niebuhr wrote to him as follows:
•' The unlooked-for pleasure of seeing you again still remains
in the form of memory ; your visit has awakened the illu-
sion that old times have not quite vanished. And yet they
have ; and could I become a sceptic, I should begin by denying
a man's identity at diiferent epochs of life." Perthes wrote in
reply, " You yourself would aiford me a proof of identity if I
needed one. Only look within you, how love has endured, how
much you are still the same ! Thirty years ago I have seen
that very same love shine forth from your whole being, which
still has power to melt all the frost, and rub away all the rust
of the world."

In 1818, E. M. Arndt had been appointed Professor of His-
tory in the Bonn University ; in 1820, he was forbidden to
teach ; and in 1821, he was subjected to an inquiry instituted
on the plea of demagogical stratagems ; but do what he
would, ho could not obtain a decision one way or another.
Perthes had never seen him before, but they had corresponded
long, and had many mutual friends. lie writes from Bonn, —
" Arndt is just what I had pictured him, — sound-hearted,
stable, lively and clever in conversation, never wearisome with
his etymological and historical derivatives, odd as they often
sound. Everywhere the poet peeps out, and it always does
one good to hear his just and discriminating views of men,
even of those who have done him wrong. His hard fate has
left no trace of bitterness in him ; and his good heart peeps
out through whatever hasty expression he may, on the spur
of the moment, utter. The many points of contact aiforded
us by our past lives soon made us feel intimate. He has been


very unjustly treated, and that is Niebulir's opinion as well
as mine. He is an imaginative man, and exciting- and stimu-
lating to the young, but that was well known before his ap-
pointment, for his whole character as well as his writings are
perfectly transparent. And now there he is, in a beautifully-
situated house, a quarter of a mile from the town, but without
any scope for the exercise of his rare talents."

Perthes spent several mornings with A. W. Schlegel, and
writes about him thus : " We had not seen each other for many
years. At first Schlegel gave me a stately reception ; but old
recollections of former meetings soon made him open, tender,
and natural in his cordiality. It was in 1 793, just after his mar-
riage, that I first saw Schlegel ; then we met in 1803 and 1805
in Leipsic and Dresden ; in the summer of 1813, I spent some
weeks with him ; and again, in the December of the same year we
had a very pleasant day in Saalsund in Hanover, with Rehberg,
Smidt, Sieveking, and Benjamin Constant. These old pictures
having first flitted past us, the political and religious opinions of
past days gave way to the present. Schlegel expressed himself
very strikingly about the men and the occurrences of our own
time. I called his attention to the importance, historically
speaking, of a new collection and edition of his works. He owes
it to the history of our literature, to shew the origin and the aim
of his detached essays, so as to prevent further misunderstand-
ing and confusion, for however different the decision of diflfer-
ent parties respecting him may be, still his views, his criticism,
his praise and blame, will have considerable influence over our
literature for all time. Schlegel agreed with me, and remarked
that he must needs be much misunderstood, for that his labours
in the early part of his life had almost entirely consisted in re-


actionarj efforts against particular errors and perversions, and
that his views had met with such a one-sided apprehension, and
been carried to such extremes by his adherents, that he had sub-
sequently been obliged for truth's sake, to appear as their oppo-
nent. But he added, that his position, in regard to his brother
Frederick, prevented an edition of his collective works. They
had formerly accomplished the greater part of these together, but
their opinions were now diametrically opposed on the most im-
portant subjects. He could not give up his own convictions,
and his feelings forbade him publicly to oppose his brother. I
then requested him to prepare a posthumous collection of his
works, saying, that when our race is run, natural ties cease to
fetter, and that the open confession of what each held to be truth
would do honour to both. Schlegel spoke very openly of his
relations with Niebuhr. The latter is so offended with his cri-
ticism on his Roman History, that he will not see him. ' Nie-
buhr,' said Schlegel, ' has no ground for tins ; no one made such
efforts as I to follow him in his investigations in all direc-
tions, and this is the highest proof of appreciation and respect.
Niebuhr might have forgiven me a few witticisms and jests,
which he knew to be a part of my nature ; but so it is, no
one in Germany understands criticism, and so I keep to my-
self my opinion of Voss' performances, though I could express
it in three words.' I begged him to tell them me, and he
replied, ' Voss has enriched our literature with a stony Homer,
a wooden Shakspeare, and a leathern Aristophanes.' Schlegel
took me to see his Indian printing-office, and I could not but
admire the simplicity and practical wisdom of his arrangements;
indeed, on this occasion I saw nothing but the good side of his
character. His faults are better known than those of most of


