EDUCATION, APPRENTICESHIP AND MARRIAGE
Picture: Collegium Carolinum, where Pestalozzi studied
At the age of seventeen, Pestalozzi entered the Collegium Carolinum, which in those days was the University of Zurich. He no longer wanted to become a clergyman. He no longer took pleasure in formal ceremonies and pious talk. He wanted to be able to say openly what was on his mind. And since there was so much misery and injustice, he wanted to become a lawyer. “In such a position I can best help my country,” he thought.
At that time there were already many students who refused to put up with any injustice and who therefore protested against the government. They demanded more justice for the rural population:
“Here only the citizens of the town are allowed to rule the country. Only citizens of the town can become clergymen and judges and do business. That’s not fair. The farmers are to have the same rights as the citizens of the town!”
Whoever expressed such ideas was sure to be arrested and imprisoned. The government also controlled every printing press, so that nothing could be published that might harm its reputation. But the students would not be intimidated. They wrote their ideas down by hand and distributed the copies secretly. At one time Pestalozzi was under suspicion for editing an insurgent pamphlet. He was arrested and put in prison. However, the real writer of the pamphlet fled abroad and in doing so betrayed himself. Pestalozzi was released after three days. Nevertheless, he had to pay for the wood needed to burn the pamphlet in public. This did not bother him; while the stack of firewood was smoking heavily, he and a few friends watched from a nearby roof. He walked up and down, his hands behind his back, smoking a pipe as if all of this was of no concern to him.
At this time, Pestalozzi was twenty-one. He had not finished his education and he had no profession. Then he fell head over heels in love. This is how it came about. One of Pestalozzi’s schoolfriends was called Johann Kaspar Bluntschli. Everybody called him Menalk. Kaspar Schulthess, the son of a rich confectioner, also belonged to their circle of friends. Now and then the students met in the house of the Schulthess family. On these occasions, Anna, Kaspar’s elder sister, enjoyed listening to their conversation. Anna and Menalk were friends. Menalk was a quiet man and had an exemplary character. Then this young man fell ill with a serious pulmonary disease and died at the age of twenty-four. This deeply grieved Anna as well as Pestalozzi. Pestalozzi wrote Anna a letter in memory of their common friend. Anna answered and before long, and without realizing what was happening, Pestalozzi fell deeply in love with Anna and started to write her passionate love letters.
Anna Schulthess was eight years older than Pestalozzi. She was a very beautiful woman, one of the most beautiful in Zurich. Her parents were very rich and distinguished. Accordingly, Anna was very popular. There was no lack of suitors who would have loved to marry her. She was, however, cautious by nature and reserved. Therefore she was still single.
Heinrich Pestalozzi was the opposite of Anna; he was ugly because an illness had disfigured his face; he had no money and no profession and his family had no prominence in town. His head was full of ideas about how to better the world, but with his hands he could hardly drive a nail in straight.
In addition there was another problem. Anna’s parents were very proud of their wealth and their position in town. They looked down on the simple people. The mother in particular was a hard and cold woman. Her sons, and her daughter Anna, got severely punished if they did not obey her. Even at the age of thirty, Anna still got beaten by her parents! She would never have revolted against her parents. She considered it her duty to obey them. There was no way that she would get married without her parents’ approval.
“How can this work?” we ask ourselves. Poor Pestalozzi! Was an unhappy love not inevitable?
At first Anna, as was her nature, reacted only in a brief and reserved fashion to Pestalozzi’s passionate letters. In her heart though, a tender affection for this young man started to stir. Of course, she was clever enough to know that he was poor, that he had exaggerated, impracticable ideas in his head, and that he was very clumsy with his hands. But these things were unimportant to her. She looked deeper into Heinrich’s heart, and there she saw what a good, honest and admirable man he was. After careful consideration, she decided to give her consent. Later her friends asked her, “For heaven’s sake, why did you choose Pestalozzi of all men?” She answered, “He just has such a fine soul!”
How were Anna’s parents to be won over to such a son-in-law? Anna could imagine how shocked they would be. At first, she concealed her love affair from them. Heinrich also was not to tell anybody – not even his own mother. But in the long run they would not and could not keep their marriage plans secret. When the Schulthess parents learnt about them, they turned Pestalozzi out of the house, and he was told not to come back, ever.
From then on the two lovers could only exchange letters secretly. Anna’s brothers were their allies and acted as go-betweens. Occasionally, they even helped them to meet in secret. In the two years leading up to their wedding almost five hundred letters went back and forth between Anna and Heinrich. Pestalozzi never tried to fool Anna. He wrote to her, “Above all, I have to live for my country. I pledge that I will always give my best for the good of my country, even if I have to leave my wife and children alone and even if I have to sacrifice my life to do so.” He suspected that great tasks lay ahead of him.
A big stumbling block in the way of the marriage was the fact that Pestalozzi had no profession. He thought, “I should like to help people in rural areas to overcome their misery. Urban life is rotten anyway and makes people conceited and dishonest. I want to become a farmer. Then I can also feed my family.” In the autumn of 1767, Pestalozzi began his training as a farmer. His master was a well-known farmer called Tschiffeli. This man was familiar with the new methods of cultivation and grew new plants successfully. He shared his knowledge with Pestalozzi. The training lasted only nine months. By then Pestalozzi believed that he was sufficiently prepared to be able to work his own farm.
Pestalozzi wanted to buy land in Birr, a small village about twenty-five kilometres from Zurich, but from where could he get the necessary money to do so? He managed to persuade a rich banker from Zurich to back his farming project. The banker, whose surname was Schulthess, the same as Pestalozzi’s wife’s, lent him five thousand guilders. His mother was able to give him a further one thousand guilders, which she had secured from his father’s inheritance. With that he was able to buy twenty hectares of land and build a farmhouse. He gave it the name ‘Neuhof’. Now he was ready to get married.
Little by little, Anna’s father yielded and finally agreed to them getting married. He, no doubt, persuaded her mother, and eventually she also gave her consent, although reluctantly. Anna was only allowed to take her clothes and her piano with her. Pestalozzi was forbidden to go and meet his bride at her parents’ house, as was the custom. Instead, Anna had to walk alone to her bridegroom’s house. The wedding took place on the 30th of September, 1769, in an old, small church. Only Pestalozzi’s family and one of Anna’s brothers were present. Anna’s parents did not come.
At the wedding Heinrich Pestalozzi was twenty-three and Anna was thirty-one years old. The Neuhof was not completed, so they had to move into an old, small farmhouse in the neighbouring village. Only one and a half years later were they able to begin their life together on the Neuhof.
The following pages are based on documents by Adolf Haller and Arthur Brühlmeier, rewritten in German by Heinrich Rubi and transalated in English by Anne-Marie Widmer. The content was arranged and edited by Dr Joanna Nair with examples of Pestalozzi's Fables from 'Pestalozzi, His Life and Work' by Roger de Guimps.
These pages have been produced by Pestalozzi World Children's Trust to further the understanding of the Pestalozzi Legacy and are for non-commercial, educational purposes.
All photographs have been provided by Arthur Brühlmeier and the details and other excellent resources are available from his web site at