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COSMOS: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe, Vol. 1 by Alexander von Humboldt
Translated by E C Otte
from the 1858 Harper & Brothers edition of Cosmos, volume 1 —————————————————————————
p i COSMOS
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p iv [portrait]
A SKETCH OR A PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE UNIVERSE
BY ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY E. C. OTTE
Naturae vero rerum vis atque majestas in omnibus momentis fides caret, si quis modo partes ejus ac non totam complectatur animo. — Plin., 'Hist. Nat.', lib. vii, c. 1.
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY NICOLAAS A. RUPKE
THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS Baltimore and London
[page vi and Introduction to the 1997 edition not copied]
p 1 COSMOS
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p 3 TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. ———————————-
I CAN not more appropriately introduce the Cosmos than by presenting a brief sketch of the life of its illustrious author.* While the name of Alexander von Humboldt is familiar to every one, few, perhaps, are aware of the peculiar circumstances of his scientific career and of the extent of his labors in almost every department of physical knowledge. He was born on the 14th of September, 1769, and is, therefore, now in his 80th year. After going through the ordinary course of education at Gottingen, and having made a rapid tour through Holland, England, and France, he became a pupil of Werner at the mining school of Freyburg, and in his 21st year published an "Essay on the Basalts of the Rhine." Though he soon became officially connected with the mining corps, he was enabled to continue his excursions in foreign countries, for, during the six or seven years succeeding the publication of his first essay, he seems to have visited Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and France. His attention to mining did not, however, prevent him from devoting his attention to other scientific pursuits, among which botany and the then recent discovery of galvanism may be especially noticed. Botany, indeed, we know from his own authority, occupied him almost exclusively for some years; but even at this time he was practicing the use of those astronomical and physical instruments which he afterward turned to so singularly excellent an account.
[footnote] *For the following remarks I am mainly indebted to the articles on the Cosmos in the two leading Quarterly Reviews.
The political disturbances of the civilized world at the close p 4 of the last century prevented our author from carrying out various plans of foreign travel which he had contemplated, and detained him an unwilling prisoner in Europe. In the year 1799 he went to Spain, with the hope of entering Africa from Cadiz, but the unexpected patronage which he received at the court of Madrid led to a great alteration in his plans, and decided him to proceed directly to the Spanish possessions in America, "and there gratify the longings for foreign adventure, and the scenery of the tropics, which had haunted him from boyhood, but had all along been turned in the diametrically opposite direction of Asia." After encountering various risks of capture, he succeeded in reaching America, and from 1799 to 1804 prosecuted there extensive researches in the physical geography of the New World, which has indelibly stamped his name in the undying records of science.
Excepting an excursion to Naples with Gay-Lussac and Von Buch in 1805 (the year after his return from America), the succeeding twenty years of his life were spent in Paris, and were almost exclusively employed in editing the results of his American journey. In order to bring these results before the world in a manner worthy of their importance, he commenced a series of gigantic publications in almost every branch of science on which he had instituted observations. In 1817, after twelve years of incessant toil, four fifths were completed, and an ordinary copy of the part then in print cost considerably more than one hundred pounds sterling. Since that time the publication has gone on more slowly, and even now after the lapse of nearly half a century, it remains, and probably ever will remain, incomplete.
In the year 1828, when the greatest portion of his literary labor had been accomplished, he undertook a scientific journey to Siberia, under the special protection of the Russian government. In this journey — a journey for which he had prepared himself by a course of study unparalleled in the history of travel — he was accompanied by two companions hardly less distinguished than himself, Ehrenberg and Gustav Rose, and p 5 the results obtained during their expedition are recorded by our author in his 'Fragments Asiatiques', and in his 'Asie Centrale', and by Rose in his 'Reise nach dem Oural'. If the 'Asie Centrale' had been his only work, constituting, as it does, an epitome of all the knowledge acquired by himself and by former travelers on the physical geography of Northern and Central Asia, that work alone would have sufficed to form a reputation of the highest order.
I proceed to offer a few remarks on the work of which I now present a new translation to the English public, a work intended by its author "to embrace a summary of physical knowledge, as connected with a delineation of the material universe."
The idea of such a physical description of the universe had, it appears, been present to his mind from a very early epoch. It was a work which he felt he must accomplish, and he devoted almost a lifetime to the accumulation of materials for it. For almost half a century it had occupied his thoughts; and at length, in the evening of life, he felt himself rich enough in the accumulation of thought, travel, reading, and experimental research, to reduce into form and reality the undefined vision that has so long floated before him. The work, when completed, will form three volumes. The 'first' volume comprises a sketch of all that is at present known of the physical phenomena of the universe; the 'second' comprehends two distinct parts, the first of which treats of the incitements to the study of nature, afforded in descriptive poetry, landscape painting, and the cultivation of exotic plants; while the second and larger part enters into the consideration of the different epochs in the progress of discovery and of the corresponding stages of advance in human civilization. The 'third' volume, the publication of which, as M. Humboldt himself informs me in a letter addressed to my learned friend and publisher, Mr. H. G. Bohn, "has been somewhat delayed, owing to the present state of public affairs, will comprise the special and scientific development of the great Picture of Nature p 6 Each of the three parts of the 'Cosmos' is therefore, to a certain extent, distinct in its object, and may be considered complete in itself. We can not better terminate this brief notice than in the words of one of the most eminent philosophers of our own country, that, "should the conclusion correspond (as we doubt not) with these beginnings, a work will have been accomplished every way worthy of the author's fame, and a crowning laurel added to that wreath with which Europe will always delight to surround the name of Alexander von Humboldt."
In venturing to appear before the English public as the interpreter of "the great work of our age,"* I have been encouraged by the assistance of many kind literary and scientific friends, and I gladly avail myself of this opportunity of expressing my deep obligations to Mr. Brooke, Dr. Day, Professor Edward Forbes, Mr. Hind, Mr. Glaisher, Dr. Percy, and Mr. Ronalds, for the valuable aid they have afforded me.
[footnote] *The expression applied to the Cosmos by the learned Bunsen, in his late Report on Ethnology, in the 'Report of the British Association for' 1847, p. 265.
It would be scarcely right to conclude these remarks without a reference to the translations that have preceded mine. The translation executed by Mrs. Sabine is singularly accurate and elegant. The other translation is remarkable for the opposite qualities, and may therefore be passed over in silence. The present volumes differ from those of Mrs. Sabine in having all the foreign measures converted into corresponding English terms, in being published at considerably less than one third of the price, and in being a translation of the entire work, for I have not conceived myself justified in omitting passages, sometimes amounting to pages, simply because they might be deemed slightly obnoxious to our national prejudices.
p 7 AUTHOR'S PREFACE. —————————-
In the late evening of an active life I offer to the German public a work, whose undefined image has floated before my mind for almost half a century. I have frequently looked upon its completion as impracticable, but as often as I have been disposed to relinquish the undertaking, I have again — although perhaps imprudently — resumed the task. This work I now present to my contemporaries with a diffidence inspired by a just mistrust of my own powers, while I would willingly forget that writings long expected are usually received with less indulgence.
Although the outward relations of life, and an irresistible impulse toward knowledge of various kinds, have led me to occupy myself for many years — and apparently exclusively — with separate branches of science, as, for instance, with descriptive botany, geognosy, chemistry, astronomical determinations of position, and terrestrial magnetism, in order that I might the better prepare myself for the extensive travels in which I was desirous of engaging, the actual object of my studies has nevertheless been of a higher character. The principal impulse by which I was directed was the earnest endeavor to comprehend the phenomena of physical objects in their general connection, and to represent nature as one great whole, moved and animated by internal forces. My intercourse with highly-gifted men early led me to discover that, without an earnest striving to attain to a knowledge of special branches of study, all attempts to give a grand and general view of the universe would be nothing more than a vain illusion. These special departments in the great domain of natural p 8 science are, moreover, capable of being reciprocally fructified by means of the appropriative forces by which they are endowed. Descriptive botany, no longer confined to the narrow circle of the determination of genera and species, leads the observer who traverses distant lands and lofty mountains to the study of the geographical distribution of plants of the earth's surface, according to distance from the equator and vertical elevation above the sea. It is further necessary to investigate the laws which regulate the differences of temperature and climate, and the meteorological processes of the atmosphere, before we can hope to explain the involved causes of vegetable distribution; and it is thus that the observer who earnestly pursues the path of knowledge is led from one class of phenomena to another, by means of the mutual dependence and connection existing between them.
I have enjoyed an advantage which few scientific travelers have shared to an equal extent, viz., that of having seen not only littoral districts, such as are alone visited by the majority of those who take part in voyages of circumnavigation, but also those portions of the interior of two vast continents which present the most striking contrasts manifested in the Alpine tropical landscapes of South America, and the dreary wastes of the steppes in Northern Asia. Travels, undertaken in districts such as these, could not fail to encourage the natural tendency of my mind toward a generalization of views, and to encourage me to attempt, in a special work, to treat of the knowledge which we at present possess, regarding the sidereal and terrestrial phenomena of the Cosmos in their empirical relations. The hitherto undefined idea of a physical geography has thus, by an extended and perhaps too boldly imagined a plan, been comprehended under the idea of a physical description of the universe, embracing all created things in the regions of space and in the earth.
