Comenius, John Amos

, a celebrated grammarian and protestant divine, was born in Moravia in 1592. Having studied in several places, and particularly at Herborn, he returned to his own country in 1614, and was made rector of a college there. He was ordained minister in 1616, and two years after became pastor of the church of Fulnec: at which time he was appointed master of a school lately erected. He then appears to have projected the introduction of a new method for teaching the languages. He published some essays for this purpose in 1616, and had prepared other pieces on that subject, which were destroyed in 1621, when the Spaniards plundered his library, after having taken the city. The ministers of Bohemia, and Moravia being outlawed by an edict in 1624, and the persecution increasing the year after, Comenius fled to Lesna, a city of Poland, and taught Latin. There he | published in 1631, his book entitled “Janua linguarum reserata,” or, “the gate of languages unlocked” of which he gives us an account which is universally allowed to be true “I never could have imagined,” says he, “that this little book, calculated only for children, should have met with universal applause from the learned. This has been justified by the letters I have received from a great number of learned men of different countries, in which they highly congratulate me on this new invention; as well as by the versions which have been emulously made of it into several modern tongues. For it has not only been translated into twelve European languages, namely, Latin, Greek, Bohemian, Polish, German, Swedish, Dutch, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian; but likewise into the Asiatic languages, as, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and even the Mogul, which is spoken all over the East Indies.” It was afterwards reprinted under the title of “Orbis sensualium pictus,” and is still, according to baron Born, used in the schools of Bohemia, Comenius being particularly skilled in the language of that country.

This book gained Comenius such reputation, that the governing powers of Sweden wrote to him in 1633, and offered him a commission for new regulating all the schools in that kingdom; which offer, however, he did not think proper to accept, but only promised to assist with his advice those who should be appointed to execute that commission. He then translated into Latin, a piece which he had written in his native tongue, concerning the new method of instructing youth, a specimen of which appeared under the title of “Pansophiae prodromus,” or “The forerunner of universal learning,” printed at London, 1639, 12mo, and translated by Jer. Collier, 1651. This made him considered as one very capable of reforming the method of teaching; and the parliament of England desired his assistance to reform the schools of this kingdom. He arrived at London, Sept. 1641, but the rebellion then commencing, shewed Comenius that this was not a juncture favourable to his designs; he went therefore to Sweden, whither he had been invited by Lewis de Geer, a gentleman of great merit, who had the public welfare very much at heart. He arrived there in August 1642, and discoursed with Oxenstiern about his method: the result of which conference was, that he should go and fix at Elbing in Prussia, and compose it. la the mean time | Lewis de Geer settled a considerable stipend upon him, by which means, being delivered from the drudgery of teaching a school, he employed himself wholly in finding out general methods for those who instructed youth; Having spent four years at Elbing in this study, he returned to Sweden to shew his composition, which was examined by three commissioners, and declared worthy of being made public when completed. He spent two more years upon it at Elbing, and then was obliged to return to Lesna. In 1650 he took a journey to the court of Sigismund Ragotski, prince of Transilvania; where a conference was desired with him on the subject of education. He gave this prince some pieces, containing instructions for regulating the college of Patak, pursuant to the maxims laid down in his “Pansophia;” and, during four years, he was allowed to propose whatever he pleased with regard to the government of that college. After this he returned to Lesna, and did not leave it till it was burnt by the Poles; of which calamity, as we shall see below, Comenius was charged with being the cause. He lost there all his manuscripts, except what he had written on Pansophia, and on the Revelations. He fled into Silesia, thence to Brandenburgh, afterwards to Hamburgh, and lastly to Amsterdam; where he met with so much encouragement, that he was tempted to continue there for the remainder of his life. He printed there, in 1657, at the expence of his Maecenas, the different parts of his new method of teaching. The work is in folio, and divided into four parts. “The whole,” says Bayle, “cost the author prodigious pains, other people a great deal of money, yet the learned received no benefit from it; nor is there, in my opinion, any thing practically useful in the hints of that author.

