The actual miracle of the Universe is the invariableness of Law. Under like conditions a like result must follow, and upon this rock is the faith of the Scientists built.
--from The Cosmos
The Baron and Baroness von Hollwede were not happily married.
The Baroness had intellect, spirit, aspiration, with an appreciation of all that was best in art, music and the world of thought. As to the Baron, he had drunk life's wine to the lees and pronounced the draft bitter. He was a heavy dragoon with a soul for foxhounds. Later, when gout got to twinging him, he contented himself with cards and cronies.
And then Destiny, like a novelist who does not know what to do with a character, sent him on an excursion across the River Styx.
This was a good move all round, and the only accommodating action in which the Baron ever had a part. He left a large estate, not being able to take it along.
There are two kinds of widows, the bereaved and the relieved. In India no widow is allowed to remarry. The canons of the Episcopal Church forbid any widow or widower to remarry whose former partner is living. A member of the Catholic Church who makes a marital mistake is not allowed to rectify it. Yet Nature, sometimes, as if to prove the foolishness of fearsome little man, justifies that of which man hotly disapproves.
To be a widow of thirty-six, fair of face and comely in form, to own a beautiful home and have an income greater than you can spend, and still not enough to burden you--what nobler ambition!
The Baroness had a little encumbrance--a son aged ten. I would like to tell of his career, but alas, of him history is silent, save that he was heir to some of his father's proclivities, grew up, became an army officer and passed into obscurity in middle life, dishonored and unsung.
Such a widow as the Baroness von Hollwede is not apt to mourn for long. She was courted by many, but it was Major Humboldt who found favor in her heart. I assume that all of my gentle readers have in them some of the saltness of time, so that details may safely be omitted--let imagination bridge the interesting gap.
The Major was a few years younger than the lady, but like the gallant gentleman that he was, he swore i' faith before the notary that they were of the same age, just as Robert Browning did when officially interrogated as to the age of Elizabeth Barrett. Thomas Brackett Reed avowed that no gentleman ever weighed over two hundred pounds, and I also maintain no gentleman ever married a woman older than himself.
The marriage of Major Humboldt and the Baroness von Hollwede was a most happy mating that fully justified the venture. The Major had done his work bravely in the Seven Years' War, and was now an attache of the King's Court--a man of means, of intellect, and of many strong and beautiful virtues. After the marriage he became known as Baron von Humboldt, and as to just how he succeeded to the noble title let us not be curious--his wife undoubtedly bestowed it on him, good and generous woman that she was.
They lived in the romantic Castle Tegel, near Berlin, and separated from the city by a park, where the dark pines still tower aloft and murmur their secrets to the night breeze.
Tegel is a most beautiful place; it was first a hunting-lodge occupied by Frederick the Great. It is shut out from the world by its high stone walls; and in its dim, dense woods, one might easily imagine he was far indeed from the madding crowd.
Here there were two sons born to the Baron and Baroness--two years apart. One of these sons sleeps now beneath the turret where he first saw the light, and from which he made others see the light as long as he lived.
In Goethe's "Faust" is an allusion to a mysterious legend that had its rise in storied Tegel. On May Eighteenth, in the year Seventeen Hundred Seventy-eight. Goethe came here, walking over from Berlin, dined, and walked on to Potsdam. But before he left he saw two beautiful boys, aged eight and ten, playing beneath the spreading Tegel trees. The boys remembered the event and wrote of it in their journal, mentioning the kindly pats on their heads and the prophecy that they would grow up and be great men.
Goethe was always patting boys on the head and saying graceful things, and it is doubtful whether his prophecy was more than a mere commonplace. But Goethe always claimed it was divine prophecy. These boys were William and Alexander von Humboldt.
History does not supply another instance of two brothers attaining the intellectual height reached by Alexander and William von Humboldt. This being so, it seems meet that we should tarry a little to inspect the method adopted in the education of these boys--something that the educated world for the most part has not done.
* * * * * * *
This world of ours, round like an orange and slightly flattened at the poles, has produced only five men who were educated. Of course all education is comparative; but these five are so beyond the rest of mankind that they form a class by themselves.
An educated man means a developed man--a man rounded on every side of his nature. We are aware of no limit to which the mind of man may evolve; other men may appear who will surpass the Immortal Five, but this fact remains: none that we know have. Great men, so-called, are usually specialists: clever actors, individuals with a knack, talented comedians--who preach, carve, paint, orate, fight, manipulate, manage, teach, write, perform, coerce, bribe, hypnotize, accomplish, and get results. There are great financiers, sea-captains, mathematicians, football players, engineers, bishops, wrestlers, runners, boxers, and players on zithern-strings. But these are not necessarily very great men, any more than poets, painters and pianists, with wonderful hirsute effects and strange haberdashery are great men.
