— Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2013 —
The Scientific Discovery of Mexico & the American Southwest
With a Grand Map Selected by Streeter as One of the Six Most Desirable Maps for a Texas Collection
187. HUMBOLDT, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander & Aimé Jacques Alexandre Goujaud Bonpland. Essai politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne; par Alexandre de Humboldt. Avec un Atlas Physique et Géographique, fondé sur des observations Astronomiques, des Mesures Trigonométriques et des Nivellemens Barométriques. Tome Premier [Tome Deuxième]. Paris: Chez F. Schoell, Libraire, Rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain-L’Auxerrois, No. 29. de l’Imprimerie de J.H. Stône, 1811. Text: Vol. 1: [1-4, half title and title, versos blank] [5-8, series half title and title, versos blank (Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland. Troisième partie. Essai politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne)] [9-14, dedication leaf and dedicatory text to Charles IV], [i]-xii, xl-xcii, , [i]-iv, -10, 9-152, 151-154, 153-158, 157-198, 197-350, 349-350,  pp.; Text: Vol. 2: , -396, 395-434, 433-504, 503-580, 579-562, 631-634, 633-636, 635-696, 695-868,  bis-867 bis, [1, blank], -904, 2 pp. Last leaf of Vol. I text present in both cancelled and uncancelled states. (Irregularies in pagination are due to inserted leaves, all signed with *.) Atlas: Atlas Géographique et Physique du Royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne, fondé sur des Observations Astronomiques, des Mesures Trigonométriques et des Nivellemens Barométriques. Par Al. de Humboldt. Paris: Chez F. Schoell, Rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain-L’Auxerrois, No. 29. de l’Imprimerie de J.H. Stône, 1811. [4, title and series title, versos blank], -4 pp., 19 leaves of engraved plates on heavy paper, 4 double-page and folded, 6 double-page, 9 single-page: 20 maps, 4 folded profiles in sepia, bronze, and brown aquatint, 2 views of volcanoes in sepia aquatint, and charts. The large Carte générale du royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne is on 2 double sheets. See plate list below. Text: 2 vols., 4to (35.8 x 26.5 cm), contemporary full tan calf, with gilt rolls and on all covers and turn-ins, spines heavily gilt decorated, black morocco gilt-lettered spine labels, raised bands, inner gilt dentelles, blue and red marbled endpapers, edges tinted teal (expertly rebacked, original spines preserved). Joints chafed, corners a bit rubbed (some repaired), covers moderately scratched, interior very fine save for scattered light foxing and a few occasional spots, but overall a fine, tall set of the text, with generous margins. Atlas: Large folio (56.2 x 43 cm), modern three-quarter tan calf over marbled boards, spine with raised bands and black gilt-lettered calf labels, marbled endpapers to match text vols., edges tinted teal. Except for some minor foxing (mostly to endpapers or marginal), the atlas is very fine. Overall a fine, set, with all plates and maps, which are in excellent impressions, large copies with generous margins.
Plate 1 & 1 bis (one map on two folded sheets)
1. Carte Générale du Royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne depuis le Parallele de 16° jusqu’au Parallele de 38° (Latitude Nord). Dressée sur des Observations Astronomiques et sur l’ensemble des Matériaux qui existoient à Mexico, au commencement de l’année 1804. Par Alexandre de Humboldt. Ls. Aubert pere Scripsit.... Image area: 48 x 70 cm. Top half of map of New Spain, showing all or parts of present-day Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Louisiana, Wyoming, Kansas, Utah, and California. At the far northwest is Escalantes “Lac de Timpanogos.” The map extends south to the mouth of the Colorado River and the upper reaches of the Sea of Cortez, Casas Grandes, Presidio del Norte, and “Ft. Nacogdoche.” Rumsey 328.001. For citations to entire two-sheet map see next entry.
