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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was with the preparations for this work that Perthes was

chiefly occupied during the first years of his residence in Gotha ;

but in connexion with his publishing plans, many other works

also claimed his attention. His connexion with scholars and

authors went on extending, and his advice was equally useful

to both ; with Gorres he discussed that author's projected work ;

to Nicolovius he wrote : — " Would it not be desirable just at

this time to publish a selection from the writings of Johann

Georg Schlosser ? The earlier edition is no longer to be had,

his detached pieces are scattered, and yet much that this

vigorous-minded man prophesied in his day has now come to

pass, both in politics and morals. Goethe does not portray

him truly, nor do him justice."

Perthes was well aware that publishers not only need authors
to write works, but booksellers to circulate them, and far from
neglecting the latter class, he sought to establisli confidential re-
lations with them by means of correspondence, as well as of the


annual meeting of the book-trade at Leipsic. He once wrote
to Besser : — " It is true that in small towns where there are
no universities, the business of bookselling is almost without
exception in the hands of the rude and ignorant, who have no
love for their calling, but merely view it as a means of making
their bread, and who while they are familiar with their mecha-
nical work, are indifferent both to books and the men who buy
them. But look at the majority, whether of pastors, professors,
or officers, you will hardly find in them more love for their
calling than in ourselves ; to them, too, it is merely a means of
subsistence, and considered only under its mechanical aspect.
The majority of men are commonplace, and carry on their
calling in a commonplace way, whether it be spiritual or worldly,
mercantile or military. Those amongst them who are more,
and aim at more, will, on that very account, not withdraw from
the rest as though too good for them."

While Perthes was thus collecting all his energies to lay the
foundation of his new business, he had at the same time to
dissolve his Hamburgh connexions, and to settle matters with
his old partner Besser. Accordingly he wrote to him: — ''We
must settle our afiuirs as soon as possible, for if one of us were
to die before this were done, inevitable confusion and mischief
would ensue, for then law would settle what we arrange as
brothers : therefore I urge you to make all possible speed.
After all, when this is over, I shall not be estranged even from
your affairs ; (from yourself I never could be so :) but I shall
watch them with delight and sympathy, and in many things
we shall be able to help each other as long as we live." The
only difficulty attending the dissolution of partnership between
these two brothers in mind and heart, arose from each think-


ing himself too much benefited by the propositions made by
the other. However, matters were soon arranged, and upon
the occasion of his retirement from the Hamburgh establisli-
ment, Perthes wrote to Besser : — " We have now, dear bro-
ther, worked together for a quarter of a century, carrying
on one and the same concern in troublous times. Not once
have we taken different views as to ' meum and tuum ;' not for
one moment during all those years have we ever felt it pos-
sible to waver in our mutual confidence. Let us thank God
that at the hour of parting that confidence is as firm and pure
as it has been during our long-associated life. Such happiness
in such degree is vouchsafed to few."





Despite the great amount of labour which liis calling and
liis temperament alike imposed upon him, Perthes, during the
first year of his life in Gotha, found time to make more or less
distant excursions into the surrounding country. In the begin-
ning of August he visited the Rudolstadt and Altenburg district;
and later in August he went for a few weeks to Franconia and
Bavaria. In a letter to a friend he says : — "When, on the 13th
of September last, I left Gotha at mid-day, a magnificent thun-
derstorm accompanied me over the heights of the Thuringian
Forest. I travelled in the Diligence, a nine-seated monster, on
the top of which a seat is built for two people. If, from this
perch, where one knows nothing of the heavy vehicle behind,
one watches the six horses toiling up the hill, the mind natu-
rally reverts to our humanity, which often forgets the heavy
body there is no shaking off, and then childishly wonders at the
trouble it gives us to rise. A diligence like this (I mean the
actual Thurn and Taxis conveyance) is convenient and rapid
in comparison with those of earlier days ; but yet it requires
that the passengers should be good-humoured, not over-sensi-
tive, and not in a hurry. As for conductors, they are always
wet or dusty. Mine made pious reflections during the thunder-