The very abundance of the materials which are presented to the mind for arrangement and definition, necessarily impart no inconsiderable difficulties in the choice of the form under p 9 which such a work must be presented, if it would aspire to the honor of being regarded as a literary composition. Descriptions of nature ought not to be deficient in a tone of life-like truthfulness, while the mere enumeration of a series of general results is productive of a no less wearying impression than the elaborate accumulation of the individual data of observation. I scarcely venture to hope that I have succeeded in satisfying these various requirements of composition, or that I have myself avoided the shoals and breakers which I have known how to indicate to others. My faint hope of success rests upon the special indulgence which the German public have bestowed upon a small work bearing the title of 'Ansichten der Natur', which I published soon after my return from Mexico. This work treats, under general points of view, of separate branches of physical geography (such as the forms of vegetation, grassy plains, and deserts). The effect produced by this small volume has doubtlessly been more powerfully manifested in the influence it has exercised on the sensitive minds of the young, whose imaginative faculties are so strongly manifested, than by means of any thing which it could itself impart. In the work on the Cosmos on which I am now engaged, I have endeavored to show, as in that entitled 'Ansichten der Natur', that a certain degree of scientific completeness in the treatment of individual facts is not wholly incompatible with a picturesque animation of style. Since public lectures seemed to me to present an easy and efficient means of testing the more or less successful manner of connecting together the detached branches of any one science, I undertook, for many months consecutively, first in the French language, at Paris, and afterward in my own native German, at Berlin (almost simultaneously at two different places of assembly), to deliver a course of lectures on the physical description of the universe, according to my conception of the science. My lectures were given extemporaneously, both in French and German, and without the aid of written notes, nor have I, in any way, made use, in the present work, p 10 of those portions of my discourses which have been preserved by the industry of certain attentive auditors. With the exception of the first forty pages, the whole of the present work was written, for the first time, in the years 1843 and 1844.
A character of unity, freshness, and animation must, I think, be derived from an association with some definite epoch, where the object of the writer is to delineate the present condition of knowledge and opinions. Since the additions constantly made to the latter give rise to fundamental changes in pre-existing views, my lectures and the Cosmos have nothing in common beyond the succession in which the various facts are treated. The first portion of my work contains introductory considerations regarding the diversity in the degrees of enjoyment to be derived from nature, and the knowledge of the laws by which the universe is governed; it also considers the limitation and scientific mode of treating a physical description of the universe, and gives a general picture of nature which contains a view of all the phenomena comprised in the Cosmos.
This general picture of nature, which embraces within its wide scope the remotest nebulous spots, and the revolving double stars in the regions of space, no less than the telluric phenomena included under the department of the geography of organic forms (such as plants, animals, and races of men), comprises all that I deem most specially important with regard to the connection existing between generalities and specialities, while it moreover exemplifies, by the form and style of the composition, the mode of treatment pursued in the selection of the results obtained from experimental knowledge. The two succeeding volumes will contain a consideration of the particular means of incitement toward the study of nature (consisting in animated delineations, landscape painting, and the arrangement and cultivation of exotic vegetable forms), of the history of the contemplation of the universe, or the gradual development of the reciprocal action of natural forces constituting one natural whole; and lastly, of the special p 11 branches of the several departments of science, whose mutual connection is indicated in the beginning of the work. Wherever it has been possible to do so, I have adduced the authorities from whence I derived my facts, with a view of affording testimony both to the accuracy of my statements and to the value of the observations to which reference was made. In those instances where I have quoted from my own writings (the facts contained in which being, from their very nature, scattered through different portions of my works), I have always referred to the original editions, owing to the importance of accuracy with regard to numerical relations, and to my own distrust of the care and correctness of translators. In the few cases where I have extracted short passages from the works of my friends, I have indicated them by marks of quotation; and, in imitation of the practice of the ancients, I have invariably preferred the repetition of the same words to any arbitrary substitution of my own paraphrases. The much-contested question of priority of claim to a first discovery, which it is so dangerous to treat of in a work of this uncontroversial kind, has rarely been touched upon. Where I have occasionally referred to classical antiquity, and to that happy period of transition which has rendered the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries so celebrated, owing to the great geographical discoveries by which the age was characterized, I have been simply led to adopt this mode of treatment, from the desire we experience from time to time, when considering the general views of nature, to escape from the circle of more strictly dogmatical modern opinions, and enter the free and fanciful domain of earlier presentiments.
It has frequently been regarded as a subject of discouraging consideration, that while purely literary products of intellectual activity are rooted in the depths of feeling, and interwoven with the creative force of imagination, all works treating of empirical knowledge, and of the connection of natural phenomena and physical laws, are subject to the most marked modifications of form in the lapse of short periods of time, both p 12 by the improvement in the instruments used, and by the consequent expansion of the field of view opened to rational observation, and that those scientific works which have, to use a common expression, become 'antiquated' by the acquisition of new funds of knowledge, are thus continually being consigned to oblivion as unreadable. However discouraging such a prospect must be, no one who is animated by a genuine love of nature, and by a sense of the dignity attached to its study, can view with regret any thing which promises future additions and a greater degree of perfection to general knowledge. Many important branches of knowledge have been based upon a solid foundation which will not easily be shaken, both as regards the phenomena in the regions of space and on the earth; while there are other portions of science in which general views will undoubtedly take the place of merely special; where new forces will be discovered and new substances will be made known, and where those which are now considered as simple will be decomposed. I would, therefore, venture to hope that an attempt to delineate nature in all its vivid animation and exalted grandeur, and to trace the 'stable' amid the vacillating, ever-recurring alternation of physical metamorphoses, will not be wholly disregarded even at a future age. 'Potsdam, Nov.', 1844.
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COSMOS: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe, Vol. 1 by Alexander von Humboldt
Translated by E C Otte
from the 1858 Harper & Brothers edition of Cosmos, volume 1 —————————————————————————
CONTENTS OF VOL. I. ———————————
Page The Translator's Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 The Author's Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7 Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
INTRODUCTION. The Results of the Study of Physical Phenomena . . . . . . . . . . 23 The different Epochs of the Contemplation of the external World . .24 The different Degrees of Enjoyment presented by the Contemplation of Nature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Instances of this Species of Enjoyment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Means by which it is induced . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 The Elevations and climatic Relations of many of the most celebrated Mountains in the World, considered with Reference to the Effect produced on the Mind of the Observer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27-33 The Impressions awakened by the Aspect of tropical Regions . . . . 34 The more accurate Knowledge of the Physical Forces of the Universe, acquired by the Inhabitants of a small Section of the temperate Zone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36 The earliest Dawn of the Science of the Cosmos . . . . . . . . . . 36 The Difficulties that opposed the Progress of Inquiry . . . . . . . 37 Consideration of the Effect produced on the Mind by the Observation of Nature, and the Fear entertained by some of its injurious Influence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 Illustrations of the Manner in which many recent Discoveries have tended to Remove the groundless Fears entertained regarding the Agency of certain Natural Phenomena . . . . . . 43 The Amount of Scientific Knowledge required to enter on the Consideration of Physical Phenomena . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 The Object held in View by the present Work . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 The Nature of the Study of the Cosmos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 The special Requirements of the present Age . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Limits and Method of Exposition of the Physical Description of the Universe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Considerations on the terms Physiology and Physics . . . . . . . . .58 Physical Geography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Celestial Phenomena . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63 The Natural Philosophy of the Ancients directed more to Celestial than to Terrestrial Phenomena . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .65 The able Treatises of Varenius and Carl Ritter . . . . . . . . .66, 67 Signification of the Word Cosmos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68-70 The Domain embraced by Cosmography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 Empiricism and Experiments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 The Process of Reason and Induction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .77 p 14 GENERAL REVIEW OF NATURAL PHENOMENA. Connection between the Material and the Ideal World . . . . . . . . 80 Delineation of Nature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82 Celestial Phenomena . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83 Sidereal Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 Planetary Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .90 Comets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99 Aerolites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .111 Zodiacal Light . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137 Translatory Motion of the Solar System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 The Milky Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .150 Starless Openings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152 Terrestrial Phenomena . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .154 Geographical Distribution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .161 Figure of the Earth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .163 Density of the Earth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169 Internal Heat of the Earth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172 Mean Temperature of the Earth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .175 Terrestrial Magnetism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177 Magnetism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .183 Aurora Borealis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .193 Geognostic Phenomena . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 202 Earthquakes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204 Gaseous Emanations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 207 Hot Springs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .221 Salses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .224 Volcanoes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .227 Rocks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .247 Palaeontology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .270 Geognostic Periods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 286 Physical Geography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 287 Meteorology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .311 Atmospheric Pressure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 315 Climatology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .317 The Snow-line . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .329 Hygrometry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 332 Atmospheric Electricity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .335 Organic Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 339 Motion in Plants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 341 Universality of Animal Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .342 Geography of Plants and Animals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .346 Floras of different Countries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .350 Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .352 Races . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .353 Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 357 Conclusion of the Subject . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .359
p 15 SUMMARY. —————-
Translator's Preface. Author's Preface.
GENERAL SUMMARY OF THE CONTENTS.
Introduction. — Reflections on the different Degrees of Enjoyment presented to us by the Aspect of Nature and the scientific Exposition of the Laws of the Universe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 23-78
Insight into the connection of phenomena as the aim of all natural investigation. Nature presents itself to meditative contemplation as a unity in diversity. Differences in the grades of enjoyment yielded by nature. Effect of contact with free nature; enjoyment derived from nature independently of a knowledge of the action of natural forces, or of the physiognomy and configuration of the surface, or of the character of vegetation. Reminiscences of the woody valleys of the Cordilleras and of the Peak of Teneriffe. Advantages of the mountainous region near the equator, where the multiplicity of natural impressions attains its maximum within the most circumscribed limits, and where it is permitted to man simultaneously to behold all the stars of the firmament and all the forms of vegetation — p. 23-33.
