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to have read. To Arago, he wrote, “I am in the deepest grief, and at such times one thinks of those dearest to us. I feel a little relieved while writing to you.” To Varnhagen he exclaimed, “I did not think my old eyes could shed so many tears.” Subsequently, therefore, it proved a melancholy satisfaction to Alexander to edit the literary remains of his brother, and thus place on a firm foundation “this pillar of German intelligence.'
At the paternal residence, the romantic old castle of Tegel, the two boys often came in contact with many of the most distinguished officers, statesmen and scholars of the time. That by such contact their tastes were more or less directed, their habits formed, their minds inspired, would be very natural. It was in their childhood, however, the older of them not having reached his teens, that their delightful home-circle was broken by the death of the father. The young Alexander's education however, in which his father had taken the liveliest interest, had been well commenced, in accordance with the new ideas which begun to prevail on the continent, and was subsequently prosecuted in the most thorough and systematic manner. His university course, pursued at Frankfort, Berlin, and Gottingen under the most eminent instructors, was varied by excursions into different parts of Germany—thus fostering that insatiable thirst for travel by which he was afterward characterized, and occasioning the first-fruits of his literary labors. This was a work entitled “Mineralogical Observations on some Basaltic Formations of the Rhine ;” and appeared in 1790, when its author was scarcely twenty-one years of age. During the year, in company
with one or two youthful friends, he made a tour through Belgium, Holland, France, and England, forming the acquaintance of many cultivated men in all these countries, and, in the latter, meeting with persons who had just returned from the South Seas, and whose enthusiastic descriptions of the luxuriant vegetation, and wonderful scenery of those regions awakened in him that intense desire for exploring tropical realms which so greatly colored all his future life. This desire, however, there was no immediate prospect of gratifying. On his return from England, and at the solicitation of friends therefor, he entered a commercial academy with the view of qualifying himself for the pursuits of trade. But the love
of science was too strong in him to be subordinated to any such avocation. It was the dominant passion of his nature, to which he must yield, or thwart the manifest purpose of God. Accordingly, the following year, we find him again at his favorite studies, investigating particularly the subject of Mining, and preparing a treatise on "Fossil Botany,” for which his practical researches had furnished abundant materials. At the same time, other branches of learning were not neglected, and other and more elaborate works were in process of composition.
A long-cherished purpose with him had been a grand scientific tour to the tropics. In 1796, the death of his mother removed the prominent obstacle to its realization. But such an excursion was not to be undertaken at least the highest results were not to be obtained from it-without the most careful and thorough preparation. The three following years therefore were devoted to such studies as would fit him to observe most accurately every phenomenon, and make the best use of every opportunity. He “provided” himself “ with instruments of easy and convenient use, constructed by the best makers," and succeeded in awakening the interest, and securing “the special protection of a government [the Spanish] which, far from presenting obstacles to his investigations, constantly honored him with every mark of regard and confidence." 5 After repeated disappointments, necessitating as many changes in his plans, all things being ready, he set forth, in June 1799—just half a century ago-on that famous expedition to South America, the delightful account of which, as given in his “ Personal Narrative,” few cultivated persons have not read. During this journey, he systematically and minutely explored no inconsiderable portion of that then unknown continent, made almost innumerable meteorological and astronomical observations, explained the causes of coast currents, studied the character of the volcanic regions, and gathered immense numbers of specimens in natural history. No obstacles, and no perils indeed, whether from heat
5 Int. to “Personal Narrative.” p. ix.
6 One of which, a remarkably cold current on the coast of Peru, science has subsequently designated by his name, in token of his great merits.
or cold, from poisonous reptile or mountain avalanche, from savage beasts or savage men, were suffered to appal the heart, or dampen the ardor of himself, or of his equally enthusiastic companion, Bonpland. Accordingly we find him, now in some Indian wigwam, and then in the dense wilderness; now navigating unknown streams, and anon scouring almost interminable savannas; now wandering along valleys where every breeze was tainted with poison, and again either descending on fragile pieces of lava into burning volcanoes, or ascending other mountain peaks beyond where human foot had trod, where the intensest cold pierced, breathing became difficult, blood flowed from the eyes, lips, gums, and the mercury in the thermometer stood still.
