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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condition and another."

In 1840 the university of Kiel conferred upon Perthes the
order of Doctor of Philosophy. " I could not," wrote he, '" have
marvelled more at this honour done me if I had been Vladica
of Montenegro. The learned company has not, for a long time,
seen such a bungler as I in their midst ; my Latin is as rusty
as that of my Orfort colleague Dr. Blucher, and that is saying
much." A friend, however, remarks in a letter to Perthes :


" The facult}'' has done well ; he who has practised wisdom
throughout a long career, may well be styled Doctor of Philo-
sophy even though his Latin be rusty,"

Another honour enjoyed by Perthes, during his latter years,
was the kindness shewn him by the ducal house of Coburg.
In 1826, on the Duke of Coburg's accession to Gotha, Perthes
liad written as follows : " My monarchical principles have
gained many new adherents ; for all fall suddenly down before
the new prince : certainly he, like Saul, is head and shoulders
taller than the rest of the people, full of princely dignity, very
judicious, and consequently very popular. He knows and is
interested in every subject ; in short, the whole world is
bewitched with him, and men of all parties have suddenly
become ducalized."

The great wisdom and experience of the Duke, as we have
seen, interested Perthes, and his benevolence won him en-
tirely. On his side, the Duke was very partial to Perthes,
and always saw him when at Gotha or Reinhardsbrunnen.
The forest and its inhabitants, recollections reaching back
as far as 1806, as well as the political events of the day,
formed the subject of their conversations. But Perthes'
peculiar delight was in the young princes. It was in 1836,
when the Coburg Princes came to Gotha, in order to con-
clude the marriage of the Prince Ferdinand Augustus with
the Queen of Portugal, that he saw them first. In the
January of that year he writes : " A few days ago I was
dining with the old Duchess ; both the princes were there —
fine, tall, handsome youths, fresh, healtliy, and full of spirits,
to which they gave free scope as soon as they were out
of their grandmother's sight. Prince Ferdinand, the future


King of Portuga], has a noble profile, but he is still a thorough
child : the poor slender fir-tree has to be transplanted to a hot
soil ; perhaps his very childishness is in his favour." In
J 889, Perthes writes : " Late in the summer, the ducal house-
hold came to Reinhardsbrunnon, and with them the Crown
Prince from Dresden, and Prince Albert from Italy. Their
father has good reason to be proud of them both. The ardour,
frankness, and healthy judgment of the Crown Prince de-
lighted me uncommonly ; Prince Albert is, without doubt,
a highly gifted and thoroughly cultivated young man ; hand-
some and elegant, courteous and benevolent. His thoughtful,
cautious temperament will lessen the difficulties of his future
position. We have the Duke of Meiningen, too, and the
King of Saxony ; and sometimes no fewer than fourteen
princes go out hunting together. These meetings between
the house of Saxony and the neighbouring princes should of-
tener take place. Taken together, they are not without signi-
ficance in German relations, and these wise, restless Coburgs
will tell upon Europe too : they do not, indeed, form any very
comprehensive plans, but they know, as few men and princes
do, how to seize the passing opportunity, and use the present
moment. They have already secured the thrones of England,
Belgium, and Portugal for their own house, and they have an
eye on those of Spain and France as well.''

In 1840 we find Perthes writing: "The winter months of
this year have been made interesting and exciting by the
chapter of history which has been enacted here ; for, at the
approach of the English wedding, the Ducal Papa bound the
garter round his boy's knee amidst the roar of a hundred and
one cannon. The earnestness and gravity with which the


Prince has obeyed this early call to take a European position
give him dignity and standing in spite of his youth, and in-
crease the charm of his whole aspect. Queen Victoria will
find him the right sort of man ; and unless some unlucky fata-
lity interpose, he is sure to become the idol of the English
nation, silently to influence the English aristocracy, and deeply
to affect the destinies of Europe. Perhaps I may live to see
the beginning of this career." " As for your Prince Albert,"
writes a friend to Perthes in the autumn of 1840, " I have
every reason to suppose that you rightly appreciate him and
his position in England. Still he can attain to a knowledge
of things around him, and his relation to them, only after a long
residence. The public seem well affected towards liim, and
in the higher circles he has already some influence ; but in
order to influence politics, he must be older and more free to
act." Another friend writes : "I have not seen the Prince during
my stay in London, but I have heard much of him ; he seems
to be universally beloved, and I have been often most courte-
ously thanked by Englishmen for the noble return which Ger-
many has made to England for the Duke of Cumberland."

