Clement Theodore Perthes.

Memoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) online

. (page 23 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

each of us is acquainted with both, but that, owing to a differ-
ence of idiosyncrasy, you look rather at the bright -side in dis-
cussion, and I at the dark."

This social despair naturally begat a longing for the appear-
ance of great men who should stir and elevate the prevailing
mediocrity. Rist wrote : — " We need great Individualities,
representatives of a nobler and mightier humanity, who may
become the centres of love and attachment. Entliusiasm for a
multitude is impossible ; when an association of many does any-
thing well, then no one has done it ; when ill, then no one in
particular can be blamed ; yet this unsatisfactory state of things
is becoming more and more general, and every day the indivi-
dual is disappearing more and more in the mass." Perthes
answered : — " I am well aware that marked powerful indivi-
dualities are wanting ; and the want would still more clearly
appear if the private life of kings and statesmen were open to
the public eye. The German nation, more than any other, has
aimed at an ideal ; but, just because it has aimed at the unat-
tainable, she is behind other nations in decision of character,
and poorer than they in great men of action. Historical per-
sonages of the sort among us, either were or became un-Ger-
man. Our time is great in its wants and its problems, but it
is not favourable to the production of great individualities,
except, indeed, bad ones, of rigid intellectual consistency, such
as Napoleon." Other views of Perthes on the same subject
are contained in another letter : " I have long ceased to be
an admirer of human power and greatness ; and just because
I do not expect help from man, I do not give up all for lost.


The grand characteristic of our age seems to me this, tliat
thinofs more than ever come about of themselves, as if under
the immediate providence of God, without the intervention of
heroes. Who, for instance, brought about Napoleon's fall, and
who has decided the course of history since then ? Wo seem
to be more in God's hands now, not in those of kings and minis-
ters." Again: "There may be a great history without pre-
eminent individuals ; and of this take Hamburgh as an ex-
ample on a small scale. Cologne, Ratisbon. and Nuremberg, are
venerable monuments of a great past ; but Hamburgh, besides
having great recollections, is full of power and life at the pre-
sent day. Throughout its struggle of centuries it has preserved
its independence, and commanded respect on the ocean ; yet
its whole history does not furnish materials for a single tragedy,
nor one pre-eminent character, — nothing but the persevering-
endeavour of all. No citizen, no family ever acquired ascen-
dency ; no monument, no building reminds the people of a
single great man among their ancestors ; but the deep insight,
and the quiet self-sacrificing spirit of loyal citizenship, whicli
actuated the community at large, are testified by admirable in-
stitutions of every kind. In times of danger, no one citizen
was ever saluted the saviour of their independence ; all together
ran to the rescue, staking property and life on the issue. What
should make that impossible on a large scale which Hamburgh
has enacted on a small ? I suspect that this demand for gi-cat
men is with many only an excuse for their own sloth." Again :
" What is our individual span of life in the centuries of history?
Our years of positive action may number twenty, at most
thirty, for youth is spent in experiments which are often dic-
tated by passion, and old age is devoted to reminiscences.


Whoever would produce enormous results in two or three de-
cades, must prepare for Napoleon's fate in one form or another.
He who would not only swim in the flood of history, but direct
its current, must be made of other than Christian stuff; only
the crafty, the iron-willed, and the unscrupulous, can impress
their stamp upon the age. Historical ixjrsonages have gene-
rally, as men, had a tendency to what is bad ; the employment
of force, in fact, is repugnant to Christian humility. History
knows only one great historical character ; but His kingdom is
not of this world."

