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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sight. He wrote : " If any contribution possess genuine learn-
ing, whether exegetical, philological, dogmatical, or ecclesias-
tical, it must be received. It is also quite right that Paulus,
"Wegscheider, and Bretschneider should be allowed to insert
their scientific researches ; but it were a grievous pity that
Hengstenberg, Ptudelbach, Tholuck, and Schmieder, should
feel reluctant to do the same/' A leading theologian, to
whom Perthes had communicated an objection of the sort,
answered : — " You know that I cannot enter into the spirit of
many of the treatises, but I am still firmly convinced that, in
the present position of the Church, a combination of different
views, excluding only the extreme, is useful and desirable,
I differ from Hengstenberg as much as from Schleiermacher
or Ullmann ; why then should I not support this periodi-
cal, which demands no uniformity of opinion, rather than those
narrow and monotonous evangelical ones which would deprive
me of all freedom?" In another letter we find Perthes saying,
— " It might be necessary, however, to have contributions
which more decidedly express faith in revealed religion, than
the late numbers do. Although the work be not as a whole
intended for a devotional one, there need be no want of spiritual
thoughts, combining the deep things of our holy religion with
a simple pious spirit. I think, too, that the firm religious
ground, on which our editors take their stand, ought to be
more frequently and fully apparent, and that the theologians
whose learning is all of this world, should clearly perceive
that, though their researches are willingly admitted, they


themselves are looked upon not as colleagues, but as oppo-
nents." Perthes continued until his death to labour with
heart and soul in the cause of this undertaking, which gave
liim indeed much anxiety and trouble; but he enjoyed the
satisfaction of success, as well as of being brought into friendly
relations and frequent correspondence with such men as Lucke,
UUmann, and Umbreit. When he died, the editors wrote :
— " Perthes was more than the publisher of our periodical ;
he was the counsellor and fellow-labourer of his sincere friends
the editors."

Lively as was the interest taken by Perthes in the devo-
tional, historical, and dogmatical aspects of German theology,
the philosophical element which was ever more and more largely
introduced into it, continued to be for him a terra incognita.
He lacked the previous education, and, perhaps, the mental
organization necessary to understand it. Indeed, philosophy
itself had but little charm for him, nor was he without his
scruples, when Ranke informed him in 1825, that Heinrich
Ritter was going to bring out a History of Philosophy, and
wislied him to jmblish it. " The Germans," Perthes replied,
" have had an over-dose of philosophy, and are satiated for a
season, though, perhaps, not a long one ; for the German mind
will never be able to renounce the inquiry into the ultimate
causes of things in general. In a commercial point of view,
therefore, the publication of philosophical works is not attrac-
tive at present. On the other hand, your proposition relates to
a history of philosophy, and the taste of the day is in favour of
liistory. We possess no such work, and now that to the efforts
of our great philosophers an interval of repose has succeeded, it
may bo the very time to take a retrospect of tlie labours of


the human race. Our deepest spirits begin to surmise that
there is not much to be expected from human strength, and
tliat, if we are to discover truth, wisdom must be given from
above." Minor arrangements being rapidly made, the first part
of this comprehensive work appeared in 1829. Though Perthes
did not take in it that lively interest which he took in many
other of his publications, he was glad that it brought him into
close and lasting friendly relations with a man whom he loved
and respected to his life's end, and proud to have been the
publisher of a work of which Schleiermacher could write thus :
— " In Ritter's History of Philosophy you have again given us
a work of which you may well be proud. I wish Kitter strength
and courage to complete it."




Of the numberless letters written and received by Perthes,
the majoritj related to business, many to politics, and many
to ecclesiastical affairs : but he also received communications
from men of the most varied character, who asked bis advice,
his aid, or his sympathy, in circumstances the most miscella-
neous, sometimes the most singular.

