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Reminiscences of Froebel by Baroness Bertha Marie von Marenholtz-Buelow

Of all the services that Frau von Marenholtz Bülow has rendered to Fröbel's cause, not the least certainly is the publication of her personal recollections. They, or large portions of the at least, appeared first in the "Erziehung der Gegenwart", the journal of the Universal Education Union (Allgemeiner Erziehungs-Verein), which, founded by the untiring zeal of Madame von Marenholtz, has for some years laboured so stenguously and so ably for the propagation of Fröbel's system; and to whose Fröbel Institution for the training of poor students the proceeds of the book are generously dedicated. It is a book that should be in the hands of every person who really cares for the system, or for its author. Some of the conversations and dissertations are not fitted, as the writer remarks, for beginners, but for those who, having in some measure mastered the principles, are able to seize the philosophical aspect of the question, and to apprehend both its application to present social needs and its immense reach in the future. But if young students are unable to do this, all can feel the charm of the picture presented to us of the hind, genial old man, with his loving heart and unflagging zeal. Unprepossessing in appearance, but making even hostile observers forget all outward circumstances when the inner man was revealed - equally ready to play with children - to instruct the inquirer - to discuss with the learned - defending his system with the simplicity of genius, as proudly confident in the power of his theories as he was humble in his personal pretensions.

Frau von Marenholtz, who had been such an unwearied apostle of Fröbel, knew him personally for a short time only. Four years, or rather protions of four years, prepared her for twenty-five years of devoted labours. Fröbel on returning to his native province of Thuringen, to devote himself to the Kindergarten and training of teachers, had chosen a spot in close proximitiy to the baths of Liebenstein, and it was in the course of a visit to those baths, in the spring of 1847, that Frau von Marenholtz became acquainted with him and with his work. He had but lately settled there in a peasant's house that he had built, and the account given of him by the woman with whom Frau von Marenholtz lodged was that he was called "the old fool," because he played and danced with the village children. In the course of a walk a few days later, she met him, "a tall thin man with long gray hair, leading a troop of village children of from three to eight years old, mostly bare-footed and but scantily clothed, marching in time, two and two, up to a neighbouring hill, where he set them to a game with an appropriate song." "The loving unselfishnes and patience with which he conducted this," contiues Frau von Marenholtz, "and the whole bearing of the man while he made the children play several games under his guidance, had something in them so touching that tears stood in my eyes and in those of my companion; and I said to the latter, 'This man may be called an old fool by those around him, but perchance he is one of those whom their contemporaries despise, or cast stones at, and to whom future generations erect monuments.'"

Such keen insight at the first moment leaves no room for surprise that the acquaintance which began that day soon ripened into intimacy, and that the same discernment turned to the sutdy of the system, made this new disciple very soon fit to become a teacher. Fröbel was enchanted to find one who so rapidly and fully understood and sympathised with him, who was so used to be misunderstood and neglected; and thus day by day conversations became more and more intimate, entering into all parts of his views both practical and philosophical, till they gradually absorbed a large protion of such time as he could spare from his active work, which was divided between the children and the young women he was training either for Kindergarten mistresses or for the charge of children at home.

Portions of these conversations and of the reflections they gave rise to at the time, which were duly recorded, and often talked over again with the master, form the bulk of the present volume; and they are a treasure-house of educational wisdom, touching upon all the points of greatest interest and of most originality in his system - the importance of infant training, the mission of women, religious education, the formation of character, study of Nature, and the Welt-Anschauung (idea of the universe), which formed the groundwork of all his views of education. For he did not, as ordinary educators do, look first at society and then consicer how a child could be so instructed as to take a fitting place therein; but looking at universal Nature as the visible manifestation of Divine thought - at Nature's laws as the revealed will of the Creator - he viewed man as one object in Nature subject to those laws, certain to be moulded by them, but bound to obey them willingly, as the free service of a reasonable moral being. To train the child for this, which will include all else, is the educator's work. Evidently mere instruction that aims at fitting a man for the work of the world is a secondary affair in such a comprehensive view of education, and can fitly come in only when the mental, moral, and physical development has reached the point when the child can exercise his own faculties freely and with some accuracy, and feels at home in the outer world, and hence the reproach of indifference to knowledge that has been so freely levelled at Fröbel.

