FERDINAND GREGOROVIUS
THE TOMBS OF THE POPES
THE ROMAN JOURNALS

HISTORY Of THE CITY OF ROME IN THE MIDDLE AGES

BY

FERDINAND GREGOROVIUS

TRANSLATED

BY

ANNIE HAMILTON

   

 

Ferdinand Gregorovius, the youngest of eight brothers and sisters, was born at the little town of Neidenburg, in East Prussia, on January 19, 1821. Neidenburg, which owes its foundation to the Teutonic order, stands close to the Polish frontier, and is situated in a desolate tract of country, broken by pine-woods, hills, and lakes. The place, insignificant in itself, acquires an historic character from the still existing castle of the Teutonic knights, a monument of the Middle Ages, that played no unimportant role in the history of the Gregorovius family, and in particular was to exercise a weighty influence on the development of its youngest member. Gregorovius’s father was Justiz-ratk at Neidenburg. He found the old castle, originally one of the finest belonging to the order, in partial ruin, and it was owing to his exertions that its restoration was accomplished by the Burggrave of Marienburg, the Minister von Schon. The offices of the Court of Justice were now removed to the castle, and the family acquired therein a magnificent dwelling. The children grew up amidst the remains of great historic memories; the fortress was their pride, and they soon came to regard it as the property of the family. On the imagination of the boyish Ferdinand above all, the life which they led in its halls and corridors, its vaults and subterranean rooms, the distant views from its turret windows, made a powerful impression. To the influence of his surroundings, he himself attributed the fact of his early and decided bent towards antiquity and mediaevalism. He frequently expressed the opinion that the History of Rome in the Middle Ages would never have been written had not his youth been passed in that old castle of the Teutonic knights.

To this chief circumstance of his childhood was added, at the age of nine, the impression made by the Polish revolution of 1830. Owing to the proximity of Neidenburg to the scene 'of the bloody struggles called forth by the rising, he not only heard much concerning the events of the war, but had opportunity of adding to his information by personal observation. Soon after the outbreak of the revolution a regiment of Cossacks, driven across the frontier by the Polish rebels, sought shelter in Neidenburg. And again, after the defeat of Ostrolenka, the boy saw the unfortunate Polish fugitives surrendering by thousands to Russia. These events left a deep impression on his mind. They broke like sharp and disintegrating elements from the modern outer world into the world of his historic dreams, rudely linking the present with the past. For the first time he experienced the feeling of hatred towards the oppressor, of compassion with the oppressed. His interest in the Poles, on whose blood-soaked plains he looked from the Castle of Neidenburg, developed into sympathy, which strengthened from year to year, and afterwards found characteristic expression in the beginning of his literary career.

In other respects no sound from the outer world penetrated the solitude of the remote East Prussian village and the monotonous provincial existence of its inhabitants. Gregorovius’s father was an austere man, who lived solely for his work. His mother, a tall and handsome woman, religious to enthusiasm, was a chronic invalid and died of consumption in 1831. Soon after the boy left home to attend the gymnasium at Gumbinnen, taking up his abode with a younger brother of his father, who was also an officer of justice at the place. His tastes were chiefly centred on history, geography, and ancient languages, and even in these boyish years he dreamed much of distant countries and ages. A great impression was made upon him when an army doctor, whom he once saw at Neidenburg, told him that he had spent three weeks in Rome. He gazed at the man in astonishment and then ran to tell his father of the wondrous fact. His thoughts took another flight to distant lands when, in 1833, one of his brothers joined the Bavarians to fight for the Greeks in their struggle for independence. On returning home for the holidays, he was accustomed to lie for hours on the hill where the castle stood, watching the clouds float overhead, and letting his thoughts, oblivious of time, wander with them over land and sea. Indeed, until the end of his life, next to works of history, accounts of travel in distant parts of the world formed a favourite entertainment of his leisure hours.

