Изображения страниц

velopment of the different nations and the whole human species in their manifold mutual relations to one another.

“ This was a stupendous task, but Ritter performed it marvelously wen. Its execution required a combination of great and varied talents, such as rarely ever have been or will be found, cultivated by deep and assiduous study. In it we see powerful and truly ingenious displays of general geographical intuition and combipation, a care, that indefatigably penetrates into the deepest recesses and most minute details, an extensive knowledge of natural sciences, a perfect command of extensive historical materials, and lastly, a truthfulness and thoroughness of learned inquiry, combined with the rare gift of a rich, fresh, vivid, and expressive representation. Truth and knowledge of the living God were the springs that actuated his mind and after which he aspired Hence his humility, hence his close and perfect application, his concentration upon the subject before him. No difficulty ever deterred him in his investigations, although the matter before him was continually and vastly accumulating. His work was to him, as he wrote in his diary, when, after a long interruption, he again commenced his labor, 'his song of praise to the Lord.'”

At the basis of this entire work, and indeed of all Ritter's writings, lies the thought that each of the grand divisions of the earth has its own peculiar character as really as any person; and that thus it is designed to fulfill a specific office in the culture of mankind. This peculiarity depends not alone nor chiefly upon the horizontal dimensions of the continent, upon the bays, and gulfs, and straits which penetrate the main land and form peninsulas, and capes, and islands,-nor upon the position of the entire mass with respect to the equator and the poles, but rather on the elevation of the continent above the level of the sea, by which varieties of climate are produced, and diversities of flora and of fauna, to say nothing of differences in the human species, are obviously promoted. What is true of the whole is true also of each portion, and every high land and low land, every water course and coast, every island and peninsula, has its individual characteristics.

This idea, promulgated and illustrated with rare eloquence and skill in the University lectures of Ritter, has already, to some extent, pervaded the geographical literature of the day, and may be traced in many of the school books of Germany which are based upon his method. Those who seek for its application by the author to all portions of the world, may be disappointed, for we have already seen that his chief strength was expended upon the largest and the most complex of all

the grand divisions. But in a volume composed of various contributions to the Academy of Sciences and other occasional essays, which was published at Berlin in 1852, under the title of an Introduction to General Comparative Geography, his principles are brought out. To that we refer the reader for a fuller statement than we are able to give. A translation of the book, with illustrative notes, would be a service to this country.

At the risk of having it said that we have transferred the German pages to our own, instead of translating them, we shall make a few extracts from one of the earliest essays which was published by Ritter, in order to show his method of thought, as well as to give a glimpse of the principles which lie at the basis of all he has written.

In 1818 he wrote for the first volume of the Erdkunde an introduction to geography. In this he briefly indicates the plan of his work, enumerates the sources from which his materials are drawn, and explains the purpose which he has in view. At the outset he states a few important truths, which appear and reappear, expanded, confirmed, and illustrated through all the subsequent pages.

It is one of the characteristics of human nature, he remarks, that there is in every man a personality belonging only to him, by the development of which he proceeds toward perfection,--and the same is true of every nation. In the complete cultivation of this individuality lies the moral, and with it every other power of man; as well as the nationality and national strength of every people. It gives life and light to the present and the future, not according to its temporal and territorial, but according to its intellectual and moral power, casting its brilliant rays throughout the entire extent of the present life of the people and its future history.

The individuality of a nation, continues Ritter, can only be recognized in its conduct, in its relation to itself, to its members, to its surroundings; and, since no people can be thought of independently of a state and country,-in its relation to both of these and in their relation to neighboring lands and neighboring states. Here the influence becomes apparent

which nature must exercise upon nations, in a more marked degree indeed than upon individual men, because, as it were, masses act upon masses, and the personality of the nation predominates over that of the man. Nature is everywhere gentle in its influences, working rather in secret than in open day. Is it not then worth while, for the sake of the history of man and of nations, to study the surface of the earth in its relation to its inhabitants ?

