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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saw him, but the power of such a personality does not end with
life. Hippel, Scheflfner, and Krause, whom I knew intimately,
were perhaps even more influenced by him than by Kant; and
the results of his influence in the under current of their lives
are very remarkable."

Perthes could not but acknowledge the justice of such re-
marks as these, but they did not shake his wondering admira-
tion at the sublimity and depth of Hamann's thoughts. In the
mood of mind in which he then was, he was particularly struck
with an expression of Hamann s, in a letter to Jacobi : — " To be
is certainly the all of everything : underived Being is truth :
derived Being is grace ! Not-Being is a defect, and yet a sem-
blance of both." To Jacobi's answer Hamann replies : — " You
make no account of Being without Consciousness, and more
account of the tree of knowledge than of the tree of life ! yet
Consciousness, and not Being, is the source of all misery.''

Perthes was himself well aware, and his friends reminded
him of the same, that these words refer to the position which
Hamann maintained against Jacobi's philosophical system,
but yet he was convinced that Hamann meant, at the same
time, to express thereby an internal state of his own, after
which Perthes had himself aspired, but which he had not been
able to clothe in words. We find him writing : — " Hamann's
maxim expresses in its somewhat obscure conciseness my own
meaning. My thoughts are clear and positive enough, but I
am not sufiiciently master of language to express them. Being,


the only real Being, must consist in giving- one's-sclf up to God,
is to bo found only in the life in God ; and the more true and
deep this Being is, the less is man conscious of it. He who
has ever been absorbed in love and longing after God, must
have had moments of Being without Consciousness, and such
Being is of infinitely more account than Consciousness." In
another letter Perthes says : — " You say that to live with God
can only mean to have intercourse with Him, and that he who
has such intercourse must needs be conscious of it. Now, the
latter proposition is true, but not the former, for intercourse
supposes strangers who seek to become better acquainted : inter-
course is, indeed, but a repetition of attempts to abolish an ex-
isting separation, but it does not abolish the communion of those
whose hearts are already one. Friends and acquaintance have
intercourse with one another, but who would use that word to
express the relation between mother and child ? He who has
not only intercourse with God, but who, according to Tauler,
allows the ego within him to be dumb, or, according to Thomas-
a-Kempis, ' abandons himself, and is filled with the presence of
God,' or again with Tauler, exclaims — ' God within, God with-
out, God round about me ;' — he, I say, will neither be troubled
by the past with all its sins, nor by the future with all its
punishments ; for him, indeed, there is no past or future, — all is
present : or rather he lives beyond the conditions of time alto-
gether, for he already has eternal life ; and Consciousness in
eternity means something very diiferent from what we call
consciousness here on earth."

" As for your Being without consciousness,'' replies a friend
to Perthes, " I would, first of all, inquire the exact sense of the
phrase, for I can attach no meaning to the words." Perthes


says in answer • — " I cannot, indeed, fully and clearly ex-
press my meaning, but I can refute the charge of having
none. I can recollect, more than thirty years ago, lamenting
to Runge, with tears in my eyes, that I could not guard against
the consciousness of my best feelings ; does not the experience
of others in this matter respond to mine ? When an able man
accomplishes a noble enterprise with self-sacrifice, that is his
Being : but when he is conscious of the goodness and nobility of
what he has done, and self-complacent because of it, this Con-
sciousness destroys the excellence of his Being, and 'verily
they have their reward.' The Being was noble, the Conscious-
ness ignoble. The Bible says, ' When thou givest alms, let not
thy right hand know what thy left docth.' Does it not in
these words imply Being without Consciousness T' — Again,
Perthes writes thus to, in order to make his meaning
plainer : — " My youth, with all its passions, my efforts to get
on in the world, my labours and cares, the quarter of a
century spent with my blessed Caroline, consist of months,
days, hours, each filled by its own life and love ; but now all
these infinite complexities resolve themselves for me only into
their results, and are all fused into the present moment : the
past has left in me, as a precipitate, my consciousness of it. I
am still able to call forth all these moments, and to make them
pass before me like the pictures of a magic lantern, otherwise
they arc like dead things buried within me : my consciousness
of the past perishes with me, but, nevertheless, that past has
been, and will continue as Being, though it find no place in
any man's Consciousness."

