Clement Theodore Perthes.

Memoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) online

. (page 35 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

have their own life to occupy them : out of the collective exist-
ence of former generations, only the results abide, the summary
of which, we call history. It is only in God's sight that the
individual counts, as Job and David proplietically told us,
and as our Lord revealed." Perthes had gone in the May of
1842 to his beloved Friedrichroda, and enjoyed its repose. He
wrote to one of his sons : " May this morning be as fine with
you as with us ! the old sailor grown grey in storm and calm is
refreshed by the cheerful stillness of such a day."

In the middle of September, v;hen the cold autumnal
mists began to gather over the hills, lie returned to Gotha,
where he spent the first winter months in his wonted liealth
and vigour. At the end of the year he wrote to his sister-in-
law, Augusta Claudius : " I am now past seventy ; I can still
walk for hours over hill and dale, and I can work from eight
to ten liours without tiring my eyes. God be praised for it !
I can understand everything said to myself, but general
conversation escapes me. I comfort myself with the thought
that I have heard enough, but I am sorry to lose the prattle
of my three little girls amongst themselves. A certain
inward feeling tells me that my life will not last more than
two or three years. I have long fought the battle of life ;



476 LIFE OF PERTHES.

I scarcely dare hope for the crown of life ; but I know that the
prayer, ' God be merciful to me, a sinner/ will be accepted of
God." A few days later he wrote to Bunsen : " I believe
that my end is not very far distant ; I have no longer any ap-
petite, not even any spiritual appetite for what is on this
side the grave. My soul yearns for more certain nourish-
ment."



SICKNESS AND DEATH. 477



CHAPTER XXXIV.

SICKNESS AND DEATH — 1843.

According to custom, all Perthes' children and grandchil-
dren came from a distance to gather round him on Christmas
day. On this occasion, none were Icejit away by sickness, and
Perthes enjoyed himself with youtliful glee in the midst of
forty-nine of his descendants. Towards the end of the year he
wrote : " On that holy evening, I forgot the discomforts of my
present state, but I was reminded of them on the following
festival. For some weeks past, I have had premonitory symp-
toms of a serious illness ; my sleep is broken, my appetite gone,
and my afternoon hours very painful. I have been really ill,
and still am so." Perthes felt so convinced of the approach of a
fatal illness, that, on the first of January, he made the fol-
lowing short entry in his journal : " My state of health ren-
ders it unlikely that I shall ever write 1844." His illness soon
proved to be liver-complaint, and assumed the form of jaundice
towards the end of January. For some months he varied much
— occasionally his strength would sink suddenly as though a
rapid termination were at hand, and then he would unex-
pectedly rally. Towards the close of February he wrote : " A
few weeks ago I thought the end of the journey was come ;
now good days alternate with bad, but certainly the progress



478 LIFE OF PERTHES.

made is very slow, as slow as the pace of the Austrian mi-
litia. My strong constitution struggles hard to throw oif the
disease, but I do not believe it will succeed." " Weary, weary,"
wrote he a few weeks later, " yet still the improvement goes
on, and it seems as if I might really have a further grant of
life." Soon after, liowever, came a change for tlie worse, and
towards the end of March, all his strength appeared exhausted.
In one of the letters written at this time, we find it said, " I
have seen Perthes ; his appearance really shocked me ; all his
energy is gone, his voice is weak, and every movement languid
in the extreme. There he is, feebly reclining in his arm chair,
and emaciated to the last degree. This change is the more dis-
tressing in a nature so elastic and energetic as his was a few
months ago." Yet while he had any remains of strength left,
his worn-out frame was still the obedient instrument of his active
mind. It was not in Perthes' nature to lead the passive, supine
life of an invalid. The healtli that he had throughout life
enjoyed had been too good not to lead him to struggle to the
utmost against the encroachments of weakness. As long as it
was possible, he spent each day, or, at least, a few hours of
each day in his study, and when unable to leave the sick room,
he still sat up dressed, on a chair before his desk. Even when
confined to his bed, he still had letters, books, and papers
spread around him, determined that his life in bed should
make as few concessions to sickness as possible. As long
as he could help himself, lie did not like to call in the
help of others. He once remarked, that his wife shewed
herself the very perfection of a nurse, because she never
proifered help when he did not need it. As it had always
been his wont before taking any journey, to settle his affairs



SICKNESS AND DEATH. 479

as completely as tliougli he did not expect to return and to
have everything ready days before he departed, so was it now,
in the prospect of the last great journey. He most punctually
discharged every obligation, gave directions to his son Andrew,
who was to carry on his father's business, made his will, and
was then able undisturbed to await the hour of departure.

