Reminiscences of a German Nonagenarian
IT is only in round numbers that Julius Fröbel can be called a nonagenarian; but as he is still enjoying a hearty old age in his home at Zurich, whence he sends forth his memoirs in two volumes,1 and as, with mental faculties unimpaired, he has every prospect of filling out a life of more than fourscore years and ten, the reader will pardon the convenient license of the term. He was born early in 1805, at the obscure Thuringian village of Griesheim, in the petty principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, where his father occupied the humble position of vicar in the parish church, and held advanced rationalistic views in theology. The whole family shared these progressive opinions, and one of Fröbel’s earliest and most vivid recollections is of fierce encounters, often resulting in bruised heads and bloody noses, with orthodox peasant boys who resented his denial of the personal existence of the devil as a dangerous innovation, which they opposed by knock-down arguments, the only form of reasoning in which they were adept. His mother was a woman of remarkable intelligence and force of character, well up in Biblical literature, and a vigorous theological controversialist ; but her strongest passion was for politics. She was an eager reader of newspapers, and her lively interest in the events of the time ceased only with her death at eighty years of age.
In the education of his children the father followed the pedagogical system advocated by Pestalozzi; but, unfortunately, he died when the eldest son, Julius, was only nine years old. His salary as country parson had always been small, and his scholarly tastes and necessities led him to buy more books than his pecuniary circumstances warranted ; and to the occasional protests of his more practical wife against such expenditures he was accustomed to reply, “I bequeath my library as a treasure to my children. As a financial investment this so highly prized treasure finally proved to be little better than a “salted ” silver mine. A few of the rarest volumes were sold to the library of the ruling prince at Rudolstadt ; the rest were packed in boxes, and stored in the attic of a house which was soon afterwards destroyed by fire.
That the sons of a clergyman should enter the university and study a learned profession was rendered necessary by their social position. However severe the stress of poverty, they would have regarded it as a degradation to go into trade or to earn their living by mechanical labor. So strong was the force of this tradition that it would never have occurred to Fröbel’s sons or to their friends that they could engage in vocations so unworthy of their family. But it was deemed no disgrace to prepare themselves for their predestinated calling by means of private charity; and when the boy Julius entered the gymnasium of Rudolstadt he “ boarded round ” in several families, and received a weekly allowance of money from other benefactors. He confesses that at first this mode of life made him feel like a beggar, but the welcome he met with soon put him at his ease, and rendered this eleemosynary itinerancy really enjoyable. He was not only well fed, but also supplied with pocket money with a liberality that tended to demoralize a youngster who, like Lord Strut, had never been ” flush in ready.” His ample funds enabled him to become a regular frequenter of the theatre, and now and then he was taken behind the scenes by the hairdresser of the troupe, in whose house he lived. His experience in this respect led him to the reflection, in after life, that nothing is more detrimental to the proper development of the character than early familiarity with the stage, either before or behind the footlights, and independently of the moral or immoral tendency of the plays. This injurious influence he not only felt in himself, but also observed in others, and tells how, at Munich, he had in his service a young man who was thoroughly orderly, useful, and trustworthy, until he happened to play the harmless part of a monkey in The Magic Flute, after which he was utterly worthless.
Fortunately, when Julius was twelve years of age, he was removed from the sphere of these dissipations and sent to Keilhau, near Rudolstadt, where his famous uncle, Frederic Fröbel, had just established his General German Educational Institute. Frederic Fröbel’s motto, which he was never tired of repeating, was, “ All-sided evolution from within; ” and the only means of attaining this end and of promoting the symmetrical growth of mind and body was by living near to nature, and “following the course marked out by the Creator in the education of the human race.” The fundamental idea of his pedagogics was to develop as completely as possible each individual as a human being, and not to prepare him for this or that profession or vocation. His aim was not to turn out lawyers, doctors, divines, mathematicians, mechanics, scholars, or specialists of any kind, but to “ make microcosms ; ” although man merely as a microcosm would doubtless prove to be the most useless creature on the face of the earth, and scarcely self-supporting. He would be as fatally out of place as a megatherium, and perish for lack of a suitable environment. In this scheme of varied discipline and harmonious development no mental faculty or physical member should be neglected. One of the exercises of the pupils was to move the little finger while holding the other fingers perfectly still. Julius declares that he succeeded, by practice, in acquiring the power of moving every joint of each finger independently of all the other joints and fingers; but as he had no intention of becoming a prestidigitator, his skill in this particular was of no perceptible use to him in his subsequent career, and was finally lost altogether. In fact, the pedagogical system here pursued was the very reverse of that of the Jesuits. “ The sacrifice of the intellect ” or of any of its capacities for the sake of securing the unity of the church or the safety of the state Fröbel would have denounced as sacrilege.
