Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/160

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148
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.


younger than Goethe by twenty, than Schiller by ten years, and yet welcomed by both as if he were their peer in age.

He figured as the friend of Willdenow, Georg Forster, and Leopold von Buch, as the pupil of Blumenbach, Lichtenberg, and Werner, already known by minor writings in which his industrious manysidedness had early displayed itself, already a much-traveled man according to the ideas of the day, and, although of independent means, a servant of the state, on the way to the highest honors. In what was he not interested, and what did he not take up? Ancient weaving, subterranean flora, basalt, meteorological phenomena, the theory of logarithms, had engaged him; but, when it was worth while, he knew how to concentrate his strength upon a single point. Galvani's discovery had recently stirred naturalists and physicians to effort. “In the fall of 1792, having become acquainted with it in Vienna, Humboldt, traversing Germany in every direction as a miner, physicist, and botanist, ‘wandering upon desolate and remote mountains where he was sometimes cut off from all literary intercourse,’ already revolving the plan of his tropical journey in his head, had still found time to make thousands of most delicate experiments. Even on horseback, besides hammer, glass, and compass, he was never without ‘his galvanic apparatus, a pair of metal rods, pincers, a glass stand and an anatomical knife,’ and the curse which the Bolognan anatomist had invoked upon the poor race of batrachians overtook them under Humboldt's hand, even in places in which they had previously been secure from it.” Now he had talked with Alessandro Volta, in his villa on the Lake of Como, of the crucial experiment in animal electricity, Galvani's convulsion without metals, and was preparing to collect the results of his investigations in the book on “Excited Muscular and Nervous Fibers.” He must confirm his own researches with experiments on frogs' legs, and he opportunely called not only his brother, but also “Herr von Goethe,” to be his witnesses.

Among the various individualities which were united in him into a complicated whole, and which we meet in analyzing this being, is first of all an artist. The “Rhodian Genius,” the “Views of Nature,” the address at the opening of the assembly of naturalists, are art-works. That work of Humboldt's which, like Goethe's “Faust,” contemplated from youth, was completed with an astonishing energy only in an advanced old age, may certainly claim to be an artist's production. We shall for the present leave unanswered the question of the utility of this kind of mingling of the poetic element with the scientific, in which we may recognize a return to the models of Plato and Lucretius. Aside from his native propensity, Humboldt was led toward it by the æsthetic manner of thinking then prevailing in Germany, which had become a second nature to him, and especially by his intercourse with our great poets. It must not, however, be forgotten that something of the same kind had been observed a little while before in France. Buffon's