I now stood in every respect my own master, and might decide the direction of my future life for myself, according to the circumstances which lay around me. With this intention I once more left the paternal roof at Easter, to undertake the post of clerk in the Office of Woods and Forests which formed one part of the general administration (divided into Treasury, Woods and Forests, and Tithe departments) of the as yet episcopal territory of Bamberg. My district lay amidst unusual and lovely scenery; my duties were light, and when they were over I was free to roam in the neighbourhood, now doubly beautiful in the springtime, to live out my life in freedom, and gain strength for mind and soul.
Thus once again I lived much out of doors and in companionship with Nature. My chief was proud of the possession of a considerable library, of which I made good use; and in this manner many of the publications then issuing from the press, and treating of matters connected with the occupation which I had chosen, passed through my hands, as well as those on other subjects. I was especially attracted by some volumes which contained aphorisms, thoughts, and observations on conduct, selected from ancient and modern writers and thinkers. My character grew upon and entwined itself around these aphorisms, which I could easily glance over, and as easily retain, and, more than all, which I could weave into my own life and thoughts, and by which I could examine my conduct. I made extracts of those which were in closest accord with my inner life, and bore them always about my person.
Amidst these surroundings my life contained many elements of growth. Although my chief, as well as his family, was a strong Roman Catholic, he chose a (Protestant) private tutor recommended to him by Professor Carus. This gentleman had many excellent qualities, so that we soon became great friends. We had also both of us the pleasure of being acquainted with some highly-cultured people, the families of the physician, of the minister, and of the schoolmaster in the neighbouring Protestant village, which was as yet still a fief of the Empire. My friend the tutor was a young man quite out of the common, with an actively inquiring mind; especially fond of making plans for wide-stretching travel, and comprehensive schemes of education. Our intercourse and our life together were very confidential and open, for the subjects he cared for were those dear to me; but we were of diametrically opposite natures. He was a man of scholastic training, and I had been deficiently educated. He was a youth who had plunged into strife with the world and society; my thought was how to live in peace with myself and all men. Besides, our outward lives bore such different aspects that a truly intimate friendship could not exist between us. Nevertheless our very contrasts bound us more closely together than we deemed.
Practical land surveying at this time chiefly interested me, for it at once satisfied my love for out-of-doors life, and fully occupied my intelligence. But the everlasting scribbling which now fell to my share I could not long endure, in spite of my otherwise pleasant life.
Early in the spring of 1803 I left my situation and went to Bamberg, feeling sure that the political changes by which Bamberg had been transferred to Bavaria, and the general survey of the district which was therefore in contemplation, would immediately provide me with a sphere of work suited to my capabilities. My expectations were not falsified. In pursuance of my plan I introduced myself to the land-surveyors in Bamberg, and at once received employment from one of them. He had had considerable surveys in hand, and was still engaged upon them. As I showed some proficiency in mapping, he entrusted me with the preparation of the necessary maps which accompanied the surveys. This kept me employed for some time on work sufficiently remunerative for my needs.
Of course the question in hand with the new Government was the appointment of land-surveyors, and those who were resident in the town were invited to send in maps of Bamberg as specimens of their work. Through the instruction I had enjoyed in my youth I was not unacquainted with such work. I therefore took pleasure in drawing a map, which I sent in. My work was approved, and I received something for it; but being a stranger, inexperienced, and young, and having hardly taken the best way towards my purposed aim, I obtained no appointment.
After I had finished the work I have mentioned the survey of a small private property was put into my hands to carry out. From this engagement ensued consequences which were most important for me. I note only one point here. One of the joint owners of this property was a young doctor of philosophy, who leaned towards the new school of Schelling. It could hardly be expected but that we should talk over things which stirred our mental life, and so it came about that he lent me Schelling's "Bruno, oder ueber die Welt-seele" to read. What I read in that book moved me profoundly, and I thought I really understood it. The friendly young fellow, not much older than myself—we had already met in Jena,—saw the lively interest I was taking in the book, and, in fact, I talked it over with him many a time. One day, after we had been to see an important picture-gallery together, he addressed me in these words, which from his mouth sounded startlingly strange, and which at the time seemed to me inexplicable:—
"Guard yourself against philosophy; she leads you towards doubt and darkness. Devote yourself to art, which gives life, peace, and joy."
It is true I retained the young man's words, but I could not understand them, for I regarded philosophy as a necessary part of the life of mankind, and could not grasp the notion that one could be verging towards darkness and doubt when one calmly investigated the inner life. Art, on the other hand, lay much further from me than philosophy; for except a profound enjoyment in works of art (for which I could give no clear reason), no glimmering of an active aesthetic sense had yet dawned upon me. This remark of my friend the doctor's called my attention to myself, however, and to my life and its aim, and made me aware of two very different and widely separate systems of life.
My friend, the tutor of the Government official under whom I had served at Bamberg, had in the meantime left his situation. He told me before leaving that he had it in his mind to go to Frankfurt, and thence into France. I saw his departure with regret, little dreaming that life would in a few years bring us together again, and that he would indirectly decide my future career. But, as it so often happens in life, parting in this instance but led up to meeting, and meeting to parting.
The occurrences I have named had little result upon my outward life, which for the time ran its peaceful course. I pass over many circumstances important to the uplifting and development of my character and my moral life, and come at once to the close of my stay in Bamberg.
I had now once more earnestly to turn my attention to procuring certain and settled employment. In truth, as regarded my future, I stood quite alone. I had no one to lend me a helping hand, so I made up my mind to go forward, trusting only in God and destiny. I determined to seek for a situation by means of the Allgemeine Anzeiger der Deutschen, a paper then very much read, and I thought it would be good to send in to the editor, as a proof of my assertions of competency, an architectural design, and also a specimen of my work in practical surveying, together with explanations of both of them. As soon as my plan was fully conceived I set to work at it. For the architectural sketch I chose a design of a nobleman's country mansion, with the surrounding outbuildings. When I had finished it, with very few professional appliances to help me, it contained a complete working out of all the various necessary plans, and as a critical test of its accuracy and suitability to the proposed scale of dimensions, I added a statement of all the particulars and conditions involved in it. For the land-surveying I chose a table of measurements compiled from the map I had previously drawn, which I carried through under certain arbitrary assumptions. These works, together with my advertisement, I sent in 1803 to the office of the paper I have mentioned, with the request that the editor, after reading my testimonials and inspecting my work, would add a few confirmatory words as to my qualifications. Work and testimonials alike were to the satisfaction of the editor, and my request for an editorial comment was granted. I received several offers, each one containing something tempting about it. It was difficult to make a choice, but at last I decided to accept a position offered me as private secretary to the President and Privy-Councillor Von Dewitz, of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, at this time resident on one of his estates, Gross-Milchow.
Amongst the other offers was one from Privy-Councillor Von Voldersdorf, who was looking out for an accountant for his estates in the Oberpfalz. This situation did not suit me so well as the other, but I accepted a proposition to fill up the time till the arrangements for the other post had been completed, by going down to these estates of Herr Von Voldersdorf, and bringing into order, according to a certain specified plan, the heavy accounts of his steward, which were at this time much in arrear. I set off for the Oberpfalz in the first days of 1804. But I was soon called away to Mecklenburg to the situation at Gross-Milchow which I had definitively chosen, and in the raw, frightfully severe winter-time of February I journeyed thither by the mail-coach. Yet, short as had been my stay in the Oberpfalz, and continual and uninterrupted as had been my labour in order that I might get through the work I had undertaken, the time I spent in Bavaria yielded me much that was instructive. The men, ingenuous, lively young fellows from Saxony and Prussia, received me very kindly, and the variety of their different services and their readiness to talk about them, gave me a good insight into the inner relationship between the landed aristocracy and their retainers. In recalling these circumstances I thankfully acknowledge how my ever-tender loving destiny took pains kindly to prepare me for each vocation next to come. I had never before had the opportunity to see the mode of keeping accounts used on a great estate, to say nothing of keeping them myself, and here I had this very work to do, and that after a plan both ample and clear, in which every particular, down to the single details, was carefully provided for. This was of the greatest service to me. Precisely the conduct of such well-ordered accounts was to be my work later on; therefore, having the general plan I have referred to firmly established in my mind, and being well practised in its operation, I set off well prepared for my new sphere of work. Thanks to this, I was able to satisfy most completely not only my new employer, but also his lady, who used to examine everything minutely with severe scrutiny.
