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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In 1814, such was the ingenuousness of political inexperience,
that most men expected from the Congress of Vienna a solu-
tion of the great problems which had arisen since 1789;
but in 1822, every one knew tliat these problems remained
unsolved, and many came to the conclusion that they could not
be solved till a distant day, and even then not by kings and
diplomatists, but by an earnest and bloody history. In the
summer of 1822, Poel wrote to Perthes: " Till Brabant shall
cease to be a reluctant appendage of Holland ; till Poland
shall give up sighing for reunion with her dissevered provinces ;
till Italy shall have become Italian once more ; till the Greeks
shall have found peace either in the grave, or in independence ;
till Sweden shall have put oif her mourning for the loss of Fin-
land ; and Denmark hers for the loss of Norway ; till Germany
shall have acquired political unity — there is no peace for
Europe. It will be long ere the emigres learn to forget and
forgive, ere the Jacobins, Radicals, and Carbonari of all lands,
confounded just now by party spirit with the soundest part of
the population, renounce their dreams, ere Catholicism complete
her reformation, ere dogmatic theology establish a supremacy


in Protestant pulpits, and conclude a treaty with the rational-
ism of its opponents. More than one crisis must be passed
through ere that final one come, out of which shall spring a
feeling of security, permitting both individuals and states to
enjoy possession/'

From 1822 onwards, many Germans still pressed on, now in
one direction, now in another, in the hope of some political
gain for their country. At length however, when, notwithstand-
ing the Carlsbad resolutions, the acts of the Vienna Congress,
the remodelling of the Diet, and the introduction of constitu-
tional government into a number of the German States, each
party felt that it had not attained its object, all turned away
in disgust from domestic afiairs, and an indifference, which
was at first affected, became afterwards real. Not that the
political parties abandoned their several views and theories,
for, on the contrary, these assumed, if possible, a more decided
character ; but that, instead of striving for their realisation
at home, each party contented itself with rejoicing or fret-
ting, according as its principles won a victory or sustained a
defeat abroad.

Since the spring of 1821, Naples had been occupied by Aus-
trian troops ; but in Spain foreign intervention was long enough
delayed to allow the development of savagely hostile parties.
Towards the end of 1822, Bold von Faber wrote to Perthes
from Cadiz: — "Among the many scoifers at the Church in
Southern Spain, the most dangerous was a monk, who had been
imprisoned by the Inquisition in Mexico, but had escaped. He
is now dead ; he had given orders that he should be buried
with the Spanish constitution on his breast, and that patriotic
songs should be sung over him. Since his death the shameless


attacks on religion and the Churcli have somewhat abated, but
the monks and the clergy are still reproached as the authors of
all political evih One after another the ecclesiastical founda-
tions are confiscated ; the nunneries alone remain untouched,
but they also are in danger. Everything, in short, is done as
in the French Revolution, only with more circumspection, and
with every care to avoid public scandal ; the objects aimed at,
however, are the same as in 1789 in France." Again : "Were
you to see the course of the revolution here with your own
eyes, you would be as much disgusted as myself. Neither
things nor principles are at stake, but persons, and, conse-
quently, those only who expect to gain or lose, are interested in
Avhat goes on. The whole battle just now is simply this —
whether Exaltados, i.e., Jacobins, who desire a republic, or
Ma9ons, i.e., Constitutionalists, shall receive this or that good
appointment." Perthes himself wrote : " It is indeed singular
that these same Spaniards, who arc individually good, as we
see them painted in romance, or noble, yea, sublime, as they
appeared in their struggle against Napoleon, should, as a
nation, be insensible to right, and of a tiger-like character. As
a nation they wasted and depopulated America and the Nether-
lands, and as a nation they have torn out their own bowels,
formerly in religious, now in political quarrels. Their nation-
ality was personified in Alba and Pizarro ; and it thus appears
that a nation is something different from the sum of its indi-
vidual members."

