1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ritter, Karl

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RITTER, KARL (1779-1859), German geographer, was born at Quedlinburg on the 7th of August 1779, and died in Berlin on the 28th of September 1859. His father, a physician, left his family in straitened circumstances, and Karl was received into the Schnepfenthal institution then just founded by Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1744-1811) for the purpose of testing his educational theories. The Salzmann system was practically that of Rousseau; conformity to natural law and enlightenment were its watchwords; great attention was given to practical life; and the modern languages were carefully taught, to the complete exclusion of Latin and Greek. Ritter already showed geographical aptitude, and when his schooldays were drawing to a close his future course was determined by an introduction to Bethmann Hollweg, a banker in Frankfort. It was arranged that Ritter should become tutor to Hollweg's children, but that in the meantime he should attend the university at his patron's expense. His duties as tutor in the Hollweg family began at Frankfort in 1798 and continued for fifteen years. The years 1814-19, which he spent at Göttingen in order still to watch over the welfare of his pupils, were those in which he began to devote himself exclusively to geographical inquiries. He had already travelled extensively in Europe when in 1817-18 he brought out his first masterpiece, Die Erdkunde im Verhältnis zur Natur und zur Geschichte des Menschen (Berlin, 2 vols., 1817-1818). In 1819 he became professor of history at Frankfort, and in 1820 professor extraordinarius of history at Berlin, where shortly afterwards he began also to lecture at the military college. He remained in this position till his death. The second edition of his Erdkunde (1822-58) was conceived on a much larger scale than the first, but he completed only the sections on Africa and the various countries of Asia. The service rendered to geography by Ritter was especially notable because he brought to his work a new conception of the subject. Geography was, to use his own expression, a kind of physiology and comparative anatomy of the earth: rivers, mountains, glaciers, &c., were so many distinct organs, each with its own appropriate functions; and, as his physical frame is the basis of the man, determinative to a large extent of his life, so the structure of each country is a leading element in the historic progress of the nation. Moreover, Ritter was a scientific compiler of the first rank. Among his minor works may be mentioned Vorhalle europäischer Völkergeschichten vor Herodot (Berlin, 1820); Die Stupas . . . an der indobaktrischen Königsstrasse und die Kolosse von Bamiyan (1838); Einleitung zur allgemeinen vergleichenden Geographie (Berlin, 1852); “Bemerkungen über Veranschaulichungsmittel räumlicher Verhältnisse bei graphischen Darstellungen durch Form u. Zahl,” in the Trans. of the Berlin Academy, 1828. After his death selections from his lectures were published under the titles Geschichte der Erdkunde (1861), Allgemeine Erdkunde (1862), and Europa (1863). Several of his works (e.g. the “Palestine” volumes of his Erdkunde) were translated into English. “Karl Ritter” foundations were established in his memory at Berlin and Leipzig, for the furtherance of geographical study.

See G. Kramer, Karl Ritter, ein Lebensbild (Halle, 1864 and 1870; 2nd ed., 1875); W. L. Gage, The Life of Karl Ritter (London, 1867); F. Marthe, “Was bedeutet Karl Ritter für die Geographie,” in Zeitsch. der Ges. f. Erdk. (Berlin, 1879). All Ritter's works mentioned above were published at Berlin.