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LITTELL'S LIVING AGE.-No. 198.-26 FEBRUARY, 1848.
From the Edinburgh Review.
such flights as impracticable. Yet to spring a Kosmos, Entwurf einer Physischen Weltheschrei- little way aloft-to carol for a while in bright and bung, Von ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT. Ersten Band, Stuttgart und Tübingen. J. G. Coita"- sunny regions—to open out around us, at all events,
views commensurate with our extent of vision to scher Verlag, 1845. Cosmos. Sketch of a Physical Description of the rise to the level of our strength, and, if we must
Universe. By ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT, vol. sink again, to sink, not exhausted but exercised -
above them into empyrean day. Kosmos, the adornment, the orderly arrange- To some it is given to soar with steadier wing ment, the ideal beauty, harmony, and grace, of the and more sustained energy; to sweep over ampler universe! Is there or is there not in the mind of circles and treasure up the impressions of more man a conception answering to these magnificent, varied imagery. To such the ambitious but subthese magical words? Is their sound an empty lime idea may occur of attempting to throw off, clang, a hollow ringing in our ears, or does it stir in broad and burning outline, a picture of The up in the depths of our inward being a sentiment WHOLE as it has presented itself to their aspiring of something interwoven in our nature of which we conceptions. Far be it from us to reprove such cannot divest ourselves, and which thrills within aspirations. Their failures may yet be immeasurus as in answer to a spell whispering more than ably grander than our best successes; and, as we words can interpret? Is this wondrous world of contemplate them, a glimpse, a shadow, may immatter and of thought, of object and of subject, of press itself which may aid us to remodel our own blind force and of moral relation, a one indivisible conceptions according to a higher ideal than any and complete whole, or a mere fragmentary assem- we could have formed from our more limited opblage of parts, having to each other no inherent portunities. Such outlines, struck with a bold primordial relations? If the former, contradiction hand and true to nature, though confessedly imperand ultimate discordance can have no place. All fect and partial, suggest in their turn, to imaginathat is to us enigmatical must have its solution, tive intellects, groupings and combinations of a however hidden for a while the word which re- more recondite and deep-seated order.
Transsolves the riddle. All that shocks us as irrecon- planted onward, thus, in progressive development cilable, must admit of satisfactory interpretation from observer to observer, and from mind to mind, could we read the character of the writing with with a constant reference to nature and experience ease and fluency. If the latter, Chaos is a reality, as their prototype, it is easy to see how, while Polytheism a truth; since arbitrary, self-existent, gaining in comprehensiveness, they may lose at and independent powers must, on that view of the every transfusion somewhat of their specialty, withsubject, agitate, without end and without hope of out a corresponding loss of general truth; and how final prevalence, the field of being.
thus, a larger and more entire conception of nature It is something to have put the question in this in itself may by degrees arise, and come to be form, uncomplicated with the idea of responsibility recognized as the common property of humanity, for its answer to any tribunal but that of the pure the permanent and ennobling inheritance of generareason and the inborn feeling. So put, we might tion after generation to the end of time. well leave it to be decided by the acclamation of The difficulties to be encountered in such an the human race, were it not for the healthful and attempt are of two opposite kinds ; on the one invigorating exercise of our faculties, and the rich hand that of embracing with distinctness and truth enjoyment it affords to pass before us in review a sufficiently extensive view, on the other that of those grand features in the constitution of the frame duly suppressing detail. Such a view of nature, of nature which render the conclusion irresistible, to be in any way successful, ought to be, in the and invest it with the character of a demonstrated highest possible sense of the word, picturesque, truth rather than that of an admitted opinion. nothing standing in relation to itself alone, but all