The prevailing desire for great individualities, naturally
worked a revolution in the estimate of Napoleon. On this sub-
ject Rist wrote : " From whom did the Germans ever suffer
more than from Napoleon ? Yet this very man the popular
instinct is now seeking out from beneath the ruins under which
he lay buried, in order to rank him with the heroes. He
sprang from the i>eople, and enacted a series of mighty deeds,
which, in our sober age, appear almost incredible.'' A friend
in Narth Germany wrote to Perthes : " A few days ago I went
into a printseller's shop, and saw a multitude of copperplates
in honour of Napoleon and his family, which have newly ap-
peared, and are forbidden in France. ' Who buys them V I
asked. — 'Who!' said the man; 'they are the very things which
sell best at present. Confectioners, hucksters, and mechanics^
all are cursing England novv, and buy greedily the like/"
Perthes answered : " Napoleon will yet become the idol of the
age ; many are already longing for another such despot to
appear ; and it is quite possible that their desire may be gra-
tified, for, out of fermentations like the present, dragons may
well arise. There are thousands who would destroy everything,.


that no one miglit possess more than tliemselves, and other
thousands would be quite pleased to lie in chains, provided all
who either have more, or are greater than themselves were
reduced to like degradation." To an invitation from a friend
that Perthes would join him in some social festivities on
Napoleon's commemoration-day, Perthes answered: "Certainly
I consider Napoleon to be one of the greatest and most re-
markable phenomena in the history of mankind ; but I set too
liigh a value on freedom and the free development of our race to
accept your invitation. Napoleon was a mighty instrument in
the hands of Providence, and when he had done his work, and
was no longer needed, he was thrown, like other worn-out tools,
into a corner; for not in himself, but only as an instrument,
had he any importance.''




On 1st December 1825 the Emperor Alexander died. " The
closing of no other pair of eyes," wrote Perthes, " could have
been so momentous for the fate of Europe." And a little later :
" The baptism of blood which signalized the accession of the
young prince, must have left a deep impression upon him, and
it is well that the rebellion was of a military character.
Nicholas is said to bear no good-will to us Germans ; but in
everything relating to Russia there is much that is strange and
incomprehensible, and we are by no means exactly informed of
the various passions which brought about recent events.'' In
February 1826, a friend, intimately acquainted with Russian
affairs, wrote to Perthes: — " The pretty general dissatisfaction
with Alexander, which prevailed of late years, was doubtless
a reaction of the old Russian feeling in the heart of the country
against that policy which, since 1806, has sacrificed the national
interests to those of Europe. The interior was neglected, dis-
order and endless abuses had spread throughout all branches
of the administration, because Alexander would be, and
actually was nothing else than minister of foreign affairs. I
pity the young emperor: discontent, distrust, and anxiety


encompass liim on every side ; and, surely, wlioever transmits
an empire in sucli a state to liis successor, must have made
some capital mistake." Perthes answered : " Alexander com-
mitted many mistakes, hut he always abandoned an error on
becoming aware of it, and he always remained true to his con-
victions, without, however, seeking to enforce them by despoti-
cal power. The essence of his nature was a pious disposition,
and a free spirit; to the presumjituous and contradictory claims
of a confused and furious age, he opposed what is most spiri-
tual ; he dared to plant the principle of Christian charity in
the centre of European politics. The princes may have under-
stood the Holy Alliance, the diplomatists certainly did not ; the
popular leaders did not wish to understand it, and the people
themselves had not the key. Did Alexander commit a blunder?
I think not. I expect good fruit from this seed, and that Alex-
ander will appear greater in history as time rolls on." An out-
and-out Liberal wrote to Perthes : — " They wanted a republic
in Russia ! Think of Sclavonian serfs and Cossacks being Re-
publicans, and Russian boyards consuls ! Off go the heads, of
course ! and Metternich will have the pleasure of seeing enacted
what he had long prej)ared for us Germans, in the event of a
conspiracy or insurrection affording him a pretext." Perthes
answered : " If you Liberals had but courage and character,
you would have done just what the revolutionists in other
countries have attempted. If the Carlsbad resolutions had not
blunted the scribblers' pens, and the commission of inquiry
driven you into your nests, you would by this time have dis-
tilled your poison into the hearts of the people. Now, how-
ever, that the power to harm has been taken from you, you
would make the world believe that there never was any danger


in Germany, and that all the government measures were, at the
least, superfluous."

