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 the clergy. These several orders are already quite con-
vinced, in their presumptuous discontent and vanity, that they
could arrange everything off-hand much better than it is.
There is no danger even in that, you will say, because the
German people is too loyal, too indolent, too obedient, too
much scattered, and has no metropolis. It is true we have
no metropolis, but we have a great many large towns, and


the population is scattered only in northern Germany; the
peasants are, of course, only a material, but a material which
can be easily worked upon, and every village has its poli-
tician, and its schoolmaster. When the ideas and feelings
of men are once perverted and confused, the ambitious, the
penniless, the disorderly, and the worthless find plenty of
materials and tools at hand for their purpose. It is easy to
win a few enthusiasts, a good many simple-minded pastors, and
any number of pettifogging lawyers. The pastors cry out in
good faith : ' Your princes are going to re-establish the con-
fessional and the mass, for the purpose of keeping you in igno-
rance and bondage ; the lawyers with glib and venomous tongue,
represent the manorial rights of soccage and pasturage, and the
old regulations for preserving the forests and game as about to
be reinforced ; whilst the professors preach about the sin against
reason, and their own theories. If a Thomas Miinzer should
reappear, he would find plenty of followers. I know, indeed,
it has not yet come to this : but the temper as well as the
ideas of men, is already perverted, and dangerous charac-
ters have made their preparations for turning that perver-
sion to account." Again : " This race of liberal talkers and
writers make a great ado about freedom and right, citizenship
and constitution, but when asked what all this means, there is
no answer : very learned people, too, are among them, but all
their historical lore, gathered from manifold sources, in Sans-
crit, Persian, Greek, and Latin, becomes a weak acid in their
veins. In spite of all their study, they have missed the Ger-
man element, and give out, as postulates in German history,
what are only abstractions of their own, or deductions from the
liistory of some other nation. The great majority of these


bawlers are incapable of action without applause, of sacrifice
without glory : they are scurrilous towards princes and the no-
bility ; but to tlie joiner or shoemaker they behave grandly,
thrusting him aside, or awkwardly condescending to him, like
a new-made lord. Those, again, who neither speak so gram-
matically, nor write so fluently as these knights of the pen, are
a good-for-nothing crew, who would not put up with the toils
and labour of a republic one month. How true is it that, in
order to judge correctly, a man must have observed the pride
and despotism, not only of the great, but of the small 1 I know
a young man who entered passionately on the study of repub-
lics, in hope of finding new weapons for his liberalism ; but, in
the course of a year, his studies made him a decided royalist."
Again, to a friend : " "We have been visited lately by two
liberal savans. One of them was old Wachler, whom I prize
not only for his learning, but also as a rare specimen of the
academical slasher. I am delighted that he came here, for his
naked democraticism has startled even our most advanced
liberals. The governments may well give him elbow-room ;
it would be wise, indeed, to give him a free ticket for the
mails, since he makes more converts to royalism than Adam
Miiller and his friends. The other was Luden, an estimable
man, but with a dash of learned vanity. Though by nature
an aristocrat to the back-bone, he has become a liberal, he
himself cannot well tell how, but, of course, at the lamp, and
by the inkstand. If this man has any true appreciation of
citizenship, and any true sympathy with the people, then I am
ready to plunge over head and eai's into democracy. As I have
had a kiss from "Wachler, and a visit from Luden, the wiseacres
here are beginning to think that they have been mistaken in


me all along, and that I must be a Clubbist, under an aristo-
cratico-papistical mask. The liberalism of so many who are
supernaturalists in theology, is to me a remarkable phenome-
non ; for, is not liberalism in politics the correspondent to
Rationalism in theology V Again : " How few of those who
are now raising an outcry have any liking for thorough inves-
tigation ! They grind away at arguments, pronounce opinions,
and show how this, tliat, and the other might have been better
done ; but they have no real insight, and, indeed, remind me
often of our old Von X. who, in the war times, used to harangue
the generals, though he did not really know whether the Pyre-
nees were a river or a town ! So now these noisy ignoramuses
give lessons on government, constitution, administration, free-
dom, and obedience, religion and morals ! It is enough to put
one from both speaking and listening ; and the older the talkers,
the worse they are."

