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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and they were for the most part very concisely expressed, as,
from having lived so long together, a word was enough to make
their mutual meaning plain. Perthes' afi^ction for Besser is
frequently expressed. In the autumn of 1823, having just
returned from Hamburgh to Gotha, he writes to him : — " My
dear friend, we have met, and shall yet meet again ; but were
this not to be so, I feel in my heart that, if love and truth
may last beyond the bounds of this transitory and prisoned
state, ours will be eternal." Again, after a visit of Besser's
to Gotha, Perthes says : — " A week ago, beloved brother, you
were standing where I stand now, and your presence still
lingers within and around me. However difi'erent we may be
in externals, yet everv occasion of our beins: together afibrds


additional evidence of our real oneness, and this fills my heart
with peace. This oneness is our great treasure. Your last
words are very true, we are bound to thank God for it." In
the autumn of 1825, Perthes writes again: — "My dear brother,
I have long been pained by your silence. I do not want you
to write about business, but I yearn for something written by
and about yourself."

It was about this time that Besser's health began to fail ;
and, in consequence of this, he had fits of deep melancholy,
which often found vent in his letters to his old friend, who
tried to comfort him, now in one way, now in another. " It
is your body which again inflicts upon you the well-known
' grey season,' and no one is perfect master over bodily moods,
but sometimes you are needlessly uneasy about your ability
to get through the work that lies before you. You might
very often scare away the ' grey' mood, by calmly considering
how trivial are the causes of your anxiety, and with what ease
you have overcome such before. But, indeed, I know only too
Avell how it is with man; the head may be weary, and the heart
full of love and devotion, or, on the contrary, the head clear,
and the heart barren and cold ; but sorrow weighs down head
and heart alike, just as joy brightens both." In another
letter, he says : " I know that you are often conscious of great
bodily depression ; you call it sickness, but this has been your
case ever since I have known you, and it is necessary to be as
intimate with you as I am to appreciate fully the wealth and
clearness of your mind. So you see you announce nothing new
to me, and I can only reply, ' Take courage, till life's phantas-
magoria are over.' I, too, have been ailing these last few days,
and then I felt as though I had been presumptuous in begin-


niiig life anew, and uniting- another's existence to my own ;
but, however, I let my Charlotte comfort me, and she does so
effectually." Again we find Perthes writing, " You say that
life becomes a burden ; so it must to us all as we grow old :
but we should try to accustom ourselves to a new race of
men, or rather to the same men differently dressed, on whom
the divine Father still looks down with a smile, as in the
Berlin painting. While we live we must put up with novelty,
but I shall be glad to die ; one gets tired of evermore
picking off one husk after another from the kernel of truth."
The sufferer wrote in reply, during the summer of 1826, " You
have found out, though I was unwilling to trouble you
about it, that, for some months past, my spirits have been
much depressed. I am always expecting better days, and
they will come, I know, but this physical and mental ex-
haustion gives me many dark hours. Dejection and faint-
heartedness do not improve the health, and body and mind
react unfavourably on each other. I deserve reproaches for
not being happy in my happy circumstances, and I expect
them from you, but sympathy as well. Ask for me strength
and courage from Him who alone can give them." Perthes
replied as follovvs : " Ignorant as I am of your present cir-
cumstances, it is difficult for me to write to you, my dearly
loved brother. I see that your spirits are depressed, and knew
it indeed before you stated it plainly, but I know not whence
this depression comes. Deeply grieved indeed I am, but how
reach out a helping, comforting hand ? You speak of your
' li^^PPJ circumstances,' and you are right. The companion of
your life, the mother of your children, stands at your side in
the prime of life ; your children grow up satisfactorily, you


