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Pestalozzi: his life and work online

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Gurnige] for the waters. He had worked far beyond his
strength, and was so worn out that he spat blood.

The Directory only heard of these events when they were
already accomplished facts, and in its sitting of the 17th of
June, 1799, it granted Pestalozzi a small sum of money
(about twenty-five pounds) for his services in connection with
the Stanz institution.

The orders given by Zschokke, Pestalozzi's departure, and
the subsequent final closing of the establishment, blamed by
some, approved by others, gave rise to much angry discussion,
in which the facts were often considerably strained. For
the sake of making known the real truth of the matter, we
shall continue to quote from authentic documents.

For instance, Zschokke, in his report to the minister
Rengger of the 28th of June, 1799, says :

"I have not closed the Stanz orphanage, that noble monu-
ment of Swiss beneficence ; I have simply reduced the
number of children. Such an establishment deserves to be
maintained even amid the troubles of the war ; I, at least,
will not be the one to suppress it. The large number of
soldiers to be lodged, the absence of any place fit for a
hospital for the sick and wounded defenders of our country,
the anxiety of the parents who, on the approach of the war,
asked to be allowed to take their children till the danger
had passed, these and a hundred other reasons made it
imperative that the numbers of the establishment should be
reduced. In accordance with my strict injunctions, no chil-
dren have been sent away, save those whose parents or
friends assured either Pestalozzi or myself that they would
be properly looked after for a time. Pestalozzi gave them
each a change of clothes, some linen, and a little money. At
the present moment there still remain in the establishment
twenty-two children of both sexes. Citizen van Matt, 1 a

1 Van Matt was a blacksmith.


member of the Stanz municipality, and a kind, fatherly man,
has undertaken to superintend the establishment for nothing.
He visits it several times a day. The greatest attention is
paid to cleanliness and order. The Capuchin friars take
turns in teaching the children reading, writing, and reli-

" It is a real pleasure to me to see these little ones in
their tidy rooms, with health, joy, and innocence so clearly
expressed in their faces. Their appearance alone is reward
enough for those who founded the establishment. Here,
too, Pestalozzi, by his generous activity, has raised himself
a monument which can never be forgotten."

We feel that we ought to supplement the details contained
in this report by what Zschokke wrote five years afterwards
in his History of the Memorable Facts of the Swiss Revo-
lution, 1804, vol. ii. p. 259 :

" One of the first unfortunate consequences of the return
of the French to Unterwalden was that, for want of a better
place for a hospital, that part of the out-buildings of the
women's convent at Stanz in which the noble Pestalozzi was
living with his orphans, had to be made over to them. Even
if it had been possible to save the orphanage, by putting tne
sick into one of the crowded houses in the town that had
escaped the fire, the military authorities would never have
consented to it. Pestalozzi realized this painful necessity,
and yielded to it, though not without sorrow. . . .

" With Pestalozzi disappeared the spirit of his teaching.
The orphans, however, were still carefully taught, and such
matters as order and cleanliness, which had previously been
somewhat neglected, received particular attention. Van
Matt deserves the highest praise for the zeal with which he
undertook the general superintendence of the establishment.
He received valuable help from the parish priest Businger."

On the 4th of July, 1799, the sub-prefect Truttman wrote
to Rengger :

" It was only a few days afterwards that I heard of the
break up of the Stanz orphanage. It was simply the result
of the general terror. There are still twenty-two children
in the establishment. For their support, citizen Van Matt


a most honourable man, whom the municipality have made
superintendent, has asked me for dried fruits, potatoes,
and peas, which I have accordingly sent him. I must ask
you, citizen minister, to give me definite instructions as to
whether I am to continue to furnish provisions to the
establishment, and generally as to what I am expected to do
for it."

