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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" It were a sad prospect for Europe, if all its states were sta-
tionary like Austria, but with so many restless and onward
moving peoples and governments, the permanent and conser-
vative character of Austria is a useful counterpoise. As one
grows older, one becomes much more tolerant of natures op-
posed to one's own ; and, in fact, one sees at length, to use a
vulgar expression, that what is sauce for the goose is not
always sauce for the gander. In nature itself there are woods
as well as meadows, and wild beasts as well as domestic ani-
mals ; and out of this very variety result the unity and beauty
of the w^iole." Since 1827, France and England had passed
through severe domestic trials, and the unsettled condition of
the Greeks kept Europe in perpetual fear of a violent interven-
tion on the part of Russia in the East. In October 1827, the
Turkish fleet was destroyed at Navarino, and on this subject
Perthes wrote : " The deep import of this fact is remarkable
enough ; the three great Christian confessions, the Greek, the
Catholic, and the Protestant, were united against the Crescent,
only politically, no doubt, but still united. If the Mahomedans
cannot get up their fanaticism again, they are done for ; but if
they do, woe betide us." In 1829, Rist wrote : " There reigns
among men just now an uncomfortable feeling, which is in
complete contrast to the boasted well-being of peaceful times.


It arises from the conviction that the present state of things
cannot last ; in Northern Germany especially, future attempts
are anticipated, and consequently the ties between man and
man, and still more, between the governors and the governed,
are loosened. Things cannot remain long as they are ; and we
shall probably by and by find the truth exemplified that storms
clear the air/' Perthes answered, — " Storms will not be want-
ing, but whither will they carry us ? Perhaps, even while you
read these lines, the armies of Russia are marching on Con-
stantinople, and what then ? When I look at the internal condi-
tion of Great Britain and France, of Mexico and Cuba, of Por-
tugal and Spain, everywhere I see storms brewing, and I
sicken at the sight. God preserve Germany for Europe I" In
April 1830, Perthes wrote : "In France the broth-pot of de-
struction to the old-established relations of Europe is on the
fire, and we shall all have to sup out of it. A regeneration,
political and social, must come, but no one sees how."




Perthes was spending the summer months of 1830 at
Georgentlial, a village not far from Goth a, when the quiet of
his forest-retreat was rudely broken in upon by the trico-
loured couriers chasing one anotlier through Gotha, and an-
nouncin2: the revolution in Paris. The following extracts are
from letters written towards the end of August : — " Tlie chase
is in full fly, the hounds are off, and who will bring them back
to the kennel ? After centuries of bitter experience, Europe
came to acknowledge the first-born of the reigning family as
king by divine right ; France now recurs to tlie system of
election, only that, instead of a few princes, all the people are
electors, and the upsliot of all will be without doubt a Sultan !
Martignac, Neufville, and Chateaubriand, are acquitting them-
selves like men ; but how soon may all such, whose intelli-
gence, experience, and honesty entitle them to take the lead,
become the prey of obscure but ferocious bloodhounds ! I am
very curious to see how men of the modern historical, philoso-
phic, and poetic school, such as Guizot, Cousin, and Victor
Hugo, will act."

The Paris Revolution was the signal for insurrectionarv


movements throughout Germany. In a letter to liis son, a
student in Bonn, Perthes wrote : " Crash on all sides ! The
towns breaking- out, the Hessian peasants in arms, but Gotha
is quiet. The Duke called together at once a few of the more
intelligent citizens, to see and hear for himself how the wind
blew. The country people complained of the game-laws, and
the dearness of w^ood ; the game was accordingly shot down,
and measures taken to lower the price of wood. The towns-
people, in corporations assembled, had only local grievances to
present, which the Duke either agreed to remove, or promised
to mitigate. The great difficulty here, and in all small states,
is connected with the public domains, and the application of the
revenues derived from them ; but there is no fear of a disturb-
ance in Gotha, the Duke being a sensible man, and the people,
though ready with political theories for all the world, being-
little disposed to apply them in their own case, but rather to
right matters in detail, according as the shoe pinches."

