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This failure is hardly to be wondered at; and yet experience has since confirmed the truth and value of the ideas on which his experiment was based: the advantage, for instance, of large market-gardens in the neighbourhood of towns, the great waste of manure in populous cities, and the possibility of enormously increasing the productive power of land by improved methods of cultivation. And what Pestalozzi could not accomplish then, others have accomplished since; for when we visited Muligen and Neuhof in 1869, we found this very same land in a state of most rich and varied cultivation, and producing several crops in the year. Pestalozzi's dream, then, of a hundred years ago has to-day been realized. It must not be forgotten, however, that this agricultural experiment at Neuhof was by no means in accordance with the plans prepared at Kirchberg, since Pestalozzi had not been able to combine all the conditions on which he had counted, of which nearness to Zurich was one of the most important. But his confidence and impatient ardour brooked no delay, and he set about putting his plan into execution long before he had made sure of all the means necessary for its success. This, unfortunately, is not the only occasion on which he had to suffer for this characteristic tendency of his nature.
For a man in his position, the owner of Neuhof now took a most unaccountable step. His agricultural operations having failed, and what little money he had started with being as good as lost, he decided to turn his house into a refuge for poor children.
It has been said that had this not been an act of such monstrous folly, it would have been an instance of the most sublime self-sacrifice. As a matter of fact, it was nothing more than the natural effect of a reaction which had taken place in his thought and conscience since he had become a father, a reaction which we must now endeavour to trace from its very beginning, since it resulted in Pestalozzi's finding his true vocation, and becoming the benefactor of humanity.
PESTALOZZI THE FATHER.
He reproaches himself with no longer thinking of anything but the temporal interests of his family. The birth of his son fills him with religious remorse. He tries to bring up his child according to the principles of “Emile." Obliged at every step to correct Rousseau, he discovers the essential principles of his own method; value of this experiment for humanity; sad fate of the child who was the subject of it.
IN the lives of young men there is often a period, more or or less transient, of passion and illusion, that carries them into paths from which disappointments and the experience of the realities of life compel them, sooner or later, to turn aside. It was in this way that Pestalozzi first threw himself into politics as a revolutionary, and then into agriculture as an innovator.
This latter step was indeed the chief folly of his youth. Carried away, in the first place, by the utopian ideas in vogue in university circles at Zurich, and by the hope of finding in agricultural reform a means of improving the condition of the people, and afterwards by his love for Anna, and his desire to reassure her parents by preparing her a comfortable home, he gradually allowed a sordid ambition to take the place of the noble philanthropic enthusiasm which had hitherto filled his heart.
But this eclipse of his great thought of self-sacrifice did not last very long. He soon found himself ill at ease in this atmosphere of material interests and reproached himself bitterly with having forsaken his former ideal. He was, in short, tormented by religious remorse.
The disappointments caused by the failure of his agricultural experiments undoubtedly helped to bring about this moral regeneration, though they were not the primary cause of it. Indeed, the extracts we are about to give from his
diary show that the crisis began at a time when Pestalozzi had as yet no reason to doubt the success of his enterprise. Already, on the 9th of January, 1770, he wrote:
"Why do I no longer take pleasure in speculative science? Why am I so little interested in the search for truths of the greatest importance? Can it be because the vainglory and examples that stimulated me in the town are now lacking to me? But I am resolved to attend earnestly to the development of my faculties, in spite of the distractions necessarily resulting from the work my position involves. O God, strengthen me in this resolution!"
And in another place:
"We rose late, and urgent letters absorbed the time set apart for our prayers, with which we ought to allow nothing to interfere. I have been very busy all day, and have been happier than on those days when I have less to do. I am ashamed to confess this; it shows that I am incapable of giving proper attention to my own character. After writing the foregoing, I set to work to amuse myself; but I soon stopped, ashamed of my levity. Where will it lead me? What will it bring me to in a few years?"
