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Pestalozzi: his life and work online

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reproduce them in their logical order with clearness and
eloquence would make an admirable treatise on education.

We can do no more than glance at the remaining two-
thirds of the book, quoting a few of the most striking
ideas :

" A child accustomed from his earliest years to pray, think,
and work, is already more than half educated.

" The general effect of the methods employed by the
education of our time is rather to send us forth into un-
known regions than to develop that which is within us, and
of which, as independent beings, we stand in need.

"Any particular knowledge or skill is, in itself, of little
value as a means of development and education; it is by
combining and acting on each other that they give harmony
to our nature. It is the early and harmonious cultivation of
all branches of activity that develops our moral, intellectual,
and physical individuality.

" If the religious element does not penetrate the whole
education, it has but little influence on the life, and remains
formal and isolated.

" Religion is not an effect of what we do, but of the Divine
element within us, and of God's grace.

" Elementary education, by developing all a man's natural
powers, develops also, and from the very first, the real reli-
gious element in his nature, and is thus in perfect accord
with Christianity."

In writing the Song of the Sican, Pestalozzi had been
actuated by an ardent desire to save from his own fate the


fundamental idea of the edxicational reform he was urging on
humanity. Fearing to see it involved in the discredit which
the failure of the establishments he had founded had brought
upon himself, he endeavours to show that this failure had
been entirely his own fault ; and in support of this view, he
gives, starting from his earliest education, the story of his
life. It was in this part of the book that his first biogra-
phers found their information, information true and valuable
enough in itself, but so fragmentary that for forty years, till
Morf 's work appeared that is, there was no complete account
of the great educational reformer. 1

In the course of hia account of the Burgdorf institute,
Pestalozzi says :

" I must say here openly what, during my years of mis-
fortune,- I have often and often said secretly to myself, that
at the very first step I took in Burgdorf Castle I was lost.
I was indeed embarking on a career that could only end in
misfortune, seeing that the post I was to occupy demanded
the very strength and administrative talents I so terribly

A little farther on, after having compared his institutes to
a tower of Babel, he adds :

"This confusion, so fatal to the spirit of our work, was
bound at last to come to an end ; and this being so, I feel
very strongly that the fall of my establishments at Yverdun,
since it gave me the opportunity I so much wanted of placing
my work once more upon a clear basis, should be looked upon
as a piece of good fortune, and not at all as a proof of the
worthlessness of my undertaking and of my inability to pro-
duce any useful results."

The last page of the book well sums up its character and
aim. It runs as follows :

" At this solemn moment, I dare, calmly and earnestly, to
express my conviction that certain ideas connected with this
great question of elementary education have ripened in me
more perhaps than in most other men, more even than they
would have done, but for the vicissitudes and misfortunes of

1 Morf 's work does not go beyond Burgdorf.


my life. The results of my work, few and scattered, it is
true, seem to me to be hanging like ripe fruit on the tree of
my life, and I am unwilling that any hand, friendly or un-
friendly, should shake them to the ground. Poor as they
are, they are yet so near maturity that I feel it to be a sacred
duty to do my utmost for their preservation. The hour has
not yet sounded when, satisfied as to their fate, I can resign
myself to repose. In the meantime this other hour has
sounded, in which, full of grief and bitterness, I find myself
compelled to beg that the soundness of my conception of
elementary education be once more examined and put to the
proof. This once done, and in such a way as is meet, I shall
have nothing left to wish for. And so I close my dying
strain with the words with which I began it.

" Try all things, hold fast to that which is good, and if any-
thing better has matured in you, add it to what, in love and
truth, I am here attempting to give you. In any case, do not
reject the work of my whole life as a thing already condemned
and unworthy of further examination. It is not yet con-
demned, and merits most serious attention, not indeed for my
sake, but for its own."

