These conditions, undeniably defective and much in need of improvement, were now once and for all to be brought to an end. The people were to be educated from the cradle up, superstition was to be exterminated root and branch. Whether thorough consideration was given to that which should have been considered above everything else must remain in doubt; for the conception of culture is extremely relative, and just as the most disgusting intoxication follows the nipping from every bottle, so superficial encyclopedical knowledge, which at the most can be made broad, engenders precisely the most repulsive kind of arrogance. It will no longer bow to any authority and yet never penetrates to the depths in which the multifarious logical inconsistencies and contradictions find their own solution.
Probably the right method was adopted when they founded normal schools on the one hand and primary schools on the other, so that the essence which had been distilled in the former and poured into the empty schoolmaster heads in the form of rationalism, could from the latter spread itself immediately over the whole land. The result was that a somewhat superstitious generation was followed by an excessively overwise one; for it is astonishing how the grandchild feels when he knows that a nocturnal fiery meteor is composed merely of inflammable gases, while his grandfather sees in it the devil trying to enter some chimney or other with his shining money bags.
But however the matter may have stood in general,—and I repeat my conviction that in this case the happy medium is hard to find,—to me the reform was a great blessing. For Wesselburen, like the other towns, acquired an elementary school and a man was chosen as teacher of it whose name I cannot write down without a feeling of the deepest gratitude, because in spite of his modest position, he exercised an immeasurable influence on my development. He was called Franz Christian Detlefsen and came to us from the neighboring town of Eiderstedt, where he had already held a small official position.
No house is so small as not to seem to the child who has been born in it like a world whose wonders and mysteries he discovers only little by little. Even the poorest cottage has at least a garret to which a ladder leads up, and with what feelings is this climbed for the first time! Some old rubbish is sure to be found up there, which, useless and forgotten, points back to days long past, and reminds us of men whose last bone has already moldered to dust. Behind the chimney there is surely a worm-eaten, wooden chest which excites curiosity. The dust is lying on it hand high, the lock is still there, but there is no need to look for the key; for one can forage in it wherever one wants, and when with fear and trembling the child does so, he pulls out a torn boot, or the broken distaff of a spinning wheel which was laid aside half a century ago. Shuddering he flings away the double find, because involuntarily he asks himself where is the leg that wore the boot and where is the hand that set the wheel in motion. But the mother carefully picks up the one or the other because she happens to need a strap which can be cut out of grandfather’s boot, or because she believes that she can start the fire again with great-aunt’s distaff.