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Self-biography of Buss-His Introduction to Pestalozzi

The Alphabet of Forms.

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The last, and perhaps the most interesting, of the three memoirs, which are inserted as so many episodes, in Pestalozzi's work, is that of Buss, whose career, full of discouragements and disappointments, is a perpetual illustration of the “ pursuit of knowledge under difficulties.” We give his own narrative:

• My father was employed in some menial office in the divinity college* at Tuebingen, in which he had free domicile. From the age of three to the age of thirteen years, he sent me to the grammar school, where I learned whatever was to be learned in it for a boy of my age. My leisure hours I passed chiefly among the students, with whom I ingratiated myself by my cheerful humour. In my eighth year one of them taught me the piano, but he removed from the university six months afterwards, and thus I was left to my own zeal and exertions. By constant assiduity, however, I made such progress that, at the age of twelve, I was able myself to instruct a lady and her son with good success.

“ At the age of eleven I received instruction in drawing, and was, at the same time, engaged in learning Greek and Hebrew, logic, and rhetoric. My parents intended to qualify me for a literary career, either by sending me to the Academy of Arts and Sciences, then newly established at Stuttgardt, or by placing me under the tuition of the professors at Tuebingen.

“ In the first-mentioned institution, youths of all classes were at that time received, some of them gratuitously. The pecuniary means of my

• An establisbment in which divines are educated at the expense of the state.

† This institution, which combined a severe military discipline with the then modern improvements in education, was given up by its founder, the reigning Duke Charles of Wurtemborg, on account of his pecuniary embarrassments.



parents were so limited, that they could not incur the slightest expense for me. They petitioned, therefore, Duke Charles, for my gratuitous reception into his academy, and a manu propriá refusal was the answer. About the same time an edict was promulgated, prohibiting children of the middle and lower classes from embracing a literary career. The disappointment of seeing my prospects thus cut off, affected me very much. My youthful mirth disappeared, the cheerfulness of my disposition vanished, and my courage sunk. Yet I did not give up all hope, but applied myself with all my energies to drawing : my teacher, however, being obliged after six months to leave the place on account of his bad conduct, this plan, likewise, was defeated ; and without means, and without hope, I was at last obliged to apprentice myself to a bookbinder.

“My disposition had, at that time, hardened itself into a sort of callous indifference. I consented to learn that trade, as I would have consented to learn any other, in order to extinguish in myself all recollection of the dreams of my youth, by unremitting attention to manual employment. This, however, I was unable to accomplish. I worked away, but I was inexpressibly wretched, and cherished feelings of bitterness against a world, by which I found myself so deeply injured. I had employed all my past life in occupations, whose object it was to open to me a literary career, and from this career, and from all the hopes which I had built upon it, I saw myself now precluded by an arbitrary enactment, which was the more revolting to my mind, as the oppressive law was contrary even to old custom. Yet I did not utterly despair of attaining the end proposed; I hoped that by assiduity in my trade I might, perhaps, be enabled to earn the means of returning to my studies, and of making up, somewhere or other, for the time lost in manual labour.

Having served my apprenticeship, I began to travel,* but the world was not wide enough for me. Growing melancholy and sickly, I was obliged to return home; and here I made a new attempt to get rid of my trade, hoping that the little knowledge of music I had retained, would enable me to earn my bread in Switzerland.

“ With this hope I went to Basel; but my circumstances, and the events

• It is a national practice in Germany for a young man who has served his apprenticeship, to set out travelling. He proceeds as far as his inclination or his purse will carry him, and then stops, wherever it be, and practises bis calling. When he bas made some savings, and the inclination for travelling has returned, he sets out again ; and this mode of life he continues, till be establisbes himself in business, generally in his native place. The risk he runs in these expeditions is not great, as in every town each trade has a purse, from which every stranger of that trade who wishes for employment, and cannot get it, receives assistance sufficient to carry him to bis next station.





of my past life, had given me a degree of shyness, which foiled me in all my attempts at money-getting. I had not the courage to tell the people all that a man must say to obtain from them what I wanted. A friend of mine who met me by accident at that moment of embarrassment, reconciled me for a short time to the book binding business ; I entered once more into a workshop; but the very first day I sat down in it, I began again to indulge myself in my dreams, thinking it still possible, that a better chance might turn up for me in time, although I was quite aware that I had lost too much of my skill in music and drawing, to rely upon those two attainments for an independent subsistence. I consequently changed my place, in order to gain time for practice in both, and I was lucky enough to get two spare hours a day, and to form acquaintances, which assisted me in my progress.

Among others I was introduced to Tobler, who soon perceived the gloom by which I was oppressed; and having ascertained the cause, was desirous of assisting me in gaining a more favorable position. When, therefore, Kruesi informed him that Pestalozzi stood in need of a drawing and music master for the full organization of his new method, his thoughts immediately turned towards me.

“I was, as I have before stated, fully aware of my deficiencies; and the hope that I should meet with an opportunity of improving myself, had no small share in my determination to go to Burgdorf, in spite of the warnings which I received from several quarters against forming any connexion with Pestalozzi, who, they told me, was half mad, and knew not himself what he was about.* In proof of this assertion they related various stories; as, for instance, that he once came to Basel, having his shoes tied with straw, because he had given away his silver buckles to a beggar on the road. I had read “Leonard and Gertrude,' and had, therefore, little doubt about the buckles,f but that he was mad, that I questioned. In short, I was determined to try. I went to Burgdorf. I cannot describe the feelings I had at our first interview. He came down from an upper room with Ziemssen, who was just then on a visit with him, his stockings hanging down about his heels, and his coat covered with dust. His whole appearance was so miserable that I was inclined to pity him, and yet there was in his


I feel, of course, that there is some impropriety in my publicly repeating these things. But Pestalozzi wisbed to have it so; requesting that I should describe, without any reserve, the impression which he, and all that I heard of him, made upon my mind. Buss.

