Alexander von Humboldt.

The travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt online

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CHAFFER harmony of the works of the Creator. Along with


ot known

this diversity, however, it is unquestionable that many
other laws besides that of gravitation operate beyond the
limits of our own sphere ; and in pursuing our investi-
gations into these, not only our own neighbouring satel-
lite, but the solar system, and even the tixed stars and
remoter nebular groups, are being laid under contribu-
tion for evidence in proof of the same indications of har-
monious order and benevolent design, with which we are
familiar on the surface of our own planet. On this sub-
ject, Professor Nichol has remarked : — " I have spoken
concerning the probable existence of life through all
these spheres. Let us look for one moment, before con-
cluding the subject, at the real nature of the question,
which is of all the most interesting. It appears equiva-
lent to this : Are we, without passing into extravagance,
entitled to assume that forces, which in so far as we
have positively traced them, enter as essentials into the
Grantation. constitution of our earth, are not confined within its
conditions ? Think of gravity. Before science raised
the veil from the distant, we knew it only in the fact of
the fall of a stone, or in the roundness of a drop of water ;
now, we have followed it through the complex motions
of the moon, and through the order of the entire sys-
tem. It pursues the comets through the abysses ; it
governs the orbits of the double and triple stars ; it
guides the sun in his path through the skies, ay, and
even those stupendous evolutions of firmaments, during
"which the stars congregate into dazzling clusters, or
arrange themselves in gallaxies. Boundless the sphere
of this force ; and shall an energy yet nobler, more sub-
tle, probably with a root much more profound, be fan-
cied so weak, so feeble, so dependent on circumstance,
that only in our world, or some one like it, it is free to
work out its wonderful jiroducts ? Look at its history in
that very earth. In the chalk cliffs, in caverns unseen
by the sun, in maislies that to man are desolation and
death, life yet teems and rejoices — its forms growing in

Its nniver


adaptation to their conditions. Long ages ago the odd chapter
tiilobite swarmed in our oceans, and the large-eyed -^^^vill.
ichthyosaur dashed tlirough their waters. These are all Progress
gone ; but plastic nature, ever forming with ceaseless me!"^^"""^
activity, has, by the most mysterious of her actions,
brought up new forms to play their parts among her
vast scenes. Through space, as through time, she is
doubtless working ; and with all their joys and sorrows,
evolving far mightier results than the formation of in-
organic worlds. I see this in the blush of the morning
which beams on all these globes, and there, too, awakens
the glad creatures from their repose. I see it in the Evidence
downfal of evening, that speaks of refreshment from toil, opemiol^f
but also of the living-time of activities not fitted for the
sun. I see it in the progress of the earth, and in its
course, through much conflict, towards perfection : for
its rocks and stones tell not only of change, but of the
struggles of its creatures to become linked to something
higher : — Yes ! ye worlds, wondrous and innumerable,
that shine aloft, and shower around us your many mys-
tic influences, — ye, too, are the abodes of sentience suited
to your conditions, ay, and of intelligence, different, far
different from ours, and in states of approach to the
Divinity of all possible gradations ; but of which every
constituent, where every creature, of whatever kind, is
pressing outward like the bud in spring, and stretching,
with longings that are unutterable, towards the Infinite
and the Eternal!"

Not the least gratifying idea which these reflections Capacity of
suggest, is the endless progression in knowledge, and niind.
the clearer understanding of the works of creation,
which the mind of man is seen to be capable of. The
past and th.e future, the near and the remote, all lie
within its grasp ; and while the infinite works of the
Creator can never be exhausted by his creature, it is a
delightful thought to the intelligent mind, that amid all
the ages of that future to which the hopes of the Chris-
tian extend, his mind shall be ever expanding amid new


CHAPTER and fuller disclosures of the wisdom, the power, the
XXWII. goodness, and the infinite greatness, of Him who re-
Oreatness moveth the mountains and they know not ; who over-
thc Creator" turneth them in his an2;er : who shaketh the earth out
of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble ; who com-
mandeth the sun, and it riseth not, and sealeth up the
stars; who alone spreadeth out the heavens, and tread-
eth upon the waves of the sea ; who maketh Arcturus,
Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south, . . .
Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no cover-
ing. He stretcheth out the north over the void, and
hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the
waters in his thick clouds ; and the cloud is not rent
under them. He holdeth back the face of his throne,
and spreadeth his cloud upon it. He hath compassed
the waters with bounds, until the day and the night
come to an end. The pillars of heaven tremble, and are
astonished at his reproof. He divideth the sea with his
power, and by his understanding he smiteth through
the proud. By his spirit he hath garnished the hea-
vens; lo, these are part of his ^cays; hut how little a por-
timits of tio7i is heard of him ? The thunder of his poioer xoho can
I'edire."^^" understand? Such were the reflections of the ancient
patriarch of Uz, while yet the discoveries and the appli-
ances of science were all unknown, and yet they come
to us now with even more power when armed with all
the revelations of modern science, and instructed by the
profound reflections of an observer like Humboldt, who
brings all the most valuable discoveries, and all the disclo-
sures of his own extensive experience, to aid in elucidat-
ing the phenomena with which we are surrounded.

The same interesting popular author, whose general
reflection on the harmony of the universe have already
been referred to, thus remarks on that interesting,
though extremely limited point of our own system, to
which attention has been so vividly attracted by recent
illustrations, drawn from it in elucidation of terrestrial
phenomena : — " It is scarcely possible," observes Profes-


sor Nichol, " to conceive a more remarkable contrast than chaptfr
that between tlie appearance of the moon to tlie naked -^x^'UL
eye, and that whicli she presents to the telescope, wlie-
ther in quadrature, or when she is full. Instead of a
plain and bright surface, sending from all its parts an
illumination not far from equable, we discern a body
of most strange character, broken by irregularities which,
in extent ajid form, present few analogies with the moun- Mountainous
tainous regions of our own globe. The reality of these, ''^^"^"^
as well as the singularity of their contours, the briefest
glance at the crescent luminary is sufficient to establish.
The incomplete edge is, in that case, under the influence
of a morning or evening light ; and all the phenomena
of lightened peaks, dark valleys, and long shadows, which
occur in a broken district of the earth in such circum-
stances, are there distinctly visible, but on a scale far
more grand. Look, for example, at a scene near Tycho,
where the sun is shining obliquely on the rims of tremen-
dous pits, or circular caverns, some of which are as deep
as Mont Blanc is high, — and say, if that beauteous lumi- Indications
nary, notwithstanding her placid smile, has not, even as sions.
our ov.n shattered globe, undergone a troublous his-
tory ! The representations given, so far from being ex-
aggerated, are but feeble approximations to the reality ;
nor can the moon in any phase be painted. The living
glory of the real object cannot be transferred to the can-
vass — no shade or colouring can accomplish that ; but
the features which are concerned with our scientific in-
quiries may all be exactly preserved.

" It will be seen," the author then remarks, in refer- Adequate
ring to his illustrations of the appearance of the satellite, obsen-ation.
" that a complete survey of the moon's surface is quite
within our reach. No elevation of any magnitude, when
on the EDGE, can fail to cast a long shadow, — the rays of
the rising or setting sun then falling on \i\ery obliquely;
and not only does this shadow reveal the existence of the
elevation, but its length, which can be accurately mea-
sured, must evidently indicate the height of the moun-




Lunar raapf

taia or ridge. We know that the shadows of the ohjects
around us are longer or shorter just as the sun has
attained to a lesser or greater height above the horizon ;
and as the relations of that orb to the moon are per-
fectly, understood, it is easily discovered what his eleva-
tion is above the horizon of any body casting a shadow
there ; so that the shadow is an accurate indication of
both the form and the magnitude of the mountain from
which it is thrown. It is the same with those remark-
able caverns. Suppose a deep hole in a table, and let a
candle approach it, — the deeper the pit, the nearer must
the candle be before the light reach its bottom : and ex-
actly thus must the position of the sun, when the pro-
fundities of these lunar pits are pierced through, enable
us to judge how far they descend into the body of that
globe. Acting on these simple principles, and therefore
watching the crescent edge through many lunations,
several celebrated astronomers have constructed maps of
our satellite. Without referring to the older labourers,
who wrought under the disadvantage of imperfect tele-
scopes, I must distinguish Schroeter, whose enthusiasm
in this field was worthy its dazzling object. But it is to
Maedler, now of Dorpat, that we owe the first accurate
selenotopography. This excellent and industrious ob-
server has, in conjunction with M. Baer of Berlin, drawn
a map of the moon's surface, of three feet in diameter;
of which, I believe, this at least may be said, — it is more
accurate than any existing chart of either hemisphere of
our own globe."

It may seem, at first sight, altogether extravagant to
speak of more perfect maps existing of the moon than of
the earth ; but a very little reflection will show that,
while the delineator of the surface of the moon literally
draws that which he sees, it is only by a complicated
and laborious system of triangulation and measurement,
that charts and maps can be constructed, even of a very
small portion of the earth's surface. Professor Nichol
thus sums up the observations of various observers in


relation to the mountain systems and intervening areas CTfAPTEH
of the moon : — and these are of the more interest to the ^^^^^^'-
reader, as putting him in possession of evidence in rela-
tion to the similarity observable between terrestrial and
lunar phenomena, published considerably prior to the
recent demonstrations of Mr. Naysmith, which have been
alluded to above. " Taking," the Professor remarks,
" the lunar mountain formations in the order of their isolrxtcd.
simplicity, we discern, at the outset, a great number of v^^^='
perfectly isolated peaks, or sugar-loaf mountains, uncon-
nected with any group or range whatsoever. In our own
globe, such peaks are not uncommon, as in Cantal, for
instance, or Teneriffe ; but those generally belong to
some large sphere of disturbance, and the nature of the
forces and operation that produced them can, however
dimly, still with some degree of certainty be conceived.
These singular formations in the moon, however, very
often present no analogy, in this respect, with the corres-
ponding phenomena of our planet. They rise suddenly
from the midst of unbroken flats, and at a great distance
from general disturbances. They seem to have shot
through the plain, in obedience to some sharp internal
force, as one would push a needle through a sheet of
paper ; and the plain has not been much more disturbed.
Perhaps the finest instance of this is Pico, a very bi'il- Pice.
liant rock, about half as high as the loftiest of our Alps,
which towers almost precipitously north of Plato. No
system whatever is connected with that remarkable peak ;
it is there a solitary, unaccompanied protrusion. Strange,
indeed, the internal energies resulting in such pheno-
mena ! We are accustomed to consider apparently iso-
lated outbursts on the earth, as isolated only in appear-
ance — as the fragments — the remnants of some large
and continuous system, whose parts have been abraded
and washed away ; but in the moon there are none of
those meteorological agencies that have broken and
changed the contour of our mountains. As we proceed,
however, greater apparent breaches of analogy will press





Forms of


for notice ; although, if I mistake not, hy their very con-
trariety with what surrounds us, these will, in some in-
stances, throw light on problems regarding the structure
of our globe, which have hitherto baffled inquirers.

" IMountain ranges, or chains, are by no means want-
ing in the moon, although a glance at the map will show
that they are not a chief feature among the elevations of
that body. Their general position is a sort of circular
but broken skirt of the greater flats or plains. For in-
stance, the Apennines, the Caucasus, and the Alps, form-
ing, in fragments of a ring, one edge of the Mare Im-
brium. Some of these reach a great elevation ; the
Apennines rising from eighteen to twenty thousand feet
— much higher than Mont Blanc ; and there is another
ridge, on the very rim of the moon, which appears to
rival the gigantic Andes or Himalaya. There are two
sets of phenomena connected with these lunar ranges,
bearing so closely on some theories regarding similar
terrestrial forms, that I am induced to specify them.