For it is intellect and emotion expanded in every direction that give the true title to greatness. Judged in this way, how rare is the educated man--five in six thousand years! And yet one of these five educated men had a brother nearly as great as he.
Alexander von Humboldt was past fifty before the world of thinking men realized that he had outstripped his brother William--and Alexander would never admit he had.
These two men, handsome in face, form and feature: strong in body and poised in mind, with souls athirst to realize and to know--happy men, living long lives of useful effort--surely should be classed as educated persons.
And in passing, let us note that all education is preparatory--it is life that gives the finals, not the college. The education of the von Humboldt boys was the Natural Method--the method advocated by Rousseau--the education by play and work so combined that study never becomes irksome nor work repulsive. Rousseau said, "Make a task repugnant and the worker will forever quit it as soon as the pressure that holds him to it is removed."
The parents of Alexander and William von Humboldt carefully studied the new plan of education that was at that time being advocated by some of the best professors at Berlin. "A child must have a teacher," said Jean Jacques, "but a professional teacher is apt to become the slave of his profession, and when this occurs he has separated himself from life, and therefore to that degree is unfitted to teach."
A school should not be a preparation for life: a school should be life. The Kindergarten Idea, among other things, suggests that a child should never know he is in school.
The discipline is kept out of sight, and the youngster finds himself a part of the busy life. He blends in with the others, and works, plays and sings under the wise and loving care of his "other mother," the teacher. He is living, not simply preparing to live. All life should be joyous, spontaneous, natural. The Rousseau Idea, which was modified and refined by Froebel, is the utilization of the propensity to play.
Major von Humboldt found a man who was saturated with the true Froebel spirit, although this was before Froebel was born.
The man's name was Heinrich Campe. Heinrich was hired to superintend the education of the Humboldt boys. That is to say, he was to become comrade, friend, counselor, fellow-scholar, playmate and teacher.
Play needs direction as well as work. Campe played with the boys. They lived with Nature--made lists of all the trees at Tegel, drew sketches of the leaves and fruit, calculated the height of trees, measured them at the base, and cut them down occasionally, first sitting in judgment on the case, and deciding why a certain tree should be removed, thus getting a lesson in scientific forestry.
They became acquainted with the bugs, beetles, birds and squirrels. They cared for the horses, cattle and fowls, and best of all they learned to wait on themselves.
Campe told them tales of history--of Achilles, Pericles and Cĉsar. Then they studied Greek, that they might read of Athens in the language of the men who made Athens great. They translated "Robinson Crusoe" into the German language, and Campe's translation of "Robinson Crusoe" is today a German classic. It was all natural--interesting, easy. The day was filled with work and play, and joyous tales of what had been said by others in days agone.
"Teach only what you know, and never that which you merely believe," said Rousseau.
There is still a cry that religion should be taught in the public schools. If we ask, "What religion?" the answer is, "Ours, of course!"
Religious dogma, being a matter of belief, was taught to the Humboldts as a part of history.
So these boys very early became acquainted with the dogmas of Confucianism, Mohammedanism, Christianity. They separated, compared and analyzed, and saw for themselves that dogmatic religions were all much alike. To know all religions is to escape slavery to any. In studying the development of races these boys saw that a certain type of religion fits a certain man in a certain stage of his evolution, and so perhaps to that degree religion is necessary. An ethnologist is never a Corner Grocery Infidel. The C.G.I. is very apt to be converted at the first revival, outrivaling all other "seekers," and when warm weather comes, falling from grace and dropping easily into scofferdom.
The Humboldts, like Thoreau, never had any quarrel with God, and they were never tempted to go forward to the Mourners' Bench.
Origin and destiny did not trouble them; predestination and justification by faith were not even in their curriculum; foreordination and baptism were to them problems not to be taken seriously.
By studying religions in groups and incidentally, they learned to distinguish the fetish in each. They read Greek mythology side by side with Judean mythology and noted similarities. The intent of Tutor Campe was to give these boys a scientific education. Science is only classified commonsense. To be truly scientific is to know differences--to distinguish between this and that. Every successful farmer has traveled a long way into science, for science deals with the maintenance of life. To know soils, animals and vegetation is to be scientific.
But when the average farmer learns to transmute compost into grass and grain, and these into beef, he usually stops, content. To be a scientist in the true sense, one must love knowledge for its own sake, and not merely for what it will bring on market-day, and so the Humboldts were led on through the stage of wanting to make money, to the stage of wanting to know the why and wherefore. It will be seen that the education of the Humboldts was what the Boylston Professor of English at Harvard calls "faddism, or the successful effort at flabbiness." Our Harvard friend thinks that education should be a discipline--that it should be difficult and vexatious, and that happiness, spontaneity and exuberance are the antitheses and the foes of learning. To him grim earnestness, silence, sweat and lamp-smoke are preferable to sunshine and joyous, useful work so wisely directed that the pupil thinks it play. He believes that to be sincere we must be serious. In these latter-day objections there is nothing new. Socrates met them all; Rousseau heard the cry of "fad"; Heyne, Pestalozzi, Campe, Knuth and Froebel met the carpist and answered him reason for reason, just as Copernicus, Bruno and Galileo told the reason the earth revolved. The professional teacher who can do nothing but teach--the college professor who is a college professor and nothing else--hates the Natural Method man about as ardently as the person who wears a paste diamond hates the lapidary.