The revolutionary movements in southern Europe were re-
presented by a few emissaries in Germany ; a secret correspon-
dence was established, and, from the spring of 1824, rumours of
new political prosecutions, and judicial inquiries became current.
Perthes wrote : " The matters and the men, now requiring in-
vestigation, are very different from those of 1819. Patriotism
was then the mainspring of the movement, though, of course, I
should be the last man to deny that it was terribly misguided ;
but we liave now to do with an un-German revolutionary con-
spiracy of precisely the same nature with those in Spain and
Itcily, having nothing in common with the joyous outbreak
of German enthusiasm in 1813, and but little with the Bursch-
enschaft (Students' Association to promote the political unity
of Germany), the Turnwesen (Gymnastic Associations of a na-


tional character, but used for political purposes), and the Wart-
burg Festival. The present movement originated in the extra-
vagances of the Spanish Cortes, and the Italian revolutions,
and the impulse was transmitted to Germany, via Paris, through
the liberals of Switzerland, Wurtemberg, and Baden : the lead-
ers are revolutionists to the backbone, and wear not only a
different visor from the enthusiasts of 181 o and 1817, but
different features under it."

On 16th August 1824, the Diet passed regulations for the
maintenance of public order within the confederation. A friend
wrote to Perthes : " Nobody understands the people ; and the
sense of this ignorance, the consciousness of groping in the
dark, is the true rationale of the negative policy observed by
our rulers. Positivism, however, rules the world ; for it does,
or, at least, proposes to do something : but, on the other hand,
negativism is more lasting, for it is cautious, and does nothing
which cannot be maintained. The superlative of positivism is
a bedlamite, of negativism a cipher ; and I should have no
difficulty in choosing between them." Perthes answered :
" A thousand times rather the bedlamite than the cipher ; for
something can be made of the bedlamite, if not in this world,
yet in the next ; but of the cipher nothing, neither here nor
there. But there are, in fact, no ciphers : what you call a cipher
is a minus ; and even a minus is something, only it makes
nobody rich, and would not entice even a dog from the fire-
side. Work is possible only when a man has chosen decidedly
his path, turns a deaf ear to criticism, and in respect to stum-
blingblocks, that are met with, and cannot be removed, has
faith in God. No good comes of negation, fault-finding, rebel-
lion against what is, and the destructive tendency ; good can


arise only from tlie creative longing, accompanied by courage
founded on faith. What can an age like ours effect, in tlie
political life of which only negative powers are at work, the
governments acting only by prohibitions, and the subjects be-
stirring themselves only to find faulty, and pull down l"




The struggle between Liberalism and the governments was
carried on with renewed vigour during these years, and many
true patriots, conceiving that victory on eitlier side would be
equally fatal to the country, fell into a desponding state of
mind, which blinded their eyes to whatever still remained
vigorous and sound.

Niebuhr expressed himself thus to Perthes in the spring of
1824 : " I see nowhere any greatness in the conduct of public
affairs ; no individual is pre-eminent : and there is not a true
diplomatist remaining, Metternich alone, perhaps, excepted.
Mediocrity is invading us on all sides. As South America has
only Negro-Indian states to shew, without any strongly marked
character, so the political dulness of South America is passing
into Europe, to complete our degeneracy,'' On another occa-
sion Niebuhr remarked : " No Italian can rise to the sentiment
of nationality ; now as ever the Milanese hate the Bolognese,
these the Florentines, and so on. They would all rather re-
main under a foreign yoke, than give up attempting to sub-
jugate one another. In one thing only are they unanimous,
and that is to let none of their money pass the Alps. It will
always be impossible to make Christians of the Italians ; but