One man, whom he had never seen, consulted him on the
choice of a wife. For six years this person had daily resolved
upon matrimony ; but the fear of embittering his whole future
life, by a mistaken choice, ever restrained him : he was now
thirty years of age, and felt certain that, left to himself, he
would remain undecided to the end of his days. " Choose for
me a bride," he wrote to Perthes, " and, at a word from you, I
shall set out, marry her, and, as long as I live, revere you as
the author of my happiness." To this " strange but honest
fellow," as Perthes called him in a letter to Besser, the follow-
ing answer was made : " Marry you must ; for yours is a case in
which science and business would not be adequate safeguards
against onesidedness. I am not one of those who liken the
choice of a wife to a man fumbling in a basket of snakes for the
single eel which is among them : I am rather inclined to think

VOL. IL ^^


that marriages are made in heaven, not, however, without the
co-operation of men. A frank boldness is required. Youthful
fancy is often most successful, catching at once the right ob-
ject, or being caught ; but whoever, like you, racks his brains,
and scrutinizes every possibility, finds of course on all sides
dano-erous rocks. You should remember that the absence of
positive badness is itself a great point in creatures such as we
are, and that too much positive goodness is not to be expected.
Look out, then, among the daughters of your own land ; and, if
that avail nothing, make a tour in the wide world. A man,
thirty years of age, should do nothing by halves, and if he go
to work with sound sense and an earnest purpose, God will be
his helper."

To another young man : " Beware of disclosing too freely
your religious convictions to the lady you name. Except in
marriage, a thorough understanding cannot exist between a
man and a woman : out of it they are enigmas to each other."

Again : " Instruction and training have comparatively
little influence on the position of women. A naturally in-
telligent woman shines everywhere, even with little acquired
knowledge and refinement : on the other hand, if she be no-
thing in herself, then, spite of all instruction and polish, she
appears awkward and common. A man, however, counts for
something, if he have but the superficial acquirements and
polish obtained by intercourse with the world, or if, though
stupid and awkward, he have learning.''

To a young man, whose age may be guessed at from twenty
to thirty : " In early youth every girl is charming, and the ob-
ject of desire : in the later years of manhood, again, one sees
in both girl and woman, above all things, our common hu-


manity ; we rejoice over the good, and put up with the bad ;
but at your time of life, a man is neither quite blind nor yet
perfectly open-eyed, and consequently his judgments are at

After congratulating Henry Ritter on his marriage, Perthes
continues : " Marriage is God's chief gift. The bachelor may,
indeed, accomplish great things in the outer world, but he can-
not penetrate into the inner life of men and things. The
community of earthly joys and sorrows in marriage discloses to
us the heaven of our origin and destiny. In the course of a
long married life, I have had much suffering and sorrow, much
care and anxiety : but, unmarried, I had not been able to

On another occasion : " As, since the introduction of Chris-
tianity, woman, from being a more instrument in the propaga-
tion of the species, and a beast of burden to man, has acquired
an independent position, and a distinct recognised value of her
own, so likewise man has made a step in advance. He has
begun to form ideals. First of all he idealized woman, and his
relation to her ; but this resulted in a disposition to idealize
everything — a disposition of which the Greeks and Romans,
and the whole ancient world knew nothing, but which has ex-
ercised an incalculable influence on modern history. Christi-
anity makes large and heavy claims in regard to the relation
between man and woman, such, indeed, as were never dreamt
of before : every man has now a secret history of his own in
regard to these claims ; and that history varies according as,
in his struggle to satisfy them, he has simply persevered,
actually conquered, or fairly succumbed. No third party
can be a witness of this struggle ; yet on its issue, the man's


whole life, as noble or base, useful or baneful, essentially

Having congratulated Rist, whose children were as yet all
voung, and at home, on his domestic happiness, Perthes con-
tinues : " This, too, is but for a time, and it will be far other-
wise when your children begin to entertain thoughts, wishes,
hopes, and views of their own, — when, one after another, they
leave the nursery and the house on their several ways. The
tcnderest strings of your parental heart will then be broken.
I have experienced it myself, and I may freely say so, as my
own children have given me cause only for joy ; still they go
their own way and must do so."