Tendency toward the investigation of the causes of physical phenomena. Erroneous views of the character of natural forces arising from an imperfect mode of observation or of induction. The crude accumulation of physical dogmas transmitted from one country to another. Their diffusion among the higher classes. Scientific physics are associated with another and a deep-rooted system of untried and misunderstood experimental positions. Investigation of natural laws. Apprehension that nature may lose a portion of its secret charm by an inquiry into the internal character of its forces, and that the enjoyment of nature must necessarily be weakened by a study of its domain. Advantages of general views which impart an exalted and solemn character to natural science. The possibility of separating generalities from specialties. Examples drawn from astronomy, recent optical discoveries, physical geognosy, and the geography of plants. Practicability of the study of physical cosmography — p. 33-54. Misunderstood popular knowledge, confounding cosmography with a mere encyclopedic enumeration of natural sciences. Necessity for a simultaneous regard for all branches of natural science. Influence of this study on national prosperity and the welfare of nations; its more earnest and characteristic aim is an inner one, arising from exalted mental activity. Mode of treatment with regard to the object and presentation; reciprocal connection existing between thought and speech — p. 54-56.
The notes to p. 28-33. Comparative hypsometrical data of the elevations of the Dhawalagiri, Jawahir, Chimborazo, Aetna (according to the measurement of Sir John Herschel), the Swiss Alps, etc. — p. 28. Rarity p 16 of palms and ferns in the Himalaya Mountains — p. 29. European vegetable forms in the Indian Mountains — p. 30. Northern and southern limits of perpetual snow on the Himalaya; influence of the elevated plateau of Thibet — p. 30-33. Fishes of an earlier world — p. 46.
Limits and Method of Exposition of the Physical Description of the Universe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . Page 56-78
Subjects embraced by the study of the Cosmos or of physical cosmography. Separation of other kindred studies — p. 56-62. The uranological portion of the Cosmos is more simple than the telluric; the impossibility of ascertaining the diversity of matter simplifies the study of the mechanism of the heavens. Origin of the word 'Cosmos', its signification of adornment and order of the universe. The 'existing' can not be absolutely separated in our contemplation of nature from the 'future'. History of the world and description of the world — p. 26-73. Attempts to embrace the multiplicity of the phenomena of the Cosmos in the unity of thought and under the form of a purely rational combination. Natural philosophy, which preceded all exact observation in antiquity, is a natural, but not unfrequently ill-directed, effort of reason. Two forms of abstraction rule in the whole mass of knowledge, viz.: the 'quantitative', relative determinations according to number and magnitude, and 'qualitative', material characters. Means of submitting phenomena to calculation. Atoms, mechanical methods of construction. Figurative representations; mythical conception of imponderable matters, and the peculiar vital forces in every organism. That which is attained by observation and experiment (calling forth phenomena) leads, by analogy and induction, to a knowledge of 'empirical laws'; their gradual simplification and generalization. Arrangement of the facts discovered in accordance with leading ideas. The treasure of empirical contemplation, collected through ages, is in no danger of experiencing any hostile agency from philosophy — p. 73-78.
[In the notes appended to p. 66-70 are considerations of the general and comparative geography of Varenius. Philological investigation into the meaning of the words [Greek word] and 'mundus'.]
Delineation of Nature. General Review of Natural Phenomena. . . . . p. 79-359
Introduction — p. 79-83. A descriptive delineation of the world embraces the whole universe ([Greek words]) in the celestial and terrestrial spheres. Form and course of the representation. It begins with the laws of gravitation, and with the region of the remotest nebulous spots and double stars, and then, gradually descending through the starry stratum to which our solar system belongs, it contemplates this terrestrial spheroid, surrounded by air and water, and finally, proceeds to the consideration of the form of our planet, its temperature and magnetic tension, and the fullness of organic vitality which is unfolded on its surface under the action of light. Partial insight into the relative dependence existing among all phenomena. Amid all the mobile and unstable elements in space, 'mean numerical values' are the ultimate aim of investigation, being the expression of the physical laws, or forces of the Cosmos. The delineation of the universe does not begin with the earth, from which a merely subjective point of view might have led us to start, but rather with the objects comprised in the regions of space. Distribution of matter, which is partially conglomerated into rotating p 17 and circling heavenly bodies of very different density and magnitude, and partly scattered as self-luminous vapor. Review of the separate portions of the picture of nature, for the purpose of explaining the reciprocal connection of all phenomena.
I. Celestial Portion of the Cosmos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 83-154
II. Terrestrial Portion of the Cosmos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .p. 154-359
a. Form of the earth, its mean density, quantity of heat, electro-magnetic activity, process of light — p. 154-202.
b. Vital activity of the earth toward its external surface. Reaction of the interior of a planet on its crust and surface. Subterranean noise without waves of concussion. Earthquakes dynamic phenomena — p. 202-217.
c. Material products which frequently accompany earthquakes. Gaseous and aqueous springs. Salses and mud volcanoes. Upheavals of the soil by elastic forces — p. 217-228.
d. Fire-emitting mountains. Craters of elevation. Distribution of volcanoes on the earth — p. 228-247.
e. Volcanic forces form new kinds of rock, and metamorphose those already existing. Geognostical classification of rocks into four groups. Phenomena of contact. Fossiliferous strata; their vertical arrangement. The faunas and floras of an earlier world. Distribution of masses of rock — p. 247-384.
f. Geognostical epochs, which are indicated by the mineralogical difference of rocks, have determined the distribution of solids and fluids into continents and seas. Individual configuration of solids into horizontal expansion and vertical elevation. Relations of area. Articulation. Probability of the continued elevation of the earth's crust in ridges — p. 284-301.
g. Liquid and aeriform envelopes of the solid surface of our planet. Distribution of heat in both. The sea. The tides. Currents and their effects — p. 301-311.
h. The atmosphere. Its chemical composition. Fluctuations in its density. Law of the direction of the winds. Mean temperature. Enumeration of the causes which tend to raise and lower the temperature. Continental and insular climates. East and west coasts. Cause of the curvature of the isothermal lines. Limits of perpetual snow. Quantity of vapor. Electricity in the atmosphere. Forms of the clouds — p. 311-339.
i. Separation of inorganic terrestrial life from the geography of vital organisms; the geography of vegetables and animals. Physical gradations of the human race — p. 339-359.
Special Analysis of the Delineation of Nature, including References to the Subjects treated of in the Notes.
I. Celestial Portion of the Cosmos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 83-154
The universe and all that it comprises — multiform nebulous spots, planetary vapor, and nebulous stars. The picturesque charm of a southern sky — note, p. 85. Conjectures on the position in space of the world. Our stellar masses. A cosmical island. Gauging stars. Double stars revolving round a common center. Distance of the star 61 Cygni — p. 88 and note. Our solar system more complicated than was conjectured at the close of the last century. Primary planets with Neptune, Astrea, Hebe, Iris, and Flora, now constitute 16; secondary planets 18; myriad of comets of which many of the inner ones are inclosed p 18 in the orbits of the planets; a rotating ring (the zodiacal light) and meteoric stones, probably to be regarded as small cosmical bodies. The telescopic planets, Vesta, Juno, Ceres, Pallas, Astrea, Hebe, Iris and Flora, with their frequently intersecting, strongly inclined, and more eccentric orbits, constitute a central group of separation between the inner planetary group (Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and Mars) and the outer group (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). Contrasts of these planetary groups. Relations of distance from one central body. Differences of absolute magnitude, density, period of revolution, eccentricity, and inclination of the orbits. The so-called law of the distances of the planets from their central sun. The planets which have the largest number of moons — p. 96 and note. Relations in space, both absolute and relative, of the secondary planets. Largest and smallest of the moons. Greatest approximation to a primary planet. Retrogressive movement of the moons of Uranus. Libration of the Earth's satellite — p. 98 and note. Comets; the nucleus and tail; various forms and directions of the emanations in conoidal envelopes, with more or less dense walls. Several tails inclined toward the sun; change of form of fixed stars by the nuclei of comets. Eccentricity of their orbits and periods of revolution. Greatest distance and greatest approximation of comets. Passage through the system of Jupiter's satellites. Comets of short periods of revolution, more correctly termed inner comets (Encke, Biela, Faye) — p. 107 and note. Revolving aerolites (meteoric stones, fire-balls, falling stars). Their planetary velocity, magnitude, form, observed height. Periodic return in streams; the November stream and the stream of St. Lawrence. Chemical composition of meteoric asteroids — p. 130 and notes. Ring of zodiacal light. Limitation of the present solar atmosphere — p. 141 and note. Translatory motion of the whole solar system — p. 145-149 and note. The existence of the law of gravitation beyond our solar system. The milky way of stars and its conjectured breaking up. Milky way of nebulous spots, at right angles with that of the stars. Periods of revolutions of bi-colored double stars. Canopy of stars; openings in the stellar stratum. Events in the universe; the apparition of new stars. Propagation of light, the aspect of the starry vault of the heavens conveys to the mind an idea of inequality of time — p. 149-154 and notes.
