FERDINAND LASSALLE AND HELENE VON DONNIGES





The middle part of the nineteenth century is a period which has

become more or less obscure to most Americans and Englishmen. At

one end the thunderous campaigns of Napoleon are dying away. In

the latter part of the century we remember the gorgeousness of the

Tuileries, the four years' strife of our own Civil War, and then

the golden drift of peace with which the century ended. Between

these two extremes there is a stretch of history which seems to

lack interest for the average student of to-day.



In America, that was a period when we took little interest in the

movement of affairs on the continent of Europe. It would not be

easy, for instance, to imagine an American of 1840 cogitating on

problems of socialism, or trying to invent some new form of

arbeiterverein. General Choke was still swindling English

emigrants. The Young Columbian was still darting out from behind a

table to declare how thoroughly he defied the British lion. But

neither of these patriots, any more than their English compeers,

was seriously disturbed about the interests of the rest of the

world. The Englishman was contentedly singing "God Save the

Queen!" The American, was apostrophizing the bird of freedom with

the floridity of rhetoric that reached its climax in the "Pogram

Defiance." What the Dutchies and Frenchies were doing was little

more to an Englishman than to an American.



Continental Europe was a mystery to English-speaking people. Those

who traveled abroad took their own servants with them, spoke only

English, and went through the whole European maze with absolute

indifference. To them the socialist, who had scarcely received a

name, was an imaginary being. If he existed, he was only a sort of

offspring of the Napoleonic wars--a creature who had not yet

fitted into the ordinary course of things. He was an anomaly, a

person who howled in beer-houses, and who would presently be

regulated, either by the statesmen or by the police.



When our old friend, Mark Tapley, was making with his master a

homeward voyage to Britain, what did he know or even care about

the politics of France, or Germany, or Austria, or Russia? Not the

slightest, you may he sure. Mark and his master represented the

complete indifference of the Englishman or American--not

necessarily a well-bred indifference, but an indifference that was

insular on the one hand and republican on the other. If either of

them had heard of a gentleman who pillaged an unmarried lady's

luggage in order to secure a valuable paper for another lady, who

was married, they would both have looked severely at this abnormal

person, and the American would doubtless have added a remark which

had something to do with the matchless purity of Columbia's

daughters.



If, again, they had been told that Ferdinand Lassalle had joined

in the great movement initiated by Karl Marx, it is absolutely

certain that neither the Englishman nor the American could have

given you the slightest notion as to who these individuals were.

Thrones might be tottering all over Europe; the red flag might

wave in a score of cities--what would all this signify, so long as

Britannia ruled the waves, while Columbia's feathered emblem

shrieked defiance three thousand miles away?



And yet few more momentous events have happened in a century than

the union which led one man to give his eloquence to the social

cause, and the other to suffer for that cause until his death.

Marx had the higher thought, but his disciple Lassalle had the

more attractive way of presenting it. It is odd that Marx, today,

should lie in a squalid cemetery, while the whole western world

echoes with his praises, and that Lassalle--brilliant, clear-

sighted, and remarkable for his penetrating genius--should have

lived in luxury, but should now know nothing but oblivion, even

among those who shouted at his eloquence and ran beside him in the

glory of his triumph.



Ferdinand Lassalle was a native of Breslau, the son of a wealthy

Jewish silk-merchant. Heymann Lassal--for thus the father spelled

his name--stroked his hands at young Ferdinand's cleverness, but

he meant it to be a commercial cleverness. He gave the boy a

thorough education at the University of Breslau, and later at

Berlin. He was an affectionate parent, and at the same time

tyrannical to a degree.



It was the old story where the father wishes to direct every step

that his son takes, and where the son, bursting out into youthful

manhood, feels that he has the right to freedom. The father thinks

how he has toiled for the son; the son thinks that if this toil

were given for love, it should not be turned into a fetter and

restraint. Young Lassalle, instead of becoming a clever silk-

merchant, insisted on a university career, where he studied

earnestly, and was admitted to the most cultured circles.



