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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to see acknowledged. I render you special thanks for all
that you have written about the Princess Gallitzin. You and
that remarkable woman could understand each other. To
both of you idealism was repugnant : to you, as a departure
from real life, that is, unnatural ; to her, as a departure from
God, that is, sinful. The realism of the Princess rested on
God's revealed word : yours on the revelation of nature. Such
another believer in Nature's revelation, as you are, tlie Princess
could not have found amongst a million."

Perthes had to endure many a contradiction from the friends
to whom he imparted his delight at Goethe's latest work. " I
do not," wrote Count Caius Reventlow from Altenhof, "ad-
mire this last volume so thoroughly as you do. "We knew both
the Princess Gallitzin and Jacobi, and therefore we are inter-
ested when Goethe writes of them ; but had we not done so,
we should never have learned to know them from his descrip-
tion. And, then, how poor the narrative of the unfortunate
expedition into Champagne ; could not such a man as Goethe
find anything to see, hear, or feel there at such a time, but the
immaterial circumstances that he imparts to the reader ?"
Nicolovius writes: — "Goethe's account of Pempelfort has some-
what vexed me : he is unjust and cold, and he slurs over or
forgets much that happened there, and made a great impression
upon him at the time. It would appear that Jacobi was right

Perthes' activity in unprofessional life. Ill

when he said that in those days Goethe bore traces of the wild
military life. The passage about Schlosser gives evidence of

As chance would have it, Jacobi's two sisters were spend-
ing a few days with Perthes just at the time when he first read
Goethe's new work. He wrote of them thus : — " The good old
aunts have been here, and they have won all hearts, though at
first my children wore much afraid of the learned old ladies.
The attachment of the sisters is touching ; each fears to outlive
the other, and to be alone in the world. They love and revere
their brother's memory. Their stay with us brought many old
stories to our recollection ; and I read them Goethe's account
of his stay in Pempelfort, by which they were much struck,
and in the beauty of the description they overlooked Goethe's
injustice towards Jacobi."

Perthes was so much impressed with the deep and abiding
significance of the last ten years of the eighteenth century,
that wherever he could he tried to stir up others to con-
tribute towards their history. To the Prebendary Kcirte, in
Ilalberstadt, he wrote:— "The period between Rabener and
Schlegel's firebrands gave birth to all the crowding and con-
flicting tendencies of our day ; without a knowledge of that
period, no one can understand the present ; and yet how rare
that knowledge is. Goethe has given us admirable sketches of
details, but only of details. Now you have Gleim's collected
MSS., and might do much to complete them by oral tradition.
You could represent each remarkable interval with its good and
bad, strength and weakness, as few others are able to do."

" And so you, too, my honoured friend," wrote Perthes to
Pool, then in Altona, " mean to make a change in your way of


life, and break up your liousehold. Thus will vanish the last
trace of a family circle which has stood alone in Germany for
intellectual intercourse, cheerful benevolence, and truly Chris-
tian amenity. It really makes me melancholy. How many
changes the old green parrot, in his brass cage, has lived
through and outlived : he has witnessed the compilations of the
Wolfenblittel Fragments; he has seen Lessing, Mendelssohn,
and Jacobi, Von Hess and Reinhold, Claudius . and Franz
Baader, Counts Reinhard and Kerner, Gall, Schonborn, and
Stefens ; now he sees sheer rationalism on one hand, and heathen
missions on the other ; and how many generations will he still
outlive, and what else will he see ? Is old Gerstenberg still
alive, who sang ' The Marriage of Venus,' in 1759 ? It is only
domestic memoirs that can develop the whole spiritual condition
of these last hundred years, by which all times will be influ-
enced; and it is not yet too late, for the journals already extant
can still be filled up by yours and by Baron Voght's and Mother
Sieveking's recollections. If these be lost, our children will
have fabulous histories only. You should resolve to devote the
evening of your life to the description of what, without you,
will never go down to the next generation."

However great Perthes' partiality for the history of his own
times might be, he yet made every eifort to attain that know-
ledge of universal history, the want of which he had always
lamented. We find him writing to the historian Pfister: —
" Having grown up without education ; having been early ob-
liged to gain my own bread, then driven here and there by
the turmoil of business, oppressed by poverty and care, it so
happens that I am less well-informed in written history than
men in general ; but I have lived through much of the histo-


rical. I liave watched our own important times with attentive
eyes ; and intercourse with able and learned men has formed
my mind. And now, while possessing much that education
cannot impart, I would fain gain what it alone can give —
system and consecutiveness." Accordingly, as soon as he was
settled in Gotha, he made great and persevering efforts to
acquire at least an outline knowledge of the history of the last
three centuries.

His principal authorities were Heeren, Spittlers, Midler, and
Schlegel. " I cannot but admire,'' he writes, " the skill with
which Muller has put such a vast historical skeleton together ;
but his mind, gifted as it was, impresses me painfully through his
writings, as formerly through his life. Because of the incom-
pleteness of his own character he is lost in admiration of all
who have a will, and can carry out a political purpose with
decision, whether it be good or bad. His standard of excellence
is merely energy, no matter in what cause displayed. Schlegel's
lectures have again struck me as very remarkable in their way
of making all those events and characters appear bright, which
other and especially Protestant historians leave in the shade,
and vice versa. His history gives the opposite side of the his-
tories already written. No doubt he is far from seeing things
as they are, but perhaps not further than the others who have
told us the very contrary. When I consider the differences in
the descriptions of our historians, how not only opinions but
facts are moulded by their own idiosyncrasies, and then again
recall from my own experience the course things really take in
every-day life, I am amazed at what our learned men set be-
fore us poor ignoramuses as history."

Perthes went on occupying himself for a few months with
VOL. IL 10


tlie works of Sclirockh, Planck, and Stolberg, with tlie view of
acquiring a general view of Church History. Then, as he ex-
pressed it, he had had enough of the universal, and longed for
the particular in which all the life of life consists. He turned
to the Classics, read translations of Herodotus, Thucydides, and
other writers. "I every day marvel more," he wrote to Niebuhr,
" at the immense mass of what I do not know. Other men's
studies precede their experience, with me it is just the contrary.
The old schoolboy has certainly many a hard fight with a bad
memory for dates and names, as well as with the want of pre-
vious information ; but, on the other hand, I find that my past
life affords me a key to the understanding of events which
many a learned writer has not possessed. History wears a
different aspect, and bears very different fruits when first read
after fifty years of life and experience. Schlosser's words : —
' We should industriously read the Bible and the Classics at
the age of fourteen, in order to be able to understand them at
forty,' may be applied with equal force to history." Perthes
was recalled from the history of ancient to that of recent times
by Rist's recommendation to him of Las Cases. " This book,"
wrote Rist, " portrays wonderfully the days in which we live.
Both the hero and the narrator afford materials for tragedy
and comedy alike. Nothing now remains romantic or mystical
in the history of this colossal man. History has won, but
poetry has lost. We may all learn much from the book, and
those who wish for a career of public activity should pay espe-
cial heed to it."

" I owe you many thanks," said Perthes in reply, " for hav-
ing pointed out Las Cases to me ; it is indeed a remarkable
book, because of its historical disclosures, but still more be-


cause of the light thrown upon Napoleon, and through him
upon the workings in our own breast. Napoleon's conversations
at St. Helena are like his whole former life, filled with con-
tradictions. He holds legitimacy to be a necessity, and yet
seizes at the crown by force ; he seeks to do away with class
diiferences, and yet bows low before the aristocracy ; he in-
tensely despises the French, and yet considers it the highest
earthly honour to be born a Frenchman ; he abhors England,
but believes France and England united could sway the world ;
he has completely done with life, and yet his fancy is cease-
lessly occupied in devising means of regaining freedom ; he is
filled with the loftiest pride, and yet tortured by the lowest
vanity. But this does not involve falsehood, each of these con-
tradictory moods being for the time earnest and true. Napoleon
was not like Frederick the Great, the same at all times, a distinct
personality asserting itself equally under all varieties of exter-
nal circumstance. Napoleon was rather whatever some inward
impulse or some outward impression might for the moment
make him. Like Goethe, he was constrained to give form and
shape to whatever he was feeling at the time ; his changing
mood expressing itself not in poetry but in bulletins and notes ;
his passionate feelings not in romances and dramas, but in
battles and diplomatic negotiations. But he was always for the
time what he appeared to be, and was powerful and influential
because he always believed in the truth or the falsehood that
he spoke or acted. His life is not a lie, but an epic poem, as
he himself said. To realize what he did, required a won-
derful compound of icy coldness and glowing passion, of keen
calculating reason and fervid imagination, of energetic rash-
ness and most enduring perseverance. Now, we certainly do


sec in his journal that Napoleon was thoroughly human, hut
poetry loses nothing by that ; on the contrary, the appearance on
history's stage of so colossal a personality with human attributes,
makes our prosaic time poetic. I feel deep compassion for Na-
poleon as an unhappy man. Did retributive justice ever strike
more severely ? Have you duly pictured to yourself Napoleon's
position at St. Helena ? It is liorriblc, and unmitigated by
prayer and Christian resignation. We find doubts entertained
as to the calling of the Catholic Church to be the medium of
spiritual life, doubts which sprang from the complete want
of Christian faith in Napoleon and his tools. No reformation,
and no external pressure, had weakened in France and Italy
the dominion and influence of the Catholic Church ; and, never-
theless, the tremendous convulsions that agitated those coun-
tries, as well as all the men who took a part in public events,
are totally uninfluenced by Christianity. Las Cases brings this
out very prominently. I find innumerable important views and
expressions of Napoleon in his journal, many of which had
crossed my own head and heart. The valet-de-chambre, Las
Cases, is the comic cliaracter in the drama, made up as he is
of the respective vanities of Frenchman, courtier, and author,
but still a worthy and well-informed man, and a clever fellow
to boot."

Perthes' life floved on in uniform and undisturbed occupa-
tions from the autumn of 1822 till that of 1825. We find him
writing, — " The day, which, according to Rist, was to consist
of forty-eight hours in Gotha, is still, as in Hamburgh, too
short for me, and yet there is time enough if reckoned by
liours, not days, for every one's work." In another letter he
says : — " My home-circle and those of my sons-in-law, who are


both intimate friends of mine, fill up my idle liours. William
Perthes is the same stable, firm, determined character he ever
was ; combining a healthy intellect and a warm heart as few
others do. Among the younger men, I most frequently see
Fritz Becker, Encke, and Ewald ; Jacobi and Ukert among
the elder." The uniformity of Perthes' life was broken in
upon also by visits from such men as Ileeren, Rehberg,
Harms, Savigny, and many of his Hamburgh friends. Perthes,
who up to the last year of his life delighted in long walks,
began during this period to explore the Thuringian forest
in all directions, sometimes visiting familiar spots, such as
Schwarzburg, Liebenstein, &c., and sometimes, accompanied
by his boys or his son-in-law, William Perthes, making his
way through remote valleys, and exploring solitary crags,
thoroughly enjoying the discovery of new wood-paths, ravines,
and views, as well as the little difficulties and inconveniences
attendant upon such rambles.

In the beginning of September, Perthes, accompanied by his
two unmarried daughters, went to Hamburgh to settle his
affairs there. " If this journey were not necessary," wrote he,
" it would not be taken, for a stay in Hamburgh will be to me
a look into the grave, and yet it is well for man's frivolous na-
ture to have sometimes the pain of ending before his own end
comes." The weeks he spent there were restless ones indeed ;
hard work, melancholy reminiscences, his relatives, as well
as his countless friends and acquaintances, civic interests,
great dinner parties daily, an excursion to Liibeck, and a visit
to Count Moltke, divided his time. He entered with much
animation into all these various interests. Haller tells him in
a subsequent letter :— " I found you younger in mind and older


in mildness of temper." — "Your stay here," Rist playfully
wrote, "has been a perfect ovation." Meanwhile his third
daughter had betrothed herself to Frederick Becker in Gotha,
who, as soon as he had received her consent, hurried oif to
Hamburo-h, and there remained till Perthes left. Perthes had
written a year before to Besser : — " Of all the friends of my
sons-in-law, Becker suits me best ; he is a noble-hearted good
man, thoroughly intelligent, and well-informed ; indulgent to
others, and, perhaps, only too severe towards himself. One
may learn from him the nature and influence of truly con-
scientious order." — To another friend he writes : — " You have
heard from me of my warm attachment to Becker, and will,
therefore, readily believe that I am rejoiced to give my child
to him."

Towards the end of October, Perthes, accompanied by Becker,
returned through Bremen to Gotha.

Soon after, the following letter was written to Rist : — " I
look back with gratitude to my stay in Hamburgh, where I
met with so much love and confidence. Some degree of self-
complacency will mingle with the recollection of how poor,
destitute, and dependent upon my own exertions I was, when
I first entered it thirty years ago. Our journey home was
prosperous, and fraught with small incidents. On the way
between Hamburgh and Harburg, the steam-boat had to lie to
several times in a thick fog ; the Duke of Oldenburg was on
board ; the passage lasted seven whole hours, and the honour
of his presence, of course, for the same time. We talked over
every conceivable subject by way of diversion. Amongst other
things the question was put whether one would like to live
one's life over again, and whether it were not to be wished

Perthes' activity in unprofessional life. 1 1 9

that the duration of man's full powers extended from twenty
to fifty years, or even longer. I negatived both these proposi-
tions, the first, because, amidst all the pleasures of this life, men
have still a yearning after their departure from it ; the second,
because a prolonged grant of life's full powers did not improve
men themselves, and would, by confirming them in pride, make
them a terror to others. But the old gentleman seemed to
know nothing of the yearning I spoke of, and the continuance
of bodily powers seemed to him inexpressibly desirable. lie
stated, that in his youth he had been very hasty and passionate,
so much so that, when he first joined the army, his Colonel had
said to him, — ' Prince, you will be lost in four weeks unless you
learn to control yourself.' ' But,' continued the Duke, ' I did
control myself, and I am no longer passionate, impatient, or hard,
though no occupation afibrds more temptation to be so than
mine.' At which his adjutant sighed deeply, and stroked his
moustache, and his chamberlain made desperate attempts to
look as he ought. Then the Captain asked whether he might
fire a salute in the Duke's honour ; ' Yes,' was the reply, ' if the
ladies permit it.' The ladies did permit it, but the bottles
of the Restaurateur were terrified to pieces to his comic dis-
tress. The Duke made it up to him, and then the whole crew
drank to the Duke's health out of the broken bottles, and, in
short, there was nothing for it, oiolens volens, but getting into
the best possible humour. As the Duke took leave of me he
said ' that Providence had compensated for the length of the
journey by my good fellowship.' To make up for lost time we
travelled by night to Bremen, where I found our friend Smidt
cheerful and active as of old, and had great pleasure in the
friendly and intellectual society of the place. I have visited


Hamburffh, Llibeck, and Bremen in succession, and it was
striking enough to see tlie contrasts between these independent
powers, and to walk through their states, that is, their streets !
After the excitement of all this travelling, quiet and occupa-
tion will do both soul and body good."

During the winter of 1823, Perthes had not only his betrothed
daughter, but his eldest son Matthias at home. As the spring
of 1824 approached, Perthes resolved to go, for a few weeks, to
Bonn and Frankfurt, and his letters to his children and to Ham-
burgh friends give an account of his way of life there. Here
is one of them : — " When I left you on Monday evening, I had
to scramble over legs, carpet-bags, and cloaks, and, with much
difficulty, to take my place as number six, in the middle of the
back seat — five people being in already — but it was too dark
to see their faces. A light that we passed threw a momentary
rav over an odd-looking figure who went on with a discussion
wdiich my entrance had interrupted, about Walter Scott's ac-
count of the Battle of Waterloo. The speaker w^as a Scotch-
man, and after a week spent on the field, having been a good
deal disgusted with pretended mementos of the battle, he had
begun to dig himself, and had had the good luck at length
to find a hero's skull, which he carried away, confident that he
should easily find out to what nation it belonged, as a friend
of his had once upon a time attended Blumenbach's lectures."
' Devil take the fellow, leave skulls alone, and the dead to rest
in their graves,' muttered a deep voice in the corner next
to me. ' What do you mean, sir?' answered the Scotchman,
hastily. In short, the quarrel had begun, hot words passed —
the Scotchman got the worst of it ; we had universal commo-
tion in a dark box, and no one knew what would come of it.

Perthes' activity in unprofessional life. 1 21

* Messieurs,' said a young g-ood-liumoured voice, ' sliall I show
the Scotch gentleman, for his collection, the letter of the Chinese
that I met in Halle?' The Scot pricked his ears, forgot the
rebuke he had received, and thought only of the genuine
Chinese document. Peace was restored, and at Eisenach, on
went the whole party, skull and all, to Frankfurt, I diverging
to Cassel, which I reached after a journey of seventy-seven
hours. We seldom see princely splendour, handsome palaces,
and the independent turmoil of trade, brought in such close
juxtaposition as in Cassel. I spent the evening with the
brothers Grimm ; they are the same as they were ten years
ago, and yet different too. Then they were almost feminine
in their bloom, filled with the tender dreams and hopes of
youth, now they are almost exclusively devoted to severe

From Cassel Perthes went to Marburg, where he spent an
evening with Suabedissen, Rehm, and Gerling, and then, with
two Heidelberg students, whom he met accidentally, proceeded
on foot to the Rhine. " Everywhere in Hesse," he writes,
" we find two distinct races, the one fair-haired, with goat-like
faces ; the other dark, with the snub nose of Wirtemberg. Both
of them, in contradistinction to the Saxons, have about them
something stiff and solemn ; they are untidy in their persons
and abodes, but patient, industrious, and frugal. We entered
the little hamlet Gladebach, a few miles from Marburg, and
instantly there assembled, in honour of the strangers, the gen-
darmes, the roll-keeper, the advocate, and the notary, an odious,
little, pale, spindle-legged fellow, who made a point of display-
ing before us ' educated men of the world/ all his enlighten-
ment and profligacy, to the great displeasure of the worthy

VOL. II. '^


people of the inn, the landlord, a colossal butcher, taking down
from the coiling where no one else could reach it, a handker-
chief he had hung up there, and wiping his mouth after every-
thing the notary said. My flat contradictions reduced the
odious fellow to the most abject state.

" At Gladebach, a long-legged tailor took my carpet bag from
our former guide, and though he was always tired, he brought
us as far as Dillenburg, and here I left my students, and took
a carriage to Siegen ; then, accompanied by a two-wheeled car,
which often had to convey me over the bridgeless streams, I
went along the banks of the Sieg to Bonn. I found much
beauty in this lovely and often wild valley, and discovered
many German races hitherto unknown to me."

Perthes spent a few weeks at Bonn, in the house of his
brother-in-law, Max Jacobi. He writes, " The being with my
dear old brother, Max, and with my Caroline's sister, who, in
sprightliness and mental gifts, is all she was five-and-twenty
years ago, reminded me vividly of a time now long past, when
I too was rich. No one knows what a poor human heart feels,
when such echoes of a vanished world pierce his soul. The joy
of meeting was mingled with grief; the joy I shared with others,
and kept the grief to myself" With the theologians, Sack,
Nitsch, and Liicke, with "Welcker, Brandis, Arndt, and many
others, Perthes was very intimate, and much enjoyed their
companionship. But he was, above all, impressed by his first
meeting again with Niebuhr. A warm political quarrel had,
in 1814), separated the two old friends, and though it had
been long ago made up by letter, yet they had not since met.
From Bonn Perthes wrote to Besser : — " I was prepared for
a painful meeting, and should not have wondered at a distant

Perthes' activity in unprofessional life. 123

manner, or formal bocarlng- on Niebuhr's part, but the very
moment I saw liim, I found tlio old heart and the old friend,
and there was not a shadow of reserve between us. His wife
liad just given birth to lier second son, and the three elder
children were running about their father's room, with all their
playthings ; and during our conversation, I was engaged first
with one and then with the other of them. For five days I daily
spent several hours with him. Our conversation was almost
entirely political. Niebuhr's disposition is very melancholy;
the purer his heart, the deeper his sensibilities, the more he
feels the want of some firm support for his soul; he fights with
uncertainty, and quarrels with life. He said to me, ' I am weary
of life, only the children bind me to it.' He repeatedly expressed
the bitterest contempt for mankind ; and, in short, the spiri-
tual condition of this remarkable man cuts me to the heart, and
his outpourings alternately elevated and horrified me. To see
such a heart and mind in the midst of the convulsions of our

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 36)