My Experiences in my Educational Establishments of
Burgdorf and Yverdun. Leipzig, 1826. 1

In writing this book, Pestalozzi's original intention was
merely to give the reasons of his many misfortunes, and
explain the failure of the various establishments he had
founded ; but his desire to justify Schmidt, and make the
public share his own admiration for the man, led him into
making a personal attack that was most unworthy of him,
and for which it is hard not to hold Schmidt in a great
measure responsible, seeing that he was the person chiefly
interested, and that he exercised such a great influence over
the old man's mind.

The attack, which is most unfair, is chiefly directed against
the Niederers, their faults being cruelly exaggerated, while
Schmidt's are more or less condoned. But even this unfair-
ness was far frcm justifying Biber's venomous reply, which,
as we have seen, finally hastened Pestalozzi's death.

1 Not in Cotta's edition, but in the fifteenth volume of Seyffarth's.


If the book were merely polemical, we should have nothing
more to say about it ; but happily Pestalozzi often forgets that
he is pleading for Schmidt, and becomes the educational en-
thusiast again, and at these times he is admirable.

On the very first page he says :

" At Burgdorf I soon had a very great number of pupils,
and unfortunately a hundred times as many belauders. To-
day all this praise and success seems to have been the work
of enchantment. Intoxicated with pleasure, joy, honour, and
hope, we lived in a sort of paradise, with little fear of the
serpent that in every earthly paradise lays snares for the ruin
of poor humanity, so weak, so vain, and so easily misled."

Pestalozzi then refers to his proved incapacity to direct or
manage an institution, and declares that his own weakness
and mistakes have been the cause of all his misfortunes.
He also points out that such an educational establishment as
he had dreamed of was, by its very nature, an impossibility, 1
and that those he had founded were, from the very first,
doomed to destruction. This being so, it seems strange that
he should ever have attributed his failure to the opposition
which, almost from the beginning, had manifested itself be-
tween Niederer and Schmidt.

But however this may be, Pestalozzi does himself an
injustice when he speaks of being utterly incapable. Was
he not pre-eminently successful every time that, unchecked
by material obstacles, he was able to act freely ? And with
regard to the education of children, were not his efforts at
Neuhof in his youth, at Stanz and Burgdorf in his maturity,
and even at Clendy in his old age, crowned with marvellous
success ?

He is also unfair to his schools when he says that they did
no good. From the point of view of the elementary method,
they brought about undeniable and important impiovements
in most branches of teaching, improvements which, carried
into different countries by his pupils, gave the first impetus
to a general reform of the old mechanical methods.

When Pestalozzi comes to the foundation of the poor-school

1 The reasons of this impossibility have been pointed out in chapter


at Clendy, he entirely forgets his polemical aim, and lovingly
describes this last undertaking, the beginnings of which had
so fully satisfied his longings. Then, after giving a few
admirable precepts for the early education of the poor, and
for the training of primary schoolmasters, he deplores the
deviation from his principles to which he was obliged to
consent at Clendy, and which finally resulted in the ruin
of the establishment. This part of the book at least is full
of Pestalozzi himself, and is not likely to be forgotten.

At the end of the book, Pestalozzi gives the letter he had
written to the Niederers in 1823, in which he implored them
to forget the past and be reconciled to him, that he might die
in peace. He concludes by saying that though the letter
has had no effect, he is still of the same mind.

Before leaving the Experiences, we must quote the opinion
of the book expressed by Blochmann, who was an assistant of
Pestalozzi's from 1810 to 1816, and to whom, in a great
measure, Saxony owes the excellence of her public educational
establishments. The passage is taken from a memoir of
Pestalozzi. We translate literally :

"In his "Experiences he enunciates many great and striking
truths. Those who have lived with him and watched his
career will, I am certain, be convinced of the general sound-
ness of his views and judgments, in spite of the two great
illusions running through the book ; on the one hand, that is,
his injustice to himself and to the value and results of the
Yverdun institute ; on the other, the blind obstinacy with
which he persistently over-estimates the value of Schmidt's
work, and refuses to recognize the true character of the man
behind his mask of fidelity and affection."

