Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/168

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156
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.


ous visits, notes, and letters, as well as to days and nights of continuous observations of magnetic terms; and, finally, a grace in intercourse that disarmed all contradiction — all of these things together made him a real power; and how frequently did he use his power for the good of this university!

At that time, when the limited means of the state made it harder to raise a couple of hundred thalers for scientific purposes than as many thousand marks now, no emergency arose for which Humboldt did not obtain the needed means by his personal intercession; and as now the Academy of Sciences will on satisfactory assurances advance money to young men engaged in merely prospective scientific enterprises, so was Humboldt then the earthly providence of all students. What matter is it that his zeal was sometimes mistaken, and that among the number of those to whom he opened the way was now and then one who came short of fulfilling the hopes set upon him? Even academicians are not infallible in the choice of their protégés. If he had a preference for travelers, for his own specialty, did he not also let his sun shine on philologists as well as on naturalists? Who would examine as with a psychological lens the secret motives that impelled him to such touching sacrifices for things quite remote from him? Of course, Humboldt had the faults of his virtues. Ambition is the source of all greatness, but it is hard to draw the line that separates it from vanity. Humboldt used his sharp tongue and pen not only as weapons of defense, but he frequently gave them freer license than was perhaps good. But what signifies the dread that some felt of his criticisms, in the face of such testimony as that of August Boeckh, that he never came away from Humboldt's presence without feeling exalted and inspired with new love for all that is good and noble? There is one other example of a personality which, like Humboldt's, reached such power by pure intellectual force that peoples on both sides of the great sea waited for his words, and kings listened to him: this was Voltaire, in the eighteenth century. The two men, notwithstanding the deep-reaching differences between them, afford many points of resemblance. Both were born in a capital — Voltaire in Paris, Humboldt in Berlin; Voltaire reaching out of the “grand century” into a new period which he had helped to introduce; Humboldt from the classical period of our literature to a new scientific period that had been partly prepared for by him; in both a poet was paired with a naturalist, but the poet predominating in Voltaire, the naturalist in Humboldt; both disappearing from the scene for a period in youth, Voltaire to return after his study-travel to England, Humboldt from his tropical journey, with great acquisitions; Voltaire afterward in Berlin, Humboldt, at least in his later abode in Paris, living near the throne; both occasionally intrusted with diplomatic business; both animated to the noblest exertions, but not above a well-directed jest; both regarding mankind as their family, without a domestic hearth; Voltaire fully-