To a dear friend who sought consolation for himself and his
wife from Perthes, on occasion of their son's death : " To lose
a child ! What that means no man can know but by experi-
ence. From earliest chiklhood we indeed see that the ties of
affection are broken asunder: but wliat comfort does that
bring to the sorrowing father and mother ! Cling to one an-
other in your grief ; let neither conceal it from the other ;
do not try to calm one another down, but rather let your sorrow
flow out into a common stream ; it will then be changed into
a quiet happiness, and will unite you more intimately than
mere prosperity ever could have done. Cling to one another,
I say ; community of love changes the profoundest grief into a
blessing from God." On receiving a letter of thanks, in which
the same party acknowledges Perthes to have proved the best
comforter among all his friends, and adds, that henceforth the
period of unbroken domestic happiness lies behind him, like
an ancient world, Perthes writes again : " It is even so. From
the moment of a chikl's death, the parent's eye is dulled, and


the beauty of life gone. Every little accident, a cough, a change
in the tone of voice, excites cruel anxiety. All know, that a
family seldom remains unbroken, but no one applies the ob-
servation to himself, till a loved one is taken away, and then
he believes it indeed ; for deep down in his breast sorrow
gnaws on. The parent submits to the stroke, but cannot get
above it. Gone ! gone ! yes, that is it ! To be no longer
able humanly to love this particular child, no more to receive
from it a caress ; that is the eternal pang ! Then, to be obliged
to leave a child's corpse — which is always heavenly — for
the world outside, is horrible ! Everything appears so little
and trifling, compared with the great experience just made.
You were right not to keep away your other children from the
deathbed and the coffin. To talk children into sadness is vain ;
but we may not too anxiously keep them from the view of
realities : they should early learn to look the lot of man in
the face, and they can bear it. A mother, by the sickbed of
her child, teaches us the full power which lies in human nature :
the husband is appalled at his own comparative backwardness.
Time, also, has less power over woman's grief than over man's.
Faithfulness is the noblest thing in human nature ; and it is
the peculiar property of woman."

To an aged man who had lost a son twenty-two years
of age : " The younger the child, the closer the bond, as its
very flesh and blood seem still to be ours : the older, the
more does it difler from us ; it becomes even, in a sense,
estranged by the possession of a will and of feelings inde-
pendent of ours. The loss of a son in the bloom of youth
brings with it both a peculiar sorrow and a peculiar consola-
tion ; for the purity of youth is nearly allied to the ideal. The


youtli's expectation of accomplishing great things is sure to be
disappointed in after years ; but your son has carried with him
all his hopes with their bloom untouched. Twenty-two years,
as you write, is a fine age to die at, better than forty-two or
fifty-two ; yet for me at least the battle of life was necessary ;
and I am still attached to life chiefly by the hope of gaining a
complete victory within/'

A friend, residing at a great distance, wrote to Perthes com-
plaining that, in ripe age, he was humiliated by onsets of
passion, such as he had never experienced before, and could
not resist. Perthes thus endeavoured to allay the storm : —
" He who is assailed by passion, as you are, is not old, no matter
how many years he can count. It is exceedingly humiliating
to find one's-self overcome by the animal powers ; but, when
these fail, it is not the man who has left sin, but sin which has
left the man ; and he will find it not easier, but more difficult,
to rise up to God. In this world war is life, peace death ; and
we must battle on to the end to gain the crown."

Often as Perthes bestowed a glance on the inward and out-
ward condition of others, his own development was still ever
with him the chief subject of examination, nay, of wonder, and
even anxiety ; and he frequently unbosomed himself to his
friends. Thus to Rist : — " Few men have enjoyed all along
such opportunities of intercourse with children as myself; and,
through observation of them, many things in my own develop-
ment are only now becoming clear to me. The child, as soon
as it can use its senses, feels itself to be only a fragment of
nature ; it sees and hears things which are new, but, because
the child is itself, as yet, merely a bit of nature, it wonders at
nothino:. For a few vears it lives onlv with what is close at


