On 06 May 1859, Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) passed away in Berlin, Germany. Educated at Freiberg School of Mines (1792) (w/ subsequent studies at Frankfurt, Göttingen, and Berlin), he was a natural scientist, explorer, ecologist and geographer.
From the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography:
“Humboldt, although indisputably one of the founders of geography as a science, had as his major goal a comprehensive view of nature to which the earth sciences would contribute significantly. As a Prussian government official, there would be difficulties for him in pursuing such a major undertaking, but upon his mother’s death in 1796 he became financially independent. Leaving the civil service, he looked ahead to a ‘great journey beyond Europe.’
“The Kosmos is a popular scientific book in the best sense of that term. The entire material world from the galaxies to the geography of the various mosses, the history of physical cosmography, the needed stimulation for nature study—he sought to present all in vivid, ‘pleasing’ language. Volumes III through V, containing his special research findings and added material, were not equally successful; Humboldt died before completing the fifth volume. The index was prepared according to his specifications and he credited each contemporary to whom he felt in debted. The work cites over 9,000 sources and is thus an important reference for the history of science.”
For further reading, see an online article on the influence of von Humboldt on Charles Darwin (1809–1882): —van Wyhe, John. “Humbodlt’s Personal Narrative and Its Influence on Darwin.” The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. 2002.
Quote from a letter dated September 6, 1825:
“I will not insist on this as an ordinance of religion, but simply on the grounds that life, even in its utmost extent, is so short, in comparison with eternity, which is wholly veiled to us as regards the nature of our being, that we must take care not to limit it by our wishes, but to allow it to continue as it will, for really the manner in which a man views his fate is more important than what his fate is. It is a saying, that every one creates his own fortunes, and, indeed, we make them good or bad by our reason or our folly. One may, however, so receive his lot as ordained by Providence, and so adapt himself to it, as to find it good, however opposite it may seem.”
Referenced:–Biermann, Kurt-R. “Alexander von Humboldt.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography.© Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008. — Humboldt, Friedrich Wilhelm C.K.F. Letters to a Lady. Trans. Henry Stebbing (London, GB: Arthur Hall, 1849), 126-127.
Image: Alexander von Humboldt in his library (1856), by Eduard Hildebrant (1818–1868).