BLTC Press Titles


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The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi


Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


Cyclopaedia of modern travel

by Bayard Taylor

Excerpt:

* Humboldt is a traveled man of science, rather than a traveler. His passion for scientific investigation is, perhaps, even greater than his individual enjoyment of new scenes and new experiences. Hence I have found it difficult to obtain the material for a connected narrative of his travels and explorations. His "Personal Narrative," which was written to supply this want, at the request of his friends, is a rich treasury of information, but contributes comparatively little to the end in view, and does not extend beyond his visit to Cuba, in the year 1801. The remaining portion I have been obliged to construct out of fragmentary descriptions scattered through his other works. Klencke's "Life of Humboldt," on which I have relied for a concise statement of the scientific results of his travels, gives but the merest outline. The following are the principal works consulted: Humboldt's "Personal Narrative;" Humboldt's "Yiews of Nature;" Humboldt's u Vues des Cordilleres;" Humboldt's "New Spain;" Humboldt's "Kleinere Schriften? Humboldt's "Asie CentrcUe;" Rose's "Eeisc nach dem Ural? etc. (Journey to the Ural); Klencke's "Life of Humboldt"

The brothers Humboldt were remarkably fortunate in the influences which surrounded them in early life. The question of educational reform was beginning to engage the attention of scholars and statesmen; the ideas of Rousseau, which had penetrated into Germany, had given rise to more rational and liberal plans for the instruction of youth. The physical development of the scholar received its due share of attention, and the study of natural science was considered of no less importance than that of metaphysics and the classics. The first tutor employed by Major Yon Humboldt for his sons was Campe (afterwards distinguished as a critic and philologist), who had edited a German edition of Robinson Crusoe, and had written several books for children, containing imaginary narratives of travel and adventure. It is very probable that these books, and the conversation of their author, first excited the passion for travel in the mind of his youngest pupil. By him, and the tutors who succeeded him, the boys were carefully instructed according to their years, without doing violence to the individual bent of their natures. They were allowed to pursue different paths of study, aiding and illustrating each other's progress by the mutual communication and discussion of what they had learned. Alexander soon began to show his inclination for the study of nature. In his eleventh year he received lessons in botany, and thenceforth devoted himself with ardor to that and kindred sciences. It was noticed, however, that his mind was slow to retain what was taught him; his body was weak, and not until late in boyhood, after he had become more robust and vigorous, did he awake to a full consciousness of his powers.

In the year 1786, the brothers entered the University of Frankforton-the-Oder, where they remained two years, and were then transferred to that of Gottingen. Here Alexander, now in his nineteenth year, made the acquaintance of Blumenbach, the celebrated natural historian, and of George Forster, who, as naturalist, had accompanied Cook in his voyage around the globe. Through the friendship of the latter, his longing for exploration and scientific discovery was confirmed and strengthened; and he acquired that love of civil liberty, those humane and progressive ideas, which have made him, while the friend of monarchs, the most liberal of citizens. Of the admiration which he felt for Forster, we have ample testimony in the second volume of " Cosmos," where he pays an eloquent tribute to his genius. "All that can give truth, individuality, and distinctiveness to the delineation of exotic nature, is united in his works."

The brothers completed their studies in 1789. While Wilhelm, whose talents fitted him for political life, paid a visit to Paris, Alexander, in company with Forster, made his first scientific journey to the Rhine, through Holland, and to England in the spring of 1790; and this first experience became the subject of his first literary production. It appeared in the same year, under the title of "Mineralogical Observations on some Basaltic Formations of the Rhine." After studying ! PLANS HIS AMERICAN JOURNEY. 21

book-keeping in a commercial institute in Hamburg, he removed to Freiburg, and became a student in the mining academy, where he remained until the spring of 1792, when he received the appointment of superintendent of mines in Franconia, an office which he held for the three following years. During this time he zealously prosecuted his i mineralogical and botanical studies, and made various experiments on the physical and chemical laws of metallurgy. His mind, however, was unsatisfied with his position; he was looking forward with impatience to the opportunity of prosecuting his investigations in broader and fresher fields, and the plan of his great American journey, which appears to have been first made during his intimacy with Forster, prej sented itself constantly to his imagination. In order to prepare himself j for an undertaking of such magnitude, he made several visits to Switzerland and the mountains of Silesia, besides an official journey into j Prussian Poland. Thenceforth, this vision of transatlantic travel and i exploration became the ruling aim of his life. He thus refers to it in | the opening chapter of his "Personal Narrative :"—" From my earliest i youth, I felt an ardent desire to travel into distant regions, seldom i visited by Europeans. This desire is characteristic of a period of our | existence when life appears an unlimited horizon, and when we find an ! irresistible attraction in the impetuous agitation of the mind, and the I image of positive danger. Though educated in a country which has no ; direct communication with either the East or the West Indies, living ; amid mountains remote from coasts, and celebrated for their numerous ! mines, I felt an increasing passion for the sea and distant expeditions. ! Objects with which we are acquainted only by the animated narratives ! of travelers have a peculiar charm; imagination wanders with delight j over that which is vague and undefined; and the pleasures we are de'prived of seem to possess a fascinating power, compared with which, all ! we daily feel in the narrow circle of sedentary life appears insipid." | Resigning his office in 1795, Humboldt visited Vienna, where he associated himself with the celebrated Freiesleben, and resumed the study of botany. He also occupied himself with galvanism, then just discovered, and planned a visit to the volcanic districts of Naples and Sicily, which he was unable to carry out, on account of the war. The death of his mother, and the disposition of the paternal estates, now called him away from his studies, and it was not until 1797 that he was able to make serious preparations for his American journey. In order to supply himself with ample means, he sold the large estate which he | had inherited, and set aside the greater part of the proceeds for that | object. But he was yet to encounter delays and obstacles, which would ! have exhausted the patience of a less enthusiastic person. The brothers had long talked of a journey to Italy in company, and it was decided to carry out this plan prior to Alexander's departure, but, on reaching Vienna, their progress was stopped by the war between France and Austria. Alexander spent the winter of 1797-8 in Salzburg, where he met with a gentleman who had visited Illyria and Greece, and who was I ardently desirous of making a journey to Egypt. The two enthusiasts j J matured a plan of ascending the Nile as far as the Nubian frontier, to j be followed by an exploration of Palestine and Syria; but the political \ aspects of Europe at this time prevented them from carrying it into j effect. In the spring, Humboldt, hearing that the French government j was fitting out an exploring expedition, to be dispatched to the southern! hemisphere, under the command of Captain Baudin, hastened to Paris, I j whither his brother had proceeded, after the peace of Campo Formio. 1 | Here he first met with M. Aime Bonpland, his future companion in I South America, who had been appointed one of the naturalists of the ! expedition. They entered together on a course of prejDaratory study, while Humboldt, at the same time, united with the celebrated Gay- j Lussac, in making experiments to determine the composition of the at- j mosphere. In addition to these labors, he found time to study the Arabic j language. His intellectual activity appears to have been truly remarkable, and there was scarcely any branch of knowledge, which could even j remotely increase his qualifications for the great task before him, of! which he did not make himself master. i


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