The surroundings of Herr Von Dewitz's estate were uncommonly pretty for that part of the country. Lakes and hills and the fresh foliage of trees abounded, and what Nature had perhaps overlooked here and there Art had made good. My good fortune has always led me amongst pretty natural scenery. I have ever thankfully enjoyed what Nature has spread before my eyes, and she has always been in true motherly unity with me. As soon as I had gained some facility in it my new work became simple, ran its regular course which was repeated week by week, and gave me time to think about my own improvement.
However, my engagement on this estate was, after all, but a short one. The bent of my life and disposition was already taken. A star had arisen within my mind which I was impelled to follow. On this account I could regard my employment at this time only as a sheet anchor, to be let go as soon as an opportunity offered itself to resume my vocation. This opportunity was not long in making its appearance.
My uncle (Hoffmann), who, like my brother, bore me always lovingly in his thoughts, had lately died. Even on his deathbed he thought of me, and charged my brother to do all he could to find me some settled occupation for life, and at any rate to prevent me from leaving the post I held at the moment before I had some reasonable prospect of a secure and better engagement elsewhere. Providence willed it otherwise. His death, through the small inheritance which thereby came to me, gave me the means of fulfilling the dearest wish of my heart. So wonderfully does God direct the fate of men.
I must mention one circumstance before I part for ever in this account of my life from my gentle, loving second-father. On my journey to Mecklenburg, when I saw my uncle (at Stadt-Ilm) for the last time, I had the deep joy of a talk with him, such as a trusting father might hold with his grown-up son, bound to him by every tie of affection. He freely pointed out the faults which had shown themselves in my boyhood, and told me of the anxiety they had at one time caused him, and in this way he went back to the time when I was taken into his family, and to the causes of that. "I loved your mother very dearly," said he; "indeed, she was my favourite out of all my brothers and sisters. In you I seemed to see my sister once more, and for her love I took charge of you and bestowed on you that affection which hitherto had been hers alone." And dear as my own mother had become to me already through the many kind things I had heard said of her, so that I had even formed a distinct conception of what she was like, and seemed actually to remember her, she became even dearer to me after these reminiscences of my uncle than before, for did I not owe to her this noble and high-minded second-father? My conversation with my uncle first made clear to me what in later life I have found repeatedly confirmed—that the sources, springs or motives of one's present actions often lie far away beyond the present time, outside the present circumstances, and altogether disconnected with the persons with whom one is concerned at the moment then passing. I have also repeatedly observed in the course of my life that ties are the faster, the more enduring and the truer the more they spring from higher, universal, and impersonal sources.
The person who in Mecklenburg stood next above me in position in the house and in the family was the private tutor, whom I found already there—a young doctor of philosophy of Goettingen University. We did not come much into contact on the whole since he as a university graduate took a far higher stand than I; but through I came into some connection with the clergymen of the district, and this was of benefit to me. As for the farmers the bailiffs, etc., their hospitable nature was quite sufficient of itself to afford me a hearty welcome. Thus I lived in a way I had for a long time felt I much needed, amidst many-sided companionable good-fellowship, cheerful and free. Healthy as I was in body and soul, in head and heart, my thoughts full of brightness and cheerfulness, it was not long before my mind again felt an eager desire for higher culture. The young tutor went away, and after his departure my craving for culture grew keener and keener, for I missed the intellectual converse I had been able to hold with him. But I was soon again to receive succour.
The President, besides the family at home, had two sons at the Paedagogium in Halle. They came to visit their parents, accompanied by their special tutor, a gentleman destined to become famous later on as the renowned scholar, Dr. Wollweide.
Dr. Wollweide was a mathematician and a physicist, and I found him freely communicative. He was so kind as to mention and explain to me the many various problems he had set before himself to work out. This caused my long slumbering and suppressed love for mathematics as a science, and for physics, to spring up again, fully awake. For some time past my tendency had leaned more and more towards architecture, and, indeed, I had now firmly determined to choose that as my profession, and to study it henceforth with all earnestness. My intellectual cravings and the choice of a profession seemed at last to run together, and I felt continually bright and happy at the thought. I seized the opportunity of the presence of the scholar whom I have named to learn from him what were the best books on those subjects which promised to be useful to me, and my first care was to become possessed of them. Architecture was now vigorously studied, and other books, too, were not suffered to lie idle.
The following books took great hold upon me: Proeschke's "Fragments on Anthropology" (a small unpretending book), Novalis' Works, and Arndt's "Germany" and "Europe." The first of these at one stroke drew together, so that I could recognise in them myself as a connected whole, my outer existence, my inner character, my disposition, and the course of my life. I for the first time realised myself and my life as a single entity in contrast to the whole world outside of me. The second book lay before me the most secret emotions, perceptions, and intentions of my inmost soul, clear, open, and vivid. If I parted with that book it seemed as if I had parted with myself; if anything happened to the book I felt as though it had happened to me, only more deeply and with greater pain. The third book taught me of man in his broad historical relations, set before me the general life of my kind as one great whole, and showed me how I was bound to my own nation, both to my ancestors and my contemporaries. Yet the service this last book had done me was hardly recognised at this time; for my thoughts were bent on a definite outward aim, that of becoming an architect. But I could at all events recognise the new eager life which had seized me, and to mark this change to myself, I now began to use as a Christian name the last instead of the first of my baptismal names. Other circumstances also impelled me to make this change; and, further, it freed me from the memory of the many disagreeable impressions of my boyhood which clustered round the name I was then called.
The time had come when I could no longer remain satisfied with my present occupation; and I therefore sent in my resignation. The immediate outward circumstance which decided me was this. I had kept up a correspondence with the young man whom I had known as a private tutor when I held a Government clerkship in Bamberg, and who left his situation to go to Frankfurt, and then on into France. He had afterwards lived some time in Frankfurt, occupying himself with teaching, and now was again a private tutor in a merchant's house in the Netherlands. I imparted to him my desire to leave my present post, and to seek a situation with an architect; and asked his opinion whether I should not be most likely to effect my object at Frankfurt, where so many streams of diverse life and of men intermingle. And as my friend was accurately acquainted with the ins and outs of Frankfurt life, I asked him to give me such indications as he could of the best road to take towards the fulfilment of my designs. My friend entered heartily into my project, and wrote to me that he intended himself to spend some time in Frankfurt again in the early summer; and he suggested that if I could manage to be there at the same time, a mutual consideration of the whole matter on the spot would be the best way of going to work. In consequence of this I at once firmly decided to leave my situation in the following spring, and to join my friend at Frankfurt. But where was I to find the money necessary for such a journey? I had required the whole of my salary up till now to cover my personal expenses and the settlement of some debts I had run up at Bamberg.
In this perplexity I wrote again to my eldest brother, who had up till now understood me so well, and I asked him for assistance. I was at this time in a peculiar dilemma. On the one hand, I felt very keenly that I must get out of my present position, while on the other, by my unchanging changeableness I feared to wear out the indulgence and patience of my worthy brother. In this strait I just gave him what seemed to me as I wrote it an exact account of my real state of mind; telling him that I could only find my life-aim in a continual striving towards inward perfection.
My brother's answer arrived. With a joyful tremor and agitation I held it in my hands. For hours together I carried it about me before I unsealed it, for days together before I read it; it seemed so improbable that my brother would feel himself able to help me towards the accomplishment of the desire of my soul, and I feared to find in that letter the frustration of my life's endeavour. When, after some days of vacillation between hope and doubt, I could bear the situation no longer, and opened the letter, I was not a little astonished that it began by addressing me at once in terms of the most moving sympathy. As I read on the contents agitated me deeply. The letter gave me the news of my beloved uncle's death, and informed me of legacies left by him to me and my brothers. Thus fate itself, though in a manner so deeply affecting, provided me with the means for working out my next plan.
