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Pestalozzi: his life and work online

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to restrain them ; they had indeed his best wishes for the
success of their patriotic enterprise. He considered that
the enormous power Napoleon exercised in Europe was an
obstacle to that part of his work which consisted in raising
the people by education. We have seen that in 1803 Bona-
parte had refused to listen to Pestalozzi, and rejected his
proposals, saying that he could not mix himself up with
questions of ABC; afterwards, however, he saw that the
work of the Swiss philanthropist went far beyond the A B
C, and that its aim was to put the freedom and development
of the individual in the place of the mechanical routine of
the old schools, which did little more than produce a mass
of dull uniformity. With this aim Napoleon was entirely
out of sympathy, and whenever the subject was mentioned,
would say, " The Pestalozzians are Jesuits."

For this reason, if for no other, Pestalozzi rejoiced at the
success of the allied sovereigns, whose coalition was to
liberate Europe.

Opinions were divided, however, in Switzerland on this
point ; but as the Swiss were not in a position to maintain
their neutrality, the Austrian troops passed through the
country to enter France by the frontier of the Jura.

On Christmas day, 1813, a regiment of Esterhazy's Hun-
garian hussars arrived at Yverdun, and were soon followed
by a large number of Croatian infantry.


On the 9th of January, 1814, th 5 municipality received
orders from the Austrian Commissary at Pontarlier, to pre-
pare a military hospital at Yverdun, and, a few days after,
two delegates arrived to choose the locality, and make, at
the town's expense, all the necessary preparations. They
appropriated four blocks of buildings : the castle of Yver-
dun with two hundred and seventy beds, the old barn oppo-
site (now a casino) with two hundred beds, the bath-house
of Yverdun with ninety-four beds, and the castle of Grandson
with one hundred and sixteen beds. The municipality
immediately informed the cantonal Government, and urged
it to help them deliver the commune from the danger which
threatened it. The Petty Council only returned answer that
they should consider all expenses necessitated by a military
hospital as a cantonal charge, and that they would enforce
the payment by the State. Nevertheless the population of
Yverdun were much frightened, for the Austrian troops,
encumbered with sick and wounded, were seriously ravaged
by typhus. The municipality accordingly appointed two
delegates to go to the head-quarters of the allied armies
and ask for a revocation of these orders. Pestalozzi, the
very existence of whose establishment was seriously threat-
ened, accompanied the municipal delegates, and it was this
which saved the town.

It is quite certain that the representatives of the town of
Yverdun had but little idea of Pestalozzi's real merit. They
must have felt very little honoured by this fellow-traveller,
who in the eyes of the vulgar was but an eccentric old man,
shabbily dressed, and careless of his person. But their sur-
prise was great when, on arriving at Basle, they witnessed
his reception by the allied sovereigns. On the 21st of
January they returned to Yverdun, and the day after, an-
nounced to the municipality that " their mission had had
perfect success, that no military hospital would be estab-
lished at Yverdun, and that Mr. Pestalozzi had been received
with most extraordinary favour."

And yet the old man had not been less eccentric at the
head-quarters at Basle than anywhere else. He no sooner
found himself in the presence of the Emperor of Russia and
his officers, than, thinking it a good opportunity to preach
educational reform and the liberation of the serfs, he be-
came so enthusiastic and so ardent that he completely for-


got his position, and approached so near the emperor, that
the latter was obliged to retreat. It was not till he had
forced him nearly to the wall, and was in the act of taking
him by the button of his coat, that Pestalozzi suddenly
became aware of his indiscretion. Muttering an apology, he
then sought to kiss the Czar's hand, but Alexander cordially
embraced him.

Notwithstanding his eccentricity, Pestalozzi's words pro-
duced a great effect, and those about the emperor thought
at one time that he contemplated putting the Swiss philan-
thropist's views into execution.

But, alas ! the Muscovite serfs had to wait another fifty
years for their emancipation, and the Russian people, though
proud of their civilization, are still waiting for good schools.
But in this respect they do not stand alone.

The Czar decorated Pestalozzi with the cross of Saint
Vladimir of the third class, and sent him a collection of
minerals from the Oural for his school. The Emperor of
Austria also sent him a case of Tokay wine.