Shortly after this his wife writes:
"I am taking advantage of my dear husband's absence to look back over my life, which has been but ill employed for some time past. I am hoping to become a mother. If it should please God to let my child and me live, what an awful duty is before me! But if I am to die Oh, merciful Father! shed Thy grace and blessing upon us, strengthen and purify our hearts by Thy presence.. At last my husband came home. He asked me if I had prayed, and I was glad to see how happy it made him to hear how I had spent the day."
These few quotations will suffice to show that only a few months after their marriage, Pestalozzi and his wife were already blaming themselves for allowing material interests to shape their lives, and praying for help in their efforts after moral improvement.
When Pestalozzi became a father, this moral crisis took
the form of deep religious remorse. Paternity, with its cares, duties, and responsibilities, places men in a new position, a position particularly calculated to make them examine their lives, and to bring about a complete moral and religious regeneration. Though a man may have been careless about himself, he will be anxious to keep his child from sin, knowing well enough the misery it produces; and he will feel the need of making himself holy, that he may be able to teach holiness to the one he holds so dear.
Pestalozzi's entry in his wife's diary soon after the birth of his son, is as follows:
"Ah, God! I saw the time of gravest anxiety approaching, yet I could neither pray nor weep; I did not lift up my heart to God, nor did I fall on my knees to bewail my faults, to ask pity, to pray the Lord not to take my beloved from me because of my sins, nor my son because of my transgressions. My heart is hardened, alas! I have no desire to be better, my soul is full of wickedness!"
He goes on for a long time like this, then concludes with St. Paul's cry: "Who shall deliver me from the body of
Farther on he says again:
"I was always busied with the things of no importance, and took no trouble to make my soul worthy of the happiest day of my life. Alas! I forgot my Lord and my God, and in my soul's anxiety addressed no prayer to Him who forms us all in our mothers' wombs, and who gives us breath and life. Forgive me, my Father, I am not worthy to be called Thy son.
Thou hast surrounded me with blessings beyond measure; Thou hast preserved my wife's life and strength; Thou hast made me the father of an immortal soul. Ah! if I could only show my gratitude for Thy goodness by my repentance, repentance for a long life of sin from which I have never once turned aside! Send me Thy Spirit from on high! Give me now new strength, create in me a new heart, fresh zeal! Oh, my son, my son! Horrible thought! If I were to fail in my duty to thee, if I were to lead thee astray from thy proper path, thou mightest some day before the Judge be the accuser of thy father, of him whose duty
it was to lead thee aright! It would be better for me never to have seen thy face, and to have been cast into the bottom of the sea. God preserve me, my dear child, from ever suggesting any wickedness to thy soul."
What a noble sense of virtue and duty breathes through these words! How sensitive is this man's conscience, how sincere and thoroughly religious his soul! And yet in these most secret outpourings of a man who but recently was on the point of becoming a minister of the Gospel, there is no mention of Jesus, the Saviour of men, and refuge of despairing souls! The Christian doctrine of the Redemption seems indeed, to find no place in this soul, filled, nevertheless, with the most Christian love and repentance. It is clear that Pestalozzi had felt the influence of the age of incredulity in which he lived, and that the innocent faith of his childhood and early youth had suffered somewhat from the sophisms of Rousseau.
But it is also clear that a reaction has set in and that it has already made good progress. From Jean-Jacques to Pestalozzi, what a distance! The former always satisfied with himself, and excusing even his greatest errors; the latter bitterly reproaching himself the very moment that he becomes like other men, and gives his family's temporal interests the first place in his activity and his affections.
This new religious feeling, the first symptoms of which we have already called attention to, became much more marked after the birth of Pestalozzi's son; we shall now see it grow still more with his efforts to bring up his child properly, and finally develop into a most admirable example of Christian self-sacrifice.
In her book, Progressive Education, Madame Necker de Saussure expresses surprise that amongst the number of people who make notes on all sorts of subjects, no father should ever have thought of making notes on his child's progress. She did not know that sixty years before, this had already been done by the reformer of education. Some parts of the journal in which Pestalozzi wrote his observations on his child have been preserved in Niederer's Notes on Pestalozzi published at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1828.
This journal is as important as it is interesting, for it shows us a man who, starting with the intention of apply.