Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of these writers in the department of Physical Geography, a science of which by common consent they are regarded as the founders. For its promotion they labored not unitedly, but harmoniously, during a longer period than is appointed for the life of most men. While they differed widely in character, and exerted themselves in very different ways for the promotion of this favorite study, their names will always be remembered together, and their works, the Kosmos and the Erdkunde, will together be handed down to posterity as an enduring monument of the extent to which the knowledge of nature, and especially of its relations to man, had been carried in the nineteenth century of the Christian era.

It is not our purpose to write the lives of Humboldt and Ritter. Of the personal history of the former, so much is known to every one, of the personal history of the latter, so little is known to ourselves, that our remarks will be chiefly confined to the influence which these masters have exerted, and the work which they have accomplished in the branch of science which we have named.

Humboldt called himself half an American; and others designated him as the scientific Columbus, who revealed to the old world the natural wonders of the new. It was on this continent that his earliest triumphs were achieved, and the memory, clung to him with the tenacious hold of an early love. On his return to Europe after his famous tour in South America, (in which he ascended Chinborazo,) and his subsequent visit to Mexico, he passed some time in several of the northern cities, and thus became personally acquainted not only with our institutions, but also with our countrymen. We have but just spoken to a gentleman who remembers well the privilege which he enjoyed as a young man, of showing to the great traveler from Germany the sights of Philadelphia in 1804. From that time on, Humboldt maintained the deepest interest in the science, the government, and the people of America. His correspondence here was extensive; the number of our countrymen whom he honored with a personal interview was surprisingly large; while additional multitudes of travelers, common citizens, and men of official station, were

presented to him in the receptions of the American legation; and as in all these interviews he had the rare facnlty of evincing the kindness of his heart, what wonder is it that so many had learned to regard him as a friend, and that when the tidings of his death were repeated from Boston to San Francisco, the expressions of affectionate sorrow were miogled everywhere with the eulogies of his greatness! The company of American students who followed him to the grave, in advance of the high officers of the Prussian State, were fitly recognized as the representatives of their country.

As an expression of the common sentiment, we may refer our readers to the tributes of Agassiz, Lieber, and Guyot, Europeans by birth, but Americans by adoption. They knew him well, and were competent to estimate his powers. Dr. Lieber, in reply to the question whether Humboldt was not the greatest man of the century, makes these discriminating remarks.

" I do not believe it fit for man to seat himself on the bench in the chancery of humanity and there to pronounce this one or that one the greatest man. How many men bave been called the greatest ! But if it is an attribute of greatness to imprese an indelible stamp on an entire movement of the collective mind of a race ; if greatness, in part, consists in devising that which is good, large, and noble, and in perseveringly executing it by means which, in the hands of others, would have been insufficient, and against obstacles which would have been insurmountable to others; if the daring solitude of thought and loyal adhesion to its own royalty is a constituent of greatness ; and if rare and varied gifts, such as mark distinction when singly granted, showered by Providence on ove man ; if modest amenity gracing these gifts, and encouraging kindliness to every one of every nation that proved earnest in his pursuit-whether he had chosen Dature or society, the hieroglyphics or the liberty of America, the sea and the winds, or the languages, astronomy, or industry, the canal or prison discipline, geography or Plato; if, in addition, an organizing mind-a power of evoking activity in the sluggish-and sagacity and unbroken industry through a life lengthened far beyond that which the psalmist ascribes to a long human existence; if a good fame, encircling the globe on its own pinions, and not carried along by later history,-if these make up or prove greatness, then indeed we may say without presumption, that our age has been graced by one of the greatest men-so favored an exemplar of humanity that he would cease to be an example for us had he not manifested through his whole life of ninety years that unceas ing labor, unvarying love of truth and advancement, and that kindness to his fellow-beings, which are duties, and in which every one of us ought to strive to imitate him,"

• In contrast with the popular hoinage generously lavished upon Humboldt, both in Europe and America, stands the equally honorable and equally enduring reputation which the genius of Ritter has achieved, not indeed among the multitude, but among his peers in the higher ranks of intellectual culture. It would not be ditficult to account for this contrast. Merely to illustrate the fact, take down from the shelf any modern cyclopædia, or dictionary of biography ;you will find the career of Humboldt pictured in the most brilliant colors ;-you will find but the simplest ontline of the life of Ritter. Examine the reviews, or turn more readily to the index of Poole ;—there are a score and more of articles on Huinboldt; is one to be found upon Ritter? Ask any school-boy who Humboldt is, and the answer will be given. How many men of education are unacquainted with the attainments of his great compatriot !*

Yet we do not disparage the well earned fame of the author of the Kosmos, when we say that the author of the Erdkunde was far more nearly his equal in genius, in learning and in perpetual influence, than would be supposed by those who should judge them by their present notoriety, for the new Geography is almost equally indebted to them both.

The life of Ritter was almost as remarkable for the absence of remarkable incidents, as that of Humboldt was distinguished by their occurrence. Let us glance at both careers.

Humboldt was born of a noble family, and had from his earliest years every prospect of preferment. He deserts an official position which would have satisfied a man of ordinary capacity, and determines to travel. The flattering reception

* Karl Ritter was born at Quedlinburg, August 7, 1779, and received his early training at Schnepfenthal, under Salzmann. In 1798 he attended the University of Halle, and for several years after completing his academic studies was a private tutor in the family of Mr. Hollweg at Frankfort. In 1819 he became Professor of History in the Gymnasium of that city, and in 1820 he removed to Berlin as Professor Extraordinary of Geography in the Military School and also in the University. He resided in Berlin till his death, which took place September 28, 1859, at the commencement of his eighty-first year. A sketch of his life, translated and condensed from an article by Dr. Kramer of Halle, may be found in the American Journal of Science and Arts, Marck, 1860, pp. 221-232.

which he meets with at Madrid decides him to visit the Spanish possessions of America. “He receives permission not only to visit them,” says Prof. Agassiz, but “instructions are given to the officers of the colonies to receive him everywhere and to give him all facilities to permit him to transport bis instruments, to make astronomical and other observations, and to collect whatever he chooses.” What more could a young man of thirty desire ? He climbs the peaks of Teneriffe, explores for a year and a half the valleys of the Amazon and Orinoco, ascends Chimborazo, to a hight which man had never attained before, and with almost equal progress ascends the hill of fame. Having studied the ancient monuments of Central America, he returns to Europe. The King of Prussia makes him his friend and companion, at home and in his travels. He publishes his researches. The Emperor of Russia invites him to explore the Ural Mountains and he pushes his researches to the heart of the continent of Asia. He returns to Berlin and is sent as an Ambassador to Paris. For eighteen years he dwells alternately in Germany and France, studying, writing, lecturing, printing, until at the age of eighty he goes home to Berlin, not to die, not even to rest, but to add ten years of work to the laborious half-score by which he has already overrun the appointed limits of human activity. To the end of his life he is not less the courtier by day than the student by night.

How different the career of Ritter! Left at the age of five years, in 1784, a fatherless, penniless boy, received as a charity scholar in a newly established boarding-school, succeeding with difficulty in obtaining a university education, pledging his services as a private tutor to the patrou who provides him with money, not receiving the appointinent of a gymnasium professor till he is forty years of age,-it is obvious that the great geographer had little to encourage him or awaken his ambition, throughout his early life. But he improved every opportunity which was given him to cultivate his mind, and was ready for greater things. He is called to Berlin in 1820, and an empty auditory is the greeting which he received, so little was his character appreciated. A single year wrought a wonderful change. “Auditory full-I must have a larger,'' is the minute in his journal. Occasional journeys in Europe, but never to Africa or Asia, his special fields of study, relieve the duties of his professional charge. Volume after volume of his “Erdkunde" successively appear. The attainments of the author are recognized by all; his original views are everywhere accepted; his work becomes a classic, and the ideas which it contains, and which the author advances in his lectures, penetrate the writings of every geographer, and reach the mind of every school-boy.

Humboldt was emphatically a cosmopolitan. He had traversed four continents, and was equally at home in every capital. He spoke with fluency a score of languages; he knew everybody worth knowing; he answered with his own hand every note; books, pamphlets, specimens, letters, consequently flowed to his study from all sources, like rivers to the sea, till at last he was compelled through the journals to beg the public to have some pity for an old man of almost ninety years of age, already overwhelmed with the necessity of writing two thonsand letters a year.

Ritter, on the other hand, was more a man of books. He lived mostly in bis study and lecture room. He possessed, in a rare degree, the power of gathering the truth from the conflicting statements of a hundred authors, of making in his own mind a complete picture of the lands which they described, and of reproducing that picture with the orderly and impressive strokes of a master.

With the countenance of Humboldt our readers are familiar. An admirable portrait taken from the life has lately been exhibited in New York; while, thanks to the art of photography, speaking likenesses adorn the walls of almost every laboratory and the portfolio of every scholar.

The personal appearance of Ritter was at once prepossessing and dignified. Those who knew him in the prime of lite describe his presence as commanding in a high degree, and although in later years his movement was somewhat slow and heavy, yet his erect and elevated stature, his strong frame, his noble head, and his benignant smile, would arrest attention in

« AnteriorContinuar »