A Journey to the Interior of the Earth
Otto Liedenbrock had no mischief in him, I willingly allow that; but unless he very
considerably changes as he grows older, at the end he will be a most original character.
He was professor at the Johannaeum, and was delivering a series of lectures on
mineralogy, in the course of every one of which he broke into a passion once or twice at
least. Not at all that he was over-anxious about the improvement of his class, or about the
degree of attention with which they listened to him, or the success which might
eventually crown his labours. Such little matters of detail never troubled him much. His
teaching was as the German philosophy calls it, 'subjective'; it was to benefit himself, not
others. He was a learned egotist. He was a well of science, and the pulleys worked
uneasily when you wanted to draw anything out of it. In a word, he was a learned miser.
Germany has not a few professors of this sort.
To his misfortune, my uncle was not gifted with a sufficiently rapid utterance; not, to be
sure, when he was talking at home, but certainly in his public delivery; this is a want
much to be deplored in a speaker. The fact is, that during the course of his lectures at the
Johannaeum, the Professor often came to a complete standstill; he fought with wilful
words that refused to pass his struggling lips, such words as resist and distend the cheeks,
and at last break out into the unasked-for shape of a round and most unscientific oath:
then his fury would gradually abate.
Now in mineralogy there are many half-Greek and half-Latin terms, very hard to
articulate, and which would be most trying to a poet's measures. I don't wish to say a
word against so respectable a science, far be that from me. True, in the august presence of
rhombohedral crystals, retinasphaltic resins, gehlenites, Fassaites, molybdenites,
tungstates of manganese, and titanite of zirconium, why, the most facile of tongues may
make a slip now and then.
It therefore happened that this venial fault of my uncle's came to be pretty well
understood in time, and an unfair advantage was taken of it; the students laid wait for him
in dangerous places, and when he began to stumble, loud was the laughter, which is not
in good taste, not even in Germans. And if there was always a full audience to honour the
Liedenbrock courses, I should be sorry to conjecture how many came to make merry at
my uncle's expense.
Nevertheless my good uncle was a man of deep learning--a fact I am most anxious to
assert and reassert. Sometimes he might irretrievably injure a specimen by his too great
ardour in handling it; but still he united the genius of a true geologist with the keen eye of
the mineralogist. Armed with his hammer, his steel pointer, his magnetic needles, his
blowpipe, and his bottle of nitric acid, he was a powerful man of science. He would refer
any mineral to its proper place among the six hundred [l] elementary substances now
enumerated, by its fracture, its appearance, its hardness, its fusibility, its sonorousness, its
smell, and its taste.