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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human life soon passes into repulsive egotism or sonorous
emptiness ; or if the character be of sterner mould, into inhu-
man tyranny and wickedness. But there are others among
our would-be men who, from misconception of the religious
sentiment, would fain jump to their majority, by avoiding all
conflict with the world, both within and without ; they think
that they can, even in youth, pluck the precocious buds and
blossoms which themselves have nurtured : but this is vanity :
let us give ourselves to the Lord in humility. God's special
messengers generally pass through a discipline in youth ; many
persons, on the other hand, have to endure the conflict with
their own hearts and with the world, in later years, and that
with aggravated difficulty and peril ; others wither away in
empty formalism ; and many end in the vilest hypocrisy. Both
these forms of premature manhood belong to modern times ;
and both have often borrowed from Christianity forms of speech
which they take for their own proper expression. I would
not have you, dear Matthias, fasten these words of mine on
any individuals ; what I have said applies only to classes.


We should always take for granted that it is all right with the
individual, and that he has merely received his colouring
from the age. A wonderful admixture of youth and age now
prevails, and to the detriment of both, each trespassing on the
other ; for to keep clearly in sight the real line of demarcation
between tlie two, is alike essential to both teacher and learner ;
for the power of the Spirit and the love of Jesus Christ have
a special applicability to the several circumstances of life.
This is exactly what we find in the Acts of the Apostles, when
Paul adapts himself specially to every variety of character
and place. What countless errors and deviations from the
path of duty do we find to have arisen in the present day, from
well-intentioned preachers having laid down general rules of
conduct from instructions designed only for limited apj)lica-
tion ! "

Although Perthes always avoided giving an opinion on the
theological questions and religious doubts which exercised the
mind of his son, he did not object to point out frequently,
and with decision, the course of conduct which a student, ear-
nest in his search after truth, should adopt. Thus, on one
occasion, he writes, " You ask, if I object to your joining
the Burschenschaft. Since the Authorities of the university
are not absolutely opposed to it, and I am unacquainted with
the state of affairs at Tubingen, on which the whole question
hinges, it might be better to leave the decision to your own
judgment ; but it is well to consider the expenditure of time,
which time belongs not only to yourself but to your vocation ;
and then you must not be too sanguine in your expectation of
improving others, whom, in your youthful enthusiasm, you hope
to influence. We influence others only when the ruling spirit


of our own minds is the stronger ; such a man, for instance, as
Plehvve, whom may God help, exercises great influence, but
God forbid that you should be like him. You are much
too thoughtful, inquiring, and contemplative to command the
minds of young people, who are, for the most part, under the in-
fluence of physical temperament. They will be led only by one
who has shewn his superiority to them on their own ground.
Moreover, in carrying out that which you recognise to be right
and true, you are apt to be decided and harsh, and to grow im-
patient, and would thus increase your difficulties. Nevertheless,
I am not, as you know, one to keep back anybody, even a child
of my own, from a path which may lead to good, merely because
it is beset with dangers : one thing, however, appears decisive
to me, — as soon as you join this association there will arise in
your own breast a discord that will not be easily quieted ; for
duty towards God is not separable by a clear straight line from
the claims of conventional honour. He who will dance upon
the ice must reckon upon falls. I cannot, therefore, but op-
pose your joining the Burschenschaft."

But the correspondence of Perthes bore more generally on
the broad principles connected with the vocation to which his
son had devoted himself than on details of this kind. Thus
he once wrote : — " The distinction which you make between a
man of learning, and one who only uses learning as a means to
an end, appears to me to be too subtle. In the present day
there are but few who value learning for its own sake ; even
the teacher uses science as a means of forming and influencing
other minds. Still it is certain that he who has chosen anv
path of practical usefulness can never have acquired too much
scientific learning ; and in your own case, if the path you