* * * * * * *
Heinrich Campe was the tutor of the Humboldts for two years, when he entered the employ of the King as Commissioner of Education.
After this, however, he continued to spend one day a week at Tegel for some time. He loved the boys as his own, and his hope for their future never relaxed. Possibly his interest was not wholly disinterested--with the help of these lads he was working out and proving his pedagogic theories.
When Campe resigned his immediate tutorship he was allowed to select his successor, and he chose a young man by the name of Christian Knuth.
The mother was a member of this little university of four persons; Knuth, of course, was a member, for he always considered himself more of a student than a teacher.
When Campe resigned in favor of Knuth his action was in degree prompted by his love and consideration for the boys. Knuth was only a little past twenty, and was able to enter into the out-of-door sports and work of the youngsters better than the older man. Knuth was their hero--together they rode horseback, climbed mountains, excavated tunnels, mined for ore, built miniature houses. "Knuth made every good thing in Berlin available to us," wrote William years afterward; "we visited stores, factories, barracks and schools, and became familiar with a thousand commonplace things never taught in schools and colleges."
When Alexander was twelve years old, the father died. This would have been a severe blow to the boys were it not for Knuth, who seemed to stand to them more as the real parent than did Major von Humboldt.
Knuth was a businessman of no mean ability. The Baroness now trusted him with all her financial affairs. He called on the boys to help him in the details of business, so the keeping of accounts and the economical handling of money were lessons they learned early in life.
When Alexander was seventeen and William nineteen, the mother and Knuth decided that the boys should have the advantages of university life. Accordingly they were duly entered at the University of Frankfort as "special students."
Knuth also entered as a student in the class with them. Special students, let it be known, are usually those who have failed to pass the required examinations. In this instance, Alexander and William were beyond many of their classmates in some things, but in others they were deficient. Especially had their education in the dead languages been "neglected," so it is quite likely they could not have passed the examinations had they attempted it.
It should also be explained that special students are not eligible to diplomas or degrees.
But Campe and Knuth did not believe the nerve-racking plan of examinations wise, any more than it is wisdom to pull up a plant and examine the roots to see how it prospers. Neither did they prize a college degree.
They knew full well that a college degree is no proof of excellence of character; to them a degree was too cheap a thing to deviate in one's orbit to secure. They were after bigger game.
At Frankfort, Knuth and his charges lived in the family of Professor Loffler, "so as to rub off a little knowledge from this learned man." They studied history, philosophy, law, political economy and natural history. We would say their method was desultory, were it not for the fact that they were always thorough in all that they undertook. They were simply three boys together, intent on getting their money's worth.
William was a little better student than Alexander, and was the leader; he was larger in stature and seemed to have more vitality.
Two years were spent at the University of Frankfort, and then our trio moved on to the University of Gottingen, where there were distinguished lecturers on Natural History and Archeology. Antiquity especially interested the boys, and the evolution and history of races were followed with animation.
William took especially to philosophy as expressed in the writings of Kant, while Alexander developed a love for botany and what he called "the science of out-of-doors."
Two years at Gottingen, following the bent of their minds and listening only to those lectures they liked, and they moved on to Jena.
Here they were in the Goethe country. Soon there were overtures from Berlin that they enter the service of the Government. These overtures were set in motion by Campe, who, however, kept out of sight in the matter, and when accused, stoutly declared that it was every man's duty to help himself, and that he personally had never helped any one get a position and never would.
William was twenty-three and Alexander twenty-one. William was gracious and graceful in manner and made himself at home in the best society; Alexander was studious, reserved and inclined to be shy.
An invitation came that they should visit Weimar and spend some weeks in that little world of art and letters created by Goethe and Schiller. To William this was very tempting; but Alexander saw at Weimar scant opportunity to study botany and geology.
Besides that, he felt that sooner or later he would drift into the employ of the Government, following in his father's footsteps. His ambition was practical mining, with a taste for finance.
The brothers kissed each other good-by, and one went to Weimar to assist Schiller in editing a magazine that did not pay expenses, to bask in the sunshine of the great Goethe, and incidentally to secure a wife.
The other started on a geological excursion, and this excursion was to continue through life, and make of the man the greatest naturalist that the world had seen since Aristotle lived, two thousand years before.