Thus this poor old man, the weakest and awkwardest of
mankind, and the most unattractive in appearance, was able
to excite the attention and sympathy of princes at a moment
even when they were intoxicated with success and glory.
For the honour of humanity, this triumph was won by his
moral beauty, a consoling thought, which enables us to for-
get many a wrong.

Of the four blocks of buildings chosen for military hospi-
tals, the castle of Grandson alone was used. The typhus,
however, broke out in the village of that name, which is not
far from Yverdun, and was not stamped out of the neigh-
bourhood for several years. Nor did the town of Yverdun
escape ; indeed one of Pestalozzi's own pupils took the dis-
ease, though not very seriously. It may not be amiss to
mention here that since the foundation of his establishment
Pestalozzi had never lost a single pupil by death.

During that same year the King of Prussia paid a visit to
his principality of Neuchatel, which had just been restored
to him, and where he was received with almost unanimous
joy. While he was there, Pestalozzi, although very ill, in-
sisted on going to thank him for having sent him so many
student-teachers to train, and did not forget to remind him
of the importance of the work these young men were about


to undertake in Prussia. Ramsauer, who accompanied him,
makes the following reference to the occasion :

" During the journey Pestalozzi had several fainting fits,
so that I was obliged to take him from the carriage and
carry him into a neighbouring house. I constantly urged
him to return home. ' Hold your tongue ! ' he said ; ' I.
must see the king, even though it should cost me my life.
If I can bring about a better education for a single Prussian
child, I shall be fully rewarded.' "

Peace brought a new period of external prosperity to the
establishment at Yverdun; pupils, young assistants, and
visitors flocked there in numbers and from all countries,
Prance and England at length following the example already
set by Germany. But this great concourse of people of all
languages was equally fatal to the internal arrangements of
the establishment and to its financial position. Ramsauer
gives the following account of one of those frequent visits
about which Pestalozzi became so excited, but which threw
the lessons into such confusion :

" In 1814, old Prince Esterhazy arrived. Pestalozzi at
once rap *fl over the Castle, crying, ' Ramsauer, Ramsauer !
where are you ? Take your best pupils (for gymnastics,
drawing, arithmetic, and geometry) and come quickly to the
Red House (the hotel where the prince was staying). He
is a very important personage, and immensely rich ; he owns
thousands of serfs in Hungary and Austria, and it is quite
certain that he will establish schools and liberate his pea-
santry as soon as he understands our system, etc.'

" I accordingly took some fifteen of the pupils to the hotel,
where Pestalozzi presented me to the prince, saying :

'"This is the master of these pupils ; he came to my house
about fifteen years ago with other poor children from the
canton of Appenzell, and has been brought up without re-
straint, and by the free development of his own powers ;
now he is himself a teacher, and you will see in him a proof
that the poor are just as capable as the rich, if not more so,
provided only that their intellect be methodically developed,
which however is rarely the case. Hence it is of the greatest
importance to improve our popialar schools ; but he will ex-
plain everything to you better than I could myself.'


" Pestalozzi then left us, and I set to work questioning,
explaining, and bawling, with an energy which made me
very hot and tired, never doubting for a moment that the
prince was perfectly convinced. On Pestalozzi's return at
the end of an hour, the prince expressed his satisfaction,
and we took our leave. Going downstairs, Pestalozzi said,
' He is quite convinced, thoroughly convinced ; he will
certainly set up some schools in Hungary.' At the bottom
of the stairs Pestalozzi suddenly cried out, ' Why, what is
the matter with my arm ? Look, how swollen it is ; and it
is so stiff that I cannot bend it.' And as a matter of fact
the large sleeve of his coat looked almost too tight. I
immediately noticed that the great house-key was bent in
the lock, and we concluded that on coming in an hour before
he must have knocked his elbow against the key and bent
it. And yet, so ardent was the flame that burned within him,
even at seventy years of age, when his mind was bent on
doing good, that during that hour the old man had felt no
pain. I may add that I could give many more instances ot
the same sort of thing."

We have now arrived at a time when there were almost
as many French as Germans in the institute.