It is true that to grasp, as by a single mental to the general effect. In such a picture every effort—to embody and realize to our conceptions object is suggestive. However beautiful in itself, the UNITY OF NATURE—to soar so high as to per- it is less for the sake of its intrinsic beauty than ceive its completeness, and enjoy the fulness of its for that of the associations it calls up, and the lights harmony, is given neither to Man nor to Angel. which it reflects from afar, that it holds a place as The feebleness and limitation of our faculties re- an element of the work. And, as in art, intense press such longings as presumptuous, and forbid and elaborated beauty in any particular defeats
picturesqueness by binding down the thought to a memory in its simplest and most impressive forms. sensible object, annulling association, and saturat- To these must be added a knowledge of man and ing, as it were, the whole being in its single per- of his history in all its phases, social and political ; ception ; so, in throwing off such a picture of a ready insight into human character and feelings, nature as the mind can take in at a view, no one and a quick apprehension of local and national portion can be suffered to appear in single com- peculiarities. Above all things is necessary a pleteness and ideal rotundity. Nature, indeed, genial and kindly temperament, which exciles no offers all in her profusion, and complete in all its enmities, but on the contrary finds or makes friends details ; and the contemplative mind finds among everywhere; in presence of which hearts open, them paths for all its wanderings, harmonies for information is volunteered, and aid spontaneously all its moods. But such exuberance is neither offered. No man in the ranks of science is more attainable nor to be aimed at in a descriptive out- distinguished for this last characteristic than Baron line, where leading features only have to be seized, Von Humboldt. We believe that he has not an which imagination is stimulated to fill up by the enemy. His justice, candor, and moderation, have grandeur of the forms, and the intelligible order preserved him intact in all the vexatious questions of their grouping.
of priority and precedence which agitate and harass The origin and fount of all good writing, how- the scientific world ; and have in consequence afever, is sound and abundant knowledge. To the forded him innumerable opportunities of promoting successful execution of such a work, a thoroughly the objects and befriending the cultivators of science, scientific acquaintance with each component feat- which would never have fallen in the way of a less ure; a mind saturated with information, and at conciliatory disposition, and of which he has not home in every department, is above all things requi- been slow to avail himself. The respect of Eusite. The classifications of the naturalist, the rope, indeed, has gone along with him to a point surveys of the geologist, the catalogues and de- which has almost rendered his recommendations scriptions of the astronomer, the theories of the rules. It has sufficed that Von Humboldt has geometer, and the inductions of the experimentalist, pointed out lines of useful and available inquiry, must all be alike familiar, and not merely ready at to make every one eager to enter upon them. a call, but present to the thought at every instant. The idea of a physical description of the uniIt is, therefore, by no simply clever writer, by verse, as a work to be accomplished, and an object, no mere man of vivid imagination and Auent com- to amass materials for which during a whole lifemand of language and imagery-least of all, by time, would be a worthy and satisfactory devotion any ideal speculatist who may have devised a sys- of it, had, it appears, been present to his mind from tem of philosophy spun from the abstractions of a very early epoch. For almost half a century, his own brain, and resolving all things into some indeed, it had occupied his thoughts. At length, single principle, some formula embodying all pos- in the evening of life, he felt himself rich enough sible knowledge, that such a work can be entered in the accumulations of thonght, travel, reading, upon without the certainty of utter and disgrace- and experimental research, to reduce into form and ful failure. The highest attainments in science, reality the undefined vision which had so long though necessarily inadequate to complete success floated before him. Not entirely, however, within such an attempt, can alone save the adventurous out some preliminary trial of strength. A course mortal who shall make it from merited reproach of lectures, as he informs us, had been delivered on the score of presumption.
