Modern Geography by Marion I. Newbigin D.Sc. (Lond.), editor of the Scottish Geographical Magazine
Home University Library of Modern Knowledge No. 7
Herbert Fisher, M.A., F.B.A.
Prof. Gilbert Murray, Litt.D., Ll.D., F.B.A.
Prof. J. Arthur Thomson, M.A.
Prof. William T. Brewster, M.A.
Chapter 1. The Beginnings of Modern Geography
In the year 1859 there occurred three events which, though not all comparable to one another, yet make the year one of such importance that we may take it as marking the beginning of the distinctively modern period of geographical science. These three events were, first, the deaths of Humboldt and Ritter, two great geographical pioneers who hewed tracks through the tangled jungle of unsystematised geographical facts, and second, the publication of the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, a book which supplied the compass which has made further road-making in that same jungle possible. In other words, as a result of the life-work of the two great geographers named, and of the throwing by Charles Darwin of a new ferment into the mass of contemporary thought, what had been a mere collection of facts began to be a reasoned and ordered science. Both Humboldt and Ritter lived to a great age, so that at the time of their deaths not only was their work done, but there had been time also for their influence to permeate the literature of the subject.
Humboldt was, above all, a great traveller, but he was also a man of science in the largest sense, interested not in one group of facts, but in many. The extent of his knowledge and the breadth of his interests enabled him to observe a vast number of phenomena while his particular genius was manifest in the way in which he correlated these, and considered them in their relation to each other. Though it is true that his influence was most direct in the case of natural history, yet in this respect also he pointed to the future, for the geographers of to-day are indebted to the naturalists for some of their finest generalisations.