Author and Historical Context

    990988_detailJohn Amos Comenius  born Jan Ámos Komenský  on March 28, 1592, Nivnice, Moravia, Habsburg domain (now in Czech Republic) and died Nov. 14, 1670, Amsterdam. He was an educator, an innovator and an idealist.

He was orphaned by age 10 and was obliged to live with his aunt in Strážnice where he attended secondary school at Přerov. He attended for two years at te Herborn Gymanisum in the Nassau and entered the University of Heidelberg.

University of Heidelberg, 1613

University of Heidelberg, 1613

He was the author of many treatises and text books that were widely read in his lifetime, but none was of greater or more lasting influence than Orbis Pictus. A member of the Protestant sect, the Unity of the Brethren, he entered the ministry during a time of religious conflict at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. s a young minister Comenius found life wholly satisfying, but the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618 and the emperor Ferdinand II’s determination to re-Catholicize Bohemia forced him and other Protestant leaders to flee. It was during a period of exile because of religious persecution that he began the writings in which he developed his philosophy of education. In Comenius’s view, an imperfect understanding of the world design, which was the work of God, let to disharmony. Morality and education were therefore intimately connected. He believed that peace and prosperity would result if a programme of education could be developed and put into effect which would lead people to understand the intrinsic order and unity off reality. Teaching methods and text-books then in use were inadequate for Comenius’s concept of education. Not only were they based on an interpretation of knowledge that he considered incorrect but they also took no account of the child’s mental development or experience. He was by no means the first to say that all knowledge must enter the mind through the senses, but he was the first to prepare a text-book based on that principle.   Orbis Sensualium Pictus, which appeared in 1657, printed by Michael Endter of Nuremberg, was an attempt to compress in a unity of pictures and text the essential knowledge of the world. Each illustration portrayed some aspect of the natural world or the organization of human society, in language simple enough for the child beginning his studies.

Objects in the illustrations were numbered and the numbers referred to the contemporary words in the text set out first in Latin followed by German.

Comenius

Comenius

The use of pictures as an essential element of the educational process to entice witty children’ made Orbis Pictus a landmark; for their extensive use in a text-book had been unknown before, though there had been earlier illustrated books appealing to a child’s interests.

The book was not intended to stand on its own but was part of a series which presented knowledge at increasing levels of complexity as the child’s understanding developed.

In contrast to its innovative format and educational principles, the approach to knowledge of Orbis Pictus was closer to that of the Middle Ages than the Renaissance, and some of the scientific information it contained had already been proven inaccurate. These errors did not hinder its success, however, perhaps because many educators were interested in it principally as a Latin text-book.

The first English edition appeared in 1659, translated as Visible World by Charles Hoole (1610-1667), a London schoolmaster who dated his preface January 1658. The illustrations were produced by copper engraving rather than woodcut and the English text preceded the Latin on the page. New editions, with changes in the illustrations or some alteration or updating of the text, appeared frequently in England during the next several years, then at longer intervals during the eighteenth century.

The Twelfth and final English edition, which is reproduced in this series, appeared in 1777 (with crude woodcuts replacing old engravings), but it continued to be printed in other countries until the final school edition was published in Prague in 1845.

One of the most important books in the history of education, Oribs Pictus influenced numerous text books which followed it, and echoes of its principles can still be seen in informational books for children.

Excerpts taken and pieced together from:

“English Illustrated Books for Children.” Trans. Array A descriptive companion to a selection from the Osborne Collection.. Margaret Crawford Maloney. London, Syndey, Toronto: Holp Shuppan Publishers, 1981. 23-4. Print.

John Edward Sadler, J.A. Comenius and the Concept of Universal Education (1966)

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Further Reading on John Amos Comenius

In English, the best biography of Comenius is Matthew Spinka, John Amos Comenius: That Incomparable Moravian (1943). The earliest biography is S. S. Laurie, John Amos Comenius, Bishop of the Moravians: His Life and Educational Works (1881; new ed. 1892). Otakar Odloziik wrote a brief biographical sketch, Jan Amos Komensky (1942). Two books focus on his educational reforms: Will S. Monroe, Comenius, and the Beginnings of Educational Reform (1900), and John E. Sadler, Comenius and the Concept of Universal Education (1966).