His course at the gymnasium ended, he entered the university of Konigsberg in the autum of 1838, at the age of seventeen. And since his father belonged to a clerical family (his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father having each in succession been vicar of the same parish in East Prussia), at his father's wish Ferdinand studied theology. But he did so without inclination, and the fact that, with the exception of Caesar von Lengerke (a poet who had strayed into dogmatics), theology was taught in Konigsberg by a set of dull pedants, did not contribute to encourage a taste for a study that had been forced upon him. More than to any of the other professors he felt himself drawn to the philosopher, Karl Rosenkranz. An afterglow of the age of Kant still lingered over the University of Konigsberg, and Rosenkranz, the highly-cultured imaginative thinker and brilliant orator, commanded the enthusiasm of the younger generation. Gregorovius became one of his foremost pupils. He studied Kant and Hegel, and believed himself destined to be a philosopher. He attended the lectures of the historians Drumann and Voigt, but learning however vast, which lacked the vital spark of genius, failed to satisfy him. Everywhere, however, he experienced the influence of the free scientific spirit which still lingered at Konigsberg. The university was perhaps already on the decline; but conscious of standing like a lighthouse of German culture on the confines of Slavic barbarism, the German character in East Prussia and its ancient capital put forward all its strength. The work of culture undertaken by the Teutonic knights, the Reformation, Kant, the wars of liberation, the foundation of the State on the principles of humanity all these were the proudly cherished possessions of the East Prussians, and Gregorovius himself had received sufficient of the impress of this virile race to prize the intellectual training which, through his Alma Mater, it received.

He left the university in the autumn of 1841, after having passed his first theological examination. That theology was not his vocation he had meantime more and more clearly recognized. For some years, first in Neidenburg, then at other places in East and West Prussia, he followed the calling of private tutor. He was daunted by the thought of wearing for life the fetters of an official position. He dreamed occasionally of an academic life, but resolved in any case to break with his theological antecedents; and still believing himself destined to become a philosopher, he took his degree in the philosophic faculty at Konigsberg with the dissertation, "Concerning the Conception of the Beautiful in Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists". Like his teacher Rosenkranz, he at the same time engaged in literary pursuits. He wrote several poems, chiefly lyrical, and in 1845, at the age of twenty-four, appeared before the public with his first book, the romance of Werdomar and Wladislaw, a work which at every turn reflects the Sturm und Drang period of intellectual development through which he was then passing. With its Polish-German complications, its pre-revolutionary provincialism and prison adventures, its Titanic pessimism and its enthusiastic hopes for the future, the romance was entirely the product of the time, and frequently arouses our surprise by the realism which displays the author's close observance of life. But the tone of the book is, above all, romantic. Echoes of Jean Paul, Holderlin, Eichendorff, and Immermann weave themselves into a wondrous symphony. In this youthful work Gregorovius pays his tribute to modern German romanticism, with the evident foreknowledge, it is true, of alienation from a world which did not in truth satisfy him. We cannot say that he realized in irony or in political and philosophic radicalism the discrepancy between his ideals and actuality as did Heine and Heine's young German comrades. But his longings went out towards great men and great deeds. "Epic without action," he says in the preface to his book, "such is our time"; and to him mankind seemed wandering in a wilderness of romanticism, from the labyrinths of which they could only be released by the appearance of some heroic leader.

Werdomar and Wladislaw met with no striking success; but in Konigsberg, where the romance appeared in the University Press, it received attention, and soon after Gregorovius returned to make a longer sojourn in the capital of East Prussia. Destitute of means as he was, he could not make up his mind to abandon the work of teaching; in fact, he continued it as his chief means of subsistence during the next six years. Konigsberg, moreover, offered a stimulating intellectual atmosphere, the means for the continuation of scientific and literary studies, and to these he dedicated the greater part of his leisure.

Next to philosophy, history once more exercised its fascinations over him, and at Drumann’s instigation he undertook a monograph on the Emperor Hadrian, a work doing all honor to the young scholar's industry and learning, which was finished at the beginning of 1848, but which, owing to the storms of the revolution and difficulties with publishers, only appeared in 1851. In a retrospect of Gregorovius’s intellectual development, this history of the Emperor Hadrian still awakens our interest from a twofold point of view, as having been his first historical work of importance, and as the first evidence of the direction of his thoughts towards Rome.

