Adjusting the various contentions of the elements

General views of the Fashioned, be it matter aggregated into the farthest stars of heaven, be it the phenomena of earthly things at hand, are not merely more attractive and elevating than the special studies which embrace particular portions of natural science; they further recommend themselves peculiarly to those who have little leisure to bestow on occupations of the latter kind. The descriptive natural sciences are mostly adapted to particular circumstances: they are not equally attractive at every season of the year, in every country, or in every district we inhabit. The immediate inspection of natural objects, which they require, we must often forego, either for long years, or always in these northern latitudes; and if our attention be limited to a determinate class of objects, the most graphic accounts of the travelling naturalist afford us little pleasure if the particular matters, which have been the special subjects of our studies, chance to be passed over without notice.

As universal history, when it succeeds in exposing the true causal connection of events, solves many enigmas in the fate of nations, and explains the varying phases of their intellectual progress—-why it was now impeded, now accelerated—-so must a physical history of creation, happily conceived, and executed with a due knowledge of the state of discovery, remove a portion of the contradictions which the warring forces of nature present, at first sight, in their aggregate operations. General views raise our conceptions of the dignity and grandeur of nature; and have a peculiarly enlightening and composing influence on the spirit; for they strive simultaneously to adjust the contentions of the elements by the discovery of universal laws, laws that reign in the most delicate textures which meet us on earth, no less than in the Archipelagos of thickly clustered nebulae which we see in heaven, and even in the awful depths of space-—those wastes without a world.

General views accustom us to regard each organic form as a portion of a whole; to see in the plant and in the animal less the individual or dissevered kind, than the natural form, inseparably linked with the aggregate of organic forms. General views give an irresistible charm to the assurance we have from the late voyages of discovery undertaken towards either pole, and sent from the stations now fixed under almost every parallel of latitude, of the almost simultaneous occurrence of magnetic disturbances or storms, and which furnish us with a ready means of divining the connection in which the results of later observation stand to phenomena recorded as having occurred in bygone times; general views enlarge our spiritual existence, and bring us, even if we live in solitude and seclusion, into communion with the whole circle of life and activity — with the earth, with the universe.

Alexander von Humboldt, 1845
Kosmos: A General Survey of the Physical Phenomena of the Universe, Vol. I, pp. 23-24

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