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Naturae vero rerum vis atque majestas in omnibus momentis fide caret, si quis modo
partes ejus ac non totam complectatur animo.— Plin., Hist. Nat, lib. vii., c. 1.



329 & 331 PEARL STREET,





Introduction to the special results of observation in the domain of
telluric phenomena Page 5-14:

First Section 14-156

Size, form, and density of the earth 14-37

Internal heat of the earth 37-50

Magnetic activity of the earth 50-156

Historical portion 50-88

Intensity 87-100

Inclination 100-115

Declination 115-146

Polar light , 146-156

Second Section 157-

Reaction of the interior of the earth upon its surface. 157, etc-
Earthquakes; dynamic action, waves of concussion... 160-176

Thermal springs 177-198

Gas springs, salses, mud volcanoes, naptha springs .... 198-214

Volcanoes xcith and without structural frames {conical and bell-shaped
mountains') 214-451

Range of volcanoes from north (19^° N. lat.) to south, as far as 46°
south latitude : Mexican volcanoes, p. 266 and 375 ( Jorullo, p. 292,
304, note at p. 293) ; Cofre de Perote, p. 307, Cotopaxi, notes p. 317-
321. Subterranean eruptions of vapor, p. 322-324. Central America,
p. 255-263. New Granada and Quito, p. 266-270, and notes (Anti-
sana, p. 311-316 ; Sangay, p. 416 ; Tungurahua, p. 415 ; Cotopaxi,
p. 318-320; Chimborazo, p. 431, note *); Peru and Bolivia, p. 270,
note ; Chili, p. 272, note || (Antilles, p. 394, note *).

Enumeration of all the active volcanoes in the Cordilleras, p. 270.
Relation of the tracts without volcanoes to those abounding in them,
p. 280, note * at 268 ; volcanoes in the Northwest of America, to the
north of the parallel of the Rio Gila, p. 377-392 ; review of all the
volcanoes not belonging to the New Continent, p. 270-377 ; Europe,
p. 328, 329 ; islands of the Atlantic Ocean, p. 330 ; Africa, p. 332 ;
Asia— Continent, p. 334-344; Thian-shan, p. 336, 337, 405, and
notes p. 327 to 330 (peninsula of Kamtschatka, p. 340-344) ; Eastern
Asiatic Islands, p. 344 (island of Saghalin, Tarakai or Karafuto, notes


p. 288 and 289 ; volcanoes of Japan, p. 350 ; islands of Southern
Asia, p. 354-358) ; Java, p. 281-290. The Indian Ocean, p. 358-
363 ; the South Sea, p. 363-376.

Probable number of volcanoes on the globe, and their distribution on the
continents and islands Page 393-403

Distance of volcanic activity from the sea, p. 279, 404, 405. Re-
gions of depression, p. 403-407 ; Maars, Mine funnels, p. 221, 222.
Different modes in which solid masses may reach the surface from
the interior of the earth, through a net-work of fissures in the cor-
rugated soil, without the upheaval or construction of conical or dome-
shaped piles (basalt, phonolite, and some layers of pearl-stone and
pumice, seem to owe their appearance above the surface, not to sum-
mit-craters, but to the effects of fissures). Even the effusions from
volcanic summits do not in some lava streams consist of a continuous
fluidity, but of loose scoria?, and even of a series of ejected blocks and
rubbish ; there are ejections of stones which have not all been glow-
ing, p. 291, 311, 312-315, 322-326, note * (p. 289), note * (page 315).

Mineralogical composition of the volcanic rock : generalization of
the term trachyte, p. 423 ; classification of the trachytes, according to
their essential ingredients, into six groups or divisions in conformity
with the definitions of Gustav Rose ; and geographical distribution of
these groups, p. 423-436; the designations andesite and andesine,
p. 422-437, note, 440. Along with the characteristic ingredients of
the trachyte formations there are also unessential ingredients, the
abundance or constant absence of which in volcanoes frequently very
near each other deserves great attention, p. 441 ; Mica, ibid. ; glassy
feldspar, p. 442; hornblende and augite, p. 443; leucite, p. 444; oli-
vin, p. 444 ; obsidian, and the difference of opinion on the formation
of pumice, p. 447 ; subterranean pumice-beds, remote from volcanoes,
at Zumbalica, in the Cordilleras of Quito, at Huichapa in the Mexican
Highland, and at Tschigem in the Caucasus, p. 320-324. Diversity
of the conditions under which the chemical processes of volcanicily
proceed in the formation of the simple minerals and their association
into trachytes, p. 440, 441, 451.