In the meantime the outbreak of the revolution of 1848 had irresistibly diverted the attention of the historian from the distant past to the tumultuous movement of the present. At this time, owing to the bold political ideas of Johann Jacoby and Walesrode’s humorous satirical utterances, free-thinking Konigsberg was conspicuous as one of the centres of the revolution. Several of Gregorovius’s older and younger fellow-students, among them Wilhelm Jordan and Rudolf Gottschall, appeared before the public as poets of a new period of Sturm und Drang, and Gregorovius himself entered with enthusiasm into the agitation of popular meetings and clubs, which served as organs to the hopes and fears, the love and hatred of that excited period. He hoped for the regeneration of the German people, but not for this alone. His sympathies, in accordance with his democratic creed, were essentially cosmopolitan. That which he desired for Germany, he also demanded as an inalienable right for the other struggling nationalities. He was more especially saddened by the cruel suppression of the revolt of the Poles, for whose struggles for independence, ever since his boyish years at Neidenburg when he witnessed the tragic vicissitudes of the revolution of 1830 - he had always retained the strongest sympathy. His views on this question he made known in the early summer of 1848, in the historical-political treatise, Die Idee des Polentums. Somewhat later he published his Polen und Magyarenlieder. But in spite of all, his character in the main was not in sympathy with politics, but with culture. In his history of Hadrian he notes with satisfaction that so few wars were made under this Emperor; for what was wanted was a peaceful history of mankind, a history of society. And never even in the midst of political strife did he lose sight of the Cultur-ideal, of the importance of which, during this very crisis of struggle for national development, Germany was reminded by the first centenary festival of Goethe.

Among the writings that appeared in connection with this festival, Gregorovius’s Wilhelm Meister in seinen socialistischen Elementen was one of the most remarkable. “As the final aim of Nature and History”, he observes in this ingenious work, “is to find man, so all genuine poetry is only directed towards the discovery of man. This is the motive of all true tragedy, all comedy, and all epic poetry. Goethe is the Columbus who in his Wilhelm Meister has discovered for us the America of Humanism”. In the Wanderjahre, Goethe as a prophet foresees the future of mankind and indicates its chief features. Echoes of the latest revolutionary storms, the current of socialistic ideas from France, are blended together in this analysis of Goethe’s social philosophy. In the form, and partly also in the constructive dialectics, of Gregorovius’s literary contribution to the festival, the influence of a many years' study of Hegel is unmistakable; but his absorption in Goethe's manner of thought already points to his alienation from the abstract formalism of Hegel, which not long after became an accomplished fact.

In 1851 he appeared once more as a poet with the drama, The Death of Tiberius, a work which, if it showed no marked dramatic talent, revealed at least the fine epic and lyric gift of which he was to give frequent proofs in after years. The fact that about the same time he erected literary monuments to two Roman emperors, shows his increasing interest in the Roman world. At this period he also entered with zest into the study of Italian literature : Dante especially he read with enthusiasm. Longings for the home of the artist's ideals and of physical beauty grew in him, the narrower and more oppressive became the circumstances of his life in Konigsberg. Some incentive from outside alone was needed to set him free.

One of his Konigsberg friends, Ludwig Borntrager, a young and gifted historic painter, was sent by the doctors to Italy on account of some ailment of the chest. Gregorovius determined to follow. His means for this undertaking being scanty, he trusted to his talents, and in the spring of 1852 left Konigsberg, relying, as he himself said, in his lucky star which pointed the way to the South.

The Romische Tagebucher begin at this date, and to them we may turn for an account of his journey, the early years of his sojourn in Italy, his visit to Corsica, his arrival in Rome, and his later experiences and labours in the Eternal City. The Roman Journals speak for themselves, and the author therein reveals himself entirely as he was. It only remains for me to complete them, by adding to my account of his earlier and pre-Roman days a few personal recollections.

I too spent the winter of 1852-3 in Italy, in beautiful Nice, which had not then passed into the possession of France. There, in the supplement to the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, I read with ever-increasing interest the spirited descriptions of travel in Corsica, which first made Gregorovius’s name known to wider circles. They wakened in me the ardent desire personally to become acquainted with so distinguished an author and so sympathetic a personality. Who he was, and whether he still remained in Italy, I did not know. When, however, I came to Rome in the spring of 1853, fresh articles in the Allgemeine Zeitung, pictures of Roman social conditions and customs, convinced me that he was in Rome, and inquiries among German compatriots confirmed the welcome fact. I was obliged to inquire his abode from the police, no one having seen him for a long time. I was assured that for months he had lived in retirement, exclusively occupied with his work on Corsica. Some were of opinion that he had left for Naples, and I had almost renounced the hope of finding him, when one day, at the sight of the well-known building on Monte Citorio, I was inspired by a happy thought which was crowned with success by the omniscient Papal police.