have chosen be followed out, you can be kept from deviation
into by-paths, and advanced in the right way only by the
most thorough learning. But do not misunderstand me ; in
the present range of scientific knowledge it is necessary that a
man circumscribe himself, and rigidly keep within certain
limits, otherwise he will get lost in its immensity, and prove
superficial in all. It appears to me that the first requisite
for a theologian is a thorough acquaintance with Greek and
Hebrew, Latin being, of course, presupposed. If a young man
be well-grounded in the original language of the text, he has
won a standing-ground for all future inquiry and investigation.
Stand to your daily work, my beloved son ; study methodi-
cally and faithfully, and collect materials ; then you will have
learnt what admits of investigation, and what not." Again
he writes : — " You are not satisfied with the conviction of the
deceitfulness of all human thought and inquiry, and you refuse
to take the leap that separates reason from faith in revelation
— you would fain prove by scientific research that revelation is
a reality. Be it so. Only recollect that, for some centuries
past, inquirers and divines have trodden the same path, and
soon found themselves at the end of it. All that men could
discover in the Scriptures concerning the Life of Christ, is
certainly laid down in the early Fathers. Have they and all
their followers not been able to present a connected system
that might satisfy the minds of young inquirers like you, till you
are far enough advanced in science to frame one for yourselves ?
Do you recognise no authority in your teachers when they say
to you, ' This is found in Scripture, this our predecessors have
found, and this you will also find when you are sufliciently
advanced in the study of languages and of history ?' It would


be sad indeed, if learning, whicli lias made such progress since
the Reformation, had not even so much weight as this with

When, in the further pursuit of his studies, the son felt him-
self more and more attracted by philosophy, Perthes wrote to
him : — " Since, as I see, you have betaken j'^ourself to philo-
soj)hy, I should wish you to 25ut yourself under the guidance of
some able thinker, a good man, and a theologian, even though
of a different religious persuasion from my own. Would not
Professor Steudel give you an hour now and then ? It seems to
me that you should at present pursue the study of theology
dogmatically and historically onl}^ disregarding for a while its
philosophical basis. But at the same time I would thoroughly
study some one philosophical system without reference to Re-
velation, and run through the history of philosophical systems ;
when you have done this, throw aside the one you have mas-
tered, take up another, and so on, until you have found one that
is tenable ; only beware of bringing to any system thoughts
which it has not itself originated, and reject with contempt that
legerdemain which represents, as proper to a system, thoughts
which owe their origin to Revelation alone. Then I am con-
vinced that you will soon enough discover that all mere philoso-
phizing is vain, and will gladly avail yourself of Revelation, if,
indeed, any true religious feeling be awakened within you.
Take example from others. Hamann on receiving the third part
of Jacobi's works, wrote to his old friend : — ' I have read and
re-read much of your new book with high satisfaction, whilst,
at the same time, much that is in it has depressed me not a
little. How poor and pitiable is our present-condition even
at its best ! since men of the purest, most truth-loving, and


acute minds, after years of patient investigation can elicit
nothing in which they themselves can rest, or even when they
succeed in silencing their own doubts, have so little power of
imparting similar satisfaction to other inquirers. Hence a
constant misunderstanding amongst thinking men. I confess
that this thought has often occuiTed to me in the perusal of
your work, and filled me with sorrow.' Jacobi replied, — ' In
your lamentation over the insufficiency of all our philosophiz-
ing, I, alas ! sympathize from the depths of my heart ; and
yet I know of no middle course between Philosophy and Catho-
licism ; there is none; just as there is no middle course between
Christianity and Paganism, — that is to say, between the deifi-
cation of nature, and a Socratic, Platonic anthropomorj^hism/
When Jacobi sent me these extracts, which I was afterwards to
communicate to Reinhold, he added, addressing Reinhold, — 'You
see that I am still unchanged — a heathen in understanding, but
a Christian in all my feelings: the two streams within me will
not coalesce so as to bear up my spirit — whilst upborne by the
one, I am in danger of sinking in the other.' Here, dear Mat-
thias, you have a pledge of the truth of my statement respect-
ing philosophy. Scepticism alone cannot suffice. The most
thorough and highly educated sceptic that I have ever known
was our old friend Schonborn — he was perfectly at one with
himself, and knew nothing of the conflict of opposing streams
within, neither would he recognise the possibility of truth in
other men's opinions, otherwise he must have acknowledged the
fact of truth itself, which ho did not believe to exist. And yet
how melancholy, how awful were the last days of the honest,
upright, loving man ! My dear son, read frequently your
mother's letters, — be attracted within the atmosphere of her