Discourse delivered at Lanfjenthal on the 26th of .April,
1826. 1

The Helvetian Society had been formed with the threefold
object of cementing the different parts of the Swiss Con-
federation, encouraging those virtues upon which the liberty
and happiness of nations depend, and restoring some of the
simplicity of former times.

Pestalozzi's work had long kept him absent from the meet-

1 In the fifteenth volume of both Cotta's and Se\ ffarth's editions.


ings of the Society, but he still entirely sympathized with the
spirit of its aim and efforts. He was, besides, one of the last
survivors of that knot of enlightened and devoted patriots
who, long before the French Revolution, might have carried
out useful reforms in Zurich, had they but had more practical
views and a better knowledge of human nature.

This conformity between the objects of the Helvetian
Society, and those which he had so enthusiastically worked
for in his youth, was the source of Pestalozzi's inspiration
for his address at Langenthal, which is written with extra-
ordinary force and spirit for an old man of eighty, suffering
under the effects of a heavy and recent misfortune.

The author begins by painting the happiness Switzerland
enjoyed after the wars that gave her her independence. At
that time she was tranquil at home and respected abroad ;
the needs of her inhabitants were proportionate to their
resources; religion, love of country, kindliness and modera-
tion reigned in every heart; there was a certain practical
equality too in the conditions, manners, and habits of life of
her people, in spite of the inequality of rights that resulted
from the feudal system. At that time, also, there were few
very rich people and few very poor, by far the greater number
of her inhabitants being peasant-proprietors.

Pestalozzi then shows the changes that this state of things
gradually underwent under the influence of closer contact
with foreign nations, the Reformation, and especially the
introduction into Switzerland of that industrial life which
draws so much capital into a country.

Wherever the larger industries have flourished, there has
always been an increase of wealth and of general comfort,
accompanied however by a still greater increase in the general
needs, and an enormous inequality in the distribution of the

On the one hand, a few colossal fortunes have been rapidly
amassed, and have given us an example of the luxurious life
of great cities ; on the other hand, the numbers of those who
have but their hands, and are so often wanting in wisdom,
foresight, and economy have been steadily increasing. As to
the small proprietors that were formerly so numerous, how
many of them, attracted by the golden bait of industry, have
forsaken the work of the fields and no- longer possess any-
thing ?


After showing that this state of things is growing worse
from day to day, and is likely soon to constitute afi imminent
danger to social order and civilization, the author, as the only
means of fighting the evil and slowly curing it, urges that
elementary education shall be brought within the reach of
all, since it alone can give a natural development to all a
child's powers, especially his moral powers, in their applica-
tion to the practical life for which he is intended.

Such, in substance, is the last work we have of Pestalozzi's
We know, it is true, that on the 21st of November of the
same year, a paper of his, on the early education of children
in the home, was read before the Society of Friends of Edu-
cation at Brugg, but this paper has not been preserved.



IN relating the history of a great man to whom we are in-
debted for so many useful ideas, I have felt until now a very
natural repugnance to speak of niy own impressions, formed
during the nine years that I was his pupil. Not only was I
afraid of interrupting my narrative or of unduly prolonging
it, but I wished first of all to place before my readers
authentic documents, my master's own words, and the
opinions of distinguished men far better qualified to judge
of him than myself.

At the same time, the numerous publications I have had
to consult would not always have enabled me to arrive at
the truth, if my own personal recollections had not helped
me to estimate the relative value of all these documents, at
times so contradictory. Especially in writing the sad story
of the decline and fall of the Yverdun institute was it im-
portant to have had a near view of men and things, so as to
be able to pass over the many slanderous imputations into
which passion dragged the men who were quarrelling round
Pestalozzi, to the misfortune 1 of the honourable old man.

