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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utmost perseverance, and with far greater success than he had
anticipated. Well known and competent men had undertaken
the histories of the separate states. Geijer the Swede, Van
Campen the Netherlander, Count Mailath the Hungarian, had
been fellow-workers witli the Germans Pfister and Stenzel,
Dahlmann and Lappenbcrg, Leo and Schafer, and many others,
and their unanimity and good feeling had far exceeded expec-
tation. In addition to this great work, Perthes promoted
everything that could throw light upon German history. Of
this we find evidence in numerous histories of detached states,
such as Rommers Histoiy of Hesse, Sartorius's Origin of the
Hanseatic League, Aschbach's Emperor Sigismund, &c. ; but
besides these, important foreign histories, such as Droysen's
Hellenic History, Hurter's Innocent, Ranke's Servian Revolu-
tion were published by him. Amongst the biographies which
he preferred to bring out, the greater part belonged to the
times of the Reformation, but Schonborn's Life, Otto Run^e's,
and, above all, Niebuhr's, liave laid open many a secret passage
of German life in our day. Perthes often tried to incite dis-
tinguished men to write their autobiographies, sometimes suc-
cessfully, and sometimes the reverse. One of his friends made
answer : " I liave never kept a journal either of my cash or
of my mind. My works are essentially ephemeral ; they arc
dashed off by me, they speak now to this one, now to that, who
chances to feel as I do ; to him they give as it were a friendly
greeting in passing, somebody else they offend, and then they
melt into air. To write memoirs, that is to say, to give a con-
secutive history of my personality, is a thing that I shall never
do/' Perthes himself had no reason to wonder at this refusal,


for lie could never be brought to note down his own experi-
ences. As he once said, " I cannot do it : I am always busy
laying new eggs, and have no time to hatch the old."

In the course of a few years Perthes had established a most
honourable reputation as a publisher, having brought out no
worthless or dangerous books, and but few of second-rate
merit. All this had been the result of his own efforts. He
worked on without a partner or even an amanuensis, and he
had begun with but a small capital. As Frommann said at a
later period : " In a marvellously short time his business as
publisher became, as to extent, and still more as to solidity,
one of the first in Germany, so that both as bookseller and
publisher Perthes soon obtained a leading position, although
in both careers alike, he was entirely the founder of his own
fortunes. Even in our trade a man may become rich by
upright speculation ; but such a business as that of Cotta,
Reimer, and Perthes, can be established only by men who
have a higher standard than that of the multiplication table."
Rist once wrote to Perthes : " I behold with surprise your pro-
fessional activity. Doubtless by the publication of such solid
works, and the carrying out of so many bold undertakings, you
are establishing no small claims upon the gratitude of our
fatherland, and raising a memorial to your name, which will
not soon pass away. Indeed, already many have confidence
in the merit of books, just because they are published by you."
Later, anotlicr friend wrote as follows : " Perthes always knew
what he wanted, he iniderstood people's tastes, and whatever
he did, he did with his whole might ; in that lay the secret of
his success." The fact was, that he was thoroughly fond of
his calling, which, up to his death, he recognised as best fitted


or him He enjoyed Lis success, and was thankful for it.
In one of his letters to Umbreit, he says, — " In the long
life, full of chequered experiences, which now lies behind
me, I have almost invariably found that God's special pro-
vidence favours human activity and foresight." That Perthes
should wish his calling to supply his wants is self-evident, but
he did not wish it to make him rich. Constituted as he was,
it was easy to him to be contented with little ; he had already
shewn himself able to spend large means as a faithful steward
should, but to strive after such was foreign to his nature.
Riches had few charms for him. He once wrote : " I am really
a fortunate man, since every wish of mine that can possibly be
satisfied by money is satisfied already. If I were to have a
million to-morrow, I should be unable to procure either for my
body or mind a single enjoyment with which I am obliged to
dispense to-day. It would be entirely with reference to my
business that I could find it in my heart to wish for lots of
money ; for there are a multitude of plans in my head, which
would be of use to science as well as an honour to our house,
but which cannot be carried out without considerable capital."
Now Perthes certainly had not " lots of money," but he was
sufSciently affluent to be able to carry on his calling on a most
liberal scale. If the matter in question were an able work,
whose character suited him, he was a stranger to close calcu-
lations. Often and often did he accept writings by which he
foresaw that he should be more or less a loser. He used to say
that he expected his publications as a whole, but not each
separate publication, to bring him in a fair profit. However,
towards the end of his life, he became aware that this maxim
might be carried too far. In 1842, we find him writing : " In


tlie course of the last four years I have had some painful expe-
riences. The works by which I have lost considerably, are scien-
tific, and acknowledged to be able and admirable. I have done
all I could to forward such, but the sacrifice is too great ; I must
draw in. I rather rejoice at it than regret it, but I am firmly
convinced that the scientific department of my business will not
last much longer. For some years back, book collectors and
library possessors have been becoming rare. Large works on
science have but a small sale ; the book-trade is supported
by writings of the belles-lettres school, which are bought
by lending libraries and book clubs ; by school-books and
abridgments, and by hand-books for the diftcrent professions.
On the whole, scientific works have for some years been
published at the expense of the book-trade, and it cannot
hold out much longer. As it is, there are at least as many
manuscripts lying locked up in desks as there are printed.
During the last four years I have had to decline five hun-
dred ofi*ered publications, and of these not thirty have been
brought out by other firms. If I am not much mistaken,
twenty years hence learned men will find it difficult to get a
publisher for purely scientific works."

It is not often that a man who carries on his calling, be it
what it may, with great energy and an unflinching sense of duty,
has the good fortune to be popular. But Perthes had always
inspired esteem, liking, and confidence in all with wliom his
profession brought him into contact. Authors, old and young,
sought his acquaintance, and works of every sort were offered
him in profusion. About two thousand such offers were found
amongst his papers, and they afford many a significant insight
into the all-pervading tendency of our nature to rush into


print. We find the well-known author side by side with the
village schoolmaster, the gentleman of rank, the man of office,
and the man of wealth, and endless is the variety of forms
in which they all give out that they are occupied upon a work
of rare importance, while, at the same time, all betray their
uncertainty as to the reception tlie public will give it. Here
an earnest man firmly believes that he is making over with his
manuscript the best part of his life ; there a bold, brusque fel-
low plainly declares that gain is the only motive for his activity.
In short, one can clearly distinguish in the tone of these oifers,
the presumptuous parveiiu, the literary aristocrat, the literary
second-class man, and literary mechanic and journeyman,
amidst whom literary adventurers, j^roletaii^es, and pick-pockets
l^ly their trade. Not only authorship, but authors, diifer com-
pletely in dififerent years. For example, those who wrote
in 1830 and in 1837, belonged to perfectly diiferent spheres
of cultivation and position, and the bookseller was obliged in
self-defence to reject in the latter year what earlier he would
have been glad to accept. Great publishers whose range was
less limited than Perthes, are still more alive than he Avas to
these facts, and it were well worth while to collect all the
" rejected addresses," and catalogue not only the printed but
the written works, as a contribution to the secret history of
our own time to be handed down for the benefit of posterity.

Perthes was on confidential and friendly terms with al-
most all the authors with whom he had any permanent con-
nexion. The countless letters which he wrote in his profes-
sional character are of a singularly mixed character, revealing
the experienced man of business conscious of his own capa-
city — the layman who takes an intelligent and lively interest


ill the subject while deferring to the superior Icuowledge of the
author — the man of cultivation and refinement, who, as an equal,
deals with equals. His correspondence with so many theolo-
gians and historians of diiferent grades throughout Germany will
afford to posterity a better insight into the nature of our pre-
sent time than they could gain from any printed books or
archives. To many of the younger members of the corps of
learned men Perthes was a most liberal helper, and almost all
reposed implicit trust in him as to financial arrangements.
Indeed, when any exception arose to this rule, he would at
once break ofi" all further negotiations, without regard to the
name of the author or to the loss he might himself incur.