tliej are ever ready to become heathens/' Again respecting
France : " Tlie government of Richelieu aimed at reconciling
freedom and popular rights with the kingly power ; but failed
through the intractableness of the nation, which cannot be
governed with an independent Chamber. In France, as in the
rest of Europe, the Liberals are but dastardly talkers, without
the courage and the power to act. The revolutionary comite
directoire in Paris has no doubt, since 1815, shewn a disposi-
tion to act ; it has provoked and paid for all the attempts at
insurrection since the second return of the Bourbons ; but its
own internal divisions, one party wishing Napoleon II., and
another a republic, rendered community of action impossible ;
and besides, the leaders were incompetent. Instead of stepping
forth themselves, they put forward subordinates, and now they
are quite powerless ; probably they have not a single franc to
draw from Lafitte of Napoleonist money. The government
has documentary evidence of all this in its hands, but cannot
use it ; because many peers, particularly those created by De-
cazes, are implicated in the above transactions. In intimate
correspondence with the Piirisian Committee were NN. and
PP. in Germany. What in all the world can they hope to do
with the Germans ? Who can have patience with our Liberal
professors and their disciples ? When, in 1814, I declared the
Spanish constitution to be dangerous for Europe, the aristocra-
tic salons were moved with indignation, and now Count X.
holds me for a Jacobin ! How I despise such creatures ! If
but one of them could shew himself a man, with energy enough
to act out a bad principle, he might blow up everything, and
the people would tolerate it." Perthes answered in a letter :
" Our race was always frail, yet making high claims, sinful,


yet haunted by noble visions. A hundred years ago Ilaller
sang- : —

' Thou luckless compromise betwoon tlie angel and the beast,
Still boasting of thy Reason high — the thing thou usest least !
Thou life-long child, too sure to choose the wrong thing and the vain.
Ready alike to own thy faults, and straightway fail again.'

But may I, can I despise my fellow-man V

The genius of melancholy seemed to turn the eyes of all
men in these times to the dark side of things. One wrote :
" Houses are springing up on every side like mushrooms, and
every spot of ground, good or bad, is cultivated with care and
skill, but with loss. Houses and lands are not as formerly the
tokens of wellbeing, but only proofs to what exertions the
pressure of the time spurs on individuals. To keep the wolf
from the door is the mainspring of action in our age." Another:
" The state-loans and paper-money have created throughout
Germany a thirst for gain unknown before, and which will tell
fearfully on succeeding generations." A third who had passed
his life in an important political position : " With me public
life, though I am still officially employed in it, is receding into
the background. For one to whom it has given satisfaction, I
could name hundreds who bewail the waste of their best powers,
because their utmost exertions have produced no result." A
friend in Holstein : " The state is poor, and the number of
those who must be fed annually increases ; consequently the
value of men, whether candidates for appointments, or already
holding them, falls from day to day, and with it their own
sense of dignity. A multitude of needy nobles shut out the
middle classes from all offices even of inferior income. The
tithes will be gradually but at length redeemed ; we shall have


touglier work however with that other part of our media3val
inheritance, tlie nobles by descent but without property.
Holstein is too rich in Counts ; it is a dreadful look-out !"
Niebuhr wrote to Perthes : " Even among well-meaning' aristo-
crats there arc still many who consider their own claims un-
bounded, and those of all others secondary. Many of them
do not seem to be aware that we too, according to our several
abilities and merits, and that their very peasants, have claims ;
and, accordingly, when they do anything for these latter, they
conceive a profound veneration for themselves, which might
well grow into the love of virtue." Another wrote : " The
nobility is not destined to flourish again ; for it would fain
make money, but knows neither what money is nor how to use
it. The nobility had no need of money in the middle ages,
and would have done more wisely, had it kept aloof from the
modern world, to which, indeed, it does not belong : the good
among them wander about like strangers, and the bad stand
everywhere in the way." Perthes answered : " It is rather
difficult for those to keep aloof from the modern world, who
are once for all in the midst of it, and I think that the nobility
occupied a useful position in the last century. Only in quite
recent times, since their property was made moveable, and they,
hoping that money would make money, have come into com-
petition with the trading and industrious classes, have the
nobles suffered ; and I believe that, unless they withdraw from
this foreign atmosphere, they will perish, but not to the advan-
tage of society. We need a fixed rallying point; everything
may not be moveable, saleable, as if money were the only
power ; the fixed and the moveable elements are both neces-
sary to a great social whole." A correspondent in Berlin