Though his birth was Jewish, he encountered little prejudice

against his race. Napoleon had changed the old anti-Semitic

feeling of fifty years before to a liberalism that was just

beginning to be strongly felt in Germany, as it had already been

in France. This was true in general, but especially true of

Lassalle, whose features were not of a Semitic type, who made

friends with every one, and who was a favorite in many salons. His

portraits make him seem a high-bred and high-spirited Prussian,

with an intellectual and clean-cut forehead; a face that has a

sense of humor, and yet one capable of swift and cogent thought.



No man of ordinary talents could have won the admiration of so

many compeers. It is not likely that such a keen and cynical

observer as Heinrich Heine would have written as he did concerning

Lassalle, had not the latter been a brilliant and magnetic youth.

Heine wrote to Varnhagen von Ense, the German historian:



My friend, Herr Lassalle, who brings you this letter, is a young

man of remarkable intellectual gifts. With the most thorough

erudition, with the widest learning, with the greatest penetration

that I have ever known, and with the richest gift of exposition,

he combines an energy of will and a capacity for action which

astonish me. In no one have I found united so much enthusiasm and

practical intelligence.



No better proof of Lassalle's enthusiasm can be found than a few

lines from his own writings:



I love Heine. He is my second self. What audacity! What

overpowering eloquence! He knows how to whisper like a zephyr when

it kisses rose-blooms, how to breathe like fire when it rages and

destroys; he calls forth all that is tenderest and softest, and

then all that is fiercest and most daring. He has the sweep of the

whole lyre!



Lassalle's sympathy with Heine was like his sympathy with every

one whom he knew. This was often misunderstood. It was

misunderstood in his relations with women, and especially in the

celebrated affair of the Countess von Hatzfeldt, which began in

the year 1846--that is to say, in the twenty-first year of

Lassalle's age.



In truth, there was no real scandal in the matter, for the

countess was twice the age of Lassalle. It was precisely because

he was so young that he let his eagerness to defend a woman in

distress make him forget the ordinary usage of society, and expose

himself to mean and unworthy criticism which lasted all his life.

It began by his introduction to the Countess von Hatzfeldt, a lady

who was grossly ill-treated by her husband. She had suffered

insult and imprisonment in the family castles; the count had

deprived her of medicine when she was ill, and had forcibly taken

away her children. Besides this, he was infatuated with another

woman, a baroness, and wasted his substance upon her even contrary

to the law which protected his children's rights.



The countess had a son named Paul, of whom Lassalle was extremely

fond. There came to the boy a letter from the Count von Hatzfeldt

ordering him to leave his mother. The countess at once sent for

Lassalle, who brought with him two wealthy and influential

friends--one of them a judge of a high Prussian court--and

together they read the letter which Paul had just received. They

were deeply moved by the despair of the countess, and by the

cruelty of her dissolute husband in seeking to separate the mother

from her son.



In his chivalrous ardor Lassalle swore to help the countess, and

promised that he would carry on the struggle with her husband to

the bitter end. He took his two friends with him to Berlin, and

then to Dusseldorf, for they discovered that the Count von

Hatzfeldt was not far away. He was, in fact, at Aix-la-Chapelle

with the baroness.



Lassalle, who had the scent of a greyhound, pried about until he

discovered that the count had given his mistress a legal document,

assigning to her a valuable piece of property which, in the

ordinary course of law, should be entailed on the boy, Paul. The

countess at once hastened to the place, broke into her husband's

room, and secured a promise that the deed would be destroyed.



No sooner, however, had she left him than he returned to the

baroness, and presently it was learned that the woman had set out

for Cologne.



Lassalle and his two friends followed, to ascertain whether the

document had really been destroyed. The three reached a hotel at

Cologne, where the baroness had just arrived. Her luggage, in

fact, was being carried upstairs. One of Lassalle's friends opened

a trunk, and, finding a casket there, slipped it out to his

companion, the judge.



Unfortunately, the latter had no means of hiding it, and when the

baroness's servant shouted for help, the casket was found in the

possession of the judge, who could give no plausible account of

it. He was, therefore, arrested, as were the other two. There was

no evidence against Lassalle; but his friends fared badly at the

trial, one of them being imprisoned for a year and the other for

five years.



From this time Lassalle, with an almost quixotic devotion, gave

himself up to fighting the Countess von Hatzfeldt's battle against

her husband in the law-courts. The ablest advocates were pitted

against him. The most eloquent legal orators thundered at him and

at his client, but he met them all with a skill, an audacity, and

a brilliant wit that won for him verdict after verdict. The case

went from the lower to the higher tribunals, until, after nine

years, it reached the last court of appeal, where Lassalle wrested

from his opponents a magnificently conclusive victory--one that

made the children of the countess absolutely safe. It was a battle

fought with the determination of a soldier, with the gallantry of

a knight errant, and the intellectual acumen of a learned lawyer.



It is not surprising that many refuse to believe that Lassalle's

feeling toward the Countess von Hatzfeldt was a disinterested one.

A scandalous pamphlet, which was published in French, German, and

Russian, and written by one who styled herself "Sophie Solutzeff,"

did much to spread the evil report concerning Lassalle. But the

very openness and frankness of the service which he did for the

countess ought to make it clear that his was the devotion of a

youth drawn by an impulse into a strife where there was nothing

for him to gain, but everything to lose. He denounced the

brutality of her husband, but her letters to him always addressed

him as "my dear child." In writing to her he confides small love-

secrets and ephemeral flirtations--which he would scarcely have

done, had the countess viewed him with the eye of passion.



Lassalle was undoubtedly a man of impressionable heart, and had

many affairs such as Heine had; but they were not deep or lasting.

That he should have made a favorable impression on the women whom

he met is not surprising, because of his social standing, his

chivalry, his fine manners, and his handsome face. Mr. Clement

Shorter has quoted an official document which describes him as he

was in his earlier years:



Ferdinand Lassalle, aged twenty-three, a civilian born at Breslau

and dwelling recently at Berlin. He stands five feet six inches in

height, has brown, curly hair, open forehead, brown eyebrows, dark

blue eyes, well proportioned nose and mouth, and rounded chin.



We ought not to be surprised, then, if he was a favorite in

drawing-rooms; if both men and women admired him; if Alexander von

Humboldt cried out with enthusiasm that he was a wunderkind, and

if there were more than Sophie Solutzeff to be jealous. But the

rather ungrateful remark of the Countess von Hatzfeldt certainly

does not represent him as he really was.



"You are without reason and judgment where women are concerned,"

she snarled at him; but the sneer only shows that the woman who

uttered it was neither in love with him nor grateful to him.



In this paper we are not discussing Lassalle as a public agitator

or as a Socialist, but simply in his relations with the two women

who most seriously affected his life. The first was the Countess

von Hatzfeldt, who, as we have seen, occupied--or rather wasted--

nine of the best years of his life. Then came that profound and

thrilling passion which ended the career of a man who at thirty-

nine had only just begun to be famous.



Lassalle had joined his intellectual forces with those of Heine

and Marx. He had obtained so great an influence over the masses of

the people as to alarm many a monarch, and at the same time to

attract many a statesman. Prince Bismarck, for example, cared

nothing for Lassalle's championship of popular rights, but sought

his aid on finding that he was an earnest advocate of German

unity.



Furthermore, he was very far from resembling what in those early

days was regarded as the typical picture of a Socialist. There was

nothing frowzy about him; in his appearance he was elegance

itself; his manners were those of a prince, and his clothing was

of the best. Seeing him in a drawing-room, no one would mistake

him for anything but a gentleman and a man of parts. Hence it is

not surprising that his second love was one of the nobility,

although her own people hated Lassalle as a bearer of the red

flag.



This girl was Helene von Donniges, the daughter of a Bavarian

diplomat. As a child she had traveled much, especially in Italy

and in Switzerland. She was very precocious, and lived her own

life without asking the direction of any one. At twelve years of

age she had been betrothed to an Italian of forty; but this dark

and pedantic person always displeased her, and soon afterward,

when she met a young Wallachian nobleman, one Yanko Racowitza, she

was ready at once to dismiss her Italian lover. Racowitza--young,

a student, far from home, and lacking friends--appealed at once to

the girl's sympathy.



At that very time, in Berlin, where Helene was visiting her

grandmother, she was asked by a Prussian baron:



"Do you know Ferdinand Lassalle?"



The question came to her with a peculiar shock. She had never

heard the name, and yet the sound of it gave her a strange

emotion. Baron Korff, who perhaps took liberties because she was

so young, went on to say:



"My dear lady, have you really never seen Lassalle? Why, you and

he were meant for each other!"



She felt ashamed to ask about him, but shortly after a gentleman

who knew her said:



"It is evident that you have a surprising degree of intellectual

kinship with Ferdinand Lassalle."



This so excited her curiosity that she asked her grandmother:



"Who is this person of whom they talk so much--this Ferdinand

Lassalle?"



"Do not speak of him," replied her grandmother. "He is a shameless

demagogue!"



A little questioning brought to Helene all sorts of stories about

Lassalle--the Countess von Hatzfeldt, the stolen casket, the

mysterious pamphlet, the long battle in the courts--all of which

excited her still more. A friend offered to introduce her to the

"shameless demagogue." This introduction happened at a party, and

it must have been an extraordinary meeting. Seldom, it seemed, was

there a better instance of love at first sight, or of the true

affinity of which Baron Korff had spoken. In the midst of the

public gathering they almost rushed into each other's arms; they

talked the free talk of acknowledged lovers; and when she left, he

called her love-names as he offered her his arm.



"Somehow it did not appear at all remarkable," she afterward

declared. "We seemed to be perfectly fitted to each other."



Nevertheless, nine months passed before they met again at a

soiree. At this time Lassaller gazing upon her, said:



"What would you do if I were sentenced to death?"



"I should wait until your head was severed," was her answer, "in

order that you might look upon your beloved to the last, and then

--I should take poison!"



Her answer delighted him, but he said that there was no danger. He

was greeted on every hand with great consideration; and it seemed

not unlikely that, in recognition of his influence with the

people, he might rise to some high position. The King of Prussia

sympathized with him. Heine called him the Messiah of the

nineteenth century. When he passed from city to city, the whole

population turned out to do him honor. Houses were wreathed;

flowers were thrown in masses upon him, while the streets were

spanned with triumphal arches.



Worn out with the work and excitement attending the birth of the

Deutscher Arbeiterverein, or workmen's union, which he founded in

1863, Lassalle fled for a time to Switzerland for rest. Helene

heard of his whereabouts, and hurried to him, with several

friends. They met again on July 25,1864, and discussed long and

intensely the possibilities of their marriage and the opposition

of her parents, who would never permit her to marry a man who was

at once a Socialist and a Jew.



Then comes a pitiful story of the strife between Lassalle and the

Donniges family. Helene's father and mother indulged in vulgar

words; they spoke of Lassalle with contempt; they recalled all the

scandals that had been current ten years before, and forbade

Helene ever to mention the man's name again.



The next scene in the drama took place in Geneva, where the family

of Herr von Donniges had arrived, and where Helene's sister had

been betrothed to Count von Keyserling--a match which filled her

mother with intense joy. Her momentary friendliness tempted Helene

to speak of her unalterable love for Lassalle. Scarcely had the

words been spoken when her father and mother burst into abuse and

denounced Lassalle as well as herself.



She sent word of this to Lassalle, who was in a hotel near by.

Scarcely had he received her letter, when Helene herself appeared

upon the scene, and with all the intensity of which she was

possessed, she begged him to take her wherever he chose. She would

go with him to France, to Italy--to the ends of the earth!



What a situation, and yet how simple a one for a man of spirit! It

is strange to have to record that to Lassalle it seemed most

difficult. He felt that he or she, or both of them, had been

compromised. Had she a lady with her? Did she know any one in the

neighborhood?



What an extraordinary answer! If she were compromised, all the

more ought he to have taken her in his arms and married her at

once, instead of quibbling and showing himself a prig.



Presently, her maid came in to tell them that a carriage was ready

to take them to the station, whence a train would start for Paris

in a quarter of an hour. Helene begged him. with a feeling that

was beginning to be one of shame. Lassalle repelled her in words

that were to stamp him with a peculiar kind of cowardice.



Why should he have stopped to think of anything except the

beautiful woman who was at his feet, and to whom he had pledged

his love? What did he care for the petty diplomat who was her

father, or the vulgar-tongued woman who was her mother? He should

have hurried her and the maid into the train for Paris, and have

forgotten everything in the world but his Helene, glorious among

women, who had left everything for him.



What was the sudden failure, the curious weakness, the paltriness

of spirit that came at the supreme moment into the heart of this

hitherto strong man? Here was the girl whom he loved, driven from

her parents, putting aside all question of appearances, and

clinging to him with a wild and glorious desire to give herself to

him and to be all his own! That was a thing worthy of a true

woman. And he? He shrinks from her and cowers and acts like a

simpleton. His courage seems to have dribbled through his finger-

tips; he is no longer a man--he is a thing.



Out of all the multitude of Lassalle's former admirers, there is

scarcely one who has ventured to defend him, much less to laud

him; and when they have done so, their voices have had a sound of

mockery that dies away in their own throats.



Helene, on her side, had compromised herself, and even from the

view-point of her parents it was obvious that she ought to be

married immediately. Her father, however, confined her to her room

until it was understood that Lassalle had left Geneva. Then her

family's supplications, the statement that her sister's marriage

and even her father's position were in danger, led her to say that

she would give up Lassalle.



It mattered very little, in one way, for whatever he might have

done, Lassalle had killed, or at least had chilled, her love. His

failure at the moment of her great self-sacrifice had shown him to

her as he really was--no bold and gallant spirit, but a cringing,

spiritless self-seeker. She wrote him a formal letter to the

effect that she had become reconciled to her "betrothed

bridegroom"; and they never met again.



Too late, Lassalle gave himself up to a great regret. He went

about trying to explain his action to his friends, but he could

say nothing that would ease his feeling and reinstate him in the

eyes of the romantic girl. In a frenzy, he sought out the

Wallachian student, Yanko von Racowitza, and challenged him to a

mortal duel. He also challenged Helene's father. Years before, he

had on principle declined to fight a duel; but now he went raving

about as if he sought the death of every one who knew him.



The duel was fought on August 28, 1864. There was some trouble

about pistols, and also about seconds; but finally the combatants

left a small hotel in a village near Geneva, and reached the

dueling-grounds. Lassalle was almost joyous in his manner. His old

confidence had come back to him; he meant to kill his man.



They took their stations high up among the hills. A few spectators

saw their figures outlined against the sky. The command to fire

rang out, and from both pistols gushed the flame and smoke.



A moment later, Lassalle was seen to sway and fall. A chance shot,

glancing from a wall, had struck him to the ground. He suffered

terribly, and nothing but opium in great doses could relieve his

pain. His wound was mortal, and three days later he died.



Long after, Helene admitted that she still loved Lassalle, and

believed that he would win the duel; but after the tragedy, the

tenderness and patience of Racowitza won her heart. She married

him, but within a year he died of consumption. Helene, being

disowned by her relations, prepared herself for the stage. She

married a third husband named Shevitch, who was then living in the

United States, but who has since made his home in Russia.



Let us say nothing of Lassalle's political career. Except for his

work as one of the early leaders of the liberal movement in

Germany, it has perished, and his name has been almost forgotten.

As a lover, his story stands out forever as a warning to the timid

and the recreant. Let men do what they will; but there is just one

thing which no man is permitted to do with safety in the sight of

woman--and that is to play the craven.





Felix Mendelssohn Francis Joseph Haydn facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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