Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/December 1879/Sketch of Heinrich Wilhelm Dove

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PSM V16 D158 Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.jpg


THE veteran savants who inaugurated the great advances in modern physical research are passing away, one after another, leaving their achievements for completion to the succeeding generation, and their imperishable fame to the records of human history. Foremost among the centers of exact and productive inquiry and learning ranked the University of Berlin, founded in the years of Prussia's deepest humiliation at the hands of the great Corsican adventurer, out of the royal motive "to raise the down-trodden nation to strength and greatness by intellectual and mental vigor and virtue." Among the brilliant array of famous scholars of the first period of that university were Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt, Leopold von Buch, Carl Ritter, Fichte, Hegel, Enke, Boekh, Kunth, Link, Ehrenberg, Johannes Muller, E. Mitcherlich, Heinrich and Gustav Rose, Poggendorf, Dove, Magnus, and others. Dove, being one of the youngest, outlived them all.

Heinrich Wilhelm Dove was born at Liegnitz, Silesia, on October 6, 1803, and at the age of eighteen passed from the schools of that town to the Universities of Breslau and Berlin, where for the next three years he devoted himself to the study of mathematics and physics. In 1826 he took the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Berlin, his thesis on the occasion being an inquiry regarding barometric changes; and it is significant of his future life-work that his first published memoir was a paper on meteorological inquiries relative to winds, these two subjects holding a paramount place in the great problem of weather-changes.

Dove began his public career as a professor at the University of Konigsberg, where he remained till 1829, being then invited to Berlin as supplementary Professor of Physics. His strikingly clear-sighted, bold, and original intellect turned forcibly to that intricate group of questions in the domain of physics which comprise the sciences of meteorology and climatology. In these fields, then but imperfectly understood, his success as an original explorer was so marked and rapid that it at once attracted the attention of the scientific world and of the governments throughout Europe; and these were but the first of a long series of consummate researches and deductions by which Dove, besides Humboldt, opened new fields of inquiry and laid the foundation of those sciences. Stimulus and encouragement were not wanting; for he entered upon his brilliant career at a time when a most productive era prevailed in the rise of the exact physical sciences in Germany: Goethe was still living, the glory and the giant mind of his age; Alexander von Humboldt had stirred the world of science and culture by his ever-famous popular lectures on physical and cosmical geography, in the great hall of the Berlin University in 1827 to 1828, and his fascinating "Views of Nature," translated into most civilized languages, had delighted and inspired all Europe; the first German Geographical Society had been established in Berlin in 1828, second in time only to that of Paris, the oldest European Geographical Society. Ehrenberg[1] had returned from his six years' explorations in Africa and Asia with immense treasures of collections and geographical and meteorological observations. Leopold von Buch, geologist and geographer, stood in the zenith of his fame. Carl Ritter, the father of comparative geography, inspired both the youth and the learned of Germany by his masterly exposition of that science in his lectures and writings. Dove, then in the prime of youth, soon took a foremost rank as a lecturer at the university, and among the cultured circles of the Prussian capital; the combined qualities of accomplished scholarship, of vivid and clear exposition, of fine imagination, of humorous and sarcastic wit, combined with a commanding presence, and the extent over which his conquent utterances were heard, marked him as the Arago and Brewster of Germany. For more than a quarter of a century his audiences were among the largest and most accomplished in the great hall of the Berlin University, overcrowded as it was by students and scholars of all ages and from all stations in society and in the army. Germany showered on him in profusion those honors which it but sparingly bestows except on the highest order of learning and science; and other countries amply recognized the successive results of Dove's masterly researches; there is scarcely a learned or scientific society of any note that has not his name enrolled among its honorary members. The Berlin Academy of Sciences elected him, in 1837, one of its youngest members; and in 1845 he was raised to the distinguished position of the chair of Physics in the University of Berlin, now held by his successor Professor Helmholtz.[2] When Alexander von Humboldt died, May 6, 1869, the insignia of the high order pour le merite, worn by him, were bestowed upon Dove; and in 1867 he was chosen Vice-Chancellor of that most exalted rank for scientific achievement in Germany.

It would far surpass the limit allotted to this brief sketch to enter in detail upon the scientific labors and works of Dove ; his scientific papers published in the memoirs of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, in Poggendorf's "Annalen," in "Zeitschrift fiir Erdkunde," in "Zeitschrift des Preussischen Statistischen Bureau's," etc., between the years 1827 and 1876 number more than two hundred and fifty, besides his larger published works and treatises, of which the most noted are:

"Über Maas und Messen," 1835; "Meteorologische Untersuchungen," 1837; "Über die Nichtperiodischen Veränderungen der Temperatur-Vertheilung auf der Oberfläche der Erde," 6 vols., 1840-1859 ; "Untersuchungen im Gebiete der Inductions Electricität," 1843; "Über den Zusammenhang der Wärme-Veränderungen der Atmosphäre mit der Entwicklung der Pflanzen," 1846; "Temperaturtaf eln," 1848; "Über Electricität," 1848; "Monats Isothermen," 1850; "Verbreitung der Wärme auf der Erdoberfläche durch Isothermen und Isanomalen," 1852; "Darstellung der Farbenlehre," 1853; "Monats-und-Jahres Isothermen in der Polarprojection," 1864; "Darstellung der Wärme-Erscheinungen durch fünftägige Mittel," 3 vols., 1856-1870; "Die Witterungs-Erscheinungen des nördlichen Deutschlands," 1858-1863; "Das Gesetz der Stürme," 1857; "Optische Studien," 1859; "Anwendung des Stereoscopes zur Erkennung falschen Papier Geldes," 1859; "Die Stürme der gemaessigten Zone," 1863; "Klimatologische Beiträge," 2 vols., 1857-1869; "Klimatologie von NordDeutschland," 2 vols., 1868-1871; "Eiszeit, Föhn und Sirocco," 1867; "Der schweizerische Föhn," 1868; "Der Kreislauf des Wassers auf der Erde," 1868; "Gedächtnissrede auf Alexander von Humboldt," 1869, etc.

They show Dove to have been a most thorough and successful worker and investigator in electricity, magnetism, optics, crystallography, and in such practical subjects as measures and weights, and the metric system of civilized nations. Among other discoveries, he also first recognized the presence of a secondary electric current in a metallic wire, at the moment that the circuit of the principal current is completed. The large number of physical instruments originated and devised by his genius and skill, among them his polarization apparatus, his differential inductor, his rotating polariscope, and numerous other important devices, bear evidence of his many contributions to the advancement of physics.

But it was to meteorological, hydrographical, and climatological inquiries that Dove devoted his full strength and the great powers of his mind; and by his comprehensive and well-directed labors he has written his name in imperishable characters on the records of science. His fame rests preeminently on the successful inquiries which he carried out with a view to the discovery of the laws regulating atmospheric phenomena, which apparently are under no law whatever, and on his isothermals and isabnormals of temperature for the surface of the globe, in which labors one can not sufficiently admire the breadth of view which sustained and animated him as an explorer, during the long, toilsome years spent in, and requisite to, their preparation. Equally characterized by philosophic depth and by what really seemed a love for the drudgery of detail, even to profuseness, when such drudgery appeared necessary or desirable in attaining his object, are his various works on winds, the manner of their veering, and their relations to atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, and rainfall, and the important bearings of the results on the climatology of the globe; and on the relation of the variations of temperature to the development of plants and their life and distribution. The origin of storms and their connection with the general circulation of the atmosphere has been much elucidated by Dove's comprehensive and exact researches; and the "laws of the rotation of the winds and storms," of so vast importance to the mariner, are for ever linked with his name.

Alexander von Humboldt had originated the Prussian Meteorological Bureau, and Dove, since 1848 its director, gradually organized, extended, and summarized throughout Germany, the valuable system of meteorological observations and publications, since widely and successfully accepted and introduced in most civilized countries.

When we consider the condition in which Dove found man's knowledge of the weather, and the large accessions and development it received from his hand, the breadth of his views, and the well-directed patience rising into high genius, with which his mind was inspired and his researches were pursued, there can be but one opinion, that these give Dove claims, which no other physicist can compete with, to be styled "the Father of Meteorology."

So much of Dove as an original investigator and scholar. As professor at the Berlin University he accomplished more than one hundred lecture terms (Semester), and among the many thousands who have been instructed and inspired by his masterly and impressive lectures and occasional orations, most of the eminent physicists of our generation and the scientists of Germany may be counted, who all will remember with pleasure and veneration the great teacher's exquisite style, his humor and wit, the lucidity and precision of his logic and demonstration, and the elegance and perfection of his experiments. He did not address himself to beginners, but presupposed the full intellectual maturity and learning of the German gymnasium education, and his audiences were composed of men of every age and of the highest stations of society. Dove was also for years Professor of Physics at the Military and the Polytechnic Academies of Berlin, and a member of the highest boards of the Prussian Government for state examinations in the various branches of civil and military vocations. Governments, learned institutions, and societies from many countries resorted to him as the highest authority.

The celebration of Dove's fiftieth year of his Doctorate in Philosophy, March 4, 1876, was the occasion of well-deserved felicitations from all parts of Germany, from the people and Government, and from institutions and seats of science and learning. The feeling was general that the fifty years of Dove's active life in a very large degree represented and reflected the recent history of physics, and of meteorology and climatology in particular. Congratulations and honors poured in upon the veteran savant from all parts of the civilized globe, as his name and fame were well known, and his labors and achievements are still of inestimable value on all continents and to the mariner on the seas. Three years later, after a protracted illness. Dove passed peacefully away on the 4th of April, 1879, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, one of Germany's greatest and most gifted naturalists and teachers of the present century.

  1. "Popular Science Monthly," vol. xiv., p. 668.
  2. "Popular Science Monthly," vol. v., p. 231.