In France the ultra-Royalists, with Viscount Montmorency
at their head, were eager for war with revolutionary Spain ;
and at the Congress of Verona, in October 1822, Metternich
endeavoured to make the restoration of monarchy in Spain the


common cause of Europe, which France should be commissioned
to prosecute. It was understood, however, that Metternich
cared little for Spain, and that his principal object was to turn
away from the south-east the thouglits of the Emperor Alex-
ander, whose armies were gathered in the south of Russia,
ready to take part in the Greek war of independence. In
December 1822, the Congress was dissolved, Metternich having
attained his object. In January 1823, Perthes wrote : " The
European states and systems of thought, which it was attempted
to unite, could not remain united. It was a pious mistake in
him who endeavoured to bind them together ; and even by this
aiming at an ideal good, does Alexander betray his German

All eyes were turned to France, where, on 28th January,
Louis XVIII., in opening the Chamber, declared the imminency
of war with Spain, amid the acclamations of the majority. A
friend thus wrote to Perthes : — " The late proceedings in the
French Chamber of Deputies shew with what audacity autho-
rity can trample under foot the most sacred rights, play with
oaths, and twist the law for a purpose. Spain is not a whit
better treated under the Bourbons than under Napoleon, and
England does not now lift her finger ; when an advantageous
commercial treaty, or an extension of her colonial possessions
is to be had, then, but then only, does England bestir herself."
On 2d March 1823, Perthes wrote : — " It seems to mo impos-
sible that the discord which reigns in the minds of men
throughout Europe, can terminate otherwise than by vio-
lence. I think that anarchy will prevail for a time, and that
out of it will arise tyrants — in purple or in moleskin, no mat-
ter — who will drive men in gangs as they deserve." On 10th


March, Rist wrote to Perthes : " Except in France, there is
no desire for war throughout Europe, and least of all in Eng-
land. Metternich would like disturbance in Spain, to withdraw
Alexander's attention from the east : and Alexander will
oscillate hither and thither between his mission in the east,
and his mission to save Europe from revolution ; he believes
both missions to be his by divine delegation, and his allies
pull him now by one cord, and now by the other."

In the summer of 1822 there was reason for believing that
the Emperor Alexander was prepared to draw the sword against
the Sultan, if not for the Greeks, at least for his own aggran-
dizement. A friend wrote to Perthes : " It is quite possible
that the fanatical champions of Islam may again devastate
south-eastern Europe with fire and sword. The Russians are
indeed prepared to resist them, and it would be a religious
war for them too ; but a speedy victory can hardly be ex-
pected, for Asia has always sent forth, not so much armies
as swarms of men ; and should the war be prolonged, such
is the condition of the states, and the temper of the peoples
in Europe, that a revolutionary outbreak might become
universal." In the winter of 1822, however, the danger of
the revolutionaiy movements in Spain, and the necessity of
suppressing them were brought so prominently before the
Emperor Alexander, that, for the time at least, he aban-
doned whatever thoughts he may have had of seizing the
Greek imperial crown. A profound sympathy at the same
time was felt in Germany for the Greeks. A friend, writing
to Perthes, says: — "What are all the contests of the age
compared with the horrible fate of the suppliant Greeks !
Their blood will come upon Europe, and kings will have to

VOL. IL 24


blame themselves, if the fanatical hordes of Asia overrun our
quarter of the globe."

About the end of 1822, and beginning of 1823, the Greeks
had, by their own efforts, gained important military successes.
In February 1823, a friend wrote to Perthes: — "The inca-
pacity of the Turks does not diminish the importance of
these successes ; nothing great, in fact, could ever have been
accomplished, had not its enemies betrayed folly in the be-
ginning of the struggle ; had Cyrus, for instance, instead of
Xerxes, been on the Persian throne, the old Greeks would
have left us no history. It is perhaps well that the Euro-
pean powers have not supported Greece : for whatever is
accomplished, nndcr such circumstances, is of far greater
moment for posterity, than greater results would have been,
if won by foreign aid."

On 7th April 1823, the Duke of Angouleme entered Spain,
and Madrid on 24th May, the way having been prepared
for him by the most contemptible party-struggle within the
kingdom. Bold von Faber wrote to Perthes in the beginning
of March : " It is impossible for you in Germany to realize the
utter worthlessness of those who are conducting the public
affairs of Spain. A reign of terror would immediately open
the eyes of Europe, and work our deliverance ; but the rec-
titude of the Spanish people, and their comparative indif-
ference to political questions, which render a reign of terror
impossible, give base, bloodthirsty demagogues an opportunity
of undermining and destroying all that is good." These views
proved correct, and those who had been enthusiastic in behalf
of the champions of liberty in Spain, were at length covered
with shame. By the arms of France the revolution was extin-


guished in Spain, and thereby Portugal's fate was also de-
cided. Legitimate government was nominally restored ; but
in reality a furious party got possession of absolute power, and
it was easy to foresee that, sooner or later, that power would
be ajrain resisted. The Greeks were still abandoned to the
fury of the Turks ; but, at the same time, the Greeks still
continued to hate the Turks, the Sultan remained weak, and
Russia kept her eye fixed on Oriental affairs. That the
whole south of Europe was in a merely provisional condi-
tion was the general opinion, and many thought the same of

Public feeling ran very high against the conquerors in Naples,
Spain, and Portugal, especially against the Emperor Alexander,
whose attitude alone, as was supposed, had rendered their vic-
tory possible. Perthes received the following : — " I, too, dread
and hate revolution, but it cannot be exorcised by summoning
a bugbear from the east, which is much more likely to promote
the baneful fermentation, to rouse the Satan of revolution from
his lowest abyss, and to bring destruction upon Europe ; for
the Russian empire, immense though it be, is internally weak,
and throughout all Europe the youth and the prestige of public
opinion are in favour of revolution." Perthes answered : —
" Every thinking man may see the finger of God in the events of
our time. By her relations to Spain, France is bound more
closely than ever to the west, and Russia, will she, nill she, must
turn her views and powers to the east. Once more, we Germans
are saved from the shock of arms, that we may fulfil our destiny
in the world. The Germans seem to me the genuine successors
of the Jews ; just as it was the mission of these, isolated from
all other nations, to preserve the law, so is it ours to preserve a


?cecl of piety, freedom, and true universal culture, and scatter
it over the world. Many a Babylonish captivity we have un-
dergone, but the Lord has brouglit us back, and now vouch-
safes a respite, that we may gather our strength and fulfil our





The misunderstanding whicli already, in 1819, prevailed be-
tween the rulers and the ruled, widened ever, and threatened
to prevent Germany from benefiting by the peace she enjoyed
in the midst of European confusions. The governments, giving
way to distrust and fear, betook themselves to police regula-
tions, while among the people, opposition to authority, and to
the whole existing order as untenable and unworthy, was re-
garded as the token of political insight, and malicious joy at
the failures and misdeeds of government passed for the index
of a sound politician. Tlie new political system, indicated by
the prevailing tendency of the age, did not bear that national
stamp, that correspondence to German history and thought,
which the men of 1813 and 1817 had wished, more or less dis-
tinctly, to imprint upon their arrangements. The constitutions
desired were rather to be the offspring of that political under-
standing which is always and everywhere the same ; accord-
ingly they were not to pre-suppose the existence of any
established authority, and were to be for all nations essentially
alike. To liberalism of this sort Perthes was a decided oppo-
nent. He wrote : " Men must be governed, and they wish it


too ; but, as they can be governed only by men, every govern-
ment must depend on some human accessory, be it a seneschal
or a scullion, a major's wig, or a corporal's staff. It is useless
to fret and kick against the pricks ; and, though you were
to set up among us a political idol from France or America, it
would only be a new Baal, that would burst when his time
came." Again : " You consider the exclusive majesty of the
law a phrase of noble and profound import. Yes, indeed, it
sounds fine in the ears of our age, but profound it is not : it is
nothing, in fact, but empty sound, for majesty of the law with-
out authority of the lawgiver is mere nonsense. Majesty must
have a body, monarchical or republican as you please, but a
body ; and law pre-supposes an authority not made, but pre-
viously existing, which is precisely what our whimsical age is
ever denying in one form or another." A friend to Perthes :
" Follies enough certainly our governments commit, almost as
many as ourselves, but yet I will say that not a single state in
Germany is groaning under tyranny ; it is not the present, but
reflection on the past, and dread of the future, which prompts
the cry for constitutions ; and I believe that, if only the demon
of pride be kept under, a good end may be attained by the
movement party." Perthes answered : " I know that our age,
like every other, can and should strive after an improved social
condition, and I am not offended when young men welcome
this or the other constitution as a political panacea ; but age,
which is not yet imbecile, has also a claim to be heard. The
root of the evil is in men themselves and in their relations, not
in the peculiar form of any constitution ; and the best consti-
tution can only regulate the existing state of things, but cannot
make a bad state of things good, nor a grievous one light.


The patriarchal relation of the prince to his subjects is unques-
tionably gone, and that for ever ; but it does not follow, as our
Liberals would have it, that therefore the prince has become
a useless incumbrance, tolerable at best only as a sort of phan-
tom by the side of a responsible minister. Whoever knows the
German Liberals and Radicals, must know the necessity of a
vigorous monarchical government, and will have nothing to do
with a constitution in which the monarchical element is want-
ing. The question is not : Whether Germany need a constitu-
tion, but of what sort it should be." Again : " The German is
slow in judgment, because he decides, not like the Frenchman
with the understanding alone, but with his whole nature ; and
he wants practicality, because, instead of contenting himself,
like the Englishman, with the obvious and immediate, he takes
into account, and wishes to make allowance for, a thousand
remote and profound considerations connected with the subject,
all of which the Englishman simply lets alone, proceeding, in
fact, as if they did not exist. In order to judge correctly, and
act with vigour, the German needs, above all things, time and
composure: the forms, however, now demanded for discussions
in the Chambers, oblige the deputies to decide, within a few
hours, on matters with which they are but imperfectly ac-
quainted ; they, therefore, enable a few fluent speakers to take
the members who are not so gifted, and who are always the
majority, by surprise ; their theatrical character is distracting ;
and they give an unfair advantage to the narrow-minded, the
crafty, the malicious, and the rabid, provided only such persons
understand the art of managing a great assembly. Wliatever
constitution may be good for the Germans, one that allows such
scope for declamation is undoubtedly bad."


Since the liberaiion wars, new constitutions bad been intro-
duced into several of the German states ; but as they did not
produce the benefits anticipated, public opinion regarded them
with indifference ; and when in the summer of 1823 the laws
for the regulation of the provincial assemblies in Prussia ap-
peared, they were received in profound silence. A friend wrote
to Perthes : " It is really a disgrace to Germany that the first
public and thorough-going estimate of these laws should have
appeared in the Journal des Debats ; but, of course, the talkers
and scribblers in Germany have no reason to rejoice in the loss
of a plausible pretext for discontent and conspiracy." In 1824,
Niebuhr said to Perthes : " Parochial Institutions, Justice of
the Peace Courts, and the like, might be given to Germany,
but I know not what else. What have the provincial assem-
blies been able to lay before the Crown-Prince, who was so
willing to hear them ? Nothing, absolutely nothing of practical
value. Nor was this owing to the mode of calling the assem-
blies together, for even the freest election could not have sent
more capable men."

Up to 1823 some individuals, particularly in the smaller
states, retained a hope that the Diet would prove a safeguard
against arbitrary power. But when, in the summer of that
year, von Wangenheim, the deputy of Wiirtemberg, and von
Lepel, deputy from the electorate of Hesse, like Von Gagern
before them, were recalled, the Diet became the object of uni-
versal hatred. About this time a diplomatic friend wrote to
Perthes : " An assembly composed of plenipotentiaries from
different states is a curious phenomenon ; each, to gain one
thing, must sacrifice another ; the eternal discord between the
individual and the community comes clearly out, and quite


other difficulties turn up than are met with in one's own study,
or at a board of honest country-folks. Whoever is sharp-witted,
and can drive his antagonist into a corner from which, without
inconsistency — and inconsistency is a greater hugbear than
wrong — he cannot escape, has the advantage on such occasions.
At the same time, however, the influences of right and of the
public are not unfelt ; and I am sure that, but for dread of the
latter, an agreement on common affairs would be absolutely
impossible. My experience bids me wonder more than ever at
what the Congress of Vienna achieved in 1 814-15."

Because the form, in which the federative principle was em-
bodied in the constitution of the Diet, did not answer the ex-
pectation of Germany, many were disposed to reject that prin-
ciple altogether. Perthes, however, entertained an opposite
view : " Germany never was, certainly for centuries has not been,
a state or empire, in the present signification of these terms,
yet we are still Germans through and through, and we are far
from being worn out ; on the contrary, we shall continue to
be the salt of Europe, as we have always been, though in a
new form. The course of our history, as I view it, can lead to
no other but a federative constitution." Again : " The bond
uniting the Germans was, is, and ever will be federative. It is a
form of political association ill-fitted for conquest, or even for
defence against a foreign enemy ; but however loose the bond,
let the devil come in despotic or demagogical form, and he will
find the German people prepared, if not at once, yet in a short
time, to receive him. True, we must bethink ourselves awhile
before acting, and the pressure must become well-nigh intole-
rable; but then at last we do break loose, and carry all before us.
We are not destined to rule by the sword, but, as an elect
VOL. IL 25


people, to preserve for the whole world the profound truths of
Christianity, and freedom both inward and outward ; and I am
very doubtful whether the germs, which are in us, could be
developed under any other form of government than the fede-
rative." Again : " Since the middle of last century, an intel-
lectual unity has been established among the Germans, such
as never existed before : the progress of science, the restoration
of our language, and the existence of a common literature bind
all the German races indissolubly together. The geography of
the book-trade throws considerable light on the history of this
result. Forty years ago, Austria, almost all southern Ger-
many, the Rhenish provinces, and Westplialia had little corre-
spondence Avith the book-trade in the rest of Germany, which
clearly shewed that they were strangers to the fresh, rising
literature of the country. That same book-trade has now de-
pots in all Westphalia ; on the Rhine, as far as Aix-la-Chapelle
and Treves ; in all Bavaria ; in Tyrol, as far as Botzen ; and in
Switzerland : and the prosperity of these establishments is a
l)roof how far German literature has become common property,
and a necessary of life. Even the Germans scattered abroad
have gathered around the national literature, and contributed


to bring foreigners under its influence. As formerly Denmark,
Sweden, Courland, and Livonia were included within the circle
of German literature, so also now are Poland, Galicia, Transyl-
vania, Hungary, and the Netherlands ; three London book-
sellers, and several in Paris have correspondents in Germany.
This intellectual unity of the Germans, embodied in the book-
trade, is the spontaneous product of the nation's endeavour,
not only unaided, but even opposed by the civil power ; and
the political bond, with its Diet, may take what form it pleases.


I believe that this intellectual bond, with its book-trade, will
keep the Germans together, and, if need were, would enable
them to make a united and vigorous effort again, such as that
of the years 1813-15.

So rickety and hopeless did the political condition of Ger-
many and of its several states appear, that many even of those
who did not mistake liberalism for political health, yet expec-
ted, by means of it, to recover a sound condition. Perthes,
however, though he could not shut his eyes to the sickly state
of Germany politically, never saw in liberalism anything but a
fatal poison. In 1824 he wrote : " You do not know the ratio-
cinating bawlers as I do ; with what audacity they set up prin-
ciples in respect to constitution, administration, and jurispru-
dence, without any knowledge of mankind or of the people,
without any perception of a divine order, without any real
sentiment of freedom, without any historical basis ; you do not
know the insipid witticisms, and the silly mania for anecdotes
among German professors, schoolmasters, and literary men.
What harm can it do, you will say ; is it not all without sap
and pith? Most true, and it can exert no immediate influence
on the people ; but it spreads perversion and confusion of ideas,
beginning at the universities and Gymnasia, among all the
younger government employes, the advocates, the physicians,

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 21 of 36)