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HUMBOLDT'S COSMOS. *
“ Mens ingenti scientiarum flumine inundata.”
A mind inundated with a great flood of sciences. ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT, the cele tence of it contaminated with pedantry brated traveler and savan, is about giving or technicality. The author seems to to the world a work entitled Cosmos, feel a sympathy with man, as well as which is to be a survey of the material with savans; and finds a greater satisuniverse; or, more exactly, an assem- faction in giving, than in hiding knowblage of all the most important facts of ledge. He is compelled by no fear to science, arranged in such an order as to wrap up his thoughts in a mystical or impress a picture of the world---not scen- neological dress, but lays all open to the ic nor conjectural, but truly cosmical —as eye and mind. He uses no appeals to it is established.” The Introduction, with prejudice, and tempers nothing doubtful, two chapters of preparatory matter, have or unpopular, with an eloquent obscuappeared in the original German, and are rity; for he speaks not to this age, or known to the public through an English that party, but to the free intelligence of translation. But, either through the man. weight of their material, or the heaviness In the opening of the Introduction, of the translation, these chapters have not which is perhaps the most remarkable yet received the attention which the repu part of the work, as it discovers more of tation and authority of their venerable au the peculiar spirit of the author, he thor seems to demand. A careful exami- speaks of that elevation of language, and nation discovers them to be an exposition of sentiment, which is proper to so great of the very spirit of liberal culture. They a topic. If we describe the harmony of show the tendency of the most enlight. worlds, it should be harmoniously ; nor ened minds in Europe and in the civi. should anything undignified escape us lized world. They seem to give an im- when we mean to show the dignity of pression of the age itself, in its best knowledge. Alluding to the aim and features, and might serve, almost, as a purpose of all science, the increase of preface to its intellectual history. happiness, he begins, not with its physi.
The Introduction to the work invites cal, but with its intellectual, benefits. our attention, and interests us in the au. Those who know the history of human thor's design, by describing, in a spirit knowledge have traced its rise from the equally refined and learned, the pleasures grandest of all principles, from an irreof observation, the effect of natural scen sistible desire of the soul to put itself in ery in its extent and in its parts ; and harmony with the world; by grasping after a sufficient view of the beauty of and blending the infinite variety, it strives external nature, turns attention to the to shape for itself a model of the uniunity of this wonderful diversity-pass- verse. Not that it may thereby gain a ing from the pleasure to its cause, and little more, or a little better bread for the from the harmony to the law which is body; but only that it may see the Form its soul. It would be impossible to give of the Maker in his work. a proper conception of this admirable
From the contemplation of nature arise chapter without quoting it almost bodily two kinds of enjoyment: the sensuous, from the work. It discovers a combina expanding to the imaginative; and the tion of educated taste and free fancy, intelligent, rising to the scientific. One such as no other modern, much less any is of Imagination, the other of Undersavan, has seemed to possess : and more, standing. Looking out upon a wide it is governed in its whole by an urbane prospect, mingled in variety of earth and wisdom, well befitting the venerable age water; bare rocks and soft verdure, with and world-wide experience of its author. forms of life, and motions of things inan
In this chapter, as in the whole work, imate, with their sounds and voices; an the idealism of Germany appears in rare “ obscure feeling of the harmony" of all union with true science; nor is any sen- arises in the mind. The lull of falling
Cosmos; a Survey of the General Physical History of the Universe. By Alexander von Humboldt. Nos. 1 and 2. New York: 1815.
waters, or the monotone of winds, moves tion. And this, too, is an universal benethe fancy in deep waves, or soothes it to fit, extended equally to all. a contemplative calm. There the clear Livelier and stronger are those emotions individualities are blended and lost, and which arise at the view of certain marked the whole floats immense and full of features; the swell of eminences; the vague power: all is motion, life, possi- jutting of crags ; waterfalls, ravines; bility, uncertainty:
deep and broad pools, and all varieties of The other, and perhaps the higher, the picturesque. But here the pleasure enjoyment, begins in the cultivated sense is given rather by the cast of the mind and understanding, and seeks continually that feels it, and differs with the form for the fixed points, and stable grounds, and temper of imagination. To some, of things. It is a pleasure of order, of the grandeur of mountains is a something unity and of equilibrium : seeking con more than wonderful, and rises to the tinually for the Substance, the Cause, degree of consolation and a healing and the Resemblance, it abstracts from power; while to others a gentle slope of all differences, and melts the variety into land, a clear lake, or a skirt of wood, an unity; ending in rest and silence. are delicious and salutary.