† We never admired this often-repeated anecdote of the silver buckles and straw-tied sboes; first, because straw was the most conspicuous, but not the most obvious substitute for silver buckles ; secondly, because the publicity of the story proved, that his right hand knew too well what his left hand had done. But this publication of it in print, under Pestalozzi's own auspices, has always disgusted us.



sion something so great, that I viewed him with astonishment and veneration. This, then, was Pestalozzi ? His benevolence, the cordial reception he gave to me, a perfect stranger, his unpretending simplicity, and the dilapidated condition in which he stood before me; the whole man, taken together, impressed me most powerfully. I was his in one instant. No man had ever so sought my heart; but none, likewise, has ever so fully won my confidence.

“ The following morning I entered his school: and, at first, I confess I saw in it nothing but apparent disorder, and an uncomfortable bustle. But I had heard Ziemssen express himself the day before with great warmth concerning Pestalozzi's plan; my attention was excited, and, conquering in myself the first impression, I endeavoured to watch the thing more closely. It was not long before I discovered some of the advantages of the new method. At first I thought the children were detained too long at one point; but I was soon reconciled to this, when I saw the perfection which they attained in their first exercises, and the advantages which it ensured to them in their further progress. I now perceived, for the first time, the disadvantages under which I myself had laboured, in consequence of the incoherent and desultory manner in which I had been taught in my boyhood, and I began to think that if I had been kept to the first elements with similar perseverance, I should have been able afterwards to help myself, and thus to escape all the sufferings and melancholy which I had endured.

“ This notion of mine perfectly agrees with Pestalozzi's principle, that by his method men are to be enabled to help themselves, since there is no one, as he says, in God's wide world, that is willing or able to help them. I shuddered when I read this passage for the first time in Leonard and Gertrude. But, alas, the experience of my life has taught me, that unless a man be able to help himself, there is, actually, no one in God's wide world, able or willing to help him. I now saw quite clearly that my inability to pursue the plan of my younger years in an independent manner, arose from the superficiality with which I had been taught, and which had prevented me from attaining that degree of intrinsic power of which I stood in need. I had learned an art, but I was ignorant of the basis on which it rested ; and now that I was called upon to apply it, in a manner consistent with its nature, I found myself utterly at a loss to know what that nature was. With all the attention and zeal I brought to the subject, I could not understand the peculiar view which Pestalozzi took of drawing, and I could not at all make out his meaning, when he told me, that lines, angles, and curves, were the basis of drawing. By way of explanation he added, that in this, as in all other matters, the human mind must be led from indistinct intuitions to clear ideas. But I had no idea whatever, how this was to be done by drawing. He said it must be done by dividing the square and the curve, by distinguishing their simple elements, and com paring them with each other. I now tried to find out what these simple





elements were, but I knew not how to get at simple elements, and in endeavouring to reach them, I drew an endless variety of figures, which, it is true, might be called simple, in a certain sense, but which were utterly unfit, nevertheless, to illustrate the elementary laws which Pestalozzi was in search of. Unfortunately he was himself no proficient either in writing or drawing; though, in a manner to me inconceivable, he had carried his children pretty far in both these attainments. In short, months passed away before I under. stood what was to be done with the elementary lines which he put down for

At last I began to suspect that I ought to know less than I did know, or that, at least, I must throw my knowledge, as it were, overboard, in order to descend to those simple elements by which I saw him produce such powerful, and, to me, unattainable effects. My difficulties were immense. But the constant observation of the progress which his children made in dwelling perseveringly on his "elements," brought my mind, at last, to maturity on that point; I did violence to myself, and, abandoning my preconceived notions of the subject, I endeavoured to view all things in the light of those same elements; till, at last, having reached the point of simplicity, I found it easy in the course of a few days, to draw up my sketch of an alphabet of forms.

“It was completed, and still I knew not its nature; but the instant I caught a glimpse of its meaning, I also perceived its full bearing upon the development of the mind. I had not known before, that the art of drawing consisted of mere lines.

“Whatever my eyes glanced upon from that moment, I saw between lines which determined its outline. Hitherto I had never separated the outline from the object, in my imagination; now I perceived the outline invariably as distinct from the object, as a measurable form, the slightest deviation from which I could easily ascertain. But I now fell into another extreme. Before I had seen nothing but objects; now I saw nothing but lines; and I imagined that children must be exercised on these lines exclusively, in every branch of drawing, before real objects were to be placed before them for imitation, or even for comparison. But Pestalozzi viewed his drawing lessons in connexion with the whole of his method, and with nature, who will not allow any branch of art to remain isolated in the human mind. His intention was, from the first beginning, to lay before the child two distinct series of figures, of which one should be contained in his book for the earliest infancy, and the other should furnish practical illustrations for a course of lessons on abstract forms. The first were intended to form, as it were, a supplement to nature, in giving children an intuitive knowledge of things and their names.

The second was calculated to combine the practical application of art with the theoretical knowledge of its laws, by connecting the perception of abstract forms with an intuitive examination of the objects that fitted into those forms. In this manner he meant to bring nature and art to bear upon each other; so that, as soon as the children were able to draw a line, or a figure, real objects should be presented to them, so exactly corresponding as to render their imitation a



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