Frederic Fröbel is characterized by his nephew as “ one of the most notable men of his time,” both in outward appearance and in qualities of mind. No intelligent person could see the photograph taken from his bust without wondering who the man was that looked like that. His long, straight hair, parted in the middle and falling on his shoulders, gave him the air of an Oriental priest or prophet. His features were regular, and his profile was quite classical in its symmetry ; his expression was keen and Puritanic. By the inmates of the institute he was revered as a being far above ordinary mortals, and his utterances were received as a voice from on high speaking with the authority, if not the ambiguity, of an ancient oracle. He was endowed with an extraordinary gift as an educator, and in another age and among another people would probably have been the founder of a religion. His power of kindling enthusiasm, even in the dullest minds, was marvelous; so that Keilhau acquired considerable celebrity for the pedagogic-climatic cure of the most obstinate cases of youthful doltishness and indocility.
After taking the doctor’s degree at Jena, Julius Fröbel went to Berlin, where he had the good fortune to win the esteem and friendship of Alexander von Humboldt, through whose recommendation he was appointed teacher of geography in the Industrial School of Zurich, and shortly afterwards promoted to the professorship of mineralogy in the university which had been recently founded in that city. In 1840, he established there, in connection with Ruge, Siegmund, Follen, and others, a Literary Bureau, which made a specialty of the publication of radical works in politics and theology : a popular edition of Strauss’s Life of Jesus, Bruno Bauer’s Christianity Rediscovered (Das Neu Entdeckte Christenthum, regarded by the orthodox as new-fangled rather than new-found), historical writings like Louis Blanc’s History of Ten Years, and pamphlets and poems of a revolutionary and republican tendency, of which Herwegh’s Gedichte eines Lebendigen attained an immense popularity, and gave their author a wide reputation as the German “bard of freedom.” The Zurich publishing house thus became the chief centre of agitation in Europe, and not only were its issues carefully excluded from Germany, but the Swiss authorities,in servile obedience to the wishes of their monarchical neighbors, made every effort to suppress it by a vigorous exercise of the censorship and an outrageous abuse of the judicial power.
In 1843 business affairs brought Fröbel to Paris, where he met Arago, Lamennais, Cabet, Louis Blanc, Flocon, Lamartine, and other prominent personages. He formed no high opinion of Louis Blanc’s abilities. Lamennais impressed him as a man worthy of all esteem and reverence, with a peculiar expression of countenance, such as he afterwards detected in the features of Döllinger. Cabet was busy with the project of a new religion for his Icaria, and eager in gathering materials for it from all quarters. He had hardly been presented to Fröbel when he began to examine him on this subject, setting down the answers in a notebook. “ Do you believe in a God ? ” “ Yes.” “ Personal ? ” “No, universal.” “Universal,— very good.” And thus the interrogatories went on. Montalembert gave Fröbel a letter of introduction to Lamartine, whom he called on at his country seat near Macon, and found arrayed in a voluminous silk dressinggown and reclining on a sofa, with a young lady reading to him, and a secretary with pen in hand ready to catch and preserve any casual inspiration. The great poet excused this attitude by saying “ Je souffre ” with the affectation of an old coquette. The whole tableau was purposely arranged as a piece of sentimental posing.
Fröbel had a characteristic experience with Flocon, the editor of La Réforme, at whose request he wrote an article on political parties in Switzerland, in the course of which he spoke of Professor Bluntschli as belonging to the romantic and reactionary Berlin school of jurists. To this perfectly accurate statement the sub - editor added “ ce misérable qui a été condamné escroquerie et pour vol.” When called to account for this interpolation, the sub-editor admitted that he had inserted the objectionable words “pour arrondir la phrase.” “What!” exclaimed Flocon indignantly, “ pour arrondir la phrase ? Are you crazy?” “ Eh bien, monsieur,” replied the subordinate, “ ce misérable est un ennemi de la France; il m’a paru juste de le flétrir.” This defamation of an able and honorable publicist because he was supposed to be an enemy of France proves that patriotism often is what Dr. Johnson affirmed it to be, “ the last refuge of scoundrels.”
In the same year Julius visited Leipsic and Berlin, and had at Potsdam a pleasant interview with Humboldt, who, in the course of the conversation, asked whether he had any interesting works in press. Fröbel mentioned Bruno Bauer’s Christianity Rediscovered. “ A dangerous title,” declared Humboldt. “ Besides, there is not much to discover : a bit of naive cosmogony, a bit of primitive mythology, a bit of questionable metaphysics, and a more or less crude morality, — these are found in every religion without much searching.”To Fröbel’s statement that the Literary Bureau did not aim to be merely subversive, but to prove the inefficiency of the censorship and to contribute to its abolition, Humboldt replied: “ There you have to contend with a stupidity that is hard to overcome. I am old, but you are still young, and will live to see the ignominious end of the whole system now prevailing here. The great misfortune in German history is that the movement of the Peasants’ War did not succeed.” “ I could hardly believe my ears.” adds Fröbel, “ when hearing such opinions expressed in a room adjoining the royal apartment in the Potsdam palace, by a man who was the chamberlain and daily companion of the king. How deeply the great naturalist must have felt the degradation of his position as courtier, if he avenged himself by such utterances ! ”
In 1846 Fröbel settled in Dresden, where he associated almost exclusively with authors and artists, and devoted himself to literary pursuits. Among other things, he began the composition of a great historical drama in the form of a trilogy, of which, however, only the first part, The Republicans, was finished and put on the stage. The scene was laid in Geneva at the time of Bonnivard, under the oppressive rule of the Dukes of Savoy. Geneva, under the equally despotic régime of Calvin, was to be the scene also of the second part, The Libertines. The third part was to be called The Puritans, and the action was to be transferred to New England. he also wrote a play entitled The Prussians in Africa, in the style which Offenbach’s operettas have now made familiar to frequenters of the opera buffa. Fröbel was a prominent participant in the revolution of 1848, as journalist and member of the Frankfort Parliament, and gives lively descriptions of the course of events, as well as of the “cranks” and self-seeking demagogues with whom his political activity brought him in contact.
After the gradual disintegration of the Frankfort Parliament and the total collapse of the revolution, Fröbel took refuge in Switzerland, about the last of June, 1849. Early in July, he made a tour on foot through the Bernese Highlands and over the Gemmi to Lake Leman, and took passage at Villeneuve on a steamer for Geneva. A young American on board fell into conversation with him, and said, “ You are going to the United States, and I will give you a letter to my father in Philadelphia.” To Fröbel’s assurance that he had no intention of going to America, the young man replied : “ Oh, yes, you will. What can you do here in Europe ? You are no longer suited to this hemisphere.” At Geneva Fröbel received the letter of introduction, in which he was spoken of as one of the “ literati ” who wished to found a republic in Germany, and which he had the pleasure of presenting, less than a year later, to the father, a wealthy merchant of the Quaker city, by whom he was cordially welcomed and hospitably entertained.
The strong reactionary tide that had now set in throughout all Germany defeated his plan of settling down as a publicist in Hamburg, and on September 29 he left Liverpool in an American sailing-vessel, and arrived in New York November 9. Captain Doane, who had shown him many kind attentions during the voyage, remarked, as they were sailing up the bay: “ Now we are in the United States, and I hope you will find a new home here. As a refugee you are perhaps without means until you can secure some position. If I can serve you with a small sum of money, it will give me great pleasure.” Fröbel thanked him for his generosity, and assured him that he had enough for his present needs.
“If you have money,” replied the captain, “ so much the better ; but every new-comer in this country has to pay for his experience, and often at a very dear rate. Here is the address of my sister in Connecticut, through whom letters are sure to reach me. If you ever need help, let me know. Are you familiar with our coinage ? That is absolutely necessary. Look here,” he continued, putting some pieces in Fröbel’s hand :
“ that is an eagle, and worth ten dollars ; that’s a half-eagle; that’s a dollar; that’s a dime, of which ten make a dollar; and that’s a cent, the hundredth part of a dollar.” Fröbel thanked him for the information, and returned him the money. “No,” said the captain, drawing back his hand, “ you must keep them; otherwise you might forget.” Fröbel could not return the gift without hurting the feelings of the warm-hearted man who had taken this delicate way of attaining his purpose, and replied, “ I shall prize these coins as a souvenir of Captain Doane.”
Unfortunately, we have not space to recount at length the adventures of Fröbel in America, which form one of the most fascinating portions of his autobiography. Of course he fell in with many fellow-exiles, and gives some ludicrous examples of their crude and mostly condemnatory judgments of American institutions. formed within a few hours after landing. One day he met on the street a Saxon revolutionist, a quondam colleague in the Frankfort Parliament. “You here ?” exclaimed Fröbel. “ When did you arrive ? ” “ Last, week.” was the reply. “Is n’t there a disgraceful state of affairs in this country ? And they call this a republic! I tell you what, there ’s got to be a change.”
Fröbel declared his intention of becoming a citizen of the United States, and several prominent Americans wished to procure for him a professorship in some institution of learning, but he declined their kind offer with thanks. His experience in Germany had filled him with intense disgust for “ the vapid theorizing and pedagogical arrogance of men like Dahlmann and Gervinus,” who were after all the best of their class, and he was firmly resolved not to bear the professorial title in the New World. A rabid radical, Dr. Esselen, who died an inmate of an American insane asylum, had once publicly accused him of aristocratic tendencies because he had been seen wearing kid gloves on the streets of Frankfort. But the fact that he began life in New York as a soapboiler proves that he was not above any honest kind of manual labor. It is equally to his credit that when he afterwards took part in politics he did not imitate some native partisans by carrying into it the kind of “ soap ” that corrupts instead of cleansing what it touches.
It was impossible, however, for a man of Fröbel’s ability and energy to hide himself permanently in an obscure basement, behind caldrons of boiling grease and potash, and we find him soon afterwards in Washington, associating with President Taylor, Vice-President Fillmore, Senator Seward. Professor Henry, Dr. Bache, Lieutenant Maury, and other persons eminent in political and scientific circles. There he met also an Austrian refugee, the Hofrath Gritzner, who was apparently in high favor, and consequently in high feather, and condescended to let Fröbel into the secret of his success. “ Here,” he said, “ there is one way to the goal, although you are probably, unlike myself, too scrupulous to take it : it is through the Jesuits, and the way to the Jesuits is through the ladies.”