* * * * * * *
Humboldt's first book was on the geological formation of the Rhine, published when he was twenty-six years old. The work was so complete and painstaking that it led to his being appointed to the position of "Assessor of Mines" at Berlin. This was the same office that Swedenborg once held in Scandinavia.
For the benefit of our social-science friends, it is rather interesting to note that at this time in Europe nearly all mines belonged to the Government.
An individual might own the surface, and up to the sky, but his claim did not go to the center of the earth. Iron, coal, copper, silver and gold were largely mined, and the Government operated the mines direct, or else leased them on a percentage.
I am told that in America all mining is done by individuals or private companies, and that four-fifths of all mining companies have no mines at all--merely samples of ores, blueprints, photographs and prospects. The genus promoter is a very modern production, and is a creation Humboldt never knew; the "salting" of mines was out of his province, and mining operations carried on exclusively in sky-scrapers was a combination he never guessed.
Whether society will ever take a turn backward, and the whole people own and control the treasures deposited by Nature in the earth, is a question I will leave to my Marxian colleagues to determine.
As a mine-manager Humboldt was hardly a success. He knew the value of ores, utilized various by-products that had formerly been thrown away, made plans for the betterment of his workers, and once sent a protest to the King against allowing women and children to be employed underground.
But the price per ton of his product was out of proportion to the expenses. While other men mined the ore he wrote a book on "Subterranean Vegetation." The details of business were not to his liking. His own private financial affairs were now turned over to Knuth, his modest fortune resolved into cash and invested in bonds that brought a low rate of interest. Freedom was his passion--to come and go at will was his desire. The thirst for travel was upon him--travel, not for adventure, but for knowledge.
He resigned his office and tramped with knapsack on back across the Alps. The habit of his mind was that of the naturalist-investigator. Geology, botany and zoology were his properties by divine right.
These sciences really form one--geognosy, or the science of the formation of the earth. The plants dissolve and disintegrate the rocks; the animal feeds upon the plants; and animal life makes new forms of vegetation possible. So the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms evolve together, constantly tending toward a greater degree of refinement and complexity.
The very highest form of animal life is man; and the highest type of man is evolved where there is a proper balance between the animal and the vegetable kingdoms.
Humboldt discovered very early in his career that the finest flowers grow where there are the finest birds, and man separated from birds, beasts and flowers could not possibly survive.
Just about this time, Humboldt, taking the cue from Goethe, said: "Man is a product of soil and climate, and is brother to the rocks, trees and animals. He is dependent on these, and all things seem to point to the truth that he has evolved from them. The accounts of special creation are interesting as archeology, but biology is distinctly the business of modern scientists. The scientist tells what he knows, and the theologist what he believes." And again we find Humboldt writing from Switzerland in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-six, making observations that have been recently unconsciously paraphrased by the United States Secretary of Agriculture, who said in a printed report: "Western farmers who raise and sell hogs and cattle, feeding them grain instead of selling it, are sure to acquire a competence. The farmers who sell grain are the ones who do not pay off their mortgages."
"Here on the sides of these towering and forbidding mountains we find the most fertile and beautiful miniature farms, nestling in little valleys or on plateaus.
"Indeed, I heard today of a man falling out of his farm and being seriously injured. He ventured too near the edge.
"These Swiss gardens with their prosperous and intelligent owners are only possible through the fact that the owners keep all the cows and poultry that can comfortably exist on the acres. The peasants sell butter, cheese and eggs, instead of grain and vegetables exclusively.
"They give back to the earth all that they take from it, so in the course of a hundred years a fine soil evolves that supports valuable animals, including valuable men; choice fruit, flowers and birds appear, and we have what we are pleased to call Christian civilization. It is not for me to quibble about terms, but civilization is not necessarily Christian, since it is more a matter of economics and natural science than religion."
Where the climate is fairly propitious, but not so much so but that it compels watchfulness, economy and effort, man will work, and to aid him in his work he utilizes domestic animals. And the very act of domesticating the animal domesticates the man. As man improves the animal, he improves himself. One reason why the American Indian did not progress was because he had neither horses, camels, oxen, swine nor poultry. He had his dog, and the dog is a wolf, and always remains one, in that his intent is on prey. This fitted the mood of the Indian, and he continued to live his predaceous career without a particle of evolution. To stand still is to retreat, and there is evidence that long before the year Fourteen Hundred Ninety-two, there was a North American Indian that was a better Indian than the Indians who watched the approach of Columbus and exclaimed, "Alas! we are discovered!"
In crossing the Alps, Humboldt was impressed with the truth that man was a necessary factor in working out "creation," just as much as the earthworm. When men stir the soil so as to make it produce grain that the family may be fed, and utilize animals in this work, civilization is surely at hand.
Nations with a controlling desire to absorb, annex and exploit are still to that degree savages. Creation is still going on, and this earth is becoming better and more beautiful as men work in line with reason and allow science to become the handmaid of instinct.
Humboldt, above all men, prepared the way for Darwin, Spencer and Tyndall--all of these built on him, all quote him. His books form a mine in which they constantly delved.
Humboldt in boyhood formed the habit of close and accurate observation, and he traveled that he might gratify this controlling impulse of his life--the habit of seeing and knowing. His genius for classification was superb; he approached every subject with an open mind, willing to change his conclusions if it were shown that he was wrong; he had imagination to see the thing first with his inward eye; he had the strength to endure physical discomfort, and finally he had money enough so he was free to follow his bent.
These qualifications made him the prince of scientific travelers--the pioneer of close, accurate and reliable explorers.
* * * * * * *
Before Humboldt's time travelers had been mostly of the type of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, who discovered strange and wondrous things, such as horses with five legs, dogs that could talk, and anthropophagi with heads that grew beneath their shoulders. The temptation to be interesting at the expense of truth has always been strong upon the sailorman. Read even the history of Christopher Columbus and you will hear of islands off the coast of America inhabited exclusively by women who had only one calling-day in a year when their gentlemen friends from a neighboring island came to see them.
The world needed accurate, scientific knowledge concerning those parts of the world seldom visited by man. Travel a hundred years ago was accompanied by great expense and more or less peril. Nations held themselves aloof from one another, and travelers were looked upon as renegades or spies.
Alexander von Humboldt had explored deep mines, climbed high mountains, visited that strange people, the Basques of Spain, got little glimpses into Africa where the jungle was waiting for a Livingstone and a Stanley before giving up its secrets. The Corsican had thrown Europe into a fever of fear, and war was on in every direction, when in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-nine Humboldt ran the blockade and sailed out of the harbor of Coruna, Spain, on the little corvette "Pizarro," bound for the Spanish possessions in the New World. Spain had discovered America in the gross two hundred years before, but what this country really contained in way of possibilities, Spain had most certainly never discovered.
Humboldt's mind had conceived the idea of a Scientific Survey, and in this he was the maker of an epoch. In this undertaking he secured the assistance of the Prime Minister, who secretly issued passports and letters of recommendation to Humboldt, first cautioning him that if the Court of Madrid should know anything about this proposed voyage of discovery it could never be made, so jealous and ignorant were the officials.
Only one thing did Spain have in abundance, and that was religion.
At that time the Spanish Colonies included Louisiana, Florida, Texas, California, Mexico, Cuba, Central America, most of the West Indies, and most of South America, not to mention the Philippines. These colonies covered a territory stretching over five thousand miles from North to South. Twice a year Spain sent out her trading-ships, convoyed by armed cruisers. Trade then was monopoly and extortion. The goods sent out were as cheap and tawdry as could be palmed off; all that were brought back were bartered for at the lowest possible prices.
Cheating in count, weight and quality was then considered perfectly proper, and as the Government officials at home got a goodly grab into all transactions in way of perquisites, all went swimmingly--or fairly so.
For a Spaniard to trade with any other nation was treason, and if caught, his property was confiscated and probably his head forfeited.
No foreigners were allowed in the colonies, and exclusion was the rule. To hold her dependencies Spain thought she must keep them under close subjection; and she seemed beautifully innocent of the fact that she was the dependent, not they. She did not believe in Free Trade.
The Government was absolutely under military rule. Of the botany, zoology, geology, not to mention the topography, of her American possessions, the officials of Spain knew nothing save from the tales of sailors.
Such were the Spanish conditions when Humboldt got himself smuggled on board the "Pizarro," and sailed away, June Fourth, Seventeen Hundred Ninety-nine. With Humboldt was one companion, Bonpland, a Swiss by birth, and a rare soul.
Humboldt was a naturalist and a philosopher; by nature he was a traveler. But he lacked that intrepid quality possessed by, say, Lewis and Clarke.
He had too much brain--too fine a nerve-quality to face the forest alone. Bonpland made good all that he lacked. He used to call Bonpland his "Treasure." And surely such a friend is a treasure, indeed. Bonpland was a linguist, as most of the Swiss are. He was a mountain-climber, and had been a soldier and a sailor, and he knew enough of literature and science, so he was an interesting companion.
He was small in stature, lithe, immensely strong, absolutely fearless, and had left behind him neither family nor friends to mourn his loss. To Humboldt he was guide, teacher, protector and friend. Bonpland was the soul of unselfishness.
Perhaps a certain quality of man attracts a certain quality of friend--I really am not sure. But this I know, that while Alexander von Humboldt had few personal friends, he always had just those which his nature required--his friends were hands, feet, eyes and ears for him, to quote his own words. This voyage on the "Pizarro" occupied five years. The travelers visited Teneriffe, Cuba, Mexico, and skirted the coast of South America, making many little journeys inland.