However warmly Perthes longed for internal rest and peace,
he yet well knew that there were many obstacles in the way


of his attaining them. Having written on the subject to Rist,
he received this answer : — " If I had ever misjudged you,
the sketch of your life, which you have now given me, would
have served to rectify my impression. But it is just as I
always supposed. From youth up strong passions have been
your special enemies — your better nature strove against them
— you cherished indeed higher aspirations and resolves, but you
also felt your own powerlessness to carry them out. As the
enemy pressed you harder and harder, you sought to strengthen
the bulwarks of your religious ereed ; and you would, no doubt,
have become a member of that Church which, on system, comes
to terms with the world of sense ; had it not been that too free a
spirit dwelt within you, and that you were too sincerely con-
verted to God to be perverted by man." Perthes writes in reply :
— " You call me a naturally sensual man, and you are right ; I
always was so, and still am ; my self-reliance, worldly wisdom,
and passionate temperament, will play me many a trick yet; the
multitude of things that run in my head are constantly
leading me astray ; the weakness of the ego, the love of the
world, and the light-heartedness essential to the fulfilment of
an earthly calling, are ever making mc to forget that I am not
my own master ; but, let sorrow come, and internal or external
conflict, and I become at once aware that the hearty desire to
give myself up to God does bear good fruits, and that love is
more and more chasing away hatred and coldness out of my
heart." In another letter he says : — " Do not laugh if I tell
you that my dog has given me many a hint upon human nature.
I never before had a dog constantly with me, and I now ask
myself daily whether the poodle be not a man, and men poodles.
I am not led to this thought by the animal propensities


which we have in common, such as eating, drinking-, &c., but
by those of a more refined character. He too is cheerful and de-
jected, excited and supine, phayful and morose, gentle and bold,
caressing- and snappish, patient and refractory ; just like us
men in all things, even in his dreams ! This likeness is not to
me at all discouraging- : on the contrary, it suggests a pleasing-
hope, that this flesh and blood which plagues and fetters us, is
not the real man, but merely the earthly clothing which will
be cast off when he no longer belongs to earth, provided he has
not sinfully chosen to identify himself with the merelj^ material.
The devil's chief seat is not in matter, but in the mind, where
he fosters pride, selfishness, and hatred, and by their means
destroj^s not what is transitory, but what is eternal in man."

In another letter he says : — " If, indeed, as you affirm, 'the
sumnia summarum is, that we are all sinners, and that God must
best know why he gave us these material bodies which are not
sinless, and cannot be so,' — then, truly, we don't stand in need
of mercy, for God alone would bear the blame, and the door is
shut in the face of all inquirers. But were this so, wc might well
wonder at the sorrow which sin always awakens in us, and by
which we are prevented from charging it upon the Almighty.
When I look upon what I have become, what I have conquered,
and what I have gained, I may sometimes feel confidence in
my own powers ; but then again, I know, as certainly as any-
thing can be known, that, if the senses had been stimulated
by keener delights, ambition lured on by greater prizes, if
heavier trials and stronger temptations had encountered me,
I should not have been what I am ! Who is there that
must not bow his head at the question, ' Does thy life belong
to God or to the world V tliat would not be saddened by


the thought of all his deeds awaking with him in that future
life ? that would take his defilements with him into paradise ?
that would not be willing to blot out his past life, or at least
the consciousness of it, even in this world, and how much
more in the next ? that would not like to drink of Lethe's
stream ? But the gospel hints at no such possibility ; on
the contrary, it states that we shall stand, and be made
manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ. Again and again
the all-important question recurs : — ' Can and will God for-
give sin ?' He who does not understand the full force of this
question does not know himself, and happy is he whose own
individual experience affords him the answer to it. Human
philosophy can prompt the question, but never solve it. Philo-
sophers misapprehend reason as the Jews did the law : so I
read lately in Ilamann's letters ; for they know not that reason
is given us only to make us acquainted with our ignorance,
just as the law was given to make us acquainted with our sins.
Truth and grace alike cannot be excogitated or inherited, they
must be historicallv revealed."