Gregorovius dwelt at this time in the neighborhood of Monte Pincio, not far from the Piazza Barberini. I found him at home, and as I entered his room and he rose from his writing-table, we recognized at the first glance that we were not entirely unknown to one another. For without being aware who he was, I had met him with Jacob Burckhardt in the Vatican Gallery a few days beforehand, attracted by his looks, had begged for information concerning a marble statue, the drapery of which had aroused the interest of the two men as well as my own. Our meeting was, therefore, in a certain sense a second meeting, and we soon found ourselves in animated conversation. Corsica, Rome, Nice, Italy, Germany, there was no lack of numerous bonds of interest The author of the Corsican Reisebilder entirely fulfilled the conception I had formed of him. A slight, dignified figure of distinguished and at the same time genial bearing, a manly and expressive head, with a thick black beard, high open forehead, and quick, penetrating dark eyes : the character of his features though serious was rapidly illumined by the play of imagination, and his conversation was characterized by a thoughtful flow, a full and gentle voice that betrayed wealth of intellectual gifts and a poetic temperament. A bond of sympathy was formed between us. Before we parted walks were arranged for the succeeding days; he called on me : we frequently met on the Pincio, at the Vatican, in the Café delle Belle Arti, and enjoyed a succession of lovely Roman spring days, which, however, passed only too rapidly away, and in whose course I had, among other opportunities, that of marvelling at my companion's already surprising local knowledge. During the winter Gregorovius had worked hard; the MSS. of his book on Corsica had already been dispatched to Germany, and he was occupied with fresh projects of travel. He proposed to spend the following months in an expedition to Naples and Sicily, and having seen the Easter ceremonies in Rome, would not wait for the festival of SS. Peter and Paul, which I wished to attend. Our wanderings together in Rome consequently soon came to an end; but we parted in the hope of a speedy meeting, for the goal of my next journey was also bella Napoli.

We thus met again in the beginning of July 1853, on the shores of Santa Lucia, and spent a delightful month in wandering about the neighborhood of Naples, a month made enjoyable to me chiefly by the society of my gifted German companion. Together we ascended Vesuvius, saw Pompeii and the great historic district from Pozzuoli to Baiae, crossed to Procida and Ischia, made the journey to Salerno and the temples of Paestum, and thence wandered along the gulf to Amalfi and across the mountain tract of St Angelo to Sorrento, when we finally betook ourselves to a quiet villegiatura on the Island of Capri. During the weeks of a Neapolitan summer I had the opportunity of becoming more intimately acquainted with the author of the Corsican Reisebilder and learnt many particulars of his earlier life. Nothing could have been more interesting and stimulating than these excursions in his society. He felt himself happy in beautiful Italy, in the realization of his longings through so many years of Northern fogs happy in its scenery, its art, its antiquity, and among its people. He looked on Italy and the Italians not merely with the eye of the historian and poet, but with a genial desire for social intercourse and enjoyment of the present. He was equally ready for thoughtful, philosophic conversation, and for easy chat and jesting with the naive people of the South. He loved especially to associate with children, and here his imagination was always active. The mere names of places involuntarily awoke historic associations, and in a few words uttered at a spot he frequently drew a characteristic picture of the surrounding landscape which made an indelible impression on his hearers.

Italy was to be to him a second home; other plans drew me to the North. At the end of July 1853 I took leave of Gregorovius on the Marina of Capri, and twenty-five years passed before I saw him again. Not that I remained without news of him, for the acquaintance begun in Italy was continued in an animated correspondence and ripened into a lifelong friendship. In the meanwhile appeared the works which have made his name famous : the incomparable book on Corsica, Die Grabmaler der Papste, the classic idyllic epic Euphorion, the five volumes of the Wanderjahre in Italien, the monumental Geschichte Rom's im Mittelalter, the monograph on Lucrezia Borgia. This is not the place to speak of these works at greater length; they have won their rank in literature and would secure the renown of the author, even had he received no other recognition than that of the Romans, who awarded him for the first time to a non-Catholic the citizenship of the Eternal City, and who, by a resolution of their municipality, ordered the translation into Italian of his principal work. The Roman Journals give the most graphic account of the public and private circumstances of the Italian period of my friend’s life, and to them I may therefore refer the reader.

One characteristic of the Journals may, however, be mentioned namely, their dramatic pathos and their artistic finish in connection with the rise, the elaboration, and the completion of the History of Rome in the Middle Ages. The idea of this work as the mission of his life filled Gregorovius with enthusiasm; the passionate longing to carry out the task, and the untiring labour which he dedicated to it, were the motives which, above all else, riveted him to Rome for many years and endowed his sojourn in Italy with a noble consecration. The great task accomplished, the Roman period of his life reached its natural end, and the attractions of his German fatherland reasserted themselves. In 1874 he left Rome, and, in common with his brother Colonel Julius and his step-sister Ottilie, founded a new home in Munich. Here, in the city of the fine arts, there was no lack of associations with Italy. The University and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, of which he was elected a member, afforded him the necessary means for intellectual activity, while the proximity of Italy facilitated intercourse with the beautiful country that had become to him a second fatherland. He, whose twofold relations with Italy and Germany were so firmly fixed and widespreading, could not indeed renounce his connections with Italy. Back and back they drew him across Alps and Apennines to the South. If he spent the summer and autumn in Germany, he generally passed the winter and spring amid the circle of his Italian friends, and usually in Rome. Likewise for many years he drew the material for his literary work in great part from Italy, or the relations between Italy and Germany.

Meanwhile between him and me the question of another meeting had often been discussed. Invitations to visit one another in England and Germany had often been exchanged, but hindrances of every kind had prevented the fulfillment of such plans. Gregorovius, the German humanist and the Roman citizen, cherished a to me not wholly explicable prejudice against England, which he never overcame in spite of repeated invitations to cross the strip of sea which divided the "white cliffs of Albion" from the Continent. Not until the summer of 1878, twenty-five years after our farewell in Capri, did I see my friend again : this time in Munich. I found him but little changed during the long interval. He seemed to have grown more serious, more laconic, more reserved; this impression, however, wore away after a few days' intercourse. His aspect had lost nothing with maturer age (he had now completed his fifty-seventh year); he retained his characteristic air of distinction, preserved the elasticity that marks the man of the world; and if he was occasionally overtaken by melancholy, or the sensitiveness of the poetic temperament asserted itself, the freshness with which he surrendered himself to the impressions of Nature and art was almost as keen as ever. It was, as is almost needless to say, interesting at his side to visit the world of art in Munich, hitherto unknown to me; still more interesting during the weeks that followed, in the Bavarian Alps and the Salzkammergut, to revive the memories of the month of travel we had spent together in Italy. I shall only mention a few of the characteristic occurrences of the time. We drove from Munich direct to Traunstein, a little town picturesquely situated on a slope of the Bavarian Alps, where for years Gregorovius had been accustomed to enjoy his summer holiday. As we walked through the streets during a sojourn of several days, I was struck by the frequency with which in passing my friend was greeted not by strangers, but by the inhabitants of the town, by men and women seated at the doors of their houses and by children at play, and by the friendliness with which he returned these greetings. Often he would not rest satisfied with greetings alone, but would stop and address questions both to parents and children, from which it was evident that not only was he acquainted with the circumstances and events of their lives, but sympathised with them. Nothing could have been more pleasantly genial than these meetings between the good citizens of Traunstein and the "Herr Professor," as they called Gregorovius. Similar occurrences of our travels in Italy were recalled to my memory, and I recognized how unchanged the quarter of a century had left the noble basis of my friend's character.