They climbed mountains that had never been scaled before; they ascended rivers where no white man had ever been, and pushed their way through jungle and forest to visit savage tribes who fled before them in terror thinking they were gods. On the return trip they visited the United States; spent some weeks in Washington, where they were the guests of the President, Thomas Jefferson. A firm friendship sprang up between Humboldt and Jefferson: they were both freethinkers, and when Humboldt recorded in his journal that Jefferson was by far the greatest man living in America, he not only recorded his personal conviction, but he spoke the truth.
And as if not to be outdone, although he did not then know what Humboldt had said of him, Jefferson declared that Alexander von Humboldt was the greatest man he ever saw.
Most of the vast number of rare specimens and natural-history curiosities gathered by Humboldt and Bonpland were placed on a homeward-bound ship that sailed from South America. This ship was lost and all the precious and priceless cargo went for naught. Had Humboldt and his companion sailed on this ship, as they had at first intended, instead of returning by way of the United States, the world would not have known the name of Alexander von Humboldt.
But Fate for once was kind--the world had great need of him.
* * * * * * *
When Humboldt landed at Bordeaux in August, in Eighteen Hundred Four, after his five-year journey, he immediately set out to visit his brother, who was then German Ambassador at Rome. We can imagine that it was a most joyous meeting.
Of it William said: "I could not recognize him for my tears--but beside this he seemed to have grown in stature and was as brown as a Malay. Was he really my brother? Ah, the hand was the hand of Esau, but when he spoke, it was the same kind, gentle, loving voice--the voice of my brother."
A few weeks at Rome and Alexander grew restless for work. He had made great plans about publishing the record of his travels. This work was to outstrip anything in bookmaking the world had ever seen, dealing with similar subjects. The writing was done on shipboard, by campfires, and in forest and jungle, but now it had all to be gone over and revised and much of it translated into French, for the original notes were sometimes in English and sometimes in German. Only in Paris could the work of bookmaking be done that would fill Humboldt's ideals. In Paris were printers, engravers, artists, binders--Paris was then the artistic center of the world, as it is today.
The results of this first great scientific voyage of discovery were written out in a work of seventeen volumes.
It was entitled, "The Travels of Humboldt and Bonpland in the Interior of America." Humboldt wrote the book, but wanted his friend to have half the credit. This superb set of books, containing many engravings, was issued under Humboldt's supervision and almost entirely at his own expense. It was divided into five general parts: Zoology and Comparative Anatomy; Geography and the Distribution of Plants; Political Essays and Description of Peoples and Institutions in the Kingdom of New Spain; Astronomy and Magnetism; Equinoctial Vegetation. It took two years to issue the first volume, but the others then came along more rapidly, yet it was ten years before the last book of the set was published. The total expense of issuing this set of books was more than a million francs, or, to be exact, two hundred twenty-six thousand dollars.
The cost of a set of these books to subscribers was two thousand five hundred fifty dollars, although there were a few sets containing hand-colored plates and original drawings that were valued at twenty thousand dollars. One such set can now be seen at the British Museum. In all, only three hundred sets of these books were issued.
One set at least came to North America, for it was presented to Thomas Jefferson, and, if I am not mistaken, is now in the Congressional Library at Washington.
This American Expedition forever fixed Alexander von Humboldt's place in history, but after it was completed and the record written out, he had still more than half a century to live.
* * * * * * *
At a time when few men could afford the luxury, Alexander von Humboldt was an atheist. Fortunately he had sufficient fortune to place him beyond reach of the bread-and-butter problem, and all of his books were written in the language of the esoteric. He did not serve as an iconoclast for the common people--his name was never on the tongue of rumor--very few, indeed, knew of his existence. His books were issued in deluxe, limited editions, and were for public libraries, the shelves of nobility or rich collectors.
Humboldt was judicial in all of his statements, approaching every question as if nothing were known about it. He built strong, and was preparing the way, such as throwing up ramparts and storing ammunition for the first decisive battle that was to take place between Theology and Science.
In his day Theology was supreme, the practical dictator of human liberties. But a World's Congress of Freethinkers has recently been held in Rome.
There were present more than three thousand delegates, representing every civilized country on the globe. The deliberations of the Congress were held in a hall supplied by the Italian Government, and all courtesies and privileges were tendered the delegates. The only protest came from the Pope, who turned Protestant and in all the Catholic churches in Rome ordered special services, to partially mitigate the blot upon the fair record of the "Holy City." Forty years ago armed men would have routed this Congress by force, and a hundred years ago the bare thought of such a meeting would have placed a person who might have suggested it in imminent peril.
Humboldt prophesied that the world would not forever be ruled by religious superstition--that science must surely win. But he did not expect that the change would come as quickly as it has; neither did he anticipate the fact that the orthodox religion would admit all the facts of science and still flourish. The number of Church communicants now is larger than it was in the time of Humboldt. The Church is a department-store that puts in the particular goods that the people ask for.
