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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the true sermon. The death upon the cross is the sermon of
sermons, and the pattern for all others : acted sermons, not
sermons preached, is the want of our age. God has deigned to
make me his instrument ; truly in the fire of affliction He has
moulded me, in the valley of tears prepared me. I have put
my hand to the work in reliance on the mighty God ; and you
also, my dear friend, has God chosen to be a powerful coadju-
tor. Work along with me then, while it is day, that what has
been begun in God's honour may be joyfully finished in liis
name. The idea which has possessed me, will spread through-
out Germany and all Christian Europe ; already, indeed, it
has risen up in might, and, with hands and feet, may be seen
walking and working at Dorpat and in Paris alike : already
the doors of the children's prisons are being thrown open both
in Germany and France. Hitherto we Protestants have been
like the hermit-crab, which takes possession of a shell not its
own, for we robbed the Catholics of their cloisters, in order to
provide a refuge for our children : that is convenient, but not


noble ; and it is amazing what resources are in the people
themselves, if we but knew how to call them forth. What we
want however must be obtained from God by prayer and love,
not as hitherto by violence and craft. The military knights
have played out their part ; not even against the Turks is the
sword now drawn : the arts of diplomacy are worn out ; not
even a fratricidal war can all the congresses prevent. ye
kings and fathers of the people ! One thing is needful ; let
the fear of the Lord be established in your hearts, and in those
of your subjects ; otherwise you and they are destroyed to-
gether.'" Again : — " Could you see us, you would rejoice and
bless God. The children of robbers and murderers sing psalms
and pray : boys are making locks out of the insulting iron,
which was destined for their hands and feet, and are building
houses, which they formerly delighted to break open. Yes, it
is indeed true that, where chains and stocks, the lash and the
prison were powerless, love comes off victorious."' Later still :
— " I and my 300 children must leave our old habitation, be-
cause the proprietor has sold it ; and no one is willing to re-
ceive us, because, as may easily be ftxncied, no one is willing to
give up his house to 300 such children as mine. We shall
build then, and with the hands of our own children too, so that
every tile in the roof, every nail in the walls, every lock on the
doors, every chair and every table in the rooms, shall be a wit-
ness to their industry."

Of course Falk concluded with pressing solicitations for
pecuniary aid. Perthes did what he could, and, in the sjiring
of 1822, paid him a visit in Weimar. Perthes thus reports in
a letter to Bcnecke : "About fifty journeymen and appren-
tices, all of them former inmates of the Ragged Hospital, were


working at the new building as masons and carpenters ; tliev
were served by boys still in the institution ; horrid, cannibal-
like faces had they all, with the wolf of the desert vinmistake-
ably imprinted on their foreheads. In the expression of many
however there were traces of a new life ; and Falk says it is a
real pleasure to see how the claws and the shaggy tufts gra-
dually fall off. Falk's own room is a perfect gem, with this in-
tention, perhaps, that the children may recognise in him their
true father ; but it seemed to me that he had also an eye here
to the gratification of his own fancy. Altogether Falk appears
to me an exceedingly remarkable man : his command of happy
and striking images in conversation is wonderful ; the rapidity
of his fancy hurries along first himself and then his hearers, so
that fact and fancy dance at once through the minds of both.
He is at the same time shrewd, yea cunning, and knows right
well what key-note to strike, according to persons and circum-
stances. I am, however, quite convinced of his thorough ear-
nestness, now that I have seen him and the institution ; and
it is not his fault, if he be a poet into the bargain. He him-
self, and still more his undertaking, deserve our support ;
many have much good to say of him, and even his bitterest
enemies know no ill." To Falk himself Perthes wrote : " Your
success in impressing the hearts of these neglected children,
and in winning over new supporters to your cause, arises from
this, that you yourself are entirely occupied with one idea :
what has no relation to it is nothing to you, and what has only
a slight relation you consider only as auxiliary to its realiza-
tion ; small successes appear to you great ; obstacles and
failures do not appear at all. He who is thus filled, thus pre-
possessed I may say, by one impulse, when he listens to liis


inmost soul, may hear only profound truth ; but when he
speaks to others, they may hear, according to Goethe's happy
expression, ' Wahrheit und Dichtung.' He who cannot recog-
nise the deep truth of inspiration, will not understand you,
may even misunderstand you ; and therein lies a danger both
for you and your cause."

Baron Kottwitz, whose antecedents were in striking contrast
with Falk's, had even before him carried on a similar work in
Berlin. In the spring of 1825, Perthes visited repeatedly that
truly pious man's institution, and he thus reported of it to some
of his friends : " I have known Baron Kottwitz for five-and-
twenty years. For a long time I considered the dullness of his
eye, and the gentleness of his whole nature as signs of feeble-
ness, and consequently, though respecting his piety, I was little
attracted to him, for I have never been a friend to pale, sharp-
featured ascetics. In Kottwitz, however, I have been mistaken.
To know him, one must see him in the midst of those wretched
creatures whom he has gathered about him. I have left him
with a feeling of reverence ; and, though seventy-six years of
age, one cannot too much admire his decision, perseverance,
and that all-piercing knowledge of mankind, whereby he de-
tects not only the sins, but even the petty tricks of the human
heart." Again : " After having made valuable observations,
among the mountains of Silesia, on the misery of the poor, and
the best means of alleviating it, and sacrificing a considerable
portion of his property, Kottwitz went to Berlin. ' There,' said
he to me, ' is a population of the most abandoned character,
brought together by the establishment of factories in that city,
at the instance of Frederick the Great : there are 20,000 of
them, and it shall be the business of my life to diminish their


number/ All this misery — profligate women, stunted children,
disbanded soldiers of the old Prussian type, famished factory
workpeople who lived on brandy, — he collected in an ancient
royal edifice, ceded to him for the purpose : twenty long years
he spent in the midst of this wretched and disgusting filth.
He forced no one to come, or to Avork, or to receive Christian
consolation or instruction ; but to all he offered, with mild ear-
nestness and love, the comfort and aid of our Saviour, and an
opportunity of work. That the offer was not made in vain I
could myself see from the confidence and freedom with which
these poor wretches, cast off by all the world besides, ap-
proached him. His object is, so soon as they get accustomed
to regular work, to distribute them among the small towns in
the neighbourhood, where hands are scarce. Then, at his re-
quest, the magistrate assigns them a cottage and a patch of
potato-land at a small rent, and the Berlin manufacturers send
them work to be done at home. He says that a considerable
number of men, who have passed through his hands, are now
leading a moral life, and enjoying that health which is insured
by cleanliness, fresh air, and easily accessible field-work ; he
thinks too that the mass of the debased population in Berlin
has been diminished, though no doubt this is chiefly owing to
the clearance which time makes in such a population, and to
the gradual extinction of the military rabble."

Perthes was connected with undertakings of the same de-
scription on the lower Rhine. Count Adelbert von der Recke,
laying to heart the misery begotten by the wars, and the sub-
sequent dearth, opened a house of refuge, i-n 1819, for orphan
and criminal children at Overdyk, and in 1822 a larger one at
DlisselthaL In 1827 the chaplain wrote to Perthes the follow-


ing notice of these institutions : " "We have 240 boys and girls
under our care, and tliirty Jewish proselytes who, besides re-
ceiving instruction, learn a handicraft. Instead of trading on
their conversion, as such persons often do, and so bringing dis-
grace on the Christian name, they will be able to earn their
own living honestly, by having been employed with us, as lock-
smiths, weavers, joiners, or brewers."

Perthes hoped that Protestantism, now in course of revival,
would not only sustain and carry out these attempts, but in
due time convert them into ecclesiastical establishments.