US, and every one speaks of his incredible vanity, but it lies
so on the surface, that one can hardly suppose it sinks deep.
He has always been distinguished for strict conscientiousness
in all affairs of business, and now he is firmly attached to
Bonn, and a regular and active life may still further improve
him. Good-natured he certainly is, if not exasperated or
tempted by a sally of wit."

A little later Perthes wrote : " I got very fond of Bonn,
though the weather prevented my enjoying its charms or situ-
ation. I hardly saw any Bonn men proper, for the University
has collected men from all parts of Germany, and not two of
them are from the same place. All, however, bear the stamp
of genuine German learning and German character, and their
mutual life is very peculiar in this respect, that most of them
are decidedly Protestant or decidedly Catholic, and yet, in
spite of this, they and their respective families are on most
friendly terms. Almost all I saw, whether Catholics or Protest-
ants, were firmly united against Rationalism, and the interfer-
ence of the State in ecclesiastical matters.''

From Bonn, Perthes went with Windischmann and Welcker
to Coblentz, where he spent a cheerful day with his friend Dr.
Ullrich ; thence he proceeded to Bingen and Mayence. In a
letter to his children, he says, — " At the crowded table-d'-hote, in
the evening, public events, especially in Darmstadt, were as
bitterly discussed as if the Central Commission were carrying
on its search for demagogues not in Mayence, but at the other
end of the world. Opposite me sat an old man with grey hairs
and strongly-marked features, who spoke of the first years of
the Revolution, and of the present corrupt times, with passion-
ate emotion, then suddenly rose and went away. 'You do not


know the old gentleman,' said my neighbour ; ' he was in his
day one of the most rabid amongst the Clubbists, but he con-
trived to escape punishment, and now leads a quiet life. You
have driven him away for the evening by your way of refer-
ring to Robespierre.' My neighbour and I then went on talk-
ing of demagogues, factions, and the Commission of Inquiry.
He said that it was absurd so to watch professors and students,
and to leave unaltered the schools where, owing to the almost
exclusive study of Greek and Roman History, every boy of
spirit got his head filled with republican notions. I replied,
' That is true, but God grant that this idea of yours be not
further mooted, otherwise we shall have another fruitless in-
quiry beginning.' My neighbour smiled and rose, for it was
late, and we were the only guests left ; the candles were burning
low, and the waiters about to leave ; we parted like old friends.
' Who was that gentleman ?' I inquired from a waiter. ' Mr.
R. N., Member of the Commission of Inquiry,' was the reply I

On the 9th of April Perthes arrived at Frankfurt. In a letter
to Besser, he says, " I have done and seen much here in a few
days. The first morning I spent with Friedrich Schlosser, and
there met his brother Christian again, vvho had just come from
Paris. With his smothered ardour, his cold liveliness, and his
curt cutting sentences, he is really a remarkable man, and a
striking contrast to his gentle and loveable brother." "Yester-
day," wrote Perthes a few days later, " I had to dine twice : at
two o'clock with Schlosser, and at four with Gries, who had
invited several of his colleagues. A circle of great or small
diplomatists is always a little world apart ; and the scenery
is an essential in its performances. During dinner, persons


and tilings were discussed with much point and spirit. I also
saw R. N. again." Perthes' chief pleasure, however, was in meet-
ing Stein. " He received me," wrote he, " with cordiality, I
may indeed say, like an old friend, and of this I am proud.
He has certainly a noble and singularly beautiful profile,
and now an expression of repose is spread over his features,
but still one can see what labour it has cost him to bridle the
impetuous passion and energy of his nature. When I told him of
K N., he started up, and said, ' Wliy does the man play this
foolish part himself, and let his son become a forester ? All the
effeminate clowns become diplomatists now-a-days, and all the
rougher sort foresters.' Stein has lost none of his old peculiari-
ties in conversation. He told me of every merest detail con-
nected with the ' Monumenta ;' but I made out plainly that the
whole enterprise would have come to nouglit if it had not been
for Pertz ; as it is, the plan is fixed, and the contract with the
publishers completed. Stein sj)oke very warmly about the way
in which political parties had interfered with the undertaking;
the liberals had decried it as a cunning attempt of the aris-
tocracy, by means of the glorification of the middle ages, to
smuggle in feudalism ; and the advocates of an absolute
monarchy, on their part, lamented that the nobility should
have lent themselves to the project. Herr von Gentz had said,
' History is a good thing, but not at all times, and for all people.
In Austria no one could become a member of the society with-
out a special permission, which, again, no one ventured to ask
for.' "

On the morning of the 14th of April, Perthes left Frankfurt
by the Diligence. In one of his letters he says, " At Schluch-
tern, a man got in whom the conductor called Mr. Post-Secre-


tarj, an impudent fellow, who was bent upon drawing out a
sulky old Englishman ; but the latter pulled his cap over his
ears. Bj this time it was night. So the talkative man turned
to me. ' Is the gentleman asleep a travelling tradesman V ' I
do not know.' — ' You, however, are a minister V ' No.' — ' A
professor?' 'No.' — 'A merchant?' 'No.' — 'A government
official ?' ' No.' — ' Then you must be a private gentleman, the
happiest race of all, who live on their income ?' ' Yes,' said I,
' if they have capital.' A little later my friend asked suddenly,
' How morals stood out of Hesse ?' I replied by asking what
morals meant. Upon which he thought me a fool, and held
his peace. He got down at the last Hessian station, and then,
for the first time, it occurred to me that he was very probably
one of the Casscl police, a so-called Erfurt spy. This honoured
company does not seem to employ very clever agents. I could
not get the conductor to speak out ; but he said, ' Tlie man is
one of those who try to find out why frogs lose their tails when
they grow up.'" After an uninterrupted journey of thirty-
eight hours, Perthes found himself once more at Gotha. A
fortnight later he had to go to Lcipsic. " I do not like going,"
wrote he ; " many things combine to make me supine and sad,
and anxious for repose. If the wear and tear of strong feelings
could kill, I should be no more ; but the human heart is a
hard nut, and destiny, sharp-toothed as it is, cracks away at
it, till it is tired, without breaking it."



IN GOTHA— 1822-1825.

The new circumstances of a new abode, and the varied exer-
tions consequent upon liis new calling, as well as his numerous
journeys and the changes they involved, had an exciting in-
fluence upon Perthes' susceptible nature, deprived as it now
was of the gentle restraint exercised by Caroline's aifection for
nearly tAventy-five years. For hours and days he would feel
restless and excited, and for this very reason dissatisfied with
himself. " It is no easy matter for me," he writes, " to conquer
myself; the effects of fifty years of unrest have to be subdued
by a naturally restless man. My life hitherto has passed away
in care and toil ; now I have the opportunity of quiet and un-
disturbed occupation, and perhaps external repose might bring
me the peace of God if I were only at rest within." In a letter
written at this time to Friedrich Jacobi, he says :— " The battle
of youth is over and gone, and evening is at hand. Much
during all these years might have been done otherwise and
better, and discipline is still necessary. The passage from
man's prime of life and strength to age is a difficult one, and
the gate is wide that leads to the company of old sinners.
Passion blazes up anew, love of pleasure still lurks near, and I