This journey, which was extended, with well nigh equally marked scientific results, through Mexico, Cuba, and a part of our own country, where the already eminent traveller was received with distinguished attention by President Jefferson and other learned persons, occupied a little more than five years. On his return to Europe, in August, 1804, where, in view of the unbounded results of this excursion he was hailed as the second Columbus," Humboldt took up
his abode in Paris. Here, with the exception of a few brief sojourns in Italy and Germany, he remained for twenty years, intensely occupied in reducing to order, and in giving to the world the fruits of his unparalleled expedition. These, in the preparation of which he availed himself of the assistance of the most distinguished savans of the French capital, were comprised in the gigantic work, entitled “ Voyage aux Régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent, par A. de Humboldt et A. Bonpland,”—a work, even the principal divisions of which our limits will not permit us to enumerate, but which consisted of three volumes folio, twelve volumes quarto, besides an “ Atlas Geographique et Physique,” and a large collection of unique and beautiful drawings. In 1829, at the solicitation of the Czar, he undertook a journey to the Altai and Ural Mountains for the purpose of testing the mineralogical character of those regions; the immediate results of which were given in his - Central Asia,” and the remote consequences of which have been most valuable contributions to the geography, climatology, and entire physical capacity of that vast, and little known realm. In 1830, and for several succeeding years, his activity took somewhat of a political direction, the king of Prussia having summoned him to his councils, and dispatched him upon various important embassies. These duties however, did not interfere with his devotion to, did not seriously divert his attention from his favorite studies. Since 1842 he has resided at Berlin, the intellectual monarch, by universal suffrage, of that intellectual capital, and an object of far greater interest to every reflecting person than the poor symbol of a man seated upon the throne, and wearing the jewelled crown of the Brandenburgs. And during all these years, as the force of his mental faculties has not lessened, so have his labors not abated. While he has gladly received visits from strangers of every land who were attracted by his pure fame, manfesting always a peculiar regard for our own countrymen, and seeking from them the latest and most reliable information of our national condition, prospects, hopes, he never suffered such social intercourse to interfere with his graver pursuits. He carried on an extensive and exceedingly onerous correspondence with learned men in all parts of the world. He kept alive the scientific curiosity, and the freshness of moral sympathy which distinguished his early youth. But more than all, he assiduously devoted himself to the completion of the “Cosmos," his last and crowning work, with his earnest desire to finish which, Providence seems to have sympathized-sparing him to indite the last word, and then, almost before the ink was dry, summoning him from the glorious labors and the rich rewards of earth, to the sublimer labors and the purer delights of immortality.'
7 Bauer's Klencke's "Life of Humboldt.” p. 78.
8 Life. p. 83.
And what a life was this ! Considered with reference to the time it spanned, and the events it witnessed, how remarkable was it! It embraced ninety years of greater material and intellectual activity than the world had ever seen before. When it began, Frederick the Great, Louis XV., surnamed Bien-aimé, and George III. occupied the principal thrones of Europe. Before it ended, Frederick and George each had had four successors, and Louis seven. While it was passing, the political map of the continent was many a time reconstructed; kingdoms annihilated and kingdoms recreated; constitutions devised and constitutions abolished. When it began, Russia was semi-barbaric, and America a howling wilderness; each having but a single distinguished character—the former, Peter the Great, and the latter, Benjamin Franklin. What Russia and America now are—the most prominent and powerful representatives of diametrically hostile ideas—scarcely needs be said. When it began, there was no iron highway, no steam-engine, no power-press, no magnetic telegraph. Before it ended, they were all in successful operation, equalizing comfort, diffusing knowledge, uniting the antipodes, and proving innovators and revolutionists, beside which Fourier with his phalanxteries, and Owen with his communities, and Proudhon with his denial of individual property-rights, and Mazzini with his impassioned manifestoes are hardly worthy of mention. And equal if not greater changes did that single life witness in every other department of endeavor and thought. For in the fine arts, in political economy, in speculative philosophy, in dogmatic theology, in essential religion, what modifications and new developments have the last ninety years witnessed! So great are they indeed, that whoso standing by Humboldt's cradle had predicted them, would have been set down at once as either a madman or a fool.
9 For the chief facts in the career of Humboldt we are indebted to Klencke's “Life," before mentioned ; a work of which Dryasdust might be proud. A wortby “Life” of him is a desideratum.
But considered with reference to what he accomplished, the life of Humboldt is, if possible, more remarkable still. For these four-and-a-half score years were not idle years. They were crowded with the most earnest and productive labors. His various scientific explorations have already been referred to. His different publications, some of them demanding incredible toil and great expense, are numerous enough to constitute quite a respectable library. But he was not merely a writer ; as what he wrote was mainly a record of his own discoveries. In his hands, “ the chaos of isolated experiences of the former and of contemporary ages was sifted, every thing placed in its proper department, and made a comprehensible number of collective nature. The anomalous was made conformable to rule, isolated facts were