Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/355

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351
ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT

his acquirements, his acquaintance with the scientific men of every country, his wealth, his relation to the king, his leisure, than any other living man to write the book he proposed. He had the promise of assistance from the representatives of all the sciences, and through private correspondence and their publications could obtain from them the latest and most accurate information on the topics he wished to discuss. It is not strange that one of the striking features of "Cosmos" should be its notes, which contain extracts in many cases from private letters and from publications in journals rarely seen, by men whose names Humboldt seems to take pleasure in mentioning, and to whom he never fails to give full credit.

Yet, modest as he is in reference to his own acquirements, he may justly be regarded the founder of the sciences of meteorology, terrestrial magnetism and the physics of the sea. To him more than to any man of his time is due the interest in the study of the currents of the air. It was at his suggestion and after his plans that the Russian government established, from one end of its dominions to the other, stations for the observation and record of magnetic phenomena. It was through his influence that England did the same in her territories, and that other countries have to a certain extent followed these examples. Perhaps it may be added that he is the founder of the science of geodesy. At any rate he was the first to give a full and complete picture of the physical features of the earth and to call attention to the effect of these features and of the temperature of a country upon its inhabitants. The tracing of isothermal lines is due to him. In fact, during his life few new steps were taken or changes made in scientific study without suggestions from him or consultations with him. One of his characteristics was his fondness for young men, and the pleasure he took in aiding them. If he was a little vain, apparently somewhat self conscious, it was by no means unnatural. The friend of kings, a social lion, a successful diplomat, a classical scholar of nearly the first rank, well versed in history, ancient, medieval and modern, at home in modern languages, a master of the best literature of the century, through his brother William, well acquainted with oriental literature and with the conclusions of the comparative study of language, the pride of the German people, recognized on all sides as worthy of the highest honor a man can receive from any source whatever, it would be contrary to nature not to be influenced to some extent by the flattery which came from every side. Without an exception the scholars of Europe recognized his greatness and his eminent fitness for the work he proposed to undertake. The work had been on his mind for at least twenty years. For it he had gathered material, had pursued special studies, made special visits, cultivated the friendship of eminent men, by constant thought formed the plan which he finally carried out, of presenting in clear readable form an account of all that had been discovered and accepted as worthy of belief in the scien-