storm, and did not lose a moment in taking up five blind passen-
gers, whom I could not see, as they got in during the night, and
out before daybreak. But I, the only seeing passenger, had to take
the conductor's place, not only at the customary halting-places,
but at every intervening public-house, where he was minded to
play a game at cards with the postilion. In Schwallungen I heard
an enlightened watchman cry, ' The hammer has struck one,'
instead of the bell has struck one. In liildburghausen I ate
at the same table with two of the prince's retainers, the one a
valet, just out of bed, the other a sweep, just out of the chim-
ney. The barefooted blackamoor was a fine-looking fellow, and
discussed great European events better than many a professor.
However, at Coburg, which I reached on the evening of the 14th
I grew tired of the whole concern, took a carriage, and drove
to Baireuth on Sunday morning before sunrise. The mist still
filled the valleys. I passed the Bavarian frontier to Lichten-
fels without trouble. The sun broke out, and the valley of the
Maine lay before me bathed in light. Towards Bamberg and
Wurzburg, hill rose behind hill — the river a thread of silver —
the high towers of the monastery of Banz and Vierzehnhei-
ligen sparkled like gold ; bells were sounding on all sides to
celebrate the Sunday morning." He then passed through the
valley of the Maine to Baireuth, where he remained some days.
In a letter to a friend, Perthes writes : — " As you were once
rather an idolater of Jean Paul, you shall hear something about
the impression his personality made upon me. It is better,
however, I am well aware, to speak than to write about things
and persons, that in the course of one's travels one may have
become more or less acquainted with. How many opinions and
judgments are only rightly understood by means of the com-


mentary of voice and manner ! A good-natured smile softens
the spoken word, and if the listener should take a matter too
seriously, an additional word removes the misapprehension. But
what is written remains hard, cold, rigid, and unalterable, and
often the reader views as black what the writer at most meant
only to paint as grey. In letters written on a journey, and con-
veying the impressions of the moment, one cannot be conscien-
tious enough in one's opinions about people. Meanwhile, since
I cannot speak, I needs must write. I went at eight in the
morning to Jean Paul. A tall, strong, bony figure, like that
of a farmer or a forester, entered the room, dressed in a hunting
coat, with a badger's skin over his shoulder, and leading a white
poodle by a string. As we had long been correspondents, we
wore soon in full talk. I spent two evenings with him, the
first in his own house, the second at that of Madame von
Kettenburg's. Not only was a court lady of the name of
Stein present on both occasions, but the newly married Count
and Countess Henckel-Donnersmarck. The wish to appear
in the best light, excited Joan Paul, and, accustomed as
he is only to be listened to, my sudden interpolations inter-
rupted him, and the consequence was, that while he proved
himself a worthy truth-loving man, and although the conversa-
tion turned on the leading men and leading events in Church
and State, life and literature, I did not hear him utter one
significant word, one deep view, one result of great inner
experience: his conversation was throughout wearisome and
obscure. He gave us the narrative of his daily life, as follows :
' In the summer at six, in the winter at eight, I walk about half
a mile to Frau Schabenzcl's, (an old countrywoman;) the poodle
goes with me ; I carry my papers and a bottle in my badger's


skin ; there I work and drink my Avine till one o'clock ; then
I do not drink again, but from five to seven I drink my beer as
long as there is any in the jug/ For half an hour Jean Paul
put us to sleep with receipts for sleeping. None of the light-
ning flashes and scintillations of fancy, the striking similes,
or the glowing pictures with which his works abound, appeared
in his conversation ! I left him convinced that the man Avho,
as an author, belongs to the tendercst and richest minds of
Germany, is not, therefore, necessarily tender and soft-hearted.
After Jean Paul, I felt most interest about a certain Coun-
cillor Kraus. In order to get at him, I applied to Jean Paul,
having heard that they had been friends for years. ' We are old
friends, it is true,' said he, * but now we no longer meet. But go
to him, and say, that though I neverwill have anything to do with
him myself, I have sent you to him.' Accordingly, I went. I had
to go up a steep stair, at the top of which was a closed lattice,
and outside hung a long wooden hammer, with an inscription
above to this effect : ' He who will enter must knock hard ; if
the hammer is inside I am not to be seen.' So I knocked hard,
and the door was opened. As I entered a large library, which
swarmed with cats of every age and colour, a friendly old man,
a bachelor with silver hair, and in a long dressing-gown, ad-
vanced to meet me. After I had playfully delivered Jean
Paul's message, we fell into conversation. ' Jean Paul,' said
he, ' is a thoroughly upright, feeling, good man, rich in heart
and mind, but the blossoms of his nature will never ripen into
fruit, because he has not strength thoroughly and scientifically
to mature any subject ; he knows much, but all he knows is in
disorder and confusion, and now that his own mind can create
nothinof further, he has fallen into all sorts of follies." Kraus