1. (bis) [below neat line] Dessiné à Mexico par l’Auteur en 1804, perfectionné par le même, par MM. Friesen, Oltmanns et Thuilier. 1809. Gravé par Barriere-et l’Ecriture par L. Aubert pere, à Paris. Neat line to neat line: 51.8 x 69 cm. Lower half of the map of New Spain, with the northernmost points at Mission San Francisco Borja in Baja California, San Antonio, Galveston Bay, and Mermento River in southern Louisiana. Far south are Chiapas and the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Rumsey 328.002. Citations to entire map: Cohen, pp. 101-102. Hayes, Historical Atlas of the American West, p. 47: “One of the finest maps of the Spanish Southwest... Humboldt’s 1804 manuscript map seems to be one of the first to use the modern spelling of Albuquerque (leaving out the first r.; the spelling is repeated on this map.”Jackson, Shooting the Sun #64, Chapter 11 & p. 380. Martin & Martin (p. 109 & Plate 23) cite the English edition in reduced format); see also Martin & Martin, Contours of Discovery pp. 42-43. Rumsey 328.003 (both sheets). Rumsey, Cartographica Extraordinaire, pp. 20 & 133. Streeter 1042 (dates the map as 1809, designates it as one of the six most desirable maps of Texas, noting in his introduction that it is “the best to that date for the Texas region”). Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West 272* & 302*; Vol. I, pp. 132-138: “Undoubtedly the most important and most accurate published map that had yet appeared.... A truly magnificent cartographic achievement.” The publication sequence of the original seven fascicules indicates the map appeared in the fourth fascicule which came from the press on November 13, 1809.
Plate 2 (one map on folded sheet)
2. Carte du Mexique et des Pays Limitrophes Situés au Nord et à l’Est dressée d’après la grand carte de la Nouvelle-Espagne de Mr. de Humboldt et d’autres Matériaux par J. B. Poirson. 1811. Grave par Barriere. et l’ecriture par L. Aubert. Se trouve à Paris chez F. Schoell, Libraire. Neat line to neat line: 42.8 x 72 cm. Mexico, present-day United States, and the Caribbean south to Jamaica and Santo Domingo. Jackson, Shooting the Sun #65. Ruiz Naufal, et al., El Territorio Mexicano, Vol. I, p. 162 & Vol. II, p. 175. Rumsey 328.004. Streeter 1042n. Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West 275*, 302*, & Vol. I, pp. 133 & 137: “[Humboldt] decided [his map of New Spain] would require too large a sheet...so he left those areas for an overall map to be engraved for him by J.B. Poirson in Paris.... This was an important map, for while it did not itself add to knowledge of the American West, it did put into the hands of the reading public the broad geographical relationship of the American Southwest with the dominions lying to the east.”
Plate 3 (one map on folded sheet)
3. Carte de la Vallée de Mexico et des Montagnes Voisines esquissée sur les Lieux en 1804, par Don Louis Martin redigée et corrigée en 1807 d’après les opérations Trigonométriques de Don Joaquin Velasquez et d’après les observations Astronomiques et les mesures Barométriques de Mr. De Humboldt par Jabbo Oltmanns. Dessiné par G. Grossmann, terminé par F. Friesen à Berlin 1807 et par A. Humboldt à Paris 1808. Gravé par Barriere-et l’Ecriture par L. Aubert pere. Neat line to neat line: 39 x 46 cm. Original tissue guard. Map of the Valley of Mexico including cities, villages, haciendas, and astronomical observatory points. Apenes, Mapas Antiguos del Valle de Mexico #30 & pp. 26-27: “La Carte de la Vallée siguió por más de medio siglo siendo el prototipo de los mapas del Valle de México.” Ruiz Naufal, et al., El Territorio Mexicano, Vol. II, p. 322. Rumsey 328.005.
Plate 4 (eight maps on a half sheet)
 Points de partage et Communications projettées entre le Grand Océan et l’Océan Atlantique. I. Rivière de la Paix et Tacoutché Tessé. II. Rio del Norte et Rio Colorado. III. Rio Huallaga et Rio Huanuco. IV. Golfe de S. Georges et Estero de Aysen. V. Rio de Huasacualco et Rio de Chimalapa. VI. Lac de Nicaragua. VII. Isthme de Panama. VIII. Ravin de la Raspadura et Embarcadero de Naipi. Dessinés par J. B. Poirson. Gravé par Barriere-et l’ecriture par L. Aubert. Image area including eight maps and title: 50 x 34.5 cm. Eight maps showing possible communication points and passage ways from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Areas represented are in North, Central, and South America, stretching from Vancouver to Terra del Fuego. The largest map is entitled: Carte de l’Isthme de Huasacualco. Rumsey 328.006. Map 2 shows West Texas and New Mexico from Paso del Norte north to the headwaters of the Colorado River. Humboldt re-kindled the idea of an interoceanic canal or various water routes between the Atlantic and Pacific.
Plate 5 (one map on a half sheet)
5. Carte Réduite de la Route d’Acapulco à Mexico, Dresée sur des Observations Astronomiques et sur un nivellement Barométrique par A. de Humboldt. Dessiné par A. de Humboldt, à Berlin 1807. Gravé par Barriere et l’Ecriture par L. Aubert. Neat line to neat line: 39.5 x 19.2 cm. Map showing the route from Acapulco to Mexico City. The map includes cities, towns, villages, mines, farms, and astronomical observatory points. Rumsey 328.007.
Plates 6, 7 & 8 (three maps on folded sheet)
Carte de la Route qui mene depuis la Capitale de la Nouvelle Espagne jusqu’a S. Fe de Nouveau Mexique. Dressee sur les Journaux de Don Pedro de Rivera et en partie sur les Observations Astronomiques de Mr. de Humboldt. Gravé par Barriere et l’Ecriture par L. Aubert. Directeur du dit Ouvrage.  Route de Durango à Chihuahua. 8. Dessiné et redigé par F. Friesen, à Berlin 1807. Neat line to neat line: 42 x 12.7 cm.  Route de Chihuahua à Santa Fe 7.... Neat line to neat line: 25.5 x 12.6 cm.  Route de Mexico à Durango. 6.... Neat line to neat line: 34.3 x 12.7 cm. Image area including title: 49.5 x 42.5 cm. Three separate maps show the route from Mexico City to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Map 6 delineates the route from Mexico to Durango, Map 7 from Durango to Chihuahua, and Map 8 from Chihuahua to Santa Fe. Mines, ranchos, haciendas, villages and towns are shown. Rumsey 328.008. Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West 274* & 304*, Vol. I, p. 137: “Among Humboldt’s other maps of interest here may be mentioned that of the route from Mexico City to Santa Fe, taken in part from Humboldt’s own astronomical observations.”
Plate 9 (one map on folded sheet)
9. Carte réduite de la Partie orientale de la Nouvelle Espagne depuis le Plateau de la Ville de Mexico jusqu’au Port de la Veracruz. Dresseé sur les opérations Geódesiques de Don Miguel Costanzo et de Dn. Dgo. Garcia Conde, Officiers au service de sa Majesté Catholique sur les Observationes Astronomiques et le Nivellement Barométrique de Mr. de Humboldt de l’Imprimerie de Langlois. Neat line to neat line: 21.6 x 62.5 cm. Road between Mexico City and Veracruz showing eastern Mexico. Rumsey 328.009. Ruiz Naufal, et al., El Territorio Mexicano, Vol. II, p. 670.
Plate 10 (one map on a half sheet)
10. Carte de Fausses Positions de Mexico, Acapulco, Veracruz et du Pic d’Orizaba. Dessiné par A. de Humboldt à Mexico 1804. Gravé par L. Aubert. Neat line to neat line: 19 x 31.6 cm. This map shows the incorrect positions ascribed to Mexico City, Acapulco, Veracruz, and Orizaba over time, and by whom. Rumsey 328.010. Rumsey, Cartographica Extraordinaire, pp. 21 & 133.
Plate 11 (one map on a half sheet)
11. Plan du Port de Veracruz, Dressé par Don Bernardo de Orta, Capitaine de Vaisseau au service de Sa Majesté Catholique. F. Bauza s. a Madrid. (copié et diminué de moitié par F. Wittich 1807.) d’après le Plan publié par le Deposito hydrografico de Madrid. Le Plan gravé par Barriere et l’Ecriture par L. Aubert, directeur. Paris. Neat line to neat line: 21.8 x 28.7 cm. A detailed plan of the port of Veracruz with soundings and an inset view of the coast at top left. Rumsey 328.011.
Plate 12 (one profile on folded sheet)
12. Tableau physique de la pente Orientale du Plateau de la Nouvelle Espagne, (Chemin de Mexico à Veracruz par Puebla et Xalapa.) Dressé d’après des mesures Barométriques et Trigonométriques, prises en 1804 par Mr. de Humboldt. Dessiné par A. de Humboldt, à Veracruz 1804. