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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freedom is becoming quite stale and intolerable."

Yet even in North Germany the desire of entirely remodel-
ling Germany was sufticiently strong. One correspondent writes
to Perthes : " In the smaller states I perceive a strong desire
for the unity of Germany, for arithmetical magnitude, and a
growing indifference to their own independence, and their

VOL. XL 31


native dynasties. A war with France, however it might end
in other respects, would be very dangerous to the smaller
powers." Another : " The speedy mediatization of the smaller
states is the secret desire of many, who take care not to ex-
press it. How indeed can the honour and the progress, intel-
lectual or material, of the nation be furthered by these petty
divisions ? Bulk, geographical extent, has always the advantage
in the long-run." Men did not, however, look to Prussia for a
solution of tlie problem. One who, in 1806-13, had taken a
large share in the struggle for German liberty, wrote to Perthes :
" Even now can Germany put her hopes in Prussia ? Public
opinion is against her ; not only are Piince Charles of Meck-
lenburg, and Ancillon, and Kamptz disliked, but the Crown-
Prince also. From Frederick the Great downwards, Prussia
was the home of free thouglit and progress, but now she lays on
fetters almost as heavy as the Austrian." A letter to Perthes
from North Germany has the following : " Germanism is a
noble thing, unless it be a synonyme for Prussianism, which, like
almost every other ism, has far too greedy a maw ; all others
are to make great sacrifices, and the upshot will be simply this,
that a great state will have become greater. After being a
little while with Arndt and Stein, a man feels particularly
comfortable in his own little state again ; there is less sound-
ing brass there, less ringing of bells, and I, for my part, don't
fancy the trumpet-blowing angels."' When in May 1832, Count
Bernstorff retired from the ministry of foreign affairs, on ac-
count of bad health, many feared that the attitude of Prussia
would become even more undecided than it had been before.
Thus a friend wrote to Perthes : " A new element will be in-
troduced, which it may be easier to influence, to irritate, or


to mislead, than was Bernstorff with all his infirmities. A
roinite-directoire in Berlin, with the device vive le roi quand
meme, and with the hope of carrying out its own scheme, even
in spite of the King, is among the possibilities.'" Again :
" Althougli certain qualities, which are useful as means of
external influence, were little cultivated by Bernstorff, yet the
noble character of the man appeared in full beauty on his
taking leave. What will come out of it, we must wait to see.
There is no want either of good-will or of resources, but of
power to use them ; and the times are difficult. The quarrel
between the cooks and the guests is becoming ever angrier,
and who knows but it may end by their throwing the pots and
plates at one another's heads V

In Southern Germany, Prussia was held in still greater aver-
sion, and during the years 1831-3, the public feeling tended
more and more strongly every month towards a violent out-
break. It was then that a host of periodicals came into the
field, with such titles as. The Free Thinker, The People's
Friend, &c. Peoples' festivals were held at Hambach (May
1832,) Butzbach, Bergen, and other places : an association was
organized for advocating through the press the establisliment
of a German empire, with a democratic constitution ; and in
several places conspiracies were formed. But neither in these
years was the noble good sense of the Swabian youth untrue
to itself, as appeared by the publication, in the summer of
1831, of Paul Pfizer's Correspondence of Two Germans. Gus-
tavus Schwab wrote to Perthes that this expression of truly
national feeling had cost Pfizer great personal sacrifices, for
quite opposite sentiments generally prevailed. Pfizer himself
wrote to Perthes, in March 1832 : " Any expression of favour


for Prussia on my part, would be regarded as apostasy from the
people's cause, and destroy all my hopes of influencing their
views ; for the indignation against Prussia, particularly on
account of its conduct towards the Poles, is so great and so
general, that even the most decided enemies of the French
hardly ever pronounce its name without some expression of
abhorrence or contempt. My own political conscience, too,
forbids me to break with my countrymen at a time when
they are giving up their foolish prepossession in favour of the
French, and beginning to cherish a desire for national unity
founded on civil freedom, especially as Prussia is throwing
herself ever more and more openly into the arms of absolutism,
and fraternizing more and more intimately with Russia. Con-
sidering the wishes, expectations, and demands of the German
people, I dare not point its hopes to un-German Prussia, and
the now dominant party in Berlin."

To a friend who liad vainly endeavoured to ascertain the
seat of the revolutionary propaganda in Southern Germany,
and the source of the shameful letters on German afiuirs in the
Paris journals, Perthes wrote in September 1832 : " That a
French propaganda exists I have no doubt. It appeared for
the first time from 1820 down to the suppression of disturb-
ances in Piedmont ; and, had fortune only attended the Italian
liberals a few months longer, there would have ensued in
Southern Germany singular scenes, and many would have been
compromised, whom no one M'ould suspect. Since 1830 Ger-
many has doubtless been worked upon by Lafayette's party ;
but whether a regular communication has been established
with French chiefs, and whether secret associations have
been formed in Germany, I cannot tell ; I hardly believe it,


but, if there be a centre of organization anywhere, it is in
Stuttgart." In December 1832, Perthes wrote to Charles von
Raumer in Edangen : " God governs the world, and it can be
turned neither into a blockhouse, nor into a madhouse : nor
are men themselves so very bad, but rather shockingly naughty
children, who must now and then be put into a dark corner, to
cry it out." In the autumn of 1832, and spring of 1833, it
became very evident that revolutionaiy centres did exist in
Southern Germany ; and on 3d April 1833, a bloody insur-
rection broke out in Frankfurt, which was to have inaugurated
the unity of Germany under a democratic constitution. This
insurrection spread terror throughout all Germany, and its
instant suppression put back for long years the revolutionary
movement." Perthes wrote to a friend : " These times of ours
are a tragedy broken oif in the middle of the fifth act, yet it
must be played out." Many feared a reaction, and, from the
following letter, Perthes appears to have been of the number :
" Apparently we are living in profound peace ; but we are
really sitting on a boiler ready to burst. The danger does not
lie in the high-flown speeches and mad conduct of our youth,
but in the dissolution of all social ties, the insubordination of
all ranks and classes : since 1830, 'men of all parties, ranks,
and ages, have tried to re-establish a settled order ; all have
failed, and the police regulations, to which recourse has again
been had, are only a brief palliative. The time will come,
when all will wish for a despot, and even he will be only a

The discussion of the Prussian Customs' system added to the
political agitation of Germany during the years 1830-3. In
1828 the archduchy of Hesse, and in 1831 the electorate of


Hesse gave in their adhesion to it, and since the summer of
1831 nesfotiations were carried on with Bavaria and Wurtem-
berg, which, in the spring of 1833, ended in their adhesion also.
Prussia could not however win over the German states on
the north sea-coast. Hormayr, then Bavaiian ambassador in
Hanover, wrote to Perthes on SOth January 1833 : " Prussian
or not Prussian is like Hamlet's question : ' To be, or not to
be.' I am myself convinced that Germany's national develop-
ment and power for defence must proceed, not from Austria
but from Prussia ; but the officiousness of many among Prussia's
own servants, civil and military, has done her essential harm,
by awakening suspicion and distrust. Since the years 1803-6,
Hanover has been suspicious and distrustful ; she now regards
adhesion to the Customs' Union (Zollverein) as a sort of medi-
atization, and the Hanse-towns see in it nothing but a suicide.
Yet if means cannot be found to bring the north sea-coast
under the Prussian system, then hardly a possibility remains
for the commercial unity of Germany."

When the suppression of the Frankfurt outbreak had given
a check to the revolutionary movement, and the Prusso-Bava-
rian treaty had solved the Customs question, politics fell into
the background, and literary matters occupied attention.




The great epoch of German literature had passed away,
Goethe, like an ancient tower, alone surviving, and even he
regarded himself as a page of history, which required interpreta-
tion to be understood by the new generation. The publication of
" Wahrheit und Dichtung aus meinem Leben"' was succeeded
by that of his correspondence with Schiller ; after reading the
first volume of wbich, Perthes wrote to Ptist in December 1828 :
'^' Nothing has caused me so much grief and indignation for a ■
long time as this booh. Its contents are of no moment what-
ever, and, indeed, how could they be of any, when the two
correspondents lived so near each other that all important
matters could be discussed by word of mouth ? The whole
volume does not contain valuable matter for a single sheet."
In April 1829, Perthes again wrote on the same subject:
" The contents of the second part are important, but they
deeply afflict me on Schiller's account. Whatever rank criti-
cism may assign him as poet, historian, and philosopher, I wish
to regard him as pursuing noble and lofty aims ; this, indeed,
is the source of his mighty influence on the youth of our own,
and of every age. In this correspondence however he appears
in business transactions petty, calculating, and outrageously


provoked with those wliom he provoked tirst. It says little
for Goethe's delicacy that he should have damaged his friend's
good name by such a publication. Yet passing that, and ac-
knowledging the genius and beauty displayed in these letters,
I ask, what was the standing-ground, and what the object of
the writers? Schiller was conscious of a profound religious
void, yet only once does he touch on religion to Goethe, and
even then he apologetically calls it a sort of metaphysics, to
which he had long been a stranger. Unhappy men were these
great spirits, and laggards behind the on-rushing age ! All
interest in the mighty movements of the time they put quietly
aside, and for that very reason had no feeling for their country ;
yet, while looking down upon mankind with contempt from
their intellectual height, they condescended to pettiness in
catering for applause." A friend wrote to Perthes : " There is
much instruction for all in the toil and labour which it cost
these men to produce what they did. I have been moved
almost to pity at seeing how both play at battledore and shut-
tlecock with the dry, jingling terminology of aesthetics and
philosophy, without making real progress."

Goethe died 22d March J 832. Perthes wrote of him : " He
retained his consciousness to the last. All that this earth
could offer was his, by possession, or knowledge, or feeling, or
inquiry, or experience ; and perhaps no one has passed into
the other world richer than he. He loved and struggled ; and
clear vision will now be granted him. It appears to me that
his death shuts up the grand period within which German cul-
ture has unfolded itself We have now the most varied and
abundant materials for understanding the whence and the how
of development ; we have the correspondence of Bodmer, of


Rabener, of Gellert, of Klopstock, and of Garve down to that
of Hamann, Jacobi, Voss, Forster, Baggesen, Solger, and Er-
hard ; we have complete works, autobiographies and memoirs,
down to Rehberg, and through them all, from Klopstock
to the present day, Goethe's confessions run like a scarlet
thread. Who will compose one piece out of the manifold, ear-
nest, and profound strivings of a whole century, and set it in
a frame ?" In 1833 to Rist : " Like you, I have been charmed
by Goethe's letters to Lavater. There are a dozen passages
Mdiere the lowest depths are sounded. I do not, however,
undervalue the letters to Schiller ; one cannot always remain
young ; and what, in those of later date, repels you, is only
the natural consequence of that scorn for the deepest truths,
which appeared slightly even in the letters to Lavater. What-
ever of noble we may acquire, without God's word and grace,
is insecure and temporary, — remains, in fact, so intimately
connected with baseness and selfishness that it often loses its
nobleness altogether."

In Goethe's " Odds and Ends, Maxims, and Reflections,"
there is much admirable thought and experience excellently
well expressed ; but such aphorisms are usually but half truths,
calculated to mislead both the propounder and the accepter.
In 1834, Perthes wrote : " I have been delighted with the cor-
respondence between Goethe and Zelter, the importance of
which for the mental history of this ago will be recognised by
and by. I have been profoundly affected by the gradual en-
feeblement, which this correspondence shews to have taken
place in the worldly tendency of these men, without their
intending, or indeed, even knowing it. It shews, too, how
much and how little can be accomplished, without aid from


above, by the most powerful intellects. Both of them are
amiable, but I shudder to see them ignoring all our relations
to God. Zelter was always true, Iceen, pointed ; one can never
forget the hero-like form and lion-head of the man. The influ-
ence of the literary period on Goethe appears in this corre-
spondence : who would now think of writing down for posterity
whatever comes into his head?" A friend to Perthes : " Goethe
seems quite exhausted in these letters, compared with the fresh
vigour of Zelter, whose adoration of Goethe is to me highh'-
remarkable. He drew so much from Goethe, that he seems to
have sucked him dry ; for, whilst his step grows ever firmer,
Goethe is wearied out, and produces at length only feeble and
halting rhymes. In estimating Goethe it must never be for-
gotten that he was a citizen of Frankfurt ; for it was his tradi-
tional civic dignity that made the society of the great so
agreeable to him, and kept him aloof from the agitated centres
of human intercourse, whereby a privy-councillor's cabinet in
Weimar could still appear to him the world." In 1835, Goethe's
correspondence with a child appeared. After the first hasty
perusal, Perthes wrote : " This is a noble fiction, full of pro-
found and living truth ; incomparable for world-insight. The
child and its language are hardly anywhere in German litera-
ture better exhibited. A monument truly is Goethe, but a
sad one : how desolate appears here the soul of this great, all-
comprehending genius ! Poor Goethe ! because he could not,
as guiding-star, lead sucli love to the light of truth, he has
made the denouement such as it is. The sober-minded, who,
after all, keep the world steady, will not fail to discern in
Goethe's inspired child, a candidate for the mad-house. It
may be so ; but it is the madness of every great poet." Some-


what later : " Meiisebacli's review of the Child's Letters is
learned enough, but he has not been able to appreciate the
grandeur of the fiction ; his article looks like an extract from
Sir Walter Scott's Antiquary. The external material truth
in the work is of no moment ; inner truth fills the soul of
the poetess, and pervades the whole story. It is a thoroughly
German book, which the English and French had better not
attempt translating."

Perthes took a similar interest in the many other works
which shed a literary lustre over the end of the last, and the
beginning of the present century. In 1838 Niebuhr's Life ap-
peared. Perthes wrote to Rist concerning it : " What an inex-
haustible treasure for the history of German learning, what a
storehouse of experience in circumstances both straitened and
ample, and of hints regarding the events and personages of our
time ! Never, I believe, has any one revealed his whole man
so completely as Niebuhr in his letters ; and what a loving,
pure, genuine man does he appear ! He remained to the last
what he always was, a good child with a number of naughty
tricks, which he knew very well, but could never give up, per-
haps because they sprang from his bodily organization. You
say that Niebuhr wanted but little of being a perfect man,
but that this little was much, viz., humility, and susceptibility
for the mysticism of faith. That is true, but not absolutely.
In presence of God and of what moral greatness he found in
history, Niebuhr was humble, but he was unjust to his cotem-
poraries. He recoiled and grew furious on discovering that
even men of mark were but miserable sinners ; yet, when
the ebullition of the moment was over, his innate sense
of justice obtained a hearing, and with great humility he en-


deavoured to repair his error. Susceptibility for the mysticism
of faith was not wholly wanting in Niebuhr ; but he had not a
firm Cliristian basis. During my interview with him, however,
two years before his death, I saw enough to persuade me that
he would have attained it, had he lived longer." Again :
" Niebuhr's over-estimate of his own acquaintance with the
people and their circumstances, was a great obstacle to his
exercising a beneficial and lasting influence on public aiFairs :
lie never could enter into the daily life of the common people,
yet he plumed himself upon his knowledge of every detail. It
was a still greater disadvantage to him as a politician that,
from being a Dane, he became all at once a Prussian. His
parents, though of German origin, had received a Danish
stamp, and his higher education, during the decisive years of
mental development, was carried on at Copenhagen. On com-
ing to Prussia he was forthwith involved in its misfortunes,
and his noble nature became, on that very account, entirely
devoted to that state. He never became a German, but re-
mained a passionate and one-sided Prussian, though often
despising Prussian measures."

The publication of so many biographies, correspondences,
and complete works belonging to the last century, may indicate
that the mind of Germany was moving in ancestral leading-
strings, and disposed rather to admire the past than to live in
the present ;• but still there prevailed in all branches of litera-
ture a restless hurry, which tended to break the connexion
with the past, and bring into independent play the powers of
individuals. Accordingly, when the July revolution gave a
shock to all order, social, political, and ecclesiastical, a litera-
ture arose in Germany which delighted in the depreciation of


spiritual greatness, made the enjoyment of the moment its
aim, and, in the absolute justification of man's sensual nature,
both sought and found a plea for irregular and sinful inclina-
tion of every kind. Heine had already struck this note ; and
in 1834, Borne made Lamemmis' jM'roles d'un croyant univer-
sally known in Germany. Regarding this latter work, Perthes
wrote in October 1S34: — " Lamennais is an abomination, a
death-blow to the church which can produce such priests.
Only a Frenchman of 1830 could take up such a position, and
his appearance is a sign that the last days of the French nation
are at hand." From the number of young men, particularly in
Northern Germany, who adhered to this scliool, it was called
"Young Germany." Many publications advocating its doc-
trines appeared in 1884-5. Writing of Theodor Mundt's
" Madonna," which was one of them, Perthes declares him to
be a champion for the emancipation of the flesh, and, though
more flowery, no better than the others. Ukert, after thank-
ing Perthes for a copy of the " Madonna," writes : — " Young
Germany makes such violent eflforts in its first flight, that
its powers are sure to flag soon. These fellows Avould like to see
the sturm-und-drang periode* again; but Roland's sword pre-
supposes Roland's arm." F. Jacobi wrote to Perthes: — "The
young gentlemen are drunk with insolence, conceit, and French
profligacy ; and because, in tliis condition, they spout whatever
comes into their heads, they seem, like all drunk people, stronger
than they really are. God will take care that the upas trees
don't grow up to heaven." In December 1835 Perthes wrote to
Rist : " You know that, by my very nature, I am attracted to

* An exprossinn for a period of violent comniotinns wlietlier in tlie life of naticins
or of individuals.


the positive, and fret myself but little on account of the foul nest
which foul birds build in a fine edifice. In God's government
the negative is often a means towards the attainment of the
l^ositive. By driving untruth to its utmost extreme, our age
is bringing clearly out its real character, and delivering truth
from the mockery of a caricature." Two years before this Per-
thes had written : — " In the last century public opinion called
faith superstition, piety cant, and the maintenance of lawful
possession tyranny. The leaders mistook for culture, superfi-
cial intimacy with the literature of the day, and tolerance for
indifference; and their aspirations after liberty consisted in fan-
tastic expectations of Americanism a la Lafayette, This ten-
dency went right against everything positive ; and, whilst all
this was called a struggle for light and truth, Pilate's question
was at the same time scornfully repeated : "What is truth ?
Whoever clung to the positive was hated, decried, j^ersecuted
as an Obscurant ; and this public opinion was shared not only
by striplings and enthusiasts, but also by patriarchs in theo-
logy." Rist wrote to Perthes : " Young Germany is as little
young as it is German, and least of all is it new. There have
always been such people, and the only new thing is, that they
should excite so much attention, and be thought of so great
importance, which, indeed, clearly shews what a pigmy genera-
tion the present is."

The follies and perversities of the time, literary and other,
were ascribed by many to the universities. Thus, in a letter
to Perthes : " When one reflects that the universities decide
the tone and tendency of all our youth who receive a scientific
education, one ceases to wonder at their madness and wicked-
ness. And whoever would extinguish a fire, must throw the


water, not on the flames, but on the fuel." Another : " On
the subject of the universities we must listen to the fathers of
families, not to the jivofessors, who are interested parties, and
are never deficient in a good opinion of themselves. They
would lead others, and are blind themselves ; they indulge the
students, and so keep hold of them, hushing up whatever ill they
do, even as game-keepers conceal the devastations of the wild
boar. I should like right well to speak out on the subject ;
but tliat would bo putting my hand into a wasp's nest, for the
fellows are all writers or reviewers." Another : " Our hio-hcr
teachers are certainly in a strange position with regard to
both science and life. You know a great many learned uni-
versity men ; now tell me honestly. How many of them have
you found who were truly natural men, without some pecu-
liarity bordering on a mild insanity 1" Perthes answered :—
" What you write sounds harsh, but is true, at least of the
smaller universities. There is little of it in the Prussian uni-
versities ; in Gottingen fresh blood is pouring in ; and in
Leipsic conceit and routine are on the wane ; at the same time,
whatever was peculiar and striking is everywhere passino-
away. As among the nobles, the work-people, the shop-
keepers, and even whole races of men, so among the learned

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 27 of 36)