Frau von Marenholtz had the great privilege of being able to introduce Fröbel to persons whom, in his retired, almost obscure position, he would have had no means of knowing, and thus of opening an avenue by which he might become known to a larger and especially a more influential circle. He had lectured in great cities, in Dresden especially, but he had little gift of speech; and though he won individual converts, he made no wide impression, and few of those whom Madame von Marenholtz sought to interest in his cause seem to have had any idea of the importance af the reform he was inaugurating. His new friend was a welcome and honoured guest of the ducal families of Meiningen and of Weimar, and the Duchess Ida of Weimar, who resided during the summer at Liebenstein, was soon won over to take earnest interest in Fröbel's work, and to visit him frequently. She also invited him to her table, and on one of these occasions the Grand Duke, then heir apparent only, who came in with some other exalted personages to pay a visit, was so fascinated by him that he said, "He speaks like a prohet."

An amusing anecdote is given which illustrates the difficulties under which Fröbel was then carrying on his work. He was dining with the Duchess, when a painful smell of stables invaded her Highness's room, and, after all possible remedies had been sought, Madame von Marenholtz suggested that doubtless the offence was caused by Fröbel's coat, which, in the wretched peasant's house he inhabited, was hung up in close proximity to the stable; and she took occasion to infer how necessary it was that the master should be better lodged, and how desirable a certain unused ducal villa at Marienthal would be for his training institution. The good-natured Duchess seized the suggestion, and after a time the Kindergarten and training classes were removed to this charming locality.

But Frau von Marenholtz not only introduced her friend to persons in high station, she also brought to see and hear him men of ability and influence in the public service or in literature - members of school councils, directors gymnasiums, writers on education, schoolmen, to use the word which the Germans have preserved and use in a modern sense, though it has so crystallised in its old meaning with us, that it is hardly intelligible as applied to the men of to-day. Of them, Diesterweg was one of the first who came, and one of the best known; he arrived prejudiced against Fröbel, and begged Madame von Marenholtz to spare him any talk about the man who mixed up play and teaching. But he allowed himself to be taken to see him, and was converted.

The first time he went, Fröbel had already begun his morning class; thus Diesterweg heard him while his own presence was unknown. "He came to scoff, and stayed to revere." Hiss remark afterwards was, "The man has something of the prophet about him." Twice this expression is recorded to have been used. The fervour of conviction and of desire to carry other minds with him seems to have combined with the lofty tone of his views, to transform his usually halting and somewhat confused speaking into what seemed like inspiration, and subdued to reverence men who had neither interest nor sympathy for him before. The acquaintance thus begun was warmly cultivated, and Disterweg became his earnest supporter. In the following summer a daughter of his was among Fröbel; pupils.

Dr. Kühne was the next example of the same kind. He was an admirer of Pestalozzi, and did not believe that Fröbel had done morre than imitate his predecessors; but he soon changed his opinion, and was not only convinced, but charmed, as indeed were all, with the old man's earnest enthusiasm, his self-devotion to the cause of humanity, joined to the child-like simplicity and affectionate geniality of his intercourse, especially with children and with the children he was training. Dr. Kühne, who was editor of the Europa, shortly after advocated the system in that journal.

The comparision between Fröbel's and Pestalozzi's methods is one of the points of great interest recorded in a conversation which took place at that time, but space will not allow of reproducing it. This comparison belongs to a yet larger subject, to Fröbel's claim to have founded a new education, which is of the utmost interest, but the discussion of which cannot be entered into here.

It soon became a custom among many of the frequenters of the baths to walk out to Marienthal to visit the institution. If Fröbel was engaged in teaching, he took no notice of visitors; afterwards he would enter into real discussion with such as cared to do so, and many doubtless went from real wish to learn, others from mere désoeuvrement with that ludicrous contempt for what they do not understand which characterises the frivolous. Others, aganin, took pleasure in the mere superficial aspect of his method, and were indifferent to the truth that lay beneath. But on the whole the effect produced by the evident enjoyment of the children, by their intelligence and docility, and by their intense fondness for Fröbel, converted many to the Kindergarten who could not have understood the views of which it was the exponent.

Madame von Marenholtz speaks of the "truly fatherly love with which Fröbel regarded his teacher-pupils, who in like manner bore the strongest affection and veneration for him. These affectionate relations within the institution made the most pleasing impressions on all who came within the Marienthal circle, and awoke the sympathy even of outsiders. This feeling," she continues, "was much kept up by the long walks together which we often took in the lovely neighbourhood of Liebenstein. When I once remarked to Fröbel, how happy this feeling of common interest and companionship made me feel, he replied, 'Yes, but that is only possible where one idea rules and binds us together. And idea alone can produce truly spiritual harmony.' How true this has been in politics, in religion, in philanthropy! Stronger, thank God, than all ties of interest, has ever been the tie forged by acknowledging One Ideal worthy to live and die for."

This community of feeling and interst Fröbel loved to express in outer form by days set apart for enjoyment, family festivals, birthdays, long expeditions that would end with a sunset hymn, as the fading of a glorious summer day was watched from some neighbouring hill. The same feeling prompted the Spielfest, held during the summer of 1850 in the park of the old castle of Altenstein, the accaount of which is one of the most interesting episodes of Madame von M. Bülow's narrative. It had been planned in concert with Middendorff, whose presence was felt to be absolutely necessary on such an occasion. More than 300 children from four neighbouring villages were assembled; there were flowers, garlands, songs, all appropriate and symbolical expressions of harmony and joy, such as Fröbel loved. The many young women, trained by him as teachers, accompanied the children, and Kindergarten games and dances, in all of which Fröbel and Middendorff joined unweariedly, were carried on through several happy hours, to the delight of the children and also of a large assembly of spectators. Among the latter was the Duchess Ida, who sent refreshments for the children.

The Spielfest was not, like an ordinary school feast, an interruption of educational work or a mere reward in the shape of pleasure; it was part of the education itself, part of that which was to raise and civilise the young creatures while folowing the laws of Nature. "It is a great educational mistake;" Fröbel maintained, " to deprive childhood and youth of innocent enjoyment. For Nature has put in the heart the desire for and the striving after it. As it would do injury to physical development if real natural wants were denied, so is the soul made to suffer, and is stunted in its development, when the craving for recreation and enjoyment is repressed."

It was not only for children, but for all, that Fröbel held enjoyment to be a valuable part of life, and considered the united expression of enjoyment as a part of religion. As the Olympian games were to the Greeks, so, he thought, national feasts celebrating great deeds, heroic memories, national events, should find place among us; and children's play-feasts, which seem a natural expression of the feeling kindled by the training in common in the Kindergarten, would prepare the way. Thus, as with everything in his mind, small things were the symbols of great things; childish steps lead to the path which shall be trodden by the man, and all parts of life are connected in links binding the whole forward progress of the race together.

One of the strangest accusations that the enemies of Fröbel have brougt against him was that of irreligion, whereas religion was to him so completely the all in all of life that none can understand his system who do not bear in mind his conviction of the all-pervading presence of the Most High, in which literally all created things "live and move and have their being." To vivify Christianity by training new generations to understand it better was the earnest hope of his life.

Madame von Marenholtz's "recollections" abound with evidence of this ever-present sense of religion in Fröbel's life and opinions. It was in his old age that she knew him, when the struggles, the too ardent hopes and too bitter disappiontments of long laborious years were over, and he was calmly, though ceaselessly, working out his latest and most cherished schemes. His utterances then wer from the fulness of long experience and thought; and most remarkable among them is the habitual religious fervour, the earnest struggling after union with God in every effort he made, in every hope he entertained for the human race.

Fröbel's religious views were not separate from his educational views, they were parts of one whole: there was indeed, so to speak, no one section of his opinions that could be taken out for separate discussion or criticism, to be accepted or ejected alone. His method of viewing and studying Nature was part of his religion. His religion was bound up with the observation of Nature in which he read the laws of God. And his views of education are founded both on religion and reverence for Nature which meet in the contemplation of the human being, whose wonderful gifts and capabilities have to be trained to serve and love God amid the wonders of His creation; who is destined from generation to generation to obtain more complete empire over the outer world in which he is placed, and to work in a higher moral sphere as he more and more recognises the laws of his own moral being.

Thus, while Fröbel deprecates all teaching of creeds and formulas to little children, he would have their life impregnated, so to speak, with religion. Admiration awakened by observation of Nature; desire for knowledge first stirring among unknown wonders and mysteries, the sense of dependence, the certainty of lov and protection; all these things were ceaselessly to minister to the awakening and fostering of the religious feeling in the child. The time for words and abstractions comes after.

"We must open the eyes of our children," he says, "that they may learn to know the Creator through His creation. Only then, when they have found God the Creator through the help of visible things, or seen Him foreshadowed in them, will they be able to apprehend the meaning of the term God in spirit and in truth, and learn to be Christians. First comes the visible world, and then the invisible truth, the idea. These opposites, visible and invisible, must for the young child be united by concrete images, not by words, which at most give him only a vague impression. My 'Mother's Songs' show how this work may be begun ..."

Without religous preparation in childhood no true religion, no transformation after the likeness of God is possible for man. Belief in God is indeed born in every human creature, it has only to be awakened rightly; but it must be awakened, or it remains without life. 2) "It is a great fault in the religious instruction of the present day," he says again, "that the opposition between nature and the spirit has been most dwelt upon, instead of leading the childish mind rather to see the harmony between them, and that the cessation of discord is God's purpose." This would be more consonant with nature, "For," he continues, "the eye of the child first perceives similiarity, connections, and binding links, and afterwards only difference and contrasts."

continued . . .

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