Another incident enlivened our journey from Traunstein to Reichenhall. Instead of taking the railway, we had chosen the carriage road through the mountains. A short time before I had reminded him of something in our earlier expeditions that he had forgotten. In moments when the glorious view of the bays and islands of South Italy, and the joie de vivre that the sight of them called forth, had rendered us more especially light-hearted and happy, we had given vent to our feelings by a full-throated shout that we had christened by the name of existenz-schrei. When on this drive from Traunstein to Reichenhall we approached the entrance to the mountains in the full freshness and glory of a late summer morning and engaged in stimulating talk, the old feeling suddenly laid hold of us, and simultaneously we raised our voices in the half-forgotten existenz-schrei. It was an echo of our youthful years, a sound in which present and past united to strike the very chords of the soul.

Eight years later I met Gregorovius again, this time in Frankfort, on his way to Switzerland. Still impelled by the old Herodotus-like love of travel, he had meanwhile added to his knowledge of Italy, acquaintance with other countries. He had been in Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, and had published the results of his travels in studies on the history and the scenery of Athens, the charming idyll Corfu, and the monograph Athenais, Geschichte einer Byzantinischen Kaiserin. For the rest, I found him entirely unchanged. Advancing age showed itself in the added greyness of his beard and hair; his intellectual vigour and his activity revealed no diminution. Accustomed as I was to the late morning hours of London, I was greatly struck when, the morning after his arrival from Munich, and notwithstanding the long railway journey of the previous day, he announced that he had gone for a walk through the streets at 5 A.M., therein following an old habit, which led him to study the physiognomy of the place in which he found himself even at hours when the traffic of the day had hardly begun. This walk, however, did not prevent our exploring together the ancient imperial city from morning till evening the following day. We saw the monuments in the squares, the statue to Charles the Great on the bridge over the Main, the Palm-garden, the Romersaal, the Cathedral, the Stadel Institute, and, above all, Goethe's house, which we found decorated with wreaths, for it was the poet's birthday. Naturally, personal reminiscences were indulged in, and only too quickly passed the hours of this delightful day

Gregorovius’s most important work during the years that followed was his Geschichte der Stadt Athen im Mittelalter (1889). The last memorial that I received from him was a copy of a festival oration which he delivered in the Bavarian Academy of Sciences on The Great Monarchies, or the World Empires of History, a pamphlet insignificant in compass, but in contents and style a grand achievement, in which as historian and philosopher he erected a noble monument to himself.

Scarcely had he finished this work when his brother Julius fell seriously ill. Tenderly nursed by brother and sister, he recovered, contrary to expectation; but his tedious convalescence was scarcely over when the other brother received the summons of Fate. His illness lasted but a few weeks, and on May 1, 1891, soon after the completion of his seventieth year, Ferdinand Gregorovius passed away.

Of the impression evoked by his character and personality, his talents and his achievements, the sympathy shown during his illness, and the grief called forth both in Italy and Germany by his death, gave eloquent testimony. The King of Italy and the Prince Regent of Bavaria, the Burgermeister of Munich and the Syndic of Rome, the German and the Italian Press gave public expression to their feeling. Different as may be the opinions concerning him, that he united in a rare degree the spirit of the learned inquirer with the creative power of the artist, that his character was firmly rooted in the noblest humanistic ideals, no one could doubt. To an almost unparalleled degree in the second half of the nineteenth century, Ferdinand Gregorovius realised in Germany the ideal of a Humanist. Nothing ignoble dared approach him. Democratic in his convictions, he was aristocratic in the same sense that Goethe and Schiller were aristocratic. Above all, he valued that liberty and independence which he had acquired by heroic exertions and enduring work. In the consciousness of this he was happy in spite of all else that life may have denied him. And as he remained free from the pedantry and exclusiveness of his craft, as in himself he united the character of the scholar and the man of the world, so his historical studies offered no obstruction to the keenest sympathy with the great movements of the time. In this sense history was to him, as Freeman puts it, “the politics of the past, politics the history of the present”.

It is my ardent hope that the publication of Gregorovius’s Roman Journals may contribute to the more complete understanding of his character among his contemporaries. Where it has seemed necessary I have added short notes explanatory of people and events. The carefully-compiled index will, I hope, serve the reader as a satisfactory key to the rich treasury of the many years' chronicle of a noble, highly-cultured intellect.

 

FRIEDRICH ALTHAUS.

 

LONDON, May 1892