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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and in the year following the union of Coburg with Gotha, the
l)ersonal peculiarities of Duke Ernest, effected a far greater
transformation than the French Revolution, the Rhenish Con-
federacy, and the war of Independence together.

Although the political, ecclesiastical, and social forms of
Gotha belonged to bygone days, yet there was, not indeed in
them, but co-existent with them, an amount of life, and intel-
lectual excitement, not often to be met with in towns of
the same size. The Gymnasium numbered amongst its
teachers such men as Doring and Schulze, Ukert and Kries ;

Perthes' first settlement in gotiia. 69

Rost and Wiistemann ; the library had attracted to Gotha,
Friedrich Jacobi, the Observatory Von Lindcnau and Encke ;
Bretschneider was general superintendent ; the natural sciencesi
were worthily represented by Von Hoif and Von Schlot-
heim ; Stieler had already begun his geographical labours,
and Andreas Romberg had, until 1818, led the services of
the ducal chapel. All these men were cordial friends, and
every one was welcome to their periodical meetings who
possessed any scientific tendencies whatsoever. Tradesmen
and mechanics were, generally speaking, active and enter-
prising. They had planned and established, at their own ex-
pense, excellent schools for their own order, and many other
useful institutions besides ; the educational efforts of former
centuries were continued and developed ; free schools were
carefully supported, and societies formed for the benefit of or-
phans and prisoners. The living influence of the town extended
beyond its own confines. The Fire Insurance Office established
in 1821, and the preparations for the Life Insurance Company
which followed, in 1829, the getting up of the universally cir-
culated genealogical pocket-books, as well as the great geo-
graphical undertaking of Justus Perthes, called out a spirit of
enterprise on all sides. Mental influence of various kinds
was diffused by the many born or educated in Gotlia, and
thence transplanted to German universities, while the parents
of the numerous pupils who flocked to the Gymnasium from all
parts of Germany, as well as from Denmark, Poland, and Russia,
brought with them foreign interests into the town-circle.

With this fresh and vigorous intellectual life, the confusion
and deadness prevailing both in politics and religion, was sin-
gularly contrasted. Here, as in the rest of Germany, the creed


of political rationalism, handed down by the last century, was
combined with the national efforts, as also with the fantastic
characteristics resulting from the war of independence and its

In almost every respect, Perthes' new home afforded a fair
epitome of the state of Germany. Death and life, disease and
health, reason and unreason, old and new, were in close juxta-
position, as indeed they are everywhere, but here, perhaps,
still more singularly blended than elsewhere.

Perthes had keenly felt his departure from Hamburgh, and
the shadow of the last sad montlis there spent followed him
into his new home. Writing to Count Adam Moltke, he says,
— "It is a heavy year that lies behind me. My childhood was
spent in poverty ; as a youth I was thrown about from place
to place, till, as a compensation for all besides, Wandsbeck was
given me as a home. Home died with Caroline. The gradual
removal from my desolate house of objects endeared by memory,
the last look into the now empty rooms, which for eighteen
years had been consecrated by the closest ties, all this cut me
to the heart. We must be unspeakably guilty in God's sight,
otherwise when through the darkness in which we walk, light
shines through love, death would not be permitted to take it
away. My nature could never endure to give itself up to a
great and deep sorrow, and on this occasion it was only the
labours and the efforts, essential, in order conscientiously to
part from my home, my business, and my social and civic rela-
tions, that enabled me to bear the rending of so many ties by
which my very life seemed bound. Our journey was a pros-
perous one, and a slight accident was the means of enriching us
with a pleasant impression. At a village near Netra, our axle-


tree broke. I shall never forget this little village of Ritt-
niannshausen. It was Sunday — all the peasants were at hand —
the four-and-tvventy families living there made but one ; they
were all related by love and friendship, and mutually behaved
with the most refined politeness. The women were handsome —
the lads well grown, the men Hessians, who had seen service,
with their medals on their breasts, and all of them alike intel-
ligent and helpful. For twelve hours they helped Wagner
and the smith, and I had difficulty in getting them to take
anything in return. In short, I met with an idyl in real life,
which rejoiced my heart. On the 20th of March, at midday,
we reached Gotha. Our meeting was a mournful one without
' the mother." "

During the few first weeks after his arrival, Perthes was oc-
cupied with the various small matters connected with the
arrangement of his new way of life. In April he wrote as
follows : — " I have not yet begun my regular habits, the many
things to be done just at first, and the presence of my son
Matthias, who is come from Tubingen to see us, having filled up
the time. Our provisional dwelling stands in a free and open
situation, surrounded just now by a very sea of flowers, and
commanding an extensive view. We see the Seebei^g and the
Inselsberg, and even the Brocken in clear weather. My daugh-
ter Matilda governs the new household judiciously and firmly ;
Clement I have sent to the Gymnasium ; the education of the
two youngest is provided for, and the most necessary visits
made. We are a good deal with my married daughters and
their husbands, and I already foresee that my new mode of
life will suit me."

Towards the end of April, Perthes, having completed his


necessary family arrangements, was obliged to go to Leipsic.
But the impulse given to the hook-trade by the confluence,
from all parts of Germany, of men of every kind, no longer ex-
cited him as of yore. In a letter to Besser he says : — " It is
not the labour, nor the turmoil, but the emptiness of the
pursuit which weighs upon me now. Everything seems to me
null and void, and I can no longer get up an interest in things
as I used to do. Many objects which a short time ago were
bright and varied, have become grey and monotonous in their
hue, and the life of life is over for me." In the middle of May
Perthes returned to Gotha in melancholy mood. He again
Avroto to Besser: — " My spirit is deeply troubled. This return-
ing home without Caroline, without finding the love, the fulness
of soul from which I drew my life, is horrible. I can impart
nothing, receive nothing, all is barren and dead. My arrival
yesterday was most painful — no welcome, no life in our com-
munications ; the i50or children cannot supply that want." The
Countess Augustus Bernstorf nee Stolberg wrote to him: —
" The wilderness within, the blank, the loss, — ah ! who knows
tliese as I do, — the love, the longing, the home-sickness, and
yet the consolation and the hope ! Most heartily do I stretch
out my hands towards you ; we are one in faith, and strive
towards the same goal — may eternal love and mercy help us
to reach it ! "

However sad Perthes may have been during the first few
weeks of his residence in Gotha, this did not prevent his ex-
citable nature from receiving new impressions. He wrote to
Count Moltke : — " Very notable to me is life and action in this
little ducal town, and the contrast between it and the commer-
cial republic in which I have grown grey. Here there are no

Perthes' first settlement in gotha. 73

State and social restrictions for me, scarcely, indeed, for those
who hold office here. There is no place where one lives more
unconcerned as to prince or governments, and that is not well ;
for what importance can these small duchies retain unless they
preserve more intimate relations between prince and subject
than is possible in great towns ?" In a letter to Besser we find
him saying : — " As I write, the village bell is sounding in my
ears. Last night, the 16th of May, Duke Augustus died. All
medical skill was in vain, for this half crazy prince could not
deny himself the stimulus of the hottest spices." Later,
Perthes writes to Rist : — " The funeral was a melancholy
spectacle, no sympathy shewn by high or low, town or country.
The domestic servants were the only mourners, and the Duke's
favourite cock, who was almost always witli him night and
day, alone looked solemn and tragical. And yet this prince
had injured and oppressed no one ; he was botli clever and
feeling, but he was early ruined by an education founded on
the principles of the French Encyclopedists ; he took distorted
views of everything, and his conduct bordered on insanity.
On the morrow, when the country heard of the death of the
old Duke, there was another ready, and the Saxon Dukes, who
would gladly have succeeded, had to practise patience, and not
only to condole upon the occasion of the deatli, but to congra-
tulate on that of the accession. If, in the other smaller States,
prince and people are not more closely united than they are
here, we shall have some ugly experiences to go through."