can look at them all with glad hope, and you have given your
daughter to the worthy, true-hearted Mauke, who is at the
same time a support to you. You have friends who cordially
love you, you enjoy great social consideration, your means are
lil>cral and independent, and, if it pleased God to take you
away, not one in a thousand could feel equally at ease as to
the temporal Avellbeing of those left behind. God has greatly
hlessed you, and you yourself own it when you sa.j, — ' I de-
serve reproaches for not being happy.' Now, as to happiness,
commonly so called, only the innocent child, or the day-dream-
ing youth can really experience it. The carncst-mindcd man
cannot thus be happy, it is only the shallow and self-sufficient
who can trifle on gaily through life. For hero nothing endures ;
what most we love is torn away ; all is brittle and perisha\)le, and
we ourselves are but broken reeds. Our heart overflows witli
love to some dear object, and yet how imperfect the union, how
weak the sympathy ! And even be who knows that love to
God is the only enduring love, and that it is the only anchor of
the soul, how deeply he feels that he can but seldom draw near
to his Father with perfect resignation and sincerity. Who, then,
can be happy in such a state as this ? We are not to be so,
nay, we are to feel that we lie in chains, that we live in an
element uncongenial to our nature, and, fighting humbly and
manfully, we are to follow the light that leads us out of our
darkness. Now all this, dear brother, you not only know but
feel. So long as I have known you, you have been loving and
loveable to all around you, you have never given way to pride
or vanity ; you have endured hardness and weariness in full
reliance upon God, and the way of reconciliation through his
Son has long been open to you. Therefore the core of your


being must be sound, the burden is only a material one, it is
your body that oppresses you, and physical causes reach deep
down, not only appearing in actual disease, but exercising
an invisible influence over the spirit itself. Your bodily
frame is not in unison with your loving nature, your lively
fancy and elastic activity ; therefore you have always felt
liampered and have become a humorist, who has good and bad
hours and days, and many a sudden alternation of sun and
shower to undergo. Even in your youth you had dark seasons
when you shrank within yourself for fear of grieving others :
and now tliat your blood is no longer young, you need not be
surprised if the old enemy return, and cast a dark pall over
everything. . You have been weaving again a dark web of feel-
ing and thought, which holds you fast as though it were of iron
strength, while in reality it is but a spider's web. Tear your-
self away from it all, for three or four weeks, I beseech you.
I demand this as your friend and brother ; I demand it for
the sake of your family and that of the business. Tear your-
self away and come to us ; make up your mind and set ofi' with-
out delay."

Besser did not come, but he recovered somewhat. However,
the improvement was not lasting. On the 6th of December
tidings reached Gotha of Besser's having been fatally attacked
by nervous fever. In a few hours Pcrtlies was on his way,
travelling day and night, and reached Ilarburg on the even-
ing of the 8th, too late however to cross the Elbe. A news-
paper lying in the inn apprised him of Besser's death five days
before. He wrote home: — "I arrived too late, they had
already buried my beloved Besser. In him I have lost the
friend of my youtli, the only one who knew what I am, and


liow I became what I am. Many have experienced his affec-
tion and benevolence, but I alone fully knew the capacities
of his mind. We had been friends in joy and sorrow for more
than thirty years."

Besser's death brought about another change in Perthes'
outward circumstances. " You see, my dear friend," says he
in a letter to Niebuhr, " that I am in my old place once more,
and must go out again into the great market, where I did not
wish to end my days. It is almost impossible that Mauke,
able and worthy as he is, should carry on so large a busi-
ness alone." However, it did not prove necessary, as Perthes
had feared, that he should return to Hamburgh ; but hence-
forth all manner of hard work Avas added to the joyful and sor-
rowful events with which his life was filled. Children and
grandchildren were born to him, and manifold were the sick-
nesses and deaths, pleasures and anxieties, which agitated the
large family circle. In 1827, Perthes lost his eldest step-son,
and he writes thus concerning him : — " We could not but wish
to see him freed from his sufferings, but even I miss the boy's
sweet, sad look, and his affectionate ways more than I could
have supposed. Our little Rudolph is a real godsend to his
mother, and even in her grief she cannot resist his liveliness
and loveliness." Perthes had, in 1827, taken his second son,
Clement, to Hamburgh, to attend the academical gymnasium
there, before entering the University. But the father's anxiety
was not decreased by this removal of his son from his imme-
diate care. A great number of distinguished men, too, paid
him longer or shorter visits during this period, amongst
Avhom were Ranke, Oken, Bunsen, Tholuck, Haller, Parish,
&c., &c. Perthes in his correspondence touches with pleasure