From Holstein Perthes received the following : — " Our po-
pulation remains on the whole quiet, so that the first wave of
insurrection has passed by us. Emissaries sowed the seeds of
revolution, but my sluggish fellow-countrymen awoke from
their sleep only for a moment, rubbed their eyes, and fell
asleep again."

Another aspect of the revolutionary movement was brought
before Perthes in a letter from a member, now dead, of a small
princely house. " I send you the following details, that you
may use them for the benefit of my little patch of Fatherland ;
but let no one know that they come from me. Only think ! bad
it not been for a stall-keeper, the castle windows would have been
smashed ; he says they desisted to please him. Placards have


been repeatedly posted on the town-liouse, demanding' free
and independent representation, abolition of the beer-duties,
alleviation of agricultural distress, a liberal administration
uncontrolled by the interested princely exchequer, abolition of
the brandy monopoly, and the establishment of a workhouse
and a well-regulated prison. That is all fair and necessary.
What has been done? As good as nothing. Is that liberal ?
and yet to be liberal is very necessary. Burn this note, I pray
you ; but use it where you can, provided always that no one
know whence it is, say in some far distant newspaper — what
do you think ? All officials arc so ill paid with us, that none
of them can bring up their children. Is not that hard ? All
are worse off than their predecessors ; that is not right, and
then more work is required of them than ever. I have my
doubts about a representative constitution ; our people are all
peasants, and they are so rude ; would they be fit to choose de-
puties ? At the election of magistrates there is always a fray ;
and whoever fights best wins, I beg you most earnestly to
destroy this note. Let me hear how you are."

The outbreaks in Dresden and Cassel,the irregular movements
in Southern Germany, the flight of the Duke of Brunswick,
and the burning of his castle, created the utmost anxiety in
many minds. One friend in Berlin wrote to Perthes, that the
governments had quite underrated the power of the masses,
which, as being a natural force, it would be very difficult to
meet. Another writes despondingly, in anticipation of a war
with Franco, and exclaims, " What a war will that be ! What
elements have been let loose in Germany and France by the
Revolution ! How perverted are men's views in a great part of
our country ! Tricoloured ribbons in Hamburgh, deputation


of Jona students to Lafayette ! God preserve a better spirit in
the Prussian army I"

If tlie insurrectionary movement filled some with anxiety
and sorrow, it begat hopes in others, and a malicious joy at the
extremity to which the governments were reduced. A corre-
spondent in Munich wrote to Perthes, expressing equal concern
for the gullibility of the multitude, and the recklessness of the
governments, adding that the calamity of Germany's being-
split up into so many small and ill-governed states, appeared in
such a crisis in all its horrors, but still that the renovation,
rather than the destruction of tlie old, might reasonably be ex-
pected. Another letter to Perthes has the following : " Ven-
geance is now overtaking the princes for their oiFences in 1814
and 1815 : they cared not a straw for the people then, though
the people had just delivered them from the profound abase-
ment into which they had fallen by their own folly and weak-
ness. God is in the storm, judging kings and princes by his
thunders. I had hoped for other ten years of quiet ; the old ge-
neration would then have nearly passed away, and the new one
would have come forth, full of power, but without violence :
as it is, not only will the kings be punished, but we too along
with them.'' Perthes replied : " I know well the faults charge-
able on the authorities during the last fifteen years, but I say,
that, without committing such faults, no art or power of man
could have kept a generation in check, the entire educated por-
tion of which was bent on subverting the existing order of
things. As yet, indeed, all the outbreaks in Germany have arisen
from local causes : in Cassel and Brunswick, they were directed
against particular princes ; in Breslau and Hamburgh the Jews
were maltreated ; in Berlin, the mechanics got up a row, and