Once only in these latter years did Perthes determine upon
a prolonged absence from home. In July 1834, he with his
wife and his three little girls went through Coburg and Nu-
remberg to Ratisbon, thence by the Danube to Vienna, where
he spent a month with his friend Hornbostel. " Here I have
been for some weeks," wrote he, " and I have seen and heard
much very difterent to what I heard and saw four-and-twenty
years ago. All my old acquaintances are dead. Hammer
was absent. Pilat was tlie only one left, and I spent some
hours with him. With this exception, I met only mercantile


men, but many of them were influential and very well informed.
My high opinion of Austria's internal strength is by no means
diminished by the peculiar view this visit has afforded me.
The life, the intelligence, the varied information, and, above
all, the faculty of enjoying life that I have here found, have
amazed me. It is true that intellect and knowledge are almost
exclusively directed to machinery and looms, to trade and
manufacture ; both the Church and the priesthood have become
mechanical, and Protestantism is cold and dead. There is,
indeed, a danger in tliis one-sided industrial tendency which
the government so unqualifiedly favours, but the decomposing
process going on in the spiritual life of the rest of Germany
does not obtain at all in Austria, or only amongst the higher
aristocracy. If great events occur — and indeed they cannot be
long postponed — and men be thrown out of their present ma-
terial direction, the fresh energies and natural ability of the
German Austrians will soon develop themselves. The pre-
sumptuous fools in North Germany, who speak of the Austrian
barbarians and the decayed empire, have no idea in their plains
of the strength which exists behind the mountains — do not
dream that the literary exhaustion of North Germany will
probably be obliged, in the next generation, to draw life from
the South."

" If people determine to call Austria a despotism," wrote
Perthes again, " it must be admitted that it is one of a singular
kind, the pressure being all upwards, not downwards. Perhaps
in no other state in the world is the internal government so
moulded and guided by ancient customs and institutions which
have their origin in popular life. Restrictions and limitations
of all sorts to which the Austrians have been long accustomed.


and which they have therefore learnt to bear, they easily en-
dure ; but it is ahuost impossible for government to introduce
any innovations, because an unexpressed but universal opposi-
tion of rich and poor, high and low, is at once raised against it.
A number of jocular stories are circulated, in which the fruit-
less attempts of the government are ridiculed. A short time
ago a peremptory edict against pigeons flying about in Vienna
was issued. ' Are the imperial pigeons to be caged as well V
ashed their keeper. ' For a day or two," was the reply : ' if
every one else lets their pigeons loose, we shall do the same.'"

" I have made the acquaintance,'' says Perthes in another
letter, "of a very remarkable man, the Cathedral preacher
Veith. He was formerly Director of the Veterinary College
in Vienna, then he became a priest, and now he is a preacher
in the Cathedral. I heard him twice in a crowded church.
His sermons were full of geniality and practical experience,
mixed up with natural science and historical narrative, and
highly exciting. A friend brought me to him in the vestry,
and he proved himself perfectly acquainted with our Protest-
ant theology in general, and with Schleiermacher, Rudelbach,
Julius Miiller, and Tholuck in particular, expressing him-
self with perfect unreserve about the Catholic Church and
its condition in Austria. I have read his Woman of Samaria,
and gained from it many new views, and in so far as it does
not treat of specially ecclesiastical subjects, there is hardly
anything in it that Protestants need object to. In short, this
man is a most striking character, and a matter of wonder to
such as are not Catholics,'"

