Pestalozzi's Literary Main Work: Lienhard und Gertrud (Lienhard and Gertrud)

All the works and letters of Pestalozzi fill about 45 thick volumes and yet his works are almost unknown. It is true that many people know that he wrote 'Lienhard and Gertrud', but only few also read this novel: a stylistically nonuniform work which in the 1st and 2nd volume strikes the note of the people's language and in the 3rd and 4th volume ends in profound theoretic treatises.

For Pestalozzi the great success of the 1st volume of his village novel (1781) was the literary breakthrough. After the failure of his agricultural undertaking and his institution for the poor at the Neuhof writing was left as his last opportunity to earn his daily bread and to act in public. In his last great work, the 'Schwanengesang' (Swansong) (1826) he looks back at his life and relates how it got down to this stroke of genius:

'Marmontels ´Contes moraux´ lagen eben, als ich heimkam, auf meinem Tische; ich nahm sie sogleich mit der bestimmten Frage, ob es vielleicht möglich sei, dass ich auch so etwas machen könne, in die Hand, und nachdem ich ein paar dieser Erzählungen gelesen und wieder gelesen, schien es mir doch, das sollte nicht ganz unmöglich sein. Ich versuchte fünf oder sechs dergleichen kleine Erzählungen, von denen ich nichts mehr weiss, als dass mich keine von ihnen ansprach; die letzte war ´Lienhard und Gertrud´, deren Geschichte mir, ich weiss nicht wie, aus der Feder floss, und sich von sich selbst entfaltete, ohne dass ich den geringsten Plan davon im Kopf hatte, oder auch nur einem solchen nachdachte. Das Buch stand in wenigen Wochen da, ohne dass ich eigentlich nur wusste, wie ich dazu gekommen.'
(Marmontel's 'Contes moraux' lay on the table just when I came in; with the definite question if it perhaps was possible for me to do something like that, I took it into my hand, and after I have read and read again some of these stories it seemed to me that it should not be absolutely impossible. I tried five or six little narratives like those of which I do not remember anything anymore but that none of them pleased me; the last one was 'Lienhard and Gertrud' of which the story, I do not know how, flowed out of my pen and developed on its own without me having the slightest plan about it in my head or also even thinking about a plan. The book was finished after few weeks without me actually knowing how I came by it.)' (PSW 28, p. 237)

So it is no question: inside Pestalozzi there was a real literary artist and if he had kept writing and had concerned himself with aesthetical and stylistic questions, in the German lessons in our secondary schools he would be paid the same attention as a Gotthelf, Keller, Meyer of Spitteler. But for Pestalozzi writing was only a temporary solution, he wanted to act, and this is why he was annoyed by the fact that his book pleased 'as a novel', but did not succeed in prompting the people to realize all the good that was described in it.

Obviously Pestalozzi with his village novel hit the nerve of the time. In the centre there is the village Bonnal which one best imagines as Birr and Lupfig – the area of his own acting – and in which poverty and moral corruption trumped each other. The first discernible caused of the evil is Hummel, the corrupt reeve of the village and owner of the inn. Expert readers then in him recognized the butcher and landlord Heinrich Merki from Birr, to whom Pestalozzi as a late revenge for the suffered cheating (in connection with the establishment of the Neuhof) erected an inglorious literary monument. Merki had a bad reputation and in former times was imprisoned because of perjury and blasphemy, and so Pestalozzi straightaway ascribed to Hummel also that atrocity for which Merki then was sentenced: He raised the tumbler of the Holy Communion to the sexton.

Here already one of Pestalozzi's most essential convictions gets evident: namely that not only – as the saying goes – all the good, but also all the bad 'comes from above'. If the people are bad, dissolute, then the leaders, the rulers are to blame for it. It is their task to, by a good example and by just governing, result in the fact that misery, dissolution, immorality are checked and wealth and the moral of the people can be developed. No wonder that in Pestalozzi's novel also a Hummel can trouble only because the next higher one, the donzel of the village, did not meet his fatherly duties towards the village. In the later volumes (the 4 volumes were published at intervals of 2 years each) Pestalozzi spins the thread till up to the court and shows with concrete examples, how courtly dawdling and courtly corruption take effect 'down in the poorest hut'.

And now Pestalozzi begins the literary battle against this striking corruption. The work of the recovery is triggered by Gertrud, epitome of the good, irreproachable mother who decides to reveal the whole misery of the village to the new donzel of the village and to ask him for help. The name of the energetic, fatherly donzel, Arner, is a homage to Pestalozzi's patron Niklaus Emanuel von Tscharner who was the Berner bailiff at Castle Wildenstein from 1767 to 1773. Far-sighted, quiet and determined Arner pushes through all of those measures which Pestalozzi generally expects of the leading aristocracy. By him (apart from Gertrud and the women's union) stand the pastor Ernst – following Pestalozzi's friend, Pastor Johannes Frölich from Birr -, the Cotton-Meyer as a typical exponent of the idealistic-minded entrepreneur and (since the 3rd volume) the schoolmaster Glüphi. Later on Arner gets support for his social reforms at court from count Bylifsky, with which the negative rope team along which the corruption comes down from the court to the village is countered with a positive one which finally wins under Pestalozzi's pen. He was aware of the measures which were suitable for to solve the present social problems; so much the bigger then was his disappointment about the fact that his book hardly resulted in a real improvement of the situation. So he writes in a review in 1806:

'Es [das Buch] war allgemein unabhängend von meinem Tun und von meinem Streben ins Auge gefasst, und an sich selbst ungenugtuend, meine Zeitgenossen dahin zu erheben, wirklich zu versuchen, in dem Geist zu handeln, der, indem er sich in Arner, Gertrud und Glülphi aussprach, vielseitige Ansichten und Mittel an die Hand gab, die zum Heil des Volkes nicht nur gemalt, sondern ausgeübt werden sollten.'
(It [the book] should be written generally independently from my acting and my striving, and, being not good enough itself, was meant to lift my contemporaries to really try to act in that spirit which, by speaking through Arner, Gertrud and Glülphi, furnished with various views and means which for the welfare of the people should not only be painted, but carried on.) (PSW 19, p. 17)

Thus in Pestalozzi the educationalist overcame the literary man. First he had the literarily absolutely impossible idea to didactically work up his best-selling book in the style of the Heidelberger Catechism. He personally copied chapter after chapter of 'Lienhard and Gertrud' again, provided the text with numbers, on balance formulated a question for each number, ended each chapter with a series of – again numbered consecutively– 'truths and teachings' and called the whole thing 'Die Kinderlehre der Wohnstube' (The Home's Teaching About Children). He must have recognized the falseness of his doing yet in time and thus he broke off the exercise after 39 of 100 chapters. For us descendants, however, who at Pestalozzi do not in the first place look for exciting stories, but for insights and worldly wisdoms, the 'truths and teachings' are interesting anyway. So for example number 1 of the 39th chapter settles the question in how far Pestalozzi then already clearly distinguished between animal (sensual) and higher nature when he spoke of the human nature:

'Der Mensch, dessen tierische Natur ihn dahin lenkt, sich blindlings den Reizen und Zerstreuungen seiner sinnlichen Gelüste zu überlassen, kommt nur dadurch, dass er in sich selbst geht und sich in sich selbst von seiner sinnlichen Natur selber absondert, dahin, menschlich handeln und leben zu können.'
(The human being whose animal nature makes him blindly leaving himself to the stimuli and leisure of his sensual desires, only by doing a bit of soul-searching and by in himself cutting himself off of his sensual nature comes to the point of being able to act and live humanely.)

With regard to the acting of some mass media the sentence 'In Sinnlichkeit versunkene Menschen lieben es, sich vom Henken und Köpfen und dergleichen Sachen zu unterhalten' (People who are absorbed in sensuality love to entertain themselves with hanging and beheading and things like that) did not lose anything of its validity, and the same applies to the statement 'In den Abgründen des Unrechts findest du immer die größte Sorgfalt für den Schein des Rechts.' (In the depths of the wrong you always find the greatest care for the appearance of justice.)

Still today a whole calendar could be filled with the aphorisms of the 'Teaching About Children'.

Pestalozzi, however, did not give up the thought of didactising his book and in 1782 published his 'second book for the people', 'Christoph und Else' (Christoph and Else). The plot is simple. The farmer Christoph and his wife Else together with the farmhand Jost and the boy Fritz evening after evening read a chapter of 'Lienhard and Gertrud' and deepen it in a talk. As obligingness to the reader Pestalozzi at the beginning of each 'evening lesson' summarizes the content of the chapter of 'Lienhard and Gertrud' referred to, whereupon he then let discuss the three persons with each other. There the widely travelled farmhand Jost takes Pestalozzi's views. Fritz silently listens to the talks. The unbridled discussions took up much more space than the chapters of the original story referred to, because of which Pestalozzi put a 'first break' after 30 chapters and sent the work to press. But the book was not approved of, and thus the first break at the same time became the end. What applies to the 'Teaching About Children' also applies to 'Christoph and Else': As a literary product the book does not convince, but the wealth of ideas of the thirty-six years old Pestalozzi can captivate yet today.

The failure with 'Christoph and Else' caused Pestalozzi to now work his theoretical thoughts into the following volumes of 'Lienhard and Gertrud'. The author, as he testifies himself, as readers now did not have in mind anymore the simple people, but the educated class, which is why he also in stylistic respect allowed himself all that what today makes him so difficult to read: an often very abstract style and endless involved sentences into which at all costs must be pressed the whole fullness of what crosses his mind in his excitement.

