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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now ? Once more, Germany places her confidence, her hope of
salvation in Prussia. Whence the change ? Above all, doubt-
less, from the personal character of the king. His intelligence
and honesty, his gentleness and modesty, his constancy and
love of justice, have won for him the nation's heart." Again,
in December : " In Prussia there is no sign of a movement
against the king, the government, or the administration : from
Posen to Treves, a few street riots excepted, all is quiet. Not
only in Prussia, but throughout Germany, there prevails a sen-


tiinont of respect for the simple character and upright inten-
tions of the king, as also for the knowledge and business qua-
lities of those in office ; all, too, are proud of tlie army. But as
for the smaller states, the year 1830 might well be the begin-
ning of the end, or rather the beginning of the beginning for
them ; they cannot remain as they are, and on that very ac-
count Germany must be moulded anew. Sooner or later Prus-
sia must enter on a great struggle for the status and unity of
Germany ; and should she prove victorious, then are we Ger-
mans saved — we shall have a fatherland ; but if otherwise, a
dark future lies before us." Again: "The more I know of
Prussia, the more am I convinced that her intellectual develop-
ment and power must give her an influence in Europe far
beyond that of material force, which may in time transcend
even that of France and England. In consequence, however,
of the disproportion between intellectual and material power
in Prussia, strong convulsions may be expected."

Many of Perthes' correspondents participated in his views
regarding the destiny of Prussia. One such, after descanting
on the popularity of the King, continues : " I am a decided
royalist, and would like to see the provinces enjoying liberty
of action under a strong monarchical government, but no states
of the empire ; neither for them, nor for an aristocracy sharing
the sovereignty, and consequently weakening the King's power,
have we the requisite tact and firmness." A letter from Sile-
sia, thus : " We are all of one mind, viz., that it were better to
take up arms once more, at whatever risk of property and life,
than live over again the ignominy of 1806. Prussia will con-
quer ; our militia will save us ; greatly opposed as I am to tlie
system of enrolling the people under arms, for this once the


militia is our mainstay, and, should it come to war, will save
Prussia and Germany/'

From Coblentz Perthes received the following : " The people
of the Rhenish provinces deserve to be trusted. No doubt
they are dissatisfied with the slip-shod course of the govern-
ment, the enormous taxes, the principles of many old officials,
and the strict surveillance of the press ; but the French are
quite out of their reclconing, if they expect to be received with
open arms. The population is still thoroughly German, or
rather is thoroughly German again. The common people are
persuaded that the French would do them no good, and the
educated classes contemplate with horror even the possibility
of the French dominion returning. The French liave very few
real friends among us ; and even their former encomiasts have
sunk dumb since the consequences of French liberty have ap-
peared in both France and Belgium. Still an enthusiasm, such
as that of North Germany in J 813, is not to be looked for on
the Rhine at present. The troops will obey orders, and the
militia will stand to their arms ; but they have not yet acquired
the same warlike spirit, nor the same strong attachment to
their commanders as in the older provinces : but tlie Rhenish
provinces will remain true as long as they are convinced that
the will and the power to govern them exist. I have nothing
reliable to communicate about Nassau and Darmstadt ; besides,
they get their impulsion a posteriori." Less satisfactory intel-
ligence reached Perthes from a remote district in Westphalia.
" In the districts formerly ecclesiastical, there was no attach-
ment to native princes, and. many persons were pleased with
the shallow institutions and frivolity of the French ; at length,
however, when the pressure increased, people were glad of a


