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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have to struggle with desultoriness, with sudden inroads of the
most unconnected ideas ; and my calling is a great snare to a
man of this temperament, shewing me, as it daily does, the
world in its most varied confusion, and men in the craziest


fool's caps and bells. Both when reading and writing, my atten-
tion is most easily disturbed. I know, indeed, that a quick
imagination is the salt of earthly life, without which nature is
but a skeleton ; but the higher the gift, the greater the respon-
sibility." Pray and work, is " the great maxim here, too, for
young men and for old." Another time he writes : " Nitzsch's
sermon upon the sanctification of the imaginative faculty has
deeply impressed me ; but I wish the language had been
plainer. Perhaps few have had such bitter contests as I to
subdue wandering thoughts, and gain the power of continued
meditation on things above. This susceptibility of tempera-
ment and over-activity of imagination, are idiosyncrasies over
which flesh and blood cannot prevail. And, besides, from my
early years, my calling required me to retain in my memory
an innumerable quantity of things and circumstances ; but
now I cannot recollect anything in which I am not inter-
ested ; all these things moved me more deeply of yore. Thus
it is that a million difl'erent things now lie garnered up
in my semi-spiritual, semi-material organism, rising up, God
knows how, seeming to possess an independent existence, be-
yond my control, and disturbing my inward composure and my
strivings God-ward. In the conflict with these foes, the best
method, according to my experience, is an unvarying habit
of devoting daily a certain portion of time to the contem-
plation of, if not to communion with God. Moments of glow-
ing aspiration and occasional attempts to command religious
emotions will not do. Thy grandfather spoke a deep and im-
portant truth when he said, ' Ponamus, that thou wert on a
mountain height, at break of day, looking at the sea below,
from out of which rose the sun, and that thy heart being


touched, thine impulse was to fall down on thy fficc ; why ftill,
with or without tears, and do not feci ashamed of it, for the sun
is a glorious work of the Most High, and an image of Him
before whom thou canst never bow low enough. But if thou
be not moved, and must squeeze hard to squeeze out a tear,
why let it alone, and let the sun rise without one.' However,
one must not decide hastily for others. Nature, art, and the
temperament of different men are infinitely varied, and, conse-
quently, the means by which we help ourselves onward must
needs vary too."

While Perthes thus expressed himself to one friend, respect-
ing the struggle for spiritual composure and recollection, he
endeavoured to excite a differently organized nature to cour-
ageous endurance of the changes of mood brought about by
external life. To a young man, who seemed inclined to take
trifles as well as sorrows too much to heart, he wrote as follows :
" Go forward with hope and confidence ; this is the advice given
thee by an old man who has had a full share of the burden
and heat of life's day. We must ever stand upright, happen
what may, and for this end we must cheerfully resign our-
selves to the varied influences of this many-coloured life. You
may call this levity, and you are partly right ; for flowers and
colours are but trifles light as air, but such levity is a consti-
tuent portion of our human nature, without Which it would sink
under the weight of time. While on earth, we must still play
with earth, and with that which blooms and fades upon its
breast. The consciousness of this mortal life being but the
way to a higher goal, by no means precludes our playing
with it cheerfully ; and, indeed, we must do so, otherwise our
energy in action will entirely fail."

VOL. IL 38


However varied Perthes' domestic life might be by visits
and correspondence, lie did not the less take great pleasure in
seeing and judging for himself of new places and new circum-
stances. In 1831 and 1834, he spent some time in Berlin ; in
1835, on the Rhine ; in 1836, in Hamburgh ; in 1840, in Vienna,
in all these places seeing and hearing much that he never
could have clearly understood from the accounts of others.
Even in his latter years, he constantly wandered with a son or
son-in-law through the hills and valleys of the Thuringian
forest, giving himself up, as soon as he had left the town
behind him, to the delight of a boy who sees the world for the
first time, feeling strengthened and improved by the now
lovely, now grand views that this mountain range abounds in,
and certain to meet with some singular character, or some
strange adventure to interest him.

That Perthes was able, without injury to his character, to re-
spond to such a number of external claims upon his attention
and interest, may be attributed to his life being so firmly rooted
in his home and family circle. It is true, this family spread
out yearly more and more. His eldest son Matthias had been
a pastor in Moorburg since 1830 ; his second son, Clement, be-
came in 1834 a public tutor in Bonn ; his son Andrew, after
a preparatory residence in Hamburgh, Prague, Switzerland,
and France, had become a partner in his father's business. All
these sons were married. His step-son Henry, for whom he
had a true father's affection, left the Gymnasium in 1838, to
study first in Bonn, and then in Berlin. Perthes had always
encouraged a great amount of ii\dependence of manner and
feeling in his sons, respecting their personality even in their
childhood. When they became men, he entered into such free


and friendly relations with tliem, tliat on eacli side the very
depths of the heart were unreservedly revealed. Public and
private events, religious and political opinions, formed the
staple of the unbroken correspondence carried on between
father and sons. Nor was his intercourse with his children
settled in Gotha at all less intimate. Three of his daugh-
ters had long been established there; in 1831, his fourth
daughter married Moritz Madelung, and his step-daughter
Bertha, Carl von Zeche. None of these daughters would allow
many days to pass without seeing their father in their own
houses, were it but for a quarter of an hour, and few weeks
went by in which the whole family, daughters and sons-in-law
alike, did not spend one evening at least with their parents.
The circumstances of these different families were indeed
widely varied, but in spite of all manner of obstacles, they
contrived to keep up the animation of these meetings. Even
after a hard day's work, Perthes would enter into a spirited
conversation with youthful ardour, and would unconsciously
excite each to exert to the utmost the faculties he possessed ;
indeed it was almost impossible for any one to remain supine
or feel weary in his society.

Perthes had four children by his second marriage, and the
number of his grandchildren yearly increased. In so large a
circle there was, of course, no lack of anxious weeks and
months, of sicknesses and deaths. The sad year LS31, in which
the cholera first appeared in Germany, was well calculated to ex-
cite alarm, but it did not disturb Perthes' composure, though two
of his sons were living where it raged most fiercely. " I am
convinced," wrote he in the June of that year, " that if natu-
ral causes do not stay the pestilence, it will overspread Europe,


and that all attempts to fly from it will be vain. It is not my
nature to feel any great dread of falling into God's hands, but I
am horrified at the prospect of the evils that selfish precaution
may inflict upon our social relations. Self-love in the garb of
fear is something terrific, and will corrode both public and
private life. The state of Europe during earlier pestilences
cannot be compared with what is now before us, when all are
so intimately and closely connected and narrowly confined.
But God will help us !"

No member of his large family, however, was struck down
by the epidemic, but sorrows crowded upon them in after years,
especially in 1833. In the month of June Perthes wrote as
follows : " Six months lie behind me, all filled with fears and
hopes. Our distresses began about Christmas time. I have
often remarked, that in cases of sudden trouble, families gain
much in courage, endurance, and composure. Each is sus-
tained by a consciousness of duty, and each has his special
post. But nature fails under long-continued pressure. Sorrow
loses its exciting, energizing influence ; it exhausts, and the
danger is lest a certain passiveness should result from it, which
is not strength but weakness, not resignation but stupefaction.
Prayer, and nothing but prayer, is the one and only remedy.
We still hold out bravely, and I am still able to bear our daily
trials patiently and submissively, but anxiety about my wife,
whose burdens are almost too great for mind and body, per-
turbs and distresses me. God will help us on."

Towards the end of July low fever broke out in the house,
attacking not only five children, but Perthes himself " These
trying weeks," he wrote, " have been to me a season of new
and important experiences. I have been quite unequal to the


business of life, but tlie union of my soul with God has remained
undisturbed by the pressure of sickness, my mind is quite clear,
and I can express my thoughts more clearly than when in
health. Nitzsch's sermons have been a support and comfort to
me. I have got over the difficulties of the language, and I
find at each reading new treasures in the mind of this man,
who is certainly the deepest of our living theologians. For
the last week my second son has been with us, and he will not
leave till matters take one turn or another. I daily spend
hours with him alone, and I have endeavoured to convey my
views systematically to him. Our conversation has chiefly
turned upon the origin of things in general, evil included ; the
wide circle within which man is free, and therefore responsible ;
the direction of the world's history by God ; Jesus Christ the
centre of all history ; materialism and pantheism, political
and ecclesiastical order."

Towards the end of August, it became apparent to Perthes
that the illness of his only son by his second marriage was of
a fatal character. He had been more closely knit to this
lovely and gifted boy than to any of the others at the same
age. When his elder sons were boys, he was immersed in
Hamburgh business, and could but seldom occupy himself with
them. But he had watched this child's life through joy and
sorrow alike ; even when at his occupations he used to have
him playing by him, and in his walks he made him his com-
panion. '' It is a rare bliss," he once wrote, " to be, in one's
latter years, the father of such a child. A parent of my age
contemplates such a young existence with different eyes from
those of a young man who is himself but entering into life.
It is delightful to watch the germ of love and sensibility, and


very striking to see that the nursery is a little world, whose
daily incidents require and cultivate self-control and reflec-
tion, awaken penetration, and even the sense of the ludicrous."

Accordingly, when this beloved child's life-powers were strug-
gling with death, Perthes felt as keen and deep an anguish
as any he had ever before known. " I prayed with my whole
lieart's fervour," said he, " that my Rudolph might be spared
to me, and I saw that I prayed in vain. Faith and despair
struggled witliin my breast, and I have gained a deeper under-
standing of the pi-ayer, ' Lead us not into temptation,' than I
ever had before."

On the evening of the 31st August, just as the setting sun
reddened the sick-room, the child died. " God has taken away
the delight of my age," wrote Perthes, " but he has given me
tears such as I had not hoped to weep again. You wish me to
tell you much about my Rudolph, but I cannot do so. To a
third person all children of that age are so much alike, and
the loss of a child is such a common occurrence, that, no details
could give a clearer insight into tlie individual case. Each
father and mother's heart knows its own bitterness, and no
tiiird person can enter into it."

Later he wrote to Nicolovius : " Since the death of my
Rudolph, I begin to feel the evening of life closing in, not be-
cause of any diminution of bodily or mental powers, but because
of a certain indifference to human pursuits and interests. But
God will uphold me with his love and truth, so that I may not
grow supine and incapable cheerfully to do and bear according
to his good pleasure." Incapable or gloomy Perthes indeed
never became, but the yearning for his lost child haunted him
as long as he lived, often forcing from him, as he paced the


room alone, even after years were past and gone, tlie cry, " My
Rudolph, my Rudolph, where and what art thou now I"

Many an liour, too, of inward conflict besides, had Perthes
during these A^ears. We find him writing: " How far beneath
our wishes and our will are the works and ways even of the
old amongst us ! Love without work, and work without love.
How cold and weak our sorrow for sin seems, and yet, perhaps,
God sees more in it than Ave do, and knows how deep and
strong and abiding a sinner's repentance really is."

Another letter runs thus : " ' Bo ye holy even as I am holy.'
These words often pierce me through marrow and bone. I
have known many who have experienced in themselves the
immediate working of the Spirit, and who believed that they
had been made holy by it. That there may be such saints
even in our days, I will not dispute, but I do not belong to
their number. I have striven and wrestled, but the world and
the flesh have hindered me. Only for moments have I, in and
through prayer, tasted of the peace of God. Not to shut our
eyes through indolence or despondency to the sin remaining
in us, not to mistake death for life, sorrow for repentance, and
imagination for love, not to grow weary in our upward course,
or to substitute wishing for willing ; this is our ceaseless task
here below, a task impossible without faith, but without which
faith is impossible too." Whenever his heart was heavy, Per-
thes would turn by preference to the Epistles of St. Paul.
He once wrote, " Look for comfort in the Epistle to the Ro-
mans ; in it is the whole truth of God in as far as we need to
know it here on earth. Fight the good fight to the end,
this is Paul's teaching to you, as well as mine." In another he
says: " I have often, very often, read the Epistle to the Ro-


mans ; it is tlie portion of Scripture which has most impressed
me, has given me most light, and most stablished my faitli.
Should another prefer some other portion, that need be no
matter of dispute ; it is a proof of the divinity of the Bible,
that different books affect different Christians most, according
to their difference of temperament and education, while yet all
books lead to the same end."

Not only was Perthes inclined by natural character firmly
and fervently to express his convictions, but he believed it his
duty so to do. " We should give honour to the truth," said he;
" we should not suffer others to seem to despise it ; we should
not practise a false toleration, but shun all intimacy with those
who do not acknowledge it."

It is true, that even in tliese his latter years he was often
wont to be more vehement and sharp in his tone of controversy
than his conscience approved, and he was well aware that he
had thus offended and temporarily estranged many. " I feel,"
said he, on one occasion, " that I must be very careful as to
what I speak or write about Church or State, lest I be misun-
derstood, and injure both myself and my cause. It must be in
some measure my own fault that you should believe that I wear
a pair of eye-blinders, so as not to be disturbed in my convic-
tions by what lies on the right and left of my path. Not so ;
I have sharp eyes for what is not good and true in matters
that I deem essential I see things plainly, and like to see
them so, even when they do not fit in to my views, but I do not
allow my positive tendencies to be disturbed by them. He who
knows what he wants, and determines to accomplish it, be it
in small or great matters, cannot afford to weigh everything so
closely as to darken it by his criticism, and bring into pro-


minence every wetik point ; this would but lead to a habit of
scepticism, and where that exists there is an end to all a<»tioii.
I know, indeed, that in this great world-drama, the doubters
and deniers have their part to play, and do not all belong to
the great club-footed denier, but to the children of God,
though not to the active workers among these. However, mv
province is to affirm and establish. I will wrestle with evil
when it comes in my way, but neither in great things nor
small, politics nor religion, doing, thinking, nor feeling, will
I consent to the overthrow of God's Church, because the devil
has built or may build a side-chapel of his own against it.''

However earnestly Perthes may have held and asserted that
without ecclesiastical and dogmatic authority neither theolo"v
nor Christian feeling could hold their ground, still his own in-
dividual life was very independent of both. " My Christianity,"
he once wrote, " becomes each year more simple. That not to
love God is sin, and that to love Him again constitutes deli-
verance from sin ; this as infinite truth, this as the solution of
every problem, has been transmitted from the Bible to my
spiritual life. Christianity is thoroughly practical in its nature.
Scientific inquiries and absorption of the S(nil in religious
emotion, are of themselves little worth. 1 learn more and more
to discern the Divine wisdom, which has set limits to revela-
tion ; all that we need for our happiness is given us, and were
the curtain lifted further from holy mysteries, man's utter be-
wilderment would be hopeless."

VOL. II. 39



LAST YEARS.— 1837-1843.

After a severe attack of influenza in 1837, Perthes took a
small house at Friedrichroda, about nine miles from Gotha, in
order, with his wife and children, to spend the summer in the
woods. " You see, my dear friend," wrote he in July, " that
I have fled to the mountains to drive away the consequences
of influenza. My hearing is still much affected, and I have
difficulty in making out human babble, but I hope to be able
to hear the vulture scream and the trout splash. If any-
thing can restore my health, it will be life in the woods. You
know Friedrichroda, so I need not speak of its charms. Every-
thing is in our favour, — the sky blue, the woods dark, the mea-
dows green."

It was indeed a lovely sj)ot that Perthes had chosen. On
the north side of the Thuringian forest, a long valley runs
down into the plain, at the entrance of which lies Schnepfen-
thal. Half a league further up the valley you encounter
numerous mountain tarns, along which there is just room- for the
road to wind beneath the shadow of the fine old firs. Higher
up, the valley widens out till you come to meadows of the
brightest green, in the midst of which stood in earlier days the
old Benedictine cloister of Reinhardsbrunnen, now replaced by