by him, both in Berlin and Paris, on the subject, The author of the remarkable book before us is about the end of 1827, previous to his departure assuredly the person in all Europe best fitted to for Northern Asia, a journey for which he had undertake and accomplish such a work. Science prepared himself by a course of study without has produced no man of more rich and varied at- example in the history of travel. On his return, tainments, more versatile in genius, more indefat- after giving to the world the results of that jourigable in application to all kinds of learning, more ney, or rather the epitome of all the knowledge energetic in action, or more ardent in inquiry; and acquired by himself and by former travellers on the we may add, more entirely devoted to her cause physical geography of Northern and Central Asia, in every period of a long life. At every epoch af in a work which would alone have sufficed to form that life, from a comparatively early age, he has a reputation of the highest rank; he resolved no been constantly before the public, realizing the longer to defer this realization of his early aspiraideal conception of a perfect traveller ; a character tions, and the result has been the work of which which calls for almost as great a variety of excel the volume now before us is only a comniencelencies as those which go to realize Cicero's idea ment. of a perfect orator. To such an one science in all Though we cannot blame an arrangement which its branches must be familiar, since questions of brings any portion of the fruits of M. de Humscience and its applications occur at every step, boldt's labors earlier before us, though aware of and often in their most delicate and recondite forms. the hazard which passing years entail on the ultiThe habit of close attention to passing facts, which mate appearance of a work of great extent deferred seizes their specific features, and detects their hid- already so long; and though only too glad to den analogies, must join with the broad coup d'æil receive by instalments, at the convenience of the which generalizes all it sees, and stereotypes it in author, the payment of a self-imposed debt of such
magnitude and value, yet we cannot but consider coöperating in all that presents itself to our obserthe publication of the three volumes, of which it is vation ; and lastly, to notice the specialties of the understood the whole will consist, separately and several branches of science, of which the mutual at long intervals, as in many respects unfortunate.connection is indicated in the general view of nature Although it is now nearly four years since the in the present volumes." work was completed, the second volume is only A large portion (nearly one fifth of the text) of just on the eve of publication, and the third may the volume before us, is occupied with an intropossibly be yet longer delayed. Yet no work ductory exposition of the various kinds or gradacould have been undertaken, in which it would tions of enjoyment afforded by the contemplation appear so needful that the impression produced be of nature and the investigation of her laws, and one and undivided, the unity salient and conspicu- with an essay on the limitation and methodical
That the contrary course, though perhaps treatment of a physical description of the universe unavoidable, has been pursued, renders the task considered as a separate and independent science of duly appreciating and correctly criticising it –“the science of the Kosmos.” The mere doubly difficult ; since it is impossible to say to aspect of nature, as has been often and well what extent, and in what manner many things, observed, is a source of positive and high enjoywhich appear in the light of omissions in the first ment; and exercises, even on rude minds, and portions of such a performance, may be supplied under the sway of wild passions, if only suffered in the sequel; or how differently the philosophy to claim attention at all, a calming and elevating of the whole subject may come to be judged as influence. In all her scenes,
" there is every presented by the author on a complete and on a where revealed to the mind an impression of the partial view of his entire meaning. This would existence of comprehensive and permanent laws have been less the case, and the probability of governing the phenomena of the universe;" before doing injustice to the author's philosophical views the idea of whose vastness and regularity the greatly diminished, had the general plan of the turbulence of human passion feels itself reproved whole work been chalked out with more precision and shrinks abashed. Whatever be the peculiar in the introductory portion, and the nature of the inherent or temporary character of the scene concontents of the subsequent volumes indicated in templated—even in her most agitated moods—this somewhat less vague and general terms than we sense of the regulated and the imperturbable is find them actually to be. And the necessity for never wholly effaced. We know that the storm thus holding a reserve on our judgments in this will rage itself to rest, the angry billows subside, respect, while considering that portion of the work the earthquake roll away, and that holy calm which which we possess, is the more imperatively pressed is her habitual mood be restored as if it had never upon us, inasmuch as the scope of the proposed been broken. “ That which is grave and solemn third volume, as we understand it, seems to us by in such impressions is derived from the presentifar the most important in its philosophical bear-ment of order and of law, unconsciously awakened ings, and as that by which the character of the by the simple contact with external nature ; it is whole as a great philosophical work will of neces- derived from the contrast of the narrow limits of sity come to be finally judged.
