Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Good Words 1860
Alexander Von Humboldt

By a German friend

Alexander Von Humboldt

Whoever, during the summer months of the last ten years, walked, about three o'clock in the afternoon, up the flight of stone steps leading to old Frederick's (the Great) charming residence of Sans Souci, near Potsdam, might see a royal carriage rounding the castle-hill, and driving up at the opposite side of the stone steps. The carriage, passing the famous windmill, ascends the steep way to the castle, and stops at the large middle glass-window door, opening on a semicircular ground, surrounded by a portico of Ionian pillars. A servant, in the royal livery, hands out an old, age-bent gentleman, in blue frock with red collar, as the royal chamberlains wear it. It is adorned with a large, silvery star, that of the red eagle, and, round his neck, the old courtier wears the Ordre pour le Merite, Peace Class, suspended from a black and white riband. This man is Alexander von Humboldt, coming to the royal dinner-table. He is clad in this apparel, to enable him, according to court etiquette, to be a daily dinner-guest at the royal table. Eighty years or more have made his crown bald, his hair snow white, his forehead wrinkled, his features small and contracted, and even his figure a fourth' shorter than it used to be of yore. But his lips are still smiling kindness, and his eyes sparkle sprightly, like those of youth. He is ushered into the large and splendid saloon, past sundry Greek deities, and enters the drawing-room, with immense chimney and many pictures, reminding one more of the time when Voltaire haunted these rooms than of the present royal proprietors' taste. Here a choice company receives him with every sign of esteem; among high military officers, ministers of state, chamberlains, and here and there a minister of the Church, he is the one preferred, whose attention is considered an honour, and to whom everybody bears a sort of filial affection and respect, especially the ladies of the court—at their head, the fair maids of honour to the queen are respectfully courting his kindness, and receiving from him a kind of parental tuition. There is, perhaps, a known traveller from India or Africa honoured with a royal invitation, or a missionary from remote lands, or an artist, or a learned man from a university, amidst the crowd respectfully waiting for the royal pair—all under Humboldt's special protection, and he has to introduce them to the king and queen. After some talk between those present, the folding-doors from the saloon of the deities are opened, and the serene and kind face of Frederick William IV. hushes them to silence, only the old man continuing his pleasant chatting with his neighbour, a young countess. On the king's arm hangs the queen, a kind but thoughtful princess. Both are going round the company, and separately addressing the foreigners, or those who are not daily guests. These latter take that side of the room where light is coming in, and where the short-sighted king cannot well recognise faces. Now the king approaches one of the men of science or literature, and Humboldt is at his side, and takes the part of introducer or interpreter, though it is astonishing with what fulness of knowledge his majesty speaks of pictures, architecture, military exploits, recondite geographical facts, or even of Sanscrit.

Into all these regions the old nobleman is following his king, and shews himself at home everywhere. At dinner, which is soon announced, he is placed opposite to his sovereign, in order to be distinctly heard when he begins telling anecdotes, or dwelling on discoveries in physical science, or on the surface of the globe. He is inexhaustible in such talk, for his mental powers, of the most comprehensive sort, are not in the least impaired by old age; and he has lived in France and Italy, in Spain and England, in Russia and Switzerland, in Central Asia and the New World. He has sojourned in Paris during the most exciting years of revolution, of the directory, the empire, the restoration, the kingdom of July—has lived at courts and in academic circles, as well as in the splendid saloons of old and new nobility—and his study is still like a large reservoir, whither, from all parts of the globe, news, books, pamphlets, and draughts are pouring, like so many rivers and rivulets into a wide lake. No person, perhaps scarcely any public body, has such a collection of local literature from every land, particularly from South and Central America, as that which Alexander von Humboldt has bequeathed to his valet-de-chambre. So every royal dinner, when he is present, becomes the most pleasant lecture, delivered in the way of easy talk, and far from anything like methodical teaching. Occurrences of his travels in the Andes, or in the valleys of the giant rivers of South America, or on the heights of Ural and Altai, such as have never been printed in his many volumes or essays, are occasionally coming forth, besides lively sketches of Paris life, or anecdotes from the Spanish court. Between these fragments from science or society, the praise of a new scientific book, or of a young man of talent in the field of arts is heard from him, and clever observations may indicate that the benevolent talker has royal protection or assistance in view, which he will afterwards propose at the right place. When, after dinner and coffee, their majesties have disappeared, Humboldt is seen returning to his lonely study in the town-castle of Potsdam, where the court is residing only some weeks in spring and autumn, whereas summer is spent at Sans Souci, and also partly in the large, heavy castle of Berlin, or at Charlottenburg a mile off.