The same year, in the month of August, Zschokke wrote
to the Directory asking that, as the scene of war had once
more shifted from Stanz, the orphanage there should be
revived and submitted to a thorough reorganization, and
that its management should be entrusted to himself and

This request was granted, but the thorough reorganization
was slow in coming, for on the 16th of September, 1799,
Truttman wrote :

" The poor-school now contains forty children, boys and
girls, but everything necessary for carrying out the purpose
for which it was founded is absolutely wanting. The chil
dren are fed, and that is all ! "

At last, in October, Zschokke presented his scheme for
reorganization, which was little more than a consideration of
the best way of providing funds for the institution, so as to
make it as small a burden as possible to the national budget.
He proposed that the expense should no longer fall upon the
Government, but that it should be met partly by the convent
estate, and partly by the profits of a cotton mill in which
the children would be employed. Of the internal organiza-
tion, looked at from the intellectual and moral point of view,
he said nothing.

In the report which accompanied this scheme, we read :

" There are now thirty-eight children of both sexes in the
orphanage. I have made the town-councillor Van Matt in-
spector. He has hitherto carried out his duties gratuitously.
He visits the establishment every day, looks after the ac-
counts, the purchases, the order of the children, etc.

" I have, besides, employed a poor, honest citizen, Remigi
Gut, who sleeps in the school, is constantly with the children,
and gives them reading and writing lessons four hours a day.


I have had some models prepared for him by my secretary,
and have furnished him with a few books. I have told him
that if he succeeds in making the children apply themselves
to their work, he may hope to receive a small salary in
addition to his keep/'

The state of the institution, however, continued very much
the same as we find it in Truttman's letter of the 16th of
September, quoted above. This is evident from the following
memorial addressed to the Directory in November, 1799, by
Businger :

" The first thing to which I am anxious to call your atten-
tion, citizen directors, is the orphanage at Stanz. This useful
institution is your work ; it is to your fatherliness that it
owes its existence. But as it exists at present, and indeed
as it has existed for some time already, it does none of the
good that it was expected to do, and seems in danger of
coming to an end even before its good results have been
made known. Citizen Pestalozzi undertook the direction
of this orphan-home with the best possible intentions, and
with an exemplary activity ; but his disposition had been
embittered by many misfortunes, and this, combined with
the weakness which resulted from his age, with his neglect
of externals, and with many mistakes into which he had
fallen from the very beginning, prevented the institution
from ever being in a position to realize its objects, and
made all clear-sighted men long to see the good Pestalozzi
anywhere else but there. When the French made Stanz
their head-quarters, and took the rooms of the orphanage for
their military hospital, most of the children had to be sent
away, and Pestalozzi himself withdrew. But after the
departure of the French, the poorest orphans were taken
back again into the vacant rooms. A. worthy member of
our town-council temporarily undertook their superintendence.
As many as forty poor children are thus provided with a very
comfortable home, where they are fed, and taught reading
and writing ; but the whole establishment shows signs that
ruin is imminent, and in truth I shall see it come to an end
without much regret."

Businger's memorial was sent to the minister Stapfer to be


reported on. His report, which was in French, was entirely
favourable to Pestalozzi, and runs as follows :

" The memorial of citizen Businger begins by insinuating
that citizen Pestalozzi was not fitted to be the director of
this institution.

"I regret to say that, in consequence of prejudices, of
which I cannot now examine either the source or the nature,
this excellent and well-known old man has reason to be
greatly dissatisfied with the treatment he has received at
the hands of citizens Zschokke and Businger. By their
exaggerated complaints they have paralyzed an establishment
which promised to be very useful to the country.

" They accuse Pestalozzi of being wasteful, dirty, and
brutal, and of having lost the affections of his pupils."

Stapfer then examines these different charges in detail,
and refutes them one after the other by citing certain well-
known facts. After referring again to Pestalozzi's views,
and to the good that might be effected by their realization,
he concludes as follows :

" In my opinion, it is important that citizen Pestalozzi
should be restored to the post which the misfortunes of the
war have compelled him to give up."

Meanwhile, rest and the waters of the Gurnigel had
restored the old man's health, and he was now eager to return
to Stanz to continue his interrupted work.

