Изображения страниц

world has not often come so near to the reality of this conception of the painter, as within a few years past. Berlin, the Athens of the North, has lately assembled a company of philosophers, more knowing and more wise than the masters of Grecian science ever brought together in the groves of the Academy, or the portico of the Lyceum ; even more knowing and more wise than those whom the master of Italian art, drawing from different centuries and from different towns, has represented in his ideal school.

Frederick William IV, who still wears the crown, though he has yielded the scepter of the kingdom of Prussia, evinced throughout his reign an enlightened desire for the promotion of the higher education, and for the advancement of every department of human science. It is owing to the wise policy of this monarch that the city of his royal residence, while comparatively new, has surpassed nearly all the older towns in Germany. Although poorly situated for mercantile transactions, it rivals Hamburgh and Bremen as a commercial center; and although long established custom still retains in Leipsic the control of the book trade, yet the publications of the Prussian capital are annually becoming more and more numerous and important. The once famous Pinacothek and Glyptothek of Munich are already eclipsed by the splendor of the New Museum in Berlin, while the old universities of Vienna and Prague have seen their younger sister in the North become the most attractive of the higher schools of Germany, with somewhat of the surprise which Harvard and Yale would experience if Beloit and Kenyon should suddenly be found superior in celebrity and influence.

All the faculties in Berlin have been distinguished during the last twenty years. In Theology, Neander is but just gone, while Hengstenberg, Twesten, Nitzsch, and Strauss remain in active service. Savigny, Puchta, Heffter, and Stahl have occupied the chairs of jurisprudence. Bopp, the brothers Grimm, Bekker, and Boeckh are known to every student of philology. Trendelenburg expounds the history of philosophy, Pertz exhomes the early monuments of German civilization, Ranke


reviews the history of Europe, and Lepsius unriddles the hieroglyphics of Egypt.

Not less distinguished, certainly, are the exponents of physical science. Encke watches the movements of the heavens, and Dove interprets the laws of terrestrial physics ; Rose classifies the productions of the mineral kingdom, and Braun the varied forms of vegetation ; Ehrenberg is a world-acknowledged giant in the Lillipntian domains of the Infusoria, and Mitscherlich, substituting the analysis of the crucible for that of the lens, has penetrated to an equal depth beyond the surface knowledge of common men.

But above this eminent group of physicists,-may we not say above all the philosophers of Berlin ?-two men of science have long been conspicuous, Alexander von Humboldt and Karl Ritter. Friends through long lives, kindred in taste and in pursuits, distinguished both at home and abroad beyond any of their associates, they have terminated together an honorable career, and the world of science and letters now mourns its double loss.

Those of our countrymen—and the number is not small-who have been so fortunate as to see these distinguished men in the Royal Prussian Academy of Science, at one of its stated meetings, in the university Aula, on some festive occasion, and especially those who have met them in the social circles where the scientific professors are accustomed to assemble, cannot fail to have remarked, that whether in public or in private, Humboldt and Ritter were the objects always of respectful attention and of undisguised admiration. Such a company of scholars as has been the pride of Berlin for the last five and twenty years recalls the golden period of English literature, in the days of the learned Queen Bess, and even more forcibly the glory of Weimar, when Goethe and Schiller and Herder and Wieland made the court of an unimportant Duchy not less renowned than the capital of an empire. Indeed it requires no effort of the imagination to bring to life the dream of Raphael already alluded: to, placing Humboldt and Ritter as the center of the illustrions group in the school of modern Greece.

We propose in this Article to call attention to the services: 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 Chimborazo,) 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 faculty 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 mingled 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 have been called the greatest! But if it is an attribute of greatness to impress 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 one 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 uncens 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 homage 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 difficult 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 outline 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 Humboldt; 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.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »