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of my oldest friends than in the expectation that he had time for the
examination of this new subject.

The answer of my friend was remarkable. After thanking me in the
warmest terms for this mark of friendship, he explained to me that the
effect of age upon his own mind was to render the pursuit of any new
inquiry a matter of slow and painful effort; but that in following
out the studies of his youth he was not so much impeded. He added
that in those subjects he could still study with satisfaction, and
even make advances in them, assisted in the working out of his views
experimentally by the aid of his younger friends.

I was much gratified by this unreserved expression of the state of
the case, and I am sure those younger men who so kindly assisted the
aged philosopher will be glad to know that their assistance was duly

The last time during M. Biot’s life that I visited Paris I went, as
usual, to the College de France. I inquired of the servant who opened
the door after the state of M. Biot’s health, which was admitted to be
feeble. I then asked whether he was well enough to see an old friend.
Biot himself had heard the latter part of this conversation. Coming
into the passage he seized my hand and said “My dear friend, I would
see you even if I were dying.”

_Alexander Humboldt._

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Humboldt’s mind was, that
he not merely loved and pursued science for its own sake, but that he
derived pleasure from assisting with his information and advice any
other inquirer, however humble, who might need it. {199}


In one of my visits to Paris, Humboldt was sitting with me when a
friend of mine, an English clergyman, who had just arrived in Paris,
and had only two days to spare for it, called upon me to ask my
assistance about getting access to certain MSS. Putting into Humboldt’s
hand a tract lying on my table, I asked him to excuse me for a few
minutes whilst I gave what advice I could to my countryman.

My friend told me that he wanted to examine a MS., which he was
informed was in a certain library in a certain street in Paris: that he
knew nobody in the city to help him in his mission.

Humboldt having heard this statement, came over to us and said, “If you
will introduce me to your friend, I can put him in the way of seeing
the MSS. he is in search of.” He then explained that the MSS. had been
removed to another library in Paris, and proposed to give my friend
a note of introduction to the librarian, and mentioned other MSS.
and other libraries in which he would find information upon the same

Many years after, being at Vienna, I heard that Humboldt was at
Töplitz, a circumstance which induced me to visit that town. On my
arrival I found he had left it a few days before on his return to
Berlin. In the course of a few days, I followed him to that city, and
having arrived in the middle of the day, I took apartments in the
Linden Walk, and got all my travelling apparatus in order; I then
went out to call on Humboldt. Finding that he had gone to dine with
his brother William, who resided at a short distance from Berlin, I
therefore merely left my card.

The next morning at seven o’clock, before I was out of bed, I received
a very kind note from Humboldt, to ask me to breakfast with him at
nine. In a postscript he added, “What {200} are the moving molecules
of Robert Brown?” These atoms of dead matter in rapid motion, when
examined under the microscope, were then exciting great attention
amongst philosophers.

I met at breakfast several of Humboldt’s friends, with whose names and
reputation I was well acquainted.


Humboldt himself expressed great pleasure that I should have visited
Berlin to attend the great meeting of German philosophers, who in a
few weeks were going to assemble in that capital. I assured him that
I was quite unaware of the intended meeting, and had directed my
steps to Berlin merely to enjoy the pleasure of his society. I soon
perceived that this meeting of philosophers on a very large scale,
supported by the King and by all the science of Germany, might itself
have a powerful influence upon the future progress of human knowledge.
Amongst my companions at the breakfast-table were Derichlet and Magnus.
In the course of the morning Humboldt mentioned to me that his own
duties required his attendance on the King every day at three o’clock,
and having also in his hands the organization of the great meeting of
philosophers, it would not be in his power to accompany me as much
as he wished in seeing the various institutions in Berlin. He said
that, under these circumstances, he had asked his two young friends,
Derichlet and Magnus, to supply his place. During many weeks of my
residence in Berlin, I felt the daily advantage of this thoughtful
kindness of Humboldt. Accompanied by one or other, and frequently by
both, of my young friends, I saw everything to the best advantage,
and derived an amount of information and instruction which under less
favourable circumstances it would have been impossible to have obtained.

The next morning, I again breakfasted with Humboldt. {201} On the
previous day I had mentioned that I was making a collection of the
signs employed in map-making. I now met Von Buch and General Ruhl, both
of whom were profoundly acquainted with that subject. I had searched in
vain for any specimen of a map shaded upon the principle of lines of
equal elevation. Von Buch the next morning gave me an engraving of a
small map upon that principle, which was, I believe, at that time the
only one existing.

After breakfast we went into Humboldt’s study to look at something he
wished to show us. In turning over his papers, which, like my own, were
lying apparently in great disorder upon the table, he picked up the
cover of a letter on which was written a number of names in different
parallel columns. “That,” he observed incidentally, “is for you.” After
he had shown us the object of our visit to his sanctum, he reverted to
the envelop which he put into my hands, explaining that he had grouped
roughly together for my use all the remarkable men then in Berlin, and
several of those who were expected.

These he had arranged in classes:—Men of science, men of letters,
sculptors, painters, and artists generally, instrument-makers, &c. This
list I found very convenient for reference.


When the time of the great meeting approached, it became necessary to
prepare the arrangements for the convenience of the assembled science
of Europe. One of the first things, of course, was the important
question, how they were to dine? A committee was therefore appointed
to make experiment by dining successively at each of the three or four
hotels competing for the honour of providing a table d’hôte for the

Humboldt put me on that committee, remarking, that an Englishman always
appreciates a good dinner. The committee performed their agreeable duty
in a manner quite {202} satisfactory to themselves, and I hope, also,
to the digestions of the Naturforschers.


During the meeting much gaiety was going on at Berlin. One evening
previous to our parties, I was walking in the Linden Walk with
Humboldt, discussing the singularities of several of our learned
acquaintance. My companion made many acute and very amusing remarks;
some of these were a little caustic, but not one was ill-natured. I
had contributed a very small and much less brilliant share to this
conversation, when the clock striking, warned us that the hour for our
visits had arrived. I never shall forget the expression of archness
which lightened up Humboldt’s countenance when shaking my hand he said,
in English, “My dear friend, I think it may be as well that we should
not speak of each other until we meet again.” We then each kept our
respective engagements, and met again at the most recherché of all, a
concert at Mendelssohn’s.

_Of the Buonaparte Family._

From my father’s house on the coast, near Teignmouth, we could, with a
telescope, see every ship which entered Torbay. When the “Bellerophon”
anchored, the news was rapidly spread that Napoleon was on board.
On hearing the rumour, I put a small telescope into my pocket, and,
mounting my horse, rode over to Torbay. A crowd of boats surrounded the
ship, then six miles distant; but, by the aid of my glass, I saw upon
the quarter-deck that extraordinary man, with many members of whose
family I subsequently became acquainted. Of those who are no more I may
without impropriety say a few words.

My first acquaintance with several branches of the family {203} of
Napoleon Buonaparte arose under the following circumstances:—


When his elder brother Lucien, to avoid the necessity of accepting a
kingdom, fled from his imperial brother, and took refuge in England,
his position was either not well understood, or, perhaps, was entirely
mistaken. Lucien seems to have been looked upon with suspicion by our
Government, and was placed in the middle of England under a species of

Political parties then ran high, and he did not meet with those
attentions which his varied and highly-cultivated tastes, especially in
the fine arts, entitled him to receive, as a stranger in a foreign land.

A family connection of mine, residing in Worcestershire, was in the
habit of visiting Lucien Buonaparte. Thus, in my occasional visits
to my brother-in-law’s place, I became acquainted with the Prince of
Canino. In after-years, when he occasionally visited London, I had
generally the pleasure of seeing him.