Independent of man, he proceeds to say, the earth is a theater for the occurrences of nature; the laws of its formation cannot proceed from man. In a science of the Earth, the earth itself must be questioned in respect to its laws. The monuments which nature has erected upon it and their hieroglyphic language, must be examined, described, and their construction deciphered. The high lands, the low lands, the mountains must be measured, their forms arranged according to their essential characteristics; and the observers of every age and nation, yes, even the people themselves, must be consulted and understood in respect to what they have learned from the world in which they dwell. All the facts thus gathered must be reduced to a comprehensive whole. Then from every member, from every series, proceeds a resnlt the truth of which is manifested in the localized phenomena of nature, and as a reflection in the life of those nations whose existence and whose peculiarities coincide with this or that combination in the characteristic earth formation.

Thus controlled by a higher law, nations, like individual men, are developed under the simultaneous influence of nature and mind, that is by spiritual and physical powers.

We are aware that to some of our readers these ideas of Ritter will appear to be thoroughly German, and possibly vague, but we prefer to present as nearly as possible his own words, rather than in a paraphrase of our own. It mnst be borne in mind not only that in common with most of his conntrymen he clothes abstract ideas with personality in a manner to which we are unaccustomed, but he is avowedly presenting an old subject in a new light, so that for many of his expressions, the English phrases, like coin from a new die, have not as yet become current.

At a later period, when Ritter comes to apply these principles to the geography of Asia, he remarks that the method which he follows differs froin all which have previously been adopted. The reader, he says, must abandon himself completely to the subject, and follow the work from its beginning onward in order to perceive the true connection of the parts, the arrangement, and the progressive thought, and so enlarge more and more his insight into details by a study of the general laws of nature. He calls especial attention to the fact that his method is not to proceed a priori, or from the arbitrary and old fashioned divisions and subdivisions, which have generally been adopted in a most erroneous manner.

Our method, he says, consists rather in beginning with the main trunk of the continent, presenting such considerations as can be derived from a general survey, and then proceeding by special investigations to make ourselves at home in those localities which are separated by nature into distinct and differing territories, in order to arrange these in connected groups according to their individual phenomena, relations, and predominant laws. By connecting these different groups we shall again proceed to general descriptions, relations, and laws of construction, not only respecting the physical nature of every locality, but also its organic productions and life. This will be facilitated by the arrangement of paragraphs, each of which, with its subdivisions and notes, will concentrate as it were in a focus all positive data. If this end is attained, each para. graph will present a true ontline of a geographical member or link, which will not be without its value to the physical sciences, as well as to history.

It is this exhaustive and comprehensive method which gives to every portion of Ritter's writings its value. Balancing, as he was accustomed to do, the assertions of one writer with those of another, basing all his theories upon positive knowledge, and then availing himself of his generalizations in the elucidation of new phenomena, he has prepared a work on Asia, valuable not only in its entirety, but also as a succession of monographs, each perfect and complete in itself, and often sparkling with brilliant displays of genius.

The proper limits of this Article will not allow us to do more than give a summary of the views which are presented by Ritter in the discussion of Asia, the largest and most diversified of the continents and the oldest in historical development.

He recognizes in that grand division of the earth one fredominant trunk, to which many members are attached, members which are indeed subordinate in extent to the main body, but which especially toward the south and west display a marked importance,-while in the east and southeast the prominent feature is isolation, evinced in the entirely separated and very numerous groups of islands. The trunk is characterized by one immense central plateau, divided in two, the high-land of Eastern Asia, and the high-land of Western Asia, of different geometrical figures and absolute hights, the one more rough, the other more even. There is a maximum elevation of land with predominant and moderately high plateau-systems and border mountains of various form surrounded by alps with inexhaustible supplies of water; enclosing elevations of various character; and independent and diverging mountain chains which ramify like a profusion of arms; so that thus the division into limbs and members (the articulation, to adopt an anatomical term) is displayed in the most manifold formations, which are never repeated.

But beside all this should be mentioned the remarkable formation of the peninsulas in the south, which consist of highlands and plateau-systems, more easily understood than the intricate and complex combinations of the main continent, because more accessible, less extended also, and lower. These peninsulas, made cooler by their elevation, and otherwise highly favored, doubly enrich the south of Asia. They are inportant not only in themselves, but as tending to forin and to protect the low-lands, which lie in the valleys of the water courses, and between them and the higher mountains at the north. These valleys correspond in their functions to those of Southern Europe, where between the Appenines of Italy

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »