Karl Alois Kneller.

Christianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century online

. (page 18 of 32)
Online LibraryKarl Alois KnellerChristianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century → online text (page 18 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Notice sur Henri Sainte-Claire Deville, in Annales scientifiques de
1'Ecole normale superieure, 3 e serie, XI, Paris 1894, Supplement I 70.
Tison, Henri Sainte-Claire Deville et son oeuvre scientifique, in Revue
du monde catholique LXIII 488 503.



HENRI SAINTE-CLAIRE DEVILLE. 2 17

"If aluminium is to-day an industrial product, this is due
to the French chemist Henri Sainte-Claire Deville (1818
to 1881), who has left a name famous in nearly every de-
partment of Chemistry and Metallurgy" *. Of his other
works e. g. those on boron, silicon, the density of gases
at very high temperature we have space here to mention
only his discovery of what is called the dissociation by
heat of chemical combinations, "one of the greatest con-
quests not only of Chemistry but also of Philosophy,
regarded as an interpretation of nature" (Dumas). This
discovery enables us to understand the constancy of
the sun's heat, and affords the first explanation of the
noteworthy fact that in spite of the innumerable chim-
neys that send up their smoke into the air, there is no
increase of carbonic acid gas in the latter.

Like his brother Charles, the geologist, Henri Sainte-
Claire Deville ' 'remained faithful all his life to the re-
ligion of his boyhood, and died in its bosom" 2 . Many



1 F. X. Riif in Stimmen aus Maria - Laach XLIV, Freiburg
1893, 5 1^

2 Get eminent chimiste qui est reste toute sa vie fidele a la re-
ligion qu'il avail appris a aimer dans son enfance, et dans le sein
de laquelle il a voulu mourir (Tison ante 489). Plusieurs jours
avant sa mort il demanda lui-meme les secours de la religion (ib. 503).

- Of the brothers Charles and Henry Deville, J. Gay (ante 21)
says : Unis dans la vie , ils le furent dans la mort. Us la virent
venir sans defaillance, et, apres avoir appele eux-memes le pretre a
leur chevet, ils firent leurs adieux a leur famille ; ils laissaient a ceux
qui les avaient aimes, avec le souvenir d'une vie sans defaillance, la
supreme consolation, la seule efficace en une pareille douleur, d'une
fin chre'tienne , et 1'esperance d'un revoir dans une autre region.
Ib. : Les freres Sainte-Claire Deville appartenaient par eux-memes et
par leurs alliances a ces vieilles families franchises et catholiques,
. . . ou les croyances les plus nobles et les plus elevees s'allient tout



2l8 VI. GEOGRAPHY.

years before his death he had expressed a desire that
his funeral discourse might be pronounced by his friend
Louis Pasteur. It is said that the expression was used
in a bantering way to cheer up Pasteur who was at
the time very ill. But however this be there is no doubt,
says a biographer of Pasteur, u that he felt that nobody
else could understand him so well. Both alike pursued
science with a passionate love; both alike were ardent
patriots. And they were at one also in their confidence
in the future evolution of the human spirit, and in the
religious system from which they learned the secrets of
eternity' ' i .

VI. GEOGRAPHY.

The recognised founder of General Comparative Geo-
graphy was Karl Ritter (born at Quedlinburg in 1779,
appointed Professor at Berlin 1820, died 1859). It was
the labours of Ritter, and the application of his methods
that raised Geography to the status of a science.

Johannes Janssen 2 has given us a masterly picture of
the life and character of Ritter, in which we find a
clear statement of the great savant's attitude towards
religion. "It is a matter for rejoicing that Ritter, unlike
Alexander von Humboldt, never either in his life or in
his writings paid homage to the sceptical idols of his
day, but was always a resolute upholder of the Christian
Revelation. Steadfast in his faith in the living God,
and in His incarnate Son, our Redeemer, he is a



naturellement a une fiere independance et a un ardent amour du
travail.

1 R. Vallery-Radot, La vie de Pasteur, Paris 1901, 462.

2 Zeit- und Lebensbilder I*, Freiburg 1889, 113179.



KARL RITTER. 2 19

shining proof that such faith, far from being hostile to
scientific progress ... is the greatest stimulus that the
mind can receive towards a profound, all-embracing,
and living knowledge of nature." *

"Ritter", says Janssen elsewhere 2 , "undertook all these
journeys" - to France, Austria, Greece, England and
Italy - - "in the cause of science, and all his labours
were directed to the honour of God."



1 Ib. 179. Cf. Ratzel in Allg. deutsche Biographic XXVIII
688 : "Je tiefer Ritter in die Wissenschaften eindrang, desto wahrer
und warmer wurde sein Glaube." Side by side with Janssen's
severe sentence as toHumboldt, a milder one, that of the botanist
v. Martius, may find place. When v. Martius treats of Humboldt's
views on vitality, he says: "Man hat aus diesen AuOerungen, und
daC er es in seinen Werken mit einer gewissen Absichtlichkeit ver-
mieden , die Gebiete der Idealitat zu beschreiten , auf seinen Un-
glauben schlieCen wollen. Trotzdem spreche ich es mit Zuversicht
aus , daC das stolze Schiff seines Wissens an einer sicheren , aber
tiefverborgenen Uberzeugung vor Anker gelegen sey. . . . Seine
Jugend fiel in jene Period e, da es in gewissen Kreisen zum guten
Ton gehorte, nicht von Religion zu sprechen. Die Denker bewahrten
ihre Uberzeugungen im Schrein des Herzens. Als spater, bei kirch-
licher Bewegung, sich unter redlichen Bekennern auch Sophisten zur
Schau trugen , gelobten jene sich ein Schweigen, das nicht selten
gemifideutet wurde. Unter den in der Wissenschaft und im Leben
ehrwiirdigen Mannern habe ich solcher Schweigsamen mehrere kennen
gelernt. Zu ihnen rechne ich auch Alexander v. Humboldt. Wenn
er sich durch seine Begabung aus dem Kreis der spekulativen Philo-
sophen ausgeschlossen fiihlte und sich selbst beschrankte , so be-
rechtigt dies nicht, an einer geheimen Welt seiner hochsten Gedanken
zu zweifeln. . . ." Akademische Denkreden, Leipzig 1866, 395 396.
When the Journal hist, et litt. XXIV, Liege 1857, 493 f, had de-
fended Humboldt against the reproach of never having mentioned
God in his Kosmos , he sent an autograph to be placed under his
portrait of 1856, in which he characterizes Nature as "Gottes er-
habenes Reich" (ib. 541 f).

2 Ante 163 164.



220 VI. GEOGRAPHY.

"We are", he wrote to his wife from Trieste, "both in the
hands of God, Whose Majesty encompasses land and sea
and extends to all the ends of the earth. There is only one
thing greater, and that is His Mercy and Love, which watch
over body and soul and preserve them from the destruction
which might any hour befall them. At home or away from
home He guards us ; or rather His presence makes every-
where home. Not a hair can fall from our heads, not a
sparrow from a house-top, unless He so wills it. How then
can man but dedicate all his labours to the honour of Him
without Whose sustaining presence the universe had long ago
fallen into ruin with every creature it contains? This con-
sideration, and the belief I have that my vocation casts on
me the duty of seeking out the truths of my science not
only in that home which He has so filled with rich and
pleasant things for me, but also in more difficult places,
inspire me in my work ; and I continue my researches into
what seems to me one of the most important elements of
the history of humanity; and so far at least as my poor
abilities and resources and my somewhat limited and partial
points of view permit me, I continue to spread the light of
science. And I am full of confidence in my undertaking,
for I rely only on God."

