Huber – I have seen, I have seen with my eyes.

Extracts from ‘Memoir of Huber’ by Professor De Candolle

‘Francis Huber was born at Geneva, on the 2nd of July 1750, of an honourable family, in which vivacity of mind and imagination seemed hereditary… His precocity of talent was manifest in his attention to nature, at an age when others are scarcely aware of its existence, and in the evidence of deep feeling , at an age when others hardly betray emotions. At the age of fifteen his general health and his sight began to be impaired…. The oculatist Venzel considered the state of his eyes as incurable, and he did not think it justifiable to hazard an operation for cataract, then less understood than at present, and announced to the young Huber the probability of an approaching and entire blindness.

We have seen the blind shine as poets, and distinguish themselves as philosophers and calculators; but it was reserved for Huber to give a lustre to his class in the sciences of observation, and on objects so minute that the most clear-sighted observer can scarcely observe them… He had then a servant named Francis Burnens, remarkable for his sagacity and for the devotion he bore for his master. Huber practised him in the art of observation, directed him to his researches by questions adroitly combined, and aided by the recollections of his youth, and by the testimonials of his wife and friends, he rectified the assertions of his assistant, and became enabled to form in his own mind a true and perfect image of the minutest facts. “I am much more certain,’ said he one day to me, smiling, “of what I taste than you are, for you publish what your own eyes only have seen, while I take the mean among many witnesses.”

His style is, in general, clear and elegant; always retaining the precision requisite to the didactic, it possesses the attraction which a poetic imagination can readily confer upon all subjects; but one thing which particularly distinguishes it, and which we should least expect, is, that he describes facts in a manner so picturesque, that in reading them, we fancy that we can see the very objects, which the author, alas, was never able to see! I venture also to add, that we find in his descriptions so many masterly touches, as to justify the conclusion, that if he had retained his sight he would have been like his father, his brother, and his son, a skilful painter.

Huber retained his faculties to the last. He was loving and beloved to the end of his days. At the age of eight-one, he wrote to one of his friends, “There is a time when it is impossible to remain neglectful; it is, when separating gradually from each other, we may reveal to those we love all that esteem, tenderness and gratitude have inspired us with towards them. I say to you alone,'” adds he, further on, “that resignation and serenity are blessings which have not been refused.” He wrote these lines on the 20th of December 1831, and on the 22nd he was no more; his life became extinct, without pain or agony, while in the arms of his daughter.’ ‘ Huber’s Natural History of the Honey Bee’. A new edition with A Memoir of the Author and Appendix 1841

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