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Pestalozzi: his life and work online

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subscriptions. It is signed by the minister Rengger, and
by Lathi, Usteri, and Fussli, members of the Legislative

The Swiss newspapers which spoke of the enterprise ap-
proved or condemned it according to their political opinions
The very advanced ideas of Pestalozzi's youth were not. yet
forgotten, and he was generally looked on rather as an


ardent friend of the revolution than as a man of genius and
a devoted philanthropist.

In the critical condition of the country, the public sub-
scription produced but very poor results. But Pestalozzi
would not be beaten ; and in spite of his poverty, he at once
received the poor refugee children free of charge. Chil-
dren who were able to pay had to wait till the place
was ready for them.

The Burgdorf institute opened early in January, 1801.
Pestalozzi himself had been obliged to help pay for the
necessary repairs and furnishing, and now had to practise
the strictest economy. Of all the establishments he founded,
however, this is the one which most fully realized his views,
and bore the most unmistakable stamp of his original genius,
and it is this one that we must study if we wish to see the
master's doctrine carried out in all its purity. We shall
begin with the internal history of this institution, which
only lasted three years and a half, but which carried afar
the pedagogical reputation of its head. In another chapter
we shall examine the educational principles on which it was
founded, and the new works by which Pestalozzi sought to
make them better known.

Ramsauer's memoirs, from which we have already quoted,
contain certain graphic details about this period of Pesta-
lozzi's life which are not to be found elsewhere, and which
we therefore give in full :

" Of all Pestalozzi's pupils I was the first to be received
into the establishment, and lodged in the castle ; the
second was my friend Egger, a refugee like myself, who
was also received gratuitously. Once more this noble-
hearted man thought more of others than of himself. For
us, indeed, he was always loving and true as a father. My
position being rather different from the rest, I was brought
into special relations with him. As a pupil I had to be
trained and educated, but as a child of the house I had to
perform certain services for him. Under the name of " table-
boy " I was entrusted with the various small domestic duties
of which a child is capable, some of which, however, were
by no means light, and some even scarcely suitable.

" Amongst the first was the duty of drawing water for use
in the castle. The well was three hundred and eighty feet


deep, and the water -was drawn by walking in a hollow
wheel of some twenty-four feet in diameter. This had to
be done in all weathers, and was by no means a light task,
especially in winter, when a bitter wind was blowing
through the wheel.

" Whenever I think of that period of my life, I cannot
help thanking God for His goodness in preserving us from
evil amidst the conversation that the men and maidservants
used to indulge in when we children were helping them,
which we often did till midnight. Their unseemly beha-
viour might have done us all the more harm from the fact
that in spite of our extreme youth we were left almost
entirely to ourselves, and, after finishing our domestic duties,
might, had we felt so inclined, have remained idle. But
two of the other table-boys and myself (there were often six
or eight of us) were happily so eager to learn that a spare
quarter of an hour was always well employed. We looked
on study indeed as our chief work, though at least half our
day was always taken up with manual labour.

" But when on summer days we saw the troop of masters
and children going down the castle hill, either to bathe in
the limpid river below, or to climb the rocks on its banks,
whilst we table-boys had to stay behind to work in the
kitchen or cellar, or elsewhere, then often I could not keep
back my tears. But now for many years I have- thanked
God that I so soon learned to obey, to do useful work, and
to overcome my desires. Besides, I was all the happier when
I did take part in these pleasures.

" And yet my occasional discouragement might perhaps
have become intolerable, and prompted me to run away, if I
had not had, besides Pestalozzi, another good genius to hold
me fast, and make me forget my troubles. This was the
widow of Pestalozzi's only son, Jacobli, an excellent woman,
whose own sufferings had strengthened her, and filled her
with compassion for the sufferings of others.

" For everybody in the institute she was a friend and
protector, but for us table-boys she was a guardian angel.
Afterwards, even when she had become the wife of kind
Mr. Kuster, she continued for many years to share the
household cares and labours of Pestalozzi's establishment,
and was besides an invaluable friend to the girls' insti-


Ramsauer goes on to relate how his education progressed
in spite of the small number and irregularity of the lessons
in which he took part, how his eagerness to learn and Pes-
talozzi's kind attention made up for everything, and how at
twelve years of age he himself was set to teach in certain
small elementary classes. He then continues :

" During my stay at Burgdorf, I paid a visit every sum-
mer to my kind benefactress at Schleumen, who each time
presented me with new clothes. These were all the more
acceptable, from the fact that Pestalozzi was obliged to use
what money he had to keep his institute going and could
not possibly have afforded to give me any.

" I have said above how much progress I had made in
drawing, arithmetic, and what was called the A B C of
sense-impression. 1 Nor must I forget to mention singing.
Although I was never called on to teach it, either from want
of talent or want of time, it was one of the lessons which
had the greatest charm for me, especially as it was taught in
the early days of the institute.

" The thirty or forty children of both sexes of Pestalozzi's
old school came from the town to the castle to take part in
the singing lessons. Buss made his pupils sing as they
walked up and down the big corridors of the castle, two
and two, and holding each other's hands. That was our
greatest pleasure ; but our joy reached its height when our
gymnastic master Naef, who was a most original man, joined
us. He was an old soldier, who had seen service in nearly
every part of the world. He looked a rough, bearded, surly
giant enough, but as a matter of fact he was kindness itself.
When he marched with a military air at the head of some
sixty or eighty children, loudly singing a Swiss song as he
went, nobody could help following him.

" Indeed, singing was one of our chief sources of pleasure
in the institute. We sang everywhere out of doors, on
our walks, and, in the evening, in the court of the castle ;
and this singing together contributed in no small measure
to the harmony and good feeling which prevailed amongst
us. I must add that in spite of his rough exterior, Naef

1 Exercises in which the children made their own remarks on the
objects placed before them.


was the chief favourite with the children, for the simple
reason that, as he was never so happy as in their society,
he was always with them. He used to play, drill, walk,
bathe, climb, throw stones with them, just like a big child,
and in this way gained almost unlimited authority over
them. And yet he had nothing of the pedagogue about him
but the heart. . . .

" I must further say that in the first years of the Burgdorf
institute, nothing like a systematic plan- of lessons was
followed, and that the whole life of the place was so simple
and home-like, that in the half-hour's recreation which fol-
lowed breakfast, Pestalozzi would often become so interested
in the spirited games of the children in the playground as to
allow them to go on undisturbed till ten o'clock. And on
summer evenings, after bathing in the Emme, instead of
beginning work again, we often stayed out till eight or nine
o'clock looking for plants and minerals."

This testimony of Ramsauer as to the family life at Burg-
dorf is confirmed by an anecdote which deserves mention. A
peasant, the father of a pupil, had come one day to visit the
establishment. Very surprised at what he saw, he cried :
" Why, this is not a school, but a family." " That is the
greatest praise you can give me," answered Pestalozzi ; " I
have succeeded, thank God, in showing the world that there
must be no gulf between the home and the school, and that
the latter is only useful to education in so far as it develops
\ the sentiments and the virtues which lend the charm and
value to family life."

If the Burgdorf school thus presented the picture of a
great family, it was only because Pestalozzi wns a father for
everybody, and lived but for others. His activity and love
inspired the whole household. His assistants, who had a
profound affection and veneration for him, were Krusi for
language and arithmetic, Tobler for geography and history,
Buss for geometry, drawing, and singing, and Naef for gym-
nastics and one or two elementary subjects.

Even the financial difficulty which weighed upon the
establishment exercised a wholesome moral influence. The
masters had refused good offers to remain with Pestalozzi,
and went so far as to give up a portion of their salary,
small as it was, to make up for his want of means. The


pupils, on their side, contented themselves with little, and
did all they could to keep down the expenses. It was in-
deed a practical school of sacrifice and renunciation.

The children's trust in their masters, their love and
gratitude for them, took the place of rules and discipline ;
there were no rewards, and, except in very exceptional cases,
no punishments ; obedience was perfect because it was
spontaneous. The children were lively and happy, they
liked their lessons almost as well as their games, and it was
not rare to see some of them stop in the middle of their play
to go and work together before a blackboard or a map.

It was at Burgdorf that those sense-impressing lessons in
natural history began which played so large and useful
a part in all Pestalozzi's establishments. Such lessons are
liked by the children, render their walks interesting, and
help to develop tastes which may afterwards prove of ex-
treme value. Krusi afterwards became a first-rate mineral-
ogist", and gave most enjoyable and useful lessons ; but in
the early days at Burgdorf the masters were almost aa
ignorant of natural history as the children. Minerals and
plants were indeed collected, examined, and described, but
their classification was entirely a matter of individual taste.
It was John Conrad Escher, of Zurich, 1 who first showed
Krusi the differences between quartz, granite, etc., when on
a visit to Burgdorf.

In spite of the success of the institute, the supply of
money was small, and Pestalozzi's own resources were soon
exhausted. As early as the 18th of February, 1801, the
Executive Council had, at the request of the minister Mohr,
agreed to continue yearly the grant of twenty pounds that
had been voted to the Burgdorf institute on the 8th of
October, 1800, and had further ordered that Pestalozzi
should be supplied with twenty measures of firewood from
the State forests in the canton of Berne. But on the 19th
of April, Mohr, after spending a day at the Castle, made
such a favourable report to the Council, that it was decided
to raise the State grant to seventy pounds a year, payable
quarterly. Many donations also came in from private people,

l Tliis was the engineer who, on account of his successful draining
operations, was known as Escher of the Linth.


amongst others one of twenty pounds from the wife of the
French minister.

At the same time the reputation of the institute was
spreading; the leading newspapers of the district spoke of
it iu the highest terms, the number of pupils steadily con-
tinued to increase, and before very long applications had to
be refused for want of room.

On the 22nd of September, 1801, Mohr, in his report to the
Executive Council, says:

" Pestalozzi's institute in Burgdorf Castle, the first and
only one of its kind, is attracting, by its now generally
recognized usefulness, numerous pupils, whom the director,
for want of habitable space, is obliged to refuse, to his own
great regret, and to the prejudice of public education. It is
urgent that the buildings already occupied by Pestalozzi
should be enlarged by the addition of two large dormitories
for pupils, and six small rooms for masters."

Although the Council had decided on the 5th of the pre-
ceding August that, considering the low state of the treasury,
no repairs should be executed that year on any public build-
ing, it agreed to carry out the necessary improvements in
Burgdorf Castle, which, it was estimated, would cost about a
hundred and twenty pounds.

In October of the same year, Pestalozzi published Hciv
Gertrude Teaches her Children, a book which was intended
to give the public a full and complete account of his doctrine
and of his work. As this book is of such high importance,
we must reserve a detailed examination of it for another
chapter ; we can only say here that it gained considerable
notoriety in German-speaking countries, and attracted to
Burgdorf numerous visitors, amongst whom were several
very distinguished men.

The very next month, for instance, there arrived together
Wessenberg and Charles Victor von Bonstetten. The latter
speaks of his visit in a letter to Frederic Brun, written the
evening of his arrival. The letter confirms all we have
said above, and contains besides . some very interesting com-
ments. As it is, unfortunately, too long to quote in full, the
following extracts must suffice :

" I cannot understand why Pestalozzi should say that all


instruction is based on three chief elements number, form,
and language ; but what I do see, and see clearly, is that his
forty-eight children, of ages varying from five to twelve,
have learned, .in from six to ten months, writing, reading,
drawing, and a little geography and French, and have besides
made marvellous progress in arithmetic. They do every-
thing cheerfully, and their health seems perfect. I know not
whether Pestalozzi's method is good, nor whether, indeed,
he has any reasoned-out method, but I see plainly that he is
walking in unknown ways, and arriving at hitherto un-
known results, and that, after all, is the most important
consideration. . . .

