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Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 8, Special Issue 1 (2001):21–32

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Proceedings: Alexander von Humboldt’s Natural History Legacy and Its Relevance for Today 2001 Northeastern Naturalist Special Issue 1:21-32 BUILDING HUMBOLDT’S LEGACY: THE HUMBOLDT MEMORIALS OF 1869 IN GERMANY DENISE PHILLIPS * ABSTRACT – In 1869, the hundred-year anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt’s birth, there were a number of memorial events within Germanspeaking Europe. In affirming Humboldt’s importance, late 19th century liberal natural scientists also promoted their own intellectual pursuits, arguing for the central importance of natural science within both contemporary culture and human history. Humboldt’s memorializers used his image to argue for an intimate connection between scientific, moral, and political progress. Within this broad consensus, Humboldt’s meaning could be defined in a number of ways, and memorial speakers’ own scientific and political commitments shaped their picture of the famous scientist. At the same time that scientists were asserting Humboldt’s overwhelming importance for the history of Western culture, however, changes within natural science itself were making it harder to articulate arguments for his universal intellectual significance. In the decade following Alexander von Humboldt’s death in 1859, numerous speeches and publications offered accounts of the eminent scientist’s long and varied life. Academic societies from Boston to Berlin commissioned memorial speeches for the famous natural researcher. The Prussian Academy of Sciences placed a bust of Humboldt next to that of its founder Leibnitz, while a number of American cities erected statues of the celebrated traveler with much accompanying pomp and circumstance. The German scientific popularizer Emil Roßmäßler even called for the creation of a network of Humboldt- Vereine, with some limited success.1 * Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, Science Center 235, Cambridge, MA, 02138, phillips@fas.harvard.edu. 1 For example, Louis Agassiz, “Alexander von Humboldt,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 4 (1859): 234-347; Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, Gedächtnissrede auf Alexander von Humboldt, gehalten am 7. Juli, 1859 (Berlin, 1870); Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, Denkrede auf Alexander von Humboldt (Munich, 1860). For secondary treatments of memorials to Humboldt in the 1860s, see Andreas Daum, “Celebrating Humanism in St. Louis. The Origins of the Humboldt Statue in Tower Grove Park, 1859-1878,” Gateway Heritage, Fall (1995): 48-58; Andreas Daum, Wissenschaftspoplarisierung im 19. Jahrhundert. Bürgerliche Kultur, naturwissenschaftliche Bildung, und die deutsche Öffentlichkeit, 1848-1914 (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1998), pp. 142-167; Kurt R. Biermann, Beglückende Ermunterung durch die akademische Gemeinschaft : Alexander von Humboldt als Mitglied der Berliner Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin : Akademie-Verlag, 1991). On the reception of Kosmos, see Nicolaas A. Rupke, “Introduction,” Cosmos: a Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe, by Alexander von Humboldt, trans. E. C. Otto, 2 vols., Vol 1 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1997). 22 Northeastern Naturalist Special Issue 1 Ten years later, the hundredth anniversary of Humboldt’s birth offered yet another opportunity to memorialize the famous scientist. In the words of one writer, “it rained nothing but Humboldtiana for forty days and forty nights.”2 Much like the celebrations for the poet Schiller’s 100th birthday ten years earlier, the ceremonies in honor of Humboldt in 1869 presented the famous natural scientist as both the embodiment of liberal humanist ideals and a defining figure for German national identity. 3 In affirming Humboldt’s significance, however, liberal German scientists also asserted the importance of their own intellectual activities. What place did natural science have in the history of the (still nascent) German nation? How did natural science relate to aesthetic and moral endeavors? In the 1869 speeches, German natural scientists gave their answers to these questions, presenting Humboldt’s importance as far greater than the sum of his specific scientific contributions. According to his memorializers, Humboldt’s life had embodied a profound historical transformation – the emergence of natural science as a central force within human history. HUMBOLDT AND THE PLACE OF SCIENCE IN HISTORY In the summer of 1869, a group of prominent scholars released a public statement calling for the erection of a statue of Humboldt in Berlin. Emil Du Bois-Reymond, Gustav Magnus, Adolf Bastian, Rudolf Virchow, and 38 of their colleagues addressed their appeal simply “to the German people,” arguing that Humboldt’s central importance within German history demanded that a statue be placed in his honor in Berlin.4 In the months that followed, a number of memorial celebrations echoed this claim for Humboldt’s historical significance. For example, the natural scientific societies of Berlin came together for a Humboldt- Feier, with Adolf Bastian, the president of the Gesellschaft für Erdkunde, presenting the commemorative address. The scientific popularizer Aaron Bernstein published a lecture entitled “Alexander von Humboldt and the Spirit of Two Centuries.” In western Prussia, the 2 Adolf Kohut, Alexander von Humboldt und das Judenthum: Ein Beitrag zur Culturgeschichte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, 1871), p. XII 3 Andreas Daum has pointed out that Humboldt was the first natural scientist to join the pantheon of German liberal national heroes, although Humboldt’s success in that role was modest in comparison to other figures. As Daum shows, attempts to use Humboldt as a national integrational figure began in the years immediatedly following his death. Wissenschaftspopularisierung, pp. 161-167. 4 “An das deutsche Volk,” Berlin, July 2nd, 1869. Reprinted in Adolf Bastian, Alexander von Humboldt. Festrede bei der von den naturwissenschaftlichen Vereinen Berlins veranstalteten Humboldt-Feier (Berlin, 1869). 2001 D. Phillips 23 members of two regional scientific societies gathered at a local pub to hear a memorial oration by the geologist Heinrich von Dechen.5 In some sense, these three memorial speakers were also three potential heirs to Humboldt’s own form of scientific life, elements of which had been dispersed and transformed as natural science itself had changed over the course of the 19th century. Much of the ethnologist Adolf Bastian’s work in geography and ethnology had been based on extensive scientific travel. Like the youthful Humboldt, Heinrich von Dechen was a Prussian mining official with natural scientific interests. Aaron Bernstein had devoted much of his professional life to writing publicly accessible treatments of contemporary science, an endeavor he presented as a continuation of Humboldt’s Kosmos. In memorializing Humboldt, these men also argued for the importance of their own scientific pursuits.6 All three presented Humboldt as a crucial watershed in the triumph of the natural scientific worldview. The geographer and ethnologist Adolf Bastian explained the importance of this transformation: “Since Humboldt, our intellectual fate no longer rests in the hands of a self-contained caste, subject to the moods of speculators, in whose thought genius comes dangerously close to mania. Humboldt’s research method has ennobled every human soul to a citizen in the kingdom of science and has placed the healthy average person as the norm.”7 Bastian described the creation of this new worldview as an act of liberation. Humboldt had transformed the arbitrary despotism of philosophy into the law-governed republic of science, a nation in which future researchers would labor with pleasure.8 Bastian was not merely borrowing metaphors from political liberalism in order to explain Humboldt’s intellectual importance. He was also convinced that the growth of natural scientific knowledge would transform the moral order of society.9 According to Bastian, Humboldt had introduced the “comparative method” into natural science, laying the groundwork for a truly scientific account of both universal human nature 5 Bastian, Humboldt. Festrede bei der von den naturwissenschaftlichen Vereinen Berlins veranstalteten Humboldt-Feier (Berlin, 1869); Aaron David Bernstein, “Alexander von Humboldt und der Geist zweier Jahrhunderte,” Sammlung gemeinverständlicher wissenschaftlicher Vorträge, eds. Rudolf Virchow and Fr. von Holzendorff, Heft 89 (Berlin, 1869); Heinrich von Dechen, “Rede zur Säcularfeier des Geburtstages Alexander von Humboldts,” Verhandlungen des naturhistorischen Vereines der preussischen Rheinlande und Westphalens, 26 (1869): 92-113. For a more extensive list of memorial publications, see Wilhelm Engelmann, Bibliotheca Zoologica II (Leipzig: 1883-87), pp. 385-388. 6 On Bastian, see Woodruff D. Smith, Politics and the Sciences of Culture in Germany, 1840- 1920 (New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 100-113, 115-120. On von Dechen, Georg Schmidt, Die Familie von Dechen (Rathenow, 1889). On Bernstein, Julius H. Schoeps, Bürgerliche Aufklärung und liberales Freiheitsdenken: A. Bernstein in seiner Zeit (Stuttgart and Bonn: Burg, 1992). 7 Bastian, “Humboldt,” p. 22. 8 Ibid, pp. 23-24. 9 On Bastian and liberalism, see Smith, Politics, pp. 100-113. 24 Northeastern Naturalist Special Issue 1 and the patterns of human history. Alluding to his own work in ethnology and comparative psychology, Bastian argued that “when the beautiful and the good enter the domain of certain knowledge, an unshakable basis will have been won for the foundations of social life, which until now we have trusted to the wavering bark of emotional turmoil.”10 For Bastian, Humboldt’s work marked the glorious beginning of the German attempt to refashion the moral pillars of society, so disturbingly undermined in the chaos that followed the French Revolution.11 While Bastian presented Humboldt’s science as the sound German antidote to dangerous French excess, the left-liberal political activist and scientific publicist Aaron Bernstein described the famous scientist as a direct heir to the ideals of 1789. In Bernstein’s particular formulation, the emergence of scientific empiricism paralleled the development of liberal political maturity. Just as late 18th century speculative philosophers had hoped to understand the world through elegant reasoning alone, late 18th century political theorists had mistakenly believed that they could transform society in a single act of idealistic fervor. It had since become clear, Bernstein argued, that both political enlightenment and the pursuit of truth required a great deal more work than previous generations had assumed. These two historical processes, however, would always go hand in hand. A social order based on freedom and equality would emerge in conjunction with the production and dissemination of reliable scientific knowledge. In the history of this struggle for freedom and truth, Bernstein claimed, Humboldt’s combination of lofty ideals with careful empiricism had marked a crucial point of transition.12 While Bernstein lauded Humboldt as the intellectual heir of the French Revolution, the mining official Heinrich von Dechen provided the Prussian scientist with a more state-centered intellectual lineage. For von Dechen, the enlightened educational and bureaucratic policies of Frederick the Great had created the preconditions for the emergence of a figure like Humboldt. Von Dechen also emphasized the strong connection between Humboldt’s scientific work and his role as an enlightened state servant.13 Despite differences in their particular accounts of Humboldt’s place in recent Western culture, however, all three speakers agreed that his life had embodied a momentous transformation within human history, one that joined scientific progress with moral and political enlightenment. But were moral and natural scientific progress one and the same thing? Late 19th century Germans were by no means united on this issue. Attempts to expand the place of natural science in the high school 10 Bastian, “Humboldt,” p. 24. 11 Ibid, pp. 10-11. 12 Bernstein, “Humboldt.” 13 Von Dechen, “Rede,” p. 96. 2001 D. Phillips 25 curriculum had met with objections that natural science posed a moral threat to German students. The study of languages (particularly Greek and Latin) exposed youth to universal values; in contrast, natural science’s focus on the material and the particular would only narrow young minds.14 The debates over Alexander von Humboldt’s historical meaning took place along similar lines. By invoking the author of Kosmos, German scientists argued that natural science could help secure the moral foundations of culture. Scientists’ activities were not merely practical, utilitarian or technical; they could also contribute to a larger project of moral Bildung. In the words of the Berlin decree, Humboldt “deserves praise above and beyond our poets, because in him the humanistic and aesthetic endeavors of the Germans in the 18th century joined with their more realistic way of thinking in our times, which is directed at the investigation and utilization of the powers of nature.”15 The 1869 memorials all emphasized Humboldt’s fusion of empirical natural science with humanist concerns. The various speakers differed on the exact meaning of this combination, however. The Berlin anthropologist Bastian argued that Humboldt’s “comparative method” allowed natural science to surpass historical and philological criticism as a tool for interpreting human culture. Humboldt had both realized and surpassed the goals of his humanist predecessors, replacing the crude tools of criticism with the surer methods of natural science.16 The provincial bureaucrat von Dechen, in contrast, emphasized Humboldt’s participation in traditional humanist intellectual activity - his skills in philology and history. Removed from academic debates at the University of Berlin, the provincial administrator combined his bureaucratic activities with an interest in geology. In his account, one of Humboldt’s most important legacies was the integration of natural scientific research into the broader literary culture of the educated classes. Von Dechen quoted Goethe’s praise of Humboldt at length to assure his listeners of the natural scientist’s unquestionable intellectual stature within the Classical tradition. Through “the nobility of his language,” Humboldt had won the educated classes’ support for natural science, with all of its practical benefits. He had “broken through the narrow circle of scholars” and joined natural science with daily life.17 Referring to traditional ideas of Bildung, Von Dechen also championed natural scientific work as an act of individual self-cultivation. Humboldt had 14 Daum, Wissenschaftspopularisierung, pp. 51-64. On natural science and Bildung, see also Dietrich Engelhardt, “Der Bildungsbegriff in der Naturwissenschaft des 19. Jahrhunderts,” Bildungsbürgertum im 19. Jahrhundert, 4 vols., Vol. II: Bildungsgüter und Bildungswissen, ed. Reinhart Koselleck (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1990). 15 “An das deutsche Volk.” 16 Bastian, “Humboldt,” p. 18. 17 Von Dechen, “Rede,” p. 108. 26 Northeastern Naturalist Special Issue 1 shown that “research into nature leads not only to a higher and more general Bildung, but also deepens and ennobles the soul.”18 In von Dechen’s account, Humboldt’s most important legacy was his demonstration that natural science could also improve the character of the individual who practiced it; furthermore, he had helped to make this useful and ennobling pursuit accessible to all. While Von Dechen promoted science as a strategy for individual self-cultivation, Aaron Bernstein was more explicitly concerned with collective Volksbildung. A participant in the swelling market for popularly accessible scientific writing, Bernstein considered the promotion of natural science to be a logical extension of his work as a liberal political activist and Jewish religious reformer. In his opinion, Kosmos had provided the model for his own activity as a science popularizer. In his memorial speech, Bernstein praised Humboldt for abolishing the closed guild of scholars and making scientific knowledge accessible to all of humanity. Humboldt had transformed the form of natural scientific knowledge in such a way as to make it universally accessible. Through his adoption of the style of German classicism, previously occult ideas had become transparent and easy to disseminate.19 The question of Humboldt’s “universal” importance emerged in another way in these speeches, in reference to his status as a particularly German hero. Humboldt’s memorializers usually chose to emphasize both his “German” qualities and his universality simultaneously. In the call for a Humboldt memorial, the famous natural researcher was described as “an intellectual who was both German and truly cosmopolitan at the same time, at home in the furthest reaches of abstract science.” While he embodied the best characteristics of the German people, Humboldt’s ultimate value (and implicitly the value of the Germans themselves) could still be measured on a cosmopolitan scale. The decree concluded, “As one of the first to win respect for German science abroad, he helped to prepare the rise of German national feeling, which now points to him with pride.”20 Heinrich von Dechen presented similar arguments. “In the generality of his views and the profundity of his mind we see the characteristics of our Volk in their purest form.” However, his achievements belonged to all people. “Scholarship has only one Fatherland – the world; only one aspiration – the truth.”21 Humboldt’s status as a cosmopolitan national hero made his memory a useful resource for several German Jewish intellectuals. Among the speakers already mentioned, Adolf Bernstein was a strong advocate for Jewish religious reform as well as a scientific popularizer. One of the most admired reformist Jewish preachers of the period, Adolph Jellinek, 18 Von Dechen, “Rede,” p. 111. 19 Bernstein, “Humboldt,” pp. 40-41. 20 “An das deutsche Volk.” 21 Von Dechen, “Rede,” pp. 112 and 113. 2001 D. Phillips 27 praised Humboldt a number of times.22 In 1871, the historian Adolf Kohut cast Humboldt’s meaning in a more secular idiom. His work was written in the midst of Germany’s process of national unification, soon after Jews had gained full legal equality in the North German Confederation. Kohut expressed hope that his book Alexander von Humboldt and the Jews would further Jewish Germans’ attempts to be accepted as truly equal citizens of the nation.23 He lamented the xenophobic atmosphere that surrounded the Franco-Prussian war, pointing to the famous natural scientist as the proper ideal of a “free, noble German man.” For Kohut, Humboldt’s example presented a form of German identity that could be shared by German Jews as well.24 THE DENOUEMENT OF 1869: THE BRUHNS BIOGRAPHY AND THE HUMBOLDT STATUES In the late 1860s, the call for a Humboldt statue in Berlin had also been joined by a call for a scholarly Humboldt biography. At a yearly meeting of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte, the astronomer Karl Bruhns had pointed to the absence of a serious scholarly assessment of the great man’s life and work. He called for his colleagues to help him remedy this situation.25 The resulting work was published in 1872 under Bruhns’ editorial leadership. The first two volumes of the biography contained a narrative of Humboldt’s life, while the third volume assessed his contributions to eight different areas of scientific research. Contrasting this biography with previous accounts of Humboldt’s life, Bruhns stressed its conscientious reliance on primary sources and its scrupulous regard for accuracy.26 As a multiple-authored work, Humboldt’s biography represented a diverse array of intellectual perspectives and agendas. The first two volumes were composed by historians, and these scholars used the opportunity to reassert the importance of Alexander’s brother Wilhelm. The very first sentences of geographer and historian Julius Löwenberg’s treatment of Humboldt’s youth ran, “Under the name of Humboldt, a double star shines in the sky of scholarship and the entire history of the modern era. 22 Adolph Jellinek, “Die Vorarbeiten zur Gründung des Gottesreiches. Zur Erinnerung an Alexander von Humboldt,” Zeitstimmen: Reden von Dr. Adolph Jellinek (Vienna, 1870), pp. 73-84; M. Rosenmann, Dr. Adolph Jellinek: Sein Leben und Schaffen (Vienna: Schlesinger, 1931); Klaus Klempter, Die Jellineks 1820-1955. Eine familienbiographische Studie zum deutschjüdischen Bildungsbürgertum (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1998); Kohut, Humboldt und das Judenthum, Leipzig. pp. XI-XII. 23 Kohut, Humboldt und das Judenthum, p. XIV. 24 Kohut, Humboldt und das Judenthum, p. 196. 25 Karl Bruhns, “Mittheilung des Herrn Prof. Bruhns über die Biographie Alexander von Humboldt’s,” Tageblatt der 45. Versammlung Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte in Leipzig, (1872): 38-39. 26 Karl Bruhns, ed., Alexander von Humboldt. Eine wissenschaftliche Biographie, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1872). Previous biographical treatments of Humboldt included P.F. Hermann Klencke, Alexander von Humboldt. Ein biographisches Denkmal (Leipzig, 1851), 2nd ed. (1852), 3rd ed. (1859); W.F.A. Zimmermann, Das Humboldt-Buch, 3rd. ed. (Berlin, 1859). 28 Northeastern Naturalist Special Issue 1 One cannot speak of Alexander von Humboldt without at the same time remembering his older brother Wilhelm von Humboldt, the statesman of Periclean eminence and the still greater Sprachforscher and critic.”27 In dealing with Humboldt’s later life, the historian Alfred Dove questioned the scientist’s stature as a humanist hero, dismissing the suggestion that he might deserve to stand next to Goethe as one of the nation’s outstanding spirits.28 A controversy over Humboldt’s supposedly caustic wit had echoed through memorial speeches since his death. In a commemorative oration in the Prussian Academy of Sciences, the naturalist Christian Ehrenberg had quoted extensively from Humboldt’s personal letters in order to illustrate his capacity for deep gratitude and profound friendship. With this evidence of Humboldt’s spiritual depth, Ehrenberg hoped to counter charges that the famous scientist had been callous or shallow.29 In Dove’s account, these accusations of personal shortcomings took on additional meaning. The historian compared Humboldt’s moral failings to the limitations of natural science as a form of knowledge. “Just as in Kosmos aesthetic universalism often hovers without connection above the rough details of specialized research,” Dove argued, “Humboldt also spent his life diverging from the ideal principles of his ethical conscious in his individual actions.”30 He continued, “one can also hardly recognize moral development in Alexander von Humboldt; the same characteristics – the noble as well as the ignoble – accompanied him throughout the long expanse of his “vielbewegten Lebens.”31 His intellectual accomplishments were not inestimable or transcendent – they could “be measured and counted without any trouble.”32 According to Dove, scientific travel was quite different from spiritual progression. In the volume devoted to Humboldt’s scientific work, eight natural scientists divided Humboldt’s work among different scientific specialties – mathematics, astronomy, botany, physiology, meteorology, geology, and several others. When his work was described in this way, Humboldt appeared impressively multi-faceted; at the same time, he seemed less universally significant. While all of these authors were generally complementary of Humboldt’s work in their areas, only the geographer Oscar Peschel presented Humboldt as a foundational figure. Peschel was also careful to temper what he considered exaggerations of Humboldt’s historical importance, pointing to other scientific travelers who had contributed to the broader intellectual transformation of the past half-century.33 27 Julius Löwenberg, “Alexander von Humboldt. Seine Jugend und ersten Mannesjahre,” Humboldt, Vol. I, p. 3. 28 Alfred Dove, “Alexander von Humboldt auf der Höhe seiner Jahre (Berlin 1827-59),” Humboldt, Vol. II, p. 480-81. 29 Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, Gedächtnissrede auf Alexander von Humboldt (Berlin: 1870); orignially given July 7th, 1859. 30 Dove, “Alexander von Humboldt,” p. 483. 31 Ibid, p. 483. 32 Ibid, p. 481. 33 Bruhns, Alexander von Humboldt, Vol. III. 2001 D. Phillips 29 The division of labor evident in the Bruhns volumes reflected the well-known trend over the course of the 19th century towards increased specialization and subdivision within the natural sciences. As a natural researcher whose interests had been impressively catholic even in his own time, Humboldt’s master scientific project, a “physics of the earth,” was becoming harder to place within the disciplinary array of late 19th century university science.34 While geographic exploration had provided an ordering frame for much scientific activity in the early 19th century, late 19th century researchers had created different strategies for unifying the sciences, relying on Newtonian mechanics or evolutionary theory.35 In the years that followed 1869, Humboldt’s supposedly universal importance was becoming harder for many natural scientists to articulate. For example, Humboldt did not figure prominently in the disciplinary histories written for botany or zoology in the 1870s. Within these two sub-fields of natural history, scientists organized their narratives around unifying devices other than Humboldt’s geographic vision of a physics of the earth — for example, they chose cell theory, morphology, or evolutionary theory as the endpoints for their studies. The plant physiologist Julius Sachs’ History of Botany failed to mention the founder of plant geography. In his History of Zoology, Julius Victor Carus chose the morphology of Johannes Müller and the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin as the end points for his study. Humboldt’s name appeared only in passing in the work.36 The new university discipline of geography proved to be the field in which Humboldt’s scientific memory could be cultivated most effectively. Humboldt’s ‘physics of the earth’ could be recast as a stage in the development of this discipline (which, in its late 19th century form, sometimes also claimed to be a “master science”).37 Oscar Peschel entitled his 1865 disciplinary history the History of Geography up to 34 For a description of Humboldt’s central scientific project, see Michael Dettelbach, “Humboldtian Science,” Cultures of Natural History, eds. N. Jardine, J. A. Secord, and E. C. Spary (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), pp. 287-304; “Global physics and aesthetic empire: Humboldt’s physical portrait of the tropics,” Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany and Representations of Nature, eds. David Philip Miller and Peter Hanns Reill (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996); “Introduction,” Cosmos: a Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe, 2 vols., Vol II, by Alexander von Humboldt, trans. E. C. Otte (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997). 35 For Humboldt’s importance in early 19th century science, see Susan Faye Canon, “Humboldtian Science,” Science in Culture: the Early Victorian Period (New York: Dawson, 1978). For late 19th century strategies for unifying science, see Keith Anderton, “The Limits of Science: A Social, Political and Moral Agenda for Epistemology in Nineteenth-Century Germany,” (Diss., Harvard, 1993). 36 Julius Sachs, Geschichte der Botanik vom 16. Jahrhundert bis 1860 (Munich, 1875); J. Victor Carus, Geschichte der Zoologie bis Johannes Müller und Charles Darwin (Munich, 1872). 37 Smith, Politics, pp. 57-58; Robert M. Brain, “The Geographical Vision and the Popular Order of Disciplines, 1848-1870,” World Views and Scientific Discipline Formation, eds., W. R. Woodward and R. S. Cohen (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991), pp. 367-379. 30 Northeastern Naturalist Special Issue 1 Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Ritter.38 For intellectual pursuits that relied heavily on geographic comparison and the fruits of scientific travel, Humboldt remained an important figure. In his memorial speech, Adolf Bastian presented Humboldt’s work as seminal for the emerging fields of ethnology and anthropology as well. The goal of erecting a statue to Humboldt took longer to realize than did the scholarly biography. A commission of leading scholars had collected the necessary funds fairly quickly; however, determining the place and design of the statue required another set of negotiations. At the suggestion of the Rector of the University of Berlin, it was decided that a statue of Wilhelm should accompany the one of Alexander on the university grounds. After funds for this second statue were procured from state sources, the two monuments were finally installed in 1883.39 In a speech at the university that same year, the experimental physiologist Emil Du Bois-Reymond explained the meaning of the statue he had helped to raise. As a scientist whose work had been devoted to explaining organic phenomenon in terms of physical forces, Du Bois- Reymond’s account of Humboldt’s scientific importance differed significantly from the earlier assessment of his colleague Bastian, a geographer and ethnologist. Adolf Bastian had argued that Humboldt’s introduction of “the comparative method” was the precondition for his own scientific work in ethnology and comparative psychology. In contrast, Du Bois-Reymond saw Humboldt as a transitional figure, caught halfway between the loose speculations of the philosopher and the quantitative rigor of the true scientist, the Newtonian physicist. Humboldt was a point of passage, not a point of origin. His work was a stage through which German culture had to move in its transition from a speculative to a scientific understanding of nature. By combining elements of both approaches, Humboldt had helped to convince the aesthetically inclined German nation to take an interest in natural science. However, he had not achieved the highest possible level of scientific understanding in his work – he had merely provided graphical depictions rather than mechanical analyses of natural phenomenon. As a result, he did not deserve to be ranked with Newton as a founding father of modern science. Alluding to Humboldt’s experience on Chimborazo, Du Bois-Reymond concluded that “the gulf that separated him from the summit of natural science was a lack of mathematical-physical comprehension.”40 Despite his qualifications of Humboldt’s scientific eminence, Du Bois-Reymond was nonetheless interested in defending Humboldt against his critics, arguing that his greatness far outshone any minor 38 Oscar Peschel, Geschichte der Erdkunde bis auf Alexander von Humboldt und Carl Ritter (Munich, 1865); see also Hanno Beck, Alexander von Humboldt, 2 vols., Vol. II: Vom Reisewerk zum “Kosmos” (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1961), p. 240. 39 Emil Du Bois-Reymond, “Die Humboldt-Denkmäler vor der Berliner Universität,” Reden von Emil Du Bois-Reymond, 2 vols., Vol. II (Leipzig: Veit, 1912), pp. 249-284. 40 Du Bois-Reymond, “Humboldt-Denkmäler,” p. 263. 2001 D. Phillips 31 personality flaws.41 He also condemned the tendency to champion Wilhelm over Alexander. After first claiming that any comparison between such different kinds of achievement would be spurious, Du Bois- Reymond went on to make a subtle argument for the superiority of natural science. “In order to become that which he was to the world, he had to proceed more boldly … [than his brother] … and had to cover a longer and more difficult road.” In this case, Du Bois-Reymond was not simply speaking of physical distance, but also of the impressive “spiritual path” along which Humboldt had moved toward natural scientific knowledge.42 Scientific work was also a form of Bildung. CONCLUSION In his final musings on Humboldt’s life, Alfred Dove claimed that Humboldt was the perfect reflection of his age. “What he lost in individuality,” Dove mused, “he gained in representative meaning.”43 Whatever one may think of Dove’s assessment of the actual historical Humboldt, the scholar’s statement aptly describes the late 19th century memorials to the famous natural scientist. In these commemorations, Humboldt functioned as a synecdoche for natural science as a whole. Memorial speakers used his image to argue for the importance of natural science within both contemporary culture and human history. At the same time, “natural science” was a term with multiple and contested definitions; each memorializer’s individual scientific and political choices structured his presentation of Humboldt’s significance. From the details of