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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 65/July 1904/The Royal Prussian Academy of Science and the Fine Arts: Berlin V

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 65‎ | July 1904



VI. The History of the Academy under the Emperor William I., the Emperor Frederick III. and his son William II., the present Emperor, or from 1859 to 1900.

AS early as 1860 A. Kirchhoff, in an address delivered on one of the festival days of the academy, emphasized the change which had been introduced into the methods of scientific study. Research, he said, had limited itself to narrow fields with a view to the mastery of the least important detail in them. This limitation he regarded as necessary. Although the academy had done its part in the discovery and confirmation of the law of the conservation of energy, and had shown the immense value of the law of evolution as a scientific hypothesis, the time had come when investigation must be content to confine itself to a limited field, if its results are to be trustworthy, and permit men of comprehensive minds and more general information to weave them into consistent philosophical systems. The era of the universal had passed, that of the particular had begun.

The Prince of Prussia, brother of the king, became regent in 1859 and king in 1860. He was succeeded by his son, Frederick III., who, after a reign of three months, was followed by his son William II., who is still on the throne. Each of these sovereigns has favored the academy so far as possible.

From 1859 to 1900, 82 members were received into the academy. Of the 46 actively engaged in its work in 1859, Rammelsberg and Mommsen alone were living in 1900. Of the 82 new members, 32 had died and 4 had moved from Berlin. The physical class had lost but 11 members, the historical 25. Of some of these members a few words may be permitted. Helmholtz, the discoverer of the law of the conservation of energy, has been thought in Germany worthy of a place by the side of Sir Isaac Newton. His works on optics, acoustics and the physiology of the nerves are known everywhere and are received as authority. Von Siemens is famous for his discoveries in electricity and the practical use he made of them. Virchow, and van't Hoff the chemist, still living, have brought the academy lasting fame. During the period from 1860 to 1900 the names of nine eminent historians were on its books. Droysen, Duneker, Waitz, von Sybel, Wattenbach, Nitzsch, Weitszaecker, Lehmann, von Tretschke, the last named representing the school of Kanke, one of the most illustrious of the eminent historians Germany has produced. Olshausen and Roediger represented the Hebrew language and literature as well as that of Syria and Arabia, and Dillmann, in addition to a thorough knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic, was especially famous for his mastery of Ethiopic.

Prior to 1870 the income of the academy had been very inadequate, although private gifts from the king and grants from the government had enabled it to carry out to a successful conclusion several important enterprises. For scientific purposes it had never received from its own resources more than $2,300 in any single year. By a cabinet order, dated at Versailles, March 2, 1871, the Archeological Institute of Rome, through which so much has been accomplished, was made a state institution, brought into connection with the academy and put under its control. On May 16, 1874, its name was changed to that of The Imperial German Institute of Archeology, and a branch of it established in Athens for the study of Grecian antiquities. In 1875 an agreement was made with the academies in Vienna and Munich whereby each of them shares in the expense and direction of this archeological work. Through the generosity of the government in 1874 the academy was in a position to expend for science three times as much as formerly. The figures show that between 1877 and 1897 nearly $350,000 were set aside for scientific purposes alone. During the reign of William I. institutes were organized and equipped in connection with all the Prussian universities, and most of the other German universities, for the training, under the best skill at command, of young men for research in special fields of scientific study. In these institutes some of the most striking of recent discoveries have been made.

The academy made its interest in astronomy manifest in the part it had in expeditions for the study of the occultations of Venus, in magnetism and meteorology by two expeditions sent to the poles for the study of these branches of science. The king had long been interested in the geodetic institute and in archeological studies, in the society formed for the publication of the Dutch sources of history, and shortly before his death he had determined to aid the work which had been begun on the Monumenta Borussia. He had opened the archives of the state to historical students from every part of the world. He had taken a deep interest in the excavation at Olympia and Pergamon, through the results of which the academy and the nation acquired well-deserved fame.

