'Figures about my ABC-Book or about the Beginnings of my Thinking' (1797), shortly: 'Fables'
'Fables' in the 2nd version from 1803 is the catchy title of these 279 short stories which can each be read independently. In the first version from 1797 and also in the 3rd version of the Cotta-edition from 1823 the work has the title 'Figures about my ABC-Book or about the Beginnings of my Thinking' which cannot easily be understood. The collection of these little stories was written during the long period of one decade from 1780 to 1790 and the single stories – like the still existing handwritings show – again and again have been changed and linguistically sophisticated. The single fables of this collection for today's reader are of very different quality and length: sometimes they are short and generally understandable and their statement can easily be opened up, sometimes they are difficult to read and hardly understandable without previous knowledge of Pestalozzi's time and personal circumstances. While reading the version from 1823 one also often feels too much instructed and sometimes really condescended by Pestalozzi's interpreting and explanatory annotations. In the 'preface' to the version from 1823 Pestalozzi describes his line of action:
"Ich habe desnahen, ohne demjenigen im geringsten vorgreifen zu wollen, was ein jeder beim Lesen dieser Schrift gerne selber denkt, dennoch gut gefunden, in dieser neuen Ausgabe hie und da einen Wink zu geben, in welcher Ausdehnung oder in welcher Beschränkung ich meine Figuren selber ins Aug' gefaßt habe. Zu diesem Endzwecke, und auch damit diejenigen meiner Leser, die in diesen Figuren gar nicht zu denken finden möchten, wenigstens auf eine, wenn auch einseitige Ansicht dessen, was sich dabei denken läßt, hingeführt werden, habe ich gut gefunden, fast einer jeden dieser Figuren nach dem Zeichen --- einen meist ganz kleinen Zusatz beizufügen, der den Leser wenigsten von einer Seite auf das Wesentliche des Gesichtspunkt, den ich bei jeder Figur selber im Auge hatte, aufmerksam zu machen geeignet ist." (PSW 11, S. 94)
(Without in the least wanting to anticipate that what everybody likes to think himself while reading this work, I still thought it was good to, in this new edition, give a hint here and there about in which extension or in which restriction I myself saw my figures. For this final purpose and also for that those of my readers who cannot find anything to think about in my figures are led at least to one even if one-sided opinion about what can be thought about it, I thought it was good to, after the mark ---, add to almost each of these figures a mostly very little addition which is suited to call the reader's attention at least from one side to the essence of the point of view which I had in mind with each figure.)
Pestalozzi's fables mostly are gathered from the animal or the vegetable kingdom and from the rustic life. The single stories almost always have a socio-political background and deal with the contrast between the old and the new time, with the relation of natural and social state, with the own self, with justice, freedom, truth and suppression. The date of origin of these 'figures' lies at the same time with the 'Inquiries' and the work 'Yes or No' and their subjects in content are tightly connected with these both works.
In giving the title Pestalozzi wavered between 'Fables' and 'Figures', he could not be a fable writer in the sense of the Age of Enlightenment anymore, his 'Figures' combine elements of fables, parables, allegories, example stories, short dialogues and short essays to a very individual form of short texts with which Pestalozzi wants to illustrate his philosophical-anthropological and his socio-political position. The addition 'about my ABC-Book' does not refer to a pedagogical-didactic approach of the single stories, but stand for the basic function which these stories hold for his own thinking. The 'Fables' – against widely spread opinions in general encyclopaedias and other reference books – have not at all been written for children, but first of all supply Pestalozzi's anthropological position, according to which man inside himself has the imagination of a future moral-humane man as a utopian destination, but – in so far utopia – cannot reach it.
In the following some short fables or rather figures are quoted of which the messages are also instantly revealed to the today's reader. A longer story which the today's reader first must acquire distinctly shows the philosophical-anthropological way of thinking and questioning of Pestalozzi. These texts will each be quoted with Pestalozzi's explanatory additions of the edition from 1823. At the end follows the facsimile and transcription of the 'fable' or 'figure' 'Der alte Thurm' (The Old Tower) of which the manuscript together with some more texts have been found only in 1948 and which are published together in the supplementary volume of the work edition from 1996 (PSW 29, p. 157-163).