Alexander von Humboldt.

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07 A




Vol. n.

Naittrm veto rerum vis atque me^uku in omnibus momenHsJlde caretf si fmismodo pitrtss ^fus
ac non Mam comphetatur animo.-'PLat, H. N. lib. tU. e. 1.








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General remarks % •••.,«. 3

I. Poetic Desoaiftioks op NAxuia.

By the Greeks . , 6

By the Bouaans ....••••• 1ft
By the early Christiaaa •..••••• 25
By the Germana of th« middle ages ..•••• 30

By the Indiaos 37

By the PeraiaiiB . , 40

BythePiiLB 42

By the Hebrews • • • .43

By the Arabians ••••••••.48

In modem Uteratnre :—

Bante and Petrarch • • • 50

Ck>lambii8 54

Camoens . . . . • • • • .57

Ereilla and Calderon 60

Shakspeare, Milton, and Thomson 61

Modem prose writers .63

Travellers of the 14th and 15th centuries . . • •67
Modem traTeUers .....•• ^^^

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n. Landscape Paimtino.

In ancient Greece, Rome, and India • • •
Illaminated MSS. and mosaics



Eoropean painters of the 16tli and 17tli centuries
Characteristic representation of tropical scenery .
Characteristic aspect of nature in different zones •
Panoramas •••••••

IIL Culture ov chabacteristic Exotic Plants.

Influence of well contrasted grouping
On ihfi laying out of parks and gardens


Division into historic periods, or epochs of progress, in the

generalisation of physical- views . ; . . . 101 to 11

First .Epoch. — Knowledge of nature possessed by the
nations who. in early times inhabited the coasts of the
Mediterranean, and the extension of that knowledge
by attempts at distant naviga;tion towards the N. E.
(tbe Argonauts) ; towards the South (Ophir) ; and
towards the West (Coleeus of Samos) . ; . 117 to 14

Second Epoch. — Military expeditions of the Macedonians
under Alexander the Great. Fusion of the East
with the West under Greek dominion and influence.
Enlargement of the knowledge of nature possessed
by the Greeks consequent on these events . . 149 to 161

Third Epoch. — Increase of the knowledge of nature under
the Ptolemies. Alexandrian Institution. Tendency

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of the period towards the generalisation of the views
of nature, both in regard to the earth and to the
regions of space 166 to 177

Toorth Epoch. — The Roman empire of the world. — ^In-
flnence on cosmical views of a great political onion of
countries. * Progress of Geography through commerce
hj land. Plinj's physical description of the nniverse.
The rise of Christianity promotes the feeling of the
onity of the human race 178 to 200

Rfth Epoch. — Invasion of the Arabians. Aptitude of this
portion of the Semitic race for intellectual cultivation.
Influence of a foreign element on the development of
European civilisation and culture. Attachment of
the Arabians to the study of nature. Extension of
physical geography, and advances in astronomy and
in the mathematical sciences 201 to 229

Sixth Epoch. — Oceanic discoveries. Opening of the
Western hemisphere. Discoveries of the Scandina^
vians. Columbus. Sebastian Cabot. Yasco de Grama 230 to 300

Seventh Epoch. — Celestial discoveries consequent on the
invention of the telescope.— Progress of astronomy
and mathematics from Galileo and Kepler to Newton
and Leibnitz 301 to 353

Betrospective view of the epochs which have been con-
sidered. Wide and varied scope, and close natural
connection, of the scientific advances of modem times.
The history of the physical sciences gradually becomes
that of the Cosmos 353 to 359

Notes «. «^.«...«i. to cxxv.

Imsex • • » cxxvii.tocxliL

**♦ See Notice iu the next page.

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A notice is appended by M. db Humboldt at the close of the
second volume of " Kosmos/' stating, that the first portion
of that volume, viz. "On ihe Incitements to the Study of
Nature," was printed in July 1846; and that the printing
of the second portion, viz. "The History of the Physical
Contemplation of the Universe," was completed in the
month of September 1847.

Prom page 100 to the conclusion of the t^xt, the
Translation, in its progress through the press, has had the
advantage of being compared with the original by the
Chevaliek Bunsbn.

February 21, 1848.

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Action of the external world on the imagmatiye faculty, and the*
reflected image produced — ^Poetic descriptions of nature — ^Land-
scape painting— Cultivation of those exotic plants which determine
the characteristic aspect of the vegetation in the countries to which
fhey belong.

We now pass from the domain of objects to that of sensa-
tions. The principal results of observation, in the form in
which, stripped of all additions derived from the imagi-
nation, they belong to a pure scientific description
of nature, have been presented in the preceding volume.
We have now to consider the impression which the image
received by the external senses produces on the feelings,
and on the poetic and imaginative faculties of mankind.
An inward world here opens to the view, into which we desire
to penetrate, not, however, for the purpose of investigating —
tti would be requirefl if the philosophy of art were our aim—

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what in sesthetic performances belongs essentially to the
powers and dispositions of the mind, and what to the parti-
cular direction of the intellectual activity, — but that we may
trace the sources of that animated contemplation which
enhances a genuine enjoyment of nature, and discover the
particular causes which, in modem times especially, have
so powerfully promoted, through the medium of the imagi-
nation, a predilection for the study of nature, ' and for the
undertaking of distant voyages.

I have alluded, m the preceding volume, to three (^) kinds
of incitement more jfrequent in modem than in ancient
times ; 1st, the aesthetic treatment of natural scenery by vivid
and graphical descriptions of the vegetable and animal world,
which is a very modem branch of literature ; 2d, landscape
painting, so far as it pourtrays the characteristic aspect of
vegetation; and, 8d, the more extended cultivation of tro-
pical plants, and the assemblage of contrasted exotic forms.
Each of these subjects might be historically treated and
investigated at some length ; but it appears to me better
suited to the spirit and object of my work, to unfold only a
few leading ideas relating to them, — to recal how differently
the contemplation of nature has acted on the intellect and
the feelings of different races of men, and at different periods
of time, — and to notice how, at epochs when there has been
a general cultivation ol the mental faculties, the severe pur-
suit of exact knowledge, and the more delicate workings of
the imagination, have tended to interpenetrate and blend
with each other. If we would describe the full majesty of
nature, we must not dwell solely on her external phseno-
mena, but we must also regard her in her reflected image —
at one time filling the visionary land of physical myths with

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gracefol phantoms, and at another developing the noble
genns of imitative art.

I here limit myself to the consideration of incite-
ments to a scientific study of nature; and, in so doings I
would recal the lessoiis of experience, which teU us how
often impressions received by the senses from circumstances
seemingly accidental, have so acted on the youthful mind as
to determine the whole direction of the man's course through
life. Childish pleasure in the form of countries and of seas,
as delineated in maps (^) ; the desire to behold those southern
constellations which have never risen in our horizon (') ; the
sight of palms and of the cedars of Lebanon, figured in a
pictorial bible, may have implanted in the spirit the firs*
impulse to laravels in distant lands. If I might have recourse
to my own experience, and say what awakened in me the
first beginnings of an inextinguishable longing to visit the
tropics, I should name George Forster's descriptions of the
islands of the Pacific — ^paintings, by Hodge, in the house
of "Warren Hastings, in London, representing the banks of
the Ganges — and a colossal dragon tree in an old tower of
the Botanic Garden at Berlin. These objects, which I here
cote as exemplifications taken from fact, belong respectively
to the three classes above noticed, viz. to descriptions of
nature flowing from a mind inspired by her contemplation,
to imitative art in landscape painting, and to ihe iounediafe
view of characteristic natural objects. Such incitements are,
however, only influential where general intellectual cultiva-
tion prevails, and when they address themselves to dispo-
sitions suited to their reception, and in which a particular
oonrse of mental development has heightened the suscepti-
bility to natural impressions.

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L— Description of satural scenery, and the feelings associated there-
with at different times and among different races and nations.

It has often J)een said, that if delight in nature were not
altogether unknown to the ancients, yet that its expression
was more rare ^d less animated among them than in modem
times* Schiller, (*) in his considerations on naive and
sentimental poetry, remarks, that ''when we think of the
glorious scenery which surrounded the ancient Greeks, and
remember the free and constant intercourse with nature in
which their happier skies enabled them to live, as well as
how much more accordant their manners, their habits ot
feeling, and their modes of representation, were with the
simplicity of nature, of which their poetic works convey so
true an impress, we cannot but remark with surprise how
few traces we find amongst them of the sentimental interest
with which we modems attach ourselves to natural scenes
and objects. In the description of these, the Greek is
iYideed in the highest degree ^Lact, faithful, and circumstan-
tial, but without exhibiting more warmth of sympathy than
in treating of a garment, a shield, or of a suit of armour.
Nature appears to interest his understanding rather than
his feelings ; he does not cling to her with intimate affection
«nd .sweet melancholy, as do the modems/' Much as there
fe that is true and excellent in tiiese remarks^ they are fSur

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from being applicable to all antiquity^ even in the sense ordi-
narily attached to the term; I cannot, moreover, but regard as
far too limited, the restriction of antiquity (as opposed to
modem times), exclusivdy to the Greeks and Eomans : a
profound feeling of nature speaks forth in the earliest poetry
of the Hebrews and of the Indians; — in nations, therefore,
of very difiPerent descent, Semitic, and Indo-Grennanic.

We can only infer the feeling with which the ancients
regarded nature from the portions of its expression whicli
have reached us in the remains of their literature; we
must therefore seek for such passages, the more diligentty^
and pronounce upon them the more circumspectly, as they
present themselves but sparingly in the two great forms of
qjical and lyrical poetry. In Hellenic poetry, at that flowery
seascm of the life of mankind, we find, indeed, the tenderest
expression of the love and admiration of nature mingling with
the poetic representation of human passion, in actions taken
from legendary history; but specific descriptions of natural
8cenes or objects appear only as subordinate ; for in Grecian
art all is made to. concenter within the sphere of human life
and feeling.

The description of nature in her manifold diversity, as a
distinct branch of poetic literature, was altogether foreign to
the ideas of the Greeks. With them the landscape i»
always* the mere background of a picture, in the foreground
of which human figures are moving. Passion breaking
forth in action rivetted their attention almost exclusively;
the agitation of politics, and a life passed chiefly in public,
withdrew men's minds from enthusiastic absorption in the
tranquQ pursuit of nature. Physical phaenomena were always
refened to man (*) by supposed relations or resemblailces.

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either of external form or of inward spait It wad aboeiost
exdnsivdy by audi applications that the consideration of
nature was thought worthy of a place in poetry in the form
of comparisons or similitudes^ which often present small
detached pictures^ fiiU of objective vividness imd truth.

At Delphi, pseans to spring (•) were sung — ^probably to
express men's joy that the privations and discomforts of
winter were past. A. natural description of winter has been
interwoven (may it not be by a later Ionian rhapsodist?)
with the ''Works and Days'' of Hesiodf^). ThispoOTi,
fall of a noble simplicity, but purely didactic in its form,
gives advice respecting agriculture, and directions foi
different kinds of work and profitable employment, together
with ethical exhortations to a blameless life. Its tone rises
to a more lyrical character when the poet clotibes the mismes
of mankind, or the fine allegorical mythus of Epimetheus
and Pandora, with an anthropom(»rphic garb. In Hesiod's
Theogony, which is composed of various ancient and dissi-
milar elements, we find repeatedly (as, for example, m the
enumeration of the Nereides (^) ), natural descriptions veiled
under the significant names of mythic personages. In thfi
Boeotian bardic school, and generally in all ancient Greek
poetiy, the phenomena of the external world are introduced
only by personification under human forms.

But if it be true, as we have remarked, that natural
descriptions, whether of the richness and luxuriance of
southern vegetation, or the portraiture in fresh and vivid
colours of the habits of animals, have only become a distinct
branch of Utarature in very modem times, it was not that
sensibiliiy to the beauty of nature was absent (0), where the
perception of beauty was so intense,— or the animated expre»»

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rioB of a contemphitive poetic spirit iimntmg^ where the
Gi^eative pofwer <^ ih» Hdlenic imnd produced inimitable
mast^ wor^ ia poetry, and in the ^bstio arts. The defi-
ciency which appearSito oar modem ideas in this department
of antiqiufy^ betokens not so nmdi a want of sensibility^ as
Ae.absenoe of a prerailing impnke to disclose in words the
feddng <^ natural beauty. Directed less to the inanimate
world oi phenomena than to that of human action^ and of
ibe internal spontaneous emotions^ the earliest and the
tioblest developments of ihd poetic spirit were epical and
Ij^cal. Hieae were fcorms in which natural descriptions
could only hold a subordinate^ and^ as it were^ an accidental
place^ and could not appear as distinct productions of the
imagination. M the influence of antiquity gradually de*
cUned^ and as its blossoms faded^ the rhetorical spirit shewed
itsdf in descriptiye as well as in didactic poetry; and the
lattej;*^ which^ in its earli^ar philosophical and semi-priestly
character^ had been severe^ grand^ and unadorned^ as in
Empedocles' ''Poem of Nature/' gradually lost its early
simple dignity.