our being with that image of infinity which everySuch, however, we are aware, is not exactly M. where reveals itself—in the starry heavens, in the de Humboldt's own impression. He must here be boundless plain, or in the indistinct horizon of the allowed to speak for himself : “ The first volume," ocean." he says, "contains a general view of nature, from Enjoyment of a different, and, in some respects, the remotest nebulæ and revolving double stars, to of a richer, because of a less overwhelming and the terrestrial phenomena of the geographical dis- more exciting kind, is that which depends on the tribution of plants, of animals, and of races of men ; peculiar physiognomy of natural scenes.
Harmopreceded by some preliminary considerations on the nizing, like music, with internal trains of thought different degrees of enjoyment offered by the study and imagination, and with every conceivable state of nature and the knowledge of her laws; and on of mind, they awaken of themselves, as soon as the limits and method of a scientific exposition of presented, sentiments congenial to them, and lead the physical description of the universe. I regard the spirit, by strong associative links, through this as the most important and essential portion of every phase of feeling. The barren monotony of my undertaking, as manifesting the intimate con-one region, the varied fertility of another, the nection of the general with the special, and as gloomy and romantic horrors of a third—the peaceexemplifying, in form and style of composition, and ful dwelling rising by the torrent's side-the misty in the selection of results taken from the mass of region, where the mule seeks his track amid eterour experimental knowledge, the spirit of the nal snows—the tropical night, “ when the stars, method in which I have proposed to myself to con- not sparkling as in our climates, but shining with duct the whole work. In the two succeeding vol- a steady beam, shed on the gently heaving ocean umes I design to consider some of the particular a mild and planetary radiance”- the deep and incitements to the study of nature—to treat of the doubly wood-clothed valleys of the Cordillerashistory of the contemplation of the physical uni- the volcanic peak cleaving the clouds, from a base verse, or the gradual development of the idea of of vineyarded slopes and orange-groves washed by the concurrent action of natural forces, (Kräfte,) a tropical sea—th : dense forest, of giant and pri
meval growth, swarming with every form of veg- But it is to the instructed only that the contemetable and animal life, now resounding to savage plation of nature affords its full enjoyment, in the yells, and now to the thunder-clap, extinguishing development of her laws, and in the unveiling of and crushing down all other sound—these and a those hidden powers which work beneath the surthousand other combinations find each its response face of things, and which, operating as physical in some train of human emotions and affections, causes, lead back the mind in the chain of causawhich, like the lyre of Timotheus, they by turns tion, through the phenomena of organized life, excite and soothe.
powers of a higher order ; which, connecting themAs the poetical enjoyment of nature springs out selves with the idea of Will, involve the concepof this its endless variety, so, on the other hand, tion of Intelligence, from which we are necessarily the unity of plan, which even uncultivated minds led to infer Design, and from Design find ourselves fail not to recognize amid so much diversity, calls forced on the conclusion of Motive. It is thus, and forth the latent germ of the philosophic spirit. thus only, that the contemplation of nature can be When
said to lead us up, by legitimate induction, to its
