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ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT.
In Memoriam. THE recent death of this dis
von Humboldt, the younger son of tinguished and venerable philo- Major von Humboldt_ (who had sopher has been acknowledged in been in the service of Frederic the every part of Europe and of the Great), was born in 1769. Septemworld where the physical sciences ber 14th, at Berlin. After some are cultivated or valued, as a loss early instruction at home under a not easily to be supplied, and as tutor, accompanied by his elder creating a blank in the science of brother Wilhelm, he entered the the age not readily to be filled up. University of Frankfort-on-theIn
any isolated departments of Oder, where his preference led him science many men of equal, or to the studies of natural science and superior, qualifications might be political economy, while his brother named to sustain the honour of followed those literary and philo. those branches ; but no one who, logical pursuits in which he afterlike Humboldt, was gifted to ad- wards became so eminent. Thence, vance and adorn them all together. in 1788, he removed to the more Of many a confessedly great man
celebrated University of Göttingen, it is often asked, and not very where he pursued an extended easily answered, what has he done? course of the same studies. It was An individual, in fact, often attains here that in the son-in-law of the a high reputation, built up as it celebrated scholar Heyne, he found were out of a vast number of minor a friend, George Forster, who had claims, each in itself but small, yet been the companion of Captain in the aggregate rising to a large Cook in his second voyage, and amount; while, perhaps, it is more whose adventurous spirit as well as the general character of high ability his skill in botany and natural perrading them all, and not un. history, tended greatly to awaken frequently even that high ability Humboldt's desire for travelling, alone, evinced less in actual great and to give it a scientific direction. results than in undeniable manifes. From his earliest youth, Humtation of power to achieve them, boldt informs us, it had been his which constitutes the basis of a earnest wish to explore untrodden high reputation.
regions of the earth. In the first But with the subject of this brief instance, the mere desire of advenmemoir the case was very
different. ture, the spirit of enterprise, all the Humboldt affords an instance of a more intensely stimulated when not man singularly and strongly marked devoid of a degree of danger, were in his whole life and character by perhaps his only motives. To these earnest and entire devotion to one were added, as his mind expanded, single great object-the vision and the increasing desire of knowledge ; aspiration of his earliest years - and on more close and accurate workedout in untiring detail through study, a perception of existing dehis middle life, and carried on to ficiencies and an estimate of those its completion and fulfilment in special quarters and regions . in the unusual vigour of his long. which the blank most imperatively protracted age. In one word, the demanded filling up. He was para study of universal nature in all ticularly impressed with the great her variety, in all her minuteness, extent of the earth's surface of and all her vastness, and the final which little or nothing was known, bringing together of the assemblage and much remained to be explored and accumulation of these treasures even in better-known regions. of knowledge in the display of their Thus, at the age of eighteen, he connexion and unity in one grand tells us, he had fully conceived the whole, laying an enduring ground. idea of those labours to which the work for the loftiest contemplations main part of his after life was deof which the human soul is suscep- voted, and the acquaintance whicla tible.
he formed with the kindred spirit Friedrich Heinrich Alexander of George Forster, stimulated and
VOL. LX. NO. CCCLV.
animated to the utmost the ideas great geologist Von Buch, and was he had already so vividly conceived, about crossing the Tyrolean Alps, besides materially aiding their ac- when the breaking out of war in complishment by advice and infor- Italy forced them to abandon an mation on points connected with excursion into that country. Durnatural history and the collection of ing the two next years he resided specimens. In company with this temporarily in various parts of friend, he made excursions through Europe, but especially at Jena, several parts of Europe, studied the where he formed the acquaintance volcanic phenomena of Italy and of Göthe and Schiller. He pubSicily, the Alps and the banks of the lished Researches into the Structure Rhine, and in 1790 visited Holland of Muscular and Nervous Fibre, and England. His first publication and The Chemical Processes of Life was a dissertation, the result of (1797), as well as Investigations on these excursions, On certain Basal- Various Gases, then imperfectly tic Formations on the Rhine, 1790. known (1799), evincing the very
His destined profession was that varied as well as accurate nature of of official employment in the mines his studies. under the Prussian Government, Having, as we have seen, been with a view to which he pursued the disappointed in obtaining any open. study of mineralogy at Freiburg, ing in connexion with Government under the celebrated Werner; and expeditions, he now determined to in 1792 was subsequently appointed rely on his own resources. His superintendent of mines at Bey- friendship with M. Bonpland enreutl. During his continuance abled them jointly to concert plans there, he contributed various minor of exploration. With that eminent publications to natural and minera- botanist he spent some time in logical science. But his ardent de France, with the intention of maksire for travelling overcame every ing an excursion into Africa and the consideration of professional ad- East; but here again various diffi. vancement; and, in consequence, culties interposed; and finally, the he resigned his employment in the continent of South America apmines in 1795.
peared to offer in many respects Disappointed in his hope of join the most eligible field for their ing in two proposed expeditions operations, and for which they made under the French Government--one their preparations accordingly; and to Egypt and Syria, the other to in 1799, after traversing a considerthe South Pacific-which were frus- able part of Spain, they finally emtrated by the convulsed state of barked at Corunna for the Azores. Europe at that period, four years The voyage, so far from being elapsed before he was able to put wearisome, or lost time, was to his project in execution. The time, Humboldt a source of ever-new inhowever, was not lost; he diligently terest. The aspects and productions employed it in prosecuting those of the ocean, the phenomena of the preparatory studies which enabled atmosphere, the views of the heavens him to apprehend in their due rela- under a tropical sky, were all topics tions all the varied and important of fresh research and deeply instrucpoints of science which would claim tive study, of which he knew how attention, and open new fields of to avail himself to the utmost. - research; while the study and prac. In a sketch like the present, we tice of methods of observation, and of course make no pretension of the use of physical and astronomical following the travellers through the instruments and apparatus, were varied scenes of their explorations : essential preparatives for the course from the shores of Spain, to the of investigation he had planned. Canary Islands, and the Peak of
In 1797 he remained for some Teneriffe; whence crossing the Attime at Vienna, preparing for bota- lantic, the more arduous task of exnical excursions by studying the ploring the South American Concollections of exotic plants in that. tinent occupied them nearly four city; after which he had the advan. years ;--commencing from the nortage of travelling through Salzburg thern coast, and investigating sucand Styria in company with the cessively the mountainous regions 1859.]
of those parts, the Llanos and encountered not only without inPampas, the rivers and marshes; convenience, but with pleasure, the studying earthquake phenomena in difficulties and privations which the Carraccas; and comparing the beset a life of wandering in regions volcanic phenomena of the Andes for the most part untrodden by with those of Mexico; investigating civilized visitants ; and even in the the physical aspects of the West more frequented parts having to Indian Islands. We can only ob- make his way among persons of serve, in general, throughout every very different pursuits and ideas, part of these wanderings, how rich to whom the objects of his mission a field—then almost entirely new to could not but appear strange, even if scientific research-was opened to they did not excite prejudice and their inquiries. These vast regions, hostility. Yet we are surprised in as to their physical structure and many parts of the narrative at the conditions, as well as their animal apparent ease and familiarity with and vegetable productions, hitherto which he seems to have conciliated for the most part very little exa. the goodwill of the various grades mined, were more fully disclosed to and classes of persons with whom their research ; and no opportunity he was brought in contact. The was lost of examining and register- vivid and glowing language in ing all the variety of interesting which he dilates on the surpassing physical phenomena and diversified richness and variety of objects preforms of animated nature, which in sented to his observation in the such endless profusion presented new scenes thus opened, and the themselves for examination.