upon these visits. In one of his letters he says : " Hallcr of
Hamburgh was with me a few weeks ago ; his judgment and
penetration surprised me anew, and I truly esteem him for
having- in spite of them, preserved such a benevolent heart,
and such childlike ingenuousness.'" To Rist Perthes writes as
follows : " Your old friend Ilerbart of Konigsberg was here in
May, and I spent a very interesting day with him. He had a
sort of note-book in his head, devised to get information from
me respecting several things that had struck him in Germany.
lie was amazed at having found so little interest taken in
philosophy. Not only the men of average education, but even
the learned, nay, philosophers themselves had shewn a reluct-
ance to discuss philosophy, and he had often felt himself a
bore, when wishing to enter more deeply into questions of this
nature. He was equally surprised, at the interest taken in
religion and ( Jhurcli parties. When I on my side expressed
my surprise at Konigsberg being so far removed from the
current of German life, that its learned men were ignorant
of the now prevalent tendencies of Germany, he became very
animated and bestrode his philosophical hobby. I immediately
declared that as a bookseller I was in no way bound to under-
stand his philosophical idioms, and begged him to translate
them into good plain German. He then enunciated the
strangest aphorisms, and it was a real distress to him to be
obliged to speak as it were in a foreign language. However,
Herbart inspired me with both esteem and confidence. He is
evidently a tender-hearted man in spite of the iron mail lie has
donned, and by no means so stiff as he had been represented
to me ; but he seems to belong to a bygone age, and to have
narrow views on all subjects. He would find it difficult to liar-


monize with his contemporaries, and all the more so, because
he would require them to harmonize with him. He is not de-
ficient in penetration, but whether he is profound or not I
cannot decide. I thought I remarked a want of imagination.
We parted well pleased wnth each other."

In Gotha itself, Perthes was fortunate in renewing his ac-
quaintance with Wilhelm He}^, who had been appointed court
preacher in the beginning of the year 1828. Hey, who, a few
years later, as the author of " Fifty Fables for Children,"
met with a loving reception in all German nurseries, was a
man of extraordinary liveliness and sensibility. The extent of
his information, his wit and talents for conversation, interested
people at once : and his piety, kindness, and benevolence won
all hearts, and kept them fast. In 1825, Perthes had com-
mitted his youngest boy to Hey's care, and when the latter
came to Gotha, habits of greater intimacy sprang up between
them. Perthes writes in 1829, " Every day I live Hey becomes
dearer to me, and I know that he loves me too ; he is, indeed, a
friend, and I cannot be thankful enough to God for giving me
such a companion in my later years." Another time he writes :
" This good man's translation to Gotha has been a real bless-
ing to me. At first, our religious views came into pretty rude
collision, but I always recognised the deep fundamental Chris-
tianity in his heart, and he soon perceived that my firm con-
victions do not narrow my sympathies. For many years he has
had severe inner conflicts to endure. In his long solitude in
that retired village, the sad sufferings and death of his wife
were God's method of teaching him ; and he has learnt to deny
himself, without self-annihilation ; and to renounce the world
without living a monkish life."

VOL. II. '•''


Perthes found no time for connected studies, sucli as he had
entered upon during the first years of his life in Gotha. " I had
lioped/' he once wrote, " yet to learn and to acquire information
of different kinds, but now that I have once more embarked on
the business of life, I must give it up ; and after all 'tis no
great matter. I have found the way to the knowledge of eter-
nal truth ; as for what concerns my calling, I know as much
as is actually needed, and for the rest, however valuable in
itself, I can dispense with it." However, Perthes no more
discontinued the daily reading of historical, theological, and,
above all, biographical works, than he did his rambles on
foot, over the hills that surrounded him. In the autumn of
1829 he was absent from Gotha longer than usual, on a visit to
his second son Clement, then a student at Bonn. From Bonn
he wrote as follows : " As far as Frankfurt I had as fellow-
traveller, a young man, whose appearance, manner, and con-
versation attracted me much : in the evening I sat next him
at table ; he was on his way to Paris. Taking him for an artist
or a military man, I surmised that he was going there to per-
fect himself in science or art. He replied that he went to
acquire culinary skill, having obtained an appointment in the
royal kitchen ; and he did not blush, though I did. The steam-
boat left Mayence at six in the morning, and twelve of us walked
down, in the bright moonlight, to the boat, all half asleep, save
one who was wide awake and melancholy, a missionary on his
w^ay to Antwerp for India ; — a strange spectral procession we
formed. It was one of the loveliest mornings of my life. The
Rheingau lay all glowing in the sunrise. Suddenly, at Bingen,
a black cloud came on, hiding even near objects from us, but
the sun soon pierced it, and lighted up the narrow ravine. At