Freethinkers do not leave the Church; the Church is built on a Goodyear patent, and its lines expand when Freethinkers get numerous, so as to include them.
The Church would rather countenance vice, as it has in the past, than disband. In New York City we now have the spectacle of the Church operating a saloon and selling strong drink. In all country towns, religion, failing in being attractive, has, to keep churches alive, resorted to raffles, lotteries, concerts, chicken-pie socials, and lectures and exhortations by strange men in curious and unique garb, and singers of reputation.
The Church, being a part of society, evolves as society evolves. Christianity is a totally different thing now from what it was in Humboldt's time; it was a different thing in Humboldt's time from what it was a hundred years before.
Behold the spectacle of a thousand highly educated and gentle men, from all over the world, decorating with garlands the statue of Bruno in Rome, on the site where Churchmen piled high the fagots and burned his living body! I foretell that when the next World's Congress of Freethinkers occurs in Rome, the Pope will welcome the delegates, and their deliberations will occur by invitation in the wide basilica of Saint Peter's. The world moves, and the Pope and all the rest of us move with it.
When a meeting was recently called in Jersey City to welcome Turner, the so-called anarchist, the Mayor forbade the meeting and then placed a cordon of policemen around the intended meeting-place. But, lo, in their extremity the "anarchists" were invited by a clergyman to come and use his church and he led the way to the sacred edifice, warning the police to neither follow nor enter. As we become better we meet better preachers.
Humboldt could see no rift through the clouds outside of the death of the Church and the disbanding of her so-called sacred institutions. We now perceive that very rarely are religious opinions consciously abandoned; they change, are modified and later evolve into something else. Churches are now largely social clubs. In America this is true both of Catholic and of Protestant. Most all denominations are interested in social betterment, because the trend of human thought is in that direction.
The Church is being swept along upon the tide of time. In a few instances churches have already evolved practical industrial betterments, which are conducted directly under the supervision of the church and in its edifice. There are hundreds of Kindergartens now being carried on in church buildings that a few years ago were idle and vacant all the week. Others have sewing-circles and boys' clubs, and these have metamorphosed in some instances into Manual-Training Schools where girls are taught Domestic Science and boys are given instruction in the Handicrafts. I know a church that derives its support from the sale of useful things that are made by its members and workers under the supervision of its pastor, who is a master in handicraft. So this pretty nearly points the ideal--a church that has evolved into an ethical and industrial college, where the pastor is not paid for preaching, but for doing.
Charles Bradlaugh once said:
"A paid priesthood blocks evolution. These men are really educated to uphold and defend the institution. They can do nothing else. Most of them have families dependent upon them--do you wonder that it is a fight to the death? It is not truth that the clergy struggles for--they may think it is--but the grim fact remains, it is a fight for material existence."
We all confuse our interests with the eternal verities--the thing that pays us we consider righteous, or at least justifiable. This is the most natural thing in the world. An artist who painted very bad pictures once took one of his canvases to Whistler for criticism.
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders and made a grimace that spoke volumes. "But a man must live some way!" pleaded the poor fellow in his extremity.
"I do not see the necessity," was the weary reply.
Preachers must live; their education and environment have unfitted them for useful effort; but they are a part of the great, seething struggle for existence. And so we have their piteous and plaintive plea for the obsolete and the outworn. Disraeli once in an incautious moment exclaimed: "If we do away with the Established Church, what is to become of the fourteen million prepared and pickled sermons? Think for a moment of the infinite labor of writing new sermons, all based upon a different point of view--let us then be reasonable and not subject a profession that is overworked to the humiliation of destroying the bulk of its assets."
Science deals directly with the maintenance of human life and the bettering of every condition of existence through a wider, wiser and saner use of the world. Civilization is the working out and comprehending and proving how to live in the best way. Theology prepares men to die; science fits them to live.
Science deals with your welfare in this world; theology in another. Theology has not yet proved that there is another world--its claims are not even based upon hearsay. It is a matter of belief and assumption.
Science, too, assumes, and its assumption is this: The best preparation for a life to come is to live here and now as if there were no life to come.
Your belief will not fix your place in another world--what you are, may. The individual who gets most out of this life is fitting himself to get most out of another if there is one.
And this brings us up to that paragraph in the "Cosmos" where Humboldt says: "I perceive a period when the true priesthood will not be paid to defend a fixed system of so-called crystallized truth. But I believe the time will come when that man will be most revered who bestows most benefits here and now. The clergy of Christendom have stood as leaders of thought, but to hold this proud position they must abandon the intangible and devote themselves to this world and the people who are alive."