and I parted excellent friends. ' Farewell, my dear good foe/
said he, as I rattled down the steps. I have found out since
then, that Kraus, together with Lang, wrote the well-known
journey to Hammelburg." From Baireuth Perthes went for
a few days with the son of the bookseller, Grau, to the Fich-
telffebire-e, and wandered on foot to Kemnath. " This is the
true home of the German kobolds, dwarfs, and little mountain
spirits, this barren, gloomy mountain range, whose far-stretch-
ing dark ridges, mighty detached granite blocks, and long
winding valleys, make a deep, if not a pleasing impression
on the traveller. Everything here is grey and mysterious.
The rock is hardly covered with earth ; stunted fir-trees, with
ragged foliage, heath, and blackberry bushes, give the dis-
trict all it has of colour, and dark moss shrouds trees and
stones, hills and valleys, alike. Colossal rock-masses are
heaped together in hundreds on the east side of the Luchs-
berg ; some of them rounded, some table-shaped, but all per-
fectly detached, and most of them in the boldest positions,
a world in fragments, a true picture of the ruins of the
old German empire. Here we were overtaken by a heavy
thunderstorm. ' That's a loud noise,' said our guide, ' but
there was a louder one when these stones were rolled together
here.' Another time he pointed a rock out to us, ' called
the Prince's Head, but if closely looked at,' he said, ' you
will see that it is an inverted heart.' He was a rough man,
this guide of ours, but full of sense and wit, and his talk
was one series of bold, lively pictures. What he had heard from
others he told in good German, but he gave his own thoughts
in the rude yet melodious patois of the mountains. From the
top of the ridge the Nahe flows to the south, the Maine to the


west, the Saal to the north, the Eger to the east. How differ-
ent the outward position of the countries traversed by the
streams which we see here at one glance, and yet the same
joys, the same sorrows are to be found in them all."

Perthes continued his rambles through the upper Palatinate,
and next spent a few days in Amberg. " This hilly, barren, and
thickly inhabited district," he says, " contains an industrious
and serious-minded race. Their dwellings are humble. Silence
and repose are their general characteristics, their thin forms
are poorly clothed, and their pale, sharp-featured faces, bear
in their thoughtful expression, traces of their sad history for
more than a century. From the time of the Reformation the
Princes Palatine changed their creed in rapid succession ; and
forced their subjects to become now Catholics, now Lutherans,
now Calvinists. When at last the agitations were over, there
remained a medley of all confessions. Later came the nume-
rous changes of government, but they must have had enough of
religious warfare, for though controversial writings penetrate
even here, yet both between people and priests there reigns
perfect peace, even amounting to an indifference to conflicting
doctrines, of which I could give you many an example. When
in Amberg, I sought out Professor Joseph Moritz, who agreed to
undertake the Index to Stolberg's History of Religion, and yet
has left my letters unanswered for years. I knew that he was
Professor of Church History at the Lyceum, and was held by
Lang and other good judges to be one of the ablest and most
erudite men in his own department. I found the old monk in
his huge lofty cell, in what was once the Jesuit College ; the
walls were black with chronicles and old histories, the cell con-
tained a table, two chairs, a dingy bed, a crucifix, and a pair of


wooden slippers, so large that St. Cliristoplier might have worn
them. I urged my petition, but he curtlj and drily evaded all I
said ; every attempt to get him to spealc out and to explain his
refusal failed ; at last I despaired of making anything of him,
and adding, sharply enough, that the priest had broken his
word, prepared to go. ' Stay,' said he, ' it may be well that you
came : here is the manuscript complete up to the letter M. I
showed it to a friend of mine in Ratisbon, who thought it too
ample, and wished to make many alterations, which vexed me,
for any one can make an index, but I aimed at producing a re-
pertory of Church history, in which the reference to Stolberg's
works should be a secondary affair. So I left off, but not for
long ; for I am fond of Stolberg's book, especially the first five
volumes, and then, again, my bishop came and told me, it was
time I should set about a religious work, and this Index was one.
So I went on, and you might have had the whole, if there
were not the articles " Pope" and '' Rome" to get through ; no
easy matter that ; one should neither be audacious nor timid,
and yet one is both in turn ; and, in short, I pray God to give
me a right judgment, and you shall have all in January.' After
this outpouring, the old man became quite friendly, and I found
a gentle heart and bright mind beneath the rugged exterior. He
took me through the long galleries of the college, the beautiful
church, the rich library, and begged me to remain for dinner.
I had a pleasant repast with him, and three others, formerly of
his order. In the refectory I found a crucifix, opposite to it a
Madonna, and over the latter a portrait I instantly recognised
as that of Oken. ' What sort of a saint is that V asked I. ' Pater
Rixner,' said they, and the laugh w^ent round. Tliey were four
worthy men, cultivated, observant, and just in their opinions."


From Amberg Perthes paid a visit to Sulzbach. " Here,"
he wrote, " we are suddenly transported into a new world ;
the sterile, gloomy character of the Palatinate has vanished ;
rich woods clothing beautiful hills, surround the half-burned
village. What was the castle now belongs to a bookseller,
named Von Seidel. Thither I made my way, and was
pressed to remain. The book-trade is carried on here on
the largest scale — nineteen presses are at work, they have
Catholic, Lutheran, and Jewish presses, all distinct, each in
different rooms. Plere Von Seidel publishes many books of
Protestant theology, but far more of Catholic. I have hardly
ever seen so active a man of business. He thoroughly knows
the state of Bavaria, and stands high in Munich. He has been
at great expense in settling here ; all round the hill there
are hot-houses, grottos, fountains ; a pantheon for Bavarian
scholars, with a colossal Pallas, and all complete. The old gen-
tleman seems rather unwilling to contemplate the possibility
of having to leave all these splendours one day or other."

From Amberg Perthes proceeded to Ratisbon. " As we
travel southwards," says he, " Nature loses her gloomy, parsi-
monious character. All is bright and fertile ; meadows and
trees are clothed in softest green, and the vine begins to appear ;
the men are tall and strongly built, the women full and fresh-
looking ; the houses, like those in the Tyrol, have projecting
roofs, and galleries running round them, and are so attractive
that one cannot pass one of them unobserved. In almost all
the inns I met with a most striking figure, for you must
know that the landlords are butchers as well, and therefore
keep a fellow of all work, who in the morning kills and
makes sausages, and then brings in coffee, and brushes boots


and clothes, carves at dinner, and hands the dishes round ; in
the evening lights the guests to their room, brings them their
slippers, and asks whether they want anything more. Such an
old-fashioned functionary as this is far more many-sided than
any princely valet-de-chambre, and deserves with his butcher's
figure, and his butcher's wit, to attract the attention of a Hol-
berg. It is a pity that we cannot meet, I should have so many
striking little touches of character and condition to tell you
of, that cannot be written down."

Perthes spent several days in Ratisbon. The view of the
Danube, with its cloisters and islands, and of the mountain
range, the variety afforded by the Catholic and Protestant
institutions, by the higher government officials, the Thurn and
Taxis household, the great merchants, &c., all these endeared
the town to him ; and still more the towers and walls, the
statues and monuments, the libraries and collections, in which
was traced the history of the Roman period. " In the old
Cathedral," wrote he, "the Carlovingians have built on the
Roman foundation, and their descendants have gone on build-
ing ; in the Cathedral we see the full ecclesiastical splendour
of the Middle Ages, and in the older parts of the town we are
confronted by the secular life of a giant antiquity.

