Das Buch für Anfänger im Lesen und Denken …

St. Petersburg, Breitkopf, 1785.

8vo., pp. xxvi, 294, with a woodcut vignette on the title-page, and woodcut head- and tail-pieces throughout; a very good copy, on thick paper, in contemporary marbled calf, somewhat rubbed, gilt spine a little dry, red morroco label; old booklabel of the Gettysburg (PA) Theological Seminary library.


US $2249€1830

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First edition, a rare work on children’s education to which Immanuel Kant was a subscriber. Editions in French (Livre pour apprendre à lire et à penser, 1785) and Russian (Kniga dlia chteniia i razmyshleniia, 1786) followed.

Das Buch für Anfänger im Lesen und Denken is a sort of universal primer, from first steps in reading, through to mathematics, geography, religion, and history in short extracts, with specific direction towards a Russian audience. There is a table of numbers in old slavonic (pp.82-3) and a lengthy History of Russia up to 1785 (pp. 215-252). The sections on geography include a curious word-map of Russia, and a description of the US, newly independent after seven years of war, ‘during which, among others, Washington has become known as a wise hero, as a patriot sacrifing all for the common good, as a noble friend to man …’.

In 1784 Wolke (1741-1825), cofounder with Johann Basedow of the famous but controversial Philanthopinum in Dessau, where he had taught for ten years, was invited to come to Russia. His twenty-year career there began at the Cadet Corps before he established his own school. One of the outstanding educationists of the Enlightenment, he had assisted Basedow in the preparation of his Elementarwerk, (4 vols, Dessau 1774), and published widely in his own right.

Kant had written to Wolke in 1776, full of praise for the methods of the Philanthropinum and commending to his care the son of his close friend, the English merchant Robert Motherby. Kant is named among the subscribers in Konigsberg here, as is Motherby ‘along with five friends’. Other subscribers include the future Alexander I (100 copies), schools in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Archangel, and the royal librarian in Stockholm.

Despite the long list of subscribers, both in Russia and abroad, the work is now rare. We have traced only a single copy outside Germany, at Illinois.

Svodnyi katalog 3132. 

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