The New International Encyclopædia/Comenius, Johann Amos

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The New International Encyclopædia
Comenius, Johann Amos
Edition of 1905. See also John Amos Comenius on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

COME'NIUS, or Komensky, Johann Amos (1592-1670). A noted educational reformer of the seventeenth century, born either at or near Ungarisch-Brod, Moravia. His parents belonged to the Moravian Brethren, and Comenius became one of the leaders of that sect. Though on account of poverty he was unable to begin his education until late — he did not enter the Latin school at Strassnick until he was sixteen — he attended the gymnasium of Herborn, in Nassau, and later studied at Heidelberg. In the course of his study he became acquainted with the educational reforms of Ratichius (q.v.), and with the report of these reforms issued by the universities of Jena and Giessen.

The work of Comenius included three important fields of activity. His practical work, constituting throughout his life his most immediate concern, was that connected with the Moravian Church. In 1614 he was ordained to its ministry, and four years later was given the charge at Fulnek, one of the most flourishing churches of that communion. In consequence of the religious wars he lost all his property and his writings in 1621, and six years later was compelled to flee from his native country on account of the proscription of all Protestants. Settling at Lissa, in Poland, he became director of the gymnasium there and was given charge of the Bohemian and Moravian churches. In 1641 he went to England to join a commission charged with the reform of the system of public education, but the disturbed political condition of the country interfered with his project. In the following year, at the invitation of Oxenstiern, he applied himself to the task of reorganizing the Swedish schools. He elaborated his plans at Elbing, West Prussia, where he settled in 1642. In 1648 he was elected Bishop of the Moravian Brethren at Lissa, which town he made once more his residence, and where he published a number of his philological works. He subsequently visited Transylvania, and in 1650 assisted in drawing up a plan for reforming the Protestant school of Sáros-Patak, Hungary. In 1654 he returned to Lissa; but in the war which soon after raged in Poland he once more lost all his property, including his manuscripts, and was compelled to flee (1657). He traveled through Silesia and Brandenburg, visited Stettin and Hamburg, and finally settled at Amsterdam, where he died.

Through all his wanderings and all his educational activities, Comenius's religious interests were cared for to the neglect of many of his great educational plans. The somewhat mystical bent of his mind, however, led the gifted reformer into extremes that render much of his writings valueless for modern times, and in his last years made him an easy dupe of religious impostors.

His second great interest was in furthering the Baconian attempt at the organization of all human knowledge. He became one of the leaders in the encyclopædic or pansophic movement of the seventeenth century, and, in fact, was inclined to sacrifice his more practical educational interests and opportunities for these more imposing but somewhat visionary projects. The men of affairs who aided him with funds and gave him protection and opportunity for continuing his educational investigations and writings were more interested in their immediate practical import, and insisted, in spite of the wishes of Comenius, on his devoting his energies and original insight to the work of organizing schools, and writing text-books or works on method. In 1639 Comenius had published his Pansophiæ Prodromus, and in the following year his English friend Hartlib published, without his consent, the plan of the pansophic work as outlined by Comenius. The result of his life's work in this sphere, his Pansophia, was destroyed in manuscript in the burning of his home in Lissa in 1657. The pansophic ideas find partial expression in the series of text-books produced from time to time. In these he attempts to organize the entire field of human knowledge so as to bring it, in outline, within the grasp of every child.

The most permanent influence exerted by Comenius was in the practical educational work. Few men since his day have had a greater influence, though for the greater part of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth there was little recognition of his relationship to the current advance in educational thought and practice. The practical educational influence of Comenius was threefold. He was first a teacher and an organizer of schools, not only among his own people, but later in Sweden, and to a slight extent in Holland. In his Great Didactic he outlines a system of schools that is the exact counterpart of the existing American system of kindergarten, elementary school, secondary school, college, and university. In the second place, the influence of Comenius was in formulating the general theory of education. In this respect he is the forerunner of Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, etc., and is the first to formulate that idea of ‘education according to nature’ so influential during the latter part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth century. The influence of Comenius on educational thought is comparable with that of his contemporaries, Bacon and Descartes, on science and philosophy. In fact, he was largely influenced by the thought of these two; and his importance is largely due to the fact that he first applied or attempted to apply in a systematic manner the principles of thought and of investigation, newly formulated by those philosophers, to the organization of education in all its aspects. The summary of this attempt is given in the Didactica Magna, completed about 1631, though not published until several years later. The third aspect of his educational influence was that on the subject matter and method of education, exerted through a series of text-books of an entirely new nature. The first-published of these was the Janua Linguarum Reserata (The Gate of Languages Unlocked), issued in 1631. This was followed later by a more elementary text, the Vestibulum, and a more advanced one, the Atrium, and other texts. In 1657 was published the Orbis Sensualium Pictus, probably the most renowned and most widely circulated of school textbooks. It was also the first successful application of illustrations to the work of teaching, though not, as often stated, the first illustrated book for children.

These texts were all based on the same fundamental ideas: (1) learning foreign languages through the vernacular; (2) obtaining ideas through objects rather than words; (3) starting with objects most familiar to the child to introduce him to both the new language and the more remote world of objects: (4) giving the child a comprehensive knowledge of his environment, physical and social, as well as instruction in religious, moral, and classical subjects; (5) making this acquisition of a compendium of knowledge a pleasure rather than a task; and (6) making instruction universal. While the formulation of many of these ideas is open to criticism from more recent points of view, and while the naturalistic conception of education is one based on crude analogies, the importance of the Comenian influence in education has now been recognized for half a century. The educational writings of Comenius comprise more than forty titles. In 1892 the three-hundredth anniversary of Comenius was very generally celebrated by educators, and at that time the Comenian Society for the study and publication of his works was formed. Consult: Laurie, John Amos Comenius, Bishop of ihe Moravians: His Life and Educational Works (London, 1884); Quick, Essays on Educational Reformers (London, 1868); Raumer, Geschichte der Pädagogik, vols. i.-iv. (Gütersloh, 1874-80); Müller, Comenius, ein Systematiker in der Pädagogik (Dresden, 1887); Löscher, Comenius, der Pädagog und Bischof (Leipzig, 1889).