PART IV:  INFLUENCE: SPREADING IDEAS

CHAPTER 15:  RETURN TO BERLIN

Home is the place where, that when you go there, they have to take you in.  – Robert Frost.

May 12, 1827.  Alexander did not want to go home again. He did not want to return to Berlin. He was King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s “ Intellectual entertainer and after dinner reader.”   And he was returning to a country that had become a police state in which censorship was part of daily life.”

PROMPT:  Write about going home again.  I grew up in Foley, Alabama – and while it is rich in memories, I would not want to move back “home.”  My husband, Ron, is from London.  My husband said that it would take a lot of money to go back to London – to go to the theatre, to museums, etc.  He said he wouldn’t even know where to live in London now.  So, if we were to go home after a certain period of time, how would it be?  Thomas Woolf said “you can’t go home again.”    

Why?  Why not:  Well, you’ve changed – and Home has changed – and memory is not reality.

  1. 224: Humboldt “believed in the power of learning and his Views of Nature were written for a general audience rather than for scientists in their ivory towers.”
  2. 225: “Humboldt had criticized governments, openly voicing his dissent and opinions, but by the time he moved to Berlin, he had grown disillusioned with politics.”
  3. 225: GEORGE CANNING, British Prime Minster (April 11, 1770-August 8, 1827)

If we really don’t know a lot about George Canning, what did he say that may resonate with us today?
“I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.”  (And how often do we hear someone say,” but to tell you the truth?”

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“And finds, with keen,
discriminating sight,
Black’s not so black,–not white so
very white.”

What is it that Plato had to say about TRUTH?

(Plato, Republic, 380BC )And those whose hearts are fixed on Realityitself deserve the title of Philosophers. … When the mind’s eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently; but when it turns to the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions, its vision is confused and its beliefs shifting, and it seems to lack intelligence. … What is at issue is the conversion of the mind from the twilight of error to the truth, that climb up into the real world which we shall call true philosophy. 

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“Lord what fools these mortals be.”  — Shakespeare

PRINCE KLEMENS VON METTERNICH:  Though Humboldt and Metternich knew each other – and Humboldt called him “a head that’s gone politically awry,”  the two men knew each other well enough to avoid political discussions.”   Perhaps, there is wisdom in that remark.

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  1. 227: Interesting – Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day, the 4th of July, 1826 – the 15th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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  1. 228: Humboldt “wanted to help people unlock the power of the intellect. ‘ With knowledge comes power.”

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  1. 228: From “students to servants, from scholars to bricklayers, — and half of those were women.”   Women?  Hmmmm.  And on p. 228-229:  “Women who were not permitted to study at universities or even to attend meetings of the scientific societies, were finally allowed to ‘listen to a clever word.’”

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  1. 229: Indeed, do you write sideways? Do you make squiggles in the margin?  What do you glue into your “notebook” ?  We have sticky tabs – Humboldt had “sticky dots.”  BRITISH BLU-TACK?  Look at those lecture notes on plant geography on page 230!

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Who’s Who in the World of Humboldt?  In this chapter, we have one of the founders of modern chemistry —  Jöns Jacob Berzelius,  Charles Babbage, and the brilliant mathematician, Carl Friedrich Gauss.

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  1. 235 – an important note about Language (my capital L): re Wilhelm. Wilhelm wrote that “language was the formative organ of thoughts.” It “reflected different views of the world.” It was “not just a tool to express thoughts but it shaped thoughts—through its grammar, vocabulary, tenses and so on. . .”;  it was “an organism, a web that wove together action, thought and speaking.”

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  1. 236. Humboldt said that he might have gray hair, but he could walk for 9 or 10 hours without a break!

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Humboldt invited to Asia.

PROMPT:  Joyce Carol Oates has a short story titled “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been.”  I want to use that title as a prompt.  We might write our own travelogue.  We might use our own experiences to highlight our own special places.  Humboldt shows us the way to keep a notebook of words and scribbles – and our experiences in relation to where we have been and where we are going is a rich source for travel writing.