Clement Theodore Perthes.

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

. (page 13 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ence at this period mirrors with wonderful accuracy the state
of his inner man. One letter runs thus : — " I am horrified
at myself: — am I a fool and self-deceived, or am I really
to bear the joys and sorrows of youth, and to battle with
this unspeakably excitable heart to the end of my days ? I
wrote to her that she was to say No, if she was unable to say
Yes with all her heart, and that her refusal would find and
leave me tranquil. I wrote that with perfect sincerity, and
now her refusal would shatter me, and her consent give me new
life." And yet these letters of his, overflowing as they do with
intense feeling, are written under the fullest consciousness of
his own inward condition, and shew that he was able to analyze
and estimate it coolly and impartially. In one letter he says,
" I feel as if every one who saw me must think to himself,
' Ought passion to hold such sway over a man of his age?'"
In another, " I have had of late new experience and new in-
sight into the deep places of tlie human heart, and this season
of conflict will have a permanent influence on me for time and
for eternity." In short, in Perthes we find united the passion-
ate youth and the middle-aged man, and the latter watches
and even lauglis at the former. He tells Rist : — " I w^rite to
Chatty, and get answers from lier ; but our correspondence is
carried on very secretly in books that I send and she returns.
It is a pity that Kotzebue is no more — he would be charmed
with the whole story." To another friend he says, — " All hu-
man affairs have their comic side ; if Cliavlotte becomes my
wife, being as she is my son-in-law's sister, I shall be my


daughter's broth er-in-law, and Becker will be his sister's son !"
But the seriousness and stable good sense of the man finally
won the mastery. He says to Rist : " It were indeed sad, if
all the labour and discipline of my past life were to be in
vain. I have a firm will, and with faith and prayer shall get
over this ere long."

However, such a state of excitement could not long continue
without obtaining a decision one way or another. The 25th
October was the day of betrothal. Perthes wrote to Rist : —
" Charlotte had always felt towards me esteem and confidence ;
now the fervour of my love has conquered her, and she is
mine. The storm is laid, and I am again at rest ; but I do not
believe that my peace was ever more deeply disturbed," Some-
what later he writes, — " We have had some weeks of quiet
intercourse, and easily understand each other's inner life, though
this understanding is of quite another kind from that which ex-
isted between my Caroline and myself. Indeed, the characters
of the two are so dissimilar, that it is impossible to bring them
into one and the same picture. I cannot compare them — each
of them stands apart in my thoughts. Our relation to the
outer world is rendered singular by the circumstance of Char-
lotte's having first known me in Gotha, where, a stranger
amongst strangers, I am cut ofi" from all connexion with the
friends and transactions of my earlier life. Thus all the letters
that I receive must needs appear to her fragments of an unfa-
miliar and antiquated world. It is impossible to me to give
a connected account of myself, that is, of the external facts of
my early life ; I must trust to Charlotte's gradually finding
them out."

Towards the end of December, Perthes writes: — ''Behind


me lies a year filled with anxieties, occupations, conflicts, and
experiences; before me a period which will not be less rich in
all these, and will bring me more work than ever. Free as
I was a little time ago, I was able to embark at once in
important measures connected with my new calling, with-
out any painful anxiety as to my means. But now, greater
foresight and increased effort are necessary, and hard con-
tinuous labour is the path my nature points out for me. So
I need not fear that Charlotte should be obliged to take
time from her children to devote it to me ; indeed, it is a
blessing to me that she should have her special duties to
fulfil, for a woman who depended upon me for the filling u})
of her time, would make me wretched. Our common task
is to labour, watch, and pray, and God will add his blessing
and support."

In February 3 825, Perthes went to Berlin, where he re-
mained till the middle of March. " I thank God, I thank Him
with all my heart," he says in his first letter to his betrothed,
" that He has led me to thee, thou dear, pious, noble soul. Thy
letter lies before mc ; between ourselves, I have kissed it just as
a youth might do ; and why should I not ? If feeling be true,
it is always young, though time and the world may have aged
the features. Thy letter makes me very happy. My Charlotte,
all that thou sayest springs from so simple and upright a mind,
that it promises a firm and perfect understanding between us.
Thou wishest to be strengthened, elevated in spirit by me, as
I was by my Caroline. Dear Charlotte, I know, indeed, that I
can lead thee to a knowledge that affords security for thy
whole being, yet a security only for what thou already hast ; for
God has been with thee in thy trials, and He is with thee still.