liand. The clear-running stream is dearer to it tlian the heav-
ing ocean ; the flower more charming than the forest ; the hil-
lock on which it tumbles about is more to it than the mountain ;
the child finds everything in harmony with itself. When, how-
ever, thought awakes, when the child comes into contradiction
with its own will, and enters on a struggle, of which the object
and the issue are alike unknown, then does the boy begin to
feel himself severed from nature, and the youth to long for
something which shall correspond to him, to his heart and
mind. Alternately deceived and undeceived, the man must
then work through the years of life-apprenticeship. Through-
out the whole season of youth, man communicates, by fancy
and love, through nature and the creature, with God. Youth
is poesy, but advanced life has quite a different character. To
love mankind in old age, and to remain stedfast in love even
to death, is exceedingly difficult. Things are in the end
reversed: youth rises through man to God — age descends
through God to man. A youthful warmth of feeling can be
preserved in old age only by faith and humility ; and, whereas
there is hardly anything more repulsive than old age without
warmth, love, on the other hand, or even kindliness, gives
peace and assurance to the conscience, notwithstanding the
profoundest conviction of sin."

Genial old age was illustrated by Perthes himself in an emi-
nent degree. He greatly enjoyed the renewal of old acquaint-
anceships, even when these had been of the most casual de-
scription ; and his method of procedure appears in the fol-
lowing letter : — " One cannot be long with a stranger, in a
Diligence for example, without noticing his peculiarities, his
strong and weak points, his taste for this or that beauty in


nature, his perception of this or the other relation among men.
One proceeds accordingly ; and, if the stranger be equally com-
plaisant, there arises an agreeable relation, capable of produc-
ing all manner of fruit. I have frequently contracted such
travelling marriages, as I may call them, and, during the last
few hours of our common journey, I have always been saddened
by the thought that a kindly relation of man to man was about
to be broken up. I have ever afterwards heartily welcomed a
fellow-traveller of the sort, even when his face looked quite
different in the house from what it did in the carriage. Men
differ in understanding, but love brings them together." In
another letter : — " I have shewn much kindness to some men,
for which I have received no thanks ; and that pains me : but
I have received much more kindness from others, and I often
search in vain for lively gratitude in my heart, which pains me
still more."

Perthes' native kindliness did not prevent the decided
expression of his views. lie was not easily, and never long,
irritated by the opposition of others, provided he thought it
sincere ; but against insolence, falsehood, indifference, and base-
ness, he blazed up instantly and violently, even in cases where
he was under no obligation to speak. His views were these : —
" I would have nothing to do with the man who cannot be
moved with indignation. There are more good people than
bad in the world, and the bad get the upper hand merely be-
cause they are bolder. We cannot help being pleased with a
man who uses his powers with decision ; and we often take
his side for no other reason than because he does so use them.
No doubt, I have often repented speaking ; but not less often
I have repented keeping silence."


In administering reproof, Perthes generally hit the nail on
the head. To an inflated personage he once wrote : " You
may see by Jacobi that, if scholars have often an insufferable
temper, a petty character, and selfish dispositions, scliolarship,
at least, is not to blame/' Again : " You insist on respect
for learned men : I say AmeiL But, at the same time, don't
forget that largeness of mind, depth of thought, appreciation
of the lofty, experience of the world, delicacy of manner, tact
and energy in action, love of truth, honesty, and amiability —
that all these may be wanting in a man who may yet be very
learned." To a young man -. " You know only too well what
you can do ; but, till you have learned what you cannot do,
you will neither accomplish anything of moment, nor know
inward peace." To a man who, in order to escape the annoy-
ances of public life, confined all his intercourse to his wife
and children, and boasted of his seclusion, Perthes wrote :
" Beware ! The fear of \inpleasant collisions outside the house,
and not the joys of the domestic circle itself, may account for
your boasted seclusion. The domestic life does not mean se-
clusion from others, but discipline of one's-self ; it is not nega-
tive, but positive, and he only can enjoy domestic life who has
borne, and still bears, the burden of public life."