The consequence of this was that a master was often
obliged to make his observations in both languages ; very
often, too, a pupil could not be placed in the class which
would have suited him best, on account of his not under-
standing the language in which it was conducted.

The pupils who came from French schools, having been
accustomed to an almost military discipline, were inclined
to take advantage of the liberty they enjoyed at Yverdun ;
accustomed, too, to look upon the masters as natural enemies,
with whom they must necessarily be at war, they took plea-
sure in playing all sorts of tricks upon them. Furthermore,
having been deprived suddenly of the only stimulus they
had hitherto known, the stimulus of self-love, they were
little disposed to study, where there was neither reward to
hope for nor punishment to fear. At the same time the
rustic simplicity of life in the institute filled them with
repugnance and contempt. Much less than this would have
sufficed to promote indiscipline and confusion in the estab-
lishment, so that the result may be imagined.


Jullien had undertaken to obtain some French masters for
the institute, but among those he sent there, only one was
really a capable man and fit to collaborate with Pestalozzi.
This was Alexander Boniface, the author of one of the best
French grammars.

"Amongst all the men of note," said Jullien, "I only
found Boniface who was willing to give up Paris for toil and
moil at Yverdun."

Of a cheerful and lively disposition, Boniface was a
true child of Paris, but he was, at the same time, kind
and simple of heart, and soon learned to love and .admire
Pestalozzi. He became the centre of the French side of the
institute, and exercised a most salutary influence. By his
uniform kindness to the children he won their love, and, in
spite of his not very imposing presence, their entire respect.
He was small and exceedingly short-sighted, and generally
wore red or green slippers, which was thought at Yverdun
to be an extraordinary eccentricity. To a good knowledge
of classics he joined a cultivated taste, and gave excellent
lessons in grammar and French literature, in which the
scholars took great interest. On his return to Paris he
founded a higher school on Pestalozzi's principles. When
in 1829 Mr. de Vatismenil appointed a Commission to inquire
into the methods employed in private schools in Paris, the
commissioners, after a very conscientious examination, made
a report to the minister, in which they declared the method
employed by Mr. Boniface to be superior to all the others
they had examined. (Pompee, p. 269.)

At this time, unfortunately, the assistant masters were not
all like Boniface ; they were not all zealous and diligent in
their work, and often, in the absence of any complete con-
trol, did very much as they liked. The devotion of the good
teachers was powerless against all the elements of disorder
which had crept into the institute, and none of them could
make up for the administrative weakness of its head. Con-
currently with this, the financial position grew more and
more unsatisfactory, and the various causes of ruin already
referred to were increased by the great extension that peace
had given to the establishment.

Ju this state of things Schmidt was thought of as the only
man capable of governing with a strong hand. Niederer,
his old antagonist, was the first to advise Pestalozzi to recall


him, and even undertook to go and urge him to return

Schmidt was now the director of the public school of
Bregenz, an establishment which his talents and energy had
brought into a state of great prosperity. It was there that
Niederer sought him out, and succeeded in inducing him to
return to Yverdun. Niederer had never denied Schmidt's
grea: capacity, and at that time still had perfect confidence
in his character. We may judge of this from the following
passage of a letter written a few days after this interview :

"Rely entirely on Pestalozzi's love ; he has never ceased
to look on you as a son. Besides the strength which makes
you valuable, and which is the gift of Nature, you have
still greater gifts, for you are a true man, and your will
is set on good. This last is the gift of a man to himself,
and is what makes you worthy of our respect."

Schmidt returned to Yverdun at Easter, 1815, and Pesta-
lozzi, receiving him as a son who was sacrificing himself
for his father, made vows of eternal gratitude.

On his arrival, Schmidt at once quietly set about the
necessary reforms, working almost incessantly day and
night. He dismissed useless teachers, reduced the salary
of others, stopped waste, and restored order and regularity
in the lessons as well as discipline among the pupils. All
Pestalozzi's right-minded coadjutors willingly gave him
their aid in these much-needed reforms.

