The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Comenius, Johann Amos

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COMENIUS, kō-mē′nĭ-ŭs, or KOMENSKY, Johann Amos, Moravian educational reformer: b. probably at Nivnitz, Moravia, 28 March 1592; d. Amsterdam, 15 Oct. 1671. His family belonged to the sect of Moravian brethren. He studied at Herborn in Nassau and at Heidelberg. He became rector of a school at Prerau and later, after taking orders in the Church of the sect of his parents, accepted the position of pastor and rector at Fulnek. The plunder of that town by the Spaniards after the battle of Prague in 1620 cost him all his possessions and writings. He fled to Poland, where in 1632 he was elected bishop of his communion at Lissa. Here in 1630 was published his ‘Pansofiæ prodromus,’ a work on education which attempted to organise all human knowledge within reach of the minds of everyone. In 1631 there appeared his ‘Janua Linguarum reserata,’ which outlined his method of teaching languages through the vernacular and by means of illustrations and object lessons. This work obtained widespread popularity and was translated into many European languages as well as into Persian, Arabian and Mongolian. His ‘Orbis pictus’ was an abridgment of the ‘Janua’ with many illustrated cuts for use by children, and was the first of its kind. In 1638 he went to Sweden to plan a system of education for that country. In 1641 he visited England on a similar mission which was unsuccessful because the political upheaval made the time unripe for reforms of that sort. He therefore returned to Sweden in 1642, and, with the assistance of Oxenstjerna, worked on plans for the curricula and management of the Swedish schools. At Elbing, in West Prussia, whither he went in the same year, he worked on further elaborations of his schemes; and then continued both this and his religious duties at Lissa (1654). In the war which followed, he again lost all his manuscripts, and was obliged to flee. He went to Amsterdam, where he remained for the rest of his life.

His educational theories were remarkably broad and inclusive. His system of schools has not yet been superseded in practice. His efforts were directed, toward arousing the interest of the pupil. In his curricula, music, economy, politics, world history and science were included. Education was to him a means of interpreting and enlarging every-day experience by use of its own terms as well as by means of the classics, religion and ethics. His writings on educatiou are numerous. ‘Didactica Magna,’ the most comprehensive of his publications, reveals his attempt to make a science of education by approaching it by the same method as that employed by the physical sciences. At the celebration of his tercentenary, a society was formed for the publication of his works. His place in the history of educational reform is well merited in spite of the weaknesses of his scientific bases.

As a theologian he was mystical, a believer in prophecies, dreams and revelations. Among his works in this field are ‘Synopsis physicæ ad lumen divinum reformatæ’; and ‘Lux in tenebris,’ a prophetic work. Consult Laurie, ‘John Amos Comenius’ (1881); Keatinge, ‘The Great Didactic of Comenius’ (London 1896), and Monroe, ‘Comenius and the Beginning of Educational Reform’ (New York 1900).