Perthes' second marriage. — 1825.

Although Perthes had rejoiced with all the energy of
paternal affection at his daughter's happy betrothal, yet her
departure from his home cost him a severe struggle. " From
this day forth," he writes, " my child is mine no more. I shall
have to see her removed further away day by day, and her love,
not indeed estranged from me, but yet devoted to another.
So it must ever be ; the child is to leave father and mother,
but the pain of it is great, the heart bleeds at the necessity,
and we gain deeper insight into its depths, and into the pure
intensity of a father's love."

On the day after the wedding, which took place on the 1st
of June 1824, Perthes had all his children assembled round
him ; but, as one by one departed, leaving him alone with the
three youngest only, he was almost overwhelmed with sadness.
We find him writing : — " They were indeed heavy hours when
all forsook me. First Mattliias went away to begin a new and
independent life, then both my married daughters returned to
their long-established homes, at last Matilda left with her hus-
band. The farewell of this dear daughter, who clung to me
with boundless tenderness, pierced my heart, and I found my-
self alone — alone as for thirty years I had never been. Hence-


fortli I have no family circle ; the house that Caroline and I
founded is fast going to pieces, and the picture of myself as the
last remaining one haunts me like a spectre. One after another
the children depart, in three or four years even the three little
ones will have left me, then I shall be as free as the bird of the
air, and a long avenue of solitary years may yet lie before me.
The horrors of a forsaken solitude come upon me and force
many tears from m}'' eyes."

Perthes was particularly desirous that his three younger
children should not, after their sister's marriage, be deprived
of the advantages of family life. " It grieves me," said he,
" to inflict myself and the three children upon the young pair,
but it cannot be helped. My elder daughters remind me, it is
true, that the limited accommodation, and the necessity of con-
forming to the habits of others, will be new and disagreeable
to me. But, since so much inward sorrow has been overcome,
external changes can surely be so too." Accordingly, a few
days after the wedding, Perthes removed to the house of his
son-in-law, Becker. " I am now sitting," he writes to a friend,
" in my daughter's home ; the small house suits me, and I en-
joy the extensive view on every side. Nothing can be happier
than my relations with my son-in-law, and my daughter's at-
tention is boundless. The three younger children feel at
home, and for myself I have but few requirements, having
never been an uneasy seeker after comforts, and can easily
conform to the ways of others ; yet I will confess that it is
not altogether pleasant to be no longer lord and master in
one's own household. I have had from my very childhood an
almost morbid fear of becoming a burden to others, and dis-
turbing their way of life. And now here I am with three


eliiklren in this young couple's house ! No one, indeed, will
allow us to be called an incumbrance, but are we the less so for
that ? This thought vexes and grieves me already, do what I
may to battle with it. What, 'then, will it be in future ? I
shudder at the prospect of old age, with mind and body getting
more and more enfeebled, and requiring help and care day and
nio-ht. I have never seen an old and feeble man who did
not, if alone in the world, feel his position awkward and pain-
ful. Many of them I have seen fall into acts of great folly ;
wlio then may feel secure ? I declare that the best provision
for such a time of life is a French valet of the old stamp, sucli
as w^e used to see in the days of emigration ; a man who could
alike cook for liis old master, and feed, wash, dress, and comb

The truth of the matter, however, was, that though Perthes
was right in saying that he had few requirements, he yet had
requirements which the best of French valets could never have
met. He -had been for many years accustomed not only to
Caroline's society, but to her perfect comprehension at a glance
or a wT)rd, of all that concerned him, whether outward or in-
ward ; in joy and sorrow, in small and great things alike,
he had always found in her the most perfect sympathy. This
mutual life was lost to him now, and after Caroline's death,
in his more serious hours, he was never for a moment without
a sense of loneliness. " I am alone," he w-rote to his friend
Nicolovius, " and full of yearning and longing ; I deeply crave
for sympathy to cheer the desert within me ; but no one under-
stands me now, as I was once understood. If I speak out of
my heart, the answer I receive teaches me that my meaning is
not apprehended." In another letter he says, — "It is wretched

Perthes' second marriage. 159

enough to lead an unmarried life, but still worse to have known
perfect sympathy of soul, and then to lose it. I possess, in no
common degree, my children's love, but this cannot replace the
love of which 1 have been bereft. The affections of youth have
different objects from those of riper years, being fixed either
upon present good, or the glancing forms of the future. Pa-
rents belong to the past, and the past is pale and dim for
the young. Before them all is bright sunlight ; behind them
cold moonshine. So it ever has been and will be, and we wlio
also loohcd forward once, must needs look backward now." In
another letter he says, — " There is no comfort for the sadness
I feel — night is in my soul. The outward man, indeed, makes
a show of enjoyment, laughs, and seems cheerful, but there is
a waste and bitter void within. Yet whither am I drifting ?
When one sees in a new wedlock a new human love arising,
which ignores time and decay, and then feels the phantom-
world in one's own heart, truly the bones rattle, and the blood
runs cold."

It was with this feeling of loneliness, that Perthes, at the age
of fifty-one, became a member of his third daughter's house-
liold. In the very next house to him lived his son-in-law's
sister, Charlotte Becker. She had been married to lieinrich
Hornbostel, a distinguished merchant in Vienna, and had,
after his death, returned with four children to her mother's
house. Of these children, the two eldest were hopeless invalids ;
but, though they had been often at the point of death, it was
impossible to foresee whether their sufferings would extend ovei'
a few weeks, or a few years. Perthes had, soon after his ar-
rival in Gotha, become acquainted witli this much-tried mother,
who was an intimate friend of his married daughters ; he had


heard of her sorrows with sympathy, and admired the energy
and cheerfuhiess with which she bore tliem. Perthes wrote
some time after this ; " I was only slightly acquainted with
Charlotte, it is true, but I was always struck with her clear
intellect and quick wit, the animation of her whole nature ;
the precision and skill, shewn in all she did, attracted me,
and her discrimination of character, and her sensible estimate
of things in general, perfectly astonished me. However, we
had not drawn nearer, and life's deeper chords had not been

Charlotte was thirty years old when Perthes joined his
daughter, and thus came into daily contact with Charlotte and
her children. In a later letter he says, " Her real worth could
not be concealed from me, — I saw the steadfast fidelity and en-
during love she displayed in nursing her sick children, and her
good sense in educating the healthy ones. I saw how, in spite
of her liveliness and social gifts, she gave up any pleasure as
soon as the children wanted her. Sorrow, anxiet}', and loss
of rest by their bedsides had left traces on her features, but
her clear, intellectual glance was undisturbed by them all. I
could, indeed, gather from a few strong expressions, how heavy
her trials were, but generally speaking, I found her composed,
resigned, and cheerful. I resolved to be as useful a friend as I
could, both to the mother and children : she kindly responded
to my cordiality, and I soon possessed her confidence, though
the thought of standing in a nearer relation to her never oc-
curred to me."

Towards the end of July 1824, Rebecca Claudius, Perthes' mo-
ther-in-law, came with her daughter Augusta, to pay a month's
visit to Gotha. She was much concerned about Perthes' situ-