God lias been, and is with me also, and I have the knowledge of
eternal truth ; but thou art purer, better, more stable than I.
I have an excitable fervent heart of love, but formerly, my
beloved Charlotte, it was Caroline that sustained me, and thou,
too, wilt have enough to do. Hold me fast to thy heart. My
restless spirit needs to be restrained by the arm of love, and
by the eye of love that looks to Heaven." A few days
later, he says, " My heart is true and loving, but much that
is unstable, wild, transient, impulsive, and uncontrolled, still
lives and stirs in me, and the repose of age is as far off as ever.
But take me as I am, — have patience with me, — love me !
Thou must support me, and I, too, shall support thee, — that
I know well."

In the middle of March, Perthes returned to Gotha, but he
was soon obliged to leave it again for Leipsic. On the 15th of
May he was married. On the day following he wrote to Besser:
"I parted from you in Leipsic with deep emotion. Standing
at the gate of a new life, it seemed as though I was bidding an
eternal farewell to you, the companion of my earlier days. The
coach that carried me off seemed transformed into a ship, that
bore away the sailor from his familiar scenes into an unknown
waste. My past lay behind me like the receding shore, becoming
more and more indistinct each moment, and my future stretched
out before me like the wide untried ocean, in which no anchor
that I cast would hold. The evening before last, I returned
with bleeding heart and mind to Gotha, and Charlotte alone
restored me to peace and security. Yesterday morning, at
seven o'clock, we were married, and we spent the day in such
quiet as we could. To-day the newly united family have sat
down to our first dinner, and I feel marvellously composed and


peaceful." A week later, Perthes writes : — " I have never
in all my life felt such thorough satisfaction and security
respecting any step I have taken. I feel as though the peace
of God had settled upon me, and accordingly I say, ' God be
praised.' "

Although the rest after which Perthes yearned throughout
life was certainly not conferred upon him by his new connexion,
yet this second marriage proved a source of blessing and happi-
ness greater even than he had anticipated ; though, on the other
hand, it made many claims upon him. He had not only to pro-
vide for the education of his three youngest children, but he
was now responsible for four step-children beside. At the age
of fifty-three he had to begin a new and complicated domestic
career, and to fulfil many duties commonly reserved for the
high spirits of earlier life. In addition to all this, four children
were born to him : Rudolph in 1827, Caroline in 1828, Augus-
tus in 1830, and Eliza in 1832. The illnesses of the children,
the care of their education, and the noise of a large household,
certainly affected his excitable nature more than they do that
of most men ; but not for a single moment did he feel them a
burden : on the contrary, the feeling of gratitude for the happi-
ness conferred upon him, remained with him till his death.
He wrote as follows to Niebuhr : — " I have won a great trea-
sure : I am loved with woman's utmost tenderness, and my
Charlotte's noble mind discovers nothing in me which lessens
her esteem."

Perhaps any second marriage would have proved a blessing
to Perthes, at all events this second marriage was so to such an
extent, that they who knew him intimately could not imagine
what would have become of him had it not been broucfht about.


He himself says, " I feci in deep humility how great are tlie
claims that God may justly make upon mo. Even in my later
years he lias done great things to preserve love alive in me ;
and though I spake with tlie tongues of men and angels, and
liad not love, what were I but sounding brass and a tinkling
rvmbal 1"

VOL. II. 15




A FEW weeks after the wedding, the baths at Ems were
recommended for the two sick chiklrcn. Perthes resolved to
travel with them, and he spent July there. Soon after his
arrival we find him writing : — " Here I have once more narrow
valleys and ravines, thick woods, green meadows, springs, and
brooks, and I am quite contented with them, and laugh at
those who can complain of the ennui and monotony of Ems,
with such glorious nature all round them.

"People of rank frequent the springs only from six to eight
in the morning, and at seven in the evening. The rest of the
day they spend in their own apartments. This exclusiveness
offends the inferior nobility, the men of learning, the Frankfurt
bankers, the Hamburgh and Bremen merchants, who, however,
revenge themselves by an exclusiveness of their own, for they
on their part shun all intercourse with agriculturists, browsers,
and tradespeople in general. Such are the difi*crcnt grades, and
amongst them all, the Ems doctors go bustling about, parading
their little knowledge in lofty phrases, and though merely ob-
scure practitioners in a little Nassau village for nine months in
the year, making the greatest eiforts to play the first-rate phy-
sician for the season."


As for Perthes, lie wandered over liill and dale in all direc-
tions, saw his old friend Ullrich in Coblentz, and in Sayn
his sister-in-law, Anna Jacobi, who had come from Siegburg to
bid farewell to the dying pastor Boos, the companion of Goszner.
In Ems itself tliere was no lack of interesting society. " We
see a great deal," wrote Perthes, " of Professor Sack of Bonn,
who has married the second daughter of my old Max Jacobi,
and we have made a very pleasant acquaintance with the
Orientalist Umbreit of Heidelberg. I am often challenged to a
morning walk, and an unrestrained conversation by Count Bern-
storff the Prussian minister for foreign affairs, and, while at the
springs, I watch Maria von Weber with sympathy, and Borne
with curiosity, both being here at present. Last Thursday I
went along that beautiful road to Nassau, in order to call upon
Stein there : he received me indeed, but was not alone, having
with him, amongst other bestarred gentry, Kotschubey, Russian
minister of the Interior. It was interesting to hear the con-
versation of the latter, who had taken a sick daughter two
years ago to Marseilles, thence to Ischia, thence to the shores
of the Volga, thence to certain baths in the Caucasus, and had
now brought her to Ems. These excursions of a delicate girl in
search of health, afford a true type of the dimensions of every-
thing Russian. The nobles of that nation form the flying
bridge between the civilized and the Asiatic world. When one
listens to them, all the proceedings of others seem to shrink.
When Orlow's work on Naples was mentioned, Kotschubey
began to praise the good influence of the French dominion in
Naples ; men had been educated under it, he said, who, in the
liands of a strong government, would prove admirable instru-
ments for drawing the country and its inhabitants from the


mire in M'liich tliey had long been sunk. Botli Kotschubcy
and Stein pronounced Cancrin, the Russian minister of finance,
a clever man of business, full of talent and information ; but
Kotschubcy added that his German ideology was unbearable,
and Avould be the ruin of him. This contempt for the German
character, and admiration of the French, is a Prussian charac-
teristic. AYhcn the conversation turned upon Greek events,
Kotschubcy said, that, although he never meddled with foreign
politics, his priv^ate opinion was that these Greeks and their
independence would continue by sea, if even they were con-
quered on land. Stoin having begged me to pay him another
visit, I went again to Nassau on Sunday last, and found him
alone. He spoke long and with much animation of all that he
had witnessed, and, when Napoleon's residence in Vienna dur-
ing 1809, and the attempt to assassinate him at Schonbrunn,
were touched upon, he dwelt with great fervour upon the ini-
quity and folly of seeking to deliver a nation by such a deed as
that. "To do one's part, to trust in God, and to wait, that,"
said ho, "' is the proper course. God guides the world, and
without him men are nothing. "When, in 1777, I left the uni-
versity and entered upon life, many clever but impatient people
believed that Europe Avould be ruined by great armies and bad
governments, — later, the end of all things was expected from
the French Revolution and the sway of Napoleon ; and now,
universal ruin is to result, according to some, from the mon-
archical principle, the Holy Alliance, Metternich and Gentz; and
according to others, from liberalism ; but, spite of them all, the
world will endure." Stein expressed himself with fearless open-
ness respecting the king of Prussia, the Crown Prince, Catho-
licism and the dread of it, respecting Voss, and Paulus, l)e


Wette's deposition, and the learned in general. Count Bern-
storif he called a verj noble man, though without pretending to
conceal his weak side. That same Sunday evening was a gay
one at Ems, the Crown Prince and Princess being expected ; bon-
fires were lighted on the mountains, and illuminated boats glided
on the Lahn, throwing over the whole region, with its jagged
peaks, a most marvellous splendour. Niebuhr had been ordered
to Ems by the Prince ; he was most cheerful and vigorous in
high society, most kind and cordial to us. I was introduced
by him to Count Groben, who accompanied the Prince as
adjutant. To have chosen three such men as Niebuhr,
Groben, and BernstorfF, as travelling companions, betokens no
common order of mind. When they all left, Niebuhr alone
was in the same carriage with the Prince. These two men,
seated side by side, were a singular spectacle. It is curious to
watch how the constellations of Ems rotate, in different orbits,
according to the rising and setting of the suns which shine suc-
cessively upon them. The Prussians behave more independently,
and so do two English generals, who go about silently and
sulkily, looking like two great old house-dogs, amidst the yelp-
ing of a pack of small ones. Opposite our house lodges Prince
Narischkin of Odessa, with his lovely young wife ; it is im-
possible to live more naturally and simply than they do, and
they are on the friendliest terms with their numerous retinue
of servants. It is refreshing to see how our better nature will
often assert itself in individuals, even when pride and pomp of
family, wealth, and position, have reached their utmost limits."
After Perthes' return to Gotha, his business required his
whole activity, and the following year was a most laborious one.
While prosecuting his new calling with energy and success, he


was threatened with the rending of the dear tie that bound hmi
to his past life in Hamburgh. Johann Heinrich Besser had been
during that life his most intimate friend. After Caroline's
death Perthes had written to him thus : — " You are now the
only man who knows all about me that one mortal can know
about another, and, besides, you are the bridge connecting me
with my earlier days, whicli else were entirely buried."

Besser's had always been a remarkable character, and so it
continued till the end. Frommann described him as one of the
most benevolent and loveable men he had ever met with, as
well as a remarkably well-informed one : and Perthes echoes
this opinion in many of his letters. " What Besser was in
mind," says he, "he was, not by elaboration, but by intui-
tion, which advanced him far beyond the mere logician. His
views of the world, of men, and things, were grounded upon
revealed truth, and a fine moral sense, and one might almost
always trust the correctness of his impressions. Whatever his
hands found to do he commenced with all his might, and if the
matter were really of importance, or concerned the welfare of
another, he was capable of the greatest energy and self-sacrifice;
but in little everyday affairs, he was too apt, after an enthu-
siastic beginning, to let them drop. He would jot down a thou-
sand schemes connected with business or with literary under-
takings; his plans for Christmas Trees and other family festivals
always exceeded the possible, and there were no limits to his
delight in giving away. He had a true and loving feeling for
nature — the beauty of a landscape would move him to tears.
As for music he lived and moved in it, and a tune would haunt
him for entire weeks. At such times he would try to be
alone to sing it, and one would hear it proceeding from all


sorts of hiding-places. In enjoyment he woukl go to the verge
of exhaustion, and good convivial company made him only too
happy. He rose very early, often at three or four o'clock ;
but sleep had great power over him, and towards evening, with
pen in hand, and a grey-worsted caj^ on his head, he would take
a short nap, and then go on writing briskly. In great things
he was simple and unrequiring ; but he had a thousand small
peculiarities ; for instance, when travelling, he always wore a
quantity of coats for the sake of the pockets he had got made
in them. Caroline, laughing, once counted twenty-one, all filled,
with scissors, penknives, combs, matches, pocket-books, &c.,
and as for the smoking apparatus it was infinite. Yet his
cheerfulness, as also the courage and decision he always dis-
played in mishaps, made him the best of travelling companions.
A thorough humorist, he was also a dear child of God, and a
singularly pure, strong-minded, able man.''

