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Alexander von Humboldt: Excerpts from Cosmos (1845-58)

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I will no longer dwell upon the considerations of the influence exercised by the mathematical and physical sciences on all that appertains to the material wants of social life, for the vast extent of the course on which I am entering forbids me to insist further upon the utility of these applications. Accustomed to distant excursions, I may, perhaps, have erred in describing the path before us as more smooth and pleasant than it really is, for such is wont to be the practice of those who delight in guiding others to the summits of lofty mountains: they praise the view even when great part of the distant plains lie hidden by clouds, knowing that this half-transparent vapory vail imparts to the scene a certain charm from the power exercised by the imagination over the domain of the senses. In like manner, from the height occupied by the physical history of the world, all parts of the horizon will not appear equally clear and well defined. This indistinctness will not, however, be wholly owing to the present imperfect state of some of the sciences, but in part, likewise, to the unskillfulness of the guide who has imprudently ventured to ascend these lofty summits.

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