One of the few who still believed in Pestalozzi when he failed again around 1780 and had to close his institution for the poor was the clerk of board Isaak Iselin from Basel. In his ethic-political magazine 'Ephemeriden der Menschheit' (Ephemeredes of Mankind) in May 1780 he published Pestalozzi's first important work: 'Die Abendstunde eines Einsiedlers' (The Evening Hour of a Hermit). Pestalozzi deliberately wanted to give this work a programmatic function. 'Sie ist Vorrede zu allem, was ich schreiben werde' (It is preface to everything I am going to write) (PSB 3, p. 96), we read in his letter to Isaak Iselin from Sept. 29th in 1780. Actually many basic thoughts of the later Pestalozzi are basically anticipated here. In his novel 'Lienhard and Gertrud' he then tried to translate the principles developed in this work into concrete life.
In the 'Evening Hour' Pestalozzi sees the individual and social life of man in five concentric circles, three inner and two outer ones Anmerkung . The first and also most important one of the outer circles is the family. In the closest living circumstances of house and home every single man experiences himself by dealing with the material and personal environment; here his powers develop, here real sense for truth is developed, and here he finds fulfilment of his earthly existence in the loving meeting with his relatives and by the 'quiet pleasure' of the domestic happiness and the inner quietness. The next circle is given by the life at work. In the worry about his daily bread the individual takes part in a field of a bigger social connection, without ceasing being rooted in the narrow circle. The outermost circle is formed by the society or rather the state. It, too, shall stay related to the narrowest circle. It shall not only secure the domestic happiness of the individual, it itself shall personify a family on a large scale: ruler and subject shall be like father and children. Pestalozzi wrote the 'Evening Hour' yet before the upheavals following the French revolution, but of his political position of an enlightened absolutism which is visible in this work Pestalozzi should, also in the following years, only half-heartedly free himself.The individual now does not only stand in the centre of these three outer life circles, which, of course, merge, but meets two other circles inside him. First he is confronted with a world of sexual drives, of needs, instincts and gifts with which he has to get to a proper relationship by dealing with the outer circles. And in the innermost part of himself man finally finds God. Because of this for Pestalozzi at the time of the 'Evening Hour' God is the 'nearest relation of mankind' and because of this every man may trust his 'inner sense' as a 'safe leading star'. The belief in God and in immortality therefore is natural for man and guilt means not to listen to the inner voice. Disbelief therefore is the unnatural.Because of this it must be the aim of education to keep the childlike sense of the growing man for him to, as a child of his God, fulfil his future duties towards family, job and state. And in so far as the family reflects the basic relation between father or rather God and man or rather child it becomes the model for the ideal state in which the ruler as the father fulfils his duties of government in loving responsibility for his subjects and his state.Now the individual, however, can only then become quiet inside and thus become a blessing for his fellows if his natural gifts are 'developed up' to real wisdom of man. Starting points for the development of the human talents are the loving relation between mother and child and the concrete life within the nearest relations of the family. By dealing with what comes across the growing man in the experienced reality he finds truth and power develops inside himself.The school which only produces an unusable knowledge of many things, which imparts empty words instead of real knowledge, which presses every special phenomenon into rigid systems and by this pulls them out of their natural context, this school leads man away from the way of nature and spoils him. What is good for man is a natural development of his abilities, he perfects himself by saving and developing his substance of life and not by learning in school.All in all the keynote of the 'Evening Hour' is optimistic and roots in Pestalozzi's view of man as the divine image. The evil, however, here is not considered to be the expression of an ancient guilt or as the temptation of the devil, as it is in the traditional view of Christianity, but as the lack of the good, as the disturbing influence on the natural positive development or the gifts that exist in the human nature. According to this are also the pedagogical means: to let grow, to protect, to educate, not to impede, not to rush. The antithesis of this harmonistic view of man which on the one hand is determined by Pestalozzi's pietistic influenced life experiences and on the other hand by his taking in of Rousseau's ideas, is then found in the so called philosophy of the lieutenant in 'Lienhard and Gertrud' in 1787, according to which the mastering of the natural egoism has to be in the centre of the pedagogical effort.The annotation of the publisher of the Ephemeredes at the end of the 'Evening Hour' is a passage of Pestalozzi's letter from the 9th June 1779 to Isaak Iselin [PSB 3, p. 77-80]. Pestalozzi himself describes this letter as the most important one he has ever written and explains his ideas about religion and society to his fatherly friend. He is convinced that social justice requires of the individual to overcome himself, which, however, can not be managed – as the supporters of the enlightenment thought – with rational understanding, but only for the sake of love. And because religion, especially Christianity, develops man to love, Pestalozzi considers the teachings of Jesus Christ as a 'philosophy to the people that develops pure justice' [PSB 3, p. 78]. So we read at another place of this in the annotation only partly printed letter:'Religion ist Bildung zu Menschenliebe, folglich zum reinen gegenseitigen Sinn des Vater- und Kinderverhältnisses, zu ihrer gegenseitigen Gerechtigkeit. Großer Gedanke der Religion, dass wir Kinder Gottes sind, bildet uns zu Brüdern, und Brudersinn und Liebe ist einzige Quelle wirkender Menschengerechtigkeit.' (Religion is education to human love, consequently to the pure mutual sense of the relation between father and children, to their mutual justice. The great thought of religion that we are children of God, makes us to brothers, and brotherliness and love is the only well of effective human justice) [PSB 3, p. 78] Great confusion was caused by the wrong reading of the Critical Work Edition (PSW 1, p. 281), where - twisting Pestalozzi's course of thinking into the opposite – you can read that the teaching of Jesus would be 'keine Gerechtigkeit bildende Volksphilosophie' (a philosophy for the people that does not develop justice). With the help of the still existing original of the letter it can be flawlessly found out that Pestalozzi wrote 'reine' (pure) and not 'keine' (no).