The die was now cast. From this moment onwards my inner life received a quite new signification and a fresh character, and yet I was unconscious of all this. I was like a tree which flowers and knows it not. My inward and outward vocation and endeavour, my true life-destiny and my apparent life-aim were still, however, in a state of separation, and indeed of conflict, of which I had not the remotest conception. My resolve held firm to make architecture my profession; it was purely as a future architect that I took leave of all my companions.
At the end of April 1805, with peace in my heart, cheerfulness in my soul, an eager disposition, and a mind full of energy, I quitted my old surroundings. The first days of an unusually lovely May (and I might here again recall what I pointed out above, that my inner and personal life invariably went familiarly hand in hand with external Nature) I spent with a friend, as a holiday, in the best sense of the word. This was a dear friend of mine, who lived on an exceedingly finely-situated farm in the Uckermark. Art had improved the beauty of the somewhat simple natural features of the place, in the most cunningly-devised fashion. In this beautiful, retired, and even solitary spot, I flitted, as it were, from one flower to another like a very butterfly. I had always passionately loved Nature in her adornments of colour and of dewy pearls, and clung to her closely with the gladsomeness of youth. Here I made the discovery that a landscape which we look upon in sympathetic mood shines with enhanced brilliancy; or as I put the truth into words at the time, "The more intimately we attach ourselves to Nature, the more she glows with beauty and returns us all our affection." This was the first time my mind had ventured to give expression to a sentiment which thrilled my soul. Often in later life has this phrase proved itself a very truth to me. My friend one day begged me to write something in his album: I did so unwillingly. To write anything borrowed went against me, for it jarred with the relations existing between me and the book's owner; and to think of anything original was a task I felt to be almost beyond my powers. However, after long thinking it over in the open air, comparing my friend's life and my own in all their aspects, I decided upon the following phrase:—"To thee may destiny soon grant a settled home and a loving wife! To me, while she drives me restless abroad, may she leave but just so much time as to allow me fairly to discern my relations with my inmost self and with the world." Then my thoughts grew clear, and I continued, "Thou givest man bread; let my aim be to give man himself."
I did not even then fully apprehend the meaning of what I had said and written, or I could not of course have held so firmly to my architecture scheme. I knew as yet neither myself nor my real life, neither my goal nor my life's path thither. And long afterwards, when I had for some time been engaged upon my true vocation, I was not a little astonished over the prophetic nature of this album-phrase of mine.
In later life I have often observed that a man's spirit, when it first begins to stir within him, utters many a far-away prophetic thought, which yet, in riper age, attains its realisation, its consummation. I have especially noticed this recently in bright-minded and active children; in fact, I have often been quite astounded at the really deep truths expressed by them in their butterfly life. I seemed to catch glimpses of a symbolic truth in this; as if indeed the human soul were even already beginning to shake itself free from its chrysalis-wrapping, or were bursting off the last fragments of the eggshell.
In May 1805, while on my journey, I visited my eldest brother, of whom I have so often spoken, and shall have yet so often to speak, and found him in another district, to which he had been appointed minister. He was as kind and full of affection as ever; and instead of blaming me, spoke with especial approval of my new plans. He told me of projects which had allured him in his youth, and still allured, but which he had lacked the strength of mind to speak of. His father's advice and authority had overawed him in youth, and now the chain of a settled position in life held him fast. To follow the inward voice faithfully and without swerving was the advice he offered me, and he wrote this memorandum in my album when I left him, as a life motto:—"The task of man is a struggle towards an end. Do your duty as a man, dear brother, with firmness and resolution, fight against the difficulties which will thrust themselves in your path, and be assured you will attain the end."
Thus cheered by sympathy and approval, I went my way from my brother's, strengthened and confirmed in my determination. My road lay over the Wartburg. Luther's life and fame were then not nearly so well appreciated and so generally understood as now, after the Tercentenary festival of the Reformation. My early education had not been of the kind to give me a complete survey of Luther's life and its struggle; I was hardly thoroughly acquainted indeed with the separate events of it. Yet I had learnt in some sort to appreciate this fighter for the truth, by having in my last years at school to read aloud the Augsburg Confession to the assembled congregation during the afternoon service on certain specified Sundays, according to an old-fashioned Church custom. I was filled with a deep sense of reverence as I climbed "Luther's path," thinking at the same time that Luther had left much behind still to be done, to be rooted out, or to be built up.
Shortly before Midsummer Day, as I had arranged with my friend, I reached Frankfurt. During my many weeks' journey in the lovely springtime, my thoughts had had time to grow calm and collected. My friend, too, was true to his word; and we at once set to work together to prepare a prosperous future for me. The plan of seeking a situation with an architect was still firmly held to, and circumstances seemed favourable for its realisation; but my friend at last advised me to secure a livelihood by giving lessons for a time, until we should find something more definite than had yet appeared. Every prospect of a speedy fulfilment of my wishes seemed to offer, and yet in proportion as my hopes grew more clear, a certain feeling of oppression manifested itself more and more within me. I soon began seriously to ask myself, therefore:—
"How is this? Canst thou do work in architecture worthy of a man's life? Canst thou use it to the culture and the ennoblement of mankind?"
I answered my own question to my satisfaction. Yet I could not conceal from myself that it would be difficult to follow this profession conformably with the ideal I had now set before me. Notwithstanding this, I still remained faithful to my original scheme, and soon began to study under an architect with a view to fitting myself for my new profession.
My friend, unceasingly working towards the accomplishment of my views, introduced me to a friend of his, Herr Gruner, the headmaster at that time of the Frankfurt Model School, which had not long been established. Here I found open-minded young people who met me readily and ingenuously, and our conversation soon ranged freely over life and its many-sided aspects. My own life and its object were also brought forward and talked over. I spoke openly, manifesting myself just as I was, saying what I knew and what I did not know about myself.
"Oh," said Gruner, turning to me, "give up architecture; it is not your vocation at all. Become a teacher. We want a teacher in our own school. Say you agree, and the place shall be yours."
My friend was for accepting Gruner's proposal, and I began to hesitate. Added to this, an external circumstance now came to my knowledge which hastened my decision. I received the news namely, that the whole of my testimonials, and particularly those that I had received in Jena, which were amongst them, had been lost. They had been sent to a gentleman who took a lively interest in my affairs, and I never found out through what mischance they were lost. I now read this to mean that Providence itself had thus broken up the bridge behind me, and cut off all return. I deliberated no longer, but eagerly and joyfully seized the hand held out to me, and quickly became a teacher in the Model School of Frankfurt-on-the-Main.
The watchword of teaching and of education was at this time the name of PESTALOZZI. It soon became evident to me that Pestalozzi was to be the watchword of my life also; for not only Gruner, but also a second teacher at the school, were pupils of Pestalozzi, and the first-named had even written a book on his method of teaching. The name had a magnetic effect upon me, the more so as during my self-development and self-education it had seemed to me an aspiration—a something perhaps never to be familiarly known, yet distinct enough, and at all events inspiriting. And now I recalled how in my early boyhood, in my father's house, I had got a certain piece of news out of some newspaper or another, or at least that is how the matter stood in my memory. I gathered that in Switzerland a man of forty, who lived retired from the world,—Pestalozzi by name,—had taught himself, alone and unaided, reading, writing, and arithmetic. Just at that time I was feeling the slowness and insufficiency of my own development, and this news quieted me, and filled me with the hope and trust that I, too, might, through my own endeavour, repair the deficiencies of my bringing-up. As I have grown older I have also found it consolatory to remark how the culture of vigorous, capable men has not seldom been acquired remarkably late in life. And in general I must acknowledge it as part of the groundwork underlying my life and the evolution of my character, that the contemplation of the actual existences of real men always wrought upon my soul, as it were, by a fruitful rain and the genial warmth of sunshine; while the isolated truths these lives enshrined, the principles those who lived them had thought out and embodied in some phrase or another, fell as precious seed-corn, as it were, or as solvent salt crystals upon my thirsty spirit. And while on this head I cannot help especially calling to mind how deep and lasting was the impression made upon me in my last year at school by the accounts in the Holy Scriptures of the lives of earnestly striving youths and men. I mention it here, but I shall have to return to the subject later on.