In a work embracing so wide a field as the Cosmos, which
aims at combining perspicuous comprehensibility with gen-
eral clearness, the composition and co-ordination of the whole
are, perhaps, of greater importance than copiousness of detail.
This mode of treating the subject becomes the more desira-
ble because, in the Book of Nature, the generalization of
views, both in reference to the objectivity of external phe-
nomena and the reflection of the aspects of nature upon the
imagination and feelings of man, must be carefully separated
from the enumeration of individual results. The first two
volumes of the Cosmos were devoted to this kind of general-
ization, in which the contemplation of the Universe was con-
sidered as one great natural whole, while at the same time
care was taken to show how, in the most widely remote zones,
mankind had, in the course of ages, gradually striven to dis-
cover the mutual actions of natural forces. Although a great
accumulation of phenomena may tend to demonstrate their
causal connection, a General Picture of Nature can only pro-
duce fresh and vivid impressions when, bounded by narrow
limits, its perspicuity is not sacrificed to an excessive aggre-
gation of crowded facts.

As in a collection of graphical illustrations of the surface
and of the inner structure of the earth's crust, general maps
precede those of a special character, it has seemed to me that
in a physical description of the Universe it would be most
appropriate, and most in accordance with the plan of the
present work, if, to the consideration of the entire Universe
from general and higher points of view, I were to append in
the latter volumes those special results of observation upon
which the present condition of our knowledge is more partic-
ularly based. These volumes of my work must, therefore,
in accordance with a remark already made (Cosmos, vol. iii.,
p. 5-9), be considered merely as an expansion and more
careful exposition of the General Picture of Nature (Cosmos,


vol. i., p. 56-359), and, as the uranological or sidereal sphere
of the Cosmos was exclusively treated of in the two last
volumes, the present volume will be devoted to the consid-
eration of the telluric sphere. In this manner the ancient,
simple, and natural separation of celestial and terrestrial ob-
jects has been preserved, which we find by the earliest evi-
dences of human knowledge to have prevailed among all na-

As in the realms of space, a transition to our own planet-
ary system from the region of the fixed stars, illumined by
innumerable suns, whether they be isolated or circling round
one another, or whether they be mere masses of remote neb-
ulas, is indeed to descend from the great and the universal to
the relatively small and special — so does the field of our con-
templation become infinitely more contracted when we pass
from the collective solar system, which is so rich in varied
forms, to our own terrestrial spheroid, circling round the
sun. The distance of even the nearest fixed star, a Centauri,
is 263 times greater than the diameter of our solar system,
reckoned to the aphelion distance of the comet of 1680 ; and
yet this aphelion is 853 times further from the sun than our
earth {Cosmos, vol. iv., p. 190). These numbers, reckoning
the parallax of a Centauri at /A 9187, determine approxi-
mately both the distance of a near region of the starry heav-
ens from the supposed extreme solar' system and the distance
of those limits from the earth's place.

Uranology, which embraces the consideration of all that
fills the remote realms of space, still maintains the character
it anciently bore, of impressing the imagination most deeply
and powerfully by the incomprehensibility of the relations
of space and numbers which it embraces ; by the known or-
der and regularity of the motions of the heavenly bodies ;
and by the admiration which is naturally yielded to the
results of observation and intellectual investigation. This
consciousness of regularity and periodicity was so early im-
pressed upon the human mind, that it was often reflected in
those forms of speech which refer to the ordained course of
the celestial bodies. The known laws which rule the celes-
tial sphere excite, perhaps, the greatest admiration by their
simplicity, based, as they solely are, upon the mass and distri-
bution of accumulated ponderable matter and upon its forces
of attraction. The impression of the sublime, when it arises
from that which is immeasurable and physically great, pass-
es almost unconsciously to ourselves beyond the mysterious


boundary which connects the metaphysical with the physical,
and loads ns into another and higher sphere of ideas. The
image of the immeasurable, the boundless, and the eternal, is
associated with a power which excites within us a more earn-
est and solemn tone of feeling, and which, like the impres-
sion of all that is spiritually great and morally exalted, is not
devoid of emotion.