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Most of Humboldt's time during his middle life was spent at Paris, where he was busily engaged in the herculean task of issuing his splendid books. He varied his work, however, so that several hours daily were devoted to study and scientific research; and from time to time he made journeys over Europe and Asia.
In Eighteen Hundred Twenty-seven a personal request came from the King of Prussia that Humboldt should thereafter make Berlin his home. He was too big a man for Germany to lose.
He acceded to the King's request, moved to Berlin and was spoken of as "The First Citizen," although he would not consent to hold office, nor would he accept a title.
In vexed questions of diplomacy he was often consulted by the King and his Cabinet, and in a great many ways he furthered the interests of education and civilization by his judicial and timely advice.
He was always a student, always an investigator, always a tireless worker. He lived simply and quietly--keeping out of society and away from crowds, except on the rare occasions when necessity seemed to demand it.
The quality of the man was well mirrored in those magnificent books--all that he did was on the scale of grandeur.
His books were too high in price for the average reader, but on request of the King he consented to give a course of five, free, popular lectures for the people.
No one foresaw the result of these addresses. The course was so successful that it extended itself into sixty-one lectures, and covered a period of more than ten years' time. No admittance was charged, free tickets being given out to applicants. Very soon after the first lecture, a traffic sprang up in these free tickets, carried on by our Semitic friends, and the tickets soared to as high as three dollars each. Then the strong hand of the Government stepped in: the tickets were canceled, and the public was admitted to the lectures without ceremony. Boxes, however, were set apart for royalty and foreign visitors, some of whom came from England, Belgium, Switzerland and France. The size of these audiences was limited simply by the capacity of the auditorium, the attendance at first being about a thousand; later, a larger hall was secured and the attendance ran as high as four thousand persons at each address.
The subjects were as follows: three lectures on the History of Science; two on reasons why we should study Science; four on the Crust of the Earth, and the nature of Volcanoes and Earthquakes; two on the form of Earth's Surface and the elevation of the Continents; five on Physical Geography; five on the nature of Heat and Magnetism; sixteen on Astronomy; two on Mountains and how they are formed; three on the Nature of the Sea; three on the Distribution of Matter; ten on the Atmosphere as an Elastic Fluid; three on the Geography of Animals; three on Races of Men.
Every good thing begins as something else, and what was intended for the common people became scientific lectures for educated people. "The man who was most benefited by these lectures was myself," said Humboldt.
Men grow by doing things. Lectures are for the lecturer.
Humboldt found out more things in giving these lectures than he knew before--he discovered himself. And long before they were completed he knew that his best work was embodied right here--in doing for others he had done for himself.
In attempting to reveal the Universe or "Cosmos," he revealed most of his own comprehensive intelligence. That many of his conclusions have since been abandoned by the scientific world does not prove such ideas valueless--they helped and are helping men to find the truth.
These sixty-one "popular" and free lectures make up that stupendous work now known to us as "Humboldt's Cosmos."
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Says Robert Ingersoll in his tribute to Alexander von Humboldt:
"His life was pure, his aims were lofty, his learning varied and profound, and his achievements vast.
"We honor him because he has ennobled our race, because he has contributed as much as any man, living or dead, to the real prosperity of the world. We honor him because he has honored us--because he has labored for others--because he was the most learned man of the most learned nation of his time--because he left a legacy of glory to every human being. For these reasons he is honored throughout the world.
"Millions are doing homage to his genius at this moment, and millions are pronouncing his name with reverence and recounting what he accomplished.
"We associate the name of Humboldt with oceans, continents, mountains, volcanoes--with towering palms--the snow-lipped craters of the Andes--the wide deserts--with primeval forests and European capitals--with wilderness and universities--with savages and savants--with the lonely rivers of unpeopled wastes--with peaks, pampas, steppes, cliffs and crags--with the progress of the world--with every science known to man and with every star glittering in the immensity of space. Humboldt adopted none of the soul-shrinking creeds of his day; he wasted none of his time in the inanities, stupidities and contradictions of theological metaphysics; he did not endeavor to harmonize the astronomy and geology of a barbarous people with the science of the Nineteenth Century.
"Never, for one moment, did he abandon the sublime standard of truth: he investigated, he studied, he thought, he separated the gold from the dross in the crucible of his brain. He was never found on his knees before the altar of superstition. He stood erect by the tranquil column of Reason. He was an admirer, a lover, an adorer of Nature, and at the age of ninety, bowed by the weight of nearly a century, covered with the insignia of honor, loved by a nation, respected by a world, with kings for his servants, he laid his weary head upon her bosom--upon the bosom of the Universal Mother--and with her loving arms about him, sank into that slumber which we call Death.
"History added another name to the starry scroll of the immortals.
"The world is his monument; upon the eternal granite of her hills he inscribed his name, and there, upon everlasting stone, his genius wrote this, the sublimest of truths: The universe is governed by law."