Now to return to the new life which I had begun. It was only to be expected that each thing and all things I heard of Pestalozzi seized powerfully upon me; and this more especially applies to a sketchy narrative of his life, his aims, and his struggles, which I found in a literary newspaper, where also was stated Pestalozzi's well-known desire and endeavour—namely, in some nook or corner of the world, no matter where, to build up an institution for the education of the poor, after his own heart. This narrative, especially the last point of it, was to my heart like oil poured on fire. There and then the resolution was taken to go and look upon this man who could so think and so endeavour to act, and to study his life and its work.
Three days afterwards (it was towards the end of August 1805) I was already on the road to Yverdon, where Pestalozzi had not long before established himself. Once arrived there, and having met with the friendliest reception by Pestalozzi and his teachers, because of my introductions from Gruner and his colleagues, I was taken, like every other visitor, to the class-rooms, and there left more or less to my own devices. I was still very inexperienced, both in the theory and practice of teaching, relying chiefly in such things upon my memory of my own school-time, and I was therefore very little fitted for a rigorous examination into details of method and into the way they were connected to form a whole system. The latter point, indeed, was neither clearly thought out, nor was it worked out in practice. What I saw was to me at once elevating and depressing, arousing and also bewildering. My visit lasted only a fortnight. I worked away and tried to take in as much as I could; especially as, to help me in the duties I had undertaken, I felt impelled to give a faithful account in writing of my views on the whole system, and the effect it had produced upon me. With this idea I tried to hold fast in my memory all I heard. Nevertheless I soon felt that heart and mind would alike come to grief in a man of my disposition if I were to stay longer with Pestalozzi, much as I desired to do so. At that time the life there was especially vigorous; internally and externally it was a living, moving, stirring existence, for Prince Hardenberg, commissioned by the Austrian Government, had come to examine thoroughly into Pestalozzi's work.
The fruits of my short stay with Pestalozzi were as follows:—
In the first place, I saw the whole training of a great educational institution, worked upon a clear and firmly-settled plan of teaching. I still possess the "teaching-plan" of Pestalozzi's institution in use at that time. This teaching-plan contains, in my opinion, much that is excellent, somewhat also that is prejudicial. Excellent, I thought, was the contrivance of the so-called "exchange classes." In each subject the instruction was always given through the entire establishment at the same time. Thus the subjects for teaching were settled for every class, but the pupils were distributed amongst the various classes according to their proficiency in the subject in hand, so that the whole body of pupils was redistributed in quite a distinct division for each subject. The advantage of this contrivance struck me as so undeniable and so forcible that I have never since relinquished it in my educational work, nor could I now bring myself to do so. The prejudicial side of the teaching-plan, against which I intuitively rebelled, although my own tendencies on the subject were as yet so vague and dim, lay, in my opinion, in its incompleteness and its onesidedness. Several subjects of teaching and education highly important to the all-round harmonious development of a man seemed to me thrust far too much into the background, treated in step-motherly fashion, and superficially worked out.
The results of the arithmetical teaching astounded me, yet I could not follow it into its larger applications and wider extent. The mechanical rules of this branch of instruction seemed to whirl me round and round as in a whirlpool. The teacher was Kruesi. The teaching, in spite of the brilliant results within its own circle, and in spite of the sharpness of the quickened powers of perception and comprehension in the children by which it attained those results, yet, to my personal taste, had something too positive in its setting forth, too mechanical in its reception. And Josias Schmid had already, even at that time, felt the imperfection of this branch of instruction. He imparted to me the first ground-principles of his later work on the subject, and his ideas at once commanded my approval, for I saw they possessed two important properties, manysidedness and an exhaustive scientific basis.
The teaching of drawing was also very incomplete, especially in its first commencement; but drawing from right-angled prisms with equal sides, in various lengths, which was one of the exercises required at a later stage, and drawing other mathematical figures by means of which the comprehension of the forms of actual objects of every-day life might be facilitated were much more to my mind. Schmid's method of drawing had not yet appeared.
In physical geography, the usual school course, with its many-coloured maps, had been left far behind. Tobler, an active young man, was the principal teacher in this section. Still, even this branch had far too much positive instruction for me. Particularly unpleasant to me was the commencement of the course, which began with an account of the bottom of the sea, although the pupils could have no conception of their own as to its nature or dimensions. Nevertheless the teaching aroused astonishment, and carried one involuntarily along with it through the impression made by the lightning-quickness of the answers of the children.
In natural history I heard only the botany. The principal teacher, who had also prepared the plan of instruction in this subject for all the school, was Hopf, like the rest an active young man. The school course arranged and carried out by him had much that was excellent. In each separate instance—for example, the shape and position of leaves, flowers, etc.—he would first obtain all the possible varieties of form by question and answer between the class and himself, and then he would select from the results the form which was before them in nature. These lessons, which were in this way made so attractive, and whose merits spoke for themselves, showed, however, when it came to practical application, an unpractical, I had almost said, a self-contradictory aspect.
(When, afterwards, in 1808, I visited Yverdon for the second time, I found to my regret neither Tobler nor Hopf there.)
With the method used for the German language I could not at all bring myself into sympathy, although it has been introduced into later school books elsewhere. Here also the arbitrary and non-productive style of teaching ran strongly counter to me at every step.
Singing was taught from figures. Reading was taught from Pestalozzi's well-known "A.B.C."
[Memorandum.—All this lay dark within me, its value unrecognised even by myself. But my intellectual position tended to become more settled by passing through these experiences. As to my state at the time, I have, as accurately as may be, described it above, as at once exalted and depressed, animated and dull. That Pestalozzi himself was carried away and bewildered by this great intellectual machine of his appears from the fact that he could never give any definite account of his idea, his plan, his intention. He always said, "Go and see for yourself" (very good for him who knew how to look, how to hear, how to perceive); "it works splendidly!" It was at that time, indeed, surprising and inexplicable to me that Pestalozzi's loving character did not win every one's heart as it won mine, and compel the staff of teachers to draw together into a connected whole, penetrated with life and intellectual strength in every part. His morning and evening addresses were deeply touching in their simplicity; and yet I remarked in them even already at that time some slight traces of the unhappy dissensions afterwards to arise.]
I left Yverdon in mid-October (1805) with a settled resolution to return thither as soon as possible for a longer stay. As soon as I got back to Frankfurt, I received my definite appointment from the Consistorium. The work that awaited me upon my arrival from Switzerland at the Model School (which was, in fact, properly two schools, one for boys and one for girls) was a share in the arrangement of an entirely new educational course and teaching-plan for the whole establishment. The school contained four or five classes of boys and two or three of girls; altogether about two hundred children. The staff consisted of four permanent masters and nine visiting masters.
As I threw myself heartily into the consideration of the necessities and the present position of the school, and of the instruction given there, the working out of this plan was left almost wholly in my hands, under the conditions imposed upon us. The scheme I produced not only succeeded in winning the approbation of the authorities, but proved itself during a long period of service beneficial in the highest degree, both to the institution itself and to its efficiency; notwithstanding that it put the teachers to some considerable personal inconvenience, as well as making larger claims upon their time than was usual.
The subjects of instruction which fell to my share were arithmetic, drawing, physical geography, and German. I generally taught in the middle classes. In a letter to my brother I spoke of the impression made upon me by my first lesson to a class of thirty or forty boys ranging from nine to eleven; it seemed as if I had found something I had never known, but always longed for, always missed, as if my life had at last discovered its native element. I felt as happy as the fish in the water, the bird in the air.
But before I pursue this side of the development of my life I must touch upon another which was far more important to the evolution of my character as man, as teacher, and as educationist, and which, indeed, soon absorbed the first within itself.