" I could not," he said, " live without my work ; I was
like a man who rests for a few moments on a rock in the sea,
impatient all the time to go on swimming."

/ In spite of his burning desire, in spite of all Stapfer's
efforts, the Directory did not send Pestalozzi back to Stanz,
but allowed the orphanage to be closed.

In our opinion, this action of the Directory was most
fortunate both for Pestalozzi and for education.

The noble old man had undertaken a task which was
beyond his strength. It had already nearly brought him to
death's door, and he certainly would not have been able to
carry it on much longer. He encountered, besides, the most


violent opposition. Most of the inhabitants of Unterwalden
saw in him nothing but an agent of revolutionaries and
heretics. They easily believed all the calumnies of which
he was the object, and instead of looking on his presence as
a blessing, endured it as an unjust punishment fraught with
danger to their country. Under these circumstances, he
could do them but little good j for it is almost impossible
to help people against their will.

A priest named Gut, living in Stanz, has since re-echoed
his countrymen's grievances against Pestalozzi in a book
entitled, The Surprise-attack on Lower Unterwalden : its
Causes and its Consequences. At page 579, he says that
the choice of Pestalozzi was a mischievous action on the
part of the Directory ; that he kept the best of everything
for himself and his servant, and fed the children badly ;
that he dressed them like convicts ; that their eyes lacked
lustre, and their cheeks colour ; that they were chiefly
taught to imitate the cries of animals ; that he took away
the furniture from Stanz for his institute at Burgdorf,

But as Mr. Gut was only a child of five when Pestalozzi
left Stanz, his accusations are evidently nothing more than
the repetition of what was said around him, and are
scarcely worth refuting.

As we thought it would be interesting, however, to
ascertain with what feelings Pestalozzi was still remembered
in the district for which he well-nigh sacrificed his life, we
made inquiries at Stanz at a time when several old men, who
remembered the poor-school, were still living. But all they
told us was mere hearsay ; none of them could give us any
positive facts.

They had heard, for instance, that the Directory had sent
Pestalozzi to Lower Unterwalden to destroy the very religion
for which its inhabitants had fought; that the priest Businger
had been much blamed for helping to foiuid the orphanage ;
that Pestalozzi's manners and appearance were a sufficient
proof that he was incapable ; and further, that he was
mortal^ afraid of the Austrians, and at the news of their
approach had iled hastily in the night.

We also had an interview with Mr. Gut himself, whose
opinions seemed to us to have undergone considerable modifi-
cation since the publication of his book, for he did not repeat


any of the charges mentioned above, and only spoke oi
Pestalozzi in becoming terms. Two grievances, however, he
still thought well founded. The first was that the teaching
of the Catholic religion was too much neglected in the school.
Yet he could quote nothing in any of Pestalozzi's utterances
opposed to it, and could only say that he was reported to have
once said to the children, " Crucifixes will not give you bread ;
you must learn to work." The second grievance was that he
sometimes corrected the children by striking them with a

To sum up, it seems to us that it was a mistake to send
Pestalozzi to Stanz, as he could not avoid hurting the religious
feelings of the people he was expected to help. The opposi-
tion he excited was not only quite natural, but, from the
point of view of the people themselves, was even legitimate
and meritorious, and ought to have been foreseen. It may be
said that for five months he did but struggle against the
difficulties of an untenable position, and it is lucky that, when
he recovered from the illness which so nearly proved fatal, he
was not allowed to continue his heroic efforts.

The folly of unitarism did much harm to Switzerland, and
yet, since God is able to bring good out of evil, it gave rise to
an era of true progress. In the same way the folly of Stanz
resulted in the primary school of the nineteenth century, an
institution which has already brought no small increase of
strength and prosperity to those nations that have adopted

Pestalozzi's experiences at Stanz, their value for his observ-
ant mind, the principles his genius deduced from them for a
natural and logical method of elementary education, the whole
picture, in short, of the birth of a great, fruitful, and salutary
reform, is to be found in the letter written from the Gurnigel,
and addressed by Pestalozzi to his friend Gessner, the book-
seller, the son of the author of the Idylls. This letter, in
which he gives an account of his work at Stanz, was printed
for the first time in 1807, in the Weekly Journal for the
Education of Humanity, and then in the edition of Pesta-
lozzi's works published by Cotta (vol. ix.). It was afterwards
reprinted in the complete edition by Seyffarth. Parts of it
have often been quoted by different biographers, who have
copied them from each other. Its great importance compels
us to give it here in its entirety.


Letter from Pestalozzi to a friend on his work at Stanz.

" My friend, once more I awake from a dream ; once more
I see my work destroyed, and my failing strength wasted.

u But, however weak and unfortunate my attempt may
have been, a friend of humanity will not grudge a few
moments to consider the reasons which convince me that some
day a more fortunate posterity will certainly take up the
thread of my hopes at the place where it is now broken.

"From its very beginning I looked on the Revolution
as a simple consequence of the corruption of human nature,
and on the evils which it produced as a necessary means of
bringing men back to a sense of the conditions which are
essential to their happiness.

" Although I was by no means prepared to accept all the
political forms that a body of such men as the revolutionists
might make for themselves, I was inclined to look upon certain
points of their Constitution not only as useful measures pro-
tecting important interests, but as suggesting the principles
upon which all true progress of humanity must be based.

" I once more made known, therefore, as well as I could, my
old wishes for the education of the people. In particular, I laid
my whole scheme before Legrand (then one of the directors),
who not only took a warm interest in it, but agreed with me
that the Republic stood in urgent need of a reform of public
education. He also agreed with me that much might be done
for the regeneration of the people by giving a certain number
of the poorest children an education which should be complete,
but which, far from lifting them out of their proper sphere,
would but attach them the more strongly to it.

" I limited my desires to this one point, Legrand helping me
in every possible way. He even thought my views so impor-
tant that he once said to me : 'I shall not willingly give up
my present post till you have begun your work.'

" As I have explained my plan for the public education of the

nr in the third and fourth parts of Leonard and Gertrude,
teed not repeat it here. I submitted it to the director
Stapfer, with all the enthusiasm of a man who felt that his
hopes were about to be realized, and he encouraged me with
an earnestness which showed how thoroughly he understood
the needs of popular education. It was the same with the
minister Rengger.


" It was my intention to try to find near Zurich or in
Aargau a place where I should be able to join industry and
agriculture to the other means of instruction, and so give my
establishment all the development necessary to its complete
success. But the Unterwalden disaster (September, 1798) left
me no further choice in the matter. The Government felt the
urgent need of sending help to this unfortunate district, and
begged me for this once to make an attempt to put my plans
into execution in a place where almost everything that could
have made it a success was wanting.

" I went there gladly. I felt that the innocence of the
people would make up for what was wanting, and that their
distress would, at any rate, make them grateful.

" My eagerness to realize at last the great dream of my life
would have led me to work on the very highest peaks of the
Alps, and, so to speak, without fire or water.

" For a house, the Government made over to me the new
part of the Ursuline convent at Stanz, but when I arrived it
was still uncompleted, and not in any way fitted to receive
a large number of children. Before anything else could be
done, then, the house itself had to be got ready. The Govern-
ment gave the necessary orders, and Rengger pushed on the
work with much zeal and useful activity. I was never indeed
allowed to want for money.

" In spite, however, of the admirable support I received,
all this preparation took time, and time was precisely what
we could least afford, since it was of the highest importance
that a number of children, whom the war had left homeless
and destitute, should be received at once.

" I was still without everything but money when the chil-
dren arrived ; neither kitchen, rooms, nor beds were ready
to receive them. At first this was a source of inconceivable
confusion. For the first few weeks I was shut up in a very
small room ; the weather was bad, and the alterations, which
made a great dust and filled the corridors with rubbish, ren-
dered the air very unhealthy.