wrote: " Our age knows very well its evils, and their causes,
but not their remedy ; and the worst is that, in such a state of
internal stagnation, every man is almost compelled to look out
for himself, and thus all are on the highway to moral perdition.
Life cannot be renewed by laws and decrees, nor a sickly
organization restored to health by external appliances, but yet
the governments are chiefly to blame that nothing better
than our present miserable condition has resulted from the
struggle in which we all united to thi'ow off the ignominy of
foreign dominion. You say that this is no time for devising
schemes, and that every man must just endeavour to maintain
a sterling character in himself You may be right, but it is
not the less a sad thing to pass the best years of one's life in
mere preparatives and expectation. The good times are still
far off in the distance, and, when they do come, we shall be old,
and unfit to take an active part in them." Another corre-
spondent, who acknowledges himself to have been often revived
by Perthes' courageous hopefulness, puts the good time coming
still further in the future, and thinks despair pardonable, be-
cause there is no prospect of better things even for his grand-

Notwithstanding all this, Perthes' horizon remained clear.
He wrote : " My strength has always been in clinging to hope,
and I cling to it still. I should like to conduct some of these
Jeremiahs first through Germany, and then through the other
countries of Europe ! They would soon see that there is more
well-being and freedom, with less misery and poverty, among us
than elsewhere. In the higher ranks, indeed, there is weak-
ness and hesitation ; but the people are prosperous, and there
never was in Germany so numerous and comfortable a middle-


class as now ; only it is not contented, and luould be something
more than a middle-class. With narrow views and a feeble will,
but insatiable passions, men run after fantastical ideals, being
possessed by the fond imagination that the fault is not in them-
selves, but in the institutions of the country. If every party
could only be permitted in turn to try its hand at government,
they would all become wiser, and lower their demands."

After a short tour in Thuringia, Perthes wrote to a friend a
most glovving description of the improvements effected during
thirty years. In districts which formerly produced only
wretched potatoes and oats, he had seen splendid rye and
wheat, with well furnished gardens and. orchards ; and in
others, where agriculture was less flourishing, he had found
paper-mills, glass-works, iron-works, and potteries. On lands,
which had passed from the hands of the nobility into those of
wealthy citizens, magnificent crops were growing, and enrich-
ing their now proprietors, and the nobility themselves were now
following this example of success by judicious improvements.
Trade, too, had assumed a higher position. " A quarter of a
century ago, the so-called merchants in Thuringia were mere
hucksters, without knowledge or culture, and socially beneath
the artisan ; but now, even in the smaller towns, you meet with
merchants of extensive views, who have been trained in Ham-
burgh or Bremen, and correspond, not as formerly through
Leipzic, but directly with the great marts of the world. It is
very pleasing also to observe that this growing prosperity has
not led to luxury in eating and drinking, dress and amuse-
ments ; in the houses alone has it produced a change. Every
one is now intent upon liaving larger and loftier rooms, and
more elegant furniture, which is a good sign. Cleanliness and