This study of Humboldt's, in one of the aisles of Potsdam castle, where, at the king's desire, he has his summer residence, is the most retired thing ever seen, and shews a choice library and some comfortable rooms, but is nevertheless a sort of nuisance to a man who sleeps only four or five hours in twenty-four, takes no walks whatever, and spends all his time in studying, except those short absences from home to join in society. The real home of Humboldt is his winter residence in the Oranienburg Street at Berlin, which a benevolent and wealthy merchant of Berlin has bought only to protect Humboldt from the trouble of changing his dwelling. There the chief collection of his books, maps, and drawings are arranged on hundreds of shelves and dozens of tables, in six large rooms, in one of which he is sitting day and night at a writing-table, which is covered with books and draughts; for he does not write on a desk, like common people—his paper rests on a paste-board upon his knees, and so he writes the master-works that astonish the whole scientific world, and sends forth the thousands of small billets flying out from his study to the learned members of the Academy and the University of Berlin, to princes and princesses throughout Europe, and even to men of science in remote Asia, or far-distant America. He is still the traveller seated on a rock of the Cordilleras, or on the steep bank of a river, and taking his notes. Therefore all hi3 manuscripts are odd and crooked, the lines not running horizontally, but diagonally over his paper. Those small scraps are thanking for an important communication, or requiring a special research of chemistry or astronomy, of geology or mineralogy, of botany or geography, of anatomy or physiology, of ethnology or history, from some of the world's great thinkers and workers. All the learned men of Berlin are gladly at his command, and he has become a king of science, especially by his disinterested kindness. The object of not a few of his letters is succour and furtherance for talented young men of science, of whom thousands in Germany, France, Russia, or even America, are indebted to him for whatever they have got of acknowledgment, and of laborious ease. We cannot, however, deny that his kindness towards the poor and suffering of this and other classes was often misplaced, that he was often deceived, and that even his acuteness of mind did not sufficiently guard him against such mistakes.

We ask by what concurrence of happy circumstances a man of genius could climb up to that summit of universal affection and respect ? Universal it was, as not only the city of Berlin was proud to call him its citizen, and adorn public places and buildings with his popular name ; but universities were contending with each other to honour themselves by bestowing on him their diplomas, and academies by admitting him among their members, while sovereigns from one end of Europe to the other conferred on him their crosses and stars, ladies of the highest rank were sitting at his feet to learn science, and even the world beyond the ocean bestowed on him what it had to give of honours.