Coblentz I went to my favourite spot, the confluence of the
Moselle with the Rhine; I had visited it in 1816, 1823, and
1825, and each time I had been deeply impressed, and left it
with sorrow. So it was on this occasion, but why I know not/'
While in Bonn, Perthes again spent most of his time w^ith
Niebuhr. He writes of him thus : — " On seeing Niebuhr,
after a long interval, I always experience a painful degree
of shyness ; because in spite of his intellectual greatness,
his universal knowledge, and his keen discrimination, I am
conscious that I take a truer view of many subjects than he
does, and, consequently, often feel myself obliged to oj^pose
him in spite of his superiority. Added to this, the strange,
almost unpleasant peculiarities of his manner; for example,
his restless walking up and down the room all the time
he is talking. But this shyness soon gives way, his natu-
ral candour and good-heartedness triumphing over all. I
am more than ever struck with the singularities of his cha-
racter, and yet I never found him so cordial or so gentle.
His emotion at joarting overcame me much. He came to me
twice after I had taken leave, and said, with tears in his eyes,
' I have hardly one other old friend like you.' Niebuhr is
happy in his present situation, and with his present employ-
ment, and yet were a political post offered him, he would hardly
refuse it. His political opinions are not irrevocably fixed :
once he remarked that time corrected many of his judgments ;
that he now justified much that he once condemned, and con-
demned much that he once justified ; and that thus he had be-
come more cautious in his decisions. This time, too, he avoided,
evidently on purpose, all conversation about religion. When he
disputed Schiller's influence being beneficial to youth, I asked


him whether he himself remembered any interval between the
personal experience of the boy and the learned man. He grew
melancholy and was silent. But it is very certain that Niebuhr
never had a season of youtli, yet he now exercises an extra-
ordinary influence over youth. Young Dr. Classen of Ham-
burgh, with his industry, acquirements, and sincere attachment,
was, he told me, a daih'^delight to him. One of Niebuhr's strange
peculiarities is his stammering, not over words but sentences ;
he will repeat the same sentence six or seven times in the most
different ways. The reason is, that owing to his wide range of
imagination and immense amount of information, language can-
not keep pace with his thoughts. Bonn has again made a very
favourable impression upon me ; it possesses a great number of
learned men, and society combines refinement of manner and
cordiality, with a decidedly scientific tone. The town itself is
cheerful, and the students have a fresh, free, youthful aspect,
without any eccentricities of dress or manner." Perthes, accom-
panied by his son, went one day from Bonn to see some old
friends of the family of Hasenclever, at Ehringhausen, a centre
of the iron trade, in all its branches. "Here," he writes, " every-
thing appeared to me as if it were already centuries old, and
would endure for centuries to come — nothing is obsolete, yet
nothing is new-fashioned. The three brothers who conduct this
business, — founded by an ancestor in the seventeenth century,
— are patriarchal men, shrewd, true-hearted, modest, hind, and
resolute. This hilly country, with its numberless valleys and
brooks, forms a world apart in which one feels singularly at
liome." At Elberfeld Perthes spent a few days, partly in old
reminiscences, with Keetmann, partly in animated conversation
with Rauschenbusch, Becher, and some others ; but the place


itself did not please him. He writes of it thus : — " Eiberfeld has
made a disagreeable impression upon me, — the contrasts in this
human market are too great: bloated mercliants, and a ragged
famished crew, with emaciated forms, and faces pale with in-
ward unrest ; and then, at night, its streets noisy with drunken,
riotous men to a degree I have seldom witnessed. It is true
that in every place the stranger is most struck with the
extremes and excrescences, and doubtless, even in Eiberfeld,
there is no want of connecting links between such and the in-
tellectual Rauschcnbusch, the erudite Becher, and the refined
circle in which I spent a very pleasant evening." In the be-
ginning of November, Perthes returned to Gotha, and spent
the winter in strenuous exertion.



