Imágenes de páginas
[blocks in formation]

ruin of his orphan school, he was not by any means indifferent to that ferment of ideas, which, like the tremulous murmurs of the earth, preceded the volcanic explosion of the French revolution. Society was hastening on to its dissolution, though most rapidly, yet not exclusively, in France; every sound of freedom that arose between the Pyrenees and the Jura, found a ready echo in the Alps. Many parts of Switzerland were sighing under a tyranny not less vexatious, because conducted on a smaller scale; and every attempt on the part of the oppressed to ease their yoke was, as in France, resisted with the greater obstinacy and violence, the more urgently relief was wanted. In this crisis every passion of the human breast was presenting itself in its most hideous aspect; and Pestalozzi, who was gifted with a sight deeply penetrating into the hidden recesses of the heart, collected the caricatures of human nature, which the times presented to him, in a volume of fables, published under the enigmatic title, “Figures to my Spelling Book.” By these fables, and the general tendency of his political opinions, which leaned towards democracy, he made no friends among the aristocrats of Switzerland who were, then, almost exclusively in possession of power: and the ill odour in which he was held by them as an advocate of reform, and a favorer of radical opinions, had, no doubt, its share in frustrating his hope that, by the assistance of some of the Swiss governments, he might be enabled to carry on an establishment, to the maintenance of which his private resources became every day more inadequate.

After the breaking up of that institution, we find Pestalozzi in a condition truly deplorable. Dunned by his creditors, reviled by his enemies, insulted by men in power, sneered at by the vulgar, treated with ingratitude by most of those whom he had served, and separated from the few that might have been grateful, destitute of all assistance, but overwhelmed with mortifying advice, cast down by a succession of misfortunes, and tormented by the conciousness of having contributed to them by his own failings, he consumed his days

[blocks in formation]

in painful desolation on that same spot which he had made the dwelling-place of love and mercy, but which had now become to him an abode of anxiety and sorrow. He had deprived his wife, with her only son, of those enjoyments and advantages to which her education and circumstances had given her a claim; and he had not even to offer her, in compensation, the tranquil comforts of retirement.

He was rivetted with his family to a ruined and disordered economy, which, at every step, brought painful recollections and anxious prospects before his mind.

Of the cause which lay nearest to his heart, he durst not speak, even in a whisper; a sarcastic hint as to the success of his undertaking would have been the answer. He was obliged to conceal from mankind the love he bore them, and to take it for tender compassion on their part, if they considered him no worse than a lunatic. Such a position was well calculated to plant the seed of misanthropy in a heart like Pestalozzi's, which could ill endure the chilling influence of that cold selfishness with which the world is wont to repel whatever has a tendency to limit the enjoyments and increase the exertions of the individual for the benefit of his fellowcreatures. The beam of cheerfulness and benevolence had stolen deeply back in his eye, sullen gloom hung over his brow, and his whole appearance indicated a man, whose sorrows meditation could not soothe, nor oblivion dispel. In this state he lingered, when a disappointment infinitely more poignant than the failure of his private plans, aroused him from the lethargy into which he had sunk, to an investigation far deeper than any he had before instituted; an investigation which concerned not merely the temporary evils under which different classes of society laboured, and their immediate causes, but went to that root of evil in the human constitution, which causes us, both in our individual and social capacity, to stray from the higher purpose of our existence.

Ever since the first excitement produced by Rousseau's “Emile,” Pestalozzi had, in his political opinions, followed that stream of popular feeling, which in France and the ad



joining states of the European continent was fast undermining, by its subterraneous currents, the ancient bulwarks of the feudal system. He was deceived, like many others, by the fond hope that the general circulation of the ideas of liberty and independence, associated as they were with the names of all that is good and holy, indicated the dawn of a brighter era, in which men would no longer be treated as brute masses, subservient to the purposes of political cunning and ambition, but would be acknowledged, individually, as the objects whose intellectual and moral cultivation is the great end of the social compact. The horrors of the revolution in France undeceived the enthusiastic admirers of phrases, which on the lips of a chosen few in that generation were indeed the expression of generous feelings, but in the mouths of the depraved multitude were no more than signals for a free indulgence of every brutal passion, and pretexts for the accomplishment of every Satanic design.