Not long after my old friend, to meet with whom I had come to Frankfurt, had introduced me to Gruner, he went back himself to his work as private tutor. Afterwards he heard of a family (in Frankfurt) desiring a private tutor for the sons. Since he could not introduce me personally to this family he did so by letter, and several weeks before my journey to Yverdon he had, in fact, written to them about me in very kindly terms. It was for three sons principally that instruction and education were required. They came to see me, and after they had gone their personal peculiarities and their previous teaching and training, with the results, were fully described to me, and I was then consulted as to their future education. Now to education as an object I had in truth never yet given a thought, and the question threw me into great perplexity. Nevertheless it required an answer, and moreover a precise answer.
In the life and circumstances of these lads I discovered frequent similarities with my own boyhood, which sprang to my memory as I listened. I could therefore answer the questions which were put to me out of the development and educational experiences of my own life; and my reply, torn as it was from actual life, keenly felt and vigorously expressed, bore upon it the stamp of truth. It was satisfactory to the parents; and education—development, which hitherto had been subjective alone for me—that is, as self-development—now took an objective form, a change which was distinctly painful to me. Long, long it was before I could bring this business of education into a form expressible by words. I only knew education, and I could only educate, through direct personal association. This, then, I cultivated to the best of my power, following the path whither my vocation and my life now called me.
To say truth, I had a silent inward reluctance towards private tutorship. I felt the constant interruptions and the piece-meal nature of the work inseparable from the conditions of the case, and hence I suspected that it might want vitality; but the trusting indulgence with which I was met, and especially the clear, bright, friendly glance which greeted me from the two younger lads, decided me to undertake to give the boys lessons for two hours a day, and to share their walks. The actual teaching was to be in arithmetic and German. The first was soon arranged. I simply followed Pestalozzi's course. But as to the language I encountered great difficulties. I began by teaching it from the regular school-books then used, and indeed still in use. I prepared myself to the best of my ability for each lesson, and worked up whatever I felt myself ignorant of in the most careful and diligent way. But the mode of teaching employed in these books frustrated my efforts. I could neither get on myself nor get my pupils on with it. So I began to take for my method Pestalozzi's "Mothers' Book." In this way we went on much better, but still I was not satisfied; and, indeed, I may say that for a very long time no system of instruction in German did satisfy me.
In arithmetic, by using the "Tables of Units" in Pestalozzi's pamphlet, I arrived at the same results which I had seen in Switzerland. Very often my pupils had the answer ready when the last word of the question had scarcely been spoken. Yet I presently found out some defects in this method of teaching, of which I shall speak later on.
When we were out walking together, I endeavoured to my utmost to penetrate into the lives of the children, and so to influence them for good. I lived my own early life over again, but in a happier way, for it now lay clear and intelligible before me in its special as well as its general characteristics.
All my thoughts and work were now directed to the subject of the culture and education of man. This period of my life became full of zeal, of active development, of advancing culture, and, in consequence, of happiness. And my life in the Model School also, with my boys and with my excellent colleagues, unusually clever men, was very elevating and encouraging.
Owing to the position and surroundings of the school buildings, which, though not apparently extensive as seen from the street, contained a considerable courtyard and a spacious garden, the scholars enjoyed perfect freedom of exercise, and could play just as they liked in courtyard or garden; with the result, moreover, of thereby affording a most important opportunity to the various teachers of becoming really intimate with the characters of the boys they taught. And there grew up out of all this a voluntary resolution on the part of the teachers that every teacher should take his boys for a walk once a week. Each adopted the method he liked best; some preferred to occupy the time of the walk over a permanent subject; others preferred leaving the subject to chance. I usually occupied my class with botanising; and also as geographical master, I turned these occasions to profit by leading on my boys to think for themselves and to apprehend the relations of various parts of the earth's surface: on these and other perceptions gained in this way I based my instruction in physiography, making them my point of departure.
The town was at once my starting-place and my centre. From it I extended our observations to the right and to the left, on this side and on that. I took the river Main as a base line, just as it lay; or I used the line of hills or the distant mountains. I settled firmly the direction of the four quarters of the compass. In everything I followed the leading of Nature herself, and with the data so obtained I worked out a representation of the place from direct observation, and on a reduced scale, in some level spot of ground or sandy tract carefully chosen for the purpose. When my representation (or map) was thoroughly understood and well impressed on every one's mind, then we reconstructed it in school on a black board placed horizontally. The map was first sketched by teachers and pupils between them, and then each pupil had to do it by himself as an exercise. These representations of the earth's surface of ours had a round contour, resembling the circular outline of the visible horizon.
At the next public examination of the school, I was fortunate enough, although this first attempt was full of imperfections, to win the unanimous approval of the parents present; and not only that, but the especial commendation of my superiors. Every one said, "That is how physiography should be taught. A boy must first learn all about his home before he goes further afield." My boys were as well acquainted with the surroundings of the town as with their own rooms at home; and gave rapid and striking answers as to all the natural peculiarities of the neighbourhood. This course was the fountain-head of the teaching method which I afterwards thoroughly worked out, and which has now been in use for many years.
In arithmetic I did not take the lower, but the middle classes; and here also my teaching received cheering encomiums.
In drawing I also taught the middle classes. My method in this subject was to work at the thorough comprehension and the representation of planes and solids in outline, rising from the simplest forms to complex combinations. I not only had the gratification of obtaining good results, which thoroughly satisfied those who tested them, but also of seeing my pupils work with pleasure, with ardour, and with individuality. In the girls' school I had to teach orthography in one of the elementary classes. This lesson, ordinarily standing by itself, disconnected with anything, I based upon correct pronunciation. The teaching was imperfect, certainly; but it nevertheless gained an unmistakable charm for both teacher and pupils; and, finally, its results were very satisfactory.
In one of the other classes of the girls' school I taught preparatory drawing. I took this by combinations of single lines; but the method was wanting in a logically necessary connection, so that it did not satisfy me. I cannot remember whether the results of this teaching were brought to the test or not.
Such was the outcome of my first attempts as a teacher. The kind indulgence and approval granted to me, more because of my good intentions and the fire of my zeal than for my actual performance, spurred me on to plunge deeper into the inquiry as to the nature of true teaching. But the whole system of a large school must have its settled form, with its previously-appointed teaching-course arranged as to times and subjects; and everything must fit in like a piece of clockwork. My system, on the other hand, called only for ready senses and awakened intellect. Set forms could only tolerate this view of education so far as it served to enliven and quicken them. But I have unfortunately again and again observed during my career, that even the most active life, if its activity and its vitality be not properly understood and urged ever onward, easily stiffens into bony rigidity. Enough, my mind, now fully awakened, could not suffer these set forms, necessary though they were; and I felt that I must seek out some position in which my nature could unfold itself freely according to the needs of the development of my life and of my mind.
This longing endeavour of life and mind, which could not submit to the fetters of external limitations, may have been the more exaggerated at the time by my becoming acquainted with Arndt's "Fragments on Human Culture," which I had purchased. This book satisfied at once my character, my resolves, and my aspirations; and what hitherto lay isolated within me was brought into ordered connection through its pages, while ideas which possessed me without my perceiving them took definite form and expression as the book brought them to light. Indeed, I thought then that Arndt's book was the bible of education.
In those days I spoke of my life and my aims in the following words: "I desire to educate men whose feet shall stand on God's earth, rooted fast in Nature, while their head towers up to heaven, and reads its secrets with steady gaze, whose heart shall embrace both earth and heaven, shall enjoy the life of earth and nature with all its wealth of forms, and at the same time shall recognise the purity and peace of heaven, that unites in its love God's earth with God's heaven." In these phrases I now see my former life and aims vividly brought before me as in a picture.
Little by little a desire gained strength within me to free myself from my engagement at the Model School, to which I had bound myself as teacher for at least three years. The headmaster (Gruner), whom I have already named, was sufficiently a student of men to have perceived that so excitable a man as I could never work harmoniously in such an institution as that which he directed; so I was released from my engagement, under the condition that I should provide a suitable successor. Fate was propitious to me once more. I found a young private tutor with whom I had long been in friendly correspondence, and who had all those qualities which were lacking in me. He was not only thoroughly proficient in the grammar of his mother tongue (German), but also in the grammar of the classical tongues; and, if I am not mistaken, in French also. He had a knowledge of geography far beyond anything I could boast, was acquainted with history, knew arithmetic, possessed some familiarity with botany,—much greater, indeed, than I suspected. And what was worth more than all this, he was full of vigour in mind, heart, and life. Therefore the school was every way the gainer by my departure, so greatly the gainer indeed, that from that time no further change has been necessary. That same teacher still lives and works in that same post.
Before I begin a new chapter of my career, there are yet a few things which need mention.
To know French was at that time the order of the day, and not to know it stamped a man at once as of a very low degree of culture. To acquire a knowledge of French, therefore, became one of my chief aims at the moment. It was my good fortune to obtain instruction from an unrivalled teacher of French, M. Perrault, a Frenchman by birth, who still, even though an old man, diligently worked at the study of his mother tongue, and who at the same time wrote and spoke German with elegance. I pursued the study with ardour, taking two lessons a day, because I desired to reach a certain proficiency by a given time. Slow, however, were my steps, for I was far from having a sufficient knowledge of my own tongue whereon to build a bridge that might carry me into French. I never could properly acquire what I did not fully understand in such a way that it had a living meaning for me; and so from all the genuine zeal and considerable cost which I spent over this study I gained by no means a corresponding result; but I did learn a good deal, much more even than I then knew how to turn to account. My teacher cast on one side all the usual grammatical difficulties of French study, he aimed at imparting the language as a living thing. But I with my ignorance of language could not completely follow this free method of teaching; and yet, nevertheless, I felt that the teacher had fully grasped the meaning and the method of his work, and I always enjoyed the lessons on this account. He was especially successful in accustoming my ear to the French pronunciation, always separating and reducing it to its simple sounds and tones, and never merely saying "this is pronounced like the German p, or b, or ae, or oe," etc. The best thing resulting from this course of study was the complete exposure of my ignorance of German grammar. I must do myself the justice to say that I had given myself extraordinary trouble over the works of the most celebrated German grammarians, trying to bring life and interconnection or even a logical consequence into German grammar; but I only confused myself the worse thereby. One man said one thing, another quite the reverse; and not one of all of them, as far as I could see, had educed his theories from the life and nature of the speech itself. I turned away a second time, quite disheartened, from the German grammarians, and once more took my own road. But unfortunately the dry forms of grammar had, quite against my own will, stuck like scales over my eyes, dimming my perceptions; I could find no means to rid myself of them, and they wrought fatally upon me now and long afterwards. The more thoroughly I knew them the more they stiffened and crushed me.
My departure from the school was now arranged, and I could let my mind pursue its development free and unshackled. As heretofore, so now also, my kindly fate came lovingly to my help: I can never speak of it with sufficient thankfulness. The three lads to whom I had hitherto given private instruction in arithmetic and language now needed a tutor, as their former tutor was leaving them. The confidential charge was laid upon me, because I of all men best knew their nature and its needs, of seeking out some fit teacher and educator for them from amongst my acquaintance. As for myself this tutor business lay far from my own thoughts, and I therefore looked round me in every direction, and with all earnestness, for some one else. Amongst others I applied to my eldest brother, telling him my views as to the necessary requirements of a true educator.
My brother wrote back very decidedly and simply, that he could not propose any one to me as a teacher and educator who would fulfil the requirements I had set forth, and further, he did not think I should ever be able to find such a person; for if one should be found possessing ample knowledge and experience of life in its external aspects, he would be deficient in a vigorous inner life of his own, and in the power to recognise and foster it in himself and his pupils; and, on the other hand, another man who might have this power would be deficient in the first-named (practical) qualities. I reported the result of my labours. It caused much disappointment, indeed it could not be otherwise, because the welfare of the children was really sought, in all love and truth, and the highest and best obtainable at that day was desired on their behalf. The family did not venture to press the post upon me personally, knowing my love of freedom and independence.
So stood matters for several months. At last, moved by my earnest affection for the lads, and by my care to deserve the confidence with which their mother had entrusted to my hands the provision for their education, I endeavoured to look at things from the point of view of their parents. This brought me at last to the determination to become myself the educator and teacher of the lads. After a hard struggle with myself, the hardest and most exhausting I had undergone for a long time, I made known my decision. It was thankfully received, and understood quite in the spirit which had actuated me in forming it.
I communicated my decision to Gruner, with whom I still kept in the friendliest relation. He looked at me with downright astonishment, and said, "You will lose all hopes of the position you have so long sought and waited for." I replied that I should protect myself as to my position and my relations with others by a very definite written contract. To which the man of experience retorted, "Certainly, and everything will be punctually fulfilled, so that you cannot say that any one condition of all those you stood out so firmly for has failed to be observed; nevertheless you will find you will lose on all points." So spake experienced shrewdness, and what had I to set against it? I spoke of the educational necessities and wants of these children. "Good," said he, "then you will leave your own educational necessities and your own wants out of the question?" How it mortified me, that worldly wisdom should be able to speak thus, and that I was unable to controvert it! We talked no more about the matter.
And keen as was the internal conflict over this decision and this resolve of mine, equally keen was the external contest which I had to wage in entering on my new post.
There were, namely, two immutable conditions in our agreement. One was that I should never be compelled to live in town with my pupils, and that when I began my duties my pupils should be handed over entirely to my care, without any restriction; that they should follow me into the country, and there form a restricted and perfectly isolated circle, and that when they returned to town life my duties as preceptor should be at an end. The time for beginning my new career drew nigh. As the stipulated dwelling for myself and my pupils was not yet ready, I was expected to take up my abode, for a few days, with my pupils in their town house. But I felt that it was clear that the least want of firmness at the outset would endanger my whole educational plan; therefore, I stood firm, and indeed gained my point, though at the price of being called headstrong, self-willed, and stubborn. That my assumption of my post was attended with a sharp contest was a very good and wholesome discipline for me. It was the fitting inauguration of a position and a sphere of work which was henceforth to be attended, for me, with perpetual and never-ending strife.
But as to this family and all its members, my earnest unbending maintenance of my resolve had a most wholesome effect upon them, even to winning in the end their comprehension and approval, though this was later and long after I had quitted the situation. It was ten or eleven years afterwards—that is, four or five years after my departure—that the mother of these lads expressed her entire approval of the adamantine perseverance I had exhibited in my convictions.
I entered my new sphere of educational work in July 1807. I was twenty-five years old, as far as years went, but younger by several years in regard to the development of my character. I neither felt myself so old as I was, nor indeed had I any conception or realisation of my age. I was only conscious of the strength and striving of my life, the extent of my mental culture, the circumstances of my experience in the world, and especially of—what shall I call it?—the shiftlessness and undeveloped state of my culture as far as its helplessness with the external world was concerned, of my ignorance of life both as to what it really was, and how it showed in its outer aspect. The state of my culture was such as only to serve to plunge me into conflict, through the contradiction and opposition in which I found myself henceforward with all existing methods; and consequently the whole period of my tutorial career was one continual contest.
It was a salutary thing for me that this was my appointed lot from the very beginning. Now and later on I was therefore able to say to myself by way of consolation and encouragement: "You knew beforehand just how it would be." Still, unpleasantness seldom arrives in exactly the manner expected, and the unexpected is always the hardest to bear. Thus it was with me in this case; my situation seemed to contain insurmountable difficulties. I sought the basis for them in imperfect culture; and the cause of the disconnected nature of the culture I had been able to attain, lay, so I perceived, in the interruptions which marred my university career. Educator and teacher, however, I had determined to become and to remain; and as far as I could know my own feelings and my own powers, I must and would work out my profession in an independent free fashion of my own, founded on the view of man and his nature and relationships which had now begun to dawn upon me. Yet every man finds it above all things difficult to understand himself, and especially hard was it in my own case. I began to think that I must look for help outside myself, and seek to acquire from others the knowledge and experience I needed.