a lot of people ran to see what was the matter ; in Dresden, the
root of all was the hatred of Saxon Rationalism against Catho-
licism, and no one of the outbreaks has revolted me more than
this of religious fanaticism without any religious basis. In
almost all other places, the disturbances were raised against
the magistrates, and their antiquated administration. Where
peasants and mechanics rose at the bidding of a popular orator,
the re-establishment of the corporations, the regulation of the
finances, the abolition of the customs' boundaries, and the re-
presentation of the people, were the claims put forth ; but not
even the most hot-headed have yet raised a voice against mo-
narchy itself, the existing dynasties, or the nobility. This says
a great deal for the good sense of our people ; but it will not
remain so long. Our thcorisors call in question everything in
both Church and State, and the danger grows with every year
of our people becoming mere tools in the hands of talkers and
writers. Perhaps, however, this danger will be obviated by
the very outbreaks that have taken place ; for all, who have
anything to lose, may thus be made to understand what an
uprising of the masses means, and that theories realized by the
people may destroy the property, and shed the blood of their
very authors and advocates. Small sovereigns too, and their
ministers, may learn to leave off the arbitrary and corrupt prac-
tices in which they have hitherto indulged."

In the end of August and beginning of September 1830,
the success of the Belgian revolution added another element
to the fermentation in Germany. Towards the end of the year
Perthes wrote to Rist : " When you wrote to me on the 29th
November, you did not anticipate the extraordinary events
which took place on tliat very day in Warsaw. For anything


1 know, there may be going on, somewhere, at this very moment,
a revolution that shall overturn all the calculations of cabinets.
The waves of the Polish revolution roll Avestwards, and when they
meet the revolutionary wave which is flowing eastwards, break-
ers will arise, and a whirlpool. The immediate future, which
concerns ourselves and our children, seems dark to me ; but I
cannot share in Niebuhr's horrible anticipations of our ulti-
mate fate. On the fall of the Roman empire it was possible
for desolation and barbarism to become universal and abiding,
because all intellectual life was then confined to Italy; the death
of Italy was thus the death of the world : now however, in
every quarter of the globe, nations are vying with each other
in civilisation ; and the shocks of a destructive revolution are
prevented by the great ocean from affecting them all at once."
About the same time : " I see stars in the darkness. The
debates in the Chambers, and the ministerial speeches in France,
compared with those of forty years ago, shew the great progress
which has been made in knowledge and experience : Guizot
and Perier, Maison and Sebastiani, Chateaubriand and Kergor-
lai, are giving proof of high excellence, each in his own sphere ;
the Jacobin rabble is utterly without suj^port in the Chambers :
the old talkers, Benjamin Constant, and Lafayette, are dying
off, and it is possible that Louis Philippe may be skilful enough
to win over, and rein in the French youth : France may even
get the better of Paris, though that is not likely ; I rather an-
ticipate with you, a ' fortunate anarchy' for France : the plu-
tocracy will soon play out its game, and France will be seen to
need a despot, as Europe needs a great man. Whether such be
yet born, time will shew." In October, Perthes Avrote to his
son in Bonn : " Cheer up ! The coming years will demand,


for all departments of government, men of cliaracter and deci-
sion, of knowledge and tact : the rank of one's parents will be
little inquired into ; small wit and snobbism, learned theories
and fine-spun systems, will not maintain their ground. I am
delighted with the prospect of talking over many things with
you next Easter ; till then, at any rate, the world will wag on."
At times, the pressure of events did weigh heavily on
Perthes. He writes : " There often comes upon me an all-
pervading anxiety, why or about what I cannot well tell ; this
only I know, that the sky is all leaden and starless. At other
times I feel wearied and disgusted with tlie whole course of
the world. God alone can support the soul ; but this also I
find, that redoubled activity, and a lively participation in the
joyous life of one's own children, always supply a fresh draught
in the wilderness." From melancholy brooding and cold in-
difference Perthes was equally free ; and he ever retained his
old faith in the high destiny reserved for Germany in the
world. Thus to a friend : " Germany alone can pour fresh
blood into the veins of Europe : after all that has happened, she
is still the asylum of religion and science, wliere truth and right
meet with profound sympathy and love. Even should we be
burned to ashes again, I believe that the Phoenix would reap-
pear as in the worst times : whoever remembers the year 1813
need not despair of Germany." Perthes received the following
answer : " These are old stories. The earth rolls away from
under the feet of any one who stands by 1813, leaving him in
the air, incapable of exercising any influence on the ground
which sustains him. The gigantic steps of history permit
no man to stand still : off with the slippers, then, and on
with the boots ; for we must onward, even at the risk of turn-