In the very midst of the political complications consequent
on the death of Alexander, came a great financial crisis. In
December 3 825, many great houses in London, Hamburgh,
Berlin, and Leipsic stopped payment, and no one could see how
far it would go. On the 13th of that month, Perthes wrote to
Niebuhr : " The insight, experience, spirit of combination, and
financial resources of the English, will enable them to tide over
the crisis ; though it would do them no harm to learn that
their apparently boundless resources have a limit." Niebuhr
answered: *' England is getting a severe lesson, which will put
an end for some time to speculation with only a paper capital.
That, however, is only one ulcer burst ; there is another, con-
sisting of excessive production, deterioration in the quality of
goods, the utter helplessness of the masses whenever trade lan-
guishes, and the interminable struggle between the landed and
the manufacturing interests. England presents the noblest
and most brilliant spectacle in modern history ; but all human
things come to an end." In the beginning of 1826, Perthes
wrote to Besser : " The misfortune is certainly great to indivi-
duals, but the public can only gain by being taught, from time
to time, that this earth is something more than a fair, or an
exchange. No deliverance can be obtained from an enslaving
power, without individual suffering ; in the patriotic struggle
of 1813, fathers and mothers, widows and brides, were set in
mourning, but the yoke had to be thrown off; to-day we must
be freed from the tyranny of money, and of the exchange
rabble ; purse-proud merchants may not corrupt our society,
nor the wisdom of the money-changer regulate our political


aflfairs." In March 1826, Niebulir wrote: "Universal com-
mercial crises were unknown till 1 721, but since then they have
become constantly more frequent ; and what will it be when,
throughout all Spanish America, as already in the United
States, there shall be a complete chain of credit-giving- estab-
lishments ? The independence of these states has opened up
quite an abyss ; and it will be long ere even England recover
from the terrible shock she has now received."

From 1820 to 1830 Prussia had followed the leading of
Austria in great European questions, and consequently the
deeply-rooted opposition of these two powers had come to be
overlooked by many. Perthes was, from his very boyhood,
a favourer of Austria, not for Austria's sake, but because
the imperial house of Hapsburg had given a political expres-
sion for so many centuries to German unity. In 1822 lie
wrote : " Even when a child I entertained a passionate attach-
ment to the majesty of the German Emperor, and an aversion
to Frederick the Great. I remember being once terribly ex-
cited, when eight years' old, by hearing Frederick lauded to
the skies ; and in my thirteenth year I had a fight during the
night with a Prussian-disposed boy, who was sleeping in the
same room with me." The part which Prussia took, however,
in the liberation- wars greatly abated Perthes' prejudices ; and
in proportion as the probability receded of the German Con-
federation acquiring consistency and vigour, whilst Prussia ad-
vanced in internal development, his prejudices grew weaker,
and a positive favour for Prussia sprang up. Already in 1824,
when he visited the Rhine, it was the Prussian element, viz.,
the soldiers, the men in public offices, and the university,
which made a profound impression upon him ; and this impres-

VOL. II. 27


sion was strengtliened by a month's residence in Berlin in
the spring of 1 825. Here is one of his letters from Berlin :
" Everything in Berlin proves it to be an upstart town ; the
inhabitants aim at high things, but the ancient pettiness of
the town always peeps through. Vienna and Hamburgh, Dres-
den and Hanover, Frankfurt and Leipsic, have the staid and
consistent look of old towns ; but in Berlin things have not
settled down into a regular order, and every man has a fashion
of his own. Doubtless two-thirds of the government-servants,
the learned, the principal merchants, and even the mechanics,
are from the provinces, and to them Old Prussia is new. The
city- born are lost in tlie multitude of strangers, and become
changed themselves. The old military system created a popu-
lace within the populace, and its abandonment must have
greatly improved the mass of the population ; but in every
rank one can still perceive the traces of old Berlinism. A
liking for acute and witty remarks, for what the French call
esprit, springs up in all who reside here for any length of time.
Multitudes delight in ferreting out secrets, whether they con-
cern public life or private affairs ; every one is fond of shewing
that he knows something, and if that something will enable
him to produce a sensation, or even an impression, he is sure
to come out with it, wliatevcr it be. This out-spokenness is
not unconnected with a certain middle-class straightforward-
ness ; the Berliners arc neither stiff and proud on the one
hand, nor excessively polite or retiring on the other. The
contrasts of character presented by the Prussian kings are
still exhibited in the society of the capital. The present king
is not over-estimated, but universally respected and beloved.
The simplicity of his life, his uniformity of temper, liis