Notwithstanding all these claims upon him, he still found
time to write numerous letters both to his sons and to his
friends and acquaintance ; in many of these he entered warmly
into the different questions of the day. Even so late as March,
he took undiminished interest in the newly published volume
of Hagenbach's History of the Reformation, and in Ranke's
German History. In the beginning of April his son from
Bonn paid him a visit. He entered as freshly and fervently
as of yore, into every subject of conversation, and he could still
make many a playful speech about a letter which came from
the Minister von Thiele, earnestly requesting him to attend a
council at Berlin. Indeed, the friends and acquaintance
wlio came to see him, as soon as they had got somewhat ac-
customed to his aspect, found it most difficult to believe him
so near death. " Perthes," wrote a friend, " belongs to that
class of men with whose every idea mental and bodily health
are so intimately connected, that one forgets that they too,
are subject to the universal law of decay." In one letter,
written about the end of March, we read, " I found him quite
unaltered in mind and heart ; he is as bright, friendly, and in-
teresting in conversation as formerly." In another letter :
" Such a spirit as this is mighty indeed. True, it has lost
the absolute mastery over tlie physical nature, but still it can
assert itself and force that nature to obey, though reluctantly,



480 LIFE OF PERTHES.

and but. for a season, I was often surprised to see tliat when,
towards evening-, Perthes hiy bach, weary and worn, a little
mental stimulus availed to restore life and strength even
to the body."

Now, this in Perthes was not the result of effort. On the
contrary, activity was now, as of old, the law of his mind, and
work and cheerful conversation were as compatible as ever
with the interests of his spiritual life. During the years pre-
ceding this illness, Perthes had already attained to a greater
mastery over the impetuosity of his temperament. Faith
and love liad become more and more pervading principles,
leading to increased humility toward God, and gentleness to-
ward man ; nay, even in proportion as his own convictions be-
came stronger, his toleration enlarged. No one, indeed, knew
better than he, that he was not yet a conqueror. " If Paul,"
wrote he, " had to complain of inward conflict and discord, no
other need despair because he has to do tlie same. All that
man, Christ helping him, can attain to on earth, is to prevent
pride and sensuality ruling in him absolutely, constantly to fight
against them, and to bewail their remaining power. From the
first days of the Church, external methods have been tried, in
order to obtain a complete victory, and each Christian lias his
own special means towards the attainment of this end, but no
one has ever attained it, nor ever will. Pain and sorrow have
done more for me than joy and happiness ever did : the prayer
for help leads to resignation, and resignation purifies the soul ;
but still the fight goes on till the present day. Let us fight
to the last, my dear son !"

Indeed, Perthes had to fight to the end, but months of sick-
ness blunted many sharp weapons of the enemy, and matured



SICKNESS AND DEATH. 481

the inward and spiritual life. The weakness and suffering
he had to endure, were no light trials to a man who had never
before given his body a thought ; but no one ever heard him
murmur, no one ever saw him out of temper, his patience
strengthened from week to week, he was always kind and
friendly, and his thankfulness for the mercies with which his
life had been filled, never forsook him. That the end was
drawing near, he perfectly knew and openly declared, and he
looked forward to it with wonderful composure. To Corner he
wrote : " The consciousness of life being quite over, is to me
a very peculiar and by no means depressing feeling, rather, ou
the contrary, exhilarating. I am full of thankfulness to God."
Indeed, as far as man could judge, Pertlies had not for one
moment during the whole of his illness, to struggle with the
fear of death. " God is, for his Son's sake, very gracious to me
a poor sinner," was his constant exclamation in hours of pain.
To Neander he wrote : " In hope and faith I am joyfully pass-
ing over into the land where truth will be made clear, and
love pure." In a letter written early in April, we find it
said : " Perthes is perfectly reconciled to die, he is calm and
confident. Whether this present confidence and calm will abide
with him during the last struggle, he does not know, for nature,
he says, often asserts her sway most strongly when just about to
lose her power for ever ; and that, therefore, there may possibly
be before him a fearful conflict, a seeming despair, a cry, ' My
God, my God, wherefore hast thou forsaken me V but, he
hopes for a peaceful, placid falling asleep, and makes it a sub-
ject of prayer.