The individual character and irregularity of the attempts
made in Germany since the Liberation Wars, to revive the reli-
gious life, led many to fear that they would degenerate into
mere appearance and talk, or into fanaticism and sects. To a
friend who entertained such fears, Perthes wrote as follows : —
" I am truly sorry that your dread of a possible danger should
liave blunted your usual penetration, and deadened your appre-
ciation of what is honest and upright. You say that the sickly
odour of hj^DOcrisy in pious forms and phrases, meets you in
many quarters. For my own part, not feeling myself strong
in Christian faith and virtue, I have always avoided the for-
mulas which, in word and act, are the outward stamp of the reli-
gious life : yea, I have gone too far in this direction, observing
the Christian forms of devotion in my own house with my
children less strictly than I ought to have done. Just, how-
ever, because I felt that he who follows a stereotyped mode of
life is apt to become the victim of a sham, I have always kept
a keen eye on those whose flaming profession excited my sus-
picions ; and, no doubt, I have often found persons who, be-
cause they echoed other men's prayers, imagined themselves


strong in faith, and made an ostentatious exhibition of what
they mistook for piety. But you may not call that hypocrisy,
which is only intellectual weakness and spiritual poverty.
I have not found genuine hypocrites in religion anywhere in
(jrermany ; what indeed among us could tempt men to such
hypocrisy ? Look at the public newsjjapers, at all the politi-
cal, literary, and even ecclesiastical journals ; all of them,
without exception, pillory the man who confesses the Saviour ;
the whole public is against him, and it is in vain that he would
defend himself against malicious and false imputations, for
with the public of our age audacity is triumphant. There are
few places in Germany where a man could speak of the Chris-
tian faith in polite society, without being covered with derision
and contempt. Truly, such a state of things is not calculated
to make hypocrites in religion. It may be otherwise in France,
where piety is in fashion at court.''

Notwithstanding this repeatedly expressed conviction, Per-
thes was himself not without fear that a certain hollo vvness
lurked in the religious movement recently begun. In 1826, he
thus wrote : " The hurry, characteristic of our age, appears
also in the development of the religious life. Dangers which,
ten years ago, it would have been ridiculous to think of, are
already at hand. Our youth, who have any spiritual life, com-
plain of Rationalism as cold and barren, and make use of
Christian phrases and an orthodox Biblical terminology, which
the breath of the age, not the Holy Ghost, has blown in their
way, without, however, being convinced of their own sins, or
longing for deliverance from them, or humbly accepting
justification by faith. The spirit of the age may indeed
imbue a generation with Cliristian doctrine ; but Christian


faith can arise only from that sense of need for deliverance
from sin, which makes a man stretch out his arms in humhle
supplication. Christian knowledge, without Christian faith,
is a dangerous thing both for the individual and for a people.
Gurlitt, Rohr, Paulus, Wegscheider, Bretschneider, all of whom
o-o openly and lionourably to work, seem to me less pernicious,
than those who allow themselves to be carried along by tlie
changed religious current of the time, without having been
renewed in the spirit of their minds. Should the hollowness,
which is already observable here and there, and which is all
the more insidious, because it seldom takes the form of con-
scious hypocrisy, gain ground, then Christianity is threatened
by a foe that will be far more destructive than the open unbe-
lief of last century."

Not less than the prevalence of Christian forms without the
substance, Perthes disliked that retirement and isolation, in
which many pious Christians delighted, giving themselves up
to undisturbed communion with God in select little companies.
Here is a letter from Rist to Perthes on that subject. " If
the people are awaking to a sense of Christianity, this is due
not to the many Bibles which have been distributed during
the last ten years, but to the retiring piety and strict discipline
of certain small societies ; for that very reason any corruption
or perversion arising in these is doubly dangerous. For my own
part, I have always entertained a sort of horror for the mode
in which the great * mystery of godliness' is treated in these
private circles : they insist on being so very comfortable, so
much at home, with their religion. This familiarity with a
literally personal God, by which I mean, not God who became
man, but God reduced to a man, destroys the absolute infinity


of God, wliicli alone can inspire the human mind with true
reverence ; for, since we ourselves are capable of thinking and
willing things so great, we cannot bow down before a God with
whom we hold intercourse as with an individual." Perthes an-
swered : " Religious talk, when it is polemical, and away from
the common centre in Jesus Christ, or when, as Claudius used
to say, it consists in devout utterances, with a pipe of tobacco
at the same time in the mouth, is not less abhorrent to me
than to you ; and a pious interview between two parties, with
the Holy Ghost for the third, to use Neander's expression, does
not belong to a time like ours, in which ecclesiastical training
is null. Pious associations lead almost always at present to
exclusiveness and to sectarian pride, which is the very oppo-
site of the Christian spirit. But, dear Rist, let us not judge
individuals ; others are not as we." Again ; " The danger
in every sect is the feeling in its members, that they stand
nearer God than others. This is the snare which the devil
has in reserve for catching even the best : he thus leads them
to egotism by a seemingly divine path, and chills them towards
all who would approach God in a different dress."