deliverance wliicli was effected with little sacrifice on tlieir own
part. The French have partisans among the manufacturers
and merchants, and still more among legal practitioners of
every grade. Their number is not indeed great, nor, on the
other hand, are those numerous who are prepared to risk pro-
perty and life in defence of their country ; generally, in fact,
men will not do more to resist the foreigner than mere pro-
priety requires. Without doubt, however, the army and the
militia will fight well, so long as we keep the left bank of the
Rhine." A friend high in office thus wrote to Perthes from
Treves : " Every day is divided between fear and hope. In the
undeniably prevalent distress, a desire for the preservation of
peace, and for the diminution of the oppressive taxes, particu-
larly of those on consumption, constitutes the public feeling of
this district, and the events in east and west awaken interest
in the country people, only as they bear upon that desire. In
certain frontier parishes the seeds of discontent have no doubt
been soAvn by ill-conditioned individuals, but there is no dan-
ger of public disturbance, and one favourable spring would
remove all dissatisfaction with the government. What would
happen in case of war, I cannot foresee. It is impossible for fif-
teen years of union to have begot a true attachment to Prussia,
and the people have been irritated by the change in the system
of taxation, and by the annual militia drill. The peasantry are
nowhere French, but neither are they thoroughly German in
their views and feelings ; in the towns again, French journals
have been favourably received, and are eagerly read by idlers,
young and old, in the casinos and coff'ec-houses."

A letter from Konigsberg : " We are too near Poland here,
and know the people and the country too well, to be carried

VOL. II. 29


away by the Polish revolution. Only at a distance from Po-
land is enthusiasm possible in its behalf; and only because
the Poles were oppressed, have they met with such extensive
sympathy : again independent, they would be neither loved
nor admired in Europe. They are not in fact a nation, but
only an association of masters and slaves ; the former wished,
and the latter were obliged to make a revolution. Under the
Russian government the mass of the people were in far better
circumstances than under their own manorial lords. The serfs
fought well, no doubt ; but tlie brilliancy of their valour is
greatly dulled by the reflection that the soldier, once seduced
from his legal master, lias no alternative before him but victory
or the gallows. Be well assured that Germany has nothing to
fear, if the western frontier be as strong against revolution as
the eastern." Another letter on the same subject : " Whoever
knows the Poles, i.e., the nobility among them, will both praise
and blame them less than is usually done ; for, if they jday at
revolutions, it is because, from their very nature, they can hardly
help it. But he only can know the Poles, who understands
their language, has spent a year or two in Warsaw, or better
still, in Cracow, and has lived with the nobility, both men and
Avomen of them, in their palaces and at their country seats, so
as to have surveyed the good and the bad sides alike of their
character and life. Whoever would do this, however, had
better first insure his head ; for without risking it, he can
never know the Poles."

From Berlin itself communications reached Perthes about
the same time, i.e., in the end of 1830, and beginning of 1831,
of a much less satisfactory character, particularly with regard to
the lead which Prussia was expected to take. Thus : " We


are in a continual uncertainty between peace and war, a state
of things which Prussia, least of all, can stand long-. The
course of the Polish struggle shews that there is little danger
from the east ; neither, however, is much to be hoped, should
it come to a war with France. Our uncertainty arises partly
from the extraordinary nature of the circumstances, but not
altogether ; for, in our own midst, war is regarded as an evil
one moment, and as a means of safety the next, nor does it yet
appear which view will ultimately prevail. This hesitation
affects most injuriously our position. Germany will stand or
fall with Prussia, and, on our side, everything has been done
with unmistakably honourable intentions, for the purpose of
securing a union with the other German states ; yet the go-
vernments are mistrustful, and I fear that our example of
honourable conduct has not been everywhere followed." The
King being against the war, one writes : " All hangs by one
thread, the King's life ; the hope and love of all cling to it ;
but, should that one pulse stop, which God forbid, we are all

Towards the close of 1830, Perthes received communications
from all parts of Germany, clearly shelving that the former
confidence in Prussia had passed into distrust and aversion.
Thus a letter from the north of Germany : " Many far-seeing
men, who consider Prussia destined to promote our national
progress, are not so sure that she understands this mission, and
is able to fulfil it in the sense of the majority. This much
is certain, that all the governments will do their utmost to
maintain the status quo, and that their endeavour will be only
in part successful ; for the status quo, properly speaking, fits
but a single moment ; the very next takes away or adds some-


