Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/164

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152
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.


which force radiated on every side, and in which numerous threads ran together.

That was the time when he, sometimes with an essay only a few pages long, created new studies, like that of plant-geography; or by some suggestive medium of graphic representation, such as the isothermal curves, revealed the law hidden in formless masses of single facts. As the whole real world waved before his inner vision, so “swelled before him also the historical flood of floods,” only that he festooned the bare scaffold of civic history with the fruit and flower garlands of the history of civilization, of discovery, and of art. As Uhland composed some of his finest romances in Paris, there likewise originated the “Views of Nature,” Humboldt's favorite work.

While the reminiscences of Jena were thus revived in him, his mind was nevertheless permanently purified from much dross that had clouded it in those days. In the interval that separates Humboldt's labors after the journey to the tropics from the “Experiments on Excited Muscular and Nervous Fibers,” we recognize the influence of his intercourse with the Parisian academicians, of their always careful, frequently exaggeratedly skeptical views. In one point, excelling through the greater depth of German thought, he left his masters behind him. While a kind of shallow vitalism was prevailing in France, Humboldt had long passed the position he had once sustained in the “Rhodian Genius,” and had explained the process of life as a result of the physical and chemical qualities of the matters combined in the organic texture.

It is perhaps less known that Humboldt was a pre-Darwinian Darwinian. He gave me the “Essay on Classification,” sent him by Louis Agassiz, in which, only three years before the appearance of the “Origin of Species,” a book Humboldt did not live to see, the doctrine of periods of creation and teleological views were portrayed with unblunted sharpness, and supported by numerous plausible arguments. Humboldt's expressions on this occasion left me no doubt that he, far from sympathizing with Agassiz's views, was a believer in mechanical causation, and an evolutionist. If we may credit certain Parisian traditions, Humboldt and Cuvier were not on the best footing with each other. Perhaps Humboldt was more inclined toward the doctrines of Lamarck and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.

It is time to consider what had become of German science during this period. It had, in a certain sense, sunk deeper and deeper. Philosophical speculation had won ground at nearly all points, and in nearly all the universities its subtilties were announced as ready wisdom by professional philosophers as well as by naturalists and doctors, and were eagerly taken up by the misguided youth. Goethe's false theories and maxims, supported by his fame as a poet, increased the confusion. The wars of Napoleon did harm to German science, not only by external force, but also through the Christian-romantic reaction