“ If I might But this enjoyment belongs rather to the yield to my own recollections,” says our whole intellect, than to understanding author, “ I would recall the ocean, under alone ; for it includes and must include the softness of a tropical night, with the the first wbile it transcends it.
vault of heaven pouring down its steady The task of educated intelligence is to and planetary, not twinkling, starlight
prove and separate the individuals, on the heaving surface of the world of without being overwhelmed with their waters. Or I would call to mind the mass. To keep the high destinies of wooded valleys of the Cordilleras, where man continually in view ; and to com the palms break though the lower canopy prehend the spirit of nature which lies of dark foliage, and rising over it like behind the covering of phenomena.” columns, sustain another wood above In such a spirit he looks forward to a the woods. Or, I transport myself to time when the system of the material Teneriffe, and see the cone of the peak universe shall be mastered by the force cut off from view by a mass of clouds ; of intellect. A time, it might be added, and now suddenly becoming visible (and the signs of its approach are clear,) through an opening pierced by an upwhen the intinite diversity of facts and ward current of air; and the edge of the causes shall be reduced under a few crater looking down upon the vine-clad simple principles, comprehensible in one hills of Orotava, and the Hesperidean idea.
gardens that line the shore.”+ In scenes Turning again to consider the plea- like these, he continues, it is no longer sures of imagination, or, as they are the still, creative life of nature that falsely named, of sense, excited by the addresses us; but the individual character greater phenomena of nature, he speaks of the landscape-a combination of the first of the obscure and indefinite. outlines of cloud and sky, and sea and “ When the eyes rest upon view of coast, sleeping in the morning, or in the some mighty plain, covered with an uni- evening, light: It is the beauty of the form vegetation; or, when it loses itself forms of trees and plants, and their groupon the horizon of a boundless ocean, ings, that appeals to us. “ The imwhose waves ripple softly near us on measurable, the awful, all that surpasses the shore, strewing the beach with sea- comprehension becomes a source of pleaweed; the feeling of free nature pene. sure in picturesque scenes.” But all is trates the mind, and an obscure intima- in ourselves ; “Deceived, we imagine tion of her endurance in conformity with that we receive from the external world, everlasting laws.”
what we ourselves bestow."! All of serious and sublime that arises He next notices the effect of recognizing in us, comes almost unconsciously from in a foreign land, under the climate of the a sense of the order and harmony of visi. tropics, the same rocks and soil which ble and audible nature. These emotions we left at home. The voyager is not soothe while they elevate the soul, and altogether wonder-struck to find this wellprepare it for the entrance of contempla- known surface blooming with a new and
* English Translation, p. 3.
foreign flora. He discovers' in his mind with myrtle-leaved Andromedas. The an unexpected ease of adaptation, and Alpine rose and gummy Befaria, form a perceives himself akin to all things purple belt about the mountains. And organized. The splendid species of the now ascended to a cold and stormy region, tropics, seem like exaltations of the we lose sight of the lofty and large flowerhumbler plants that waved around him ing kinds. Grasses only cover the slopes, in his childhood; and he feels through forining vast meadows that look yellow them, as through the earth and man, the in the distance, where the Llama sheep bond of the coinmon nature.
is seen feeding solitary, and the cattle of Returning to the consideration of the Europe roam wild in herdz. In the intergreat effects of intertropical scenery, he vals the rocks of the volcano, once molten attributes grandeur in a landscape to the Java, or mud thrown from the abysses of assembling of all that is impressive in a the earth, stand out hard and cold, or single view, striking at once upon the scantily covered with a gray and yellow mind, so as simultaneously to awaken in growth of lichens. Patches of snow it a crowd of feelings and ideas. Nowhere appear a little bigher; and above these, are these effects more powerful than in sharply defined, begins the line of ice, the landscapes of the New World, where covering the bell-shaped cone, that sends mountains of stupendous elevation form through its summit a vapor of water on all sides the bottom and brim of the mingled with poisonous gases."* atmospheric ocean, and where the power Aiter establishing, in the manner we that lifted them from the sea, continues bave seen, with great fullness of thought even now to shake and elevate its work. and a crowd of illustration, the harmony In the Cordilleras, where the line of per of the scientific and imaginative views of petual snow is mostly at an elevation of nature, and the power of accurate obserfourteen thousand feet above the sea, vation in deepening the effect of scenery, vegetation rises to the summits of the and heightening the pleasures of imaginahighest peaks. “In the deeply clest tion; the author comes next upon the Andes of New Grenada and Quito, man consideration of that second species of kind have the privilege of contemplating enjoyment which springs from a satis. all the varieties of vegetable form, and of faction of understanding; in detecting the seeing all the stars in the firmament at order and the succession of species; in once.” The same glance rests upon tracing the laws of changes; and in find. feathery palms and heliconias, proper to ing the principles or unities of all existthe tropics; and above these, on the ences. And here he begins, by ascribing higher slopes, are seen oak forests, and to the inhabitants of temperate climates a the plants of Europe. The eye takes in superiority over all others. the pole star of the North, and the Among the nations of the temperate Magellanic clouds of the Southern circle. regions science had its origin, and seems The laws of declining temperature are destined to reach its height among the written to the eye upon the slopes of the meditative people of the North. Here, mountains.” “I lift but a corner of the too, the variety and complexity of atmoveil from my recollections," he continues: spheric changes, while it perplexes, stimubut to comprehend the whole we must lates inquiry. All parts of the world are know the parts. In science as in art, the known to them; they stand as interrepresentation gains in power as the mediates affected by all, and therefore details are more distinct.