The effect which the aspect of extraordinary celestial phe-
nomena so generally and simultaneously exerts upon entire
masses of people, bears witness to the influence of such an
association of feelings. The impression produced in excita-
ble minds by the mere aspect of the starry vault of heaven
is increased by profounder knowledge, and by the use of those
means which man has invented to augment his powers of vi-
sion, and at the same time enlarge the horizon of his observ-
ation. A certain impression of peace and calmness blends
with the impression of the incomprehensible in the universe,
and is awakened by the mental conception of normal regu-
larity and order. It takes from the unfathomable depths of
space and time those features of terror which an excited im-
agination is apt to ascribe to them. In all latitudes man,
in the simple natural susceptibility of his mind, prizes " the
calm stillness of a starlit summer night."

Although, magnitude of space and mass appertains more
especially to the sidereal portion of cosmical delineation, and
the eye is the only organ of cosmical contemplation, our tel-
luric sphere has, on the other hand, the preponderating ad-
vantage of presenting us with a greater and a scientifically
distinguishable diversity in the numerous elementary bodies
of which it is composed. All our senses bring us in contact
with terrestrial nature ; and while astronomy, which, as the
knowledge of movins; luminous celestial bodies is most acces-
sible to mathematical treatment, has been the means of in-
creasing in the most marvelous manner the splendor of the
higher forms of analysis, and has equally enlarged the lim-
its of the extensive domain of optics, our earthly sphere, on
the other hand, by its heterogeneity of elements, and by the
complicated play of the expressions of force inherent in
matter, has formed a basis for chemistry, and for all those
branches of physical science which treat of phenomena
that have not as yet been found to be connected with vibra-
tions generating heat and light. Each sphere has, there-
fore, in accordance with the nature of the problems which
it presents to our investigation, exerted a different influence


on the intellectual activity and scientific knowledge of man-

All celestial bodies, excepting our own planet and the
aerolites which are attracted by it, are, to our conception,
composed only of homogeneous gravitating matter, without
any specific or so-called elementary difference of substances.
Such a simple assumption is, however, not by any means
based upon the inner nature and constitution of these remote
celestial orbs, but arises merely from the simplicity of the
hypotheses which are capable of explaining and leading us to
predict the movements of the heavenly bodies. This idea
arises, as I have already had occasion frequently to remark
{Cosmos, vol. i., p. 62-67, and p. 135-137 ; vol. iii., p. 6-20,
and 22-24), from the exclusion of all recognition of hetero-
geneity of matter, and presents us with the solution of the
great problem of celestial mechanics, in which all that is va-
riable in the uranological sphere is subjected to the sole con-
trol of dynamical laws.

Periodical alternations of light upon the surface of the
planet Mars do indeed point, in accordance with its different
seasons of the year, to various meteorological processes, and
to the polar precipitates excited by cold in the atmosphere
of that planet (Cosmos, vol. iv., p. 160). Guided by analo-
gies and reasoning, we may indeed here assume the presence
of ice or snow (oxygen and hydrogen), as in the eruptive
masses or the annular plains of the moon we assume the ex-
istence of different kinds of rock on our satellite, but direct
observation can teach us nothing in reference to these points.
Even Newton ventured only on conjectures regarding the
elementary constitution of the planets which belong to our
own solar system, as we learn from an important conversa-
tion which he had at Kensington with Conduit (Cosmos, vol.
i., p. 132). The uniform image of homogeneous gravitating
matter conglomerated into celestial bodies has occupied the
fancy of mankind in various ways, and mythology has even
linked the charm of music to the voiceless regions within the
realms of space (Cosmos, vol. iv., p. 108-110).

Amid the boundless wealth of chemically varying sub-
stances, with their numberless manifestations of force — amid
the plastic and creative energy of the whole of the organic
world, and of many inorganic substances — amid the meta-
morphosis of matter which exhibits an ever-active appear-
ance of creation and annihilation, the human mind, ever
striving to grasp at order, often yearns for simple laws of


motion in the investigation of the terrestrial sphere. Even
Aristotle, in his Physics, states that " the fundamental prin-
ciples of all nature arc change and motion ; he who does not
recognize this truth recognizes not Nature herself" (Phys.
Auscutt., iii., 1, p. 200, Uekker), and, referring t:> the differ-
ence of matter ("a diversity in essence"), he designates mo-
tion, in respect to its qualitative nature, as a metamorphosis,
dXXoiidoic, very different from mere mixture, \ii^,ic, and a
penetration which does not exclude the idea of subsequent
separation (De Gene?: et Corrupt, i., 1, p. 327).

The unequal ascent of fluids in capillary tubes — the endos-
mosis which is so active in all organic cells, and is probably
a consequence of capillarity — the condensation of different
kinds of gases in porous bodies (of oxygen in spongy plati-
num, with a pressure which is equal to a force of more than
700 atmospheres, and of carbonic acid in boxwood charcoal,
when more than one third is condensed in a liquid state on
the walls of the cells) — the chemical action of contact-sub-
stances, which by their presence occasion or destroy (by ca-
talysis) combinations without themselves taking any part in
them — all these phenomena teach us that bodies at infinitely
small distances exert an attraction upon one another, which
depends upon their specific natures. We can not conceive
such attractions to exist independently of motions, which
must be excited by them although inappreciable to our eyes.

We are still entirely ignorant of the relations which recip-
rocal molecular attraction as a cause of unceasing motion
on the surface, and very probably also in the interior of the
earth's body, exerts upon the attraction of gravitation, by
which the planets as well as their central body are main-
tained in constant motion. Even the partial solution of this
purely physical problem would yield the highest and most
splendid results that can be attained in these paths of in-
quiry, by the aid of experimental and intellectual research.
I purposely abstain in these sentences from associating (as is
commonly done) the name of Newton with that law of at-
traction which rules the celestial bodies in space at bound-
less distances, and which is inversely as the square of the
distance. Such an association implies almost an injustice
toward the memory of this great man, who had recognized
both these manifestations of force, although he did not sepa-
rate them with sufficient distinctness ; for we find — as if in
the felicitous presentiment of future discoveries — that he at-
tempted, in the Queries to his Optics, to refer capillarity, and



the little that was then known of chemical affinity, to univers-
al gravitation (Laplace, Expos, clu Syst. die Monde, p. 384.
Cosmos, vol. iii., p. 23).

As in the physical world, more especially on the borders
of the sea, delusive images often appear which seem for a
time to promise to the expectant discoverer the possession of
some new and unknown land ; so, on the ideal horizon of
the remotest regions of the world of thought, the earnest in-
vestigator is often cheered by many sanguine hopes, which
vanish almost as quickly as they have been formed. Some
of the splendid discoveries of modern times have undoubtedly
been of a nature to heighten this expectation. Among these
we may instance contact-electricity — magnetism of rotation,
which may even be excited by fluids, either in their aqueous
form or consolidated into ice — the felicitous attempt of con-
sidering all chemical affinity as the consequence of the elec-
trical relations of atoms with a predominating polar force —
the theory of isomorphous substances in its application to
the formation of crystals — many phenomena of the electrical
condition of living muscular fibre — and, lastly, the knowledge
which we have obtained of the influence exerted by the sun's
position, that is to say, the thermic force of the solar rays,
upon the greater or lesser magnetic capacity and conducting
power of one of the constituents of our atmosphere, namely,
oxygen. When light is unexpectedly thrown upon any pre-
viously obscure group of phenomena in the physical world,
we may the more readily believe that we are on the thresh-
old of new discoveries, when we find that these relations ap-
pear to be either obscure, or even in opposition to already
established facts.

