Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt

Excerpt

Alexander von Humboldt, scientist, explorer and cosmopolitan man of the world, 'a good European and free mind', was born in Berlin, then the capital of the kingdom of Prussia, on the 14th of September 1769 and died there on the 6th of May 1859. In the course of these ninety years, he explored the Spanish possessions in Central and South America, took part in the scientific life of Paris for nearly a quarter of a century, made an expedition to the Urals and Siberia and served as a chamberlain at the royal court in Berlin without ever hiding his predilections for a more liberal and democratic system. An original mind and a careful observer, he acquired a truly international reputation in an epoch which started with the discovery of oxygen and ended with the commercial production of electro-generators. Cosmopolitan and multilingual, he was pre-eminently a child of the age of enlightenment but also of his country, endowed with the astringent wit of the Berliner. Arago said once of him: 'He has the most malicious tongue of any man I know and the best heart.'

A man of wide talents, he took great pains to develop them as fully as possible; how successful he was, is borne out by the enormous range of results he brought back from his great expedition. He was sufficiently worldly to give the right amount of consideration to the authorities of his time without setting a high value on their rewards. Although he was modest and intelligent enough to acknowledge the merits of greater men, he was not unmindful of his own originality and capable of drawing attention to it since 'blowing one's own trumpet is part of the job'. He was as generous with his own money while he still . . .

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