While the academy had every reason to look for sympathy and assistance from the Emperor Frederick III. and his wife, an appeal to his son, after the father's untimely death, was not in vain. Means for aid in making a new dictionary of the Latin language on the most extensive scale possible, and for other important enterprises, were asked for and granted. Toward the cost of the dictionary the academies in Munich, Göttingen, Leipzig and Vienna contribute and share in directing and furnishing the labor which must be done on it. It is estimated that this will extend over twenty years at least, and require the aid of a score of men. The headquarters of the work are at Munich. An edition of the works of Kant worthy his name has been published, another of the writings of William von Humboldt, another of the mathematical works of Weierstrass. A dictionary of the old Egyptian language has been planned, and work in gathering material for it, in which scholars from different countries are taking part, is now progressing. The value of the academy as a mediator in projecting and carrying out costly works is illustrated in the excavations at Olympia and Pergamon. For the former the sum of $75,000 was granted. The work was planned solely in the interests of scholarship, with the agreement that all articles of value discovered by the excavations should be the property of Greece and be left within its limits. Suggested by Professor Curtius, entrusted to the care of a man of his selection, the first spadeful of earth was turned on October 4, 1875, and six years later the last. The results astonished the learned world, and not less so those obtained at Pergamon.

Preparations for observing the occupations of Venus were begun by Minister von Muhler as early as 1869, and an expedition, at the cost of the academy, was sent to Luxor in 1874, and another to Punta Arenas in 1883. Both were under the direction of the astronomer Auwers, who has published the results of his discoveries in six volumes. In 1878 plans were laid for a proper celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of Luther's birth, and the academy, in carrying out the wishes of the king and of the nation, offered a prize for a perfect edition of the writings of the reformer prior to 1521. The prize was awarded to E. Henrici in 1880, and in June, 1883, arrangements were made for a complete and standard edition of all Luther's works.

The year 1874 is remembered by the academy as the year in which its income was so increased as to enable it to undertake enterprises previously beyond its reach and at the same time to assist individuals in work for which their private means were insufficient. This change in its affairs was happily emphasized by Mommsen in his speech in July, 1874. In it he said there is something more in the world than Latin and Greek, than the upheaval of mountains or than the counting of figures, important as the academy deems them. The academy is and must be a common meeting place for all men of science, and must show an interest in whatever men of science of any nationality may do, and thus put an end to everything like narrowness or selfishness in one's own work. The academy, as has already been seen, had begun to act, as it has continued to do, as a mediator between the government, which has the funds for important enterprises, and the men who, though poor, have the ability successfully to carry them out. Hence it is that for a quarter of a century at least the academy has been able to direct most of the great scientific enterprises of Germany and has given impulse and needed assistance to private efforts in narrow and limited, yet important fields of research. The income, which increases nearly every year with gifts by will and from people interested in its work, in 1900 amounted to 213,462 Marks, a little more than $53,000. The income had averaged from 1897 to 1900 136,462 Marks, or a little more than $39,000. Since May, 1898, one third of the interest of the Frau Maria Elizabeth Wentzel-Heckmann foundation, or of a capital of 1,500,000 Marks, has been available for scientific enterprises of the first magnitude. At the death of Frau Heckmann the interest of the entire sum will be available for the spread of scientific knowledge. It is stipulated that the income shall not be limited to a single field. While the academy may suggest the field to which the money shall be given, its final disposal is in the hands of a commission composed of the cultus minister and six persons, three of whom are to be chosen by the academy every five years. Thus far the gift has furnished means for a dictionary of the German law language, justified the academy in beginning the publication of an edition of the oldest Greek writers, which will embrace not less than fifty volumes, and provided for the equipment of an expedition to German East Africa for the study of natural history. A good deal of money is expended every year for prizes, although these are less favored than formerly, and an increasing amount in aiding individuals in special work of importance.

Changes in some of the statutes of the academy were adopted on March 2, 1881, by which its efficiency has been very much increased. The number of general meetings was reduced one half and those of the classes and their sections increased one half. The number of active members was put at 54, 27 for each class. The foreign members were reduced from 16 to 10 for each class, and since 1882 reports, formerly published every month, are now published weekly. These reports are of the highest value and are indispensable to those who would keep abreast of the advance made by Germany in scientific, historical or philosophical studies. Active members are paid 900 Marks ($225) a year, and are expected to attend all the sessions of the academy and to undertake any work which the members of their class may lay upon them. Secretaries are paid twice as much and persons employed for a longer or shorter time for special service are paid as the academy may direct. The chemist, the botanist and the geologist receive a salary which will enable them to live in Berlin.

In 1897, in addition to the publication of memoirs prepared by the members of the academy and contained in the regular 'Proceedings,' and to the making of grants such as it had long been in the habit of making to aid individuals to publish or complete important works of their own. the academy found itself in a position to look toward enterprises which would call for large sums of money and for the labor of many years. To some of them brief reference may be made. It had already taken part in the rounding and directing of the work of the imperial German Archeological Society. The academy is also represented by three of its members, one of whom must he the presiding officer, on the Central Direction of the Monumenta Germaniæ. As has been suggested, it helped to bring into existence the geodetic and meteorological institutes of Prussia and agreed to furnish its share of the cost of the new Latin and Egyptian dictionaries. It has already published complete and worthy editions of the works of Frederick the Great. Luther and Kant, in addition to those of specialists on subjects to which they had given years of labor. In 1888 it was instrumental in founding the Historical Institute in Rome, over which von Sybel presided for five years. This society has a directing secretary who lives in Rome, and is assisted in his work by two competent historical scholars, each of whom is permitted to have a helper. One of its first objects was to collect all the correspondence between the Roman Curia and the nuncios sent to Germany during the Reformation. Five volumes of this correspondence, with two other volumes ready for the press, had been published in 1899. This work has now been brought into affiliation with the Royal Archives, where it will be within the reach of all scholars. Efforts were made in 1893 to gather the papal decrees on all subjects brought before the Curia which concern Germany. These are to be carefully arranged and classified and will go back to the thirteenth century. Work began with the decrees of the first half of the fifteenth century. These decrees are found in seven special Roman archives. The government appropriated at first 60,000 Marks a year ($15,000) for four years, and has since repeated the grant. Beginning with 1897 the director of the institute has edited and published a magazine whose title, ' Sources out of Italian Libraries and Archives,' indicates its purpose and its value. Not only does the academy mediate between the Geodetic Institute at Potsdam and the government, it performs the same service for the Meteorological Institute, which is in close touch with the Royal Observatory for Astrophysics. Upon the collection of Latin inscriptions, of which Mommsen was editor till his death, more than $100,000 have been expended, all of which was obtained through the academy chiefly from the sovereign. On this work, which is nearly completed, Mr. Hirschfield has since 1885 been associated with Mommsen. In 1888 a commission was appointed for the study of numismatics. It turned its attention first to the work of collecting the ancient coins of northern Greece. Mommsen so greatly appreciated this effort that he turned over to the academy the 28,000 Marks ($7,000) given him on the fiftieth anniversary of his professorship. Vol. I. appeared in 1898. In 1897 two volumes of a work on 'The Posography of the Time of the Roman Emperors' appeared. Mommsen suggested it and was chairman of a commission having it in charge.

The Fronto Commission, seeking to solve a problem proposed by Niebuhr, undertook the publication of the Theodosian Codex and with

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F. E. D. Schleiermacher.

the proceeds of the Savigny fund the publication of what is called a 'Vocabularium juris prudentiæ Romanæ' has been begun. Between 1878 and 1888 a complete collection of Attic inscriptions was published, and in 1899, under the direction of Mr. Frakel, the printing of a treatise on the inscriptions found in the Peloponessus was started, and preparations were made for the printing of those of the islands, those of Lesbos, Nesos and Tenedos being ready at that time. On this work of gathering inscriptions, editing them and giving them to the world, the academy has been engaged more than eighty years. In 1891 it was decided by the academy that an edition worthy the respect of scholars of the Greek writers prior to Eusebius and apart from those whose works relate to the New Testament was greatly needed. The Vienna academy had published the Latin writings prior to the seventh century. The commission into whose hands the work was given in 1893 consisted of Mommsen, Diels, von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, von Gebhardt, Loofs and Hamack. The cost of this publication will be met jointly from the income of the Frau Heckmann foundation and by the publishing house of J. Hinrich, Leipzig. It is confidently anticipated that in some of these writings questions will be answered like these:

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B. G. Niebuhr.

'How did the church free herself from her early Palestinian society?' 'How did the Roman system arise?' 'How were Greek and Roman culture changed into Greek and Roman Christianity?' 'How did the church receive the middle age culture?' 'Why do the Greek and Roman churches look back to the fathers as their founders, and to these early periods as their classical periods?'