His cradle stood very near to where his tomb is lying, though between both he has wandered over three continents and outlived two generations. Among his most intimate friends were kings, as well as democratic foes of kingship, like the late astronomer, M. Arago. The place of his birth was Berlin, where he was baptized in the same cathedral where his coffin was placed before being brought to his last resting-place at Tegel. He was born September 14, 1769, and baptized Fried-rich Heinrich Alexander. He was two years younger than his illustrious brother, Carl Wilhelm, the great statesman, diplomatist, linguist, and philosopher. His father, Alexander George von Humboldt, was of old lineage, his ancestors having been great proprietors near Cammia, in Pomerania. After this duchy had become a province of Prussia, he held several civil and military appointments. He had been a major in the army of great Friedrich II., adjutant to Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick after the peace, chamberlain to Princess Elizabeth of Prussia, who resided first at Potsdam, then at Stettin. He had acquired the small domain and castle of Tegel, five miles to the south from Berlin, now the property of Wilhelm von Humboldt's daughter, widow of Minister von Billow, once Prussian ambassador at the court of London. He was a favourite of Prince Wilhelm, who, as King Friedrich Wilhelm II., visited him once a year at Tegel. Before this prince ascended the throne (1706), the English ambassador had written to his court: ''Amongst those who likely will become ministers, is Herr von Humboldt, once an officer of the allied army, a man of plain intellect and fair character." His lady was one Von Colomb, cousin of Princess Blucher. She had been united in first marriage to a Baron Holwede. Tegel was the scene of Alexander's childhood—Tegel, celebrious by some witty verses in Goethe's immortal " Faust," jeering at an old bookseller and writer at Berlin, named Nicolai, a man who professed enlightened infidelity, but who nevertheless had given credit to a ghost-story of the old castle. Since 1775, Joachim Heinrich Campe was the tutor of the two young brothers; Campe himself a more than German celebrity by his pedagogic writings, particularly the remodelled "Robinson" of Defoe, a book not only retranslated into English, but also published in most other European languages. He was one of the loudest heralds of so-called rational education, supposing that man is good by nature, and that everything in education was to be done in the way of moral reflection. He was unable to lead his pupils to the eternal sources of revealed truth. Whatever else he could impart, he no doubt gave clear notions of things got by intuition. The Holy Spirit was, in his view, not required for religious cultivation of mind. Alexander, in those frivolous days of the age before the French Revolution, was scarcely led to look at the works of Divine grace in the inner world of man, but sedulously taught to perceive the laws of God's wisdom and power in visible nature and history only. Perhaps Campe's pictures of foreign lands, particularly of tropical America, imbued his talented pupil with the first love of geographical knowledge, and gave him the bias to discovery in that sphere. On the other hand, Campe was a linguist, and published grammars and dictionaries of his mother tongue, which were highly valued. So he may have become the origin of Wilhelm von Humboldt's taste for linguistic research, and for philosophy of language. When Campe left, his well-chosen successor was a student of twenty, M. Kunth, to whose strenuous and faithful assiduity during eleven years the brothers owed much of their mental wealth. The father had died in 1777. Botany was the first sphere of attraction to Alexander. He had in it the teaching of such excellent masters as Heim and Willdenow. As a schoolboy he exerted himself to compete with his elder brother, though doubts existed whether he would be able to choose a scientific career. In religious things he was instructed by Dr Loefler, afterwards an authority in the school of German rationalism, and also in politics, history, and philosophy. Engel and Dohm were his leading stars. Humboldt's early religious teaching from Campe and Loefler had been miserably deficient, or rather perverted. The brothers went to the then existing University of Frankfort on the Oder, where Loefler had become professor of divinity, Alexander being then already resolved to live and die in physical research. He shared with his brother the warmest enthusiasm for their native country, and for its great king, whom both youths had seen in the evening of his brilliant life, Gottingen was their next university, at that time the first seat of learning in Germany. There they found, besides Heyne, the great linguist and antiquarian, and Blumenbach, the famous naturalist, one of the most eminent travellers of the age, George Fathe, who, with Captain Cook, had circumnavigated the globe. In company with this Fathe, Alexander visited for the first time the Rhine countries, Holland, and England. The fruit of this first scientific trip was his first book, an essay on basaltic rocks near the Rhine. During the first thunders of the French Revolution, he merged deeper into his chosen science, choosing the mining department for his public career, and then preparing himself, first at Basch's commercial school at Hamburg, and then, together with his friend Leopold von Bach, under the guidance of Abraham Werner, the first geologist of the age, and nearly the father of geology, at Freyberg, in Saxony.