" I look upon Pestalozzi's method as a precious seed, still
young and undeveloped, but full of promise. The success
the method has already obtained should suffice to convince
any impartial thinker of its excellence. . . .

" As it will be long before there is another Pestalozzi, I
fear that the rich harvest his discovery seems to promise
will be reserved for future ages. It is a pity that he should
have expressed his political opinions with so much warmth ;
in these revolutionary times it will but add another difficulty
to those which have always to be overcome before complete
justice can be done to an exceptional man. For forty years
Pestalozzi has devoted his life to the education of poor chil-
dren; let him who has done more for humanity cast the first
stone ! . . .

" The children know little, but what they know they know
well. In my opinion, there could be nothing better than
the Burgdorf school for children of eight or nine. But it
will not bear fruit till upon this basis and in the light of
this experience a new storey has been added to the edi-
fice. . . .

" The children are very happy, and evidently take great
pleasure in their lessons, which says a great deal for the

In December, 1801, a distinguished Swiss, who had lately
visited the institute, published a very favourable account of
it in a series of unsigned articles in an Augsburg paper,
For the sake of avoiding repetition, we shall only quote the
following few lines :

" I must confess that I arrived at Burgdorf with grave


doubts as to the fitness, usefulness or success of the experi-
ment which was being carried on there. But my fears gave
place to confidence and joy when I saw how Pestalozzi and
his helpers treated the children. On reaching home, I said
to my friends : ' There is that going on at Btirgdort which
deserves the respectful attention and support of all those
who are interested in the happiness of humanity, and in the
progress of public education.' "

The numerous visitors to the institute were particularly
astonished by the children's progress in drawing and in the
elements of geometry. A distinguished Nuremberg merchant,
who had at first been much prejudiced against Pestalozzi's
work, speaks thus :

" I was amazed when I saw these children treating the
most complicated calculations of fractions as the simplest
thing in the world. Problems which I myself could not
solve without careful work on paper, they did easily in
their heads, giving the correct answer in a few moments,
and explaining the process with ease and readiness. They
seemed to have no idea that they were doing anything

" At the Burgdorf institute," says another visitor, " chil-
dren of from six to eight years draw difficult geometrical
figures without rule or compass so correctly that no one would
believe it who had not seen it."

' I have seen," says another, " a child of ten, who had
only been a pupil of Pestalozzi's for ten months, reduce a
map of Scandinavia to a smaller scale in an hour with such
exactness as to defy the most searching examination."

These accounts may, indeed, be somewhat overdrawn, but
they prove, at any rate, that Pestalozzi's method of teaching
arithmetic had succeeded under Krusi's direction long before
Joseph Schmidt took charge of this branch of instruction.
This general consensus of opinion in favour of the new school
still farther increased its reputation, and made it more and
more an object of public attention.

" An institute," it was said, " which produces these impor-
tant results with such slender means is surely deserving of


such support from the Government as will guarantee its con-
tinuance. Ought it not even to be utilized for a reform of
public elementary education throughout Switzerland ? "

Since the revolution of the 18th of October, 1801, Mohr had
no longer been minister, and the Executive Council of the
Republic had been replaced by a Petty Council. The latter,
feeling the necessity of doing something for Pestalozzi, had
appointed a Commission to visit the institute, in order that,
before taking any decisive step, it might be in possession of
reliable and detailed information as to its working.

The report of this Commission, drawn up by Ith, the
president of the Council of Public Education in Berne, was
presented in June, 1802. 1

" On my first visit," he says, " I was full of distrust, and
had thoroughly made up my mind not to let myself be
dazzled by a brilliant theory, or carried away by the novelty
of a few striking results." (p. 76.)

At that time there were some eighty children in the in-
stitute, of ages ranging from five to eighteen, and of almost
every social condition. Amongst the number were twelve
poor children, supported entirely by the establishment.

The report first endeavours to make clear the principles
of the method invented by Pestalozzi, " who has discovered
the real and universal laws of all elementary teaching." It
then points to the excellence of the results already obtained,
as established by the Commission in its late careful and
thorough examination of the pupils, and especially praises
the moral and religious life of the establishment, and the dis-
cipline, which, it poh ts out, is entirely based upon affection.
It recommends finallj that the institute shall be turned into
a normal school, to be supported by the State ; that fixed
salaries shall be allowed to all the masters, and that the
projected new edition of Pestalozzi's works on elementary
education shall bo helped forward by a large subscription.

For Pestalozzi himself the Commission asked but one
thing, which was that help should be given him to found a
new home for orphans on his land at Neuhof, as soon as the

* Official Report on Pestalozzi's Institute, etc., Berne aud Zurich, 1802.


opportunity offered. The fact is that Pestalozzi, satisfied with
having made his method known, and with having found men
capable of applying it, thought that his presence would soon
be no longer needed at Burgdorf, and was already beginning
to think of leaving the future management of the institute
in the hands of his collaborators, and once more taking up
the work to which he had always believed himself to be
especially called. As rest from his long labours he looked
forward to ending his days amid poor and destitute children,
to whom he might be as a father.

In August, 1802, Burgdorf was visited by Soyaux, of
Berlin, whom the Jena Literary Gazette reckoned amongst
the opponents of the Pestalozzian method. And yet Soyaux
has given an account of his visit in a pamphlet, which con-
firms the favourable testimony we have already quoted. He
begins by summing up Pestalozzi's personality and character
with wonderful insight and power of analysis. He then
describes the different lessons at which he was present, and
points out the remarkable development of the pupils' powers
in arithmetic and drawing. Here again we can only give
one or two short quotations :

" Pestalozzi's method will, perhaps, meet with little appro-
bation, but his principles and the tendency of his method
will certainly have a most valuable influence.

" His discipline is based upon the principle that children
must be allowed the greatest possible liberty, and that
only when they abuse this liberty must they be interfered
with. . . .

"The establishment contains in all a hundred and two

Sersons, seventy-two of whom are pupils. These are mostly
wiss, and are drawn from every canton in the country,
Catholic and Protestant alike. They are taught by ten
masters. There are also a certain number of foreigners in
the Castle, who are there to study the method.

" The institute is young, and Pestalozzi's principles are
still in process of development. As they are not yet come
to maturity, it follows that the organization of the establish-
ment is still incomplete. Director and assistants are working
with all their might to perfect the edifice. One tries to im-
prove certain appliances, another seeks a natural way of
teaching reading, numbers, etc. Would that all educational


establishments might present such a picture of concord and
harmony, and betray the same zeal in advancing from pro-
gress to progress."

Meanwhile the Petty Council had adopted the suggestions
of the Commission. A small salary had been granted to
Pestalozzi arid each of his masters ; a normal school had been
instituted in the Castle to which every month a dozen school-
masters were to come for lessons ; and lastly, with the help
of the State, a second and cheap edition was being prepared
of the books compiled in the institute.

Pestalozzi already saw the future of his work assured, and
was on the point of realizing his most cherished desire, when
the unitary Government was overthrown by a fresh revolu-
tion, and he found himself robbed, at one blow, not only of all
his hopes, but of the position he had already acquired. It
seemed, indeed, as though this man was fated to see the
ground fail beneath his feet whenever he felt himself within
reach of his end.

On the 17th of April, 1802, the Coiincil had convoked in
Berne an assembly of " notables," chosen by itself, for the
purpose of drawing up in the name of the Republic a scheme
lor a new constitution. This scheme was unanimously
adopted by the Assembly on the 19th of May, and on being
submitted to the votes of the electors throughout Switzer-
land, was accepted by two hundred and twenty-eight thousand
citizens out of 'three hundred and two thousand entitled to
vote, those who abstained from voting being counted as
accepting. On the 3rd of July, the acceptance of the consti-

Online LibraryRoger de GuimpsPestalozzi: his life and work → online text (page 21 of 43)