Johann Bernhard Basedow

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Johann Bernhard Basedow, copper engraving by Johann Friedrich Bause (1740).
Basedow's signature:
Signature Johann Bernhard Basedow.PNG

Johann Bernhard Basedow (born September 11, 1724 in Hamburg , † July 25, 1790 in Magdeburg ) was a German theologian , educator , writer and philanthropist of the Enlightenment .


The son of a wig maker attended the Johanneum in Hamburg and then from the academic high school . In 1746 he began studying theology in Leipzig . His fellow students there included Christian Fürchtegott Gellert and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock . From 1749 he worked as a private tutor at Gut Borghorst at Josias von Qualen , whose son of the same name he taught according to the method he had developed himself on the basis of the writings of John Locke . At the same time he studied in Kiel , where he received his master's degree in 1752 .

In 1753 he was appointed professor of morality and eloquence and from 1757 of theology at the Danish knight academy in Soroe on Zealand . Due to his rationalistic publications, he was dismissed in 1760, but after a few weeks in 1761 Johann Hartwig Ernst von Bernstorff transferred him to the Christianeum high school in Altona . His pedagogical views sparked violent protests among the orthodox theologians led by Johann Melchior Goeze , so that he was dismissed in 1767 by Minister Andreas Peter von Bernstorff .

Basedow developed into one of the leading heads of the philanthropists, a reform pedagogical movement during the Enlightenment from 1757 . Under the postulate of the usefulness and usefulness of the individual for society, she wanted to establish a new education that would automatically lead to social changes. He shared this optimism about progress with other enlightened people.

Lessons in the natural material cabinet ; Illustration from Basedow's “Elementarwerk” by Daniel Chodowiecki

In 1771 Prince Leopold III called him . von Anhalt to Dessau so that he could realize his educational and reformist ideas there. In Dessau, Basedow planned the Philanthropinum , a “nursery school for mankind”, in which children of different origins should be brought up (befitting of their class) in accordance with the principles of educational pedagogy.

After the opening in December 1774, numerous donations were received in Dessau and the number of students rose rapidly. Leading educational reformers could be won as employees: Christian Heinrich Wolke , Joachim Heinrich Campe , Ernst Christian Trapp , Christian Gotthilf Salzmann u. a. Compared to the learning and cramming school criticized by the educators, Basedow emphasized the playful element in elementary lessons, learning through intuition and self-activity , the emphasis on living foreign languages, and maintaining the mother tongue. Basedow also introduced physical exercises at the Philanthropinum for the purpose of educating young people. The close coexistence of the teachers with their pupils in the boarding school should also shape their character.

1774 undertook Basedow with Goethe and Lavater one Lahn and Rhein travel.

In 1793 the Dessau Philanthropinum had to close due to ongoing disputes among the teaching staff as well as organizational and financial problems. Basedow had already resigned as head of the facility in 1776 because he saw his goals not being achieved. He was accused of failing to hold the teaching staff together and to lead them adequately. He showed himself to be domineering and not very stable in the daily routine of the institute. His grandiose statements that his philanthropic teaching methods could achieve sensational successes in a very short time led to tension with the other teachers, who saw themselves as “brothers” and defended themselves against his despotic behavior, which was repeatedly revealed. Basedow was also not reliable in financial matters, so that the institute ran into constant financial difficulties. This ultimately led to the fact that he resigned the curature of Philanthropin and only wanted to work as a writer for the Philanthropinum.


Basedow's first wife Anna Emilia Dumas (* 1730) died after less than a year of marriage in 1753 giving birth to their son Heinrich Josias (1753–1795). The following year he married the pastor's daughter Gertrud Elisabeth Hammer (1731–1788). From this marriage only two children survived the parents: the daughter Emilie (* 1769) and the son Ludwig von Basedow , whose sons are Friedrich von Basedow and Carl von Basedow . His granddaughter Adelheid married Wilhelm Müller

Basedows "natural religion"

Daniel Chodowiecki (1726–1801) reports on Basedow's syncretistic religious views after a visit to Dessau:

“He talked a lot about the past, the present, and the future; admitted he was a Socinian and raised his son according to these opinions [...] This progressive belief system, which Basedow had to alienate from the Trinitarian faith, was one of the reasons why the Enlightenment got into trouble with the pastors and priests. "

Under the influence of and through personal contact with Hermann Samuel Reimarus, whom he “adored throughout his life”, Basedow first turned to deism , but then pursued a “peculiar mixture of deism and revelation belief”. Basedow's syncretistic “natural religion” is probably based on Reimarus' work of the same name or borrowed from it. His “natural religion” is based on principles that are certain according to “sound reason”; it is the "epitome of those truths from God, of which a philanthropic reason [...] can convince itself with the application of the duty of faith without believing prophets." The education to the "natural religion" includes "attention to nature" and the " Feelings of Conscience ”as well as imparting historical knowledge of the origin of Christianity and the belief systems of other religions. For Basedow, human or civic instruction must be separated from the church. The students at the Philanthropin were instructed at the church of their “fathers” with the help of clergy (Reformed, Lutheran, Catholic) in Dessau until they were “male” and able to judge for themselves.