Fröbel accepted an invitation from Professor Rogers to visit him at the University of Virginia, and made an extended tour through the Old Dominion, charmed with the beauty of the country and the genial hospitality of the inhabitants, which appear to have cast a glamour upon his perceptions of the peculiar institution. It is just to add that a subsequent journey through the South, from Charleston to New Orleans, imparted a darker hue to the somewhat rose-colored view of slavery obtained in Virginia. The Charleston Hotel, which had the reputation of being a first-class house, was so dirty that it was hardly habitable, and nowhere in the city was there any trace of the elegance and the superior taste upon which the Southern aristocrats prided themselves. The through passengers were chiefly Northerners, but the people who entered the train in Georgia and Alabama were “ a loud, swaggering, rough, and seedy-looking set, each with a slave carrying an old hat-box and other shabby baggage, the very picture of beggarly grandeeship.” At that time Fröbel could have bought a hundred square miles of land near Warm Springs for five thousand dollars, and a few years later he was offered a large estate near Harper’s Ferry, if he would only live on it and induce German immigrants to settle there. This tempting offer, which was made by Mr. Mason, then American minister to France, and his son-in-law, Archer Anderson, was, after mature deliberation, declined, since Fröbel could not conscientiously advise his countrymen to make their home in a part of the United States which he thought must sooner or later be the theatre of a fierce civil war.
In 1850, when the project of a Nicaragua ship canal began to be agitated, and a stock company had been formed in New York for piercing the isthmus, Fröbel, on the recommendation of E. G. Squier, was invited by the Nicaraguan government to visit the country and report on its natural resources, and especially its mineral treasures. With this scientific mission he united also the function of correspondent of the New York Tribune, then owned by Horace Greeley, and edited by Charles A. Dana. To this journal he had been already a frequent contributor, and as Dana once handed him a fifty-dollar check in payment for a single communication, Fröbel remarked, “ You are very generous.” “We are never generous,” was Dana’s reply, “and never pay for an article more than it is worth.” Fröhel gives an admirable account of Nicaragua, politically, socially, geologically, ethnologically, and indeed from every point of view, and interweaves the narration with striking incidents of travel, personal adventures, intrigues of British diplomatists, outrages of American filibusters, and other tragic or humorous episodes.
On his return to New York, in September, 1851, he was offered the directorship of a Nicaragua gold-mining company ; but he declined the honor, his geological knowledge convincing him that the enterprise was an intentional or unintentional swindle. His political affiliations were with the Whigs, whose principles he advocated in the press, and thereby incurred the ill will of the majority of his German compatriots, who, misled by a name, had not yet discovered that American democracy at that time was the servile instrument of an arrogant oligarchy. He took a lively interest in the reformatory enthusiasms of the period, vegetarianism, spiritualism, Fourierism, and the doctrine of the sovereignty of the individual as proclaimed by Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews, and practically exemplified in the Free Love League, whose members, nevertheless, seemed for the most part to be distinguished for a purity in their private lives which was wholly inconsistent with their public profession of principles, and rendered Horace Greeley’s assertion of the necessity of “compulsory morality ” quite superfluous.
In the spring of 1852, a New York firm, which had an extensive overland commerce with Texas, northern Mexico, and California, asked him to accompany one of their trading expeditions as accountant and paymaster, an opportunity which he gladly seized, because it would enable him to travel across prairies and through primeval forests, and to observe savage and pioneer life in the far West. The caravan started from Independence, Missouri, and after a day’s journey plunged into the wilderness at a point where there was a division of the road with a guidepost pointing on the one hand the “ Way to California,” and on the other the “ Way to Oregon.” “ Imagine,” adds Fröbel, “a guidepost at Frankfort on the Main showing the ‘Way to Russia’ and the ‘Way to Turkey’ ! ” Independence was then the frontier station of civilization, and harbored eccentric characters of almost every nationality. Fröbel mentions one American there, a man of considerable culture and importance, who regarded the Chinese form of government as the model for America and for the world, and who hoped that with the completion of the Pacific railroad, then already projected, the ameliorating influence of Chinese civilization would be widely felt. “ American culture,”he observed, “ is the primitive culture of mankind, but corrupted and degenerated, whereas in China it has kept itself pure. The regeneration of America, therefore, must come from China, and be effected by the introduction of the patriarchal democracy of the Celestial Kingdom.” Americans of to-day would hardly accept this crotchet as an adequate solution of the Chinese question, or be brought to believe that their redemption and restoration as a people must come to them from Chung-Kuë, “the realm of the middle.”