sometimes suspect that youtli is not the only season of temp-
tation." In another letter we find him saying : " Sometimes
my heart can rise above the region of disquiet, and my mind
grow calm when I walk alone in a neighbouring wood, and
look at all the life and love around ; but still, after much profound
experience, the heart is not to be roused by nature alone, it
needs a previous education to fit it for her influence, and, per-
haps, in our later years, she works upon us less through what
she is herself, than through what we ourselves are. But God
can helji, and I pray and implore Him to help me in overcom-
ing the unrest I suffer from."

The consciousness of the influence of the outer world upon
his inner life was specially roused in Perthes, by the thought
of the difference made in his whole being by the mature age
he had now reached. In one of his letters he says : — " Half a
century now lies behind me, and old age is not far distant.
So much in me is changed that when I consider myself with
the eyes of the natural man, I could almost doubt my identity
with the self of five-and-twenty years ago. This subjection to
the outer world were horrible, if liveliness of feeling, play of
thought, and energy of action constituted the essence of our
being ; but thank God these are in relation to our real per-
sonality but as the waves to the sea, which have their origin in
the wind and not in the sea itself The sea is the sea still
when unstirred by the wind, and I am still I, when the special
stimulus, be it of youth, passion, or society is over. It is not
I that am grown old, but the means of stimulating me. Time
may blunt the nerves and stiffen the limbs, but it has no power
over love which is the life of men, the core of their personality.
Despite my half century I feel no diminution of love, nay, I


am certain tliat viewed as a faculty of my nature and apart
from its particular objects, it grows both in scope and depth.
Love is the sum-total of life, and it is only according to our
measure of it that we are accessible to truth. But I feel more
and more how mysteriously love, although belonging to eter-
nity, is bound like ourselves to nature and the world. I find
it manifested in my own heart xmder a threefold character —
divine, human, and animal, or, in other words, the love of the
soul, the heart, and the senses. On the confines of these sepa-
rate regions lies the wide domain of fancy which blends the
liuman with the divine, the animal with the human, and often
enough leads us to mistake the one for the other. We aspire
after the divine and are captured by the earthly. Tlie love of
the senses soon passes away, and because that of the heart —
human love — is also of the eartli earthy, time can soften even
the most agonizing loss of the object of that love. Man has
part in the eternal only in so far as he cherishes in himself the
divine spirit-love. Tlie history of a human being resolves itself
into the history of his affections, and at the close of his life
his only question should be. How sincerely and strongly have
I loved God, my neighbour and myself, with tliat spirit-love
which is divine ?"

In order to revive within his own heart the history of the past,
Perthes had begged his friends, far and near, to send him
back all the letters his wife had ever written to them. To these
he added those addressed to himself and to the elder children,
and thus repeated as it were in uninterrupted succession the
years spent with Caroline. " A past life of five-and-twenty
years lies before me," wrote he to his sister-in-law Anna Jacobi;
"this little bundle of paper contains an infinity of love and
thought, truth and conflict, and evokes from their graves many a


forgotten fact and feeling. Yes, life is a dream, but a very serious
one, and our dreams are solemn truths veiled in airy fictions/'
In the midst of all his excitements and disturbances Perthes
deeply yearned for repose, but this yearning made him feel
himself very lonely in Gotha. " I find no one here," he writes,
" with whom to share my inner life : in this respect it is even
more dead than Hamburgh. People are taken up Avith the
visible, and have only a few trite commonplaces to bestow upon
the invisible. If I were to speak of what most deeply moves me,
no one would understand me. The more at rest and at home I
become in my new position, the more painfully, in spite of all
tlie amusing and attractive conversation, do I feel this want of
sympathy." Another time he writes : — " I would not willingly
be unjust, but I cannot be blind. I know in liow many re-
spects I ought myself to be different, and may say before God
and my friends, that my heart is humbled ; but here I find that
I must either be silent, or else let myself down, — I cannot
express my meaning otherwise — although I would so gladly be
improved and instructed by men who stand above me. The elder
among them have lived in an exclusively literary or scientific
circle belonging to the past. The experience of the younger is
too limited, not reaching to the War of Independence, which
gave a new direction to the whole of our social life. They are
ignorant, and choose to remain so, of a number of important
facts, believing in their youthful self-confidence that they stand
independently of the intellectual life of our past days. As the
elders live but in the past, so do these but in the present, and
the majority of the educated give themselves up to indolence and
commonplace enjoyment. This dead state of things is in great
part accounted for by the insignificance of tlieir political condi-
tion." In another letter we find Perthes saying : — " To throw