In connexion with the endeavour to form a special Christian-
ity within the general pale, and to establish in the midst of
faithful Christians, so to speak, an Aristocracy of Faith, ap-
peared here and there a tendency to recall and circulate the
thoughts and writings of men, distinguished indeed in former
times, but whose profound and healthy Christian earnestness
was combined with strange speculations of their own, and even
with fantastical imaginations. Indications of this tendency
attracted Perthes' notice in various quarters. Thus a theolo-
gian writing to Perthes : " In travelling through all parts of



Germany, both Catholic and Protestant, I have had occasion
to remark, that Jacob Bohme's works are eagerly sought after.
There are but few copies of them extant, and whoever has
them guards them well. They contain precious things, which
cannot fail to have a blessed influence on every Christian heart,
and may guide many a troubled spirit to peace in God. It is
very remarkable that even Goethe, in his doctrine of colours,
has been indebted to the poor Gorlitz shoemaker, borrowing
from his treatise, De Signatura Rerum, not only Bohme's
ideas, but even his very words. Tlie acceptance of Bohme's
speculations is of no moment ; but, were that champion of faith,
long since gone to his rest, and often misunderstood, to re-
appear in the midst of our furious partisans, and lukewarm
Christians, crying aloud, ' Be in earnest, ay in earnest, for liell
cannot be destroyed without earnestness, nor the kingdom of
heaven taken but by force,' — that, I say, might have the
mightiest results."

Bengel, too, in wliom living Christianity took the form of
Swabian pietism, began once more to influence the age, and,
even in North Germany, was admired for the dej^th of his
insight into life and Scripture. A theologian of North Ger-
many wrote to Perthes in 1829 : — " In respect both of its con-
tents and its tone, Bengel's ' Gnomon' stands alone. Even
among laymen there has arisen a healthy and vigorous desire
for scriptural knowledge ; and Bengel has done more than any
other man to aid such inquirers. The shallowness of the last
half century was unfavourable to the general circulation of his
' Gnomon \ but a still greater obstacle was the concise and
difficult Latin in which it is composed. There is perhaps no
book, every word of which has been so well weighed, or in


wlucli a single technical term contains so often far-reacliing
and suggestive views ; yet Bengal intended it for laymen, the
theoretical and the practical being in his case as intimately
united as lidit and heat in the sun's ra}'. A translation of
this work into German, with the omission of all learned tech-
nicalities, would certainly further that work which the Lord
is carrying on in our day by the power of his Spirit, and the
light of his Word."

Swedenborg, however, promised to take a firmer hold of the
public mind than either Bengel or Bohme, especially when
Immanuel Tafel undertook the propagation of his doctrines.
Tafel had visited Perthes in Gotha in 1822, and afterwards
wrote to him as follows : — " The history of the Church cannot
shew a man like Swedenborg ; for no other enlightened and
holy, and, therefore, trust-worthy man could say of himself,
that the Lord had revealed Himself to him personally, cm-
powering and qualifying him to discover to all mankind for
ever that spiritual meaning which has lain concealed in the
Scriptures since the times of Job. To believe in him is duty ;
not to believe in him treason against God." Again : —
" Throughout his whole life, and even on his deathbed in
London, Swedenborg asserted his uninterrupted intercourse
with spirits and angels for eight-and-twenty years. His ex-
periences of the other world, no doubt, illustrated and con-
firmed his doctrine ; but his doctrine itself was received neither
from spirits nor from angels, but from the Lord. His inspira-
tion was not that of the prophets, but, as he says himself,
mediate through the reading of Scripture, in other words,
illumination. He never gave out his writings as the word of
God, a third Testament ; they were not to be regarded as a