We will not detain our readers with sketching Humboldt's short official course at Berlin, and at Bayreuth, the now Bavarian capital of one of the two southern Margraviates of Brandenburg, or the various results of his physical study and observations, spread in more than half-a-dozen German and French scientific journals, or his travels in Germany. The eagle was feathering himself. A glorious flight was already in view. ''I was longing to see," as he himself says, "strange shores, to traverse unknown regions of the earth, and to cross boundless oceans." He had left his public career; and all his thoughts, whether he was studying at Vienna, travelling in the Alps, or musing in Italy, were bent on the same object. But he could not leave home without bidding a last adieu to his dear brother, who now, with his excellent wife, lived in philosophical quietness at Jena, surrounded by the then aspiring circle of great minds —Goethe and Schiller the poets, Fichte and Schel-ling the philosophers, Woltmann and Schutz the historians, Loder and Hufland the famous naturalists and physicians. It was from this circle that Humboldt started, having first sold his landed property in Brandenburg in order to travel with his brother and his family, first in Germany and the Austrian Alps, then to Paris, as Italy, whither they were bent, was closed by the war. In Paris he lived in the midst of intellectual society; he examined, with Gay Lussac, the composition of the atmosphere, and projected a voyage with Captain Baudin to the southern Polar Sea, which, however, never came to pass. His greatest gain from this plan was the friendship of M. Aimé Bonpland the botanist, who afterwards was his companion to America. The commotion of Europe by war frustrated another plan to go to Africa, either to Algiers or to Egypt, and then through Arabia, to traverse the body of Asia, till he reached India. He learned Arabian and Persian. But he was not permitted to see any of these countries, nor even tread on the soil of the long-desired African continent. A sudden resolution brought him, with Bonpland, to Spain, whence old Columbus had departed for the New World. After having done a great deal for physical discovery in Spain, they left Madrid, and, well provided with letters of recommendation from the king to all his governors in the New World, they stole out of the blockaded port of Corunna, and took their course direct for the West Indies. The voyage gave plenty of opportunities for research; and. from it, for more than five years, the central and southern part of the western continent was the sphere of his constant investigation of science in every department. Never did a man, in so short a period, examine such a variety of objects. From the atmosphere and the lofty summits of Alpine giants, down to the dark holes of volcanic craters, and into the crust of the globe, far across wide extents of land and ocean, of deserts and grassy plains, among streams and lakes, his clear eye looked into the workshop of earthly existence. Now the stirring world of animal life in swamps and wastes, in water and forest, by day and night, in the rainy and burning season, was the object of his minute inquiry, and of his picturesque pencil; now he seemed only to have for his aim to observe and compare the tribes and families of animals and vegetables, or to analyse and classify minerals. At another time he was seen with his azimuth and Borda's circle, his sextant and telescope, his thermometer and barometer, his hygrometer and electrometer, busy to get from the starry sky fixed points on the earthly surface, in order to draw a net of lines on his map, or to know the height and depth of this surface, or the climatological changes on it. On other days you find him wandering between the ruins of primeval cities and overgrown palaces, the inmates of which were centuries ago buried in a premature grave ; or you hear him pitying, in elegiac strains, the dark fate of extinguished nations, whose tombs he discovered in the dense forest at the river's side, and the last sounds of whose language, no longer heard among mortals, are renewed and repeated only by the solitary parrot of the Appures. But the same traveller you meet again in Mexico, pondering over statistical riddles, and studying the political conditions of large empires, as that of New Spain, or making mining experiments, devising new plans for their working, or collecting whatever he can get of the remnants of dead languages. In short, it is astonishing what a rich and varied booty, like that from a great warlike expedition, this single man has brought back from his travels.

And most admirable it is to notice how this man, lost as he seems in the endless regions, and the huge multiplicity of nature, invariably keeps in sight man as the crown and king of this earthly world; so that all his labour in this wilderness of facts, endeavours to form one centre which unites the rays of light, and concentrates them on the human mind, its feelings and impulses. Humboldt is a student of humanity, even in chemistry or geology. Mankind is to him the eye and soul of the universe. "He is," as was said in a lecture delivered in Berlin in January last, in memory of him and Professor Bitter, "the man who constantly brings nature into contact with man's mind and feelings. He always considers the physical world in a teleological view, and as a schoolmaster of mankind to train it for manhood. So his geographical and natural research ever leaves the low ground of earthly knowledge, and is elevated into the higher light of the Lord's kingdom."

When, in 1804, Alexander von Humboldt, then a young man of thirty-five, again trod his native ground, he was greater than a conqueror, having exposed his life a thousand times for the sake of humanity, and among naturalists, doubtless the first. After a visit to his brother, then. Prussian ambassador at Rome, where he embraced the opportunity, with Gay Lussac and Leopold von Buch, to search Vesuvius, comparing that volcano with its huge brethren in the western world, he went to Berlin, and resided there some years before making Paris his abode, where opportunities for pursuing science were all at his command. His works were successively published in German and French, and shew him a master of style and picturesque language. At an expense of £40,000, these splendid volumes—three large folios, and twenty-three quartos—were printed. A complete set of them cost £400. With Bonpland, Oltmans, Laticille, Cuvier, Kunth, and others of the first men of science, he mastered the immense matter before him. From this fertile ground grew up, year after year, the scientific ideas and actions which have become a common treasure of the civilised world.

When the University of Berlin was established, chiefly by the advice of Wilhelm von Humboldt, his brother Alexander was requested to become Minister of Public Instruction, which, however, he declined, intending to traverse Asia by way of Kashgan to Tibet, in consequence of a kind invitation from the Emperor Alexander of Eussia. But again the ambition of Napoleon was in the way of Humboldt's plans; the war against Russia broke out (1812), and Humboldt remained at Paris studying meantime the orography of Asia. In 1818—after all the great changes in Europe, during which Humboldt, as almost belonging to the two contending nations of the continent, was deeply merged in his researches, though full of interest in public affairs — he made a trip to London, where his brother resided as ambassador, and to Aix-la-Chapelle, where his king, at the great European congress, wished to see him. In 1822, he accompanied the king to Italy. Once more he returned to Paris; but from 1827, at the king's desire, he took up his constant residence at Berlin. Here, besides sundry other lectures before the Academy of Science, he gave a course on physical cosmography, which were attended by so large a crowd of auditors, that he was constrained to repeat them. All persons of rank, either in society or in science, including the royal family, were his hearers. It was hitherto an unseen spectacle, a nobleman, who had devoted to the disinterested service of science the whole of his time and fortune, and who was gifted with such eminent descriptive and oratorical talents, that his lectures became the point of attraction to all noble things, not to the great city alone, but also to the whole country. For many went to Berlin only to hear him.

Some words in a letter of his brother's give an idea of the effect which these lectures had. "Alexander," he writes, "has become a puissance, and has earned a new sort of glory. His lectures are unsurpassable. He, however, is quite self-possessed; yet it is an old trait of his •character to shew a sort of timidity and fear in exhibiting himself." From these lectures sprang his last great literary work, the "Cosmos." But before he could write it, the time came when his Asiatic journey was to be undertaken. After due preparation, in 182S, a year sadly important to him by the decease of Wilhelm's excellent wife, he departed in company with Professors Ehrenberg and Rose, both well-known names in the scientific world. The task was distributed between them, so that Humboldt undertook the observations in astronomy and terrestrial magnetism, and further, reserved to himself the physical features of northern Asia, whereas Ehrenberg was to do the botanical and geological part, Rose the chemical and mineralogical, besides keeping the travellers' journal. The first region that the noble sexagenarian illustrated by his inquiry was the Ural mountains, whence he traversed, with much bodily exertion, the large wastes of Barabiask to Barnaul at the Altai. An excursion to the Chinese frontier, in central Asia, was very interesting, and the return by the way of Orenburg and Astracan, finished a journey of eight and a half months. After some laborious years, partly spent at Paris, in order to prepare the multifarious information acquired by this journey for publication, he returned for the last time to Berlin as his permanent residence, where his brother was still in vigour. It was a touching spectacle to see these two brothers, each of whom had done a great work in his time, one in wrestling with his nation and his king against the oppressive power of Napoleon, and afterwards opposing the spirit of political narrow-mindedness exhibited in the name, and under pretence of Holy Alliance, by striving to gain for Prussia and Germany more of public liberty; the other by describing hitherto unknown continents, and bringing unknown truths into certain knowledge. But such a pleasing sight was not to be long enjoyed. Wilhelm von Humboldt died in 1835, and Alexander, who had never been married, remained alone. Among the last words of Wilhelm were these: "Do not remember me in sorrow. I am very happy, for love is the best; soon I shall be with our mother, and shall have an insight of a higher divine order of the universe." Alexander wrote to Arago: "C'était une haute intelligence, et une ame pleine d'élévation et de noblesse. Je reste bien isolé."

Five years later—a time filled up by publishing his brother's last great work on language, and a collection of his smaller writings, and by that of his own researches of the historical development of discovery in the New World—the king died, to whose kindness and esteem Humboldt was indebted for his ease. His successor, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV., was more to Humboldt than a gracious king; he requested him to be his friend, and his daily familiar guest. He was marked by him as the first man of learning in Europe, by being made chancellor of the new Ordre pour le Mérite, which was to be bestowed upon only thirty elect chieftains in science. It was his consolation in loneliness to be the companion of this pious and generous sovereign, whose sufferings, both moral and physical, were, and are still, uncommon in their intensity, and whose genius surpassed by far that of the average of crowned heads. The last task which Humboldt had proposed to himself was to write his " Cosmos." This work, not quite finished at his death, shews the hero of intellect in his entire power. He was past seventy when he began, and was near ninety when he laid down his pen to die ! It was in autumn, 1857, when the king was first attacked by the sad disease, preying on his life, that Humboldt, leaving the large hall of the university, after celebrating the king's birthday, predicted his own near end to one of his friends. "The last time," he said, "that I shall be here!" On his friend replying, that one to whom God had given so long a life, and who was still in full vigour, might as well be spared longer by the same Almighty will, he replied: "No; I have nothing more to do here since the king is away." He spoke as if his love for his king-friend had been a main-spring in his life.