In 1828 I met at Rome the eldest son of Lucien, who introduced me to
his sisters, Lady Dudley Stuart and the Princess Gabrielli.


In the same year I became acquainted, at Bologna, with the Princess
d’Ercolano, another daughter of Lucien, whom I afterwards met at
Florence, at the palace of her uncle Louis, the former king of Holland.
During a residence of several months in that city I was a frequent
guest at the family table of the Compte St. Leu. One of his sons
had married the Princess Charlotte, the second daughter of the King
of Spain, a most accomplished, excellent, and charming person. They
reminded me much of a sensible English couple, in the best class of
English society. Both had great taste in the fine {204} arts. The
prince had a workshop at the top of the palace, in which he had a
variety of tools and a lithographic printing press. Occasionally, in
the course of their morning drives, some picturesque scene, in that
beautiful country, would arrest their attention. Stopping the carriage,
they would select a favourable spot, and the princess would then make a
sketch of it.

At other times they would spend the evening, the prince in
extemporizing an imaginary scene, which he described to his wife, who,
with admirable skill, embodied upon paper the tasteful conceptions
of her husband. These sketches then passed up to the workshop of the
Prince, were transferred to stone, and in a few days lithographic
impressions descended to the drawing-room. I fortunately possess some
of these impressions, which I value highly, not only as the productions
of an amiable and most accomplished lady, but of one who did not shrink
from the severer duties of life, and died in fulfilling them.

After the melancholy loss of her husband, the Princess Charlotte
remained with her father, who resided at one period in the Regent’s
Park, where I from time to time paid my respects to them. Occasionally
I received them at my own house. One summer letters from Florence
reached them, announcing the dangerous illness of the Comte de St.
Leu. The daughter of Joseph immediately set out alone for Florence to
minister to the comfort of her uncle and father-in-law. On her return
from Italy she was attacked by cholera and died in the south of France.




Shooting Sea-birds — Walking on the Water — A Screw being loose — The
Author nearly drowned — Adventure in the Thames Tunnel — Descent in a
Diving-bell — Plan for Submarine Navigation.

The grounds surrounding my father’s house, near Teignmouth, extended to
the sea. The cliffs, though lofty, admitted at one point of a descent
to the beach, of which I very frequently availed myself for the purpose
of bathing. One Christmas when I was about sixteen I determined to see
if I could manage a gun. I accordingly took my father’s fowling-piece,
and climbing with it down to the beach, I began to look about for the
large sea-birds which I thought I might have a chance of hitting.

I fired several charges in vain. At last, however, I was fortunate
enough to hit a sea-bird called a diver; but it fell at some distance
into the sea: I had no dog to get it out for me; the sea was rough, and
no boat was within reach; also it was snowing.

So I took advantage of a slight recess in the rock to protect my
clothes from the snow, undressed, and swam out after my game, which I
succeeded in capturing. The next day, having got the cook to roast it,
I tried to eat it; but this was by no means an agreeable task, so for
the future I left the sea-birds to the quiet possession of their own
dominion. {206}


Shortly after this, whilst residing on the beautiful banks of the Dart,
I constantly indulged in swimming in its waters. One day an idea struck
me, that it was possible, by the aid of some simple mechanism, to walk
upon the water, or at least to keep in a vertical position, and have
head, shoulders, and arms above water.

My plan was to attach to each foot two boards closely connected
together by hinges themselves fixed to the sole of the shoe. My theory
was, that in lifting up my leg, as in the act of walking, the two
boards would close up towards each other; whilst on pushing down my
foot, the water would rush between the boards, cause them to open out
into a flat surface, and thus offer greater resistance to my sinking in
the water.

I took a pair of boots for my experiment, and cutting up a couple of
old useless volumes with very thick binding, I fixed the boards by
hinges in the way I proposed. I placed some obstacle between the two
flaps of each book to prevent them from approaching too nearly to each
other so as to impede their opening by the pressure of the water.

I now went down to the river, and thus prepared, walked into the water.
I then struck out to swim as usual, and found little difficulty. Only
it seemed necessary to keep the feet farther apart. I now tried the
grand experiment. For a time, by active exertion of my legs, I kept my
head and shoulders above water and sometimes also my arms. I was now
floating down the river with the receding tide, sustained in a vertical
position with a very slight exertion of force.

But unfortunately one pair of my hinges got out of order, and refused
to perform its share of the propulsion. The result was that I became
lop-sided. I was therefore obliged to swim, which I now did with
considerable exertion; but another difficulty soon occurred,—the
instrument on the {207} disabled side refused to do its share in
propelling me. The tide was rapidly carrying me down the river; my
own exertions alone would have made me revolve in a small circle,
consequently I was obliged to swim in a spiral. It was very difficult
to calculate the curve I was describing upon the surface of the water,
and still more so to know at what point, if at any, I might hope to
reach its banks again. I became very much fatigued by my efforts, and
endeavoured to relieve myself for a time by resuming the vertical

After floating, or rather struggling for some time, my feet at last
touched the bottom. With some difficulty and much exertion I now gained
the bank, on which I lay down in a state of great exhaustion.

This experiment satisfied me of the danger as well as of the
practicability of my plan, and ever after, when in the water, I
preferred trusting to my own unassisted powers.


At the close of the year 1827, as I anticipated a long absence from
England, I paid a visit to the Thames Tunnel, in the construction of
which I took a great interest. My eldest son, then about twelve years
of age, accompanied me in this visit. I fortunately found the younger
Brunel at the works, who kindly took us with him into the workings.

We stood upon a timber platform, distant about fifty feet from the
shield, which was full of busy workmen, each actively employed in his
own cell. As we were conversing together, I observed some commotion in
the upper cell on the right hand side. From its higher corner there
entered a considerable stream of liquid mud. Brunel ran directly to the
shield a line of workmen was instantly formed, and whatever tools or
timber was required was immediately conveyed to the spot.


I observed the progress with some anxiety, since but a short time
before a similar occurrence had been the prelude {208} to the
inundation of the whole tunnel. I remained watching the fit time, if
necessary, to run away; but also noticing what effect the apparent
danger had on my son. After a short time it was clear that the ingress
of liquid mud had been checked, and in a few minutes more Brunel
returned to me, having this time succeeded in stopping up the breach. I
then inquired what was really the nature of the danger we had escaped.
Brunel told me that unless himself or Gravatt had been present, the
whole tunnel would in less than ten minutes have been full of water.
The next day I embarked for Holland, and in about a week after I read
in Galignani’s newspaper, that the Thames had again broken into the
tunnel; that five or six of the workmen had been drowned, and that
Brunel himself had escaped with great difficulty by swimming.

In 1818, during a visit to Plymouth, I had an opportunity of going
down in a diving-bell: I was accompanied by two friends and the usual
director of that machine.

The diving-bell in which I descended was a cast-iron vessel about six
feet long by four feet and a half wide, and five feet eight inches
high. In the top of the bell there were twelve circular apertures, each
about six inches in diameter, filled by thick plate-glass fixed by
water-tight cement. Exactly in the centre there were a number of small
holes through which the air was continually pumped in from above.

At the ends of the bell are two seats, placed at such a height, that
the top of the head is but a few inches below the top of the bell;
these will conveniently hold two persons each. Exactly in the middle
of the bell, and about six inches above its lower edge, is placed a
narrow board, on which the feet of the divers rest. On one side, nearly
on a level with the shoulders, is a small shelf, with a ledge to {209}
contain a few tools, chalk for writing messages, and a ring to which
a small rope is tied. A board is connected with this rope; and after
writing any orders on the board with a piece of chalk, on giving it a
pull, the superintendent above, round whose arm the other end of the
rope is fastened, will draw it up to the surface, and, if necessary,
return an answer by the same conveyance.