" We find here, as on the earth, that the ridge is uni-
formly extremely steep on one side, — descending to the
plain through abrupt precipices, or a succession of abrupt
terraces, while thej' slope away, as ours do also, on the
other side, through an extensive and gently declining
highland. The Lunar Apennines and the Asiatic Hima-
laya are illustrations of this singular fact, of about equal
force. But the moon unfolds something more : the
aljrupt face of the mountain chain is uniformly towards
the plain. This is very distinct in the case of the Mare
Jmbriuni ; and we find the same with regard to every
other plain, such as the Mare Serenitatis. Turn now to
the earth. Suppose the vast Pacific drained of its
waters, and that the Indian and Southern Oceans had
become dry land ; that would be a mighty flat or low
land, broken only as the lunar plains are broken — here
and there by a ridge — a crater, and group of mountains ;
but observe its edge ! Skirted on one side by the preci-
pitous faces of the Andes and Rocky Mountains ; and on


the other, after some breaks, by the still more precipitous chapter

Himalaya and the Paropamisan, and then by the fronts •^^^^"

of the heiglits of Abyssinia and Lupata, — in all of whicli Wentitynf

the slope is on the opposite side, forming, in the two i' "^""°'®''*

chief instances, the continent of South America and the

long inclination of Siberia. This is not a mere analogy

but an identity of phenomena. And their solution

must, in both orbs, be connected with the formation of

the plains which these precipices engirdle. It has yet to

be found : but our terrestrial geographer may, in the

meantime, safely dismiss speculations concerning floods

and vast currents as being the cause of the contrast of

these opposite contours, seeing that he must comprehend

the moon also, where there is no water, and never has

been !

"It will be gi-anted, that when a terrestrial pheno- Test of tev-
menon is sought to be referred to some cosinical agency, no'',^cniJ' '^
that is, to an agency not dependent on &i\y peculiarity of
the earth, but inherent in its nature as a planet, it is
wholly legitimate to test the truth of the theory by ap-
plying it to the constitution of other orbs. Now, until
vei-y lately, it was scarcely possible to scan a few pages
of a geological work without encountering cosmical theo-
ries regarding the elevation of our mountain chains. I
shall refer to only one. The ingenious and learned De
Beaumont proposed, not many years ago, what he termed Theory of De
ii, *i, e ^ f J it ■ 1 ^ Beaumont,

the theory 01 secular renageration. It was m substance

this : — The earth is still cooling ; in the process of cool-
ing the outer crust contracts ; and, in the course of ages,
it will press so violently on the molten mass within, that,
through the resistance of that mass, it must crack; and
the fragments will, by the protrusion of the internal
fluid, be pressed upwards, and form mighty ranges of
mountains. It followed, from this theory, that all the
ranges would, in the main, lie along great circles of the
sphere ; and De Beaumont superadded the assertion, that
there would be other parallel cracks at the same time ;
so that all parallel ridges of mountains might safely be


CHAPTER assumed to be of the samg age, or to belong to the same
epoch. How utterly the whole fair speculation vanishes
before one glance into the universe farther than our own
door-steps ! If the earth was cracked in this wise, so
must the moon have been ; but in the moon there is not
one instance of a chain l.ving along a great circle of the
sphere, or having connection with aught save the great
plains ; and there are no parallel ridges at all !"
Opinions of From these observations, the reader will see that astro-
observers. nomers have long been familiar with the illustrations
derivable from lunar phenomena, of the successive
changes through which our own planet has passed. He
will observe, moreover, that the speculations already re-
ferred to are only the revival of ideas previously advanced,
though now rendered more consistent, and confirmed by
much additional evidence, derived both from telescopic
observation, and from analytic experiments. We see,
however, in the remai'ks of Professor Nichol, in refer-
ence to the theory of De Beaumont, that the idea of de-
I^ression and upheaval being the result of the irregular
contraction of the whole earth's crust has not hitherto
been received without dispute, nor is it likely that it can
ExporiiiKu- now be accepted implicitly. It is not, however, to be rcsuiis. received in its latest form as a mere theory, but rather
as the result of conclusions forced on the mind of an in-
telligent and practical observer by the various pheno-
mena brought under his notice by the telescope, and con-
firmed by the analogies which his crucial experiments
elicited. Professor Nichol attaches importance to the
absence of a general parallelism in the striae on the
moon's surface, as an evidence of the fallacy of De Beau-
mont's theory, and in this he was so far justified, from
that ingenious theorist having assumed th:it such would
be the necessary result of tlie force which he sought to
account for. The experiments of Mr. Nasmyth, how-
ever, already referred to, bhow an entirely different re-
sult, completely corresjionding with the radiating striae
with which we are actually familiar on the surface of