piety, — keep your heart pure, that it may never be a stranger
to prayer : then may you investigate freely ; for prayer and
earnest study will help you to overcome in the conflict with

Caroline considered her son's determination to pursue the
study of theology as a matter of primary importance. " Mat-
thias," she wrote, " has handled a hot iron ; but, if he grasp it
rightly, he has achieved a great matter, and God is with him."
But when he left for the university, her sense of the earnest-
ness of his vocation was for a while supplanted by her regret
at separation from him. "How painful it was to me," she
wrote immediately afterwards, " to part with Matthias, and to
send him into the world, without being able to commit him to
the guidance of any human heart or eye. I have had hard
work with myself, but now I have laid down my arms, and am
at peace." At the same time she wrote to her son, — " My
thoughts of you are disturbed by a painful feeling of your soli-
tude and distance. I know and am persuaded that in great and
important matters you cleave to God, and can do without us ;
still there are many seasons in which parental love and sym-
pathy are a source of great happiness and comfort. This I
myself feel." — " Your letter is just come," she writes a few days
later ; " I am filled with joy and thankfulness to God, who has so
wondrously heard and blessed our wishes and desires in placing
you amongst the truly good. But you know not, dear Matthias,
how wholly I have committed you to God, praying that He
may guide, and teach, and care for you in great and in little
things. I am persuaded that you arc in His hands, and am
happier and more reconciled than I could have thought possible,
although there are moments when the yearnings of the mother's


heart prevail over these better feelings. "We have also letters
from Gotha with the best tidings. I do not know how to make
enough of the happiness which God has given us on all sides,
and must take refuge in the hymn-book." Again, she wrote,
"When I am sitting alone on the sofa in the parlour, before the
children come down in the morning, and your father has just
gone to business, I thank God, and pray for you with all my
heart, and look at your portrait which you gave me last Christ-
mas. It brings you vividly before me, and often it seems as if
you saw my thoughts, and responded to them." — " Your grand-
mother, at Wandsbeck, will rejoice to see that people love your
grandfather, and you for his sake," wrote Caroline shortly
afterwards. "Indeed, dear Matthias, how many advantages
you enjoy that others have not ! God will expect more from
you, and you must expect more from your own self, on this
very account."

In several other letters Caroline urges her son to realize the
responsibilities involved in his choice of a calling. " It is quite
clear to my own mind," she writes, " that there are many more
inquirers for counsel and encouragement than there were ten
or fifteen years ago, and it is a great privilege to guide such ;
but it is no easy task. We get over many difficulties in our
own minds, because the solution does not require to be put into
words, which must, however, be used when we would help an-
other." In another letter Caroline writes, — " I was well aware,
whilst you were still with us, that the time would come when
you would see many things, both within and without, in a
different light from us ; but I did not say this because I
hoped and believed that you were earnest and truth-loving, and
because I trusted that God would give you right views and