new fountain, but as a stream from the old one ; and they were
opposed, not to Scripture, but to the short-sighted wisdom of
theologians and ecclesiastical despots, who had completely
divorced the Church from religion." Still farther : — " That
his word might take hold of all, even children and the simple,
God has clothed it in images or symbols, borrowed from nature
and history ; the language is optical like our own, when wo
say, the sun rises or the sun sets ; hence the Scriptures speak
of God's repenting, of his wrath and vengeance, though He be
the unchangeable Jehovah, and love itself, which love, however,
is felt by his enemies as anger, and a consuming fire. The
literal interpretation of Scripture ascribes to God attributes
which are not divine, and is self-contradictory ; nor can we un-
derstand the word of God unless wo keep in view, as a system,
the hidden spiritual meaning concealed under images and
symbols. Such a system, however, must come from God. The
first Christians were too stupid and sensual to comprehend it; to
the Apostolic times succeeded the night, in which no man could
work ; and with the Council of Nice began the abomination of
desolation, which for 1500 years, in the Catholic and Protes-
tant Churches alike, became ever greater and greater, till, at
length, in the middle of last century, it issued in the complete
apostasy of theologians generally, from the revealed word of
God, and consequently, in the death of the Church. When the
passions had wasted their fury, and the Church was dying,
those prejudices were removed, which had previously obstructed
the influence of the Holy Ghost ; and so the light could appear a
second time to reveal the hidden spiritual meaning of Scrip-
ture. The new apostle was, according to prophecy, to be better
qualified than the old ones. Paul was only admitted to short-


lived raptures in the third heaven ; but this new apostle was
to dwell repeatedly and long in tlie light of heaven, and become,
as it were, native there. Now all this is fulfilled in Sweden-
borg." Again : " For a long time I doubted whether certain
of Svvedenborg's doctrines were Scriptural, for I was brought up
a strict Lutheran, and could hardly let go the Church doctrines
concerning redemption, resurrection, angels, and primitive man.
After nine years of hesitation, however, on reading the first
chapters of the Ar^cana ccelestia quce in scriptura sacra sunt
detecta, I clearly perceived that this unveiling of mysteries was,
in fact, Swedenborg's certificate, inasmuch as, without special
revelation, i.e., illumination, he could not have so written. I
perceived, too, that Swedenborg's revelation contained all that
was necessary to give unity and immutability to the Church,
and to convert all mankind into one flock under one shepherd.
This was help in time of need ; for the old Churches are nigh
dissolution, and deliverance can be efi'ected only by the appear-
ance, in their midst, of the Church's Lord, Jesus Christ Him-
self I was strongly impelled to declare the divine word
revealed through Swedenborg to the world ; but I doubted
whether the right time were come, and whether the vocation
were mine ; but these doubts have been satisfactorily solved,
and I have commenced the work in tlie confident expectation
that the Lord will further His own cause, and open the hearts
of men to receive His truth."

Perthes could not but respect the fervid earnestness of such
a man, but he remained quite callous to the new doctrine. He
thus wrote to a friend : — " Swedenborg was, no doubt, a pious,
profound, and, in a sense, inspired man, but still a man whose
inspiration was his own, and who deceived himself into thinking


otherwise. His doctrine is really a new revelation, unfolding
to man what was previously unknown, though it is alleged to
have been always implied in the symbols of Scripture. Now,
such a revelation, however accredited, is not what we need,
for we know enough ; and faith, not knowledge, is the attain-
ment proper to our present existence. God gave a revelation
to men, not to increase their knowledge, but to deliver them
from sin, and reconcile them to Himself ; and all that is neces-
sary to equip us for the battle of life, and bring us finally to
salvation, is already at hand in the incarnation of Christ, and
in Holy Scripture. I grant that Scripture has not established
a visible Church, nor answered many of our questions, but,
humility being the virtue proper to ignorance, every system
which represents God as making a later revelation to deliver
man from ignorance, supplementary to the former in Christ
which was meant to deliver him from sin, seems to me wanting
in humility, and labouring under a misconception as to man's

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 19 of 36)