But Schmidt wanted to be master, to wield, that is, the
sole authority in the name of Pestalozzi. Taking advantage
of what had been told him of his usefiilness, he went
straight to his end with an acuteness, ability, perseverance,
and calm energy that never forsook him. Under a mask
of respect and affection, he submitted his proposals to the
old man as the only conditions of safety, conditions with-
out which he could answer for nothing. At the same time
he succeeded in winning the women of the establishment
to his side : Mrs. Pestalozzi, because she was tired of the
philosophy of Niederer, and found him incapable of pro-
tecting her husband's financial position ; Mrs. Kuster, to
whom it had been pointed out, after the event, that Mrs.
Niederer had behaved very badly to her in taking her place


as directress of the girls' school ; and, lastly, the faithful
housekeeper, Lisbeth Krusi herself, who looked on Schmidt
as the only man capable of restoring order and economy in
domestic matters. Schmidt, indeed, had this merit, that
he was satisfied with little, and was continually preaching
plain living. We shall soon see, however, that Mrs. Krusi
had cause to repent of the preference she had given him.

In this same year, 1815, Pestalozzi published at Yverdun
a book which he had written the previous year, entitled :
A Word in Season to the Innocent, Serious, and Noble-
Minded Ones of My Country.

If it is chiefly to Switzerland that the author addresses
his remarks, it is not to her alone, but also to the whole of
Europe, which, set free by Napoleon's fall, is about to enter
on a new era, an era it may be of virile and moral reno-
vation, ensuring peace both at home and abroad, or it may
be of weakness, vanity, and selfishness, such as has already
ended in revolution, licence, and despotism. The nations
of Europe are corrupted by a sensual civilization, which does
but stimulate their appetites and their vanity, making those
who suffer envious of those who enjoy, and those who
enjoy insensible to the troubles of those who suffer. There
is none of that real moral civilization which exalts a man
and makes him capable of love, commiseration, and abne-
gation. The first step to this higher civilization is the
reform of public education.

We have endeavoured to give in a few words some idea
of the subject treated by Pestalozzi ; but what we have
just said can convey but a faint idea of the many precious
truths and valuable and original ideas to be found in this
new work, which is as it were a continuation of that
which the author had written some years previously : Ait
Inquiry into the Course of Nature in the Development of
the Human Race. But the second work is more matured,
more clearly written, and more practical. It is now fifty-
seven years since it was first published and yet it has lost
none of its appropriateness. Europe would still do well to
think over this advice, and act on it.

About this time there arrived at Yverdun the celebrated

Doctor Bell, the founder of the system of mutual instruction

in England. His visit to the far-famed institute had a

double motive. He came partly to see Pestalozzi, this man



whose reputation as the inventor and propagator of a new
method of education rivalled his own, partly in the hope
of discovering some further improvement for his own
system. Bell understood neither French nor German, but
he found an interpreter in the establishment whom he
knew already. This was Ackermann, the Saxon, a teacher
of some merit, who had left Pestalozzi in 1813 to fight for
the liberation of Germany, and who, before returning to
Yverdun, had spent some time in England visiting Bell's
schools and examining his method.

During his visit to Yverdun, Bell, after watching the
lessons in the different classes, gave, with the help of some
teachers and under-teachers, a sort of representation of his
own method ; there was, moreover, a conference, in which
Pestalozzi and the Doctor summed up, with Ackermann's
help, their chief objections to each other's system. But,
whatever the merits and defects of the rival systems may have
been, the Englishman certainly possessed one talent that the
Swiss was without : for whereas the latter by his educational
labours had ruined himself, the former had amassed a
fortune of 2,000 a year. On leaving Yverdun, Bell, in
company with Ackermann and Jullien, went to Freiburg, to
visit the schools of Father Girard, who, with true pedago-
gical tact and elevated moral views, had applied to his own
system all that was really good in the method of Bell and
Lancaster. On taking leave of Ackermann, Bell said : " In
another twelve years mutual instruction will be adopted by
the whole world, and Pestalozzi's method will be forgotten."

A few days afterwards, one of those inquisitive and
ignorant people whom fashion alone induced to visit Pesta-
lozzi, was presented to him, and accosted the old man
with : " It is you, sir, I believe, who invented mutual
instruction?" " God forbid," replied Pestalozzi. And yet
seventeen years before, at Stanz, he had already in his own
way made use of the system.