Moreover, as I have to sum up the views, teaching, and
lasting work of this extraordinary man, and as what I shall
have to say will not always conform to the generally re-
ceived ideas on the subject, I feel very strongly that my
readers have a right to ki O',v something of the personal
experience which entitles ire as it were to their confidence.
I not only happened to be in an exceptionally favourable
position for becoming acquainted with the master's ideas
and those of his principal coadjutors, but I am to-day, prob-
ably, the last survivor of those who enjoyed the like privi-
lege ; and feeling that I have in my possession a most sacred
trust, I hold it to be my duty not to let it perish with me.

Born in 1802, at Yverdun, where my father, a French


refugee, had married and settled, I entered Pestalozzi's
school in 1808, after having been prepared by one of the
under-masters for the elementary class, by some preliminary
sense-impressing exercises in nthnber and form. I was only
a day scholar at the institute ; but as I stayed for lunch,
and often slept there, I was well acquainted with the work-
ing of the interior.

My first impression as I went into my class-room was a
disagreeable one. The room was very untidy, and the
furniture and other things of such a primitive kind as to-
day can hardly be imagined. 'There were tallow candles,
for instance, without candlesticks or snuffers, and just held
by a twisted wire stuck into a piece of wood. The language
and cries, too, of all these Germans grated on my ear, and
their manners seemed so strange that I felt as if I had sud-
denly been plunged into an atmosphere of gross vulgarity.

But this impression was of short duration. I was very
soon won over by Pestalozzi's gentle kindness, by his keen
yet tender look, and by the cordiality which seemed to per-
vade the house. I was soon caught, too, by the infectious
good humour of my companions, and the almost passionate
eagerness with which they did most of their work. The
following fact, which to-day I can hardly understand, proves
that I was very quickly captivated by the charms of Pesta-
lozzi's elementary education. I was not quite seven years
old, and yet when the winter came on, and I was obliged to
get up very early and set off before it was light to the other
end of the town in order to be present at the first lesson at
six o'clock, I never dreamed of complaining.

When Pestalozzi met one of his young pupils in the
corridors, he would lay his hand caressingly on his hair,
saying : " You, too, mean to be wise and good, don't you ? "
Then he would talk to him of his parents and God, often
ending with a few words about the necessity of putting our-
selves into harmony with Nature, always good and beautiful,
like its Maker. I did not always quite understand these
little talks, but the impression that remained was a good
one. In the junior class in which I was placed, the teaching
was given in French, although during my first years at the
institute the mother-tongue of most of the pupils, masters,
and servants was German. Their language, tastes, and
habits regulated the whole of the internal life at the Castle ;


it was, in short, a German-Swiss household transplanted
into French Switzerland. Every one was obliged to speak
French at certain hours of the day, at other times all had to
speak German. In this way every pupil became more or
less quickly accustomed to the use of a foreign tongue ; but,
on the other hand, there resulted a sort of mixture of the
two languages which was not very good for either of them.

During my first four or five years at the institute, I was
too young to observe anything of Festal ozzi's doctrine ; my
childish impressions, which were very favourable, alone
remain. I took pleasure in nearly all my lessons, especially
in natural history, geography, mental arithmetic, elementary
geometry, singing, and drawing. I have, moreover, pre-
served an affectionate and grateful remembrance not only of
Festalozzi, but of most of the other masters, who looked after
us with so much kindness in our lessons, games, and walks,
and especially in our mountain excursions.

These excursions in the Jura were a source of great
delight to us. They were arranged to suit the ages of the
. different classes, and as soon as I was seven I began to take
'part in them. Our masters, of whom my favourites were
Krusi and de Muralt, looked after us with almost motherly
solicitude, making frequent halts to rest our little legs, re-
freshing us, when we were tired, with a few drops of spirit
on a piece of sugar, and now and then, when the distance
was too great, procuring some rustic conveyance for us, in
which we would sing gaily as we passed through the villages,
where the peasants often gave us fruit.

As soon as we got to the high mountain pastures under
the pines, we lost our feeling of fatigue, and fell to playing
games or collecting herbs and minerals. We often gathered
at some good point of view to sing the wild, simple, Alpine
melodies our masters loved to teach us. To-day, after more
than sixty years, I can recall these songs as clearly as in
those early days when I first sang them, and they still seem
very beautiful to me.