In order to enter the bell, it is raised about three or four feet
above the surface of the water; and the boat, in which the persons who
propose descending are seated, is brought immediately under it; the
bell is then lowered, so as to enable them to step upon the foot-board
within it; and having taken their seats, the boat is removed, and the
bell gradually descends to the water.


On touching the surface, and thus cutting off the communication
with the external air, a peculiar sensation is perceived in the
ears; it is not, however, painful. The attention is soon directed to
another object. The air rushing in through the valve at the top of
the bell overflows, and escapes with a considerable bubbling noise
under the sides. The motion of the bell proceeds slowly, and almost
imperceptibly; and, on looking at the glass lenses close to the head,
when the top of the machine just reaches the surface of the water, it
may be perceived, by means of the little impurities which float about
in it, flowing into the recesses containing the glasses. A pain now
begins to be felt in the ears, arising from the increased external
pressure; this may sometimes be removed by the act of yawning, or by
closing the nostrils and mouth, and attempting to force air through the
ears. As soon as the equilibrium is established the pain ceases, but
recommences almost immediately by the continuance of the descent. On
returning, the same sensation of {210} pain is felt in the ears; but
it now arises from the dense air which had filled them endeavouring, as
the pressure is removed, to force its way out.


If the water is clear, and not much disturbed, the light in the bell
is very considerable; and, even at the depth of twenty feet, was more
than is usual in many sitting-rooms. Within the distance of eight or
ten feet, the stones at the bottom began to be visible. The pain in the
ears still continues to occur at intervals, until the descent of the
bell terminates by its resting on the ground. The light is sufficient,
after passing through twenty feet of sea water, even for delicate
experiments; and a far less quantity is enough for the work which is
usually performed in those situations.

The temperatures of the hand and of the mouth, under the tongue, were
measured by a thermometer, but they did not seem to differ from those
which had been determined by the same instrument previous to the
descent; at least, the difference did not amount to one-sixth of a
degree of Fahrenheit’s scale. The pulse was more frequent.

A small magnetic needle did not appear to have entirely lost its
directive power, when placed on the footboard in the middle of the
bell; but its direction was not the same as that which it indicated
on shore. This was determined by directing, by means of signals,
the workmen above to move the bell in the direction of one of the
co-ordinates; a stick then being pressed against the bottom drew a line
parallel to that co-ordinate, its direction by compass was ascertained
in the bell, and the direction of the co-ordinate was determined on
returning to the surface after leaving the bell.

Signals are communicated by the workmen in the bell to those above,
by striking against the side of the bell with a hammer. Those most
frequently wanted are indicated by {211} the fewest number of blows;
thus a single stroke is to require more air. The sound is heard very
distinctly by those above; but, it must be confessed, that to persons
unaccustomed to it, the force with which a weighty hammer is driven
against so brittle a material as cast iron is a little alarming.

After ascending a few inches from the bottom, the air in the bell
became slightly obscured. At the distance of a few feet this appearance
increased. Before it had half reached the surface, it was evident that
the whole atmosphere it contained was filled with a mist or cloud,
which at last began to condense in large drops on the whole of the
internal surface.

The explanation of this phenomenon seems to be, that on the rising of
the bell the pressure on the air within being diminished by a weight
equal to several feet of water, it began to expand; and some portion
of it escaping under the edges of the bell, reduced the temperature
of that which remained so much, that it was unable to retain, in the
state of invisible vapour, the water which it had previously held in
solution. Thus the same principle which constantly produces clouds in
the atmosphere filled the diving-bell with mist.


This first led me to consider the much more extensive question of
submarine navigation. I was aware that Fulton had already descended
in a diving-vessel, and remained under water during several hours. He
also carried down a copper sphere containing one cubic foot of space
into which he had forced two hundred atmospheres. With these means he
remained under water and moved about at pleasure during four hours.


But a closed vessel is obviously of little use for the most important

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