" The want of beds compelled me at first to send some of
the poor children home at night ; these children generally
came back the next day covered with vermin. Most of them
on their arrival were very degenerated specimens of humanity.
Many of them had a sort of chronic skin-disease, which a Imost
prevented their walking, or sores on their heads, or rags full


of vermin ; many were almost skeletons, with haggard, care-
worn faces, and shrinking looks ; some brazen, accustomed to
begging, hypocrisy, and all sorts of deceit ; others broken by
misfortune, patient, suspicious, timid, and entirely devoid of
affection. There were also some spoilt children amongst them
who had known the sweets of comfort, and were therefore full
of pretensions. These kept to themselves, affected to despise
the little beggars their comrades, and to suffer from this
equality, and seemed to find it impossible to adapt themselves
to the ways of the house, which differed too much from their
old habits. But what was common to them all was a per-
sistent idleness, resulting from their want of physical and
mental activity. Out of every ten children there was hardly
one who knew his ABC; as for any other knowledge, it was,
of course, out of the question.

" This complete ign6rance was what troubled me least, for
I trusted in the natural powers that God bestows on even the
poorest and most neglected children. I had observed for a
long time that behind their coarseness, shyness, and apparent
incapacity, are hidden the finest faculties, the most precious
powers ; and now , even amongst these poor creatures by whom
I was surrounded at Stanz, marked natural abilities soon
began to show themselves. I knew how useful the common
needs of life are in teaching men the relations of things, in
bringing out their natural intelligence, in forming their judg-
ment, and in arousing faculties which, buried, as it were,
beneath the coarser elements of their nature, cannot become
active and useful till they are set free. It was my object then
to arouse these faculties, and bring them to bear on the pure
and simple circumstances of domestic life, for I was convinced
that in this way I should be able to form the hearts and minds
of children almost as I wished.

" Now that I had an opportunity of carrying out this object,
I felt sure that my affection would change the nature of my
children as quickly as the sun changes the frozen earth in
spring ; nor was I wrong, for before the snow of our moun-
tains had melted the children were no longer the same.

" But I must not anticipate. Just as in the evening I often
mark the quick growth of the gourd by the side of the house,
so I want you to mark the growth of my plant ; and, my
friend, I will not hide from you the worm which sometimes
eats into its leaves, sometimes even into its heart.


" I opened the establishment with no other helper but a
woman-servant. I had not only to teach the children, but to
look after their physical needs. I preferred being alone, and,
indeed, it was the only way to reach my end. No one in the
world would have cared to fall in with my views for the
education of children, and at that time I knew scarcely any one
capable even of understanding them. The better the education
of the men who might have helped me, the less their power
of understanding me and of confining themselves, even in
theory, to the simple beginnings to which I sought to return.
All their views as to the organization and needs of the enter-
prise were entirely different from mine. What they especially
disagreed with was the idea that such an undertaking could
be carried out without the help of any artificial means, but
simply by the influence exercised on the children by Nature,
and by the activity to which they were aroused by the needs
of their daily life.

" And yet it was precisely upon this idea that I based my
chief hope of success ; it was, as it were, a basis for innumer-
able other points of view.

" Experienced teachers, then, could not help me ; still less
boorish, ignorant men. I had nothing to put into the hands
of assistants to guide them, nor any results or apparatus by
which I could make my ideas clearer to them.

" Thus, whether 1 would or no, I had first to make my
experiment alone, and collect facts to illustrate the essential
features of my system before I could venture to look for out-
side help. Indeed, in my then position, nobody could help me.
I knew that I must help myself and shaped my plans accord-

" I wanted to prove by my experiment that if public educa-
tion is to have any real value, it must imitate the methods
which make the merit of domestic education ; for it is my
opinion that if public education does not take into considora-
tion the circumstances of family life, and everything else that
bears on a man's general education, it can only lead to an
artificial and methodical dwarfing of humanity.

" In any good education, the mother must be able to judge

Online LibraryRoger de GuimpsPestalozzi: his life and work → online text (page 15 of 43)