Ritter was a Protestant, and rather bigoted in his
attitude towards Catholicity. His books are full of dis-
paraging allusions to the Church. It is for this reason
all the more remarkable that in his correspondence he
refers again and again to Catholic priests as among his
most valued fellow-workers, e. g. Father Wimmer of
Madern, Father Mayer of Klagenfurt and others. "He
stands", he wrote of Father Mayer, "in the first rank
of those, who occupy themselves with the natural fea-
tures and the geography of our country; he received
me with the utmost heartiness and geniality, and did
everything possible to assist me. I spent all day yester-
day with him, and that is the reason I have been unable



KARL RITTER. M. F. MAURY. 221

to write till this moment, an hour before I leave; he
stayed till 12 o'clock last night and could hardly tear
himself away, for he was enchanted to find that I knew
his dear Carinthia, his fatherland, and wanted to hear
all about everything that had been happening in it.
He overwhelmed me with stores of information, and we
made a most interesting excursion together." . . . Wher-
ever he came in contact with Catholic priests , secular
or religious, he was favourably impressed by their good
scientific education as e. g. in the Monastery of Ein-
siedeln, and among the Mechitarists in Venice *.

If modern Geography, understood in the largest and
most usual sense of the word, begins with Ritter, the
Physical Geography and Meteorology of the sea are in
in a still higher degree bound up with a single name,
that of an officer of the American marine Matthew
Fontaine Maury (f i873) 2 . Born in 1807 in County
Spottsylvania in Virginia, he entered the marine as a
cadet in 1825, and made many voyages. A fracture of
his leg in 1839 incapacitated him for further service,
but the long list of works issued by him from the
Hydrographic Bureau at Washington were of far more
value to seamanship than any voyage he could have
made. He became the lawgiver of all the navies of
the world.

Maury had remarked that the routes followed at
sea had not been fixed upon by reflection and con-



1 Janssen, Zeit- und Lebensbilder I 172.

z Cf. A life of M. F. Maury, U. S. N. and C. S. N. Compiled
by his daughter Diana Fontaine Maury Corbin, London
1888. A d. Q u e t e 1 e t in the Annuaire de 1' Academic de Belgique XL,
Bruxelles 1874, 291 341. E. du Hailly in Revue des deux
mondes mars 1858, Paris, 33 56 414 444.



222 VI. GEOGRAPHY.

sideration, but by usage. The first captain had, somehow
or other, found a route and reached his goal; others
followed the same route, and by the usage of long years
it became fixed and settled as the proper one. But
nobody had examined for himself whether it was in
fact the shortest. Now the route chosen at sea is
by no means a matter of indifference, and it is far
from universally true that the most direct is the most
rapid. There are certain constant currents of wind
and water, which may accelerate or delay a voyage.
These currents had never been systematically studied
until Maury laid the project before the American Go-
vernment.

The source from which data were to be drawn was
obvious; the log-books of all vessels would contain notes
of those areas of the ocean in which an acceleration
or diminution of speed had been experienced, with all
necessary details. But at first Maury's appeal to the
seafaring community to submit their log-books to him
met with very little response. He was restricted to the
scanty material afforded by the logs of the Navy proper.
But when in 1828 a trip from Baltimore to South America,
which had hitherto taken 41 days, was performed, thanks
to a chart of Maury's, in 24 the ice was broken. After
the International Congress at Brussels in 1853 nearly
every fleet in the world was co-operating in Maury's
great project. Observations reached him from every
quarter of the globe, and in ten years 140,000 copies
of his chart had been issued. The scientific material
accumulated through long years of labour was wrought
up by Maury into a great and striking work: "The
Physical Geography of the Sea". The tone of the book
is identical with that of Ritter's.