opinions at tlie right time. Moreover, I know that man can
impart but little to his fellow-man ; each must seek and find
for himself I can say with truth that I have been for many
years in trouble and perplexity, from which I am not even now
free. I Lave found that it is better not to think of one's-self
so much, but rather to think more of God, and to long earnestly
after Him ; and if we have fallen, to rise at once and go on,
trusting in God: thus we are continually advancing, by God's
grace, towards a peaceful and blessed end. The Princess Gallit-
zin once said to me, from her inmost soul, and with a deep
sense of her insufficiency, ' But I will still will.' This word
often recurs to me, and cheers me when I am cast down. We
often become more free and happy when we look at ourselves
as a whole, rather than in detail. If we keep all the good
thoughts that have occurred to our minds continually present,
we shall easily be led to think more highly of ourselves than
we ought, and so shall in reality retrograde." — " I am not dis-
tressed to hear," wrote Caroline at another time, " that you find
yourself unable to pray with as much faith and confidence as
you desire, for we are at best but as reeds moved to and fro by
the wind ; if we only yearn for living faith, God will not fail to
help us on, and all doubts and discouragements will eventually
cease ; but it is almost too much to expect that you should be
as yet near to this happy consummation. Socrates thought
that inward peace was not to be attained until a man had
reached his fortieth year, and Confucius has placed the goal
still farther forward ; but I do wrong in referring to Socrates
and Confucius when we have Christ ; consider it then as unsaid.
I always take comfort from that man in the Gospel to whom
our Lord Christ said, that he must believe before he could be


helped ; and who replied to him, * Lord, I believe, help thou
mine unbelief.' This is all that we can do, and where we can
do nothing, God is ever ready to aid ; besides, there may be
much unrest and unbelief in the head whilst the heart holds
firmly by its anchor — ' God is love, and he that dwelleth in
love dwelleth in God.' I know of nothing more certain, im-
perfect as our love must needs be here below." Great as was
the importance which Caroline attached to this anchor of the
heart, she was far from wisliing to make it an excuse for indolent
security. " Dear Matthias," she once wrote, " accustom yourself
to laborious study. It is not mere ignorance, but the want of the
power of application, which is found to have such evil and bitter
consequences. Tell me, then, whetlier you are bravely diligent:
I wish and hope it may be so ; and I should like to know how
you arrange your studies. I do not believe that it is possible
for a young man, however earnest and well intentioned, always
to see the why and wherefore of his studies. You would re-
lieve me from a great anxiety if you would commit 3'ours to the
direction of some sensible, learned, and older man, who might
take your father's place, and direct your scientific career.
Without pretending to understand more, I know that expe-
rience makes the best guide. Perhaps, dear Matthias, you will
laugh at this counsel ; you are quite welcome ; only consider it,
and tell mc what you think of it. I would so gladly know that
you are on the straightest road even to human learning."

" You may imagine," wrote Caroline, in transmitting some
controversial pamphlets, " the pi^os and contras that these have
occasioned ; it is very sad and grievous that the holiest and
brightest truths of religion should be treated as mere topics of
conversation and amusement — and yet it has this good, that it


leads men to ask themselves on wliich side they are. I believe
with you that, in order to deal honestly with your future con-
gregation, and with your own understanding, you must dili-
gently investigate, in order that you may come to the sted-
fast knowledge, and the clear consciousness, that ' in Christ
Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom ;' but I also
trust in God that, if you wrestle and strive earnestly, He will
give you a yearning, and a stedfast faith by which He will
carry on the work of grace in your heart, even when your
understanding labours under perplexity." In answer to a letter
in which her son had told her of the many valuable friends whom
he had found at the University, Caroline replied, — "I was re-
joiced to receive your last letter, and although I make allow-
ance for youthful enthusiasm, and am well aware that your
best moments are not lasting, yet I see that all your hopes
and efforts are in the right direction, and we are thankful that
you have joined such a circle of friends. Tell me how you
generally spend the Sunday, and whether you have found a
preacher who proclaims the truth witliout many human addi-
tions, and wdth the inward confidence that he has the same
interest as his hearers have in what he says. I hope that you
are pursuing the study of logic right earnestly ; many feel the
want of it. Last Sunday I heard a sermon of much ability, and
containing much that was good in the details, but the whole so
confused that it was almost impossible to follow it ; thought
and learning are, in general, necessary before we can teach
others. I thank God that you are committed to teachers who
unite in themselves learning and respect for the faith."