In another letter Perthes says : — " From his youth up Besser
had been subject to fits of despondency, during which he
doubted his own capacity for business, and saw everything
through a dark medium. These, his 'grey seasons,' as he
called them, never estranged him from me for an hour. I
knew how to humour them. In great occurrences he was
always energetic and courageous ; he bore real trials well, was
always ready for serious difficulties, and in the jDresence of
danger more calm and cheerful than I. He never lost his
balance in sorrow, but joy and sympathy easily carried him
away. Men who could appreciate his heart and mind found
him easy to live with ; to me he was a support, a delight, the
complement as it were of my own nature, and the dearest and
sincerest of friends."


This frieiitlsliip dated from their early years. So far back
as 1794, Perthes wrote to Besser: " If you come you will find
me, and do come soon ; much weighs upon my heart, which I
can share only with you." When the two friends had resolved
to be partners in business, Perthes wrote again to Besser,
who was then in Gottingen : " Dear good Hans, once more in
this old year I stretch out my hand to thee — thou good true-
hearted man. God grant us many years of faithful friend-
ship, and keep us together to the last ! " A few months later
he wrote : " Come soon, we have much to do together ; come
soon, I need your counsel, I need a friend." Thirty years had
elapsed since these words were i^enncd, and during them he
had always found in Besser the counsel and the friendship
he sought. It is not often that two men so closely united
spend a long life so free from variance. They had everything
in common, all matters, great and small, connected with their
business, their religious and political convictions, and their
social condition. Perthes once wrote to Besser, — " In great
matters we have willed and endeavoured the same things, which
is not rare in times like ours ; but we have also been at one in
the small every-day aifairs of human life, and that without any
eiFort on either side, which is an example of unity rarely met
with." In money matters, too, Perthes and Besser had always
viewed their interests as identical, their relations to each other
not being settled by written agreement, but each taking what-
ever share of the profits the expenses of his household required."
But when, in 1821, Perthes thought of retiring from the busi-
ness, an arrangement of affairs became necessary. Accord-
ingly-, in July 1821, he wrote to Besser: — "We have, in all
honour and fairness, borne the burden of life as brothers ; we


have shared our joys and sorrows ; worked together as friends,
and been of one mind in all our undertakings. Meum and
tiium were words unknown to us. For tliis I tliank you, you
thank me, and we both thank God, yet such a state of things
cannot continue, because we are bound to take the death of
one or the other into consideration." After Perthes had ex-
plained the reasons for his removal to Gotha, he adds, " My
services in the business can be more easily dispensed with now,
especially as it will find a new support in Mauke, whom we
have known from his youth. He is a man of inflexible up-
rightness, active and orderly, and for many branches of the
business far more fitted than myself. You, too, will gain in
consolidation of character by being obliged to depend upon
yourself alone, for, in consequence of your poetical nature, you
still retain the ingenuousness of youth. Ever since you entered
into the business, you have allowed me a certain deciding power,
and never objected to my impetuous temperament assuming
a degree of authority. I do not indeed believe that I ever
abused it, and I was never intentionally arbitrary, but yet I
may have been oppressive, though your affection sometimes
allowed it to pass. If you now undertake the management
alone, freedom of action will give you a new impetus, and you
will find yourself able to do what before you believed that
I only could accomplish. As to external arrangements, —
I consider that our merits in the business, our labour and
industry, talent and information, are equal, that each has
his individual excellence, consequently that all we have belongs
to us equally, — lialf being yours, and half mine. Between you
and me there need be no tiresome weighing out of separate
details ; you would gladly give me more tlian belongs to me,


and I would gladly give you more than you ask — notliing is
needed but to find out liow the business can be left to you in
a flourishing state, and liow I may remain free from anxiety for
myself and mine." To this letter Besser only replied, "I must
protest against your views, as if, forsooth, you had not had,
before accepting our communio honorum, something in hand of
your own, and as if I were altogether an ingenuous poetical
nature, and were not as old as yourself

The death of Caroline had accelerated Perthes' retirement
from his Hamburgh business, and, as soon as he was settled in
Gotha, a constant correspondence began between the friends.
In little more than four years, Perthes wrote two hundred and
fifty letters to Besser, and received nearly as many in return.
The progress of the book-trade was their chief purport ; but,
besides this, they touched upon the events, great and small, of
domestic life, upon their own experiences, external and inter-
nal, their joys and sorrows, their political and religious views ;