Early in December, 1815, Mrs. Pestalozzi fell ill ; her
strength was gone. Without suffering and with admirable
tranquillity, the good and kind old woman, now in her
seventy-ninth year, felt her life slowly ebbing away. She
died on the evening of the 12th, as she lay upon her couch.
She was still lying there when Pestalozzi's partkmlar
friends, anxious to share his sorrow, hastened to his side.


Her obsequies took place on the 16th. The first thing in
the morning the coffin was placed in the chapel. The whole
of the household had assembled there, and were singing
a funeral hymn, when the unhappy old man entered. As
soon as the singing had ceased, he approached the coffin,
and, addressing himself to his faithful companion as if she
could still hear him, passed in review their forty-five years
of companionship, so full of labours, trials, and disasters,
dwelling particularly on the many sacrifices she had made
and the many sufferings she had endured for him and through
his fault. After speaking of the time when, " forsaken and
scoffed at by everybody, and weighed down by misery and
disease," they had eaten their " dry bread with bitter tears,"
he added : " What, in those days of affliction, gave us the
strength to bear our troubles and recover hope ? " and,
seizing a Bible which was near him, he drew still nearer
the body, crying : " This is the source whence you drew,
whence we both drew, courage, strength, and peace ! "

The coffin was then closed, and carried, followed by
all the household and a large concourse of the inhabitants
of Yverdun, to the farthest end of the garden, where, in
accordance with Mrs. Pestalozzi's express desire, a grave
had been dug between two walnut trees. At the tomb
there was singing by the boys and girls, and a prayer by
Niederer, who also preached the sermon on their return to
the chapel. The ceremony ended with Klopstock's beautiful
hymn : The Song of Triumph of Christian Hope.

Pestalozzi's grief was profound ; for a long time he would
go stealthily out at night, when all were asleep, and pray and
weep under the walnut trees, on the marble slab engraved
with his wife's name, and the dates of her birth and death. 1
And he had reason to lament her who so long had been his
support, his adviser, and his good angel ; for now that she
was gone, he was to be buffeted by the winds of adversity,
like a ship without a rudder.

Pestalozzi, however, was strangely impressionable, and
when once possessed by his favourite idea of elevating the
lower classes, he forgot everything else. Some short time
after the death of his wife, one of his old pupils, deeply
moved by his loss, came to see him. After a few words

1 The remains of Mrs Pestalozzi now lie in the cemetery of Yverdun


on the painful subject of the visit, the old man began to
speak of his new plans and new hopes for his success
of his method, and before long, carried away by his illu-
sions and enthusiasm, he cried excitedly : " I am swimming
in a sea of joy ! "

The year 1816 opened very sadly for Pestalozzi, and it
was destined to be a disastrous one. The old man looked
upon Schmidt more and more as his only means of salvation,
and was prepared to sacrifice everything to keep him, but
as he could only keep him by allowing him to have his own
way, he ceased any longer to have a will of his own.

From this time, Schmidt, certain of his power, cared little
how he acted. He suppressed the meetings of the masters,
and gave his own orders in Pestalozzi's name. He was a
tall man, rather slim, but strong and sinewy ; his dark face,
with its eagle eyes, had an expression of impassible severity ;
he was feared no less than Pestalozzi was beloved, and yet
he exercised considerable influence over many of the
scholars. He moved about the house with a high head and
a proud gait, as if to impress upon everybody that he was
the master.

To show the progress he had made since his arrival at
Yverdun, we may mention an incident which occurred in
1805, and which was told us by an eye-witness. In those
days, Schmidt was very careless of his appearance, and
amongst other things wore a cap which was no longer pre-
sentable. One day, during a lesson that he was giving to
the children, de Muralt entered the class, and seeing the
dirty cap on a form, threw it out of the window into the

The grave is on the left as you enter the cemetery. The following in-
scription has been added to the first :

The Worthy Wife



The friend of the poor,

The benefactor of the people,

The reformer of education.

His close partner for forty-six years in his work

of self-sacrifice, she has left behind her a

blessed and venerated memory.

Online LibraryRoger de GuimpsPestalozzi: his life and work → online text (page 30 of 43)