II. Terrestrial Portion of the Cosmos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 154-359
a. Figure of the earth. Density, quantity of heat, electro-magnetic tension, and terrestrial light — p. 154-202 and note. Knowledge of the compression and curvature of the earth's surface acquired by measurements of degrees, pendulum oscillations, and certain inequalities in the moon's orbit. Mean density of the earth. The earth's crust, and the depth to which we are able to penetrate — p. 159, 160, note. Threefold movement of the heat of the earth; its thermic condition. Law of the increase of heat with the increase of depth — p. 160, 161 and note. Magnetism electricity in motion. Periodical variation of terrestrial magnetism. Disturbance of the regular course of the magnetic needle. Magnetic storms; extension of their action. Manifestations of magnetic force on the earth's surface presented under three classes of phenomena, namely, lines of equal force (isodynamic), equal inclination (isoclinic), and equal deviation (isogonic). Position of the magnetic pole. Its probable connection with the poles of cold. Change of all the magnetic phenomena of the earth. Erection of magnetic observatories p 19 since 1828; a far-extending net-work of magnetic stations — p. 190 and note. Development of light at the magnetic poles; terrestrial light as a consequence of the electro-magnetic activity of our planet. Elevation of polar light. Whether magnetic storms are accompanied by noise. Connection of polar light (an electro-magnetic development of light) with the formation of cirrus clouds. Other examples of the generation of terrestrial light — p. 202 and note.
b. The vital activity of a planet manifested from within outward, the principal source of geognostic phenomena. Connection between merely dynamic concussions or the upheaval of whole portions of the earth's crust, accompanied by the effusion of matter, and the generation of gaseous and liquid fluids, of hot mud and fused earths, which solidify into rocks. Volcanic action, in the most general conception of the idea, is the reaction of the interior of a planet on its outer surface. Earthquakes. Extent of the circles of commotion and their gradual increase. Whether there exists any connection between the changes in terrestrial magnetism and the processes of the atmosphere. Noises, subterranean thunder without any perceptible concussion. The rocks which modify the propagation of the waves of concussion. Upheavals; eruption of water, hot steam, mud mofettes, smoke, and flame during an earthquake — p. 202-218 and notes.
c. Closer consideration of material products as a consequence of internal planetary activity. There rise from the depths of the earth, through fissures and cones of eruption, various gases, liquid fluids (pure or acidulated), mud, and molten earths. Volcanoes are a species of intermittent spring. Temperature of thermal springs; their constancy and change. Depth of the foci — p. 219-224 and notes. Salses, mud volcanoes. While fire-emitting mountains, being sources of molten earths, produce volcanic rocks, spring water forms, by precipitation, strata of limestone. Continued generation of sedimentary rocks — p. 228 and note.
d. Diversity of volcanic elevations. Dome-like closed trachytic mountains. Actual volcanoes which are formed from craters of elevations or among the detritus of their original structure. Permanent connection of the interior of our earth with the atmosphere. Relation to certain rocks. Influence of the relations of height on the frequency of the eruptions. Heights of the cone of cinders. Characteristics of those volcanoes which rise above the snow-line. Columns of ashes and fire. Volcanic storm during the eruption. Mineral composition of lavas — p. 236 and notes. Distribution of volcanoes on the earth's surface; central and linear volcanoes; insular and littoral volcanoes. Distance of volcanoes from the sea-coast. Extinction of volcanic forces — p. 246 and notes.
e. Relation of volcanoes to the character of rocks. Volcanic forces form new rocks, and metamorphose the more ancient ones. The study of these relations leads, by a double course, to the mineral portion of geognosy (the study of the textures and of the position of the earth's strata), and to the configuration of continents and insular groups elevated above the level of the sea (the study of the geographical form and outlines of the different parts of the earth. Classification of rocks according to the scale of the phenomena of structure and metamorphosis, which are still passing before our eyes. Rocks of eruption, sedimentary rocks, changed (metamorphosed) rocks, conglomerates — compound rocks are definite associations of cryctognostically simple fossils. There are four phases in the formative condition; rocks of eruption, p 20 endogenous (granite, sienite, porphyry, greenstone, hyperathene, rock, euphotide, melaphyre, basalt, and phonolithe); sedimentary rocks (silurian schist, coal measures, limestone, travertino, infusorial deposit); metamorphosed rock, which contains also, together with the detritus mica schist, and more ancient metamorphic masses. Aggregate and sandstone formations. The phenomenon of contact explained by the artificial imitation of minerals. Effects of pressure and the various rapidity of cooling. Origin of granular or saccharoidal marble, silicification of schist into ribbon jasper. Metamorphosis of calcareous marl into micaceous schist through granite. Conversion of dolomite and granite into argillaceous schist, by contact with basaltic and doleritic rocks. Filling up of the veins from below. Processes of cementation in agglomerate structures. Friction conglomerates — p. 269 and note. Relative age of rocks, chronometry of the earth's crust. Fossiliferous strata. Relative age of organisms. Simplicity of the first vital forms. Dependence of physiological gradations on the age of the formations. Geognostic horizon, whose careful investigation may yield certain data regarding the identity or the relative age of formations, the periodic recurrence of certain strata, their parallelism, or their total suppression. Types of the sedimentary structures considered in their most simple and general characters; silurian and devonian formations (formerly known as rocks of transition); the lower trias (mountain limestone, coal measures, together with 'todilegende' and zechstein); the upper trias (butter sandstone, muschelkalk, and keuper); Jura limestone (lias and oolite); freestone, lower and upper chalk, as the last of the flotz strata, which begin with mountain limestone; tertiary formations in three divisions, which are designated by granular limestone, lignite, and south Apennine gravel — p. 269-278.
The faunas and floras of an earlier world, and their relations to existing organisms. Colossal bones of antediluvian mammalia in the upper alluvium. Vegetation of an earlier world; monuments of the history of its vegetation. The points at which certain vegetable groups attain their maximum; cycadeae in the keuper and lias, and coniferae in the butter sandstone. Lignite and coal measures (amber-tree). Deposition of large masses of rock; doubts regarding their origin — p. 285 and note.
f. The knowledge of geognostic epochs — of the upheaval of mountain chains and elevated plateaux, by which lands are both formed and destroyed, leads, by an internal causal connection, to the distribution into solids and fluids, and to the peculiarities in the natural configuration of the earth's surface. Existing areal relations of the solid to the fluid differ considerably from those presented by the maps of the physical portion of a more ancient geography. Importance of the eruption of quartzose, porphyry with reference to the then existing configuration of continental masses. Individual conformation in horizontal extension (relations of articulation) and in vertical elevation (hypsometrical views). Influence of the relations of the area of land and sea on the temperature, direction of the winds, abundance or scarcity of organic products, and on all meteorological processes collectively. Direction of the major axes of continental masses. Articulation and pyramidal termination toward the south. Series of peninsulas. Valley-like formation of the Atlantic Ocean. Forms which frequently recur — p. 285-293 and notes. Ramifications and systems of mountain chains, and the means of determining their relative ages. Attempts to determine the centre of gravity of the volume of the lands upheaved above the level p 21 of the sea. The elevation of continents is still progressing slowly, and is being compensated for at some definite points by a perceptible sinking. All geognostic phenomena indicate a periodical alteration of activity in the interior of our planet. Probability of new elevations of ridges — p. 293-301 and notes.
g. The solid surface of the earth has two envelopes, one liquid, and the other aeriform. Contrasts and analogies which these envelopes — the sea and the atmosphere — present in their conditions of aggregation and electricity, and in their relations of currents and temperature. Depths of the ocean and of the atmosphere, the shoals of which constitute our highlands and mountain chains. The degree of heat at the surface of the sea in different latitudes and in the lower strata. Tendency of the sea to maintain the temperature of the surface in the strata nearest to the atmosphere, in consequence of the mobility of its particles and the alteration in its density. Maximum of the density of salt water. Position of the zones of the hottest water, and of those having the greatest saline contents. Thermic influence of the lower polar current and the counter currents in the straits of the sea — p. 302-304 and notes. General level of the sea, and permanent local disturbances of equilibrium; the periodic disturbances manifested as tides. Oceanic currents; the equatorial or rotation current, the Atlantic warm Gulf Stream, and the further impulse which it receives; the cold Peruvian stream in the eastern portion of the Pacific Ocean of the southern zone. Temperature of shoals. The universal diffusion of life in the ocean. Influence of the small submarine sylvan region at the bottom of beds of rooted algae, or on far-extending floating layers of fucus — p. 302-311 and notes.
h. The gaseous envelope of our planet, the atmosphere. Chemical composition of the atmosphere, its transparency, its polarization, pressure, temperature, humidity, and electric tension. Relation of oxygen to nitrogen; amount of carbonic acid; carbureted hydrogen; ammoniacal vapors. Miamata. Regular (horary) changes in the pressure of the atmosphere. Mean barometrical height at the level of the sea in different zones of the earth. Isobarometrical curves. Barometrical windroses. Law of rotation of the winds, and its importance with reference to the knowledge of many meteorological processes. Land and sea winds, trade winds and monsoons — p. 311-317. Climatic distribution of heat in the atmosphere, as the effect of the relative position of transparent and opaque masses (fluid and solid superficial area), and of the hypsometrical configuration of continents. Curvature of the isothermal lines in a horizontal and vertical direction, on the earth's surface and in the superimposed strata of air. Convexity and concavity of the isothermal lines. Mean heat of the year, seasons, months, and days. Enumeration of the causes which produce disturbances in the form of isothermal lines, i.e., their deviation from the position of the geographical parallels. Isochimenal and isotheral lines are the lines of equal winter and summer heat. Causes which raise or lower the temperature. Radiation of the earth's surface, according to its inclination, color, density, dryness, and chemical composition. The form of the cloud which announces what is passing in the upper strata of the atmosphere is the image of the strongly radiating ground projected on a hot summer sky. Contrast between an insular or littoral climate, such as is experienced by all deeply-articulated continents, and the climate of the interior of large tracts of land. East and west coasts. Difference between the southern and northern hemispheres. Thermal scales of p 22 cultivated plants, going down from the vanilla, cacoa, and musaceae, by citrous and olives, and to vines yielding potable wines. The influence which these scales exercise on the geographical distribution of cultivated plants. The favorable ripening and the immaturity of fruits are essentially influenced by the difference in the action of direct or scattered light in a clear sky or in one overcast with mist. General summary of the causes which yield a more genial climate to the greater portion of Europe considered as the western peninsula of Asia — p. 326. Determination of the changes in the mean annual and summer temperature, which correspond to one degree of geographical latitude. Equality of the mean temperature of a mountain station, and of the polar distance of any point lying at the level of the sea. Decrease of temperature with the decrease in elevation. Limits of perpetual snow, and the fluctuations in these limits. Causes of disturbance in the regularity of the phenomenon. Northern and southern chains of the Himalaya; habitability of the elevated plateaux of Thibet — p. 331. Quantity of moisture in the atmosphere, according to the hours of the day, the seasons of the year, degrees of latitude, and elevation. Greatest dryness of the atmosphere observed in Northern Asia, between the river districts of the Irtysch and the Obi. Dew, a consequence of radiation. Quantity of rain — p. 335. Electricity of the atmosphere, and disturbance of the electric tension. Geographical distribution of storms. Predettermination of atmospheric changes. The most important climatic disturbances can not be traced, at the place of observation, to any local cause, but are rather the consequence of some occurrence by which the equilibrium in the atmospheric currents has been destroyed at some considerable distance — p. 335-339.
i. Physical geography is not limited to elementary inorganic terrestrial life, but, elevated to a higher point of view, it embraces the sphere of organic life, and the numerous gradations of its typical development. Animal and vegetable life. General diffusion of life in the sea and on the land; microscopic vital forms discovered in the polar ice no less than in the depths of the ocean within the tropics. Extension imparted to the horizon of life by Ehrenberg's discoveries. Estimation of the mass (volume) of animal and vegetable organisms — p. 339-346. Geography of plants and animals. Migrations of organisms in the ovum, or by means of organs capable of spontaneous motion. Spheres of distribution depending on climatic relations. Regions of vegetation, and classification of the genera of animals. Isolated and social living plants and animals. The character of flora and fauna is not determined so much by the predominance of separate families, in certain parallels of latitude, as by the highly complicated relations of the association of many families, and the relative numerical value of their species. The forms of natural families which increase or decrease from the equator to the poles. Investigations into the numerical relation existing in different districts of the earth between each one of the large families to the whole mass of phanerogamia — p. 346-351. The human race considered according to its physical gradations, and the geographical distribution of its simultaneously occurring types. Races and varieties. All races of men are forms of one single species. Unity of the human race. Languages considered as the intellectual creations of mankind, or as portions of the history of mental activity, manifest a character of nationality, although certain historical occurrences have been the means of diffusing idioms of the same family of languages among nations of wholly different descent — p. 351-359.
In This material taken from pages 23 to 56
COSMOS: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe, Vol. 1 by Alexander von Humboldt
Translated by E C Otte
from the 1858 Harper & Brothers edition of Cosmos, volume 1 —————————————————————————
p 23 INTRODUCTION. ————————
REFLECTIONS ON THE DIFFERENT DEGREES OF ENJOYMENT PRESENTED TO US BY THE ASPECT OF NATURE AND THE STUDY OF HER LAWS.
In attempting, after a long absence from my native country, to develop the physical phenomena of the globe, and the simultaneous action of the forces that pervade the regions of space, I experience a two-fold cause of anxiety. The subject before me is so inexhaustible and so varied, that I fear either to fall into the superficiality of the encyclopedist, or to weary the mind of my reader by aphorisms consisting of mere generalities clothed in dry and dogmatical forms. Undue conciseness often checks the flow of expression, while diffuseness is alike detrimental to a clear and precise exposition of our ideas. Nature is a free domain, and the profound conceptions and enjoyments she awakens within us can only be vividly delineated by thought clothed in exalted forms of speech, worthy of bearing witness to the majesty and greatness of the creation.
In considering the study of physical phenomena, not merely in its bearings on the material wants of life, but in its general influence on the intellectual advancement of mankind, we find its noblest and most important result to be a knowledge of the chain of connection, by which all natural forces are linked together, and made mutually dependent upon each other; and it is the perception of these relations that exalts our views and ennobles our enjoyments. Such a result can, however, only be reaped as the fruit of observation and intellect, combined with the spirit of the age, in which are reflected all the varied phases of thought. He who can trace, through by-gone times, the stream of our knowledge to its primitive source, will learn from history how, for thousands of years, man has labored, amid the ever-recurring changes of form, to recognize the invariability of natural laws, and has thus, by the force of mind, gradually subdued a great portion of the physical world to his dominion. In interrogating the history of the past, we trace the mysterious course of ideas yielding the first glimmering perception of the same image of p 24 a Cosmos, or harmoniously ordered whole, which, dimly shadowed forth to the human mind in the primitive ages of the world, is now fully revealed to the maturer intellect of mankind as the result of long and laborious observation.
Each of these epochs of the contemplation of the external world — the earliest dawn of thought and the advanced stage of civilization — has its own source of enjoyment. In the former, this enjoyment, in accordance with the simplicity of the primitive ages, flowed from an intuitive feeling of the order that was proclaimed by the invariable and successive reappearance of the heavenly bodies, and by the progressive development of organized beings; while in the latter, this sense of enjoyment springs from a definite knowledge of the phenomena of nature. When man began to interrogate nature, and, not content with observing, learned to evoke phenomena under definite conditions; when once he sought to collect and record facts, in order that the fruit of his labors might aid investigation after his own brief existence had passed away, the 'philosophy of Nature' cast aside the vague and poetic garb in which she had been enveloped from her origin, and, having assumed a severer aspect, she now weighs the value of observations, and substitutes induction and reasoning for conjecture and assumption. The dogmas of former ages survive now only in the superstitions of the people and the prejudices of the ignorant, or are perpetuated in a few systems, which, conscious of their weakness, shroud themselves in a vail of mystery. We may also trace the same primitive intuitions in languages exuberant in figurative expressions; and a few of the best chosen symbols engendered by the happy inspiration of the earliest ages, having by degrees lost their vagueness through a better mode of interpretation, are still preserved among our scientific terms.
Nature considered 'rationally', that is to say, submitted to the process of thought, is a unity in diversity of phenomena; a harmony blending together all created things, however dissimilar in form and attributes; one great whole ([Greek words]) animated by the breath of life. The most important result of a rational inquiry into nature is, therefore, to establish the unity and harmony of this stupendous mass of force and matter, to determine with impartial justice what is due to the discoveries of the past and to those of the present, and to analyze the individual parts of natural phenomena without succumbing beneath the weight of the whole. Thus, and thus alone, is it permitted to man, while mindful of the high destiny p 25 of his race, to comprehend nature, to lift the vail that shrouds her phenomena, and as it were, submit the results of observation to the test of reason and of intellect.
In reflecting upon the different degrees of enjoyment presented to us in the contemplation of nature, we find that the first place must be assigned to a sensation, which is wholly independent of an intimate acquaintance with the physical phenomena presented to our view, or of the peculiar character of the region surrounding us. In the uniform plain bounded only by a distant horizon, where the lowly heather, the cistus, or waving grasses, deck the soil; on the ocean shore, where the waves, softly rippling over the beach, leave a track, green with the weeds of the sea; every where, the mind is penetrated by the same sense of the grandeur and vast expanse of nature, revealing to the soul, by a mysterious inspiration, the existence of laws that regulate the forces of the universe. Mere communion with nature, mere contact with the free air, exercise a soothing yet strengthening influence on the wearied spirit, calm the storm of passion, and soften the heart when shaken by sorrow to its inmost depths. Every where, in every region of the globe, in every stage of intellectual culture, the same sources of enjoyment are alike vouchsafed to man. The earnest and solemn thoughts awakened by a communion with nature intuitively arise from a presentiment of the order and harmony pervading the whole universe, and from the contrast we draw between the narrow limits of our own existence and the image of infinity revealed on every side, whether we look upward to the starry vault of heaven, scan the far-stretching plain before us, or seek to trace the dim horizon across the vast expanse of ocean.
The contemplation of the individual characteristics of the landscape, and of the conformation of the land in any definite region of the earth, gives rise to a different source of enjoyment, awakening impressions that are more vivid, better defined, and more congenial to certain phases of the mind, than those of which we have already spoken. At one time the heart is stirred by a sense of the grandeur of the face of nature, by the strife of the elements, or, as in Northern Asia by the aspect of the dreary barrenness of the far-stretching steppes; at another time, softer emotions are excited by the contemplation of rich harvests wrested by the hand of man from the wild fertility of nature, or by the sight of human habitations raised beside some wild and foaming torrent. Here I regard less the degree of intensity than the difference existing in the p 26 various sensations that derive their charm and permanence from the peculiar character of the scene.
If I might be allowed to abandon myself to the recollections of my own distant travels, I would instance, among the most striking scenes of nature, the calm sublimity of a tropical night, when the stars, not sparkling, as in our northern skies, shed their soft and planetary light over the gently-heaving ocean; or I would recall the deep valleys of the Cordilleras, where the tall and slender palms pierce the leafy vail around them, and waving on high their feathery and arrow-like branches for, as it were, "a forest above a forest;"* or I would describe the summit of the Peak of Teneriffe, when a horizontal layer of clouds, dazzling in whiteness, has separated the cone of cinders from the plain below, and suddenly the ascending current pierces the cloudy vail, so that the eye of the traveler may range from the brink of the crater, along the vine-clad slopes of Orotava, to the orange gardens and banana groves that skirt the shore. In scenes like these, it is not the peaceful charm uniformly spread over the face of nature that moves the heart, but rather the peculiar physiognomy and conformation of the land, the features of the landscape, the ever varying outline of the clouds, and their blending with the horizon of the sea, whether it lies spread before us like a smooth and shining mirror, or is dimly seen through the morning mist. All that the senses can but imperfectly comprehend, all that is most awful in such romantic scenes of nature, may become a source of enjoyment to man, by opening a wide field to the creative powers of his imagination. Impressions change with the varying movements of the mind, and we are led by a happy illusion to believe that we receive from the external world that with which we have ourselves invested it.
[footnote] *This expression is taken from a beautiful description of tropical forest scenery in 'Paul and Virginia', by Bernardia de Saint Pierre.
When far from our native country, after a long voyage, we tread for the first time the soil of a tropical land, we experience a certain feeling of surprise and gratification in recognizing, in the rocks that surround us, the same inclined schistose strata, and the same columnar basalt covered with cellular amygdaloids, that we had left in Europe, and whose identity of character, in latitudes so widely different, reminds us that the solidification of the earth's crust is altogether independent of climatic influences. But these rocky masses of schist and of basalt are covered with vegetation of a character with which we are unacquainted, and of a physiognomy wholly p 27 unknown to us; and it is then, amid the colossal and majestic forms of an exotic flora, that we feel how wonderfully the flexibility of our nature fits us to receive new impressions, linked together by a certain secret analogy. We so readily perceive the affinity existing among all the forms of organic life, that although the sight of a vegetation similar to that of our native country might at first be most welcome to the eye, as the sweet familiar sounds of our mother tongue are to the ear, we nevertheless, by degrees, and almost imperceptibly, become familiarized with a new home and a new climate. As a true citizen of the world, man every where habituates himself to that which surrounds him; yet fearful, as it were, of breaking the links of association that bind him to the home of his childhood, the colonist applies to some few plants in a far-distant clime the names he had been familiar with in his native land; and by the mysterious relations existing among all types of organization, the forms of exotic vegetation present themselves to his mind as nobler and more perfect developments of those he had loved in earlier days. Thus do the spontaneous impressions of the untutored mind lead, like the laborious deductions of cultivated intellect, to the same intimate persuasion, that one sole and indissoluble chain binds together all nature.
It may seem a rash attempt to endeavor to separate, into its different elements, the magic power exercised upon our minds by the physical world, since the character of the landscape, and of every imposing scene in nature, depends so materially upon the mutual relation of the ideas and sentiments simultaneously excited in the mind of the observer.
The powerful effect exercised by nature springs, as it were, from the connection and unity of the impressions and emotions produced; and we can only trace their different sources by analyzing the individuality of objects and the diversity of forces.
The richest and most varied elements for pursuing an analysis of this nature present themselves to the eyes of the traveler in the scenery of Southern Asia, in the Great Indian Archipelago, and more especially, too, in the New Continent, where the summits of the lofty Cordilleras penetrate the confines of the aerial ocean surrounding our globe, and where the same subterranean forces that once raised these mountain chains still shake them to their foundation and threaten their downfall.
Graphic delineations of nature, arranged according to systematic views, are not only suited to please the imagination, p 28 but may also, when properly considered, indicate the grades of the impressions of which I have spoken, from the uniformity of the sea-shore, or the barren steppes of Siberia, to the inexhaustible fertility of the torrid zone. If we were even to picture to ourselves Mount Pilatus placed on the Schreckhorn,* or the Schneekoppe of Silesia on Mont Blanc, we should p 29 not have attained to the height of that great Colossus of the Andes, the Chimborazo, whose height is twice that of Mont Aetna; and we must pile the Righi, or Mount Athos, on the summit of the Chimborazo, in order to form a just estimate of the elevation of the Dhawalagiri, the highest point of the Himalaya.
[footnote] *These comparisons are only approximative. The several elevations above the level of the sea are, in accurate numbers, as follows: The Schneekoppe or Riesenkoppe, in Silesia about 5270 feet, according to Hallaschka. The Righi, 5902 feet, taking the height of the Lake of Lucerne at 1426 feet, according to Eschman. (See 'Compte Rendu des Mesures Trigonometriques en Suisse', 1840, p. 230.) Mount Athos, 6775 feet, according to Captain Gaultier; Mount Pilatus, 7546 feet; Mount Aetna, 10,871 feet, according to Captain Smyth; or 10,874 feet, according to the barometrical measurement made by Sir John Herschel, and communicated to me in writing in 1825, and 10,899 feet, according to angles of altitude taken by Cacciatore at Palermo (calculated by assuming the terrestrial refraction to be 0.076); the Schreckhorn, 12,383 feet; the Jungfrau, 13,720 feet, according to Tralles; Mount Blanc, 15,775 feet, according to the different measurements considered by Roger ('Bibl. Univ.', May, 1828, 0. 24-53), 15,733 feet, according to the measurements taken from Mount Columbier by Carlini in 1821, and 15,748 feet, as measured by the Austrian engineers from Trelod and the Glacier d'Ambin.
[footnote continued] The actual height of the Swiss mountains fluctuates, according to Eschman's observations, as much as 25 English feet, owing to the varying thickness of the stratum of snow that covers the summits. Chimborazo is, according to my trigonometrical measurements, 21,421 feet (see Humboldt, 'Recueil d'Obs. Astr.', tome i., p. 73), and Dhawalagiri, 28,074 feet. As there is a difference of 445 feet between the determinations of Blake and Webb, the elevation assigned to the Dhawalagiri (or white mountain, from the Sanscrit 'dhawala', white, and 'giri', mountain) can not be received with the same confidence as that of the Jawahir, 25,749 feet, since the latter rests on a complete trigonomietrical measurement (see Herbert and Hodgson in the 'Asiat. Res.', vol. xiv., p. 189, and Suppl. to 'Encycl. Brit.', vol. iv., p. 643). I have shown elsewhere ('Ann. des Sciences Naturelles', Mars, 1825) that the height of the Dhawalagiri (28,074 feet) depends on several elements that have not been ascertained with certainty, as azimuths and latitudes (Humboldt, 'Asie Centrale', t. iii., p. 282). It has been believed, but without foundation, that in the Tartaric chain, north of Thibet, opposite to the chain of Kuen-lun, there are several snowy summits, whose elevation is about 30,000 English feet (almost twice that of Mont Blanc), or, at any rate, 29,000 feet (see Captain Alexander Gerard's and John Gerard's 'Journey to the Boorendo Pass', 1840, vol. i., p. 143 and 311). Chimborazo is spoken of in the text only as 'one' of the highest summits of the chain of the Andes; for in the year 1827, the learned and highly-gifted traveler, Pentland, in his memorable expedition to Upper Peru (Bolivia), measured the elevation of two mountains situated to the east of Lake Titicaca, viz., the Sorata, 25,200 feet, and the Illimani, 24,000 feet, both greatly exceeding the height of Chimborazo, which is only 21,421 feet, and being nearly equal in elevation to the Jawahir, which is the highest mountain in the Himalaya that has as yet been accurately measured. Thus Mont Blanc is 5646 feet below Chimborazo; Chimborazo, 3779 feet below the Sorata; the Sorata, 549 feet below the Jawahir, and probably about 2880 feet below the Dhawalagiri. According to a new measurement of the Illimani, by Pentland, in 1838, the elevation of this mountain is given at 23,868 feet, varying only 133 feet from the measurement taken in 1827. The elevations have been given in this note with minute exactness, as erroneous numbers have been introduced into many maps and tables recently published, owing to incorrect reductions of the measurements. [In the preceding note, taken from those appended to the Introduction in the French translation, rewritten by Humboldt himself, the measurements are given in meters, but these have been converted into English feet, for the greater convenience of the general reader.] — 'Tr.'
But although the mountains of India greatly surpass the Cordilleras of South America by their astonishing elevation (which, after being long contested, has at last been confirmed by accurate measurements), they can not, from their geographical position, present the same inexhaustible variety of phenomena by which the latter are characterized. The impression produced by the grander aspects of nature dies not depend exclusively on height. The chain of the Himalaya is placed far beyond the limits of the torrid zone, and scarcely is a solitary palm-tree to be found in the beautiful valleys of Kumaoun and Garhwal.*
[Footnote] *The absence of palms and tree-ferns on the temperate slopes of the Himalaya is shown in Don's 'Flora Nepalensis', 1825, and in the remarkable series of lithographs of Wallich's 'Flora Indica', whose catalogue contains the enormous number of 7683 Himalaya species, almost all phanerogamic plants, which have as yet been but imperfectly classified. In Nepaul (lat. 26 1/2 degrees to 27 1/4 degrees) there has hitherto been observed only one species of palm, Chamaerops martiana, Wall. ('Plantae Asiat.', lib. iii., p. 5,211), which is found at the height of 5250 English feet above the level of the sea, in the shady valley of Bunipa. The magnificent tree-fern, Alsophila brunoniana, Wall. (of which a stem 48 feet long has been in the possession of the British Museum since 1831), does not grow in Nepaul, but is found on the mountains of Silhet, to the northwest of Calcutta, in lat. 24 degrees 50 minutes. The Nepaul fern, Paranema cyathoides, Don, formerly known as Sphaeroptera barbata, Wall. ('Plantae Asiat.', lib. i., p. 42, 48), is indeed, nearly related to Cyathea, a species of which I have seen in the South American Missions of Caripe, measuring 33 feet in height; this is not, however, properly speaking a tree.