It was late in April last year, after some slight attacks of paralysis, that a rumour was spread through Berlin that Alexander von Humboldt was lying on his death-bed. It was confirmed by his sending the son-in-law of his deceased brother Wilhelm, also an octogenarian, the general of cavalry, Baron von Hedemann, (who, since then, has found his last resting-place at the side of his uncle Alexander,) to the Rev. Dr Hoffmann, chaplain to the king and minister of the cathedral, whom he asked to give the address at his funeral, but at the same time, requested that he should not pay him a visit on his sick-bed, as he felt himself too weak. Humboldt had often met this minister at court, and had often been a hearer of his sermons, which ever fully and faithfully preached Christ and Him crucified. Humboldt had several times expressed his assent to his teaching, and had, besides, conversed with the preacher in a familiar way on religious subjects, and even discussed matters of conscience, on which he was wont ordinarily to forbear uttering his sentiments. Therefore, his testimony, spoken at Humboldt's funeral, is of more weight as to his religious views and way of feeling than the common talk, which, according to the various parties in either Church or state, was either favourable or unfriendly to Humboldt. There were such as called him a good Christian on account of his moral conduct, and especially of his genius, holding that genius never could be otherwise than Christian; and such as thought him rather an Atheist, because in so large a work as his '' Cosmos, "he never even mentioned the name of God or of Christ; "because," as Dr Hoffman said, "he was too much accustomed to keep himself within the limits of natural law." Let us hear the words of the funeral sermon delivered at Humboldt's coffin, which was with royal pomp, and at the royal expense, brought to the cathedral. There were, besides the mourners of the families Von Humboldt, Von Hedemann, Von Bulow, &c, and the whole royal family, the high functionaries of state and Church, the court, many military officers, the whole body of the Academy of Science, and of the University, hundreds of students, and a numerous audience of all ranks. Even this sermon has received unjust criticism, and even slandering, from opposite and extreme parties. The text was the words in 1 Cor. xiii. 8-10, "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall fail; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away."

"The thoughts from these apostolical words," so the preacher began, "which I have to address to your hearts beside the coffin of this deceased are suggested to me by a prominent feature in his whole life.

"The news of Alexander von Humboldt's demise will find a mourning echo throughout all regions of the civilised world. For he was no longer the citizen of a single country, deeply rooted though his heart was in his native soil. He was not only admired on account of his unparalleled accomplishments in the empire of science, not only revered in his high and dignified position, but he was loved in every land, and hundreds of more than one vanished generation took with them into eternity their grateful affection towards him, and thousands of his contemporaries will shew it in generations to come. Love, however, is only to be gained by love. That love he has manifested in a long career of earthly life in so varied a manner, that, near the end of his pilgrimage, he was obliged to decline receiving the too numerous proofs of confidence in his kindness, which pressed themselves upon him from far and near."

After a sketch of his life up to his return from America, the sermon thus continues:—

''When the rich contents of these five American years were gradually laid before the world, then the best men of his nation, at their head the noble and long-suffering king with whom Prussia was blessed, discovered the real gem in Humboldt's life, more valuable even than his science. That gem was his heart's love, which shone over all his works like a blue sky, and always pointed out the relation of every natural discovery to the improvement and elevation of humanity, and sought to gain every wide field of well-arranged knowledge, for the moral and social interests of mankind."

After rehearsing the prominent features of Humboldt's life, the sermon comes to the closing scenes of his career, and tells us: "On April 21, he was confined to his bed by a cold, and now he was seen so rapidly sinking, that only his powerful mind seemed to uphold physical life. He lay tranquil and slumbering. When he awoke, his soul was clear. On Friday the 6th of May, his voice failed. He lay silent the whole forenoon, and, without a struggle, fell asleep at half-past three o'clock, closing a pilgrimage of eighty-nine years and eight months.

"A loving and beloved heart has ceased to move amidst us. Many tears, unknown to man, are following him. We shall not speak out what we know about many who thus weep. His deeds of charity, which were numberless, were done in secret, and he did not like them to be discovered. But I have had peculiar opportunities of knowing them. They are still better known to Him who does not forget even the cup of cold water. But many know how he endeavoured to open paths of advancement to youthful talent, and how he, with indefatigable kindness, used the whole of his influence and a good deal of his means in that kind of charity; everybody knows, too, how he gladly acknowledged what others had discovered, and how generously he ever endeavoured to get the world to appreciate the excellence of others. This may suffice, as we did not come here to wreath earthly garlands, but to receive comfort and power from God's Word in our pilgrimage.

"Charity never faileth! It does not fail because it is emanating from the one eternal love that is shed on the world by the eternal God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

"It is an all-important question, whether our deceased had deeply entered into that fountain of love, and whether he knew in power that peace from forgiveness of sin which he too was in need of? He has not made an answer to this question easy, from his almost timid silence on subjects of spiritual life. Not in every form in which that love is manifested on earth could he recognise its glory. On the contrary, he was easily repelled by any declaration regarding the severity of Divine love. The embodiment of this into an authoritative doctrine made him rather anxious and doubtful as to how far this was not the mere expression of human thought, rather than of Divine truth. The eye of his mind, wont to dwell on the visible world and its laws, was more open to the wonders of God's creating and animating breath in nature than to His wonders of eternal, pitying grace in human hearts. If, however, a friendly hand shewed him the kernel in the shell, and let him see the essence, behind human notions of Divine things, he never shrank back, but, in his full love of truth, acknowledged that the holy world of spiritual wonders was not his familiar home in the same degree as that of nature's marvels. Nevertheless, this higher world never ceased to exercise its power on him, all his physical contemplation constantly pointing to its heavenly background. More than once, in quiet talk, I was aware of this higher influence fully on him, and marked it. But his lips gave only rare and isolated witness of his looking up to an eternal grace, that brings salvation to sinners.

"To God's love and mercy we look up from this coffin! He who has ever loved our deceased brother, and has been dealing with him in his silent work, may now beam as the Sun of righteousness through the blue sky of his human affection. May he have received never-failing charity as Divine mercy! "With us may there abide grateful remembrance; in us may there grow the charity which believeth all things, hopeth all things; and may earthly charity be hallowed by the eternal love wherewith we are loved; and, in the fading away and ceasing of what is most beautiful and noble on earth, let us hold fast the consoling watchword, 'Charity never faileth.'"

In the night the remains of Alexander von Humboldt were conducted to Tegel, and there buried, on the following morning, in the park of the castle, at the foot of a granite column, bearing a victory, and erected by Wilhelm von Humboldt over the tomb of his wife. The graves of daughters and grand - daughters surround the resting-place of Wilhelm; and now Alexander has entered the narrow railing. After the usual prayers, singing, and Scripture passages, the same minister (Dr Hoffmann) gave a short address to the mourners, of which we quote only a few fragments. "It was here," he said, "that, five years ago, we saw the last glimpse of a youthful figure vanishing in the earth—when he, whom we are now laying into this grave, said to me, 'Where you are now standing, I shall soon lie.' He could not guess that he should be spared to conduct another dear member of his family on the last journey. Of all the mental gifts, the strength, the charms, and sweetness, that adorned these departed in life —of all their glory and brilliant lustre—to-day we see only the graves, and remember the mourning and tears under which they were closed."—"Our dear departed brother, too, though his life on earth has been so great, and though the Lord bestowed many years on him, will take with him into the world of light only what in him was from God, and will gladly see sunk into that tomb whatever was of this world. To lay down all the wreaths of honour which earth has offered at the feet of the Lamb of God is real happiness."—"And earthly names! alas! they vanish soon away—a few only are outlasting the coming of a thousand years; and, amidst an abundant world of new appearances, they will be as sounds half understood—as dim marks of long-vanished things and generations. And even the most radiant ones, which history preserves longest, what are they, if compared with the only name in heaven and on earth by which we are to be saved ? When once, in His glory, our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, will appear, and when only one name—the one saving name—will sound through all souls of ail generations either to salvation or judgment, then how will great human names be covered and extinguished ! and none will desire to be called by another name than the new one given by the Lord himself."

We finish this article, wishing it to be an appeal to readers to study Humboldt's works, and to bring the contents of them into the light of the eternal Word which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. This will be the due and right honour done to the memory of a philosopher, and a truly noble man. H.

Potsdam, March 1860.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus