Delight Springs

Monday, December 28, 2015

Concentrated sunshine

My new favorite dead naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt:
After an early breakfast of black coffee – 'concentrated sunshine', as Humboldt called it – he worked all day and in the evening went on his usual tour of salons until 2 a.m. He visited scientists across town – prodding and poking to learn about their latest discoveries... The Invention of Nature
This book is full of fascinating facts and curious revelations, not only about its subject but also those who admired him. Humboldt inspired his pal Goethe, for instance, to adopt a new style of walking:
It was during this period that Goethe began to fling both his arms around whenever he went for a walk – provoking alarmed glances from his neighbours. He had discovered, he finally explained to a friend, that this exaggerated swinging of one's arms was a remnant from the four-legged animal – and therefore one of the proofs that animals and humans had a common ancestor. 'That's how I walk more naturally,' he said, and couldn't have cared less if Weimar society regarded this rather strange behavior as unrefined.
The line between genius and nonconformist eccentricity is very fine.

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