ation, and one day, while they were walking- in the orangerv,
expressed herself openly to him. She told him that he was no
more a master in his own house, that soon his younger children
would be leaving him, and that his strong health gave promise
of a long life yet to come — that for him solitude was not good,
that he could not bear it, and consequently, that he ought not
to put off choosing a companion for the remainder of his life.
At these words the thought of Charlotte shot like lio-htnin"-
through his soul : he made no reply, but he had a hard battle
to fight with himself from that time forth. In September ho
communicated to his mother-in-law the 2>ros and cons which
agitated him so much, but without giving her to understand
that it was no longer the subject of marriage in general, but of
one marriage in particular, which now disquieted him. After
stating the outward and inward circumstances which made a
second marriage advisable in his case, he goes on to say, " I
am quite certain that Caroline foresaw, from her knowledge of
my character and temperament, a second marriage for me,
and I am equally certain that no new union could ever dis-
turb my spirit's abiding union with her. My inner life is
filled with her memory, and will be so till my latest day, but
I must own that this is possible only while I incorporate in
thought her happy soul, and think of her as a human beino-,
still sharing my earthly existence, still taking interest in all I
do ; and I cannot disguise from myself, while viewing her under
this aspect, that my dear Caroline would prefer my living on
alone, satisfied with her memory. Again, there can be no doubt
that Holy Scripture, although permitting a second marriage,
does so on account of the hardness of our hearts. The civil
law contains no prohibition either, and yet there has always


existed ci social prejudice against such a marriage, and youth,
whose ideal is always fresh and fair, and women who are always
young in soul, look with secret disgust upon it. I know, too,
that my remaining alone would be, not only with reference to
others but in itself, the worthier course ; but, on the other hand,
I know it would be so in reality only if this worthiness were
not assimied for the purpose of appearing in a false light to
myself, to other men, and perhaps even before God, or for the
purpose of cloaking selfishness under the guise of fidelity to
the departed. To us, in our life liere below, the love of the
creature is given to educate us for the love of God. Can I
dispense with this earthly help, and yet maintain love alive in
my heart ? Can I, without family ties to constrain me, go on
caring for others ? Can I escape the danger of isolating myself,
and living in selfishness, gross or refined ? I recall many a
fearful instance of this in others ! Is it, in short, weakness to
say to myself, 'Thou canst not dispense with the earthly helps
to a loving spirit,' or is it arrogance to believe that I no longer
need such ? I do not know how to answer this question."

It was not, liowever, by answering this question, nor by
reflecting upon the lawfulness of second marriages in gene-
ral, that Perthes' irresolution was subdued, but by an increas-
ing attachment to the lady with whom he wished to contract
such a marriage.

" My own experiences amaze me," he writes a few weeks later
to Hist ; " the varying moods familiar to the innocent heart of
the boy in his first love, the enthusiastic tenderness that found
vent in happy melancholy and universal good-will to all crea-
tion, these lay far, far behind me like a lovely dream, and no
wish had power to call them back. But now I feel again as I


did then. How is this possible in a man of my age ? how can
I, whose heart has been so tempest-tossed by time and by the
world ; how can I, who have known so much, sinned so often,
return thus to the innocent fondness wliich nestles in the
newlj-awakencd heart of a boy ; for I can call it nothing
else ? I feel like a child, 1 cry to myself ' Awake, and pray ;'
but there is no discord, no warning voice within ; I can pray
and hold the most fervent communion with my dear Caroline

Perthes was thoroughly aware of the strength of the influ-
ence he was under. A few days later he again wrote to Rist :
— " I know that, when an attachment has once taken posses-
sion of the human heart, the balance is lost, and self-deception
is almost unavoidable. There then remains but one way, pro-
saic yet sure, of discerning right from wrong ; and that is to
prove one's heart's desire by a reference to the claims of others.
Do I, in following my own heart's impulses, interfere with any
man's right, disturb any man's peace ? am I hindered in the
activity which my calling requires, and can I fulfil my duty to
her (Charlotte's) children, without failing in duty towards my
own ? I feel that increasing sorrow, on account of these poor
little invalids, would await me, and that in regard to them I
should have no easy task ; but without a participation in this
trial, I should not feel justified in uniting their mother's destiny
to mine."

Perthes' decision was taken in the middle of September,
but he did not declare himself till a month later. The answer
he received was favourable, but not decisive, and time was
asked for calm consideration. Perthes had believed that
such a delav would have suited him exactlv, but he was


mistaken. In tliese days of suspense he wrote confiden-
ally to Rist, saying, " I need just now the heart of a friend,
and desire that you should know all." Perthes' correspond-

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 36)