I have more particularly adduced examples in which the
dynamic actions of attracting forces seem to show the course
by which we may hope to approximate toward the solution
of the problem of the original, unchangeable, and hence
named the elementary heterogeneity of substances (for in-
stance, oxygen, hydrogen, sulphur, potassium, phosphorus,
tin, etc.), and of the amount of their tendency to combine ;
in other words, their chemical affinity. Differences of form
and mixture are, I would again repeat, the only elements of
our knowledge of matter; they are the abstractions under
which we endeavor to comprehend the all-moving universe,
both as to its size and composition. The detonation of the
fulminates under a slight mechanical pressure, and the still
more formidable explosion of terchloride of nitrogen, which


is accompanied by fire, contrast with the detonating combi-
nation of chlorine and hydrogen, which explodes when the
sun's rays fall directly upon it (more especially the violet
rays). Metamorphosis, union, and separation afford evi-
dence of the eternal circulation of the elements in inorganic
nature no less than in the living cells of plants and animals.
"The quantity of existing matter remains, however, the
same ; the elements alone change their relative positions to
one another."

We thus find a verification of the ancient axiom of Anax-
agoras, that created things neither increase nor decrease in
the Universe, and that that which the Greeks termed the
destruction of matter was a mere separation of parts. Our
earthly sphere, within which is comprised all that portion
of the organic physical world which is accessible to our ob-
servation, is apparently a laboratory of death and decay ; but
that great natural process of slow combustion, which we call
decay, does not terminate in annihilation. The liberated
bodies combine to form other structures, and through the
agency of the active forces which are incorporated in them
a new life germinates from the bosom of the earth.



In the attempt to grasp the inexhaustible materials afford-
ed by the study of the physical world ; or, in other words,
to group phenomena in such a manner as to facilitate our in-
sight into their causal connection, general clearness and lu-
cidity can only be secured where special details — more par-
ticularly in the long and successfully cultivated fields of ob-
servation — are not separated from the higher points of view
of cosmical unity. The telluric sphere, as opposed to the
uranological, is separable into two portions, namely, the in-
organic and the organic departments. The former comprises
the size, form, and density of our terrestrial planet ; its in-
ternal heat ; its electro-magnetic activity ; the mineral con-
stitution of the earth's crust ; the reaction of the interior of
the planet on its outer surface which acts dynamically by
producing earthquakes, and chemically by rock-forming, and
rock-metamorphosing processes ; the partial covering of the
solid surface by the liquid element — the ocean ; the contour
and articulation of the upheaved earth into continents and
islands ; and, lastly, the general external gaseous investment
(the atmosphere). The second or organic domain comprises
not the individual forms of life which we have considered in
the Delineation of Nature, but the relations in space which
they bear to the solid and fluid parts of the earth's surface,
the geography of plants and animals, and the descent of the
races and varieties of man from one common, primary stock.

This division into two domains belongs, to a certain extent,
to the ancients, who separated from the vital phenomena of
plants and animals such material processes as change of form
and the transition of matter from one body to another. In
the almost total deficiency of all means for increasing the
powers of vision, the difference between the two organisms*
was based upon mere intuition, and in part upon the dogma

* See Cosmos, vol. iii., p. 42.



of self-nutrition (Aristot., Be Anima, ii., 1, t. i., p. 412, a 14,
Bekker), and of a spontaneous incentive to motion. This
kind of mental comprehension which I have named intuition,
together with that felicitous acumen in the power of combin-
ing his ideas, which was so characteristic of the Stagyrite,
led him to the assumption of an apparent transition from
the inanimate to the living, from the mere element to the
plant, and induced him even to adopt the view that in the
ever-ascending processes of plastic formation there were grad-
ual and intermediate stages connecting plants with the low-
er animals (Aristot., Be part. Animal, iv., 5, p. 681, a 12,
and Hist. Animal, viii., 1, p. 588, a 4, Bekker). The history
of organims (taking the word history in its original sense,
and therefore in relation to the faunas and floras of earlier
periods of time) is so intimately connected with geology,
with the order of succession of the superimposed terrestrial
strata, and with the chronometrical annals of the upheaval
of continents and mountains, that it has appeared most ap-
propriate to me, on account of the connection of great and
widely diffused phenomena, to avoid establishing the natural
division of organic and inorganic terrestrial life as the main
element of classification in a work treating of the Cosmos.

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtCosmos : a sketch of a physical description of the universe (Volume 5) → online text (page 1 of 55)