M. F. MAURY. 223

"Another characteristic of Maury is the essentially reli-
gious temper of all his work. I do not refer to the frequent
allusions to texts of Scripture, nor to the curious interpreta-
tions he gives of them; that is, as we know, distinctive of
the genius of Protestantism. . . . His assiduous study of the
phenomena of nature is in effect a continuous expression
of gratitude towards the Supreme Wisdom which reveals
itself in nature, and every new fact is to him a new revela-
tion of the eternal harmony. Not indeed that Maury ever
sets himself to the deliberate propagation or advancement
of the faith ; in his eyes science and religion are united by
indissoluble bonds, and neither can be developed without
throwing fresh light on the other." * "Maury 's early reli-
gious training and temperament", writes E. Douglas Archi-
bald 2 , "appear to have exercised a large influence on his
public and private life. His Physical Geography is illustrated
by frequent extracts from the Book of Job, and is instinct
with the same spirit which prompted and pervaded the me-
morable Bridgewater Treatises. The following extract from
his address to the University of the South will indicate this
phase of his mind : 'Astronomy is grand and sublime, but
Astronomy overpowers with its infinities and overwhelms
with its immensities. Physical Geography charms with its
wonders, and delights with the benignity of its economy.
Astronomy ignores the existence of man ; Physical Geography
confesses that it is based on the Biblical doctrine that the earth
was made for man. Upon no other theory can it be studied
- upon no other theory can its phenomena be reconciled.'"

The character of the "Bridgewater Treatises" may be
gathered from their title, "Bridgewater Treatises on the
Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested
in the Creation" 3 .



1 E. du Hailly in Revue des deux mondes 15 mars 1858,
Paris, 443.

2 Nature, 9. August 1888, London and New York 1888, 340.
The University of the South is in Tennessee.

3 Bridgewater Treatises on the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of
God, as manifested in the Creation. London 1833 1840. Francis



224 VI. GEOGRAPHY.

Maury continued steadfast in his faith to the end.
"With his last breath ... he offered up his soul to Jesus
Christ, and prayed God to take him out of this world
to Himself.''^

The names of Ritter and Maury serve to impress on
us anew a fact to which we have so many times drawn
attention. It is the smatterers in science that have so
much contempt for religion; the true masters and pio-
neers, as a rule, regard it with favour. We do not seek
to explain this fact fully, it is enough for our purpose
to record it. To give science a new direction, to open
out to it new paths, demands not only width and depth
of vision but also a rare independence of mind, for one
must break with the views of the majority of one's con-
temporaries. And that minds of this stamp should so
often be thoroughly Christian, but never in any event
so sceptical as the popularizers and pamphleteers, is a
fact of deep significance.



Henry Egerton , Earl of Bridgewater (f 1829), left in his will
8000 to be expended on a work, the aim of which is sufficiently
evident from the title , which we have just given. The President
of the Royal Academy of Science , who was commissioned to
carry out of the design , entrusted its execution to eight men of
learning. Thomas Chalmers wrote on the Moral and Intel-
lectual Condition of Man ; John Kidd on the Adaptation of
External Nature to the Physical Condition of Man ; Charles Bell
on the Hand; William Kirby the Habits of Animals; William
W h e w e 1 1 on Astronomy and General Physics , P. W. R o g e t on
Animal and Vegetable Physiology; W. Buckland on Geology and
Mineralogy ; W. P r o u t on Chemistry, Meteorology and the Functions
of Digestion. Bell, Buckland, and to a certain extent, Whewell and
Kirby were men of an European reputation.

1 11 a rendu le dernier soupir ... en confiant son ame a Jesus-
Christ et priant Dieu de le retirer de ce monde (Q uetelet in
Annuaire de 1'Academie de Belgique XL, Bruxelles 1874, 337).