" A few hours after he had said this to me, I entered his
little cabinet, and found him reclining in his arm-chair, his

VOL. II. ^1



482 LIFE OF PERTHES.

hands folded, his eyes closed, peace and joy sjoread over his
countenance. I hoped that God had heard his prayer, but it
was not so ; he was only asleep, and woke up cheerfully/'

Whenever Perthes needed strength and comfort, he sought
them exclusively in the Scriptures. Not one of the religious
works to which he had owed mucli during life, satisfied his
present need. Formerly he had preferred the Epistles of St.
Paul to all other portions of the Bible : nor did he lose his
love for them, but his love for St. John's writings increased.
As of old he always turned to the Epistle to the Romans, so
now, however he might be engaged, the Gospel of St. John was
always open before him. Sometimes, though not often, his
thoughts would wander to the life beyond death. " In a week
or fortnight I shall be on the other side, and yet I am still with-
out any previsions as to the nature of the existence immedi-
ately succeeding my death. Shall I be in a state of painful
conflict, sorrow, and struggle, through which sin will be finally
destroyed, or in a state of profound repose, in which I may
collect myself, and in silent resignation be healed from the
wounds inflicted by the tumult of earthly life ? Shall I be a
fellow-worker in works of wisdom and love? Will a know-
ledge of the mysteries of nature, a comprehension of the
course of events, or companionship with those I have loved
on earth, be granted me ? All these questions assume just before
our death a very difierent degree of importance to what they
ever had before, and yet we should not indulge them, since
no answer has been vouchsafed." On another occasion he
said : " The season of faith will soon be over for me, that
of sight is near, and yet how mysterious the word, and how
veiled its meaning !— Si^ht ! I shall see with faculties that I



SICKNESS AND DEATH. 483

have never possessed here ! As I have only with my bodily
eyes beheld the visible, with my ears heard the audible, so un-
derstanding, feeling, reasoning have only afforded me the per-
ception of this or that aspect of truth, not the truth itself.
Knowing, in fact, is not seeing. If I am to see I must have a
new spiritual faculty conferred by perfect love, in order to
make the reception of perfect truth possible. Fain would we
question how this will be brought about, but be it unto thy
servant according to thy word.''

In the second week of April there was another sudden de-
crease of Perthes' strength, while, on the other hand, the symp-
toms grew worse. " Very weak," " very wretched sensations ;"
these are frequent entries in his journal about this period. On
the 15th of April he wrote to Bunscn : "The disease does not
yield, and the weakness increases ; you must not be surprised if
the tidings sent ere long be — ' he died of old age.' " On the 1 6th
of April, on Easter Sunday, hiswife and daughterwere sitting with
him after church ; he made them give an account of the sermon
they had just heard. " Do not," said he to them, " speculate or
inquire into our condition after death ; it does no good, and
diverts the mind from the main point. Hold simply and firmly
to that which our Lord has told us, and do not wish to know
more ; read again and again the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth,
and seventeenth chapters of St. John's Gospel : he who has
these has all he needs alike for life and death." During the
two last months of his life, he lived on these four chapters,
and the nearer he approached to death, the oftener did he read
the seventeenth. After Easter it had become evident to him
that he had but a few weeks at furthest to live ; indeed he ge-
nerally thought his last hour nearer than it was. On tlie morn-



484 LIFE OF PERTHES.

ing of the 21st of April, liis birtli-day, he had his children and
grandchildren assembled around him. All were sad and sor-
rowful, but he lay in his room, which had been filled with spring
flowers, in such perfect peace and joy, that it was impossible for
them to give utterance to their grief. " Should it be God's will,"
said he, " that I should still spend a little more time with you, I
ishall do so gladly, and I should return with pleasure to my dear
Friedrichroda ; but this may not be. A rich life lies behind me ;
I have indeed had my trying days and hours, but God has ever
been gracious to me. Do not mourn for me when I am dead ;
I know that you w-ill often long for me, and I am glad of it. I
need not say to you, * Love one another,'' but, so bring up your
children that they also may do so. I die willingly and calmly,
and I am prepared to die, having committed myself to my God
and Father. Here there is no abiding city, we needs must part ;
death cannot harm me, it must be gain,"

A w^eek later, on the 29th of April, he believed that his last
hour was come. He had no pain, but he was weak in body,
and somewhat depressed in spirits. During these daj^s he
lived much in the thought of his beloved Caroline, he had the
account of Claudius' last days repeated to him, and liked
to have his Avife and daughters constantly near. He spoke
lovingly to every member of his family, and when night came,
as no one else was able to do so, he himself read out with a
loud voice the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John
from beginning to end. The next day, Sunday, he felt stronger.
His eldest son Mathias having arrived from Moorburg, Perthes'
Avife sought gradually to prepare him for this. He laughed
out in his own old way and said, " You think that because I
am ill I must needs be nervous too, — let him come in at once."



SICKNESS AND DEATH. 485

" Nothing in tliis world," said he repeatedly, "could have
given me more pleasure than the arrival of Mathias." He
was often able clearly and connectedly to converse with this
son for hours together, although, in addition to his extreme
weakness, new and painful symptoms had just set in, one of
which was erysipelas in the head of a very malignant char-
acter. But nothing interfered with his activity. He daily
transacted business matters in the clearest and most system-
atic manner with his son Andrew, and took a cheerful part in
conversations of all kinds with his friends Ukert, Ewald, and
Archdeacon Hey, who had been for many years his spiritual
adviser. To numbers Perthes had been a counsellor, to num-
bers a benefactor, and he had friends and acquaintance in
every part of Germany, from whom he now rejoiced to receive
letters of sympathy and affectionate leave-taking. Schelling
wrote saying : " It was so comforting to know of one in the
world from whom, in every case of need, one was sure of
sincere sympathy, loving goodwill, and judicious counsel."
Pertlies' son Mathias had written from his father's dictation
a farewell letter to Rist, which, unfortunately, cannot now be
found. Rist answered it as follows : " I liave, indeed, had
much to bear in life. I have had great trials and great bless-
ings appointed me, but it remained to me to have such a letter
to receive as yours of the 5th of May, and to answer as I now
do. My hand may indeed shake, but my heart is undismayed ;
I do not dread to look upon death, witli which I have been so
long familiar. I draw near to your sickbed, to thank you for
your remembrance of me at such a time as this. I stretch out
my hand to say farewell, if, indeed, it must be so, to edify my-
self by your courage, faith, and joyful trust in the new-birth



4S6 LIFE OF PERTHES.

in Christ ; I desire to repeat your confession, and to make it
mine. I hold your wife and children happy in that they
stand round you, and I greet them all. My wife has still
tears for her dear old friend, to whom slie bids a most loving
farewell. You have been much to us, your memory will re-
main with us all as a blessed one. Dare I express a hope
that the jihysicians may be deceived, and that your own feel-
ings may deceive you ! — And now farewell, here is my hand,
— we shall meet again, dear Perthes I"

Perthes had many a personal leave-taking to get over.
His old fosterfather's son, Carl Hcubel, to whom he had
been himself a father, had come over from Leipsic to see him
once more. Perthes received him with heartfelt pleasure,
and sent him away strengthened and suppoited. On the 6th
of May he bade farewell to his son-in-law William Perthes,
wlio was obliged to leave Gotha for some weeks. He keenly
felt the loss of this man, wlio had been for five-and-thirty years
very dear to him, and a few days after his departure expressed
a wish to see him again ; but as soon as he heard a proposal
to send for him, he said, " No, mo ! one must notallow one's-self
everything that is possible, he is not to come, and I desire you
to obey me, and by no means to summon him." On the 7th of
May, to his very great joy, came Perthes' sister, Charlotte Bes-
ser. He made her tell him much about earlier as well as pre-
sent times, and with her he reviewed once more his whole past
life. On Monday the Sth of May his son Mathias went through
that painful parting that can only come once, the parting from
a dying f;ithcr. Perthes gave him his hand with a look of deep
earnest love, and said in a tone of cheerful confidence, "We
shall meet again." " I used to think," he had said a few days



SICKNESS AND DEATH. 487

previously, " that in the certainty of an existence in God above,
all desire of seeing and possessing again those we have loved,
would disappear, and I never attached much importance to
the personal relations between man and man in heaven ; but I
have changed my views: I now hope to meet and enjoy again all
I have loved on earth, and I believe, too, that I shall do so."

On Thursday the 9tli of May, Perthes closed his journal with
the short entry, " Suffering much ;" and from that time forth
he could not raise himself without assistance. Impressed with
the certainty of death being close at hand, and with the desire
to meet it in full possession of his consciousness, he lay languid
and weary, but continual]}^ praying in the words of some of his
favourite hymns. In a letter written at this time we find ; " He
is still indescribably patient, he never complains, and is always
kind and cheerful. To day, he said, ' I am weak, very weak,
would to God it were the last weakness — my pains increase, but
still death tarries,' " "With tenderest affection, and with the
composure and energy which only experience can give, his wife
nursed him night and day ; but he did not the less appreciate
the devotion shown him by others. " Do not," said he to his
daughters, " sit up with me at night — you only weary your-
selves, and things will get worse still ; and jct," he added, a
few minutes afterwards, " I should like one of 3'ou to sit on
my bed at night, so that I might see you whenever I awoke."
He almost always lay with folded hands, often exclaiming,
" Gracious God, help me." " Come, Lord Jesus ;" or, " Lead me
not into temptation ;" or " God be merciful to me a sinner, for
thy dear Son's sake." Whenever he opened his eyes, he looked
lovingly at whoever was sitting by him ; nodded, or stretched
out his hand. Even during these last days, he looked out a



488 LIFE OP PERTHES.

ring for his grand-daughter, Fanny Becker, on the occasion
of her confirmation, and another for his daughter Agnes, which
he gave her in a basketful of flowers on her silver wedding-day.
The 10th of May was the eighteenth anniversary of his own
second marriage. Much and long did he and his wife speak
together of their mutual life, and then he added, " Death is
here, and I am conscious of a most strange feeling, as though
all earthly ties were dissolving ; but there is no expressing this
in words."

His intimate friend. Dr. Madclung, having long promised not
to conceal from him what any of his symptoms might indicate,
he now asked him whetlier the last hours were come, and on
receiving for answer, " Not yet," he said in a melancholy tone,
" I had so confidently hoped to die to-day, and must I go on
living f Alas, he had still five weary days and nights before
him. On Sunday the 12th he was lifted into his arm-chair,
the erysipelas had struck inward, and his agonies every hour
increased. Ice was laid on his head, and opium given. He
struggled desperately against its influence, and though some-
times rendered delirious, he yet often by an eflbrt collected his
faculties, said what he wished to say, and then relapsed into a
dreamy condition. He spent a day and night of fearful suffering,
the opium had lessened his power of resistance, and agonizing
cries of pain escaped him. "You must excuse it," he once said,
" I cannot help it, and I have not any teeth to grind." " that
I could but weep I" said he, on another occasion. " What a long
Sunday — it is a hard, hard battle ! Help me, my God, and send
me death." But there were words of resignation and trustful-
ness that alternated with these cries of anguish. While those
around him sujiposed him asleep, he began in a low touching



SICKNESS AND DEATH, 489

voice, to repeat the words of a favourite hymn. Another time,
waking from a kind of dream, he exclaimed, " Herder, on his
dying bed, sought only an Idea : ' Light, light,' exclaimed
Goethe ; it would have been better had they cried out for love
and humility." Early on Monday morning he became free, not,
indeed, from pain, but from the influence of the opium ; and
trying to collect hia thoughts, he asked his daughter what had
been the matter ? whether they were angry with him ? whether
he had broken anything ? His children told him that he had
taken opium, and been delirious. At first he repeated their
words, as though he could not quite guess their meaning, but
wdien, at length, it broke upon him, indescribable love, peace,
and joy overspread his whole aspect, ho drew his weeping
daughters towards him, laid his hands on their Jieads, blessed
them, and prayed long and fervently.

Even after this distressing night, Perthes had still some
hours of unconsciousness ; sometimes, too, he would mistake
the time, and find some difliculty in recognising the person
who chanced to come in ; but he was never again delirious, and
when he did speak he spoke clearly, and with a kindness which