Weekly Story: Pestalozzi on Superstition

Democratic Thinker, Weekly Story

In 1781, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi—a Swiss educator—publishes a popular story—widely read in the young United States—promoting his doctrine of universal education.


From Ghaisties, Ghoulies, and long-leggity Beasties,
And Things that go Bump in the night—
Good Lord, deliver us.

Leonard and Gertrude.

A Popular Story
by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.
Translated from the German.


CHAP. LXVI. Superstition depends upon Education.


AS the steward was returning from the castle, he stopped at the Swan at Newbybridge. His spirits being already raised by his brandy-bottle, he made no scruple to drink and chatter with some countrymen he found there. He talked of the suits he had gained; of the influence he had over the late Squire; and how, by means of that influence he had kept all the country in subjection; but that now, every thing was turned topsy-turvy. He then gave his dog a mess, that would have satisfied the hunger of a labouring man; and observing one of the company, who seemed to eye the meal with envy; he said with a sneer, “What! I warrant now you would have no objection to such a dinner yourself? Poor Turk! thou art heartily welcome, my honest fellow!”

After this he continued to boast, and to drink till evening.

About this time the Squire’s old woodman arrived; who, upon his return from the castle, called in to take a draught of ale. The steward, who never could bear to be alone when it grew dark, proposed to bear him company to the village. “With all my heart,” said the other, “provided you set off directly; but I am in pursuit of a wood-stealer, and cannot stay a minute.”


I am ready now, replied the steward.—So saying, he finished his liquor, paid his reckoning; and they went away together.

As they walked along, the steward asked his companion, whether he was not afraid of meeting ghosts in the woods at nights.

Woodman. What makes you ask such a question?

Steward. Why? because I think there must be a good deal of danger.

Woodman. What an old fool you must be! You, who have been steward these thirty years, to take such fancies! I wonder you are not ashamed of yourself!

Steward. That may be: but I protest I don’t know whether to believe in ghosts or not. It’s very certain, however, that I never saw one.

Woodman. Harkye; since you talk so openly; I have a mind to give you some information: but remember now, I shall expect a pot of beer in return.

Steward. Marry, and you shall have it; or even two instead of one, if you talk to the purpose.

Woodman. I have been now a woodman forty years; and I was scarce four years old when my father first made me follow him to the woods. He had always a terrible collection of stories of ghosts and hobgoblins, which he used to relate to the countrymen in the alehouses, merely to frighten them from going amongst the woods at night: But to me he used to hold a very different language. As he intended that I should be one day a woodman like him, he used to point out the absurdity of such tales, and laugh me out of the belies of them: He used also to take me with him through the woods, in the darkest nights, and in the worst season of the year, when the wind howled, and made every thing shake about us. If he saw any fire, or the least glimmering of light, or if he heard any noise; away he used to go directly to the spot, taking me with him through bog, through briar, over hedge and ditch; and when he came to the spot, whence the noise, or the light proceeded, is he found a company of gypsies, or some poacher, or wood-stealer; he would roar out in the most terrible voice he could assume: “Fly rascals; get away as fast as you can,—or you are all dead men.” And in this manner, he would set them all running helter-skelter, even if there had been twenty of them, leaving their pots and their pans and all their baggage behind them; that you would have thought they had seen him at the head of a troop of horse. Sometimes the noises we heard only proceeded from some animal, many of which will at times utter unaccountable sounds. And for the lights, which were enough to terrify those unaccustomed to them, they often proceeded from nothing but the phosphorous of rotten wood. In the whole course of my life, I have never seen any thing more frightful than what I have just mentioned: but it is for my interest to make my neighbours believe in ghosts and witches; for I am growing old, and I am very willing to be excused from trotting through the woods in cold, stormy nights, in pursuit of such as may be disposed to destroy the game, or rob the woods.

Contributed by Democratic Thinker