bling lieels over head. The Germans seek one fatherland, and
they will find it, but not in the direction of 1813. All the
smaller states are ripe for change, and some powerful state
will profit by the crisis, only, however, to undergo a revolution
itself, from which, if foreseen, it would recoil." In another letter
to Perthes, thus : " We may not anchor our hopes on any one
particular ground, but must believe that within all forms of
change there dwells a spirit, which brings into view now one
side of the social life, now another, and displays its power now
in the individual, and now in tlie masses. One thing I see, viz.,
that all this confusion and noise, all this speech-making and
shooting, all this book-making and newspaper-reading must,
in the long-run, issue in the amelioration of the lowest and most
destitute classes. With respect to us, who stand on the pin-
nacle of a civilisation centuries old, there is little more to be
done, except in the improvement of our inner man : but down
there beneath us, much remains to be done, and, till that is ac-
complished, humanity, civilisation, and Christianity are in a false
position, contributing to the maintenance of a form which se-
cures the few in possession against the many, the awards of
fortune against the claims of right. There is the old democrat
again, you will say : yes, and the old democrat is not perplexed
by the present indications of providence, as those amiable pa-
tricians must be, who would fain condescend to the people, but
can never understand them, because, as Shakspeare says, ' they
faint away at their stinking breath." " Neander thus wrote to
Perthes : " The signs of the times, well considered, do not prog-
nosticate dissolution and barbarism, but rather a new creation
of the spirit. There is no spring without storms.''
Perthes recognised public opinion as the power of the day,

VOL. 11. 28


controlling even governments themselves ; but he considered
that it was altogether misled with regard to the revolution of
July. In one of his letters he says : " Now, as formerly, France
disclaims a war of conquest, and the Germans forthwith clap
their hands, and sing odes, like Klopstock forty years ago.
Marshal Maison, however, speaks out, and declares : ' Let our
policy be first national and interested, then cosmopolitan.'
' No,' answer the Germans, ' that is antiquated policy ; let it be
first cosmopolitan and then national.'" Again : " Our learned
publicists will soon demonstrate that the German Confedera-
tion has no right to interfere, when the French, with their old
art, stir up the people of one German state after another to
revolt, and, setting at nought old Frankish legitimacy, drive
one prince after another from his throne. These learned gen-
tlemen would have no difiiculty in drawing up a constitution
for another confederation of the Rhine." To his son in Bonn :
" The old man, who stands on the ground of experience, and
the young one who is hastening on to action in the future, sel-
dom agree : therefore I am the more happy that your views
accord with my own."

Perthes stirred up many men of talent and character, in his
wide-spread connexion, to check, in their several spheres, the
revolutionary tendency which a thousand tongues and pens were
spreading among the people. Thus, to Gentz, in Vienna, he
wrote : " Europe may go to ruin with this newly invented sys-
tem of non-intervention. The fire is blazing in Belgium and
Poland, but neither Austria nor Prussia may help to extin-
guish it, till the Rhine, Posen, and Gallicia are included in the
conflagration. You have often, and with eifect, swayed kings
and cabinets : disdain not to sway the people. With your pen


of fire, you might, for once at least, bring about a revolution in
public opinion." To a man who had occupied an important
position under Napoleon, as a tool, and who applied to Perthes
in November to assist him in publishing a periodical of revo-
lutionary tendency, Perthes replied : — " I am astonished that
you should dare, at this time, to appear again among us Ger-
mans ; and indignant that you should suppose me capable of
helping you. A man who, not twenty years ago, betrayed his
prince, and for filthy lucre's sake accepted a situation which
obliged him to perpetrate the most horrid cruelties, should keep
silence, and thank the invisible powers that he is forgotten.
You are a wretch, and stand on the brink of the grave ; there-
fore I shall hold my peace; but, if you speak out publicly, then
so shall I, undismayed by the fate of two men, whose blood is
already at your door."

