Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/272

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
260
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

"are as much products of animal life as the peat-bogs are products of vegetable life." We get an idea of the comprehensiveness of his view of Nature when we consider the attention he gave, soon after his return from the voyage around the world, to so comparatively insignificant objects as the North German peat-bogs. The opinion, based upon an observation of Alexander von Humboldt, then prevailed, and was held by Leopold von Buch, that such bogs as that of Linum, near Berlin, contained remains of a sea-weed (Fucus saccharinus), and were, therefore, to be regarded as of marine origin. After an examination, which he began at Linum with Poggendorff and Friedrich Hoffmann, and continued alone at Rügen and along the Baltic coast, Chamisso supplied the proof that the sea had had no part, either in the interior or on the coast, in the formation of peat, and that no change in the relative level of land and water need be supposed to explain the process. Chamisso saw again at the peat-bog of Linum the Kimming, or mirage, which had prominently exhibited itself to him in the high north. He attached to this observation a less known remark, which I recollect having heard in Paul Erman's Lectures, that the mirage can be seen in vertical planes on long, straight, sunny walls, like the old city wall of Berlin between the Potsdam and Halle Gates.

Chamisso's zoölogical observations were by no means limited to the lower forms. He regarded the vertebrates of all latitudes with equally earnest attention—the flying-fish; the birds that rested on the Rurik; the whales, which he dreamed of taming and training to service; and the sea-lions, through a bellowing herd of which he walked fearlessly on St. George's Island. He made profound psychological observations on the monkeys that were taken on the Rurik. He also had an eye for extinct animals. A tusk which was dug up at Kotzebue Sound was referred by Cuvier in the Ossements fossils, on the evidence of his drawing and description, to the mammoth.

But, as we have already observed, Chamisso gave special attention on his voyage to the study of man himself. Of course, exact observations and determinations of the physical constitution of men coming up to present ideas on the subject were not to be expected from him, although he collected skulls; and he must have been overtaken many times in details by the growth of commerce in the last seventy years, and the more perfected methods of research, like anthropometry, plaster-molding, and photography. But he still stands the author who, through his distinction between the two chief provinces of the great ocean and a separate group of islands, first cast light on the mixture of peoples who dwell in the island world. Thus, according to Bastian, the distinction of Micronesia from Polynesia was first indicated by