On the southern slope of the ancient Paropamisus, in the latitudes of 28 degrees and 34 degrees, nature no longer displays the same abundance of tree-ferns and arborescent grasses, heliconias and orchideous plants, which in tropical p 30 regions are to be found even on the highest plateaux of the mountains. On the slope of the Himalaya, under the shade of the Deodora and the broad-leaved oak, peculiar to these Indian Alps, the rocks of granite and of mica schist are covered with vegetable forms almost similar to those which characterize Europe and Northern Asia. The species are not identical, but closely analogous in aspect and physiognomy, as, marsh parnassia, and the prickly species of Ribes.* The chain of the Himalaya is also wanting in the imposing phenomena of volcanoes, which in the Andes and in the Indian Archipelago often reveal to the inhabitants, under the most terrific forms, the existence of the forces pervading the interior of our planet.
[footnote] *Ribes nubicola, R. glaciale, R. grossularia. The species which compose the vegetation of the Himalaya are four pines, notwithstanding the assertion of the ancients regarding Eastern Asia (Strabo, lib. 11, p. 510, Cas.), twenty-five oaks, four birches, two chestnuts, seven maples, twelve willows, fourteen roses, three species of strawberry, seven species of Alpine roses ('rhododendra'), one of which attains a height of 20 feet, and many other northern genera. Large white apes, having black faces, inhabit the wild chestnut-tree of Kashmir, which grows to a height of 100 feet, in lat. 33 degrees (see Carl von Hugel's 'Kaschmir', 1840, 2d pt. 249). Among the Coniferae, we find the Pinus deodwara, or deodara (in Sanscrit, 'dewa-daru', the timber of the gods), which is nearly allied to Pinus cedrus. Near the limit of perpetual snow flourish the large and showy flowers of the Gentiana venusta, G. Moorcroftiana, Swertia purpurescens, S. speciosa, Parnassia armata, P. nubicola, Poenia Emode, Tulipa stellata; and besides varieties of European genera peculiar to these Indian mountains, true European species as Leontodon taraxacum, Prunella vulgaris, Galium aparine, and Thlaspi arvense. The heath mentioned by Saunders, in Turner's 'Travels', and which had been confounded with Calluna vulgaris, is an Andromeda, a fact of the greatest importance in the geography of Asiatic plants. If I have made use, in this work, of the unphilosophical expressions of European genera, 'European' special, 'growing wild in Asia', etc., it has been in consequence of the old botanical language, which, instead of the idea of a large dissemination, or, rather, of the coexistence of organic productions, has dogmatically substituted the false hypothesis of a migration, which, from predilection for Europe, is further assumed to have been from west to east.
Moreover, on the southern declivity of the Himalaya, where the ascending current deposits the exhalations rising from a vigorous Indian vegetation, the region of perpetual snow begins at an elevation of 11,000 or 12,000 feet above the level of the sea,* thus setting a limit to the development of organic p 31 life in a zone that is nearly 3000 feet lower than that to which it attains in the equinoctial region of the Cordilleras.
[footnote] *On the southern declivity of the Himalaya, the limit of perpetual snow is 12,978 feet above the level of the sea; on the northern declivity, or, rather, on the peaks which rise above the Thibet, or Tartarian plateau, this limit is at 16,625 feet from 30 1/2 degrees to 32 degrees of latitude, while at the equator, in the Andes of Quito, it is 15,790 feet. Such is the result I have deduced from the combination of numerous data furnished by Webb, Gerard, Herbert, and Moorcroft. (See my two memoirs on the mountains of India, in 1816 and 1820, in the 'Ann. de Chimie et de Physique', t. iii., p. 303; t. xiv., p. 6, 22, 50.) The greater elevation to which the limit of perpetual snow recedes on the Tartarian declivity is owing to the radiation of heat from the neighboring elevated plains, to the purity of the atmosphere, and to the infrequent formation of snow in an air which is both very cold and very dry. (Humboldt, 'Asie Centrale', t. iii., p. 281-326.) My opinion on the difference of height of the snow-line on the two sides of the Himalaya has the high authority of Colebrooke in its favor. He wrote to me in June, 1824, as follows: "I also find, from the data in my possession, that the elevation of the line of perpetual snow is 13,000 feet. On the southern declivity, and at latitude 31 degrees, Webb's measurements give me 13,500 feet, consequently 500 feet more than the height deduced from Captain Hodgson's observations. Gerard's measurements fully confirm your opinion that the line of snow is higher on the northern than on the southern side." It was not until the present year (1840) that we obtained the complete and collected journal of the brothers Gerard, published under the supervision of Mr. Lloyd. ('Narrative of a Journey from Cawnpoor to the Boorendo Pass, in the Himalaya, by Captain Alexander Gerard and John Gerard, edited by George Lloyd', vol. i., p. 292, 311, 320, 327 and 341.) Many interesting details regarding some localities may be found in the narrative of 'A Visit to the Shatool, for the Purpose of determining the Line of Perpetual Snow on the southern face of the Himalaya, in August', 1822. Unfortunately, however, these travelers always confound the elevation at which sporadic snow falls with the maximum of the height that the snow-line attains on the Thibetian plateau. Captain Gerard distinguishes between the summits that rise in the middle of the plateau, where he states the elevation of the snow-line to be between 18,000 and 19,000 feet, and the northern slopes of the chain of the Himalaya, which border on the defile of the Sutledge, and can radiate but little heat, owing to the deep ravines with which they are intersected. The elevation of the village of Tangno is given at only 9300 feet, while that of the plateau surrounding the sacred lake of Maqasa is 17,000 feet. Captain Gerard finds the snow-line 500 feet lower on the northern slopes, where the chain of the Himalaya is broken through, than toward the southern declivities facing Hindostan, and he there estimates the line of perpetual snow at 15,000 feet. The most striking differences are presented between the vegetation on the Thibetian plateau and that characteristic of the southern slopes of the Himalaya. On the latter the cultivation of grain is arrested at 9974 feet and even there the corn has often to be cut when the blades are still green. The extreme limit of forests of tall oaks and deodars is 11,960 feet; that of dwarf birches, 12,983 feet. On the plains, Captain Gerard found pastures up to the height of 17,000 feet; the cereals will grow at 14,100 feet, or even at 18,540 feet; birches with tall stems at 14,100 feet, and copse or brush wood applicable for fuel is found at an elevation of upward of 17,000 feet, that is to say, 1280 feet and above the lower limits of the snow-line at the equator, in the province of Quito. It is very desirable that the 'mean' elevation of the Thibetian plateau, which I have estimated at only about 8200 feet between the Himalaya and the Kuen-lun, and the difference in the height of the line of perpetual snow on the southern and on the northern slopes of the Himalaya, should be again investigated by travelers who are accustomed to judge of the general conformation of the land. Hitherto simple calculations have too often been confounded with actual measurements, and the elevations of isolated summits with that of the surrounding plateau. (Compare Carl Zimmerman's excellent Hypsometrical Remarks in his 'Geographischen Analyse der Karte von Inner Asien', 1841, s. 98.) Lord draws attention to the difference presented by the two faces of the Himalaya and those of the Alpine chain of Hindoo-Coosh, with respect to the limits of the snow-line. "The latter chain," he says, "has the table-land to the south, in consequence of which the snow-line is higher on the southern side, contrary to what we find to be the case with respect to the Himalaya, which is bounded on the south by sheltered plains, as Hindoo-Coosh is on the north." It must, however, be admitted that the hypsometrical data on which these statements are based require a critical revision with regard to several of their details; but still they suffice to establish the main fact, that the remarkable configuration of the land in Central Asia affords man all that is essential to the maintenance of life, as habitation, food, and fuel, at an elevation above the level of the sea which in almost all other parts of the globe is covered with perpetual ice. We must except the very dry districts of Bolivia, where snow is so rarely met with, and where Pentland (in 1838) fixed the snow-line at 15,667 feet, between 16 degrees and 17 3/4 degrees south latitude. The opinion that I had advanced regarding the difference in the snow-line on the two faces of the Himalaya has been most fully confirmed by the barometrical observations of Victor Jacquemont, who fell an early sacrifice to his noble and unwearied ardor. (See his 'Correspondance pendant son Voyage dans l'Inde', 1828 'a' 1832, liv. 23, p. 290, 296, 299.) "Perpetual snow," says Jacquemont, "descends lower on the southern than on the northern slopes of the Himalaya, and the limit constantly rises as we advance to the north of the chain bordering on India. On the Kionbrong, about 18,317 feet in elevation, according to Captain Gerard, I was still considerably below the limit of perpetual snow which I believe to be 19,690 feet in this part of Hindostan." (This estimate I consider much too high.)
[Footnote continues] The same traveler says, "To whatever height we rise on the southern declivity of the Himalaya, the climate retains the same character, and the same division of the seasons as in the plains of India; the summer solstice being every year marked by the same prevalence of rain which continues to fall without intermission until the autumnal equinox. But a new, a totally different climate begins at Kashmir, whose elevation I estimate to be 5350 feet, nearly equal to that of the cities of Mexico and Popayan" ('Correspond. de Jacquemont', t. ii., p. 58 et 74). The warm and humid air of the sea, as Leopold von Buch well observes, is carried by the monsoons across the plains of India to the skirts of the Himalaya which arrest its course, and hinder it from diverging to the Thibetian districts of Ladak and Lassa. Carl von Hugel estimates the elevation of the Valley of Kashmir above the level of the sea at 5818 feet, and bases his observation on the determination of the boiling point of water (see theil 11, s. 155, and 'Journal of Geog. Soc.', vol. vi., p. 215). In this valley, where the atmosphere is scarcely ever agitated by storms, and in 34 degrees 7 minutes lat., snow is found, several feet in thickness, from December to March.
p 32 But the countries bordering on the equator possess another advantage, to which sufficient attention has not hitherto been p 33 directed. This portion of the surface of the globe affords in the smallest space the greatest possible variety of impressions from the contemplation of nature. Among the colossal mountains of Cundinamarea, of Quito, and of Peru, furrowed by deep ravines, man is enabled to contemplate alike all the families of plants, and all the stars of the firmament. There, at a single glance, the eye surveys majestic palms, humid forests of bambusa, and the varied species of Musaceae, while above these forms of tropical vegetation appear oaks, medlars, the sweet-brier, and umbelliferous plants, as in our European homes. There as the traveler turns his eyes to the vault of heaven, a single glance embraces the constellation of the Southern Cross, the Magellanic clouds, and the guiding stars of the constellation of the Bear, as they circle round the arctic pole. There the depths of the earth and the vaults of heaven display all the richness of their forms and the variety of their phenomena. There the different climates are ranged the one above the other, stage by stage, like the vegetable zones, whose succession they limit; and there the observer may readily trace the laws that regulate the diminution of heat, as they stand indelibly inscribed on the rocky walls and abrupt declivities of the Cordilleras.
Not to weary the reader with the details of the phenomena which I long since endeavored graphically to represent,* I will here limit myself to the consideration of a few of the general results whose combination constitutes the 'physical delineation of the torrid zone.' That which, in the vagueness of our p 34 impressions, loses all distinctness of form, like some distant mountain shrouded from view by a vail of mist, is clearly revealed by the light of mind, which, by its scrutiny into the causes of phenomena, learns to resolve and analyze their different elements, assigning to each its individual character. Thus, in the sphere of natural investigation, as in poetry and painting, the delineation of that which appeals most strongly to the imagination, derives its collective interest from the vivid truthfulness with which the individual features are portrayed.
[footnote] *See, generally my 'Essai sur la Geographie des Plantes, et le Tableau physique des Regions Equinoxiales', 1807, p. 80-88. On the diurnal and nocturnal variations of temperature, see Plate 9 of my 'Atlas Geogr. et Phys. du Nouveau Continent'; and the Tables in my work, entitled 'De distributione Geographica Plantarum, secundum coeli tempriem, et altitudinem Montium', 1817, p. 90-116; the meteorological portion of my 'Asie Centrale', t. iii., p. 212, 224; and, finally, the more recent and far more exact exposition of the variations of temperature experienced in correspondence with the increase of altitude on the chain of the Andes, given in Boussingault's Memoir, 'Sur la profondeur a laquelle on trouve, sous les Tropiques, la couche de Temperature Invariable.' (Ann. de Chimie et de Physique, 1833, t. liii., p. 225-247.) This treatise contains the elevations of 128 points, included between the level of the sea and the declivity of the Antisana (17,900 feet), as well as the mean temperature of the atmosphere, which varies with the height between 81 degrees and 35 degrees F.
The regions of the torrid zone not only give rise to the most powerful impressions by their organic richness and their abundant fertility, but they likewise afford the inestimable advantage of revealing to man, by the uniformity of the variations of the atmosphere and the development of vital forces, and by the contrasts of climate and vegetation exhibited at the different elevations, the invariability of the laws that regulate the course of the heavenly bodies, reflected, as it were, in terrestrial phenomena. Let us dwell, then, for a few moments, on the proofs of this regularity, which is such that it may be submitted to numerical calculation and computation.
In the burning plains that rise but little above the level of the sea, reign the families of the banana, the cycas, and the palm, of which the number of species comprised in the flora of tropical regions has been so wonderfully increased in the present day by the zeal of botanical travelers. To these groups succeed, in the Alpine valleys, and the humid and shaded clefts on the slopes of the Cordilleras, the tree-ferns, whose thick cylindrical trunks and delicate lace-like foliage stand out in bold relief against the azure of the sky, and the cinchona, from which we derive the febrifuge bark. The medicinal strength of this bark is said to increase in proportion to the degree of moisture imparted to the foliage of the tree by the light mists which form the upper surface of the clouds resting over the plains. Every where around, the confines of the forest are encircled by broad bands of social plants, as the delicate aralia, the thibaudia, and the myrtle-leaved Andromeda, while the Alpine rose, the magnificent befaria, weaves a purple girdle round the spiry peaks. In the cold regions of the Paramos, which is continually exposed to the fury of storms and winds, we find that flowering shrubs and herbaceous plants, bearing large and variegated blossoms, have given place to monocotyledons, whose slender spikes constitute the sole covering of the soil. This is the zone of the p 35 grasses, one vast savannah extending over the immense mountain plateaux, and reflecting a yellow, almost golden tinge, to the slopes of the Cordilleras, on which graze the lama and the cattle domesticated by the European colonist. Where the naked trachyte rock pierces the grassy turf, and penetrates into those higher strata of air which are supposed to be less charged with carbonic acid, we meet only with plants of an inferior organization, as lichens, lecideas, and the brightly-colored, dust-like lepraria, scattered around in circular patches. Islets of fresh-fallen snow, varying in form and extent, arrest the last feeble traces of vegetable development, and to these succeeds the region of perpetual snow, whose elevation undergoes but little change, and may be easily determined. It is but rarely that the elastic forces at work within the interior of our globe have succeeded in breaking through the spiral domes, which, resplendent in the brightness of eternal snow, crown the summits of the Cordilleras; and even where these subterranean forces have opened a permanent communication with the atmosphere, through circular craters or long fissures, they rarely send forth currents of lava, but merely eject ignited scoriae, steam, sulphureted hydrogen gas, and jets of carbonic acid.
In the earliest stages of civilization, the grand and imposing spectacle presented to the minds of the inhabitants of the tropics could only awaken feelings of astonishment and awe. It might, perhaps, be supposed, as we have already said, that the periodical return of the same phenomena, and the uniform manner in which they arrange themselves in successive groups, would have enabled man more readily to attain to a knowledge of the laws of nature; but, as far as tradition and history guide us, we do not find that any application was made of the advantages presented by these favored regions. Recent researches have rendered it very doubtful whether the primitive seat of Hindoo civilization — one of the most remarkable phases in the progress of mankind — was actually within the tropics. Airyana Vaedjo, the ancient cradle of the Zend, was situated to the northwest of the upper Indus, and after the great religious schism, that is to say, after the separation of the Iranians from the Brahminical institution, the language that had previously been common to them and to the Hindoos assumed among the latter people (together with the literature, habits, and conditions of society) an individual form in the Magodha of Madhya Desa,* a district that is bounded by the great chain p 36 of Himalaya and the smaller range of the Vindhya.
[footnote] *See, on the Madhjadeca, properly so called, Lassen's excellent work, entitled 'Indische Alterthumskunde', bd. i., s. 92. The Chinese give the name of Mo-kie-thi to the southern Bahar, situated to the south of the Ganges (see 'Foe-Koue-Ki' by, 'Chy-Fa-Hian', 1836, p. 256). Djambu-dwipa is the name given to the whole of India; but the words also indicate one of the four Buddhist continents.
In less ancient times the Sanscrit language and civilization advanced toward the southeast, penetrating further within the torrid zone, as my brother Wilhelm von Humboldt has shown in his great work on the Kavi and other languages of analogous structure.*
[Footnote] *'Ueber die Kawi Sprache auf der Insel Java, nebst einer Einleitung uber die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Ein fluss auf die geistige Entwickelung des Menschengrshlecht's' von Wilhelm v. Humboldt, 1836, bd. i., s. 50519.
Notwithstanding the obstacles opposed in northern latitudes to the discovery of the laws of nature, owing to the excessive complication of phenomena, and the perpetual local variations and the distribution of organic forms, it is to the inhabitants of a small section of the temperate zone that the rest of mankind owe the earliest revelation of an intimate and rational acquaintance with the forces governing the physical world. Moreover, it is from the same zone (which is apparently more favorable to the progress of reason, the softening of manners, and the security of public liberty) that the germs of civilization have been carried to the regions of the tropics, as much by the migratory movement of races as by the establishment of colonies, differing widely in their institution from those of the Phoenicians or Greeks.
In speaking of the influence exercised by the succession of phenomena on the greater or lesser facility of recognizing the causes producing them, I have touched upon that important stage of our communion with the external world, when the enjoyment arising from a knowledge of the laws, and the mutual connection of phenomena, associates itself with the charm of a simple contemplation of nature. That which for a long time remains merely an object of vague intuition, by degrees acquires the certainty of positive truth; and man, as an immortal poet has said, in our own tongue — Amid ceaseless change seeks the unchanging pole.*