Already on this first day of my acquaintance with Froebel the agreement was made that I should take part as often as possible in the instruction given to the pupils he was training.
He became entirely another person when his genius came upon him; the stream of his words then poured forth like fiery rain. It often came quite unexpectedly and on slight occasions; as in our walks, for instance, the contemplation of a stone or plant often led to profound outbursts upon the universe. But the foundation of all his discourses was always his theory of development the LAW OF UNIVERSAL DEVELOPMENT applied to the human being.
One needed to see Froebel in his class, in order to realize his genius and the strong power of conviction which inspired him. The greater number of his scholars may not have fully comprehended his words, for that which he was teaching OFTEN FAR TRANSCENDED THEIR ACCUSTOMED SPHERE OF THOUGHT, and his STRANGE MODE OF SPEECH made it difficult for them to understand him; but the SPIRIT OF THE SUBJECT PENETRATED THEIR HEARTS.
Tears would often be seen in the eyes of his scholars, when with his overwhelming love of humanity he would speak of the helplessness of children by the arbitrary way in which they are managed.
But his eyes sparkled with delight when he pointed out to me, here and there, in these note-books, passages which showed a deeper insight and understanding of the subjects he had treated. "How did you know that?" he would ask me when I anticipated his explanation of his play-materials. " I have not yet spoken of that." I told him that I could INFER it from my earliest recollections of childhood. This made him quite happy and he replied, "You see then, it is true!"
I had many opportunities to notice his intercourse with the Princes of Meiningen and Weimar, whom I had interested in him and his subject and who OFTEN ACCOMPANIED ME ON MY VISITS TO HIM. He was truly modest, and never looked upon the idea as his own, but rather as the God-favored bearer of it. I was therefore vexed that some of the guests at the baths of Liebenstein, who because of this simple manner, his old-fashioned long coat, with his hair parted in the middle and the childlike simplicity of his manner treated him with contempt, or indeed as an inferior! However,he was seldom moved by anything which concerned him personally, only those things which undervalued or slighted his "Cause."
When he had taken for granted a capacity to understand him, and yet met with a motiveless opposition, he would come crashing in, as I experienced in one case, when he defended the truth of his views, like an ENRAGED LION.
Froebel, even now, after his death, has had to suffer from manifold unjust judgments, among which are those of some of his earlier pupils in Keilhau(1817-1827), who cannot complain enough of what they call the effects of some branches of instruction. The new always stands in opposition to established claims.
Froebel often made his friends and relatives suffer when their views and interests did not harmonize with what he considered necessary or best for the good of his idea. Through his whole life Froebel sacrificed himself and his personal interests, also the interests of those nearest to him, to the development and propagation of his idea.
How very much Froebel did influence the moral culture of his pupils made public by the unbounded love and gratitude expressed by the majority of them at the time of his death.
It is to be observed that his peculiar mission did not have reference to the improvement of instruction (like Pestalozzi), but rather consisted in creating A NEW FOUNDATION FOR EDUCATION in general. The truth concerning the Nature of Childhood cannot be without influence upon all branches of education.
One day when I visited him he said, his eyes lighting up, "To-day is a good day. Yes, this truth is endless and cannot be exhausted by thought."
After I had accepted Froebel's educational method in respect to its pedagogical principles, I begged him to disclose to me in full the deeper basis of his theory of the world. He replied," No, my last word I take with me in to the grave;the time for it has not yet come." One day he read some leaves of an old manuscript and begged permission to take with him one volume containing them. "Now YOU shall know my last word." He supplied me by degrees with the proper key for understanding.
The reproach of mysticism applied to Froebel's system has a certain justification so long as the theory lying at the foundation is not completely understood and scientifically established.
"If three hundred years after my death my method of education shall be completely established according to its idea, I shall rejoice in heaven, " he replied to me once when he was lamenting over its slow and imperfect advance.
Froebel found in Liebenstein a haven of rest for his last days. Here he was again surrounded by the home atmosphere of THURINGIA, and by beautiful nature with which he had always held his most intimate and comforting communion. Here he was able to lay the foundation for the general education of the female sex-the educational vocation.
The interest in his cause shown by the Princes of Meiningen and Weimar, especially by her Highness, my patroness and friend, the Duchess Ida of Weimar, renewed his courage. Through her a suitable location was at last obtained for his institution.
On a walk, in the neighborhood of Liebenstein, we came upon the small ducal shooting castle (Jagdschloss) Marienthal. " This would be a beautiful place for our institution-Marienthal, the vale of the Marys, whom we wish to bring up as the mothers of humanity, as the first Mary brought up the Saviour of the World."
Through the continual prompting of her brother by the duchess this end was reached only after months. One circumstance contributed to bring about this permission sooner.
Froebel had been invited with me to dine with the duchess and had put on a coat which had been laid away for a long time in a place right next to the the barn and was completely penetrated with the odor of the stable. This odor permeated the instruction room, but Froebel had not noticed it as he was used to it. But the duchess noticed it as soon as he entered the the dining-room. Thinking the odor was coming from outside, she closed the windows, but the odor remained. I told her in a whisper of the cause, and she was greatly amused as were her daughters, the princesses. Froebel joined heartily when I told him of the cause of our hilarity and said," Your Highness sees now how necessary it is to remove our institution to Marienthal."
After dinner the now reigning Grand Duke of Weimar, then the heir presumptive, came in with his wife. He had once censured Froebel's obscure style but now retracted it and said, "He speaks like a prophet!"
Froebel said to me, "Do you know what warmed me up so much today? The beautiful harmony of the architecture of that dining-hall! I felt as if I were in a temple!"
The marble pillars which supported the vaulted roof had made an impression on his artistic eyes. I constantly observed this feeling for harmony and beauty in Froebel. In nature, nothing escaped him; every tree which embellished the surrounding country, every graceful curved line, every blending of color, every lighting up of the heavens, everything, indeed, which expressed beauty and harmony. On the other hand, the smallest want of harmony was annoying to him.
"I miss harmony of color here, " he once said as we passed a bed of dahlias in which the colors were confusedly intermingled.
In spite of his undeniable gift of prophecy, Froebel had a warm heart for his fellow-men.
Middendorf once told me a little anecdote. Froebel's wife had opened the closet door one day and exclaimed, "Thieves have been here! The closet is almost empty." Froebel laughed, " I am the the thief." A neighboring village had been destroyed by fire, and , having no money, he felt obliged to help by giving them some of his effects.
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