From Vienna Perthes, accompanied by his family, travelled
through Ischl, Salzburg, Berchtesgarden, and Ratisbon, back


to Gotlia, wliicli thev reached after a two months' absence.
" We have not had an aihiient/' wrote he, " not an accident,
not a moment's anxiety nor a single day's bad weather. Yes-
terday when I got out of the carriage in perfect health, and
found all the members of my large family the same, I most
heartily thanked God. The prospect of the journey had rather
weighed upon me, for though I still feel strong, I have lost the
feeling of security in taking a long journey, which I once pos-
sessed. On his return to Gotlia, Perthes not only found his son
come from Bonn with his wife and family, but a mass of busi-
ness which had accumulated during his absence ; while the
meeting of i^hilologists in September brought with it all manner
of further excitement. In one letter he says, " Two very dear
friends are in my house, Ritter from Gottingen, andNitzsch from
Kiel ; Lachmann is with me at my son-in-law's, and we have
many an animated and indeed comic hour when the whole
learned body meets for business or play. It was an amusing
spectacle to witness twelve postilions blowing away on their
horns, and riding in advance of the three hundred school-
masters, while we followed in a long procession of hired car-
riages to Reinhardsbrunnen, tliere to dine at the Ducal table."
A few weeks later he wrote : " This has been a year ! — the
birth of four grandchildren, hard work in Leipsic, the marriage
of my son Andrew, the visit of my dear brother Jacobi from
Siegburg, with his wife and children, the two months' journey
to Vienna, the very hard work after my return, and then the
philologists — my old bones creak again."

After his return from Vienna, Perthes would never again
hear of a long absence from liome. " I shall take no journey
till the last of all," said he, in 1841, in answer to a pressing


invitation from his son. " Streng-th and inclination for it I
still have, but change and excitement do harm to one of tlie
advanced age you can now no longer dispute my claim to ; ex-
ternal quiet, that is, an unbroken routine being the right thing
for body and mind. Other old men might be able to travel
more comfortably, but owing to my temperament, every jour-
ney excites me, and a thousand things in succession would
distract my mind. Only think of the number of men I should
have to see, and how much I should have to hear and say !
Why, one week's stay with you would involve at least six
months' hard work."

In proportion as the j^leasure that Perthes took in travel-
ling diminished, his love for his neighbouring mountain-re-
treat increased. But still he refused to buy a house in Fried-
richroda. " I have never," said he, " had any other landed
property than my travelling carriage and my corner in the
churchyard ; and just before the order to march comes, I do
not want to bind myself down to any earthly spot." However,
he increased his accommodation and his comfoits, and in the
summer of 1841, we find him writing, " I have by my addition
gained a most glorious view in several directions, and it was
just made in time, for the elements are raging this year. The
storm roars in the wood, and the trees creak and groan ; the
mornings are very cold, and the mountain mists reach our
windows. We make as much use as wc can of the fine hours
of the day, but I do not climb so high nor ramble so far as
of yore, preferring the familiar paths, where I can live my
inner life undisturbed, as becomes a man of seventy who will
not much longer see and feel the beauty of this earth."

However, Friedrichroda did not lack excitement in the sum-


mer of 1841, far a brilliant circle again assembled at Reinhards-
brunnen. " The quiet woods," wrote Perthes, " have become
unquiet ; we have the Duchess of Kent here, Prince William
of Prussia, with his family, and many others. Adjutants,
jockeys, negroes, lords, dogs, horses pass our little house day
and night ; hills and dales, woods and rocks, are scoured in
the chase, and my poor deer have a sad time of it. I once
saw the Duchess of Kent alone with her brother, the Duke,
who called me to him, and I sincerely rejoiced at their happy
meeting." Soon after Perthes wrote : " How strange it seems
to me in the midst of all this tumult, to look back upon my
past life ! Half a century ago I was an orphan, cast in ex-
treme poverty into the world's whirlpool, without information,
without help, without support, a forsaken apprentice in a cold
garret, having to limp about for weeks on frozen feet, because
no one attended to me but my poor and still dear Frederika.
All this lies like a dream behind me, now that I am at my
journey's end ; my life has not been an easy, nay, often a
painful one. To God be the praise that it ends well !"

Active and cheerful as he still was, Perthes now began to feel
in different ways the approach of old asre. He was often himself
surprised at the length of days he had left behind him, when
any circumstance reminded him that he had known this or that
aged man as a child or a youth. He once wrote to Ullmann :
" There are four men in Southern Germany whom I used to
know in olden times ; of late, however, I have never seen them :
Ran, of whom I still letain an agreeable though indistinct
impression ; Schubert and Schwab, whom I last saw between
thirty and iivc-and-thirty years ago; and Schclling, whom I met
forty-two years ago, and with whom I have since maintained


a friendly correspondence." Perthes was, however, destined to
meet the last-mentioned of these men once again. In the
autumn of 1841, he writes : " Schelling has been liere. We
had not seen each other since 1798. The slender, black-
haired Swabian youth stood before me as a robust old man,
with snow-white head, but just as cordially frank and plain-
spoken as of yore. We talked over all our old experiences and
our present feelings, and did not know how to part."

But there were other things besides his friend's white hair,
which served to remind Perthes of the evening of life. Many
a star of the first magnitude, to whose light he had been accus-
tomed from his youth, went out one after another. Niebuhr
died in 1831 ; Goethe in 1832 ; Schleiermacher in 1834. Many
dear friends and relations, too, Avere called away, whom Perthes
missed and mourned. In 1839 he wrote : " I have again lost
one I loved and honoured, my faithful old Nicolovius : would
that I could have pressed his hand once more here below,"

In a letter to Umbreit, dated 1840, he says : " If at the age
of seventy I needed a warning, the departure of so many old
friends might afford me one. Thibaut is now gone, a man I
cordially loved and respected, and who was much attached
to me. However, one can think of him with joy as well as
sorrow ; no doubt, like the rest of us, he had his own struggles,
but still he was a happy man, his being was a harmonious one,
and despite his vigorous participation in the progress of sci-
ence, his spiritual life flowed on in tranquillity." Poel had
died in the autumn of 1837. To him Perthes had long been
indebted for much intellectual stimulus and much informa-
tion, though they differed materially both in religion and poli-
tics. Poel had spent his youth in Bordeaux and Geneva, and

LAST YEAR::. 471

then studied in Gottingen. For some time he was engaged in
Russian diplomacy, and was in Paris during one of the most
remarkable periods of the first Revolution. Though admirably
fitted for political activity, he early retired from it, and lived
privately in Altona. His merits were universally admitted, and
all who knew him well, loved him for his benevolence and fine
moral sense. In October 1837, Perthes wrote : " The depar-
ture of our dear Poel has deeply moved me ; there were few I
so much loved and honoured. He was not only a distinguished,
but a very singular man, — singular, because his name and his
person remained unknown, while his influence was widely felt.
Many leading men have taken their literary and political bias
from him."

Perthes had had his kind and earliest guardians — the
riding-master Heubel, and the old Aunt Caroline — spared to
him for an unusual length of time, and as long as they lived
he kept up a friendly correspondence with them, and paid
them an annual visit. After one of these visits he wrote:
" It is singular to see how the old times and the present are
peacefully blended in the dear old man. He has the liberal
views of our day, and yet he considers it his highest honour to
do his dut}' to his Prince after the feudal fashion, and the
whole princely family treat him as a venerable relic of anti-
quity. When the Prince's arrival is announced, the old man
throws on his faded uniform, and holds the stirrup while his
master descends. Then the Prince takes him up to his room,
and empties with him a bottle of wine of the last century."
" Rare, very rare, is it," wrote Perthes on one occasion to his
aunt of eighty-three, " that such strength and clearness of mind
as God has given to you should endure to your age. You are


highly favoured indeed, — you can think of the past with plea-
sure, you enjoy the peace of the present, and look forward with
confidence to the future. I desire to say with you, God has
done all things well." " Thank you, dear Fred, for all your
love," writes his old uncle to Perthes, after receiving a visit
from him through snow and storm ; "you love me now just as
you did sixty years ago, Avhen you used to ride upon my knee ;
this consciousness is ever with me in my solitude, and I thank
you for it." In 1835 the old uncle died at the age of eighty-
three, and in 1838 the old aunt followed, aged eighty-seven.
Perthes wrote to Rist as follows : " I heard yesterday of the
death of my dear uncle in Schwarzburg. He was life-wear}-,
but still in possession of all his mental faculties : he had lived
very happily, and so God be praised. Schwarzburg is now to
me desolate ; the playground of my childhood is no more ; there
is not a Heubel left in the house where they had lived for a
hundred and ten years. The family is now dispersed. So goes
the world ! Who can suppose that this is our home !"

Another thing that reminded Perthes of the approach of his
own death was the different impression now made upon him
by the death of others. We find him saying : " Births and
deaths, deaths and births amongst children and children's
children have compassed me round during the last few months,
and I have had to look upon many a sick and dying bed. My
affection for my descendants individually is not diminished by
their number ; but the wind and weather of a long life has
hardened my physical frame against sorrow, and my soul has
learnt resignation to the loss of its dear ones. Now that I
know I must soon follow, the death of others makes quite a
different impression upon me to what it did in youth, when,


though one indeed acknowledged, one did not feel one's-self mor-
tal. It is only the pain of suffering children that now as formerly
pierces me to the heart, and doubting questions will arise in
connexion with it. In grown-up persons one knows the why and
wherefore, and the sufferers do so themselves, or at least they
may do so.'' The thought of his own age and his own death was
never painful to Perthes ; on the contrary, he used continually
to refer to it. Towards the end of 1842 he writes : " When I
die, the centre of a widely extended family will be taken away,
and yet it is scarcely desirable that such a centre should con-
tinue very long after one's children have acquired a position of
their own. They will each form their own new and special
circles in the time to come. But while an old man, with re-
mains of his former strength, sits on and on in the centre, a
thousand concessions are made to him by all the otlicr families,
and horns are drawn in, wliich are intended to thrust with vigo-
rously, or to be rubbed off" as the case may be. The old must
give place to the new ! And as to the greybeard himself;
when time has tugged at us long, we cease to do more than
vegetate, we become a burden to ourselves and to others, and
what is worst of all, we get a horrible longing for a still longer
life. When I look at many old men around, I am reminded of
Frederick the Great's expostulation witli his grenadiers, who
demurred at going to certain death, ' What, you dogs ! would
you go on living for ever V "

Again, in 1841, Perthes, after a severe illness, writes to
Liicke as follows: "Recovery, indeed, one may still speak
of, but the recovery of old age is not that of youth." About
the same time he wrote to Ullmann : " The spring is glorious,
and I often feel overcome with melancholy at the thought of

VOL. IL 40


seeing this eartlily splendour but a few times more, and I am
conscious of the same sensation in contemplating long familiar
inanimate objects, but not so with reference to my living loved
ones who will soon follow where others have gone before/'
" I yearn for the repose of Friedrichroda," wrote he in the
spring of 184:2 to Ullmann ; " perhaps it is there that the last
repose of all will be granted me — gladly would I rest in that
churchyard with its fir-trees. It is not my physical condition
that occasions this yearning, but I discover in myself an in-
creasing indifference towards all temporal matters ; I feel inca-
pable of effort for anything on this side ; I want nothing more
here below." This gradual loss of interest in all appertaining
to earth shewed itself in the diminished importance attached
by Perthes to his own external history. Formerly he had
often thought of sketching out his career, but the pressure of
business had prevented his doing so. Latterly he lacked the
inclination. When his old friend Runge lost all his papers in
the Hamburgh fire, Perthes wrote to him as follows : " I, too,
lost most of the documents relating to my youth at the time of
the French invasion. True, that in the thirty years since then,
papers enough have accumulated, and the contents of these are
full of incident ; but in these railroad times of ours, would they
have an interest for the next generation? I do not think so.
My papers, dating since 1S13, will perish as did the earlier
ones. No one will hunt out the valuable from amongst the
mass, and, indeed, why should they ? God looks upon and
cares for us all individually, but in the sight of men what are
we in history, but as one faded leaf in autumn ! When we
return from a delightful journey, we believe that wo shall never
forget its incidents. Yet when a few years are over, what re-


mains of all the pleasures and interests, which written clown
would have filled volumes ? So it is with the events of our life,
and even had we written them all down while fresh in our
minds, who would read them ? Perhaps a friend immediately
after our deatli — later, one or two lovers of old stories — no
more, unless indeed the autobiography were a work of art, like
Goethe's 'Wahrheit und Dichtung,' owing its permanent interest
to its form rather than to its contents. Those who come after us

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 34 of 36)