1902 Encyclopedia > Joseph Johann Görres

Joseph Johann Görres
German writer
(1776-1848)




JOSEPH JOHANN GÖRRES, (1776-1848), a distinguished controversialist and writer on religious, political, and scientific subjects, was born January 25, 1776, at Coblentz. His father was a man of moderate means, who sent his son, after he had passed through the usual elementary school, to a Latin college under the direction of the Roman Catholic clergy. The sympathies of the young Görres were from the first strongly with the Revolution, and the dissolute-ness and irreligion of the French exiles in the Rhineland confirmed him in his hatred of princes. He harangued the revolutionary clubs, and in his first political tract, called Universal Peace, an Ideal, he insisted on the unity of interests which should ally all civilized states to one another. He then commenced a republican journal called Das Rothe Blatt, and afterwards Rübezahl, in which he strongly condemned the administration of the Rhenish provinces by France.

After the peace of Campo Formio (1797) there was some hope that the Rhenish provinces would be constituted into an independent republic. In 1799 the provinces sent an embassy, of which Görres was a member, to Paris to put their case before the directory. The embassy reached Paris on the 20th of November 1799 ; two days before this Napoleon had assumed the supreme direction of affairs. After much delay the embassy was received by him ; but the only answer they obtained was "that they might rely on perfect justice, and that the French Government would never lose sight of their wants." Görres on his return pub-lished a tract called Results of my Mission to Paris, in which he reviewed the history of the French Revolution. During the thirteen years of Napoleon's dominion Görres lived a retired life, devoting himself chiefly to art or science. In 1801 he married Catherine de Lassaulx, and those of Görres's admirers who claim him as a radical have laid great stress on the fact that this lady was a free-thinker. He published Aphorisms on art and physiology—fanciful but suggestive. He was for some years teacher at a secondary school in Coblentz, and in 1806 moved to Heidelberg, where he lectured at the university. He sought, with Brentano, Arnim, and others, to stir up the old national spirit by the republication of some of the old Teutonic ballads, but fruitlessly. He returned to Coblentz in 1808, and again found occupation as a teacher in a secondary school, supported by civic funds. He now studied Persian, and in two years produced a really valuable translation of part of the Shahnamah, the epic of Firdousi.

It was in the year 1810 that he seems to have conceived the notion of arousing the people to efforts by means of the press ; and after the battle of Leipsic, in the year 1814, he set his paper going. It bore the name of a paper which had been a mere echo of Prussia, the Rheinischer Merkur. The intense earnestness of the paper, the bold outspoken-ness of its hostility to Napoleon, and its fiery eloquence secured for it almost instantly a position and influence unique in the history of German newspapers. Blucher read it every day ; Gentz, the brothers Grimm, Varn-hagen von Ense, were all loud in praise of it ; Stein used it as an instrument to move the public in the direction he desired, and continually sent it information of his plans; Napoleon himself called it la cinquième puissance. The ideal it insisted on was a united Germany, with a re-presentative government, but under an emperor after the fashion of other days,'—for Görres now abandoned his early advocacy of republicanism. When Napoleon was at Elba, Gorres wrote an imaginary proclamation issued by him to the people, the intense irony of which was so well veiled that many Frenchmen mistook it for an original utterance of the emperor. He inveighed bitterly against the second peace of Paris (1815), declaring that Alsace and Lorraine should have been demanded back from France.





Stein was glad enough to use the Merkur at the time of the meeting of the congress of Vienna as a vehicle for giving expression to his hopes. But Hardenberg, in May 1815, warned Gôrres to remember that he was not to arouse hostility against France, but only against Bonaparte. There was also in the Merkur an antipathy to Prussia, a con-tinual expression of the desire that an Austrian prince should assume the imperial title, and also a tendency to pro-nounced liberalism,—all of which made it most distasteful to Hardenberg, and to his master King Frederick William III. Gôrres disregarded warnings sent to him by the censor-ship and continued the paper in all its fierceness. Accord-ingly it was suppressed early in 1816, at the instance of the Prussian Government; and soon after Gorres was dis-missed from his post as teacher at Coblentz. From this time his writings were his sole means of support, and he became a most diligent political pamphleteer. He was not himself a member of the Tugendbund, but he watched that society with deep interest, and believed, as did all the patriots of his time, that the clubs of students, or Burschen-schaften, were calculated to restore the pristine greatness of Germany. The agitation continued, and finally Kotzebue's denunciation of young Germany led to his assassination. In the wild excitement which followed, the reac-tionary decrees of Carlsbad were framed, and these were the subject of Gôrres's celebrated pamphlet Deutschland und die Revolution. In this work he reviewed the circumstances which had led to the murder of Kotzebue, and, while expressing all possible horror at the deed itself, he urged that it was impossible and undesirable to repress the free utterance of public opinion by reactionary measures. The success of the work was very marked, despite its pon-derous style. It was suppressed by the Prussian Govern-ment, and orders were issued for the arrest of Gôrres and the seizure of his papers. He escaped to Strasburg, and thence went to Switzerland. Two more political tracts, Europa und die Revolution (1821), and In Sachen der Rhein Provinzen und in eigener Angelegenheit (18-22,), also deserve mention.

In Gôrres's pamphlet Die Heilige Allianz und die Völker auf dem Congress von Verona he asserted that the princes had met together to crush the liberties of the people, and that the people must look elsewhere for help. The "else-where" was to Rome ; and from this time Gôrres became a vehement Ultramontane writer. He was summoned to Munich by King Louis of Bavaria, and there his writings enjoyed very great popularity. His Christliche Mystik gave a series of biographies of the saints, together with an exposition of Roman Catholic mysticism. But his most celebrated Ultramontane work was a polemical one. Its occasion was the deposition and imprisonment by the Prussian Government of the archbishop Clement Wen-ceslaus, in consequence of the refusal of that prelate to sanction in certain instances the marriages of Protestants and Roman Catholics. Gorres in his Atlianasius fiercely up-held the power of the church, although the liberals of later date who have claimed Gorres as one of their own school deny that he ever insisted on the absolute supremacy of Rome. Athanasius went through several editions, and originated a long and bitter controversy. In the Histo-risch-politische Blatter, a Munich journal, Gorres and his son Guido continually upheld the claims of the church. Gorres received from the king the order of merit for his services. He was terribly disturbed when the king sunk under the dominion of Lola Montez, and he died July 29, 1848.

See A. Denk, Joseph von Gorres, 1870; J. J. Sepp, Gorres und seine Zeitgenossen, 1877. A complete edition of Gorres's works was published at Munich in 1854. (L. A. M.)







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