On the 17th December 1830, Niebuhr sent to Perthes the
following letter, the last but one he ever wrote : — " My afiflicted
heart would find relief in writing some such address to the
Germans as you indicated in your last ; but prudence dissuades
me, and indeed it could not produce any great eifect. If I
write, and it please me, I shall send it to you. Never has Ger-
many been so untrue to herself as now ; and, since the revolu-
tion in Poland, not only is salvation by her own strength hope-
less, but there is no room, which yet there should always be,
even for a miracle to re-establish order in human affairs. I
understand that my Preface has given great dissatisfaction to
the wise men of the age. Posterity will judge otherwise. You,
dear Perthes, are at one with me, of course." Perthes answered :
" When you say that Germany has never been so untrue to
herself as now, I allow it in respect to the half-educated of the


nation, wlio, by manifold writing and reasoning, form and
direct public opinion ; but the recent tumults have not betrayed
a thorough corruption in Germany. Either they have been
mere outbreaks of popular joy, such as happen now and then in
all countries, or there have been causes for them such as are
always followed by the like consequences,"

Niebuhr was dead before the above answer reached Bonn.
In a letter to his son, Perthes thus refers to his deceased friend :
" At our last parting, which I little thought would be our last,
Niebuhr shed tears. Great is the loss to our youth, to science,
to our country ; for rarely have so much talent and learning,
views at once so profound and so extensive, been united with so
loving a heart. He has been taken away from the evil to come ;
for whatever turn things may take, much must happen that
would have exasperated him, and he would not have been able
to stand it long. His death will enable you, who are young, to
measure how great or how little a single man is in this world."
A few weeks later : " I shall feel the loss of Niebuhr as long as
I live. Hardly a day passed but I saw, heard, observed, or
thought something which I treasured up for the purpose of
consulting him about it." On the same subject Rist wrote to
Perthes : '' One more is taken away of those Avho worked their
way through this mighty period ! And what a cotemporary !
The terror of all bad and base men, the stay of all the sterling
and honest, the friend and helper of youth. You knew his
foibles as well as his strong points, and, unlike many others,
you never came into collision with him. I know not whether I
should have been able to maintain daily intercouse undisturbed
with one who was no less passionate than intellectual, so sus-
ceptible in fact as to be somewhat peevish ; but I do know that


no friend, from whom I liad been separated for years, ever gave
me so agreeable a surprise as he did eighteen months ago, when
he greeted me after a long absence with all the cheerfulness,
sincerity, and elasticity of youth. Two-and-thirty years ago,
when w^e were both in the flower of youth, I recognised his
immense superiority ; but it appeared to rac still greater at our
last interview, when I saw how he had preserved the purity
and ingenuousness of his mind, and that power which, instead
of bonding to externals, breaks tlirough them. In spite of his
favour for the English aristocracy, he was ever, in thought and
act, a true people's man, and on this account I feel myself in-
timately allied to Niebuhr ; but I still hold up my head, whilst
he, misled by a sort of piety, despaired, and went down to
the grave with a broken heart." From Count Adam Moltke
to Perthes on the same subject : " Three weeks before his death,
I received from Niebuhr a letter : it was a single night-thought.
The quiet of resignation, founded on tlio providence of God,
and a lively hope which rejoices in itself, were not his. He
was more a citizen of the ancient world than of the modern.
He saw through the ancient world by virtue of that inspiration
which love only can impart ; he knew the modern world inti-
mately, but he did not understand it, because he did not love




Even in the most perilous moments succeeding the revolu-
tion of July, Perthes remained unshaken in the conviction that
Prussia had both the power and the mission to save Germany.
In November 1880, he wrote: — "I can recall the time of Frederic
the Great, when Prussia stood so high in the public opinion of
Germany, that a word spoken against her was regarded as
blasphemy ; then I have survived the period of Wollner, the
Lafontaine-like sentimentalism of the highest circles In
Berlin, the Peace of Basle, the diplomatic inanity, and the
military cowardice which lasted till the Peace of Tilsit — during
which period, whoever believed in Prussia was held to be the
victim either of folly or of a bribe. How very different is it

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 24 of 36)