It was a special gift from Frederick William IV. which led the academy to edit and publish the works of Frederick the Great. Droysen and Duncker proposed (1) that the state and fugitive writings of the king during the first decade of his reign should be collected and printed and (2) that there should be a supplement to the regular edition of his works. It was decided that first of all the political correspondence should appear. Brought down to 1765, this has filled twenty-five volumes, and it is not yet completed. The state writings from the beginning of the reign to the beginning of the Seven Years' War fill three volumes. Out of this undertaking has grown another, that of publishing the 'Acta Borussica,' through which the full history of the Prussian government during the eighteenth century will be given. As early

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Theodor Mommsen

as 1899 volumes 1. and II. had appeared. When complete the work can not fail to be of immense value to every one interested in the development of Prussia, Researches relating to the history of Brandenburg and Prussia accompany the 'Acta.' These researches are carried on under the direction of the cultus minister and the academy. They have already-resulted in the formation of a new school of Prussian historians. The income of the Fran Heckmann gift has rendered it possible to publish a scientific dictionary of the terms used in old German Law. Under the auspices of the academy the works of Jacobi, Dirrichlet, Steiner, Weierstrass and Kronecker will soon see the light. A comprehensive work, taking in the entire animal world, valuable for the unity of its plan and its accuracy has been prepared by Schulze. The income of the Humboldt fund has been expended for the most part on costly journeys undertaken for scientific purposes. Thus Hansel was absent in South America from 1863 to 1867, studying the pampas of Argentina, exploring the bone caves of southern Brazil and observing the remains of mammals. Sehweinfurth, the botanist, devoted himself, first at his own cost, as early as 1863, to the study of the

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Hermann von Helmholtz.

flora of the Nile valley. He went as far as the borders of Abyssinia and the Soudan. On his second journey in 1868, for which he received aid from the academy, he explored Lake El Ghasel, the region round about Njam Njam and Monbutta botanically, geologically and anthropomorphic-ally. He returned to Berlin in 1871 and the conclusions he formed from his studies on his travels are found in the 'Proceedings' of the academy for the years 1870-72. Buchholz, the zoologist, went to equatorial Africa in 187-1, and sent home a vast amount of valuable material for future study. In 1876 Hildebrandt went from Zanzibar to Kilimandjaro and Ndur Kenia; Sachs visited Venezuela in order to study the habits of electrical fishes, and the results of his studies were published by Du Bois Eeymond and Nitsch. Fritsch in 1878 was sent to Micronesia to study the rapidly vanishing native races and gather as many as possible of the memorials of their habits and customs. He spent a year in Jaluit, visited several of the smaller islands, then went to New Zealand and New Guinea, and in 1882 brought back to Berlin many thousands of the specimens he had been sent out to obtain. In 1883 Guessfeldt went to the Andes, Arning to Hawaii, and the next year Schweinfurth was sent to examine the desert between the Nile and the Bed Sea and report its geodetic and geographical conditions. In 1889 nearly 25,000 Marks were voted to Hensen in aid of an expedition he was preparing to send to Rio Janeiro for the study of sea life. Several naturalists accompanied him. He discovered what he called planktons, from which, according to a report made to the academy in 1890, sea life is sustained. To this expedition the king gave 70,000 Marks and other private gifts brought the amount up to 105,000 Marks. Between the years 1890 and 1898, Völkens was sent to Kilimandjaro to study botany; the zoologist von Voelzhow to Madagascar, and Platte, in the interest of the same science, to the coasts of Chili; Fritsch to New Zealand; the geologist Moericke to the Chilian Andes, and the geographer Dove to Africa.

Thus the academy has kept itself in close touch with all recent movements in science, as well as with the advance in literary or historical studies. It has not hesitated to begin work which must take a generation to finish, and of which few of its living members can hope to see the results. Intimately connected with the universities, many of its members, professors in the University of Berlin, enjoying the respect and favor of the reigning sovereign, embracing in its ranks some of the foremost men in science, philosophy and history now living, it has naturally become a center around which the best men of Germany have gathered, and to which the eyes of students, wherever they live, are constantly turning.