Not less were the esteem and confidence felt for Perthes by
his professional brethren. Frommann wrote at a later period :
" No one ever occupied so prominent a position amongst us,
or influenced the book-trade as a whole, and its individual
members, so powerfully as he." lie was always ready to assist
the efforts of young men towards success and independence ;
and many of them will thankfully concur in the words publicly
spoken b}^ one of their number : " From the moment that I
set my foot upon his threshold, Perthes did me great good
and good only, and in the highest sense of the word proved
himself a fatherly friend. May his spirit and his example
continue to influence us, and the course of his life encourage
the young men amongst us faithfully to devote their means and
energies to the higher interests of our calling."

TJiroughout his life, as we have seen, Perthes looked upon
the book-trade in Germany as a national concern, and considered
all its members as component parts of one great whole. He
had long held its earlier external connexion to be inadequate,


and the impetus given to it since the war, seemed to him to
demand new arrangements. When, therefore, in Easter 1823,
the old system seemed on the point of falling through, Perthes
stirred up his brothers of the guild, by word and letter, to retain
Leipsic as the centre of the book-trade, and to choose a depu-
tation authorized to see to the common welfare. In consequence
of this, as it appears, in 1824, nearly two hundred booksellers as-
sembled, and in 1825, formed themselves into a society, which,
year by year, increased both as to the number and importance
of its members. The formation of a national guild of this kind
was, indeed, a remarkable phenomenon in the nineteenth cen-
tury. Perthes warmly devoted himself to it, considering that
it behoved each individual to preserve its high character, to add
to its moral weight, and to help to increase its general activity
and ways and means. He had, indeed, much in his power, be-
yond that possessed by others. When, in 1827, an immoral
book was published and circulated by a German bookseller,
he stood forward in the midst of the assembly of two hun-
dred, and declared, that the honour of the national book-
trade was sullied by such a production, that the publisher of
such a work was a most dangerous character, and that every
bookseller's shop was degraded by the mere supposition of cir-
culating the book. Further, he demanded that the work should
be condemned in the name of the German book-trade, and that
all copies of it on which they could lay their hands should be
publicly torn. " If this," said he, " were done in every similar
case, such shameless audacity would be repressed, the honour of
the national book-trade would be upheld, and great mischief
averted." The accused was himself present. For a moment all
were silent, struck with the sense of their responsibilities, the


next all agreed, and on the following day the procurable copies
were formally and solemnly destroyed. Perthes himself was
prosecuted, in consequence, by the publisher in question, but
he was acquitted.

In the spring of 1838, at the annual meeting, the building
in Leipsic of a booksellers' "Exchange" {Buchhdndlerhorse),
as a central point, began to be talked of. " The plan approves
itself to me," wrote Perthes in November of the same year ;
" but I would combine witli it some others, as, for instance, a
long-cherished idea of mine — a literary institute for booksellers'
apprentices, and a museum for everything connected with books,
printing, and paper-making. These I advocated warmly ; my
proposition was universally acceded to, and as a punishment, I
was chosen chairman of the committee. Now that the chief
responsibility rests on me, I must carry on an extensive cor-
respondence, look over plans and estimates, and treat with the
Saxon ministry, who are much opposed to the enterprise." In
June 1834, Perthes wrote as follows: " After strenuous exer-
tions we had, at Easter, got far enough to produce a complete
plan, but just then there arose obstacles of all kinds to sur-
mount. The hour before the meeting, I felt uncertain whether
the whole thing would not go to pieces, and my surprise was
accordingly great, when the building was unanimously decided
upon." " It was Perthes," writes Frommann, "who, in 1833,
decided the meeting in favour of the building of the 'Exchange;'
it was he who, as chairman, reconciled all contending opinions ;
and, despite all manner of difficulties, contrived, in 1834, to lay
the plan of it before the general meeting. All those present
will remember the striking words he made use of, and the im-
pression they made."


Perthes cherished almost boj'ishly sanguine expectations as
to tlie important consequences of tliis decision. " Our society
will," wrote lie, " acquire with its fixed property new strength,
new stability, as well as the material advantages which
hitherto it has lacked. The more firm the hold of our society
over its members, (dispersed as they are through thirty-nine
different' provinces,) rejecting the bad, upholding the weak,
and affording a i^oiiit cVapimi for all, so much the higher
will the German book- trade rise, and become the instrument
of producing and diffusing works of scientific and literary
excellence. The stronger the corporate feeling becomes, the
more independent shall we be of civil and criminal law\ In
short, the firmer organization of the book-trade cannot con-
tinue without result, and I hope to God the result will be a good

Perthes' hopes were to be realized sooner than could have
been anticipated. The Merchant's Company of German Book-
sellers contrived, in 18'j6, to open its "Exchange," to frame
its own statutes, and fifteen years later to comprise seventeen
hundred members from all parts of Germany. ''For many
years," writes Frommann, " Perthes, though always declining
to act as President, was really the central point in all our de-
liberations and decisions."




" Perthes/' writes his intimate friend Frommann, '' was not
only honoured in his large circle of acquaintances on account
of his uprightness, candour, justice, and liberality, but also on
account of his mental energy : his distinguished reputation
continued to spread every year more widely. That it was well
deserved is proved by the multitude of his friends amongst
Germany's noblest and best. Friendship, indeed, was a neces-
sity not only of his heart but his mind, and this necessity was
satisfied by his relations alike to his superiors in years, posi-
tion, intellect, and attainment, and to those who were his in-
feriors in tliese respects. The weaknesses of his friends did
not escape his quick eye, but he loved them none the less, and
was always prone to exaggerate those points in which they
excelled himself To his younger friends he was especially
indulgent. Differences of opinion in religion and politics
neither blinded him to the faults of partisans nor the merits of
opponents, and he was always ready to help and advise both.
He was by no means despotic, but quite as little given to be
servile ; perhaps he was rendered over indifferent to exter-
nal political forms, because conscious of maintaining his liberty
and independence under them all. His frankness of speech


was remarkable, and he gave many a striking proof of it. He
understood the art of speaking, with the utmost calmness and
naivete, truths which people were not accustomed to hear, and
which they hardly knew how to take ; and this peculiarity he
would disjilay not only in presence of his equals but of tliose in a
higher rank, as well as to those far below him. Impetuous he
certainly was, yea, very impetuous, but he never nursed his
anger nor allowed his ultimate judgment to be biassed by it."

Perthes' life in Gotha had, as we have already seen, become
rich and full beyond his expectations, and he continued to re-
tain all his old friends and acquaintance. " When I reflect,"
said he, " on the extent of my acquaintance, Goethe's words
occur to me, ' The stream rolls wider and its waves increase,' and
I would call out to all to ' hold together witli all their strength
alike in the sunshine and the storm.' To me at least it is
almost impossible to let any go from me who once stood near,
and of all the inward gifts God has given me, I am most thank-
ful for the consciousness of constancy. It has always been
exquisitely painful to me to see any one who once was closely
united to mo by head or heart now pass me coldly by." An-
other time we find him writing : " What you young people call
friendship will certainly not last for ever, least of all now-a-days ;
its warmth and intensity belong not to the immortal element
in man, but to the fresh feelings of youth. A few years hence,
and feelings, opinions, convictions, will have got developed
which even the most intimate friends will fail to understand.
Amongst older men friendship, except as it belongs to memory,
consists in confidence in each other's earnest striving after
truth, and this confidence can outlast all changes." To all
that Perthes had so long possessed, much of every kind was


added during his residence in Gotlia. The number of distin-
guished men who came from all parts of Germany to visit him
went on annually increasing, and his continually extending
correspondence with historians, theologians, and politicians,
introduced him to all the interests of the period, while his
constant study of the biography, correspondence, and private
annals of the previous century, led him to look upon the events
of the day not as detached, but as links in the great chain of
the world's history in general, and of our own important epoch
in particular. It was an unfailing source of recreation to him
to express his views of the present and the past to a certain
distinguished friend of his who had a very strong hold upon
his heart.

George Rist, member of the Danish Legation, born in 1775,
was descended in direct line from the old lyrical poet ; he had
studied at Jena in the days of Fichte and Schelling, and had
then been appointed Secretary to the Danish Minister of
Finance in Copenhagen, In 1801, he went with the Lega-
tion to Petersburg, in 1803 to Madrid, and in the eventful
year 1807, his diplomatic duties led him to London. From
1808 to 1813 he had lived in Hamburgh, in 1814 he was sent
to Paris, from 1817 to 1832 he spent his time between Ham-
burgh and Altona, and then went as member of the newly
established Schleswig-Holstein Government to Schlcswig, where
he died in 1847. Rist was a noble man in the fullest sense of
the word, sincere and stable, and equally distinguished by the
qualities of head and heart. Even in his later years he con-
tinued devoted to the ancients, especially the Greeks ; he had
been attached to philosophy from the time he had listened to
Fichte and Schelling ; was perfectly at home in English and


Fiencli literature, and well acquainted with the Spanish. Per-
thes and lie diiFered no less in their views and opinions than
in their outer life. Rist was intimately acquainted with the
history of the former century, yet notwithstanding he gave the
preference to the men belonging to it ov^er those of the present
day, and sure of not being misunderstood, he used to tease
Perthes by making this preference conspicuous. " Our youth
was far more enjoyable than that of the present day," he once
wrote; "how pleasant the sentimentality-period was, and
Fichte, and Goethe, and the Revolution on the top of all.
Those were days indeed ! Now all is cold and old." In re-
ligion Rist was a pious Christian, but he always declined
entering into dogmatical questions. " I read no theological
works," he once said ; " they have the unvarying effect of
raising in me doubts which Scripture itself never raises." Aris-
tocratic in appearance, manners, and habits of life, his politics
were extremely liberal. " It is wonderful to me," Perthes once
wrote to him, " that you who have had such a distinguished
career, should so often take pains to present yourself as a
plebeian to me, the tradesman." " That should not surprise
you," replied Rist, " I have had to light with patricians half
my life, even against such as loved me and were loved by me."
Ever since his first settlement in Gotha, Perthes had carried
on an unbroken correspondence with this friend of many years,
in which both freely exchanged political, literary, and ecclesi-
astical opinions, and understood and opposed each other. The
very difference of their points of view gave to this correspon-
dence a peculiar charm. As Rist once said in a letter to
Perthes : " One writes so easily and comfortably to you ; what
with unity in great things, difference in small, even a conscious


exaggeration of our own views on both sides, and, above all, an
unchangeable conviction that though sharp words may bo used,
there is always kind feeling at bottom. Spite of all our pro-
testations, our practical life-paths run parallel ; we are both
good citizens, good parents, good neighbours, good men of
business, we give rather than receive, strike out if people come
too near our heels, bring up our children in the fear of God,
and live in hope of a joyful resurrection. Now, this I call the
practical part of life, and in this we agree intimately." An-
other time he writes : " Our children will learn much from our
letters as to the time in which we lived, and will see that there
were two independent men in Germany who wrestled bravely
with each other and with the world, and who, if early placed
underdiffcrent circumstances, would have developed other aspects
of character Avhich must now remain undeveloped to the end."
The variety of interests and impressions which Perthes owed
to his calling and his correspondence were sometimes a little
oppressive to him in his latter years : " From early youth," we
find him writing, " I have been subject to a habit of fancy-
jjainting, to a sort of internal novel-writing, which often
followed and disturbed me in business, which did not en-
tirely absorb me. Hence arose faults and mistakes, and the
vexations and loss that followed these taught me to conquer
the tendency. But in another form I have still to battle with
the play of fancy. However perseveringh' I liave striven to
acquire a habit of concentrated feeling and thinking, I still

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 32 of 36)