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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XIV. Education

§ 2. French and German education

The activity directed to educational affairs, which has been a prominent feature of English life during recent years, dates from the time of the French revolution; but, at the moment of that outbreak, France and Germany could look back upon a whole generation engaged in revolutionising national education. By the publication of La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), Rousseau had protested against the prevailing rationalism, and, in the following year, he produced Émile, a book whose destructive and constructive proposals combined to make it the most considerable work of the eighteenth century dealing with its subject. La Chalotais and Basedow had enunciated the administrative principles of the lay school and undenominational religious teaching, while the attacks upon the Society of Jesus and its eventual suppression by papal bull in 1773 had suspended the labours of the greatest educational corporation of the time, and had inflicted a fatal blow upon the type of instruction which, for some two and a half centuries, had been general throughout Europe. Prussia, under the guidance of K. A. von Zedlitz, Frederick the Great’s minister of education, had initiated reforms, which made her, in this respect, the model for the German people. So early as 1763, Frederick had decreed compulsory instruction and the provision of primary schools; ten years later, F. E. von Rochow had shown how rural schools of that order could be usefully conducted. In 1781, the modern German classical school, pursuing a course of study not confined to Latin and Greek, came into being with the curriculum which Gedike introduced in Berlin. Within the same decade, Prussian schools other than primary passed from ecclesiastical control to that of a specially constituted board of education, and, by the institution (1789) of the “leaving examination,” the first advance was made in the evolution of the modern German university. Austria and other regions of catholic Germany had entered upon a path of reform with purposes similar to those of Prussia; but these steps were rapidly retraced during the reaction which followed the events of 1789 in France. Outside Germany, but amidst a German-speaking population, Pestalozzi had completed the inconclusive experiment in rural education which he had been conducting upon his farm, Neuhof (1774–80).