knowing all extremes. With them (the “Let us pause, then, a moment, and nations of the temperate zones) “ begins contemplate this picture.” “On the hot that form of enjoyment which springs plains near the level of the sea, we find from ideas,” or from meditation upon Bananas, Cycadeas and Palms.” “After experience; and the construction of intelthem” in valleys at the feet of the grand lectual systems according to the truth of plateaux, “ tree-like ferns; next to these nature, removed equally from dull ignoin the ascending order, ceaselessly water rance and heathen symbolism. Though ed by cool clouds, the Cinchonas, yield. the desire and the feeling be common to ing the precious febrifuge bark; above all mankind, they alone are able to satisfy them, on the ridges and high plains of it. “An indefinite dread sense of the the interior, we meet the Aralias of unity of the powers of the world, of the temperate climates, blooming in company mysterious bond which connects the
English Translation, p. 6, abstract.
sensuous with the supersènsuous, is full of purposeless changes; but from true common even among savage nations." knowledge, to that true wonder which
We easily confound the real with the refers all causes to the uniinaginable lawideal world, putting one for the other in giver, the step is instant and firm. our thoughts and in words. The first That disease, on the other hand, which step of meditation is to separate them; is incidental to science, even in its best and by observing reality, unmixed, to days," the heaping up of raw material,” forn a true basis of knowledge. But unemployed and undigested, until its this cannot happen until the “ faculty of very quantity and exactness makes it thought, with its powers of analysis and unserviceable-to this fault, the vice of arrangement,” has fully asserted its right, a too active curiosity, and the vanity of and moves freely over all nature. But excessive knowledge, he attributes the because of the difficulties of observation, rise of that unfortunate opinion, that “a system of unproven, and in part mis- science quenches the light of fancy and taken, knowledge is seen growing up.” chills the true enjoyment of nature. Cer"Shut up within itself this kind of empiri- tain it is, our respect for the mad gambols cism is unchanging in its axioms (like of fiction is wonderfully lessened by a everything else that is restricted); and is taste of the superior delights of science. the more arrogant, as it embraces Jess:" The search of fact offers to us a cup more "while natural science, inquiring, and intoxicating and irresistible than water therefore doubting, goes on separating the of Castaly; nor will he who has tasted firmly established from the merely proba- fairly of both, make a doubt which is the ble, and perfects itself daily.” But he is sweetest. The testimony of Virgil may careful elsewhere* to notice that pre- suffice us, for this poet would have sumptuous scepticism which rejects facts devoted himself to science, but for the without caring to examine them,” and wishes of Augustus; and in his most which he regards as “even more destruc- elaborate work, the Georgics, there is tive than uncritical credulity.”
more of nature than of invention. Some Drawing gradually nearer to the true sentimentalists of this age would have us purpose of this chapter, he at length believe that fiction is more natural to man announces that he wishes “to correct a than fact; and go so far as impudently to portion of the errors which have sprung class the sciences with artificial stimuli, from a rude empiricism, and which con resorted to for the sake of excitement; tinue to live in the upper classes of but the drunkenness they cause is of such society (in Europe), associated frequently a kind as one may thrive under, and grow with great literary acquirements; and, by clearer headed every day. The best poets removing these errors, to increase the of antiquity discover in their works a relish for nature (i. e., truth) by giving a knowledge of all the science of their deeper and clearer insight into the con- day; nor does it seem other than a stitution of things.” He then adds: “I stupid enthusiasm, which would have us cannot yield any place in my mind to the attribute the “ touches of nature,” so solicitude of a certain narrowness of effective in all the greater masters of elounderstanding—a sentimental dullness- quence, to any other than a close and that nature loses aught of her charms, in learned observation of the internal and respect of mysterious grandeur, by in- external nature of man. Strip a fine quiries into the intimate constitution of poem of its symbolic garnish, and it stands her forces. The forces of nature operate forth pure truth. magically, as if shrouded in the gloom of The world of literature has been, hi. some mysterious power, only when their therto, very fairly divided between fact workings lie beyond the limits of known and fancy-that is to say, between truth conditions.” Then, claiming an educative and lies; but now, the balance seems to and disciplinary effect, in accurate obser- be turning slowly upon the soberer side. vation, of more worth than the wild sport It is beginning to be acknowledged that of fancy, he affirms, that an intellect culti. to enjoy the most exalted intellectual vated to a clear and delicate insight, under pleasures, we must recognize the tenthe guidance of thought, looks upon the dency of the universal spirit of man to reheavens and the world with a greater com solve all experience into law-into unity. prehension of their beauty and majesty, “ But to taste, to enjoy, this exalted,” ihan is granted to the rude imagination. (i. e., this intellectual,) we must keep The realm of fancy is a region of chance, ibe two confusions, of fiction on the one
* English Translation, p. 43.
hand, and an overloaded memory on the those who have no leisure for accurate other, in the background; not suffering study." the poets to blind, or the naturalists to The descriptive natural sciences are overwhelm us.
not equally attractive to all minds at all “To the groundless fears for the loss seasons of the year, or in all regions." of a free enjoyment of nature, may be Those who live upon the sea borders will added the alarm, lest an adequate know- find a pleasure during summer, only, in ledge of nature prove unattainable by the observing the habits of water-fowl; and mass of mankind.” “ Each new and in winter, few departments of living nadeeper inquiry into living nature seems ture can be studied with advantage. The but the entrance to a new labyrinth. But inhabitants of a cold and variable climate this very multiplicity of new and intricate are embarrassed and restricted by unpaths, excites a kind of joyful amaze certainties of weather. The laboratory, a ment on each successive grade of science. cell of enchantment to the ingenious and Each new law leads to one higher and inquisitive chemist, becomes a drudge unknown,” and Nature is seen to be the workshop to him whose faculties of natura—that is to say, “the Ever Be thought overbalance his powers of obcoming,” the being, about to be. “ The servation. Few are equal to difficulties feeling of the immeasurableness of the of meteorology, or of practical astronomy; life of nature is still increased; and we which, of all pursuits, require the most perceive, that the inquirer will not lack enduring and orderly patience : watching, scope for his inquiries for thousands of by night and day, through long years, or years to come.” Nor is the pleasure of even ages-never missing the hour or discovery the sole, or the most enduring the half hour of observation ; with an Each generation renews the whole enjoy- eye to every quarter of the heavens, ment of knowledge, in acquiring what is which must be as familiar to the observer already known, and moulding anew the as the rooms of his own house, or the cumbrous masses of theory and infor- quarters of his own chamber; and this, mation. By the repeated efforts of suc added to a familiarity with the powers cessive generations, the finer parts of all and uses of a variety of complex instruscience will be separated and simplified, ments and formulas, with a view, also, so as to become serviceable in the right to the results of other men’s labors in the education of the understanding. What same walk, in all parts of the world. has been done for astronomy and the Nor will all this serve, without an acsimpler mathematics, will be done for quaintance with all known and with physiology, and even for psychology many neglected books: dreary chronicles, itself; until the whole body of the old records, newspapers, log-books, and laws of nature shall be brought with- the vague traditions of the ignorant. in the reach of every good intellect: Such are the qualifications of the praca consummation of infinite promise to tical meteorologist; por would the picthe happiness of man, when it is ture be complete without the addition of seen that he has, thus far, failed of powerful memory, and a subtle and disfulfilling his destiny; chiefly through cursive intelligence—ardent in the idea, ignorance of the nature on which he and sceptical in its acceptance; and a hurests.
manity wide enough to render itself The effort of the liberal mind is to rise agreeable and companionable to men of from particulars to the general. It ab- all degrees and all varieties. Not less hors the fate of being wasted, and con- difficult, or requiring fewer qualifications, quered, in detail : and, in the view of is the business of the geologist, who emmere enjoyment, apart from scientific braces in one view the whole scope of vanity, there is an infinitely greater plea- his science. He is, of course, a man of sure in the recognition of a law, than in learning and of taste ; free of pedantry, the recollection or discovery of a fact. with a leaning toward the popular pride. “ General views of Nature (of the mem He must have formed to himself an idea bers of the World, or Cosmos)—be it the of the earth at once single and accurate. phenomena of things near, or of matter Every country must be known to him, aggregated in remote systems of the hea- not only by its general figure and povens--are not merely more attractive and sition, but by the quality of its soil, the elevating than the detail of special studies; character of its rocks, and the detail of but farther recommend themselves to its mountains and rivers. To these he
* English Translation, p. 8.