M. F. MAURY. 225

We will not devote much further space to the science
of Geography. It does not bring us into such intimate
connection with the fundamental problems of religion
as other branches of science. Whether a great geo-
grapher be like Elisee Reclus, an Anarchist, or like
Wappaus 1 or H. A. Daniel 2 a deeply religious man, is
not a circumstance on which we can decisively rely.
Still less do we propose to examine the attitude towards
Christianity of the great discoverers. We should find
many of them who like Cameron 3 or Sven Hedin 4
called on God in their hour of danger, but such data
would be more illustrative of the moral value than of
the intellectual validity, of religion. We shall then
simply select out of the great multitude of discoverers
two names which could not well be ignored. One of
these has already been mentioned. The other occupies
a position of eminence in the science of Astronomy,
but his greatest work was done in Geography. They
are Claude Desaulses De Freycinet (f 1842), and Antoine
Thomson D'Abbadie (f 1897).



1 See below p. 244.

2 Only an untimely death prevented him from becoming a member
of the Catholic Church. Hulskamp in Liter. Handweiser Nr. 108
and 109, Miinster 1871, 453.

3 He landed in his native country "voll Dank im Herzen gegen
Gott, dessen Giite mich durch so viele Gefahren beschirmt hat".
Verney Lovett Cameron, Quer durch Afrika. Deutsche Aus-
gabe II, Leipzig 1877, 240.

4 "Schon der Gedanke , den Aufstieg heute fortzusetzen , hatte
geheifien Gott versuchen." Sven Hedin, Durch Asiens Wusten I,
Leipzig 1899, 233. He will mildly treat one who has wrong acted
towards him. "Denn hatte nicht der Allmachtige seine Hand
iiber mich gestreckt, als ich damals in Lebensgefahr war?" Ib.

II 191.

Kn el ler, Christianity. 15



226 VI. GEOGRAPHY.

Freycinet was a colleague of Cauchy's, and we
have spoken of him on an earlier page J . We treat
here of his contributions to Geography.

As recently as the end of the 1 8 th century the continent
of Australia was very imperfectly known. The geo-
graphers of that day were doubtful, for example, whether
or not the Gulf of Carpentaria stretched all the way from
North to South and divided the Continent into separated
parts. In order to determine this question the French
Government in 1800 despatched an expedition under
Baudin ; and Freycinet, then a young man of twenty-
one, formed one of the crew. He distinguished himself
so much in what was otherwise a rather disappointing
voyage that he not merely became an officer, but was
given charge of some explorations undertaken by the
way e. g. that of the Hunter Islands. On the return
of the expedition it was Freycinet who prepared for
publication the materials collected 2 . He had barely
completed this work when he was given the command
of another scientific expedition. Its object was, by means
of pendulum observations in different latitudes, to throw
some light on the shape of the earth, to obtain data
regarding earth-magnetism, and to collect plants, animals,
and minerals hitherto unknown. Freycinet left Toulon,
on board the corvette Urania, on September 17 th 1817.
At Rio Janeiro, the Cape of Good Hope, and the Island
of Mauritius observations were made, and the voyage



1 Cf. ante p. 56. For biographical details of Fried r. Embacher
cf. Lexikon der Reisen und Entdeckungen, Leipzig 1882, 121. Nouv.
biographic generate XVIII, Paris 1885, 843852. Fr. Grille,
L. de Freycinet, Paris 1853.

2 Voyage de decouverte aux terres australes pendant les annees
1800 a i8o4 2 , 4 vols, Paris 1824.



FREYCINET. ANTOINE THOMSON D ABBAD1E. 227

was thence continued to a quarter already known to
Freycinet, the south-west of Australia. The expedition
from this point made a wide sweep of the continent,
passing by way of the Marian and the Sandwich Islands,
and after a stoppage at Sydney, made for Cape Horn.
In the neighbourhood of the Falkland Islands the Urania
was so badly damaged that she had to be abandoned.
But the mass of her valuable carge was fortunately
saved, and, purchasing a new vessel, Freycinet reached
Le Havre on November 13 th 1820 after an absence of
three years. He had sailed 18,862 naval miles; the
observations made by him filled 31 quarto volumes; he
brought home specimens of 4 new species of mammals,
45 new species of birds, 49 of reptiles, and an invalu-
able collection of minor animals and plants. In their
published form the results occupied 13 quarto volumes,
with four atlases. They were of course edited and
arranged by Freycinet, but he died before the appearance
of the last three volumes. Two of these, dealing with
magnetism and mineralogy, were subsequently issued,
but the last, which treated of the languages of Oceania,
although in many respects the best, never saw the light.

