Imágenes de páginas





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 connexion, 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

1 It was natural that, in the midst of the extreme variability of phenomena presented by the surface of our globe, and the aërial ocean by which it is surrounded, man should have been impressed with the aspect of the vault of heaven, and the uniform and regular movements of the sun and planets. Thus the word · Kosmos,' which primitively, in the Homeric ages, indicated an idea of Order and Harmony, was subsequently adopted in scientific language, in which it was gradually applied to the order observed in the movements of the heavenly bodies, to the whole UNIVERSE, and then finally to the World, in which this barmony was reflected to us. Conformably to the general testimony of antiquity, Pythagorus was the first who used the word Kosmos to designate the Order that reigns in the Universe or entire world."--See the note following this passage ; Otto's Translation of Humboldt's Kosmos, (Bohn's Scientific Library,) vol. i.

Our first six articles are adaptations from this work. A considerable proportion of our “ Readings” are extracted from the beautiful writings of the venerable Baron Alexander von Humboldt, whose active mind has explored almost all departments of science, and whose eye has surveyed the phenomena of nature in almost every region of the globe. “Geography, meteorology, magnetism, the distribution of heat, the various departments of natural history, together with the affinities of races and languages, the history of nations, the political constitution of countries, statistics, commerce, and agriculture, - all have received accumulated and valuable additions from the exercise of his rare talents." Baron Humboldt was born at Berlin in 1769; his whole life has been passed in the pursuits of science and philosophy in various countries of both continents, and in the composition of elaborate and valuable writings. His works are not only characterized by the solid qualities of extensive learning, but illumined with the enthusiasm of poetic, benevolent, and generous feeling; while they exhibit in many parts a tendency to the brilliant mysticism of speculation that marks the national mind of his country.


P. 51.

result, however, can 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 bygone times, the stream of our knowledge to its primitive source, will learn from history how, for thousands of years, man has laboured, amid the everrecurring changes of form, to recognise 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 a Kosmos, or HARMONIOUSLY ORDERED WHOLE, which, dimly shadowed forth to the human mind in the primitive ages of the world,1 is now fully revealed to the maturer intellect of mankind as the result of long and laborious observation.


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 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 of his race, to comprehend nature, to lift the veil 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 uniforin 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 ; everywhere 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. Everywhere, 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 arise intuitively from a presentiment of the order and harmony pervading the Universe, and from the contrast which we draw between the narrow limits of our own existence and the image of infinity revealed on every side, whether we look upwards 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.

1 An instructive and interesting portion of M. Humboldt's work is occupied in the development of this statement.



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 Cundinamarca,l 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 musaceæ, while above these forms of tropical vegetation appear oaks, medlars, the sweetbrier, and umbelliferous plants, as in our European homes. There, as the traveller turns his eyes to the vault of heaven, a single glance embraces the constellation of the Southern Cross, the Magellanic clouds, and the

1 The department of the Republic of New Grenada, in which is the capital Bogota. - Bambusacea, arborescent grasses-bamboos; Musacea, bananas. See Humboldt's Aspects of Nature, (Sabine, 1849,) vol. ii. p. 183.

« AnteriorContinuar »