tiling, so that the party of progress always wins in the long
run, even when for the time it seems to be paralyzed. Ger-
many is at present a perfect chaos, in which, however, the
usual functions still proceed regularly,— as production, indus-
try, population, and exchange. Only the higher functions
suffer ; we can see that they are enfeebled, or are working with
a fever-pulse, and that greater men than have yet appeared
are necessary for the restoration of this body to perfect health
and regular action. The usual recipes have been used up ; the
mystics, terrible people in our days, after exhausting their
Latin, have bethought themselves of a radical cure, in the last
day, which they announce as at hand. Let me hear soon what
you expect." Again : " I don't doubt but that, if France attack
the Rhenish frontier, she will be stoutly opposed ; but in present
circumstances, to excite hatred of the French, and to kindle
enthusiasm for Germany as a whole, would be alike impossible.
At present the Germans feel that they have no country to de-
fend, but that every man has to defend himself against spoliation
and ignominy. The Prussians, the thorough-going ones I mean,
think more than they say, and see little else in a war with the
French than a means of their own aggrandizement in Germany."
Again : " For a long time at least I give up hopes of Prussia
doing for Germany what I once expected. The peoples can
be won only by going ahead, and the governments only by in-
spiring confidence. Now to take a proverb from my old French,
On ne prend pas les mouches avec du vinaigre ; but Prussia has
given all her neighbours iin abundant foretaste of vinegar, and
then what a state of matters in her own interior ! Her own
servants are fretting under the starched formality of her admi-
nistration, and complaining bitterly that no scope is given to


civic life and local independence. You would almost think
it had been decreed that the State alone has understandino-
consequently that nothing shall be done but through its coun-
cillors, and that the citizen has onh^ one duty, viz., to do as he
is bidden. Men are tired of this, and now that tlie government
confines itself to negative action, and that the machinery
is getting stiff, the worst consequences may ensue." Again :
" Great distance may account for much of the misinterpreta-
tion concerning Prussia, but the calumnies are unpardonable,
with which her every movement and purpose are blackened
at present. I myself heard a man of high consideration say
in the presence of several, that he should like to see a warAvith
France, in order that despotic Prussia might bo punislied by
the loss of the Rhenish provinces, and so be no longer able to
resist constitutionalism."

Throughout the entire crisis Prussia had observed a pro-
found silence, not uttering a single word either to reassure her
friends, or to disarm her enemies. Perthes' opinion of this
conduct appears in the following letter, written in the autumn
of 1830 : " No one who has not correspondents in Prussia is
aware how much honesty of purpose is combined there with
power. It is not enough, however, that Prussia's intentions
and administration be good ; it is of equal importance that
they should be known as such ; nor is it enough that Prussia be
good in the Prussian sense, she must feel lier common growth
with Germany, and may not, without imperilling her own posi-
tion and internal development, wrap herself up in selfish inte-
rests. The maudlin backwardness of the government to speak
of its own concerns, its willingness rather to sufter under the
most outrageous calumnies than to utter a word in public, will


be fatal. It will not suffice to publish a few detached explana-
tory statements : the mania, which has hitherto prevailed, for
wrapping up Prussian measures in wadding, must be entirely
abandoned, and Prussia must step boldly forth, facing even
well-founded charges, and stoutly repelling the unjust."

Perthes addressed himself directly on this subject to Count
Bernstorff, then minister of foreign affairs, with whom he had
been acquainted in various connexions for many years. The
letter was written in the middle of November 1830 : " The old
among us remember the enthusiasm of the Germans for liberty
at the commencement of the French Revolution ; and though
it cooled down afterwards under the reign of terror, yet the
atrocities of the time were ascribed rather to individuals and
to circumstances than to the revolution itself. Such were the
then influential periodicals that the Germans hardly could
obtain a clear insight into the true state of matters. Jour-
nalism almost expired under the strong government of Napo-
leon ; for few voices were raised in behalf of tliat government,
and against it none were allowed to be heard. Gorres' Rhenish
Mercury is the most signal example of the extraordinary
power exercised by voice and pen in the years 1813-15.
Public opinion, as well as Germany itself, was reformed,
but unhappily soon took a wrong direction ; there was no
satisfying of those whose enthusiasm was aroused ; and it
must be admitted that tlie German nation had just cause of
dissatisfaction. Then the press fell into the hands of enthu-
siasts, adventurers, and intriguers ; and regular factories of
lies were established in southern Germany : Napoleonists scat-
tered abroad their baneful seed from their head-quarters at
Wlirtemberg ; and the evil went on increasing till the abor-


tivo attempts at insurrection in Naples and Piedmont. The
Carlsbad resolutions were to check the evil, but they were of
no avail except against newspapers. Advocates were not want-
ing- on the right side, as, for instance, Pfeilschifter and the
Austrian Observer, but they only irritated public opinion and
made matters worse. We are again in an age of great events,
in which the social condition of Europe will unquestionably
take a new form, public opinion influencing the result still
more this time than in the first years of the French Revo-
lution. The enthusiasm with which the proclamation of the
rights of man, and the brotherhood of nations, was received in
1 789-92, is now bestowed on the sovereignty of the people, and
the principle of non-intervention. For some months past the
periodicals of every description have been full of what is calcu-
lated only to mislead, and to excite distrust ; and innumerable
new journals have been announced for 1831, particularly in
Saxony, that focus of scribbling. One is projected for the
advocacy of cosmopolitan liberties and securities ; and in Stras-
burff an association of German booksellers has been formed for
the translation of French political writings with a view to influ-
ence Germany. Every attempt to prevent the evil by censure,
suppression, and fine, will be fruitless, owing to the dismembered
condition of Germany, the character of our literature, and the
organization of the book-trade. If the press has embittered
public opinion, the press must sweeten it again, meeting lies,
wild enthusiasm, and vague palaver by the sober statements of
reflection and experience, and diffusing as much as possible the
ffood and true in writings of the most varied character and form.
Our statesmen and learned men have hitherto disdained to avail
themselves of the press. The Prussian government has, indeed.


employed it by establishing the government journal, and pro-
curing the insertion of articles in the Augsburg Allgemeine
Zeitung ; but only a limited influence has been thus exerted.
Few take in journals so large and costly ; and those who get
them by uniting with others in a subscription, have no time to
read long articles ; while in places of public resort only the
news of the day are inquired after. A historico-political perio-
dical would be far better adapted to the purpose, and would be
all the more likely to succeed, as the old and now half-dead
journal of Schirach is the only one of the kind existing." Per-
thes then subjoins a programme in detail of the journal which
he would propose to establish.

Months passed before Perthes received an answer, not, how-
ever, because Count Bernstorff lightly esteemed either the writer
or the imi^ortance of his communication. He spoke of it, in-
deed, forthwith to Eichhorn, then minister of foreign affairs,
who had long perceived the necessity of making an impression
on the public mind, and, in the very first weeks of 1831, took
counsel on that subject with Savigny, General Krauseneck, and
others. They all agreed that it Avas necessary to put the go-
vernment into as favourable a position by means of the press,
as was secured to the English ministry by the advocacy of its
own members through periodicals, and by its friends in par-
liament : but such was the diversity of opinion as to the proper
mode of attaining this object, that the deliberations led to no

On the 3d April, Perthes wrote to Varnhagen von Ense as
follows : " The dangers which I saw to be imminent in the
temper of the Germans last November, when I wrote to Count
Bernstorff, are now greatly diminished, although many are still


of opinion that we sliould not resist tlie French, because, ac-
cording to them, the substance of civilisation, which the French
bring with them, is worth more than the substance of national-
ity. Students and shopmen indulge in this sort of palaver at
tables d'hote."

In the early summer of 1831, the king repeatedly expressed
his indignation at the invectives launched against Prussia by
the Frencli, English, and German newspapers, and his desire
tliat their calumnies sliould be refuted. General Witzleben
thought this a good opportunity of obtaining for a few distin-
guished men, who could be depended on, theliberty of publicly
discussing Prussian affairs : the ministers von Brenn and Count
Lottum were won over to this view, and Count Bernstorff com-
missioned General Ruhl to invite Perthes to Berlin. On the
8th August Perthes answered : " The delay has been a great
loss, for now the public feeling is quite against Prussia, par-
ticularly as regards the Polish war : seven months ago we
should have addressed a favourable, or at least an unprejudiced
public, but now opposition will meet us at the very outset ;
however, even now the trial must be made. I shall be with
you in a few weeks, but I must remark that my proposal of
last year was not a bookseller's speculation ; it proceeded from
the feeling that, in critical times, every man is both entitled
and bound to contribute, according to his abilities and position,
to the public safety. My feeling is still the same ; and my
connexion with the undertaking must be such as to put it out
of any one's power to say that I acted from motives of interest.
I do not indeed clearly see of what use my presence in Berlin
will be ; but at all events I shall contribute my experience as
a bookseller." Perthes reached Berlin on the ISth August.


At the first interview with his friends, they pointed out the ne-
cessity of impressing Count Bernstorff still more strongly by
word of mouth with the views contained in his written com-
munication, as the Count was rather unfavourable to publicity ;
and then of winning over Prince Wittgenstein, Ancillon, and
and von Altenstein, who were decidedly opposed to the under-
taking. Perthes laughed at the idea of so much being
expected from a bookseller, but determined to see what
honest intentions could effect. His first attempts were not
very encouraging. Prince Wittgenstein was of opinion that any
attempt to influence public opinion, however well intended,
and however cautiously commenced, would be exceedingly apt
to fall into bad hands : Ancillon considered that nothing written
by state ofiicials would be read ; such, at least, had been the
fate of his own works ; and the Altenstein ministry would have
Prussia's light to shine only in deeds, saying, that the excel-
lence of her administration should require no special advocacy.
In the last week of August, Bernstorff returned to Berlin.
He was favourable to Perthes' project, and met the objections of
its three opponents by saying, that anything whatever might
fall into bad hands, as Prince Wittgenstein must very well know
from his own experience ; that philosophical writings were not
indeed read, as Ancillon justly remarked, but that such were
not in contemplation ; and that the Minister of public worship
had the least reason to boast of the excellence of the adminis-
tration : besides, if facts alone were to speak for Prussia, then a
word is itself a fact, and, spoken in season, a very telling one.
Bernstorff expressed the greatest confidence in whatever Eich-
horn might take by the hand. At the same time General
Witzleben vouched for the king's consent, and the Crown Prince


declared himself favourable, so that nothing now seemed to
stand in the way of the undertaking. The great difficulty was
to find an editor. Perthes did not want a professional author,
and had long fixed his eye on Varnhagen von Ense, privy
councillor of the embassy ; but he was himself unwilling, and
was, besides, opposed by others. A man experienced in state
business could not be found for the office, and it became neces-
sary to select one from the ranks of the learned : all suffrages
were soon united in favour of Ranke, and Von Eichendorf,
councillor of the government, agreed to assist him. Perthes
may tell in his own words how far he was satisfied with
the appointment: "Instead of seeing a great new power
arise in Prussia, we shall only get a new periodical, a talented
one doubtless, but still only a periodical : the will was present
for something greater, and the circumstances were also favour-
able, but the men were not there to carry it out. It only re-
mains to make what we can of this periodical, and seize the
right moment for advancing further.''

On the 29th August Perthes left Berlin. He had been re-
quested to submit the details of his plan once more, in writino-,
to Count Bernstorff. After pointing out, as in former letters,
how political and literary adventurers abuse the jiublic mind
for their own ends, Perthes proceeds : " The impotency of the
censure to abate the evil appears in Berlin. Every forbidden
book, pamphlet, and newspaper may be had there ; and that
not only in private houses, but even in circulating libraries.
The only remedy lies in the public and repeated exposition of
things as they really are, and of what is in present circum-
stances attainable." And he concludes by saying : " Let a
popular journal be created, which shall act as powerfully in the

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 25 of 36)