thoroughly German character, and the manliness of his
2)hysique, make a favourable impression ; and his foibles, which
are universally known, exert no evil influence on either the
government or tlie administration. Only in respect to religion,
and the clothing of the army, will he listen to nobody. People
say that, in regard to the latter, no harm is done, as he meddles
only wnth externals, but that it is otherwise in the case of re-
ligion. The king's own disposition is trvily pious, and one can
easily understand therefore how he should be unwilling that
ecclesiastical arrangements and litui'gical forms should be
at the caprice of individual pastors. When he sees that the
consistories are powerless, because each member of them has a
different opinion, is it any w^onder that he should feel dis-
posed to use the power which he possesses ? The Council of
State is a remarkable institution, were it only for the univer.sal
esteem in M'hich it is held. Except in England, there is cer-
tainly not an assembly in Europe of equal intelligence. Fault
is found with the number of its members, and the frequency
of its meetings as being too great ; but it is known to be a
point of honour with every member to declare his convic-
tions, and the suffrages are taken quite democratically in the
order of the alphabet. The conclusions come to are formally
only recommendations, but effect has always been given to
them hitherto. It is really a pleasure to see the Pnissian
soldiery, such is their youthful bloom, and their stalwart ap-
pearance. One is reminded by many a fine intellectual coun-
tenance among them that the youth of the higher classes are
also obliged to serve. I have uniformly remarked a becoming
behaviour in the military : they are discreet to the citizens,
and tlie citizens polite to them ; the citizens, indeed, regard


the soldiers as their own. The common mess-table is found
to have an excellent effect ujDon the officers ; nourishing a
kindly feeling among them all, and giving the yonnger ones a
more decided bearing. What a difference between all this,
and what I saw in Berlin in 1800 and 1806 ! What a lasting
impression must the year 1813 have made upon the whole
population here ! Every third or fourth man you meet in
the street wears a decoration, and every one is proud of it,
whether he be a Councillor of State or a common porter."

Perthes' letters from Berlin contained many just observa-
tions on distinguished men. For instance : " I found Nicolo-
vius little changed, scarcely older in appearance, for, in-
deed, he never looked young. In his heart he is a pious
Christian, and he has clear views on the present condi-
tion of religion and the Church, but he wants decision. His
youth and the early part of his manhood were spent in
the society of men superior to himself in genius, as Schlos-
ser, Jacobi, Goethe, Stolberg, and Voss ; he could under-
stand and appropriate their utterances, but he looked up to
them with excessive veneration, because he felt himself to be
defective in imagination, and consequently in creative power.
In this way he did not acquire in youth, what can only then
be acquired, viz., self-dependence, and the conviction that
something else than talent and genius are necessary to make a
man, and this, I imagine, is the cause of his apparent hesita-
tion and weakness ; besides, the present time is peculiarly
difficult for men in office, particularly for such as are anxious
always to do the just thing. In Niebuhr there is a strange
mixture of the statesman and the savant, of refinement and
awkwardness, yet he is truly a great and noble man. He keeps


himself quite inclepcndcnt, and says openly whatever lie thinks.
Before I. saw him, a man high in office said to nie with a
dash of envy : ' Niehuhr can say and do what would be al-
lowed in no other person ; he is a crony of Schleiermacher's,
is often with Cousin, and enjoys the unlimited confidence of
the Crown-Prince, who is ever asking what Niebuhr says of
this and that.' I found Schleiermacher wonderfully changed.
Formerly I had known him for a keen, sarcastic, violent
humorist, but now, whether lively or quiet, he is uniformly
serene and indulgent ; his sharp features have acquired an
expression of peace ; repose and gentleness are now his, and
love, which struggled so long with intellect, will conquer
yet. God has vouchsafed him an excellent wife, who will
assist him to gain the final victor3^ The impression he made
upon me answered exactly to his own words some time ago,
viz., 'I wish neither to offend nor to injure any one by my theo-
logical writings: I strive in all things with all my might to
" speak the truth in love," and hope, by God's help, never to
be moved again from this i:)Osition.' "