Author-to so much of his character, at least, as "_far from our native country, after a long sea he has thought fit to reveal to us through his voyage, we tread for the first time the lands of the works. But, that it may do so, we must educate trepics, we experience an impression of agreeable surprise in recognizing, in the cliffs and rocks our perceptions by practice and habit, till we learn around, the same forms and substances, similar to disregard specialties, whether of objects or inclined strata of schistose rocks, the same columnar laws, and see rather their relations and connections, basalts which we had left in Europe ; this identity, their places in a system, their fulfilment of a purin latitudes so different, reminds us that the solidi- pose, their adaptation to an interminable series fication of the crust of the earth has been indepen- of intersubservient ends. And this we must endent of the differences of climate. But these schists deavor to do without losing sight of the objects and these basalts are covered with vegetable forms of new and strange aspect. Amid the luxuriance themselves, which come at length to stand in of this exotic fora, surrounded by colossal forms of intellectual relation to these more spiritualized connew and unfamiliar grandeur and beauty, we ex- ceptions, as the notion of substance does to that perience (thanks to the marvellous flexibility of our of quality in some of our older metaphysical theonature) how easily the mind opens to the combina- ries—as that substratum of being in which such tion of impressions connected with each other by conceptions inhere, and which serves to bind them unperceived links of secret analogy. The imagination recognizes in these strange forms nobler together, give them a body, and coerce them from developments of those which surrounded our child-becoming altogether vague and imaginary. And, hood ; the colonist loves to give to the plants of his moreover, we must be careful to raise up no selfnew home names borrowed from his native land; created phantasms of our own minds, interposing and these strong untaught impressions lead, how- an impassable barrier to further progress, and cutever vaguely, to the same end as that laborious and ting off the chain of connection by a stern ne plus extended comparison of facts, by which the philos- ultra. As the distinction drawn in the Aristoteopher arrives at an intimate persuasion of one indis; lian Philosophy between celestial and terrestrial soluble chain of affinity binding together all nature." motions operated for ages to cut off the possibility
One word on this last sentence :-Is it really of arriving at any just views of the planetary systrue, that the uninstructed mind of man, thus tem, so it is perfectly conceivable that, by gratuiturned loose upon nature, does spring, as a matter tous assumptions of another kind, we may wilfully of course, to just conclusions ? Are his homely sever ourselves from the possible attainment of analogies always apposite ? his extempore classifi- knowledge of a far higher order. Against certain cations correct ? his rude inductions legitimate ? notions of this description, which have obtained, or If so, what need of study and research? How is may be obtaining, currency; and others which, it, then, that we are to understand what is here without being expressed in words, appear to be intimated, and is there any sense in which it can extensively, though tacitly, received in science, we be received as true? No doubt there is so. There consider it worth while to enter our protest :are truths so large, so general, so all-pervading, The first is, “ that ancient belief, that the that they make a part of all our experience, mix forces inherent in matter, and those which regulate with our whole intellectual being, and imbue all the moral world, exert their action under the govour judgments, erroneous as well as correct; in ernment of a primordial necessity, and in recurring this sense, at least, that we never err so far as to courses of greater or less period. It is this necesplace ourselves in conscious opposition to them. sity, this occult but permanent connection, this Distorted and perverted as such truths may be in periodical recurrence in the progressive develop their enunciation, by their mixture with extraneous ment of forms, of phenomena and of events, which error, we find them still outstanding, redeeming by constitute nature, obedient to the first imparted their presence, and even consecrating, that error, impulse of the Creator. Physical science, as its by placing themselves in prominent and ostenta- name imports, limits itself to the explanation of the tious union with its dogmas. No absurdity would phenomena of the material world by the properties ever obtain a moment's credence, but for the pres- of matter. All beyond this belongs, not to the ence in it of some saving particle of one of these domain of the physics of the universe, but to a great natural truths.