The feature of this border town that struck Fröbel most forcibly was the curious contrast between the keen commercial character and the zealous religious life of its inhabitants. Methodists formed the predominant sect, and were divided into two hostile camps, Northern and Southern, each of which used the Bible against or in favor of slavery. The Northern church excluded slaveholders from its communion, but the negroes belonged to the Southern church. “It is the will of God,” said a sable preacher, “that we blacks should be slaves, but in the next world we shall be white and free,” — a pathetic prospect which did not diminish their present value as chattels, and with which their masters were glad to have them console themselves. The prevailing notion among the negroes was that the bad ones would be condemned to be apes after death; but by good conduct in the simian state they would ultimately become negroes again, gradually turn white, grow wings, and enjoy other beatitudes. This naive and primitive eschatology is probably of African pagan origin, since the psychical affinity of man with monkeys, and the belief that the latter are human beings undergoing punishment for their misdeeds, are conceptions common to many native negro tribes.
Fröbel gives graphic descriptions of life on the plains, and interesting observations, as a naturalist, of the regions extending from Independence to Chihuahua, and from Galveston to San Francisco ; and the record of his impressions of California and the Californians forty years ago is a valuable contribution to the history of a rare transition period in American civilization, and an admirable study of American character under exceptional and peculiarly trying circumstances. His judgment in this respect is, on the whole, very favorable. He declares that society in San Francisco at that time was more agreeable and animating, and contained a proportionately greater number of highly cultivated, truly humane, and really companionable persons, men of remarkable intelligence, uncommon energy, large experience of the world, and tried qualities of mind and heart, than any city of the Old World. “ Every Californian regarded himself, and not without reason, as belonging to the élite of the human race ; and although this was true in a bad as well as in a good sense, I found the good predominating over the bad in a wonderful degree, and had occasion to observe in Californian life the rise and growth, the organization and ennoblement, of human society through sheer stress of necessity.”
Soon after his arrival, Fröbel aided in establishing, and edited during his sojourn there, a German Whig paper, the San Francisco Journal, which did good service in opposition to the California Demokrat, a sheet conducted in the interests of Catholic propagandism, and also of slavery extension, by one Dr. Löhr, who advocated the formation of a slave State out of southern California.
On the eve of his leaving San Francisco a public dinner was given in Fröbel" s honor, and a cane of the strawberry-tree (arbutus unedo) presented to him, the head of which was of massive gold cut in six facets, two bearing inscriptions, and the other four adorned with the figures of a gold-digger, a Mexican horseman swinging a lasso, a Chinaman, and an Indian, carved in high relief; even the iron point was made of metal obtained from Californian gold-sand. Some gentlemen also gave him as a souvenir a large piece of native gold in octahedral crystals of rare beauty. On the 20th of September, 1855, he sailed through the Golden Gate for New York via Panama, as the invited guest of the Nicaragua Steamship Company. The passengers, he says, were on the whole the most cultivated persons he had ever met with on shipboard. I shared my cabin with a former governor of Oregon and a lawyer from San Francisco, whose instructive and entertaining conversation shortened the days and hours of the passage. Jurists, judges, physicians, prominent merchants, some with their wives, formed the remaining elements of the society, in which a cheerful tone, good breeding, and mutual civility prevailed. The vessel, in its arrangement and administration, was a model of neatness, order, and decency absolutely unknown to the Old World. Under such circumstances the sea voyage was a source of unalloyed pleasure.”
One of the first letters received by Fröbel after his arrival in New York, in 1849, brought the sad news of the death of his wife at Zurich, where he had left her with their only child, while he sought a home for them in the New World. In consequence of this event, his son, then eleven years of age, was sent to him under the care of a kindly stranger. He was educated in America, partly at Cambridge, where he studied natural science under Agassiz, whose friendship Fröbel enjoyed. He was appointed to the professorship of chemistry and pharmacy in the University of New York, and died many years later in that city.
On his return from San Francisco to New York in 1855, Fröbel made the acquaintance of a German widow named Mördes, the daughter of Count von Armansperg, well known as Greek chancellor under the reign of King Otto I. The first husband of this lady was a young jurist and revolutionist, and the newly married pair, in consequence of the events of 1849, made their wedding journey as political refugees to Texas, where the husband died of cholera. Caroline von Armansperg (as she is called in the autobiography) now wished to return to Bavaria, and sailed from New York in a vessel laden with cotton, which was struck by lightning in the waters of the West Indies and slowly burned, notwithstanding every effort to extinguish the fire in the cargo. After three days of fearful anxiety the ship’s company were taken off by a passing vessel, and landed in Charleston. At another time Caroline took passage from New York, and went on board, but lost her courage, and was put ashore, forfeiting her fare. The ship sailed, and was never heard of again. The death of her father and the settlement of the family estate improved her condition financially. A Saxon lawyer, residing in New York, urged her to place her funds in his hands for investment, and to go to Panama for her health, well knowing that she would probably never survive that treacherous climate. Fortunately, she rejected this offer, and was still in New York, devoting herself to the education of her son, when she met Fröbel and became his wife. Her boy, who had never known his own father, legally assumed Fröbel’s name combined with that of his mother, William Frobel-Armansperg.
After extended journeys through the southern part of the United States and in Central America, Fröbel and his wife set sail for Europe, and landed at Havre July 9, 1857. Both of them, each independently of the other, had gone through essentially like experiences, and become completely changed as the result of eight years of eventful and decidedly vicissitudinous life.
