PUBLISHING AND LIFE CRISIS
There were two people who supported Pestalozzi in his time of greatest need. One day a young woman knocked at his door. Her name was Elisabeth Naef. She said, “I’ve heard that you need help. I’d like to help you in the house and garden.” Elisabeth was a simple servant with a good heart. For Pestalozzi, she was heaven-sent. From then on she did all the housekeeping and tended the gardens. “There are still people who also think of others, not only of themselves. So, I’m not that abnormal” Pestalozzi thought. Thanks to Elisabeth, he was able to regain his optimism. He pulled himself together and hoped to start anew.
The second person faithful to Pestalozzi was the council secretary of the City of Basel. His name was Isaak Iselin. He asked Pestalolzzi, “Why don’t you try to write? You have good ideas. You have something to tell the people. You have had valuable experiences and you have learnt a lot in these times of distress; you just had bad luck. Why don’t you enter a literary competition? Your chances are good. You could win a prize and make a little money in addition.”
Pestalozzi followed Iselin’s advice and started to write. He wrote as if in a dream of all the good and bitter things he had experienced. He filled the empty pages of old account books because he had no money to buy paper. It was in the year 1780 that he walked to Basel with a pile of papers filled with his writing. There he met the beggar to whom he gave the silver buckles from his shoes as a present. Do you remember?
Pestalozzi wanted to show the papers to Iselin. They contained the beginning of a long novel. It was called ‘Leonard and Gertrude’. In it, Pestalozzi wrote about life in the farming village of Bonnal; of corrupt people who cheated others, causing a lot of misery and injustice – just as Pestalozzi himself had bitterly experienced. He also wrote about Gertrude, a mother of seven children, a brave woman who, setting her children a good example, courageously stood up for justice.
Pestalozzi read to Iselin and his wife from the pages he had written. Both of them were impressed. Pestalozzi described life in the village in a very lively and exciting way. Iselin then devoted many Sundays to correcting Pestalozzi’s manuscript. Pestalozzi’s handwriting was rather hard to read and he made many spelling mistakes. With Pestalozzi, matters of the heart always came first. Head and hands were also important to him, but he often neglected them a bit. Above all else, he was a man with a good heart.
In 1781, the first volume of ‘Leonard and Gertrude’ was printed and published. And lo and behold, the book became a ‘bestseller’, as we would say nowadays. Suddenly Pestalozzi was famous. All over Europe people wanted to read his book. Within a short time it was translated into other languages. “At long last this useless Pestalozzi has found a way to make himself useful”, his relatives and acquaintances thought. They were relieved. Pestalozzi also began to believe in himself again, “I want to continue ‘Leonard and Gertrude’. It is obvious that this is the way in which I can make people understand my ideas.” So he then wrote three more volumes. Every two years another volume was published.
However, Pestalozzi’s happiness did not last for long. He soon became aware that the people liked to read his fascinating story, but that they did not take to heart the good that he wanted to achieve; they went on living as they were used to. It made him feel very sad, so he sat down at his desk to write another book. The new book, ‘Christopher and Elizabeth’ (1782) explained the meaning behind ‘Leonard and Gertrude’ to the reader. However this book was too dull for most people. Only a few read it.
For one year, Pestalozzi published a weekly magazine, the ‘Schweizerblatt’. Only a few people bought it. His ideas were challenging and asked too much of people! Most of them did not want to change their comfortable lives.
Among the pamphlets that Pestalozzi wrote on political issues, one was ‘On Legislation and Infanticide’ (1783). Pestalozzi blamed society and the economic problems of unmarried mothers for the frequency of infanticide. He demanded better, fairer legislation to solve the problem. He argued that laws should be introduced which support the mother rather than disgrace her. Otherwise, a woman may kill her child for fear of punishment and out of feelings of shame.
Pestalozzi also wrote 239 ‘Fables’, which were published in 1797. Nearly all of these are very short and contain an important or original truth about morality, education, society or politics. Many of them are animal fables.
Here are some examples:
The Grass and the Mushroom
The mushroom said to the grass, “I grow in an instant, but you take a whole year.”
“True,” replied the Grass, “whilst I am acquiring my value, you, in your uselessness, may come and go a hundred times.”
A Fool’s Fountain
A poor, vain fool whose fountain was almost dry, told his servant to stop the pipe when there was no one near, but to let it run on the approach of strangers.
“That will only make the fountain worse,” answered the servant, “and there will often be no water just when it is most needed.”
To which his master replied, “I can bear anything so long as people do not know that my fountain is dry.”
The Oak and the Grass
Said the Grass to the Oak, under whose shade it grew, “I should thrive better in the open than under your shelter.”
“Ungrateful one!” exclaimed the Oak, “You forget that every winter I cover you with my leaves.”
“What!” cried the Grass, “Your proud branches rob me of sun, dew, and rain; your roots of the nourishment of the soil; and yet you would have me grateful for the forced alms of a few withered leaves, which serve rather to foster your own growth than to prevent my decay!”
The Crumbling Rock
A rock, which for centuries had sheltered cattle from sun and rain, was crumbling with age. Day after day pieces broke off, and fell upon the animals, till at last they fled from the place where they had formerly loved to rest. But the old herdsman, half blind and half deaf, could not understand what had happened, and thought they had been bewitched by an enemy.
It is sad to see the old shelters becoming dangerous ruins; sadder still to see the leaders of the people failing to understand the danger.