higher class of ideas. The discovery of laws, and their progressive generalizations, are the objects of Jof them; and secondly, the successive quasi-unduthe experimental sciences.” (Transl. p. 33.) latory propagation of qualities—powers of affecting
The frame of nature, moral as well as physical, either the senses or material bodies by something according to this idea, is a piece of mechanism, different from mechanical impulse. It is perfectly which wound up and set going, has been aban- true, that on the properties of matter only we must doned to itself, to evolve its changes in variously rely for the explanation of physical phenomena. superposed periods, without choice or option, But we conceive that those properties are only just according to the combinations of an occult wheel- beginning to become known to us, that we shall work. If, indeed, there were no such phenome- have to reject some which have been assumed as non as will; if we were conscious of being thus unquestionable, and that it is by no means improbblindly hurried along by the uncontrollable swing able that science will ere long make us familiar of the system of which we form a part, at every with others, calculated to stretch to the utmost our moment and in every action, such a system might conception of material existence. Entertaining be tenable. Periods of unknown length, super- this expectation, we must here, once for all, posed according to no discoverable law, lose their observe, that the continual use of the word forces character of periodicity to the eye of the observer; in the work before us, in such phrases as “the and periods of event, apart from the notion of the forces of nature"-" the concurrent action of natmeasurement of time, similarly superposed, resolve ural forces”-grates with something approaching themselves, so far as observation is concerned, into to a painful harshness on our ears. We should that imperfect and inadequate idea of causation be inclined to substitute for it, wherever it occurs, which considers it as simply a determinate rule of the expression “physical powers," a sense which sequence. But Will, admitted into any part of the German Kräfte might bear, we think, without such a system, destroys the whole of it. The violence. blind, unintelligent portions of the mechanism must A third dogma, which has of late been placed be invested with the power, and be urged by the in prominence, much, as we conceive, to the detrinecessity of conforming themselves to that will, as ment of sound philosophy, is that of the so-called, to the original impulse which set the whole in or rather miscalled, positive philosophy an extravmotion; and how are we then to distinguish agant and morphological transformation of that between those evolutions which result from a will rational empiricism, which professes to take expoof which we are conscious, and those which, for rience for its basis ; resulting from insisting on the aught we know, may be continually resulting from prerogatives of experience in reference to external a will continually in action, though concealed from phenomena, and ignoring them in relation to the our knowledge and perception?
movements and tendencies of our intellectual nature: Another notion, equally destitute, in our eyes, -a philosophy which, if it do not repudiate altoof positive foundation, but much more likely than gether the idea of causation, goes far, at least, to the former to act prejudicially in limiting the pro- put it out of view, and with it, everything which gress even of physical knowledge, is the assump- can be called explanation of natural phenomena, tion, as old as Aristotle, that all the phenomena of by the undue predominance assigned to the idea of nature are referable to motions performed in obedi- law :- which rejects as not merely difficult, not ence to what we are in the habit of calling mechan- even simply hopeless, but as utterly absurd, unical laws; that, in other words, there is no such philosophical, and derogatory, all attempt to renthing as qualitative change unaccompanied by der any rational account of those abstract equationchange of place-no causation at work other than like propositions, in which it delights to embody mechanical push and pull. It is high time, we the results of experience, other than their inclusion think, that this assumption should be formally in some more general proposition of the same kind. called in question. We are disposed to believe Entirely persuaded that, in physics, at least, the that science has outgrown it. At the same time, inquiry into causes is philosophy; that nothing we are quite aware into what a licentious career else is so; and that the chain of causation upwards of wild speculation the mind is ready to rush on is broken by no solution of continuity, constituting the removal of such a limitation ; what extrava- a gulph absolutely impassable to human faculties, gant theories we must expect to see broached, and if duly prepared by familiarity with the previous what confusion of ideas, nay, what positive char- links; we are far from regarding the whole office latanries, we must be prepared to encounter, before of experimental philosophy as satisfactorily exany clear and definite conception can emerge from pressed, by declaring it to consist in the discovery the mass of images which crowd upon us on the and generalization of laws. There are two ways suggestion of such a change of ground. We may of expressing every law of nature-one which indicate, however, one or two, which may perhaps does, the other which does not, bear reference to carry with them some degree of distinctness, viz., the cause, which lies at the root of the phenomfirst, the intension, remission, or creation of enon. It is something distinct from, and more mechanical force dependent on the presence or than a mere generalization of law, which refers the absence of agents, such as electricity and heat, of planetary motions to Force as a Cause of motion. whose materiality, in the usual sense of the word, No acuteness would ever have sufficed to conclude we have no proof, seeing that inertia (at least, in the laws of perturbation from those of elliptic mothe case of heat) forms no part of our conception tion, and to detect a new planet by the mere