On returning from these excursions, the pupils had to
describe them, either orally or in writing, according to their
ages. There was generally a great deal to say, as our atten-
tion was always carefully drawn to everything likely to
prove instructive. These excursions were, in fact, practical
lessons in natural history and geography.


Pestalozzi took a singular pleasure in watching the games
ot' his pupils, which he considered of very great importance,
his idea being that children when not at work ought to enjoy
themselves, and that a state of total inactivity is bad, both
physically and morally. If he noticed a child taking no part
in the games during play-time, he could seldom rest till he
had tried to find him some other amusement.

In this connection an incident comes back to my memoiy
which did not strike me particularly at the time, but which I
now feel to have been exceedingly characteristic. One day,
when a fire of sticks had been lighted in the garden, the elder
pupils amused themselves by leaping over the flames through
the smoke, Pestalozzi eagerly encouraging them. When the
flames had died down, and little but hot embers and smoke
remained, the little ones leaped in their turn. But the scene
had other witnesses, for the little girls of the Niederer in-
stitute, the garden of which joined that of the Castle, were
looking through the palings at the beautiful flames and happy
leapers. No sooner did Pestalozzi see them than he went
and fetched them, and they too were soon jumping over the
remains of the fire. Never was delight so cheaply pur-
chased !

As soon as I was twelve years old I began, thankg to a
special combination of circumstances, to fix my attention on
what was called " the method," in which I betrayed an in-
terest that was far beyond my years.

My parents, who were themselves admirers of Pestalozzi,
kept up friendly relations not only with him and his wife,
but with his principal assistants. My mother, who in her
anxiety for my progress was anxious to be able to follow my
lessons, set to work to learn German, and with such great
zeal that she soon mastered its difficulties. She even pub-
lished translations of several German works, partly to add
something to our modest resources, and partly to have more
to spend on my education. It was in this way that she carae
to translate Leonard and Gertrude.

Pestalozzi himself took great interest in her work, and used
to come to our house nearly every day to examine it ; for my
mother never fair-copied anything without first consulting
him. As she thoroughly understood the old man's Zurich
dialect, she was able to act as interpreter for the many
French visitors who wanted to discuss his views, and so he


was in the habit of bringing anybody with him to whom
he particularly wished to explain them. I remember, among
others, Jullien of Paris, the author of two large volumes on
Pestalozzi's Mind and Method.

About the same time Miss Rath, the distinguished painter
to whom Geneva owes the museum which bears her name,
came to Yverdun to paint Pestalozzi's portrait. As she was
intimate with my mother's sister, she stayed with us, and it
was in our house that Pestalozzi sat to her.

Also when Mr. Delbruck, the private tutor of the Prussian
princes, came to stay at Yverdun, for the purpose of studying
the method, my parents willingly consented to receive him
into their house.

The result of all this was that for several years our
drawing-room was one of the places where the Pestalozzian
doctrine was most eagerly expounded and discussed, either
by the master himself and his disciples, or by strangers who
were generally well qualified to form an opinion.

I eagerly listened to these conversations and, although I
did not of course understand all I heard, I can still recall a
great deal.

A hundred times have I heard the master himself explain
his doctrine, and each time with a different illustration.
This profound philosopher had no love for philosophical
language, with which he had never been familiar. Nor
would he trust himself to use formulas, of which indeed he
had almost a dread. His thought, which had been shaped in
solitude and with no help from books, was simply the out-
come of observation and reflection, and so he preferred to
explain his views as he had formed them, and attached much
more weight to concrete facts, particular examples, and com-
parisons, than to abstractions and general ideas.

On Pestalozzi's return from Basle, where he had been
honoured with the gifts of princes, he at first took a child's
pleasure in showing these gifts, not indeed from any feeling
of personal vanity, but because they seemed to promise

Online LibraryRoger de GuimpsPestalozzi: his life and work → online text (page 37 of 43)