The other discoverer, of whom we speak, won his
laurels in a very different field. He had to contend
not with cliff and rock, wind and wave, but with the
ignorance and superstitions of a half-savage people, with
political distrust and suspicion, and he fought his battle
with wonderful strength and stubbornness.

Antoine Thomson D'Abbadie 1 , a scion of an
old French family, was born in 1810 in Dublin, whither



1 Revue des quest, scient. XLI, Louvain 1897, 59$ ff. Radau
in Revue des deux raondes, i. fevr. 1867, Paris, 722 736. Hatt

15*



228 VI. GEOGRAPHY.

his father had fled at the time of the Revolution. In
1813, however, his parents returned to France, bringing
Antoine with him. From his youth he showed a passion
for observation; and, as the wealth of his family assured
him a competence, the young man was free to devote
himself to study and travel in distant lands, where
new and rare things were to be discovered, adventures
to be encountered, Christianity to be introduced or re-
vived. The little-known home of the dark race early
attracted his attention, and Bruce's Travels in Abyssinia
fixed his choice on this latter region. According to
report there were to be found on the banks of Lake Tana,
palaces, ruins, books, savants, a literature, everything in
fact that we understand by the word culture, and this
attracted him more than the prospect of travel among
utter savages. He anticipated no opposition from the
fanaticism of Islam for, as he himself says: "I knew that
with time the Abyssinians had altered their religion, and
I even proposed to work for its restoration. I also
entertained the hope of discovering the cradle and home
of the negro races, seeking it as I did in the region to
which their own tradition points. I hoped also to throw
some light on the sources of the Blue Nile." All this
he expected to be able to accomplish in two or three
years.

D'Abbadie spent six years in preparation for his ex-
pedition, studying all the necessary sciences; before under-
taking it he even went, on the advice of Arago, to the
equatorial region of Brazil to ground himself in earth-
magnetism.



in Comptes rendus of the Parisian Academy of Science CXXVI,
Paris 1898, 173 181, reprinted in Cosmos 5 fevr. 1898, Paris,
182-186.



ANTOINE THOMSON D ABBADIE. 229

He devoted ten years to the trigonometrical measure-
ment of Abyssinia, and published a map inclusive of
the southern province previously almost unknown. The
area mapped out by him is as large as France ; its most
northerly point is as far from its most southerly as Calais
from Saragossa. In this area D'Abbadie determined the
altitude and relative situation of about 900 different
points; he worked quite alone, and employed a method
invented by himself; and he completed his task "in
spite of the climate, in spite of privation and sickness,
in spite of the wild animals, the impassable ways, and,
worst of all, the hostile natives" 1 .

We shall give just one example of his almost superhuman
courage. When in 1838 he had reached Abyssinia from
Massava and begun his work, he found that his methods
and instruments were inadequate. He, thereupon, resolved
to return to France, to procure fresh instruments, devise a
new method, and begin his whole task anew. In the be-
ginning of 1839 he was back in Paris; by the end of
January 1840 he had reached Massava, and attempted to
re-enter Abyssinia. But the native ruler refused him per-
mission, and to make his calamities complete he was at-
tacked by a disease of the eyes. He went to Aden to
look for medical assistance, but the English governor of
the island refused him admittance. He returned to Africa,
endeavoured to penetrate Abyssinia from the south, and
failed at two points. But even these accumulated misfortunes
could not break the spirit of D'Abbadie. He made a fresh
attempt from the north, and was at last successful.

"One can but marvel", says Hatt 2 , "at the sight of such
strength and self-denial which led a man, out of pure love



Online LibraryKarl Alois KnellerChristianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century → online text (page 18 of 32)