Perthes' preconceived ideas of small principalities had led him
to expect a patriarchal authority in the Prince, and a familiar
attachment on the part of the people; but this we see was not the
case. On the other hand, he found in the town an unexpected

VOL. II. ^


extent of cultivation, and a variety of intellectual interests. " I
am still," he says in one letter, " restrained by caution from
entering into any business relations here, but what I have
hitherto seen promises me more scope than I should have ex-
pected. It is really wonderful how many well-informed men of
business, men of learning, and aspiring youths, this little town
contains. Of the learned, the greater part have devoted them-
selves to natural science ; their proficiency in this one depart-
ment is acknowledged, and they possess considerable libraries
and collections. Many of them are experienced in greater
matters, know the world and the world's history, and all are
social and communicative, though they prefer speaking upon
tlieir own special subjects, of which I know nothing. The
theologians and philologists are much the same as elsewhere.
Poetry and Art have no representatives, but we have no lack
of originals. A gentler, more cheerful, and child-loving head
of a school than Coring, the director of the Gymnasium, you
could nowhere find. Though not far from his seventieth year,
he wears a grass-green coat and a sulphur-coloured waist-
coat ; though decidedly humpbacked, he is a great rider, and a
thorough Nimrod ; he keeps and feeds singing-birds, reads
Horace, and is good-humoured and jovial in his manner to liis
pupils. In short, society, in despite of the narrow limits of the
town, is so exciting and many-sided, that one need never be
obliged, like Richard Parish, to take frequent journeys, in order
to rub off the cryptogamic growths with which a long stay in
one and the same place is apt to incrust the human soul,"

At another time we find him writing, — " I do not find it dif-
ficult to relinquish public activity in behalf of state and com-
munity : should it come in a man's way he may still take a part

Perthes' first settlement in gotha. 75

in it so long as liis powers endure, but older men are not to push
themselves in, under the idea that they are indispensable. No
one is indispensable, no dead man is long missed ; the waves
close over him, and the place that knew him knows him no more.
The ambition of a youth of talent cannot refrain from striving
and working on a great scale, but this will be the case with an
older man, only if he be vain ; if not, he will see more and more
clearly that he is surely influencing the whole when quietly
occupied with the particular, that the thing nearest at hand is
the right thing to do, and that if there be a will, there is every-
where and always a way. It is without a pang that I find myself
withdrawn for ever from all public activity, such as that of my
Hamburgh life, and I am thankful that my outward circum-
stances do not compel me to summon up and strain all my ener-
gies, in order to fill my future position with credit. My present
occupations and endeavours do not hinder, they rather further
my soul's meditation and the growth of my spiritual life.
Certainly, I have often trembled when I thought of the step
I was about to take. It was no small matter to me to give
up a long-established, certainly unquiet, but perfectly secure
situation for a new and certainly quiet, but by no means an
assured future. However, if one ever wishes to make a de-
cided change in life, it must be while one has still strength
not only to break off from the old, but to found the new, other-
wise there results a wretched half-and-half existence, full of
divided regrets and weak yearnings after the past, and a de-
pressed disposition, which unfits for business, and never can
prosper. Ten years later I should not have been able to carry
out my resolve ; now God will help me onward."




Perthes, as we are already aware, had made over his pros-
perous Hamburgh business to his brother-in-law, Besser, and
chosen Gotha for a residence, with the view of establishing a
publishing business there. His letters written at this period
fully express his views on the subject. In one of these he says,
" Your question as to what I shall take to, now that I have
done with my former busy life, did not surprise me. You
think that the habit of thirty years must needs render even the
overpressure of business necessary, and that the excitement
of undertakings involving risk, and dependent upon chance,
will be painfully missed by me ; and in this you would be
quite right, if I were contemplating a state of repose such as
you imagine. But it is not so. The repose I ask is merely
the means to such new activity as is permitted to our later
years. You are aware that I rank the book-trade highly, as
the indispensable condition of a German literature. Now the
strength of the book-trade is the bookseller's shop. This pos-
sesses the art of diffusing books widely, and an appreciation of
the best works, and a determination to sell them rather than
any other gives it moral worth. I may be permitted to say, that
I have carried on this branch of the trade as successfully as any


one. No establishment in Germany stood higher than mine.
But I have, for some time past, clearly seen, that the energy
of youth is best calculated successfully to pursue this calling.
He who thinks he can work on in it till the approach of life's
evening, and who puts off relinquishing it to younger hands,
will have many a cause of regret. Publishing is the other branch
of the trade, in all its relations perfectly distinct from the first ;
but only he who is experimentally acquainted with the shop
can become a publisher advantageously to himself or to lite-
rature. Now, I have carried on the former for six-and-thirty
years, I have a clear, if not a large capital, and a number
of good books of my own printing, which I brought from
my old establishment. My credit stands high in the mer-
cantile world ; I am on terms of friendship with many of the
most distinguished men of the day ; I am still healthy and ro-
bust, I love my calling, and having paid many a premium to ex-
perience, I now know what I really can do, whereas formerly I
only knew what I wished to do, and hence took many a false
step. Now all this may be said to constitute a pretty good voca-
tion to become a publisher. As to your further inquiries, whe-
ther I have already laid down my plans for the future, or mean
to be guided by circumstances, here is my answer — The
authors who frequent the literary market, and know by divers
artifices how to give it its tone, are hardly adapted to ad-
vance, or even to support the cause of German art, science,
and deep learning. Book-making prevails in almost every
branch of literature ; criticism is in the last stage of decline ;
but we may assume with certainty, that the nation is better
than its authors, and has literary wants that they do not satisfy.
This is especially true in regard to history. The trying ten years


that Germany has had to go tlirough, and the spirit-stirring influ-
ence of 1813, have given reality to what was formerly received
as mere legendary lore. That which other times have only
known through their historians, our own time has actually
suffered and done ; and having itself had a history, it has ac-
quired a taste for history in general. The striking experiences
common to all, have given to all a deeper insight, a higher
point of view whence to contemplate the destiny of nations ;
different and more important questions are asked of history
than in days of yore, and they require a different answer. My
vocation shall be to endeavour to give an impulse to, and help
on men capable of giving such an answer, to forward what they
are able to execute, and to be generally useful to them."

As Perthes' purpose was to become an historical publisher,
he could not fail to take interest in the preparatory labours
of a circle of distinguished men, who for some years past had
aimed at carrying out Baron Stein's gigantic idea. Stein had
alwavs thought it a national disgrace that Germany, where so
much was done for science and learning, should be without any
adequate collection of the sources of its own history.

The increase of national consciousness springing from the
war of independence, and the repose promised by the recently
concluded peace, seemed to hold out a chance of supplying this
want ; and Stein's plan was to assemble the learned men of
Germany, and to engage them all in collecting materials for a
history worthy of the nation. In order to defray the expense
incurred at the outset, he and others of his rank established
a committee in Frankfurt, and, in 1819, founded the Society for
the investigation of ancient German history, to which the Con-
federation and several of the German sovereigns promised their


countenance and support. The appearance of tlie first volume
of tlie Monumenta Germanice Histories was put off till J 826,
but ever after the summer of 1819, a periodical had appeared,
giving an account of the progress of the undertaking.

So far back as 1816, Perthes had, when in Nassau, discussed
the matter with Stein, but the pressure of business prevented
his doing more while in Hamburgh, than acquiring a general
knowledge of the progress of the enterprise. After his move
to Gotha, however, lie carefully read all that had appeared re-
specting it. " Read the Archives of the Historical Society,"
said he, in a letter to Rist, dated June 1829 ; " there is a genuine
earnestness of purpose in them, such as becomes an old nation
like ours, and it is glorious to find in one's countrymen such
strength of will, solidity, learning, discrimination, and science.
Things are not so bad with us after all, and I wish all who
tremble for the bankruptcy of our times would read these
papers. There is no trace of north or south Germanism, Po-
pery or Protestantism, Liberalism or Despotism, but for all that,
or ratlier because of that, all is intensely German. What an
able man Dr. Pertz is, and many others besides ! what a rich-
minded, attractive nature Counsellor Mcrian possesses ! My
old heart, as usual, throbs with youthful delight at the prospect
of working with them, helping, encouraging."

