||A biographical sketch of Alexander von Humboldt, the founder of modern geography by Hayyim Selig Slominski (1810-1904) issued on the occasion of von Humboldt's 88th birthday. The volume is written in Hebrew with an additional title page in German and a brief note from von Humboldt also in German.
Slominski was a popular Hebrew science writer and editor. Slominski also used the pseudonym Hazas (the Hebrew initials of his name). Born in Bialystok, he wrote popular science articles during the Haskalah period. His initial acquaintance with science was derived from old Hebrew books, but later he also read scientific literature in German. In 1834, he published the first part of his mathematics textbook entitled Mosedei Hokhmah ("Bases of Wisdom"). Halley's Comet appeared in the following year, and Slonimski wrote a popular work on astronomy, Kokhva de-Shavit ("Comet," 1835, 18572). He wrote another book on the same subject entitled Toledot ha-Shamayim ("The History of the Skies," 1838, 18662), which caused great controversy, because it demonstrated errors in the Hebrew calendar. Slonimski also explained his views on the Hebrew calendar in Yesodei ha-Ibbur ("Basic Intercalation," 1852, one part only; completed in 1853, 18833). His later works include Mezi'ut ha-Nefesh ve-Kiyyumah Huz la-Guf ("The Existence of the Soul and its Life Outside the Body," 1852), and Yesodei Hokhmat ha-Shi'ur ("Foundations of the Science of Calculation," 1865, 18992). Slonimski coined new Hebrew terminology where necessary. Some of his mathematical and astronomical interpretations of obscure passages in the Mishnah found their way into editions of the Mishnah printed in Zhitomir. ,p>
Slonimski was also an inventor. Among his inventions was a calculating machine, for which he was awarded a prize by the Russian Academy of Sciences (1844). In 1862, Slonimski founded Ha-Zefirah, a Hebrew newspaper devoted mainly to popular science articles written by himself and a team of collaborators, adherents of the Haskalah. The paper ceased publication after only a few months, upon Slonimski's appointment as inspector of the Government Rabbinical Seminary in Zhitomir and Hebrew censor for South Russia. In 1874, when the Seminary was closed down, he renewed publication of Ha-Zefirah, first in Berlin and, from 1875, in Warsaw. The periodical was edited in the moderate spirit of the Haskalah, avoiding conflicts with the Orthodox by presenting scientific innovations in a manner acceptable to them.
In 1884, Slonimski's disciples and admirers celebrated the 50th anniversary of his literary career, and two collections of his articles appeared under the title Ma'amarei Hokhmah ("Essays of Wisdom," 1891–94). In 1886, when Ha-Zefirah began appearing daily, Nahum Sokolow joined the editorial board and, in effect, took over the editorship, though Slonimski continued to contribute articles. A list of his articles appeared in Ha-Zefirah, 14 no. 91 (1887), 5–6. Slonimski's son Leonid Slonimski converted to Christianity. Many of his grandchildren achieved distinction. Antoni Slonimski, son of Stanislaw, was a well-known Polish poet; Alexander, a literary critic, Mikhail Slonimski, a writer, Nicolas, a composer, and Henry Slonimsky, a scholar.
Alexander von Humboldt was born in Berlin, Germany in 1769. His father, who was an army officer, died when he was nine years old so he and his older brother Wilhelm were raised by their cold and distant mother. Tutors provided their early education which was grounded in languages and mathematics.
Once he was old enough, Alexander began to study at the Freiberg Academy of Mines under the famous geologist A.G. Werner. Von Humboldt met George Forester, Captain James Cook's scientific illustrator from his second voyage, and they hiked around Europe. In 1792, at the age of 22, von Humboldt began a job as a government mines inspector in Franconia, Prussia. When he was 27, Alexander's mother died, leaving him as substantial income from the estate. The following year, he left government service and began to plan travels with Aime Bonpland, a botanist. The pair went to Madrid and obtained special permission and passports from King Charles II to explore South America.
Once they arrived in South America, Alexander von Humboldt and Bonpland studied the flora, fauna, and topography of the continent. In 1800 von Humboldt mapped over 1700 miles of the Orinco River. This was followed by a trip to the Andes and a climb of Mt. Chimborazo (in modern Ecuador), then believed to be the tallest mountain in the world. They didn't make it to the top due to a wall-like cliff but they did climb to over 18,000 feet in elevation. While on the west coast of South America, von Humboldt measured and discovered the Peruvian Current, which, over the objections of von Humboldt himself, is also known as the Humboldt Current. In 1803 they explored Mexico. Alexander von Humboldt was offered a position in the Mexican cabinet but he refused. The pair were persuaded to visit Washington, D.C. by an American counselor and they did so. They stayed in Washington for three weeks and von Humboldt had many meetings with Thomas Jefferson and the two became good friends.
Von Humboldt sailed to Paris in 1804 and wrote thirty volumes about his field studies. During his expeditions in the Americas and Europe, he recorded and reported on magnetic declination. He stayed in France for 23 years and met with many other intellectuals on a regular basis.
Von Humboldt's fortunes were ultimately exhausted because of his travels and self-publishing of his reports. In 1827, he returned to Berlin where he obtained a steady income by becoming the King of Prussia's advisor. Von Humboldt was later invited to Russia by the tsar and after exploring the nation and describing discoveries such as permafrost, he recommended that Russia establish weather observatories across the country. The stations were established in 1835 and von Humboldt was able to use the data to develop the principle of continentality, that the interiors of continents have more extreme climates due to a lack of moderating influence from the ocean. He also developed the first isotherm map, containing lines of equal average temperatures.
From 1827 to 1828, Alexander von Humboldt gave public lectures in Berlin. The lectures were so popular that new assembly halls had to be found due to the demand. As von Humboldt got older, he decided to write everything known about the earth. He called his work Kosmos and the first volume was published in 1845, when he was 76 years old. Kosmos was well written and well received. The first volume, a general overview of the universe, sold out in two months and was promptly translated into many languages. Other volumes focused on such topics as human's effort to describe the earth, astronomy, and earth and human interaction. Humboldt died in 1859 and the fifth and final volume was published in 1862, based on his notes for the work. Once von Humboldt died, "no individual scholar could hope any longer to master the world's knowledge about the earth." (Geoffrey J. Martin, and Preston E. James. All Possible Worlds: A History of Geographical Ideas., page 131). Von Humboldt was the last true master but one of the first to bring geography to the world.