In 1784 his work Examen in the most natural religion and in other practical doctrines of civic duty, tolerance and virtue in the same way of reason and its knowledge of God appeared anonymously. Germania at the time of Emperor Joseph II.

Educational work

In 1774 Basedow presented his educational elementary work, in which he dealt in nine books with basic questions of human education, logic, religion and ethics, as well as the occupations and classes of people, history and natural history. One of the focal points to which he attached great importance was gender education and instruction. Already in his Philalethy (Altona 1764) he asked all parents and educators not to avoid the burning questions of the children, but to answer them truthfully and in a child-friendly manner. In his elementary work he also gave practical suggestions for instruction at home and in school. Daniel Chodowiecki created the copper panels for this. With the Elementarwerk Basedow created the modern Realienbuch : It combined text and images as well as factual information that was discussed in dialog.

Memorial stone on the new burial ground in Dessau

In Hamburg, Magdeburg and Dessau a street was named after him.

Fonts (selection)

  • A private hymn book for social and indecent edification also for those Christians who are of different faith. Berlin and Altona 1767. Published anonymously, with anonymous preface, identification as a work by Basedow after FG Lüdke's review of this book in: Appendix to the first to twelfth volumes of the general German library. Berlin and Stettin, published by Friedrich Nicolai 1771, pp. 37–40. Basedow is the editor, foreword writer and poet of some of the songs it contains, but has also recorded texts by other authors, including well-known hymns, although he has left out stanzas or rewritten some of them.
  • The Philanthropinum established in Dessau. A school of philanthropy and good knowledge for learners and young teachers, poor and rich; A Fidei-Commiss of the public to perfect the educational system of all places according to the plan of the elementary work. Crusius, Leipzig 1774. ( digitized and full text in the German text archive ).
  • All natural wisdom in the private class of civil citizens. Curt, Halle (Saale) 1768. ( digitized and full text in the German text archive ).
  • The Graves' elementary work. A store of the best knowledge to learn, teach, review, and reflect upon. Crucius, Leipzig 1774 (3 vol.). ( Digital copies and full texts of the 2nd edition, 1785 at GEI-Digital ).


Web links

Commons : Johann Bernhard Basedow  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Compilation of the copper plates of the elementary work  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Arnd Krüger : History of movement therapy, in: Preventive medicine . Springer, Heidelberg Loseblatt Collection 1999, 07.06, pp. 1–22.
  2. Markwart Michler : From the history of movement therapy. Würzburg medical history reports 24, 2005, pp. 195–221, here p. 215
  3. See Michael Niedermeier : Das Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz as a cultural and literary center around 1780. Dessau 1995, pp. 9–43.
  4. ^ Journal, held on a Lustreyse from Berlin to Dreßden, Leipzig, Halle, Dessau etc. in 1789.
  5. ^ Alkier, Stefan: Early Christianity. On the history and theology of an exegetical discipline. Tübingen: Mohr, 1993. p. 162.
  6. For a decidedly theological treatment of Basedow's “natural religion” and his view of faith and God cf. Feil, Ernst: Religio. Fourth volume: The history of a modern basic concept in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007. pp. 512-525.
  7. On the estimation of Reimarus' work of "natural religion" cf. Basedow, Johann Bernhard: Philalethy. New prospects in the truths and religion of reason to the limits of credible revelation. Second volume. Altona: Iversen, 1764. p. 400 [§182].
  8. Basedow, Johann Bernhard: The method book for fathers and mothers of families and peoples. [Facsimile reprint] With an introduction by Horst MP Krause. Vaduz / Liechtenstein: Topos, 1979. pp. 352–356, cited p. 352.
  9. Basedow, Johann Bernhard: Practical philosophy for all classes. A cosmopolitan book with no offense for any nation, form of government or church. Second part. Second, improved edition. Dessau: Crusius, 1777. p. 317 [§15].
  10. Basedow, Johann Bernhard: Something to read, think and do for cosmopolitans. Regarding a philanthropy or educational seminar set up in Anhalt-Dessau of a completely new kind, which should already be old. Dessau: Crusius, 1775. p. 40.
  11. ibid. P. 38, quotations there.
  12. Cf. Basedow, Johann Bernhard: Elementarwerk with the coppers Chodowieckis u. a. Critical processing in three volumes. With introductions, notes and appendices, with unprinted letters, portraits, facsimiles and various registers edited by Theodor Fritzsch. Volume I. Hildesheim / New York: Olms, 1972. S. LIV [Preface Basedows to the 2nd edition].
  13. Friedrich Koch: Sexuality, Education and Society. From gender instruction to emancipatory sex education. Frankfurt 2000.