the famous researcher’s long and varied life, the next generation of scientists fashioned narratives supporting a variety of political and scientific programs.44 Common to all of these accounts, however, was a sense of the intimate connection between moral, political, and scientific progress. What can these narratives tell us about Humboldt’s place in late 19th century German science? Memorial speeches and disciplinary histories reveal how scientists understand their relationship to their predecessors – they record the legacies that live on in conscious scientific memory rather than the less immediately visible persistence of certain research practices or conceptual structures. At the same time, however, intellectual history does not work like a game of billiards. “Influences” are not transmitted from one generation of researchers to the next as simple physical impulses. The reception of a body of work always involves an 41 Ibid, p. 275. 42 Ibid, p. 255. 43 Dove, “AvH auf der Höhe seiner Jahre,” p. 484. 44 For a fascinating analysis of the compensatory function of Festreden in the face of scientific specialization, see Jochen Zwick, “Akademische Erinnerungskultur, Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Rhetorik im 19. Jahrhundert. Über Emil Du Bois-Reymond als Festredner,” Scientia Poetica. Jahrbuch für Geschichte der Literatur und der Wissenschaften, I (1997): 120-139. 32 Northeastern Naturalist Special Issue 1 active process of selection and reshaping. Furthermore, historians have noted that memorial speeches and disciplinary histories are not simply subsidiary activities, separate from the production of scientific knowledge. 45 Instead, histories often chart out future research agendas at the same time that they describe past successes. They say something about where a science is hoping to go as well as where it has been. Consequently, the fate of Humboldt’s scientific memory also reveals something about the fate of his “physics of the earth” in the second half of the 19th century. Ordering knowledge geographically had become the strategy of one particular discipline – geography. For a broader public, however, Humboldt’s image as the most outstanding and important scientist of the century declined more slowly. At the same time that disciplinary divisions were making it difficult for scientists to articulate Humboldt’s significance in any universal way, he remained natural science’s most eminent representative within the liberal pantheon of German intellectual heroes. (In addition, nature enthusiasts and German imperialists would go on to claim him as one of their own.46 ) Until the 1890s, Humboldt’s entry in the Brockhaus Conversations- encyclopedia, that famous treasure trove of 19th century German bourgeois wisdom, presented him to the reader as “the most multifaceted and important scientist of the 19th century.”47 Franz Otto assigned Humboldt a preeminent place in his 1877 work Deutsche Dichter, Denker und Wissensfürsten, lauding him as the father of the new German science. Otto presented Humboldt in glowing terms. The famous traveler had pointed the way to a natural scientific understanding of nature in its entirety. After his Kosmos, natural science was no longer the property of a closed guild of scholars, but the inheritance of all humanity.48 In these images, Humboldt’s appearance of universality – so fragmented in the Bruhns biography – remained unmarred. 45 Nicholas Jardine, “The laboratory revolution in medicine as rhetorical and aesthetic accomplishment,” The laboratory revolution in medicine, eds. Andrew Cunningham and Perry Williams, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992); Dorinda Outram, “The language of natural power: The “éloges” of Georges Cuvier and the public language of 19th-century science,” History of Science, 16 (1978): 153-178. 46 H. Zähringer, “Alexander von Humboldt in seiner Bedeutung für den Alpenclub: Eine Säcularerinnerung,” Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub, 6 (1869-70): 380-416; Jost Hermand, “Rouseau, Goethe, Humboldt: Ihr Einfluß auf die späteren Befürworter des Naturgartens,” Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift, 1996, 46: 270-286; Susanne Zantop, Colonial Fantasies: Conquest, Family, and Nation in Precolonial Germany, 1770-1870 (Durham and London: Duke UP, 1997). 47 “Alexander von Humboldt,” Allgemeine Deutsche Real-Encyklopädie, 12th ed, 1877 and 13th ed., 1884. Brockhaus finally removed this appellation in the 1894 edition of its encyclopedia. “Alexander von Humboldt,” Allgemeine Deutsche Real-Encyklopädie, 14th ed., 1894, p. 417. 48 Franz Otto, Deutsche Dichter, Denker und Wissensfürsten im achtzehnten und neunzehnten Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1877), pp. 263-269.