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PESTALOZZI'S LAST YEARS.
In retirement at Neuhof he writes his last works and builds a pauper-school. Papers read before the Helvetian Society at Langenthal, and the Society of the Friends of Education at Brugg. Last sign of his love for the poor. Biber's pamphlet. Death of Pestalozzi. His funeral. His present tomb.
PESTALOZZI, nearly eighty years old, has now lost his last hopes and last illusions; he has outlived his work, a calamity the very thought of which had made him shudder. The great dream of his life is over; the ideal which he has so passionately striven after from his youth, which has been, as it were, the one object of his love and faith, and to which he has sacrificed everything else, is now for ever gone. Schmidt, his self-imposed master, is still with him, leading him like a child, but there can be little doubt that this tyrannical control was very irksome to the old man, for though he had submitted to it voluntarily, it was only because it seemed to him like a fatal necessity imposed upon him by his gratitude and the interests of his work. Already in his discourse of the 12th of January, 1818, he had admitted that he was well aware of Schmidt's faults, and often suffered from them.
One would imagine that so much misfortune and so many disappointments would have broken the old man's courage, and crushed the activity and originality of his genius. But it was not so, for he had no sooner reached Neuhof than he eagerly took up his pen again, writing first his Song of the Swan, one of his most remarkable works, and as it were his dying instructions to posterity in the matter of education; and then the Experiences of My Life, a book in which he gives an account of his whole career, blaming himself for all his misfortunes, and endeavouring to exculpate Schmidt,
sometimes even at the expense of Niederer. two publications, of which we shall have more to say presently, he was also working at a fifth part to Leonard and Gertrude; a new manual for mothers, with instructions for the education of children up to the age of seven, to supplement the Book for Mothers already published, with which he was not entirely satisfied; and lastly, a series of elementary exercises for teaching children Latin as they learn their mother-tongue.
All this literary work did not in the least interfere with his plans for a poor-school, which he now looked forward to establishing in the very spot where he had made his first unsuccessful attempt fifty years before. With this end in view, he gave orders, almost immediately after his arrival, for the necessary buildings to be commenced. As the work proceeded, much too slowly for the impatient old man, he would go and spend hours teaching in the village school at Birr. He also took great delight in visiting his old acquaintances the peasants, talking over their affairs with them, and giving them advice and encouragement.
On going back to his grandson at Neuhof with Schmidt, Pestalozzi had been followed by four of his pupils, two of whom had been sent to him from Cadiz. He was so eager to spread his method in France, England, Spain, and Portugal, that he sent Schmidt to both Paris and London in furtherance of this object, and even meditated the publication of a periodical in French.
We owe these details to Henning, a former Yverdun pupil, who had become the director of a training school, and who visited Pestalozzi at Neuhof, in August, 1825. His account of his visit is as follows:
"I had not seen him for thirteen years, and found him looking older certainly, but on the whole very little changed. He was still active and strong, simple and open; his face still wore the same kindly, plaintive expression; his zeal for human happiness, and especially for the education of poor and little children, was as keen as thirteen years before. In spite of the heat he accompanied me to Lenzburg, and valiantly mounted the two or three hundred steps leading to the Castle. The vivacity of his speech and the vigour of all his movements inspired me with the
hope that the term of his earthly existence was still far off. My heart was full when I took leave of the kind old man. I shall never forget the time that it was my good fortune to spend with him."
It is evident then that in these last days, Pestalozzi, though still controlled by Schmidt in material affairs, freely carried on the philanthropic work to which his life had been devoted.
On the 3rd of May, 1825, Pestalozzi was present at a meeting of the Helvetian Society, at Schinznach. He was welcomed with every demonstration of respect, and chosen as president for the following year. At the banquet which followed the meeting, he proposed a toast to "the Society that does not bruise the broken reed or quench the smoking flax."
On the 26th of April, 1826, the Society met at Langenthal. Pestalozzi had prepared an address, which was read by Schuler, of Aerlisbach, and which was afterwards printed in Cotta's edition of his works. In the next chapter we shall give some account of this interesting document, in which the author touches on many social questions that are still burning to-day.
In the summer of the same year, Pestalozzi and Schmidt paid a visit to the institute for orphans founded by Zeller, at Beuggen, near Rheinfelden. Zeller managed his establishment with much zeal and talent, and in most respects followed Pestalozzi's method. Being one of those Christians, however, who think that a child's natural tendencies are all bad, he blamed Pestalozzi for looking on education as a mere development of what is by nature good. In his religious ardour Zeller loved dogmatism no less than Pestalozzi feared it.