Not only in letters of reproof, but in many others also, does
that bold freshness come out which characterized Perthes'
youth. A friend had written him that whoever lives to eighty
years of age may be sure of outliving his reputation, alleging
that all the octogenarians, from Bliicher to AYieland and Goethe,
had done so. Perthes answered : " Certainly, the age beyond
fifty brings with it peculiar dangers, among which, however, I
do not reckon this, that of late years I have had a son and two

VOL. II. 19


daughters baptized. No doubt, I can look back on mucli
sorrow, care, and trial ; but I am still of opinion that a sterling
man is not complete till old age. In my own case, I cannot
complain of too much age, but rather of too much youth, which
torments me with unrest, and with whatever else you please.
In presence of so many old young people, I often fear lest there
be in me something of the wandering Jew I"

Perthes' later years exhibited the same struggle between
energetic activity and a longing for repose, which pervaded
his earlier life. Once he wrote, — " I still take an interest in
a thousand things, yet only by fits and starts; for, after all,
in order to be cheerful and content, I require, besides my
family relationships, only a quiet room with a few books, a
mountain and a wood, a couple of intelligent men, solitude
when I want it, and freedom from bores. This is little, and
yet much." Again : " I cannot learn to be at rest ; and I
often fear lest, by way of a refining fire, blindness or lameness
be reserved for my latter days ; which the good God in his
mercy forbid I" Later still : " Besser's death has increased
the number of those who attract mo to the other world. Mani-
fold indeed is the attraction : my Caroline and Besser stand
beside each other ; then the old Schwarzburg lieutenant-colo-
nel, who was the father-like guide of my youth, and my first
love, Frederika ; then Claudius and Jacobi ; then my children
who died young ; and, which is strange, the attraction to my
father, wdiom I never saw. Whether the inborn impulse to-
wards energetic activity, or the no less profound capacity for
repose in love and contemplation, or whether both shall fill up
our eternity, who can tell ?" About the same time : " Life
seems to me monstrously long ; what a terrible sameness in


the midst of variety. To-day, as fifty years ago, I see sparrows
and dogs, sheep and goats ; they are always different, yet to
me they seem always the same. Viewed from a distance, it
does not seem difficult to die: yet they only who have experi-
enced death can tell what it is ; and they who have experienced
it are silent to us."




By tlie publication of Count F. L. Stolborg's " History of
the Religion of Jesus/' Perthes was brought anew into contact
with many pious and earnest Catholics. In 1824, Windisch-
mann declared to Perthes at Bonn, that there was much in
the development of the Catholic Church which Stolberg could
not understand, and that he liad not been able to divest him-
self entirely of his hereditary Protestantism. Hermes, leader
of the then dominant philosophico-catholic school, looking at
things from a different point of view, wrote thus to Perthes :
" From all I know of the condition, religious and scientific, of
the clergy here, I am led to think that a work such as Stol-
berg's, deficient in science, though excellent in point of reli-
gion, is not the one best calculated to give that impulse to the
clergy which is required. Tliere is no lack among them of
zeal, but great lack of science; and Stolberg's work does nothing
but fan the former.''

In writing to the Countess S. Stolberg, Perthes expressed
his own views of the work in question, to the effect that it was
well calculated, by its fervour and earnestness, to revive many
Catholics who were quite estranged from Christianity, as also
to mitigate and correct the harsh judgments of Protestants on


the externality of Catliolicism. And more fully in a letter to
Olshausen : — " Whatever errors and faults may have crept into
Stolberg's work through zeal for the Catholic Church, through
imperfect acquaintance with theology, through the seductions
of fancy and a poetical temperament, it still remains a ge-
nuinely Christian production. The revelation of God is made
the centre of the world's history, and, from beginning to end,
our Lord is so set forth that all who do not willingly shut their
eyes, must recognise him to be what he really is. The con-
nexion between the Old and New Testaments is nobly exhi-
bited ; and the whole bespeaks a man penetrated with the
spirit of truth and love. Catholic bigotry, of course, calls the

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 36)