diversified forms of animal and During these lengthened explora- vegetable life with which every part tions the masses of collected specie of nature in those regions teems, mens, geological, botanical, zoologi- cannot be effaced, even at this discal, and miscellaneous, became by tance of time, from the memory of degrees enormous. The difficulties those who perused his descriptions of packing and conveying them were with that eager curiosity which they great, and the fear of losing them excited at the time of their publi. still more a source of anxiety to the cation, when those countries were indefatigable collectors. Triplicate so little known, and when vast sets were prepared and packed; one varieties of plants and animals now set sent, as opportunity offered, to familiar to us in our zoological colthe United States, for shipment to lections and botanicalconservatories, England; another to France or were new to European science. Spain ; while the third continually Few writers have combined in a accompanied the travellers on a long higher degree powers of scientific train of mules, and was anxiously investigation with those of graphic kept under their own eyes. Of and forcible description. the two former sets, in the state In the perusal we seem actually of warfare in which the European present at the scenes of his toilsome Powers were then involved, it was struggle through the tropical forests, not surprising that many failed in and his strange bivouacs under their reaching their destination, or that shelter. Thus, to recall a single few, in fact, were preserved or re- scene :-We seem to belong to the covered; but it is satisfactory to party on the banks of one of the know that a valuable portion (chiefly tributaries to the Orinocomto see those collected from the shores of the crocodiles and other aquatic the Pacific) were secured to science neighbours attracted to the banks owing to the generous exertions of by the light of their fires—where Sir Joseph Banks with the British the hammocks are slung on oars ; Government; to whom Humboldt we follow with all their anxiety the pays the graceful acknowledgment, footmarks of a tigress and her that 'amidst the political agitations young ones left in the sand when of Europe he unceasingly laboured going to the river to drink-we hear to strengthen the bonds of union the terrific howlings of the jaguars between scientific men of allnations.' and pumas responded to by the
Gifted with a constitution and fearful cries of alarm from the bodily powers of unusual vigour, he peccaris, the monkeys, and the
sloths—the screams of the curassao, swamps and pools swarming with the parakka, and other birds ; and aquatic life, and tangled jungle we observe the dog ceasing his bark through which the vast boas, and and cowering under the hammock as, more fearful venomous snakes, amid the din, he distinguishes the twine their noiseless but deadly growl of the distant tiger.
path ; while air and vegetation are Yet animate dand encouraged by equally alive with every variety of the fearlessness of the native guides, insect existence. they snatch a brief repose. On the Such are some few of the ideas return of day all these alarms are 80 vividly conjured up, and the reeffaced by the contemplation of the collection of which may serve to marvellous
of matchless convey a more distinct impression beauty which the tangled depths of of the arduous labours of the exthe tropical forests present; when, plorer, now in traversing these as Humboldt expresses it, 'the ex. depths of primeval forest, now on plorer can hardly define the varied the bleak ridges of the Cordilleras, emotions which crowd upon his and amid the more dangerous and mind'—the deep silence of the marvellous conformations of the solitude-the beauty and contrast seats of volcanic action, pursuing of the forms-the gaudy plumage
with unwearied perseverance, inof innumerable varieties of birds- domitable courage, and enlightened the unceasing vigour and freshness intelligencethose objects of scientific which ever clothe tropical vegeta- inquiry which were not left to chance tion amid the humid heat which discovery, but sought out on a delifosters it; and where it might be berate and well-arranged plan. said that the earth, overloaded with Devoted as he was to the study vegetable productions, cannot allow of nature, it would be an entire them space to unfold themselves; mistake to regard Humboldt as less the trunks of the trees everywhere interested in questions regarding covered and concealed by a thick the condition of men and nations ; clothing of parasitic verdure ;' the on the contrary, he clearly viewed lianas whicli creep on the ground those subjects in the comprehensive also climbing to the tops of the light of his philosophy as among the highest trees, and hanging in fes. essential parts and even highest toons from one to another at the departments of the study of uniheight of a hundred feet. These versal nature. Not to dwell on the and various other plants so inter. volumes devoted to those topics laced together that the botanist which form part of the series of his may often be misled to confound results, even in the Personal Narthe flowers belonging to one with rative he in many places discusses those of another; while through with deep interest and emphasis the dense and compact mass of the condition, and speculates on the foliage no solar ray is able to pene- origin and prospects, of the various trate; and the whole journey is tribes of the human family with performed in a kind of dim twilight whom he was brought into contact, under trees of stupendous height and for whom he always expresses and size, of which no European the most kindly interest. forests convey any idea; streaming To cite a single instance, tre can. with continual vapour, and the not find this spirit better exemplified humid air scented with the delicious than in his reflections on the dis. perfumes of flowers and odoriferous tinctions between the free and in. resins.