In spite of these differences, the old man was received at Beuggen with every expression of esteem and respect. The children sang a poem of Goethe's, quoted in Leonard and Gertrude, and peculiarly applicable to the sad circumstances of their guest; they then offered him a crown of oak, which, however, he refused to accept, saying, with tears in his eyes, "I am not worthy of this crown; leave it for inno
On the 21st of November of the same year, 1826, the
Society of Friends of Education assembled at Brugg Pestalozzi, who was present at the meeting, had prepared a paper on The simplest means of educating children at home, from the cradle to the age of six." After this paper had been read by his friend and neighbour, the pastor of Birr, Pestalozzi himself rose to add a few new developments, and spoke with such warmth, such zeal for his idea, such passionate love for children, that he seemed to have recovered all his old strength.
The same compassion for the poor that had inspired Pestalozzi's earliest efforts continued to inspire him to the end. As winter approached he was troubled to see that the rise in the price of firewood would prevent many of his neighbours from laying in a sufficient stock for the severe weather. Fearing that this would entail a terrible amount of suffering and disease on many families, he tried to find some means of prevention. The poor people, he thought, would spend their winter under much healthier conditions if the bare ground on which their cottages stood was covered with a layer of gravel, to keep the damp away, and then with two or three layers of straw-matting. It seemed to him that such a simple thing as this would be within everybody's reach. But not satisfied with merely advising the peasants what to do, he sought to set them the example by making the experiment himself.
With this object he selected in his still unfinished house a room on the ground-floor, where the flooring had not yet been laid, and, having filled his pocket with small stones, proceeded to throw them in through the open window. Seeing this, his grandson had a few loads of gravel shot before the house, and offered to help him, but the old man would not accept any further assistance, and even in the month of December was still to be seen kneeling in the snow, with trembling hands throwing the gravel into the room. At last, however, the severity of the weather and his ever increasing weakness interrupted the work, which he was destined never to resume. Long after his death the heap of gravel was still to be seen before the window, last token, as it were, of his compassion for the poor.
We give these last facts, on the authority of Mr. Lippe, of Lenzburg, who, at this time, paid frequent visits to Pestalozzi at Neuhof.
But there was still another sorrow in store for the old man, a sorrow more poignant than all the rest, and one which was to deal him his death-blow.
In writing the Experiences, Pestalozzi, influenced by Schmidt, whom he was seeking to defend, had allowed himself to be led into many unfortunate exaggerations, and had been very unjust to those of his old collaborators who had forsaken him. Niederer especially had been deeply hurt, and had vented his indignation in Yverdun with his characteristic energy. His grievances had been eagerly taken up by a man named Edward Biber, of Wurtemberg, who was employed in the school lately founded by Krusi. This man had arrived at Yverdun after Pestalozzi's departure, had stayed but one year there, and had then gone to Saint Gallen, where he wrote, in Niederer's justification, a pamphlet, entitled: Notes for the biography of Henry Pestalozzi, and for the better understanding of his late work: Experiences of my Life.
Biber was entirely devoid of tact or feeling; his pamphlet is little more than a long insult to the venerable philanthropist who, after devoting himself for eighty years to the service of humanity, was ending his days in misfortune. Pestalozzi's character, religion and educational doctrine, were alike attacked, and as the pamphlet contained expressions which were known to have been used by Niederer in his anger, people readily enough believed that he, if not actually the writer, was at least the instigator of it, whereas no one was more genuinely indignant with the infamous production. In spite of the differences which had arisen between Pestalozzi and Niederer, the latter had never ceased to express respect and admiration for his former master, and yet he was the man most deeply wronged by Biber's pamphlet, for which, indeed, certain recent biographers still hold him responsible.
Pestalozzi's grief was naturally very great when he found the work he held so dear thus spitefully attacked; but when, in a notice of Biber's work in a Zurich paper, he read: It seems that Pestalozzi is like certain animals who hide at sight of the stick; otherwise he would reply to these attacks," he was almost beside himself with indignation, crying, "I can bear this no longer."
Utterly prostrated by this terrible blow, he fell seriously ill. To his doctor, Doctor Stæbli of Brugg, he said: “I