I may be permitted to illustrate these general observations
by a few particular instances. Cionformably to the charact^
of the Epos, natural scenes and images, however charming^
appear in the Homeric songs always as mere incidental
a^joncts. " The shepherd rejoices in the cahn of night,
wh^i the winds are still; in the pure ether, and in the
hright stars shining in the vault of heaven; he hears from
afar the rushing of the saddenly-swoUen forest torrent,
bearing down earth and trunks of uprooted oaks'' (^o). The
fine description of the sylvan loneliness of Parnassus, and
rf its dark, thickly-wooded rocky valleys, contrasts with thfl

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fmiling pictures of the maBy-fountamed pojdar groves of
the Phseacian Islands^ aad especially with ike land of the
Cyclops^ ''where swelling meads of rich waving grass sur-
round the hills of undressed vines'* (i^)* Pindar, in a vernal
dithyrambus recited at Athens, sings "the earth covered
with new flowers, what time in Argive Nemea the first
opening shoot of the palm announces the approach of balmy
spring /' he sings of Etna;, *' the pillar of heaven, the nurse
of enduring si^ows ;" but he quickly hastens to turn from
the awful form of inanimate nature, to celebrate Hiero of
Syracuse, and the Greeks' victorious combats with the
powerful Persian nation.

Let us not forget that Grecian scenery possesses the
peculiar charm of blended and intermingled land and sea;
the breaking waves and changing brightness of the resound-
ing ocean, amidst shores adorned with vegetation, or pictu-^
resque cliflfs richly tinged with aerial hues. Whilst to other
nations the different features and the different pursuits
belonging to the sea and to the land appeared separate and
distinct, the Greeks, not only of the islands^ but also* of
almost all the southern portion of the mainland, enjoyed the
continual presence of the greater variety and richness, &s
well as of the higher character of beauty, given by the con^
tact and mutual influence of the two elements. How can
we imagine that a race so happily organised by nature, and
whose perception of beauty was so intense, should have been
unmoved by the aspect of the wood-crowned cliffs of the
deeply-indented shores of the Mediterranean, the varied
distribution of vegetable forms, and, spread over all, the
added charms dependent on atmospheric influences, varying
by a silent interchange with the vaiying surfaces of land

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snd sea^ of moantain and of plain^ as well as with the
varying hours and seasons? Or how, in the age when the
poetic tendency was highest, can emotions of the mind thus
awakened through the senses have failed to resolve them-
selvos into ideal contemplation? The Greeks, we know,
imagined the vegetable world connecftid by a thousand
mythical relations with the heroes and the gods : avenging
chastisement followed injury to the sacred trees or plants.
But while trees and flowers were animated and personified,
the prevailing forms oi poelay in which the peculiar mental
development of the Greeks unfolded itself, allowed but a
limited space to descriptions of nature.

Yet, a deep sense of ihe beauty of nature breaks forth
sometimes even in their tpigic poets, in the midst of deep
sadness, or of the most tumultuous agitation of the passions.
When (Edipus is approaching the grove of the Furies, the
chorus sings, ^'the noble resting-place of glorious Colonos,
where the melodious nightingale loves to dwell, and mourns
in clear and plaintive strains :*' it sings "the verdant dark-
ness of the thick embowering ivy, the narcissus bathed in the
dews of heaven, the golden beaming crocus, and the ineradi-
cable, ever fresh-springing olive tree" (^^). Sophocles, in
striving to glorify his native Colonos, places the lofty form
of the fate-pursued, wandering king, by the side of the sleep-
less waters of the Cephisus, surrounded by soft and bright
imagery. The repose of nature heightens the impression of
pain called forth by the desolate aspect of the blind exile,
the victim of a dreadful and mysterious destiny. Euripides (i*)
also takes pleasure in the picturesque description of " the
pastures of Messenia and Laconia, refreshed by a thousaiiJ

VOL. II. ^

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fountains, under an ever mild sky, and through which the
beautiful Pamisus rolls his stream/'

Bucolic poetry, bom in the Sicilian fields, and popularly
inclined to the dramatic, has been called, with reason, a
transitional form. These pastoral epics on a small scale
depict human beings rather than scenery : they do so in
Theocritus, in whose hands this form of poetry reached its
greatest perfection. A soft elegiac element is indeed every
where proper to the idyll, as if it had arisen from " the
longing for a lost ideal/' or as if in the human breast a
degree of melancholy were ever blended with the deeper
feeUngs which the view of nature inspires.

When the true poetry of Greece expired with Grecian
Hberty, that which remained became descriptive, didactic,
instructive; — astronomy, geography, and the arts of the
hunter and the fisherman, appeared in the age of Alexander
and his successors as objects of poetry, and were indeed
often adorned with much metrical skill. The forms and
habits of animals are described with grace, and often with
such exactness that our modem classifying natural histo-
rians can recognise genera and even species. But in none
of these writings can we discover the presence of that inner
life — that inspired contemplation — ^whereby to the poet,

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtCosmos, Volume 2 → online text (page 1 of 43)