I once fell into conversation with an evidently well-to-do and wide-awake German in the famous museum at Nuremberg. He was a Nuremberger by birth, but had spent the greater part of his active life as a merchant in New York, and had now come, with wife and child, to visit the place of his nativity. To my remark that it must be pleasant for him to see the quaint and picturesque old city again, he replied, with a deprecatory shrug of the shoulders, “Oh, yes, but it is small potatoes ! ” This pettiness appeared to Fröbel’s “ Americanized eyes ” the most conspicuous feature of life in Paris, where he spent his first twelve days in Europe, and where, as he observes, “Americans like to make their home, but, as a rule, not to the advantage of their character.” Voluntary expatriation tends to denationalize and denaturalize them, so that “ they cease to be good Americans without becoming Europeans,” and pay a heavy ransom for the pleasures they enjoy by losing all earnest aims and worthy purposes. Many faces in the United States may show the effects of a wearing and too often grinding life ; but it is a life of serious work, and not of dissoluteness, and has nothing in common with the faded features and shabby finery of the boulevard flaneur sporting a red pink as the cheap substitute for the bit of red ribbon which every Frenchman is ambitious to have in his buttonhole.
In Germany, this sense of estrangement was aggravated by petty annoyances on the part of the police, and Fröbel resolved to pass the winter of 1858-59 in London, and to return in the following spring to the United States. Meanwhile, he published at Leipsic Amerika, Erfahrungen, Reisen, und Studien (two volumes, 1857—58), and early in 1859 an English edition of the same work, in somewhat abridged form, under the title Seven Years’ Travel in Central America, Northern Mexico, and the Far West of the United States, was issued by Bentley in one large volume, with excellent illustrations. Fröbel also printed at Berlin what Humboldt called a “timely and suggestive treatise ” on Amerika, Europa, und die Politischen Gesichtspunkte der Gegenwart. in which he called attention, on the one hand to the growing power of the United States as a political factor hitherto overlooked by European statesmen, and on the other hand to the fact that Russia, by its expansion in Asia, was becoming more and more a colossal empire foreign to Europe. The corollary to these demonstrations was the necessity of the unification of Germany and the confederation of the states of western Europe as an efficient member of the great political triad in which Christendom was gradually organizing itself, and as the only means of preserving the balance of power between these “ mighty opposites.”
In England Fröbel met Lothar Bucher, afterwards well known as a diplomatist and publicist in confidential relations with Bismarck, and was introduced by him to David Urquhart, the oddest fish, perhaps, in all the shoals of British eccentrics, whose hatred of the United States was so intense that he would not tolerate an American pine or fir tree in his park, but put himself to immense trouble and expense to acclimate deodar cedars from the Himalayan Mountains. In his way he was as hobbyhorsical as his ancestral kinsman, Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, who published in 1652 a book called Pantochronochanon, in which he attempted to trace the house of Urquhart back to Adam, although he never did such a good piece of literary work as Sir Thomas’s translation of Rabelais. One of his whimseys was the notion that by proper diet and discipline from infancy a person could be made proof against physical injury, and perfectly insensible to pain. To this end he fed his boy, then five years of age, on milk, and used to pinch his arm at table, in the presence of guests, asking, “ Do you feel any pain ? ” to which the child gave the almost sobbing reply, “ No,” turningred and pale under the torture. When Fröbel declined to take a bath before dinner, Urquhart grew angry and insolent. “ You wish to be a political reformer! ” he exclaimed. “ First reform yourself ; and so long as you have not accomplished that, give up your foolish talking and writing.”
The sudden death of Fröbel’s motherin-law, Countess Armansperg, necessitated his return to Germany, where old ties of friendship were renewed and his former interest in German politics revived. At Schwalbach, where his wife had been ordered to take the baths, he met ex-President Franklin Pierce, whom he had always held in slight esteem, but whom now, when no longer the pliant tool of a party, he found to be a far more sensible politician and honorable character than one would have expected from his general reputation. Once they visited Heidelberg together, and as they were walking up to the old castle Frobel remembered that he had left his pocketbook at the hotel, and went back to fetch it, while Pierce proceeded on his way. On reaching the ruins, Fröbel was accosted by a stranger, who said : “ Perhaps you are looking for President Pierce ? You will find him on the terrace.” “ In fact I am looking for President Pierce,” replied Fröbel, “ but how did you come to suspect it?” “ Well,” answered the stranger, “you seemed to be seeking for somebody, and President Pierce up there was apparently waiting for somebody, and so I thought he must be the one you wanted.” Fröbel joined Pierce on the terrace and related the incident. Pierce laughed, and said : “ The same man addressed me, and inquired whether I were President Pierce; and to my inquiry as to how he arrived at this correct supposition, he replied, ‘I read in the papers that General Pierce, ex-President of the United States, had just come from Spain, where he had greatly admired the Alhambra, and was now traveling on the Rhine; and as I saw a stranger contemplating with evident pleasure the ruins of our old castle, and perhaps comparing them with the remains of Moorish architecture, I surmised that he must be President Pierce.’ ” “ What talent,” exclaimed
Fröbel, “ for historic combinations, happy hypotheses, and conjectural politics ! ”
At Heidelberg, in 1862, Fröbel made the acquaintance of Dr. Chapman, editor of the Westminster Review, who in the course of a political discussion spoke of the “ tyrannical governments of Germany.” Fröbel replied that there was no longer any tyrannical government in Germany. “ But there are no representations of the people,” retorted Chapman. Fröbel pointed to a hewer of wood on the street and said, “ That man is not only a voter, but may be also elected a member of the Parliament of this country, which in this respect is far in advance of England.”"Why then are you discontented ? ” asked the English Liberal. “ In Nicaragua,” says Fröbel, “ a man once showed me a cow, and inquired if I had ever seen such an animal before ; when I assured him that there were cows in Europe, he expressed his wonder that in that case people should emigrate to Nicaragua.” Dr. Chapman seems to have entertained an equally naive conception of parliamentary government as the ne plus ultra of blessedness. To his incredibly silly question Fröbel answered, “ We are discontented because we demand a political power that shall correspond to our greatness and preeminent culture as a nation, and enable us to rebuke all foreign arrogance.”
It was Fröbel’s firm conviction that his fatherland could secure this desirable position among European nations only through the realization of the so-called German Trias, consisting of Austria, Prussia, and a federation of the smaller German states acting as one body. It is not necessary to enter into the details of this complex and clumsy scheme, the defects of which were recognized even by its most earnest advocates, who accepted it as the best that could be attained under the circumstances. The executive power was to be vested in a directory of three sovereigns, namely, the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia as hereditary members, and a third member to be chosen by the remaining federated German rulers from their own number. There was also to be a federal constitution, a federal assembly, and a federal court of justice, the proposed organization of which is fully described in Fröbel’s second volume.
Frobel was furthermore of the opinion that Austria should take the lead in this movement, and compel the other states to join in it. Here he confesses that he made a fatal mistake. “ I held Prussia to be weaker, and Austria and France stronger, than they proved to be. I did not assume that Prussia had either the energy or the will to solve the German problem. Even now I might be tempted to affirm that except for Bismarck, then as little known to the world as to myself, I should have been right; although it might be said in reply that Prussia alone was capable of producing a Bismarck, and that is really true.”
Laboring under this delusion, Fröbel naturally entered the Austrian service ; and although Ritter von Schmerling was minister of state, and Count Rechberg was minister of foreign affairs, the man whom an Austrian court-martial had sentenced to death in 1849 was for three years (1862-65), without portfolio or official recognition, the real director of Austrian politics. A semi-official journal, Der Botschafter, was established, for the purpose of promoting what was called the “great German” or Trias project, to prepare Austria for taking the initiative in this direction. It is hardly necessary to state that the whole scheme was a dismal failure, due in a great measure to party intrigues and petty dynastic pretensions, as well as to the conceited incompetency and personal venality of Austrian politicians. A single incident will suffice to illustrate the latter point. As Fröbel was about to retire, declaring that he was tired of “ threshing empty straw,” Baron Gruben urged him to remain, and promised that he should be put in an agreeable position, in which “ the sheaves should not turn their stubble ends towards him ; ” thus interpreting Frobel’s discontent as an expression of regret that he had not been able to derive pecuniary profit from his patriotic labors.
Fröbel was in Munich soon after the accession of Ludwig II. of Bavaria, and witnessed with disgust the excessive adulation which turned the head of that young and enthusiastic romanticist on the throne. Thus Professor Löher, the director of the state archives, spoke of the wholly inexperienced and mentally unripe monarch in the most extravagant terms, falling into a fit of ecstasy and a muddle of mixed metaphor : “He is as daring and towering as an eagle, and as innocent as a lily. He is accessible to every great idea, and it is astounding how much he has studied without its being noticed.” This was the sort of incense that was constantly going up in the presence of the king, inflaming his vanity and clouding his intellect, until he began to believe that all knowledge and wisdom came to him, like his crown, by the grace of God. He soon showed a longing for autocratic power, and could not see why a being divinely endowed and inspired, as his courtiers affirmed him to be, should not be invested with absolute authority. Once, at Aschaffenburg, he declared to his uncle, the Grand Duke of Hesse Darmstadt, that the position of the Emperor of Russia was the only one worthy of a sovereign. “ In that case,” was the reply, “ your royal Majesty, my most charming nephew, would have to work often and vigorously at the pump” (öfters tüchtig anpumpsen; that is, raise the wind by frequent loans). Of all the persons who flattered the Bavarian king for their own selfish purposes, Wagner was, in Fröbel’s opinion, the least mercenary, since he pursued ideal and artistic rather than purely personal ends. His rivals for the royal favor did everything they could to discredit him; and when Ludwig relieved the composer of his heavy burden of debt by the payment of forty thousand florins, the minister Pfistermeister had the whole sum counted out in silver coin and conveyed in a cart to Wagner’s house, in order to attract the attention and to excite the indignation of the people. Wagner became the victim because he refused to be the sport of political intrigues. “ His character was not lacking in weak points, which made him unenjoyable to many persons ; but it was a delight to see how he maintained his footing on the slippery ground of his position in Munich, and kept his integrity under dangerous temptations.”
Fröbel states on the authority of Count Rechberg that as early as 1846 a party in Mexico wished to have an Austrian prince, one of the sons of the Archduke Charles, proclaimed Emperor of that country. Metternich, however, refused to consent to the scheme except on conditions which could not be complied with. The movement that placed Maximilian on the Mexican throne in 1864 was started by Spain, and taken up by Napoleon and the Duke de Morny partly as a means of checking the growing power of the United States, and partly as a financial speculation. In this connection, Rechberg spoke of Maximilian as “ a fantastic buffoon, without dignity or force of character,” and described Charlotte as “a vain, conceited, and arrogant person, boundlessly ambitious, utterly heartless, and always calculating.”
Our autobiographer saw Bismarck for the first time December 14, 1868, and again in the following spring. In these interviews, the Prussian statesman set forth his ideas with great frankness, and solicited Fröbel’s criticism. He deemed it impolitic to proceed too rapidly with the work of German unification, and thought that Italy was still suffering, and would continue for a long time to suffer, the consequences of her error in this respect. " We must not require that the great objects which we are striving after shall be attained in our lifetime. The south of Germany must join the north of its own free will, even if it takes thirty years.”As to Austria, he would deal gently with her, and gratify her wishes so far as possible, as a man humors the whims of an exacting and capricious woman to whom he is bound for better or for worse; but when indulgence is abused and conciliation fails, harsh measures must be adopted. “ Between the velvet hand and the naked sword there is for me no middle.” On the visitor’s taking leave, the chancellor accompanied him through the second anteroom, where Fröbel was about to pass through a door on the right, when Bismarck motioned to him to go straight on, and added : “ I accompany many persons to this point; the civilians uniformly turn to the right, the soldiers always go straight ahead. But you will find your way in politics all the better for that. Good-by ! ” “ In this respect,” remarks Fröbel, “Bismarck seems to have combined the soldier with the civilian.”
A short time afterward Fröbel was in Paris, and breakfasted with the minister Ollivier, who, in discussing French and German affairs, said : “ I will tell you the secret of French politics. War with Prussia is inevitable. We assume that a few days after the declaration of hostilities a battle will be fought, and of course we shall be victorious. French prestige will be saved ; peace will follow ; Prussia will be permitted to do as she pleases in Germany, and France will be content with Belgium and a rectification of her eastern frontier.” “ But suppose the French should not win the first battle?” interposed Fröbel. “In that case,” replied Ollivier, “ the Emperor would never return to Paris,”
A few days later Fröbel called upon Prince Napoleon, at the latter’s request. The topic of conversation was the national unity of Germany, which the prince admitted to be a necessary result of the natural evolution of European politics, and not to be prevented. “ But Prussia,” he added, “is not the same thing as Germany, and the German nation is a dangerous nation. ‘ So weit die deutsche Zunge klingt,’ — that ’s what you are always singing.” “ It is a long time since I have heard that song,” replied Fröbel, “ and the principle of nationality is no longer understood by us in a linguistic sense. Quant a moi — je dirais que le principe de nationality n est autre chose que la démocratie dans le droit international.” The prince accepted this definition, and turned the conversation to the eventuality of Franco-German hostilities, which he thought might be avoided by a slight regulation of boundaries, with a small addition of territory, hinting that Belgium would be a sop sufficient to appease the appetite of the French “ dogs of war.” He expressed great admiration for Bismarck as “ the only statesman of the present day,” and believed that he would have the will and the wisdom to preserve peace. “ One must be either the accomplice or the decided enemy of a power like Prussia. We have been neither the one nor the other. But it is not I who make French polities,” he remarked, with a shrug, and intimated that the Emperor would be responsible for any disaster arising from this source.
In April, 1873, Fröbel was appointed consul-general of the German Empire at Smyrna, and it is significant of the strictness of the German civil service regulations that this man, though sixtyeight years of age, of acknowledged political capacity, and the personal friend of Bismarck, was obliged to pass the prescribed examination before he could receive this office, for which every one knew him to be preëminently qualified. Indeed, it was at the imperial chancellor’s earnest request that he consented to become a candidate for the position.
We shall not attempt to follow Fröbel in the varied experiences and vivid records of his Oriental life, first in Asia Minor, and afterward in Algiers. In the summer of 1888 he retired from active service, after the death of his wife, and has since lived with his adopted son in Zurich, where fifty-five years before he had begun his scientific, journalistic, and political career.
In many respects his memoirs are more interesting even than those of Talleyrand, because they describe persons and events that are nearer to the present generation, and reveal the motive forces of great political movements, in the wake of which we are now sailing, and by whose heavy surge and rolling swell we are still strongly affected.
E. P. Evans.
- Ein Lebenslauf Aufzeichnungen, Erinnerungen and Bekenntnisse von Julius Fröbel. Two volumes. Stuttgart: Cotta. 1890.↩