the castle of the Dukes of Coburg-Gotha. Other wildly beauti-
ful valleys run down from the hills into that of Reinhardsbrun-
nen, while rocky ridges, clothed witli noble beech and fir, and
bold mountain peaks offer an abundance of fine views. Divided
from this valley by a low ridge stands, in a wooded basin,
the little village of Friedrichroda, and at about a hundred
yards from it, the house Perthes had chosen. Being built in
a hollow, the front rooms looked out upon a new blank wall,
and he had to bear many a joke about the situation he had
chosen ; from the back and from the little garden, however,
there was really a glorious view, and the Black Forest, witli
its shade, its solitude, and countless footpaths, was within a
few steps of the house. A few years after Perthes' death,
Friedrichroda became a much frequented place, but at the
time we speak of, the country retained its lonely character, and
you might have wandered half a day in the wood-paths, and met
only a herd of timid deer, a forester, children in search of straw-
berries, or women in search of firewood, while nothing was to be
heard but the woodman's axe or the herdsman's horn. In
the evening, numbers of wild deer were in the habit of gather-
ing in the meadows.

From 1837 it became Perthes' custom to spend every sum-
mer at Friedrichroda, and each year he loved it better. In
the morning, after his hard work, he used to take a short
solitary walk, and in the evenings, two, three, nay, some-
times four hours' rambles with his wife and his three little
girls. It was his constant delight to find out new points of
view, and when found, to show them to others ; and he had
abundant opportunity of doing this. On Saturdays and Sun-
days, the house was all alive, grandchildren, daughters, sons-


in-law came, till the rooms were too small to contain them, and
kitchen and cellars were put to strange shifts ; and often Per-
thes was the youngest of the party in spirits and enjoyment.
His sons, too, generally came from a distance to spend some
weeks Avith him ; and even of historians and theologians there
was no lack. Tholuck, Liicke, Marheineke, de Wette, and
Olshausen were his guests ; and of all those who visited
Perthes in Friedrichroda, however different their character
or callings might be, there was not one who did not carry away
with him the recollection of some pleasant and interesting
hours. It is true, that he who was without a sense of natural
beauty had but a poor reception ; for Perthes looked upon
him with wonder and pity, much as if he had been born deaf
and dumb, or without arms and legs. Any under-rating of the
special beauties of Friedrichroda he took almost as a personal
offence, and treated it accordingly. But, on the other hand,
the visitor who had an eye for wood and hill was comfortably
housed, and Perthes led him here and there, to show him the
beauty of the disti'ict in the best light. It was a perfect mar-
vel to the country people, why an old gentleman, who had
neither to burn charcoal nor to prepare tar, persisted in thread-
ing the long and toilsome paths their day's work led them to
traverse ; but they all liked him, and knew that he had a heart
for their joys and sorrows. The oftener he returned to Fried-
richroda the fonder they grew of him ; and to prove this, they,
in 184], gave him the freedom of their little town, with which
he reported himself more pleased than with any honour ever
before conferred upon him. Many such tokens of respect had
attended Perthes in his later years. In 1834, the inhabitants
of Leipsic had made him free of their city, and in the summer


of 1835, the Prince Regent of Saxony had given him the cross
of the civil order of merit. " I would gladly possess civil merit
as far as Germany is concerned," wrote Perthes, "and I like to
be done honour to by such a prince as this. In former years
I once sat next to him at dinner, and he spoke very intelli-
gently about literature and the book-trade, the Hamburgh
government, the July revolution, &c. ; but what most surprised
and pleased me was, his spontaneous, benevolent sympathy
and respect for the social condition of all grades alike, com-
bined, as his sentiments were, with a full consciousness of rank.
It is only he who honours men for their humanity, who thus
reverences every position and calling. Such a state of mind as
this implies genuine cultivation, which I would distinguish from
what is merely learned and fashionable ; for all ranks alike may
possess it, and it docs not come more easily to high than to low.
Wit, information, penetration, birth, station, all oppress and
alienate those who arc deficient in these respects, but this culti-
vation makes all who come in contact with it free, and excites
esteem and confidence. What a change has taken place in this
respect during the last fifty years 1 God grant that our nature,
having learned to esteem every human condition, may not now
run into the extreme of despising the difference between one

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 33 of 36)