Satanic design. Pestalozzi had witnessed the mighty effort of humanity, to rise from the degradation of having suffered herself during centuries to be trodden in the dust; he saw her deep downfall at the moment when her triumph seemed complete; and he suspected the worm in her bosom. He hid his countenance and mourned.

In those calamitous days, when the Jacobins flung the firebrand of anarchy across the Jura, and the pure waters of the Alpine lakes were tinged with blood, Pestalozzi, forgotten by a world of which the recollection gave him pangs, wrote his “Inquiries into the Course of Nature in the Development of the Human Species.” This work which was published in 1797, marks the transition to a new era in Pestalozzi's development of his own views. Hitherto he had adhered to the outward; he had mistaken the attendant circumstances of human happiness or misery for their

Neither the partial success which he obtained in his experiment at Neuhof, nor its ultimate failure, were calculated to undeceive him; for the former, which was owing in a great measure to a better and holier influence, which he





unconsciously exercised over his children, was attributed by him to those outward means which he had employed for the improvement of their condition; and the latter was not so much the effect of his theoretical mistakes, which were neutralized by his practice, as the result of a disproportion between the extent of the undertaking and that of his resources. But when he saw in the French revolution all those trammels removed which he had considered as the causes of human degradation, and he found the emancipated slave, instead of rising in the scale of moral worth as he had anticipated, on the contrary combining the vices of his tyrant with those of his former condition; when he saw human nature in this pretended self-regeneration more inhuman, more brutal than ever; when he saw in his own country the greater number of those who had been the zealous advocates of the rights of mankind, trampling those rights under foot, as soon as the power had passed into their hands, and substituting the violence of lawlessness and personal despotism to that of misrule and corporate monopoly; then the scales fell from his eyes.

He now learned the great truth that, in the absence of all external impediments, man is even less, than under their pressure, disposed to seek his own moral and intellectual improvement; he saw that there are greater obstacles to be overcome than those created by the necessities of the earth and the fetters of social life; and his mind gradually arrived at the important conclusion that the amelioration of outward circumstances will be the effect, but never can be the means, of mental and moral improvement.

It may seem strange that a man educated in the principles of Christianity, one who cherished those principles with pious veneration, and made them the rule of his own life, should, at the

age of thirty, still have had to discover a truth so essentially connected with the doctrine of the Gospel. But when it is considered how universally it has been, and still is, the tendency of education in the Christian world, to keep the revelations of God distinct as a text-book for a future existence, and a few scanty fragments of this life that are referred



to it, whilst by far the largest proportion of our present existence is devoted to objects which have no reference to the other, and made subject to a rule not only different from, hut contrary to, that of Christ, it will cease to be a matter of astonishment, that, half a century ago, a Christian in name, in heart, and in practice, was in his philosophy of human life little better than a Pagan. How few are there, even in our “enlightened gospel days,” who would ever have recognised in the axiom “that the amelioration of outward circumstances will be the effect, but never can be the means, of mental and moral improvement,” a paraphrase of that significant injunction of the Saviour : “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all the other things will be added unto you.” Let this be duly weighed, and let not injustice be done to the memory of a man who, though he might not himself have comprehended the full bearing of what he did, was yet the first to place mental and moral education upon that internal basis, on which alone it is possible for it to come under the influence of the power and life of Christianity. The discovery of that basis had now become the object of his eager research, and it was not long before he had an opportunity afforded him of pursuing it, on the ground of practical experience, with greater advantage and certainty, than on the field of mere speculation.

The hope that the political reform of Switzerland would of itself produce national improvement, was now gone by, and those who had the welfare of the people truly at heart, began to look out for some positive influence by which the generally awakened tendency for new things might be properly directed. The country was at this time under the government of an Assembly, constituted after the pattern of the “Directoire Exécutifin France, and Pestalozzi, who was at an earlier period identified by his political feelings with the party now in power, but had been alienated from them when the cause of liberty was contaminated by excess and violence, still counted the more wise and moderate of them among his friends. The most influential of these was

« AnteriorContinuar »