And thus there came to me once again the idea of fitting myself by continuing my university studies to become founder, principal, and manager of an educational establishment of my own. But the fact was to be considered that I had turned away from the educational path on which I had entered. Now, when the imperfection of my training pressed itself upon me, I not only sought help from Nature as of old, that school allotted to me by fate, but I turned also for assistance to my fellow-men who had divided out the whole field of education and teaching into separate departments of science, and had added to these the assistance of a rich literature. This need of help so troubled and oppressed me, and threw my whole nature into such confusion, that I resolved, as soon as might be, once more to proceed to one of the universities, and necessarily, therefore, to relinquish as speedily as possible my occupation as an educator.
As I always discussed everything important with my brother, I wrote to him on this occasion as usual, telling him of my plans and of my resolve. But for this time, at least, my nature was able to work out its difficulty without his help. I soon came to see that I had failed to appreciate my position, and had misunderstood myself; and, therefore, before I had time to get an answer from my brother to my first letter I wrote to him again, telling him that my university plans had been given up, and that my fixed resolve now was to remain at my post. He rejoiced doubly at my decision, because this time he would have been unable to agree with me.
No sooner had I firmly come to my decision than I began to apply my thoughts vigorously to the subjects of education and instruction. The first thing that absorbed me was the clear conviction that to educate properly one must share the life of one's pupil. Then came the questions, "What is elementary education? and of what value are the educational methods advocated by Pestalozzi? Above all, what is the purpose of education?"
In answering the question, "What is the purpose of education?" I relied at that time upon the following observations: Man lives in a world of objects, which influence him, and which he desires to influence; therefore he ought to know these objects in their nature, in their conditions, and in their relations with each other and with mankind. Objects have form, measurement, and number.
By the expression, "the external world," at this time I meant only Nature; my life was so bound up in natural objects that I altogether passed by the productions of man's art or manufacture. Therefore for a long time it was an effort to me to regard man's handiwork, with Pestalozzi's scholars, Tobler and Hopf, as a proper subject for elementary culture, and it broadened my inward and outward glance considerably when I was able to look upon the world of the works of man as also part of the "external world." In this way I sought, to the extent of such powers as I consciously possessed at that time, to make clear the meaning of all things through man, his relations with himself, and with the external world.
The most pregnant thought which arose in me at this period was this: All is unity, all rests in unity, all springs from unity, strives for and leads up to unity, and returns to unity at last. This striving in unity and after unity is the cause of the several aspects of human life. But between my inner vision and my outer perception, presentation, and action was a great gulf fixed. Therefore it seemed to me that everything which should or could be required for human education and instruction must be necessarily conditioned and given, by virtue of the very nature of the necessary course of his development, in man's own being, and in the relationships amidst which he is set. A man, it seemed to me, would be well educated, when he had been trained to care for these relationships and to acknowledge them, to master them and to survey them.
I worked hard, severely hard, during this period, but both the methods and the aims of education came before me in such an incoherent heap, so split up into little fragments, and so entirely without any kind of order, that during several years I did not make much progress towards my constant purpose of bringing all educational methods into an orderly sequence and a living unity. As my habitual and therefore characteristic expression of my desires then ran, I longed to see, to know, and to show forth, all things in inter-connection.
For my good fortune, however there came out about that time certain educational writings by Seller, Jean Paul, and others. They supported and elevated me, sometimes by their concurrence with my own views, expressed above, sometimes by the very contrary.
The Pestalozzian method I knew, it is true, in its main principles, but not as a living force, satisfying the needs of man. What especially lay heavy upon me at this time, however, painfully felt by myself though not apparent to my pupils, was the utter absence of any organised connection between the subjects of education. Joyful and unfettered work springs from the conception of all things as one whole, and forms a life and a lifework in harmony with the constitution of the universe and resting firmly upon it.
That this was the true education I soon felt fervently convinced, and so my first educational work consisted merely in being with my pupils and influencing them by the power of my life and work; more than this I was not at all in a position to give.
Oh, why is it that man knows so ill and prizes so little the blessings that he possesses for the first time?
When I now seek to make myself clear as to the proper life and work of an educator, my notes of that time rise fresh and fair to meet me. I look back from now into that childhood of my teacher's life, and learn from it; just as I look back into the childhood of my man's life, and survey that, and learn from that, too. Why is all childhood and youth so full of wealth and so unconscious of it, and why does it lose it without knowing it only to learn what it possessed when it is for ever lost? Ought this always to be so? Ought it to be so for every child, for every youth? Will not a time come at last, come perhaps soon, when the experience, the insight, the knowledge of age, and wisdom herself, shall build up a defence, a shelter, a protection for the childhood of youth? Of what use to mankind is the old man's experience and the greybeard's wisdom when they sink into the grave with their possessors?
At first my life and my work with my pupils was confined within narrow limits. It consisted in merely living, lounging, and strolling in the open air, and going for walks. Although I was disgusted with the methods of town education, I did not yet venture to convert life amidst Nature into an educational course. That was taught me by my young pupils themselves; and as from the circumstances of my own culture I eagerly fostered to my utmost every budding sense for Nature that showed itself, there soon developed amongst them a life-encompassing, life-giving, and life-raising enjoyment of natural objects. In the following year this way of life was further enhanced by the father giving his sons a piece of meadowland for a garden, at the cultivation of which we accordingly worked in common. The greatest delight of my pupils was to make little presents of the produce of their garden to their parents and also to me. How their eyes would gleam with pleasure when they were fortunate enough to be able to accomplish this. Pretty plants and little shrubs from the fields, the great garden of God, were transplanted by us to the children's gardens, and there carefully tended. Great was the joy, especially of the two younger ones, when such a colonist frankly enrolled himself amongst the citizens of the state. From this time forth my own childhood no longer seemed wasted. I acknowledged how entirely different a thing is the cultivation of plants, to one who has watched them and studied them in all the stages of their own free development, from what it is to one who has always stood aloof from Nature.
And here already, living cheerfully and joyfully in the bosom of Nature with my first pupils, I began to tell myself that the training of natural life was closely akin to the training of human life. For did not those gifts of flowers and plants express appreciation and acknowledgment of the love of parents and teacher? Were they not the outcome of the characteristic lovingness and the enthusiastic thankfulness of childhood? A child that of its own accord and of its own free will seeks out flowers, cares for them, and protects them, so that in due time he can weave a garland or make a nosegay with them for his parents or his teacher, can never become a bad child, a wicked man. Such a child can easily be led towards love, towards thankfulness, towards recognition of the fatherliness of God, who gives him these gifts and permits them to grow that he, as a cheerful giver in his turn, may gladden with them the hearts of his parents.
That time of conflict contained within it an element of special and peculiar meaning to myself. It brought before me my past life in its many various stages of development; and especially the chief events which had formed and influenced it, with their causes and their effects. And it always seemed to me of particular importance to go back upon the very earliest occurrences in my life. But of the actual matters of fact of my earliest years very few traces now remained; for my mother, who could have kept them in her memory for me, and from whom I could now have learnt them, had died even before my life had really awakened. Amongst the few relics remaining to me was a written address from my godmother (the so-called Baptismal Letter), which she had sent me immediately after my baptism, according to the Thuringian custom of the time, as a sort of portion or dowry for my entrance into life. It had come into my possession after the death of my father. This letter, of a simple, Christian, tenderly religious, womanly soul, expressed in plain and affecting terms the true relation of the young Christian to that to which by his baptism he had become bound. Through these words the inner life of both mind and soul, of my boyhood and of my youth, was brought before me with all its peace and blessedness; and I could not help seeing how much that I then longed for had since come to pass. My soul, upon this thought, regained that original inspiriting, enlightening, and quickening unity of which I stood so much in need. But at the same time all the resolutions of my boyhood and youth also rushed back upon me, and made it manifest how much more had yet to happen before they, too, were accomplished; and with them they brought the memory of those types and ideals with which the feeble boyish imagination had sought to strengthen itself. But my life had been far too much an inward and strictly personal life to have been able, or even to have dared to stand forth in any outwardly definite form, or to take any fixed relation to other lives, except in matters of feeling and intelligence. Indeed the power of manifesting myself properly was a very late accomplishment with me, and was, in fact, not gained until long after the recommencement of my present educational work. I cannot now remember, during all the time of this educational work, that my personal life stood out in any way from the usual ordinary existence of men; but before I can speak with certainty upon this point I must procure information as to the circumstances of my earlier life. This much is clear, that my life at the time I am speaking of has remained in my memory only in its general ordinary human aspect. It is true, however, that then, as always in my later life, it was and ever has been very difficult to me to separate in thought my inner life from my outer, and to give definite form and outward expression to the inner life, especially as to religious matters.