dependent Indians of South America, Amid his graphic descriptions on whom he will not call savages, and the one hand, the eye seems fatigued the reduced' Indians in the misin the endeavour to stretch to the sions, and nominally Christians. extreme and immeasurable extent The former he represents as living of the level llanos and pampas ; on under chieftains peacefully united the other, the breathing seems op- in villages, and cultivating the soil pressed under the dense canopy of which in the exuberance of a tropical vegetation in the forests, where the climate, produces abundance of food heated and confined air is loaded with little or no labour. He conwith steaming exhalations from tends that very false ideas are dif
19 fused by calling the one 'Christian,' vinces, including a variety of statisreduced,' or civilized,' and the tical and topographical details. other 'pagan,' savage,' and bar.
the most generally barous. He observes :
interesting and descriptive portion The reduced Indian is often as little
of the whole, including the pictorial of a Christian as the independent Indian
illustrations, the representations of is of an idolator. Both alike occupied antiquities and monuments, of by the wants of the moment betray a
mountains and cities, of scenery and marked indifference for religious senti- natural objects. ments, and a secret tendency to the If this be only a meagre and dry worship of nature and her powers enumeration of a few of the leading which belongs to the earliest infancy of heads of the discussions and denations.*
scriptions of which these elaborate In 1804 the travellers returned volumes are composed, they will to Europe, and Humboldt, con- suffice to give some slight idea of jointly with Bonpland, in different the immense extent as well as variety departments, engaged themselves in of the labours of the traveller. the arduous task of reducing into These valuable researches soon order their varied collections, and became known through translations drawing up the accounts of their to all European cultivators of sci. researches for publication. The ence, and have been duly apprestrictly scientific portion of their ciated; but by far the most in. results was embodied in several teresting portion to the public at series of voluminous works, which, large has been the Personal Narra, commencing in 1807, occupied seve- tive, which in five volumes appeared ral years in publication, and have at successive intervals from 1814 to amply sustained the scientific re- 1821 (since reprinted in Bohn's putation of their authors. A brief Standard Library); a work which, glance at their contents may be besides the detail of all the adventaken as follows:
tures encountered, contains many The ist series comprises astro- of the most highly interesting denomical, geodetical, and hypsome. scriptions of natural scenery and trical observations, determining the phenomena, conveying those vivid geography of numerous points, be- and living pictures of scenes witsides many phenomena of interest nessed to which we have already to terrestrial physics throughout the referred. tropical region of America.
Many lesser publications of The 2nd and 3rd are botanical, Humboldt, partly arising out of the chiefly by M. Bonpland, including subjects suggested by the travels, the descriptions of plants collected appeared in subsequent years, the in Mexico, Cuba, the northern pro- most noted of which perhaps is the pinces of South America, with mono- Essay on the Superposition of Rocks, graphs of some important genera. in both hemispheres, 1823. In 1818
The 4th, on the geography of he spent some time in England. On plants in the same regions, includes his return to the Continent in 1826, the whole account of their distri- he fixed his residence permanently bution, in connexion with the atmo- at Berlin, and received the highest spheric and meteorological investi. honours and marks of royal esteem gations determining the conditions from both King Frederic Wil. of the climate on which they depend, liam III. and his successor, besides as well as the geological structure being invested with decorations and of the regions.
orders of knighthood by nearly all The 5th series consists of the the sovereigns of Europe. In 1829, zoology and comparative anatomy, at the pressing invitation of the including some elucidations by Emperor of Russia, he joined a Cuvier referring both to all classes scientific expedition into Siberia of animals and to varieties of human with Gustav Rose and Ehrenberg, races.
in which they explored the whole of The 6th embraces the political Northern Asia, penetrating even to state of the South American pro- the borders of China.
* Personal Narrative. Bohn's Edition. Vol. i. p. 296.