He acted or declined to do so according to certain rules of the under- standing, which became at last a sort of machinery of his character. He was never wanting in attention to others, and he had [Seite 41] the faculty of attaching to himself in a subtle way men of all classes, but especially superior men. It was his plan to bring up and, as it were, accidentally to allude to whatever must necessarily have an agreeable effect, and to stir beforehand all the strings in harmony; and in this way he won for himself many well-wishers, and knew how to keep them when they were won.
Politeness he considered as a duty, and he knew very well how to use it, both to attract people and to keep them at a distance.
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Not only did he closely adhere to what was demanded by custom, and all the observances of society and official relations, but his attention to these things put many younger men to the blush. Blumenbach was always anxious to learn, and was never idle for a moment. He used to say, he only knew ennui by reputation. To this also contributed his unceasing reading — in the evenings he preferred to be read to — and his unexampled memory, which he was always trying to strengthen by taking memoranda. He often used to laugh at the perverted manners of certain men who wanted to be taken for clever, and com- plained about their bad memory, when that was the very thing they could exercise a certain power over.
He was not in the habit of speaking his opinion or his ideas straight out, but he left them to be seen through a hint, or only by a jest; any one who knew his way of speaking wanted no further explanation. He was not one of those who received everything imme- diately as true and certain 1 ; but he guarded himself and also warned others against carrying their scepticism too far. He said it would be a subject for a very acute head to decide, whether too much credulity or hyper-scepticism had done the most harm to science, and he inclined to the latter opinion.
He considered it as above all necessary, on every assertion to keep in view the individual from whom it proceeded 2. He always found fault when any one lost himself in common figures of speech, instead of seeing the way clearly to the foundation of appearances from the immediately connected facts. Lay upon one of our horses the horse-trappings of the middle ages — it will be crushed under them as a pancake. Yet these drink no tea or coffee, and do not suffer from the evil, which has been given us by America.
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Habit does it all. In his thought as in his action all was considerate, con- nected and moderate. In what has been done already, an attempt has been made [Seite 43] to throw off a silhouette of Blumenbach's exertions and per- sonal appearance; in conclusion, I may be allowed to give some account of his nearest external connections. His father, Henrich Blumenbach, was first of all private tutor in Leipzig, and in became tutor to the chancellor of Oppel in Gotha, and in the same year was made professor in the school there. He had a very choice library, and many en- gravings and maps.
His mother, Charlotte Elenore Hedwig, was the daughter of Buddeus, the Vice-Chancellor of Gotha, grand-daughter of the Jena theologian; she died in , sixty-eight years old. The departed left behind him, in his journal, this remark upon her. In Blumenbach went to the school of Michaelis. In he delivered an address on two occasions: on the Duke's birth-day, and the marriage of the then Crown-prince. On the 12th October, , Blumenbach, then seventeen years old, went from school to Jena, where Baldinger was then Proctor, principally to attend the lectures of the then famous Kaltschmidt; but on the very day when his lectures commenced, he dropped down dead, from a stroke of apoplexy, at the wed- ding dance of one of his friends.
In his place at Easter, , Neubauer came to Jena, to whom Blumenbach took prodigi- ously, and to whom he was very grateful. On the 15th October, , he arrived here; on the 18th September, , a Sunday, he took his degree 1 ; and on the 31st October he began to read his first lecture. Nor did he conceal from himself that the fact of his career coinciding with the necessities of that day, and his personal position to influential men, had had an important influence on the recognition of his labours 3.
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By his marriage on the 19th Oct. What he was to this institution of learning in general, and our society in particular, that the world knows well, and history will not forget. In our tablets of memory his name will always endure, and his recollection will always renew in us the picture of a great and beautiful activity.
He who like him has satisfied the best of his time, he has lived for all time. It is to M. Blumenbach that our age owes Anthropology. The history of mankind had been disfigured by errors of every kind, physical, social and moral. A sage appeared. He contended against the physical errors; and, by so doing, destroyed in the surest manner the founda- tion of all the others. John Frederick Blumenbach was born at Gotha, in From his very birth nature seemed to devote him to education.
His father was professor at Gotha; his mother belonged to a family at Jena, which was attached to the universities. It was in one of those German interiors, where the love of retirement, the necessity of study, the habits of an honourable independence reign with such a charm, that the little Blumen- bach first saw the light. A brother, a sister, a father studious and grave, a mother tender and enlightened, formed at first all his world. It was soon observed that this child, surrounded by such soft affections, was occupied by quite a dreamy curiosity.
It played but little, and began to observe very early. It endeavoured, and sometimes with great ingenuity, to com- prehend or to explain to itself the structure of a plant or an insect.
Everything is taken seriously in Germany, even the earliest education of the infant. The father of M. Blumenbach, who [Seite 50] intended him for education, never permitted him, even from the most tender age, to break short a sentence badly commenced in order to put something else in its place. The sentence badly commenced had to be finished. The child had to get itself out of the little difficulty it had got into. In this way it learnt naturally, without effort, or rather by scarcely appreciable efforts, to think clearly and express itself with precision.
His mother, a woman of elevated spirit and noble heart, inspired him with ideas of glory. The soul of the mother is the destiny of her son. These first impressions have never ceased to influence the whole life of M. Of his numerous writings there is only one which is foreign to the sciences, and that is the panegyric of his mother.
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To return to the child. At ten years old he already took up the subject of comparative osteology, and this was the way. There was then but one solitary skeleton in the town of Gotha. This skeleton belonged to a doctor, who was the friend of the family of our little scholar, who often told afterwards the story of the many visits he used to make, during which he took no notice of the doctor, but a great deal of the skeleton. His visits became, by little and little, more assiduous and more frequent. He came, on purpose, when his old friend was out; and, under pretence of waiting for him, spent whole hours in looking at the skeleton.
After having well fixed in his memory the form of the different bones and their relations, he conceived the bold idea of composing a copy. For this purpose he made frequent journeys in the night to the cemeteries. But, as he was determined to owe nothing except to chance, he soon found out that he would have to content himself with the bones of our domestic animals.
In consequence, he directed his private researches in such a way as to provide himself with all sorts of that kind of bones. Then he carried them all to his bed-room, concealed them as well as he could, and shut himself too up there, in order to give himself up at his leisure, and with an enthusiasm beyond his age, to the studies he had marked out for himself. Unfortunately, at last a servant discovered the child's secret treasure; she saw that ingenious commencement of a human skeleton, and cried out sacrilege and scandal. Young Blumenbach, all in tears, ran to his mother; and she, under the advice of the good doctor, prudently decided that the precious collection should be removed into one of the lofts.
Such was the modest beginning of the famous collection whoso reputation has become universal. At seventeen, young Blumenbach quitted his family for the University of Jena. They soon became friends; and for these two friends everything was in common, library and laboratory. In their confidential intimacies they often allowed themselves to give way to their illusions, predicting for one another the first rank in the sciences they cultivated.
Nor were they deceived; the one became the first naturalist, the other the first anatomist of Germany. Haller indeed had left the place; but his reputation was everywhere. Young Blumenbach, who was already dreaming of a history of man, was delighted at finding materials of this kind, so labori- ously and diligently brought together.
He foresaw with a singular clearness all the advantages that might be got from it. This was quite a new way of opening the science which he was destined to found and to render attractive. He com- menced from that time his anthropological collection. He did more; he got the University to buy the collections of his old master, he became their conservator, he arranged them; and very soon brought them into notice by the great instruction in natural history he added to them.
His teaching in this way marks quite an epoch in the studies of Germany. The peculiar genius of that nation is well known; the genius of thought governed by imagination; devoted at once to truth and to systems; brilliant, and rejoicing in elevated combinations, bold, surprising, and, if I may use the expression, given up to the adventures of thought.
Blumenbach was no exception to this genius; but he developed, with a wonderful good nature, all the wisest points of it. The fifty years during which he was professor, and, if I may say so, a kind of sovereign, was, for natural history in Germany, the time of the most positive and the soundest study.
The day of systems did not re-appear till he was gone; and when they did, although recalled to life by a man of astonishing vigour of mind 1 , they never could regain the empire they had lost.