But it was not only in the studies and perplexities of her
son that Caroline was interested, she also sympathized warmly


witli him in tlie pleasures which the University offered. " Your
external life is somewhat monotonous, but you must vary it a
little, and I think you should do so as far as is consistent with
order and regularity." — " You have given us great pleasure by
the narrative of your journey," she wrote, when the young
student had sought recreation for a time in Switzerland ; " open
your eyes wide, look at everything, so that the impressions,
which are to be the materials of thought when you are set fast
in the yoke, may be permanent. If you keep your eye and
your heart steadfastly fixed on the goal, the yoke will be softer
and lio-hter : this your father finds, for God does not send him
empty away: he also has his circle of influence where God
blesses his efforts ; of tliis I am certain." — " Your letter from
Zurich is just come, and tells us that you are well, and in dear
Switzerland, where my heart has so long yearned to be. I have
got the map out, and have followed you from place to place,
and have calculated distances, and have seen everything with
you as far as possible. No one can sympathize with you more
than I do, in the enjoyment of the works of God ; only, they
must lead you into the depths of your own heart and to prayer."
The mother's care extended to the minutest details of the
student-life, and warned him against bad habits, so easily ac-
quired when removed from the paternal roof. " It is long since
you have written about yourself," she says in one of her letters,
" and of your daily life at home and abroad, so that I can sec
exactly what you are about. If such a letter is not already
on the way, sit down at once, and tell me, circumstantially,
whether you are in good spirits, what you are at work upon, and
whether you are making progress ; also about your friends, your
amusements, your chairs, and tables, your coats and shoes, in


short, about all that appertains to the nourishment and neces-
sities of this mortal life ; I am longing for such tidings/'
Shortly after this she writes : — " Make a point of keeping
your room clean and neat, and of opening the windows every
day ; and then, dear Matthias, I entreat you, out of love to me,
dress yourself on first rising, and don't sit for hours half-dressed,
and with shoes down at the heels : I dislike it very much ;
dress yourself for the day, and you will feel fresh and cheerful,
and ready for anything that may come."

But while Caroline thus fully entered into the life of her
eldest son, she kept up his interest in home by communicating
all those trifling events which make up domestic life : all
anniversaries were especially noticed ; thus, on the 2d August
1820, the anniversary of her wedding-day, Caroline wrote, —
" We were sitting at the breakfast-table, almost buried in gar-
lands, as you have seen us, — joy and pleasure in all hearts
and eyes — when your letter and congratulatory verses were
brought to us ; we read it, rejoiced, and thanked God. I was
especially affected by your wedding garland, for if you had not
been my own very child, you Avould not have sent it. I have
wept my fill, but rather from joy than from sorrow. My whole
heart thanks you for your arection, and I pray to God that He
may strengthen and uphold your purpose, and enable you to act
upon it. We have need to will, and will afresh every minute, for
thus we generally bring something to good effect, often uncon-
sciously indeed ; but what is unconscious is often best. At least
there is nothing that I fear so much as self-satisfaction ; for the
feeling of need, and of insufficiency, and the reaching after
God's mercy, are our best safeguards here below, because this
is our real and natural condition. That God may help


you, and all of us, my dear Matthias, is my constant prayer."
— " The ISth October," she writes on another occasion, "the
anniversary of the battle of Leipzic, was right festively com-
memorated. Early in the morning all the bells were ringing,
all the churches were full, and crowds waited without ; at
noon the whole town-guard turned out ; the streets were so
full of holiday folks walking, driving, and riding, that I could
not hear myself speak ; in the evening there were fire-works in
every direction. I sat at home and thought ; the recollection of
that great epoch is engraven in my heart ; I have lived those
iron moutlis over again with all their joys, and sorrows, and
anxieties ; you will believe that my eyes overflowed, and I
thanked God as well as I could, tliough not so fervently as
I wished, for all His goodness. If I could but once keep
this day in the Aschau cellar, gratitude would rise spontane-
ously, and overpower all other thoughts : that cellar I shall