But Comenius was not only intent upon the reformation of schools; he had become a deep re’searcher into prophecies, revolutions, the ruining of antichrist, the millennium, &c. and had collected with prodigious care the chimeras of Kotterus, those of Christiana Poniatovia, and of Drabicius, and published them at Amsterdam. These writers promised miracles to those who stiould endeavour to extirpate the house of Austria and the pope. Gustavus Adolphus, and Charles Gustavus, kings of Sweden, Cromwell and Ragotski, had been promised as those who should accomplish those splendid prophecies; to which, however, the event did not correspond. We are told that | Comenius, not knowing how to extricate himself, at last took it into his head to address Lewis XIV, of France; that he sent him a copy of Drabicius’s prophecies, and insinuated that it was to this monarch God promised the empire of the world, by the downfall of those who persecuted Christ. He wrote some books at Amsterdam; one particularly against des Marets concerning the millennium, and Des Marets answered with contempt and asperity, representing him as an impostor.

Comenius became at last sensible of the vanity of his labours, as we learn from the book he published in 1668 at Amsterdam, entitled “Unius necessarii,” or “Of the one thing needful;” in which he acquaints us also with the resolution he had made, of employing all his future thoughts wholly on his salvation, and this he probably kept. He died at Amsterdam, 1671, in his eightieth year. Had he lived much longer, he would have seen the falsity of his prophecies with regard to the millennium, which he affirmed would begin in 1672, or 1673. Whatever mortification Comenius must have felt on the score of his prophecies, his enemies have brought more serious charges against him. He was first reproached with having done great prejudice to his brethren, who were banished with him from Moravia. Most of them had fled from their country with considerable sums of money; but, instead of being ceconomists, they squandered it away in a short time, because Comenius prophesied they should return to their country immediately, and thus they were very soon reduced to beggary. He was also accused of having been the cause of the plundering and burning of Lesna, where his brethren had found an asylum, by the panegyric he made so unseasonably upon Charles Gustavus of Sweden, when he invaded Poland. Comenius proclaimed him in a prophetic manner to be the immediate destroyer of popery; by which the protestants of Poland became extremely odious to the Roman catholics of that kingdom. He did not seem to be undeceived when the king of Sweden turned his arms against Denmark; for he made him a second panegyric, wherein he congratulated him no less on this new invasion than he had done upon the former. But whatever credit the protestants of Lesna might give to Comenius, that city was surprised and burnt by the Polish army; on which occasion Comenius lost his house, his furniture, and his library j a proof that, if he was an impostor, he had | first deceived himself. Part of his apocalyptic treatises, and some other pieces relating to his Pansophia, escaped the flames; he having just time to cover them, in a hole under ground, from which they were taken ten days after the fire but his “Lexicon Bobemicum,” a work which baron Born conceives would have been of the highest utility, was totally destroyed. On this he had spent above forty years of his life.

Besides the works already mentioned, Comenius wrote, 1. “Synopsis -Physicse, ad lumen divinum reformat,” Amst. 1643, and 1645, 12mo, published in English, 1651, 12mo. This book has procured him a place in Brucker’s class of scriptural philosophers. Comenius, according to his analysis of the work, supposes three principles of nature matter, spirit, and light: the first, a dark, inactive, corporeal substance, which receives forms; the second, the subtle, living, invisible substance, which animates material bodies; the third, a middle substance between the two former, lucid, visible, moveable, capable of penetrating matter, which is the instrument by which spirit acts upon matter, and which performs its office by means of motion, agitation, or vibration. Of these three principles he conceived all created beings to be composed. This doctrine he attempts to derive from the Mosaic history of the creation; but the scholastic fictions which men of this cast ascribe to Moses, Moses himself would probably never have owned. 2. “Ecclesiae Slavonic, &c. brevis historiola,” Amst. 1660, afterwards published by Buddeus under the title of “Historia Fratrum Bohcmorum,1702, ito. Several other of his publications, now of little interest, are enumerated in our authorities. 1

1 Gen. Dict.—Baron Born’s Kiftgies Viroratn Bohemia?, vol. I— Morhoff l*olyhisr. who speaks with much severity of his “J,mua Linguanim.”—Foppea Bibl. Belg.—Brucker’s Hist, of Philosophy.—Freytag Adparat. Lit.—Saxii Onomasticon.