neatness at home arc not indeed morality, but they are steps to
it ; and I think tliat the clean and comfortable inns, whicli are
now everywhere established, may both indicate and promote an
improvement in morals." Again : " Wlierein consists the dege-
neracy so much talked of? In the extent of our country, and
its population? Our loss in the west was amply compensated
ibr by our gains in the east — Silesia, Bohemia, and the Baltic
provinces, — and weliavo won immensely by the diffusion of our
language. In freedom ? What country can boast of so many
free and independent families as Germany ? and what German
land groans eitlier under the tyranny of the prince, or the
oppression of the nobility ? In property ? Oui- working-classes
are much better off than those in France ; and as for peasantiy,
England has none at all ; nor could our middle-classes, forty
years ago, have so much as dreamed that state of comfort in
which they noAv live. In the department of mind? Here at least
we have neither stood still nor gon.e back ; German culture has
made conquests over all the world. In lionour? "Well, we were
subjugated no doubt, but by our own power w^e recovered our
freedom. In political wisdom ? In this we may be wanting
still, but we liave made great progress in political knowledge
and skill, and we are daily making more. AVhoever can re-
member what the interior of Germany was towards the end of
last century, would hardly know it now : all classes, the official,
the trading, and the working, have at one leap, as it were,
attained the development of many generations. Germany has
neither been exploded like Poland, nor fractured like Italy ; it
is not subject to alternate fits of stupor and fury like Spain,
neither does it stagger between pride and servility like France.
England, evermore England, is thrown in our teeth ; but wlio


among us would accept the wealth, dominion, and political
greatness of England, if along with these must be taken Eng-
lish poverty, cruelty, and nationality ? And truly the one can-
not be had without the other. But no nation in the world has
so much love as the German.'' In a similar strain Perthes
wrote to Pfister, alleging that the nobility was the only class
in Germany which had fallen behind, but that, in many in-
stances, society had suffered by their domains falling into the
hands of unprincipled upstarts. Again : " I cannot imagine
why so many men of parts, knowledge, and experience despair of
Germany, unless it be that they are ambitious of a false
national glory, and would have Germany play a conspicuous
part in Europe, conquering it indeed if possible. These men,
however, would be terrified were they called on to give up and
take, what must be given up and taken, if we are to become
politically the masters of Europe. Would it be anything short
of a national suicide in us to seek for a centralized government
or a Louis XIV., to waste our powers upon foreign objects, or
to have a Paris or a London consuming our vitals ?" Again :
"You complain of your lot being cast in a transition period,
and that you shall not live to see the results. But I ask, was
there ever a period of finality ? Any period so called in history
has been merely a temporary sleep, the middle state of an in-
dolent generation between the deeds of mightier fathers and
mightier grandchildren. To create, not to enjoy results, has
been the lot of man from Adam downwards. I can understand
your sympathy with Niebuhr's harsh judgment of the age ; but
just because you say that advancing years have proved the folly
of your early hopes and wishes, I am sure that your gloomy
view of things is not correct. Youth always hopes and wishes


too much from itself, from others, from nature, and the
world, and old age complains that all is vanity ; both the
hopefulness of youth, and the querulousness of old ago, are
rooted in nature ; but neither youth nor age is fitted to realize
facts exactly as they are, the one being over-luxuriant, and the
other sapless. Neither is the history of the ancient world a
just standard for the appreciation of the present, for in it only
heroes appear, while of the millions who were victimized there
is no trace ; but we look at the present through a microscope,
and cannot shut our eyes to tlie condition of the multitude.
The same holds true of the middle ages, in which, however, we
can clearly see that the many were sacrificed to the few, and
that the oppressed became oppressors whenever they had an
•opportunity. It was no doubt a convenient, but certainly not
a noble state of matters, when a man might in all good con-
science obey his natural instincts, provided he always conformed
to certain external prescriptions. Now, however, we live in an
age which requires a man to conquer himself, — a difficult and
tedious problem, the solution of which supplies no food either to
pride or vanity ; for others cannot know by what struggles the
victory is won, and no one dreams of acting the hero before
God. Hence, I conceive, the discouragement of so many when
youthful ideals have passed away.'' To several representations
of this sort, Rist answered : " Certes, I am no Jean qui pleure ;
indeed, I have always passed for the contrary, and have
strengthened many a weakling, by giving him fresher and
brighter views of life. There is probably but a shade of differ-
ence between you and me : I have less fancy, refuse to cheat
myself, and fear no consequences ; you, on the other hand,
give yourself up, more or less consciously, to this and that pleas-
VOL, II. 26


ing illusion, seeing in things often what you want to see : so
then, since this world has in fact two sides, it may well be that

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 22 of 36)