Perthes' theological press. — 1822-1830.

When Perthes first established his new publishing office, it
was chiefly with a view to issue historical works ; but, even while
in Hamburgh, he had already undertaken certain theological
treatises, and his lively interest in the ecclesiastical and religious
movements of his own time, as well as his personal acquaint-
ance with many leading theologians, led him, according to his
custom of linking his spiritual life with his outward calling,
to become a theological publisher.

Perthes had known Neander from liis early years, and
had published his "Julian." In December 1822, he had
written to him, ''Your 'Julian' is but a fragment; will you
not extend the fragment into a whole ? I heartily wish that
you would give us a connected history of Christianity under
Constantino and Julian, this period appearing to my own mind
ever more and more important the more I read respecting it."
These words, as Neander often declared, gave the first impe-
tus to his " Universal History of the Christian Religion and
Church." As early as January 1823, he wrote to Perthes in
reply : " Your challenge will not have been in vain. The
whole period from Constantino to Julian is closely connected,
and affords scope for many practically important reflections.
The book on Julian, whicli I have not seen for vears, and of


which I do not possess a copy, must be written over again,
for which I hope I shall have time and strength." In the
autumn of 1824, Ncander visited Gotha, and stated that he
had attempted to recast his " Julian," but had given it up,
as he had now determined to write a detailed Church History.
" God give Neandcr health and strength to finish the work,"
said Perthes to a friend ; " perhaps there is not one who, at the
present time, can do so much as he for Christianity. Neander,
in his character of faithful historian, will most probably refute
himself better than any one else could do, and prove the neces-
sity of a visible Church."

In the summer of 1825, Perthes wrote to Rist : — "I have
got the MS. of the first part in my hands. The introductory
description of the Greek, Roman, and Jewish world at the
time of the introduction of Christianity, is a powerful sketch,
but I have already read something like it by Neander. In the
separate histories that follow, however, he has surprised me
by the simplicity of the narrative, the clearness of the critical
reflections, and the warmth and tenderness of many of the per-
sonal delineations. I am very curious to see how the theolo-
gical world will receive the book." Immediately upon reading
the MS., Perthes wrote to Neander, and received the follow-
ing answer : — " I thank you heartily for what you say about
my book ; the estimate of a man, whose judgment I so much
rely upon, cheers and delights me, for I always go to work
with fear and trembling, and the contrast between my per-
formance and my ideal casts me down. The responsibility
of such a work oppresses me at this critical fermenting epoch.
I should rejoice if God enabled me to be intelligible to the un-
learned, and yet to satisfy the demands of real learning, by


which, however, I do not understand the chiims of that preten-
tious all-criticising formula-loving school, wliich magnifies itself
here just now."

The first part of this celebrated work appeared in the autumn
of 1825. Rist wrote of it to Perthes as follows : — " I have
many objections to its form, the book being by no means well
put together. He who would write the history of those times,
should study Gibbon, not indeed because of the spirit he dis-
plays, but because of his noble and truly sublime arrangement.
As to the contents of the first volume, however, they have
thoroughly proved Neander's historical vocation. He possesses,
in an uncommon degree, extensive learning, sound criticism,
and what is more than all, a truly religious mind. This
makes up for all defects, and delights by its contrast with
the narrow formalism of the small ecclesiastical heroes of our
days. It is an admirable and thoroughly Christian book,
wliich prizes form less than spirit, and will be able to hold its
ground against all the attacks of the Antichrists who care for
nothing but form." — " Neander's work," wrote a friendly theo-
logian to Perthes, " is a characteristic exj^ression of our time,
and it will originate a powerful reaction. It bears the stamp

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 36)