one's-self in one's later years amidst strange scenes and people
as I have done, makes one fully alive to this world's transitori-
ness. This year has brought me nothing unexpected ; I knew
from the first how it M'ould be, but still many a tie of youth and
early manhood has been snapped asunder, which would not have
been weakened had I remained in Hamburgh, Here no one
knows the circumstances of my former life, and hence no one can
understand the point of view to which experience has brought
me : and I need an apprenticeship to learn to bear this."

Perthes' firm Christian convictions had become universally
known by his public controversy with Voss,* and he was not the
man to seek to hold back what he believed true. His religious
opinions and himself were accordingly looked upon as a pheno-
menon, and many were at a loss how to reconcile his strong
impetuous character, his constant activity, and wide circle of
interests with the quiet pietism expected from every Christian.
The curiosity excited by this seeming contradiction led to
much conversation and much controversy. Perthes' life had
been less pervaded by doctrinal speculation than by practical
certainty, and this certainty he had acquired from his own
wants, his own experience, from the testimony of good and
great men, and, above all, from the Bible. In his youth he
had never had any systematic religious instruction, and the
business of after years had prevented his supplying the want.
But in Gotha he was confronted by men of all kinds, who often
pressed him hard by their historical knowledge, their philo-
sophical aphorisms, their scientifically and logically trained
intellects. He could not appeal to a sense of need or to the
inward experience, for these men had never known them, and

* Perthes had, some time before leaving Hamburgh, sued Voss for libelling the
memory of liis fatlier-in-law, Claiulius, by his criticisms on the opinions of the latter.


if he quoted Claudius and Hamann, Spener, Franke, Tauler,
Thomas-a-Kempis, &c., lie found that no one knew anything
about them, or else he was called an enthusiast, and met
with sayings of Kant and Fichte, Krug, and Fries. Scrip-
ture proofs availed him nothing, for either they were not
recognised, or they were explained in the sense of Paulus
or Bretschneider. Perthes, sure of the truth of his cause,
but not always able to refute the attacks made upon it,
was often irritated and impatient, and his impetuous charac-
ter led him to make use of many bitter and unguarded ex-
pressions against his opponents, whence arose many an unplea-
sant consequence. Perthes himself felt that this was doing
no good to others nor to himself either. " I am not so skilful
a controversialist as others," he once wrote ; " I cannot always
find the happy medium between the too little and the too
much, and my opponents arc very skilful in avoiding the main
points of the argument, and directing their attacks against
the weak sides of non-essentials. On both parts springs up a
hard feeling, which should least of all find place in holy things.
Theological strife brings, if not gall, at least wormwood, into
i-eligious life." One of his friends writes to him in reply : —
" My ease is the same as yours ; the older and the more expe-
rienced I grow, and the deeper through God's grace my insight
into Christianity becomes, the more convinced I am that de-
monstration and disputation do no good. So long as a man
does not feel that he is a poor sinnor, and deficient in all that
■Grod requires of him, he will not be reconciled to Him ; and in
order that we may convince him, it is in our own selves, our
personal character and comluct, that we have to build up a temple
of the Lord, so that the enemy may see what he will not else be-
lieve in." Pcrtlies often resolved to avoid religious discussion

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 36)