For the patient, philosophically and social-politically interested reader, however, also part 3 and 4 of 'Lienhard and Gertrud' are real mines. They especially supply evidence for the gradual darkening of Pestalozzi's idea of man. The first two parts have been written absolutely in the spirit of the 'Abendstunde eines Einsiedlers (Evening Hour of a Hermit) (1779) in which Pestalozzi's imperturbable belief in the good in the human nature is expressed. The schoolmaster Glüphi, Pestalozzi's mouthpiece in the volumes 3 and 4, holds an increasingly pessimistic view and fancies himself as a tough realist who does not have any illusions about the real nature of the human being any more. Man, he says, if he grew up wildly, left to his own devices, naturally was 'sluggish, ignorant, incautious, thoughtless, careless, gullible, timorous and incredibly greedy' and then by the obstacles which stand in his way, also becomes 'crooked, cunning, insidious, distrustful, violent, daring, vindictive and cruel.' This creature, if it grew up wildly, left to his own devices, not only was not useful for society, but was extremely dangerous and unbearable to it, which is why it – society –, if man should be of any use for it or also should only be bearable for it, had to make something totally different out of him than he is naturally. According to this Glüphi as schoolmaster also held the opinion 'for to be as good as it is possible for mankind one had to appear bad', 'love was of no use for the education of the people except behind or next to fear', and if one wanted to do anything with the people, one had to 'overcome their malice, to pursue their falseness and to drive out the cold sweat of them on their crooked ways.' No question: If Pestalozzi had kept this opinion one hardly would speak of him any more today.

Now, as it is known, Pestalozzi in the eighties tried to get the favour of the high men at the court of Vienna, because he hoped to get an influential position in the educational system. In this connection he rewrote 'Lienhard and Gertrud', shortened the four parts of the first version to three and published this revision in the years of 1790/92. The whole tendency of the reorganization of the contents aims at warning the rulers against the danger of the revolution, at reminding them of their duties and at showing them their possibilities for to avert the disaster. Probably it was thought of an official dedication of the work to Leopold II., which after his surprising death (1792), however, took care of itself. Pestalozzi, though, still thought of his work as being not yet finished and planned another part, which, however, was never carried out.

Also never carried out there was an almost gigantic plan, namely the invention of a 'Chronicle of Bonnal' in which Pestalozzi wanted to 'historically reveal the guidance of the lower men from the 14th century on and to, in the some and ninety characters of my book, explained and perfected historically show all that which I think helps to support the real enlightenment of the people'. There is only left a notice in which he tried to divide the more than ninety characters of his novel into categories such as 'poor people / poor and envious people, rich people / rich and envious people, clever people / clever and hard-hearted people, simple people' and so on.

Pestalozzi, however, never totally lost sight of his novel which among other things led to the fact that he again gave to press the 1st part of the early version in 1804. After all, this book in 1781 has established his reputation across Europe and so perhaps he wanted to create a connection between this early success and the now only pedagogical acting at Burgdorf and Yverdon.

From 1816 on Pestalozzi got the opportunity to publish his collected works at the famous publishing company Cotta. When he had to decide if he should release 'Lienhard and Gertrud' in the first or the shortened second version for reprint he decided for a third possibility: He fell back on the parts 1 and 2 of the first version, but he wanted to write the continuance which originally consisted of two volumes totally new and to extend it to four volumes. The reason of this measure is obvious: In the meantime he had revised essential anthropological and pedagogical opinions from the years of 1785 and 1787 and now, what concerned home and school education, could rely on his rich experiences of Stans, Burgdorf and Yverdon. Thus the schoolmaster of the first two versions, now called 'Glülphi', cannot be recognized again. In the centre of his pedagogical striving there is not any more the adaptation to the demands of earning money, but the education of the individual powers and gifts within the scope of personal meetings and in an atmosphere of love, for to enable the child for a moral way of life. The first two parts of the early version and the fifth part had been finished by Pestalozzi yet before his death, but the manuscript was lost in 1843 at the famous transport of 37 kg of manuscripts from the Neuhof to Paris, where Pestalozzi's confidant Joseph Schmid acted then. It is also said that there have been drafts for the 6th part with these papers.

Since Pestalozzi's death 'Lienhard and Gertrud' often was newly printed.
Understandably one each time fell back on the first version, as it is finished and all in all also is better than the shortened second version. This, however, is in so far to be regretted as, of course, in the parts of 1785 and 1787 one does not meet Pestalozzi how he saw himself since Stans. Who wants to get to know those pedagogical views which Pestalozzi himself called timelessly valid and 'gereifte Früchte am Baum meines Lebens' (ripened fruits at the tree of my life) (PSW 28, 286) unfortunately has to make do with the incomplete late version, concretely: with volume 6 of the Critical Complete Edition of his works. It is true that there he will meet an unfinished story, but not at all an unfinished pedagogical theory.