I dare not deny, that although the definite religious forms of the Church reached my heart readily both by way of the emotions and by sincere conviction, and cleansed and quickened me, yet I have always felt great reluctance to speak of these definite religious forms with others, particularly with pupils and students. I could never make them so clear and living to a simple healthy soul as they were to myself. From this I conclude that the naturally trained child requires no definite Church forms, because the lovingly-fostered, and therefore continuously and powerfully-developed human life, as well as the untroubled child-life also, is and must be in itself a Christian life. I further conclude that a child to whom the deeper truths of life or of religion were given in the dogmatic positive forms of Church creeds would imperatively need when a young man to be surrounded by pure and manly lives, whereby those rigid creeds might be illuminated and quickened into life. Otherwise the child runs great danger of casting away his whole higher life along with the dogmatic religious forms which he has been unable to assimilate. There, indeed, is the most elevated faith to be found, where form and life work towards a whole, shed light upon each other, and go side by side in a sisterly concord, like the inward life with the outward life, or the special with the universal.
But I must return from this long digression, and resume the account of my life and work as an educator.
Bodily exercises were as yet unknown to me in their educational capacity. I was acquainted only with jumping over a cord and with walking on stilts through my own boyish practice therein. As they fell into no relation with our common life, neither with the pursuits and thoughts of my pupils nor with my own, we regarded them purely as childish games.
What the year brings to a man in the season when Nature lies clear and open before him, that it does not bring to him in the season when Nature is more often locked away from his gaze. And as the two seasons bring diverse gifts, so do they require diverse things in return. In the latter part of the year, when man is perforce driven more upon himself, his occupations should take on more narrowly personal characteristics. Just as the winter's life with nature is more fixed and narrowed, so also is the winter's life with men; therefore, a boy's life at this time needs material of some definite fashion, or needs fashionless material which can be shaped into definite fashion. My pupils soon came to me, urged by this new necessity. What life requires that life provides, wherever life is or has been; what youth requires that youth provides, wherever youth is or has been. And what the later man's life requires from a man, or from men in general, that also is provided by the boy's life and the youth's life when these have been genuinely lived through. The demand of my pupils set me upon the following question: "What did you do as a boy? What happened to you to satisfy that need of yours for something to do and to express? By what, at the same period of your life, was this need most fully met, or what did you then most desire for this purpose?" Then there came to me a memory from out my earliest boyhood, which yielded me all I wanted in my emergency. It was the easy art of impressing figures and forms by properly arranged simple strokes on smooth paper. I have often made use of this simple art in my later life, and have never found it fail in its object; and on this occasion, too, it faithfully served my pupils and me, for our skill, at first weak both on the part of teacher and pupil, grew rapidly greater with use.
From these forms impressed upon paper we rose to making forms out of paper itself, and then to producing forms in paste-board, and finally in wood. My later experience has taught me much more as to the best shapes and materials for the study of forms, of which I shall speak in its proper place.
I must, however, permit myself to dwell a little upon this extremely simple occupation of impressing forms on paper, because at the proper age it quite absorbs a boy, and completely fills and contents the demands of his faculties. Why is this? It gives the boy, easily and spontaneously, and yet at the same time imperceptibly, precise, clear, and many-sided results due to his own creative power.
Man is compelled not only to recognise Nature in her manifold forms and appearances, but also to understand her in the unity of her inner working, of her effective force. Therefore he himself follows Nature's methods in the course of his own development and culture, and in his games he imitates Nature at her work of creation. The earliest natural formations, the fixed forms of crystals, seem as if driven together by some secret power external to themselves; and the boy in his first games gladly imitates these first activities of nature, so that by the one he may learn to comprehend the other. Does not the boy take pleasure in building, and what else are the earliest fixed forms of Nature but built-up forms? However, this indication that a higher meaning underlies the occupation and games which children choose out for themselves must for the present suffice. And since these spontaneous activities of children have not yet been thoroughly thought out from a high point of view, and have not yet been regarded from what I might almost call their cosmical and anthropological side, we may from day to day expect some philosopher to write a comprehensive and important book about them. From the love, the attention, the continued interest and the cheerfulness with which these occupations are plied by children other important considerations also arise, of quite a different character.
A boy's game necessarily brings him into some wider or fuller relationship, into relationship with some more elevated group of ideas. Is he building a house?—he builds it so that he may dwell in it like grown-up people do, and have just such another cupboard, and so forth, as they have, and be able to give people things out of it just as they do. And one must always take care of this: that the child who receives a present shall not have his nature cramped and stunted thereby; according to the measure of how much he receives, so much must he be able to give away. In fact, this is a necessity for a simple-hearted child. Happy is that little one who understands how to satisfy this need of his nature, to give by producing various gifts of his own creation! As a perfect child of humanity, a boy ought to desire to enjoy and to bestow to the very utmost, for he dimly feels already that he belongs to the whole, to the universal, to the comprehensive in Nature, and it is as part of this that he lives; therefore, as such would he accordingly be considered and so treated. When he has felt this, the most important means of development available for a human being at this stage has been discovered. With a well-disposed child at such a time nothing has any value except as it may serve for a common possession, for a bond of union between him and his beloved ones. This aspect of the child's character must be carefully noticed by parents and by teachers, and used by them as a means of awakening and developing the active and presentative side of his nature; wherefore none, not even the simplest gifts from a child, should ever be suffered to be neglected.
To sketch my first attempt as an educator in one phrase, I sought with all my powers to give my pupils the best possible instruction, and the best possible training and culture, but I was unable to fulfil my intentions, to attain my end, in the position I then occupied, and with the degree of culture to which I had myself attained.
As soon as this had become fully evident to me, it occurred to my mind that nothing else could be so serviceable to me as a sojourn for a time with Pestalozzi. I expressed my views on this head very decidedly, and accordingly, in the summer of 1808, it was agreed that I should take my three pupils with me to Yverdon.
So it soon afterwards came about I was teacher and scholar, educator and pupil, all at the same time.
If I were to attempt to put into one sentence all I expected to find at Yverdon, I should say it was a vigorous inner life amongst the boys and youths, quickening, manifesting itself in all kinds of creative activity, satisfying the manysidedness of man, meeting all his necessities, and occupying all his powers both mental and bodily. Pestalozzi, so I imagined, must be the heart, the life-source, the spiritual guide of this life and work; from his central point he must watch over the boy's life in all its bearings, see it in all its stages of development, or at all events sympathise with it and feel with it, whether as the life of the individual, of the family, of the community, of the nation, of mankind at large.
With such expectations I arrived at Yverdon. There was no educational problem whose resolution I did not firmly expect to find there. That my soul soon faithfully mirrored the life which there flowed around me, my report for 1809 sufficiently shows.
To throw myself completely into the midst, into the very heart, of Pestalozzi's work, I wished to live in the main buildings of the institution, that is to say, in the castle itself. We would have cheerfully shared the lot of the ordinary scholars, but our wish could not be granted, some outside jealousies standing in the way. However, I soon found a lodging, in immediate proximity to the institution, so that we were able to join the pupils at their dinner, their evening meal, and their supper, and to take part in the whole courses of their instruction, so far as the subjects chosen by us were concerned; indeed, to share in their whole life. I soon saw much that was imperfect; but, notwithstanding, the activity which pressed forth on all sides, the vigorous effort, the spiritual endeavour of the life around me, which carried me away with it as it did all other men who came within its influence, convinced me that here I should presently be able to resolve all my difficulties. As far as regarded myself personally, I had nothing more earnest to do for the time than to watch that my pupils gained the fullest possible profit from this life which was so rich in vigour for both body and soul. Accordingly we shared all lessons together; and I made it my special business to reason out with Pestalozzi each branch of instruction from its first point of connection with the rest, and thus to study it from its very root.