After Perthes' return from Berlin he wrote : " The result of
my observations is, that in Prussia the German nation is
bursting out into a second youth. Prussia is thoroughly Ger-
man, and accordingly, along with all that is great and good,
along with abundance of thought and knowledge, appears a
want of practicality, a waste of power and labour, the ideal
aimed at being pitched too high for the fact. Unless the his-
tory of Europe take some unexpected turn, northern and
central Germany will all be incorporated into one Prusso-
German State : and, from the way in which affairs are con-
ducted in the smaller German states, this result would be no


misfortune." Again : " The smaller states liave lost what
good they had. They no longer contribute to the genuine
development of the German mind ; they are no longer conser-
vators of German manners and customs. They have lost all
sympathy with German greatness and honour ; they are far
behind in the higher departments of thought ; and a dull
narrow-minded Rationalism reigns both in religion and poli-
tics. I have the smaller states in central Germany particu-
larly in my eye ; they are ripe for obscure burial. It is other-
wise in southern Germany: in Baden, Wiirtemberg, and Hesse,
troubles are preparing. The position and life of Bavaria and
Hanover are of another sort. We, however, shall not live to see
the new order of things, unless, indeed, great events of an un-
foreseen character arise : the authority of public law, and the
many family ties between the smaller and larger states, prevent
just now the use of force for the amalgamation of the former
with the latter, and their death by internal decay is a slow
process. It is true that the government servants, and the
middle classes in general, long for a fatherland of greater extent
than a few square miles ; but, so long as the smaller states are
not burdened with the higher military service, and the taxes
of the larger, so long will they think themselves favoured, and
insist on maintaining their independence."

Niebuhr wrote to Perthes from Berlin : " The state is en-
gaged in a noble struggle, yet it fails at every point for reasons
which may be called accidental. Above all, we need a minister
of foreign aifairs, but he is not forthcoming. The minister
should know what the state can and ought to attempt ; what
are its strong points, and what its weak, what persons are com-
petent to manage the various departments ; he must know


intimately the cliaracter of the monarch, also what the nation
wishes, and consequently is able to accomplish. He must have
tact to learn, by means of the ambassadors, the strong points
and the weak of other states, the character of their princes
and statesmen, the thoughts and wishes of their populations ;
and no time whatever should be wasted in drudging labour.
The minister, however, of whom we are speaking, wearies him-
self writing despatches in good French, in which he succeeds
but moderately, and which, at any rate, his councillors should
do for him ; if they cannot do it, they should be dismissed, but
this is not done ; the most useless persons remain in office,
when once they have got a footing, and most of the ambassa-
dors are as worthless as the councillors. I could give the
minister exact information about America and Italy ; I know
England well but not thoroughly, Austria too little, and
Russia not at all." A Prussian officer of high rank, to whom
Perthes remarked that a war might be necessary for the army
after a long peace, replied : " A war with France would be
rather critical. The temper of the people on the Rhine has
greatly improved no doubt, but it were well that many an in-
veterate old talker should die out, before these provinces are
made the theatre of war. Tlie Prussian army might be a
match for the French troops and marshals ; but France has a
multitude of colonels formed under Napoleon, whose military
experience is now ripe, and to these Prussia has little to

Somewhat later Perthes wrote : " So admirable is the inner
life of Prussia, that the German people everywhere are desir-
ous of sharing it. The Zollverein will lead to a re-model-
ling of Germany ; and all are in favour of it, because all in-


stinctively feel it to be tlie precursor of another and more per-
fect unity. If Prussia only observe patience and prudence, so
as not to create alarm, the dukes and princes will be mediatized
before they know what they are about. They have indeed a
presentiment of this ; but things have gone so far that they
cannot help themselves, and Prussia is merely doing what the
Diet ought to liave done." Again, in respect to Austria : —