" About fourteen castles, built within the walls, are still in-
habited, and the rest of the houses are built in between them.
Here I can perfectly understand the possibility of the Middle
Age conflicts within Lombard towns, and the defence of Sara-
gossa in later days. Each of these old castles is now divided
into ten or twenty dwellings, and the gigantic towers stand-
ing near them, are also for the most part occupied. It is
strange, that while so many learned men must have been


assembled here by the Diet, so little should have been said
and written about this town, its beautiful situation and its
treasures." In short, Ratisbon made such an impression on
Perthes, that he often said that he should prefer it as a resi-
dence to any other town. The evening before his departure,
he stood on the bridge over the Danube, the river shone like
silver, the whole landscape slept, nothing was heard but the
rushing of the water ; to the left, fires in all the vineyards ;
to the right, the dark lofty Cathedral. " I could not move,"
wrote Perthes ; " and grieved to be obliged to leave this charm-
ing town." Passing through Nuremberg, where he found his
son Matthias, on his way to continue his studies in Berlin,
Perthes travelled back to Coburg, and wound up his journey
bv a long walk through the Thurino-ian forest to Gotha.




When Perthes returned from Bavaria to Gotlia, in October
1822, a season of quiet lay before liim, inviting liini to steady
and systematic occupation. It was necessary that he should
exert himself to obtain that thorough acquaintance with the
progress of literature, essential to his conception of a publisher's
calling. Consequently, a daily and careful perusal of critical
journals became imperative. " Journals and periodicals are
most wearisome and offensive to me," he says : " this epheme-
ral literature is poor, or even worse ; it is incredible how much
verbiage and noisy declamation we find in it, and how rudely
personal prejudice or partiality breaks out ; no one can make
head against this evil. Even the ablest men are powerless.
We are sorely in need of a rigid, scientific, critical institute,
but who is the man able and willing to head it ? Those \ylio
choose the office of critic are brazen-faced and ruthless natures,
the earnest and wise have neither inclination nor fitness for
literary criminal jurisdiction/'

It was with far more pleasure that Perthes turned his atten-
tion to the evidences of intellectual development afforded by
many of the writers of the former centurv. Of these there were

Perthes' activity in unprofessional life. 109

several, — Klopstock, Claudius, Stolberg, and Jacobi, for ex-
ample, with whom, in their later days, he had been acquainted.
As for the period subsequent to the Peace of Basle, and the
first appearance of Wilhelm Meister, and other of Goethe's
works, he had himself lived through it, and had by his position
been brought into such contact with its leading characters and
events, as to render him j^eculiarly capable of thoroughly un-
derstanding it. He now sought to connect with his own expe-
rience the rich results afforded by the numerous biographies
and correspondences which he made a point of reading. We
find him writing to the Criminal Director Hitzig in Berlin :
" To me, it is very significant, how, for some time past, biogra-
phies and autobiographies have begun to appear in Germany.
Amongst us Germans, we find that such works treat chiefly of
the inner life, and aiford means of understanding it, whereas
the biographies of other nations are almost all records of public
life." Above all, Perthes was enchanted with Goethe's newly
published ' French Campaign,' which he had hastily perused in
the spring, immediately after his arrival in Gotha. He writes :
" Here we have the old master-hand again : what fulness of
life, what depth, what clearness ! What treasures for the
future historians of our present spiritual, moral, and scientific
state, these volumes contain !" To Goethe himself he writes
as follows : — " The whole nation must, together with me, feel
roused to liveliest gratitude for this new section of your
* Truth and Fiction.' It is only such works as this that will
ever render it possible for our descendants to appreciate the
core of our history. The bridge between the present and the
former generation is already broken down, and the circum-
stances of those earlier days appear perfectly unintelligible to


the youtli of our own. Pempelfort and its life came home to
me as wonderfully true, but I regret that there is not more
hearty mention made of Jacobi himself. That in spite of
his being influenced by the tendencies of his day, he should
have kept untainted such love and truth in his own noble heart,
proves a rare degree of greatness, which I should have liked

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 8 of 36)