He was born at Bern. His father was of patrician family, and a man of importance in his canton, and his mother was a granddaughter of the Dutch admiral Van Tromp. From his mother and from Pfeffel, the blind poet of Colmar, he received a better education than falls to the lot of most boys, while the intimacy of his father with Pestalozzi gave to his mind that bent which it afterwards followed. In 1790 he entered the university of Tubingen, where he distinguished himself by his rapid progress in legal studies.
On account of his health he afterwards undertook a walking tour in Switzerland and the adjoining portions of France, Swabia and Tirol, visiting the hamlets and farmhouses, mingling in the labors and occupations of the peasants and mechanics, and partaking of their rude fare and lodging. After the downfall of Robespierre, he went to Paris and remained there long enough to be assured of the storm impending over his native country. This he did his best to avert, but his warnings were disregarded, and Switzerland was lost before any efficient means could be taken for its safety. Fellenberg, who had hastily raised a levy en masse, was proscribed; a price was set upon his head, and he was compelled to fly into Germany.
Shortly afterwards, however, he was recalled by his countrymen, and sent on a mission to Paris to remonstrate against the rapacity and cruelty of the agents of the French republic. But in this and other diplomatic offices which he held for a short time, he was witness to so much corruption and intrigue that his mind revolted from the idea of a political life, and he returned home with the intention of devoting himself wholly to the education of the young.
With this resolution he purchased in 1799 the estate of Hofwyl, near Bern, intending to make agriculture the basis of a new system which he had projected, for elevating the lower and rightly training the higher orders of the state, and welding them together in a closer union than had hitherto been deemed attainable. For some time he carried on his labors in conjunction with Pestalozzi, but incompatibility of disposition soon induced them to separate. The scheme of Fellenberg at first excited a large amount of ridicule, but gradually it began to attract the notice of foreign countries; and pupils, some of them of the highest rank, began to flock to him from every country in Europe, both for the purpose of studying agriculture and to profit by the high moral training which he associated with his educational system. For forty-five years Fellenberg, assisted by his wife, continued his educational labors, and finally raised his institution to the highest point of prosperity and usefulness. He died in 1844.
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