the moon. We are therefore confirmed in the value to chapter
be attached to illustrations and elucidations of terrestrial "^^^''^^^
phenomena, derived from those which are discoverable in Value of
its attendant satellite ; and though some of those most enceZ'^''^'^
recently advanced may be open to dispute, we cannot
doubt that further observation will lead to still greater
revelations of truth, in relation to those astonishing x-e-
volutions on our own planet's surface, which supervened
while yet " the earth was without form, and void, and
darkness moved on the face of the deep."

The third and concluding volume of Humboldt's Phiiosopiii.-
"Researches in Central Asia," enters into questions no '"^^'•''*"^ '''^•
less 'interesting to the natural philosopher than those
which precede it ; though it is not easy to reduce to an
abridged and popular form the original views, and numer-
ous new and important facts and observations, which
arri embodied in it. It includes " Considerations on the
Temperature and Hygvometrical state of the Air, chiefly
in Asiatic Russia ;"' " Researches on the Causes of the
Inflexion of the Isothermal Lines ;" " On the Magneti-
cal Inclination observed in Russia in 1829, and on the
Peculiar Phenomena observed in the Climate of that
country." It also includes a section on tlie " Routes in
Central Asia." All of these embody many valuable and
important observations, and those which specially refer
to climate and the distribution of heat, embody an amount
of original views and observed facts, such as no other in-
dividual has ever brought to bear on these important
subjects. To these observations, indeed, we owe the esta-
blishment of many of the most important recognized
meteorological laws, as well as the establishment of an Meteorolnrf-
isothermal system applicable to the whole globe, and
resting mainly, not on theory, but on well-ascertained
data. The result of these may be thus briefly reduced
to an abstract. The isothermal lines, or the lines of
equal annual mean temperature over the globe, vary
very considerably from the parallels of latitude, and de-
viate with much irregularity in different countries, so
2 B





Line of



an I ascer-
tai:ica lines
of tempera-

th<i.t the popularly accepted zone's comparative heat,,
and the supposed equatorial line of highest temperature
can hardly be accepted even as a rude approximation to
the general law by which the regions of perpetual snow are
fixed at the poles, and those of unendurable heat at the
equator. An entirely new system of physical geogi-aphy
is rendered necessarj', in order to make this rational sys-
tem of ascertained truths practically available, and this
has already been accomplished with great learning and
practical skill, by Mr. Alexander Keith Johnston of Edin-
burgh. As a practical synopsis, not only of this depart-
ment of physical science, but of all the sub-divisions of
geology and ethnology, Mr. Johnston's " Physical Atlas"
is the most valuable and comprehensive work to which
the scientific student can refer.

Comparing ascertained facts relative to the meteorolo-
gical condition of various extensive regions, it is found
that the probable line of maximum temperature of the
atmosphere, or the atmospheric thermal equator, as it may
be styled, differs very considerably from the equator of
the earth. In the northern hemisphere it intersects 255
degrees of its circumference, while in the southern
hemisphere it onlj' intersects 105 degrees, — an amount
of difference which shows that there is hardly an ap-
proximation of the true thermal equator to the geogra-
phical line with which it was long held to coincide. We
perceive, accordingly, from this, how limited an influence
the mere relative position of certain portions of the earth
to the sun, exercise upon their actual or annual mean
temperature. "Were the earth, indeed, a plain solid
sphere, of equal level, and perfect homogeneity through-
out, the old theory of frigid, temperate, and torrid zones,
would hold true in fact ; but in so far as it in reality
difi'ei-s from this, does the theoretic geographical division
fall short of the truth in relation to the actual ascertained
scientific lines of temperature. The previous observa-
tions on the peculiar geographical and geological features
of the Asiatic continent will have prepared the reader


for appreciating the nature of tlie evidence Ly whicli CHAFTEn
such results are established. Elevated plateaus, moun- * _^ '

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 33 of 35)