But tliere were other voices to be heard uplifted in ridicule of
the fervent zeal of these indefatigable men. For example, one of
his Berlin acquaintances wrote to Perthes : — " I consider as
3'ou do that the Frankfurt undertaking is thoroughly good and
praiseworthy, but it seems to me that rather too much excite-
ment is felt, and too much energy put forth in connexion witli
what after all has for its object merely the reprinting of old


annals and chronicles. The idolatry of the Mediaeval is the
root of all these vigorous efforts, therefore the worthies con-
nected with it never relax their censorship, and counts and
barons like Solms and Stein, and good Catholics like Mirbach
and Romberg, Landsberg and Spiegel, will take good care that
nothing be printed that could give them a disagreeable im-
pression." But insinuations of this kind could not prevent
Perthes from doing all in his power to further the work begun.
He pointed out many a new method of getting at libraries and
archives difficult of access, and placed his connexions in Co-
penhagen, Sweden, Spain, and Livonia, at the disposal of the
Society. At the same time the success of the enterprise did
not by any means strike him as certain. In 1822, we find
him saying, — " However prosperous this undertaking be now,
it may yet suddenly and unexpectedly founder ; if Stein dies,
or becomes discouraged, all is over." On discovering from the
archives the very doubtful financial condition of the Society,
Perthes, in the following terms, applied to Dr. Schlosser of
Frankfurt, who was a director : — " If the undertaking is to be
made an affair of princes and nobles, these must be urged on.
No one voluntarily comes forward with money. Why is not
the Duke of Oldenburg, who always contributed towards any
public object I brought under his notice, applied to now ? why
do the Dukes of Weimar and Saxony fail us ? why are the
Archdukes of Austria not named ? I see few contributions
from princes or nobles, why should not the Bernstorfs, Revent-
lows, and Humboldts come forward ? But I need not ask these
questions, for, as matters stand, help will only be found in the
nation's universal sympathy. Subscriptions must be collected
on a great scale, unless the admirable labours of the learned


arc to be in vain. But we shall not do much if wc only make
a general appeal. Academies and universities, local meet-
ings, libraries, even of small towns, gymnasia, historical
societies, the book-trade, courts-martial, all must be indivi-
dually set in motion, each in his place, and each in his own
way. Together with the distinguished board of directors and
the learned leaders, there must be a financial committee rest-
ing neither day nor night. Tims we shall infallibly succeed in
gaining the sympathy of the whole nation for our undertaking,
for the taste for history is universal. This is everywhere shewn
by the historical tendency of periodicals, newspapers, and other
floating literature. Even such humble efforts as these should
be remarked and fostered by the Frankfurt Committee, so as
to combine detached results, to encourage able but painfully
modest men, to place youthful talent under experienced guid-
ance, and lead it in the right direction. Much must be done
to accomplish this ; but, then, this would accomplish much.
The contagion of Stein's society is spreading fast. Societies
for inquiry into local history are already formed, in Westphalia,
Thuringia, Silesia, and WUrtemberg, and I think every pa-
triotic mind must join such, not only because furthering the
cause of historical science, but because affording a German
point of union to Germans."

But however fascinated Perthes might be by the magni-
tude of Stein's undertaking, he yet saw that something more
than historical inquiry and the collection of old records was
needed. He wrote to Rist : — " Amongst men of business there
are but few who have sufficient time and information to pro-
secute historical inquiries, and yet it is they and not the
learned who influence facts, and, so to speak, shape history ;


and therefore tliey, most of all, want individual insight and
judgment in matters of history. But to such Stein's under-
takino: offers little or nothing. For them and for the nation at
large, written history affords the only means of attaining
historical information, and although historians might com-
plain of a superfluity of historians, the German man of busi-
ness of every class vainly seeks for channels of instruction.