The Interior of the Hill
A simpleton, seeing a hill covered with beautiful verdure, thought that it must be good earth right through; but a man who knew the place took him to a spot where the interior was exposed, and it was nothing but rock and gravel.
The hills of the earth, however green and fertile they may be, have nearly always a hard, barren subsoil. Similarly, men, however noble in heart and mind, are seldom without strata of rock and gravel in the flesh.
Even when outward appearances are most beautiful, and most rich in power, honour, and dignity, shut in below the surface are the vices of our nature. Hence, however high a man may be placed, he must give ear to the precept: “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation; for the spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
The Lime-Tree and the King
A King, who was standing alone under a lime-tree, was struck by the beauty of its foliage, and exclaimed: “Would that my subjects held to me as these leaves hold to thy branches!”
The Tree answered him; “I am for ever carrying the sap of my roots to each of my leaves.”
A Simpleton’s Judgment
Some magnificent poplars and a few scrubby, undersized oaks grew by the side of the same stream. Simple Simon therefore concluded that the poplar makes good wood, and the oak bad.
I know teachers who judge their scholars, pastors who judge their flocks, and rulers who judge those they govern, with no more reason than Simple Simon used to judge the merits of the oak and the poplar-tree.
One of the Bad Effects of Proverbs
“It is sad that, in spite of his feelings, a man so often finds himself obliged to be unkind to his horses!” said a kind-hearted wagoner one day, compelled to hurry his over-burdened beasts. And then he gradually got into the habit of repeating the words with little thought, just as he would say ‘Good-morning’ or ‘Good-night’, till at last they became a proverb amongst the wagoners of the country; and now, any wretched fellow who ill-treats his horses or his oxen, excuses himself with: “It cannot be otherwise; a wagoner must be unkind in spite of his feelings.”
The Feeling of Equality
A shepherd, who fed his sheep rather poorly but all alike, found that, as a rule, they were satisfied. But one day he picked out a dozen for better treatment, and from that moment there was discontent in the flock, and many ewes died of vexation.
The Limit of Equality
A Dwarf said to a Giant, “I have the same rights as you.”
“True, my friend,” replied the Giant “but you could not walk in my shoes.”
Why Jupiter made the Lion King
The animals stood before Jupiter’s throne awaiting his decree, most of them believing and hoping that the elephant would be appointed. The lion had as domineering an air as though he were king already, but the elephant moved quietly to and fro with the greatest unconcern.
Suddenly the voice of Jupiter, the lord of the thunder, was heard: “The lion is king.”
“My choice surprises you,” said Jupiter to the others, who were standing open-mouthed with astonishment; “you must learn, then, that the elephant needs you not, having intelligence and talents enough to be self-sufficing; but the lion has need of you, and as he is able, at the same time, to make himself respected, I appoint him to be king.”
How the Animals Understand Liberty
King Lion one day asked his subjects what they meant when they talked of liberty.
Said the ox: “I should think it is the most desirable liberty to be never fastened to the yoke, but always to the manger.”
Said the monkey: “I shall never think myself free so long as I have a tail and a hairy skin. Without these disadvantages I should be quite free, for I should be a man.”
Said the draught horse: “I feel free when my harness is taken off, and I have nothing at all to carry.”
Said the carriage horse: “When I am magnificently harnessed, and drag a fine carriage for a short distance, I sometimes feel freer than the noble lord behind me.”
Said the ass: “To be free is never to have either sack or basket upon your back.”
Said the sloth: “If, when I have devoured all the leaves on my branch, somebody would be good enough to carry me to another and put me within reach of the leaves I so much enjoy, I should be free indeed.”
Said the fox: “And I should be free if my prey did not cost me so much fear, cunning, and patience.”
A man overheard all this and cried, “Surely none but animals can wish for this sort of liberty.” He was right; every wish for such liberty, fit only for animals, stifles in a man’s soul all true sense of liberty.
The publications mentioned here are only a few examples of the enormous amount Pestalozzi wrote. For 18 years Pestalozzi lived on the Neuhof without a steady job. After the initial success of ‘Leonard and Gertrude’ he soon felt idle and useless again. He had a wealth of good ideas and suffered because nobody was interested in them. Writing books seemed a poor substitute. He would rather have helped people with his own hands. He once wrote, “I would have mended your shoes. I would have hauled rocks for you. I would have drawn water from wells for you. I would have given my life for you. But you did not want me. So, all I could do was write.” During these 18 long years Pestalozzi came close to losing his faith in mankind. The people, it seemed to him, were selfish and evil through and through. At times he bitterly claimed, “You can drive out their wickedness only by harshness and force!” At a later time, he wrote about these difficult years on the Neuhof, “I lived like a man up to his eyes in mud and with his imminent death in front of him. I could have spat into the face of the whole world.” In this gloomy mood Pestalozzi saw his best years float past.
Now and then he made a little money doing odd jobs. He took on work at home from a textile printing plant and occasionally worked on his farm. Moreover, a businessman trading in silk hired him as a manager because he himself was not a citizen of Zurich but needed someone who could do business in the town.
Pestalozzi did not have much to do there but at least he drew a little income from it. In addition, Anna was able to make a little extra money working in the office of this company.
On the Neuhof, Pestalozzi had already become a grandfather. Jean-Jacques had married and taken over the farm. Pestalozzi felt old. He was already over fifty. Then, in 1798, something happened that was a turning point in his life.
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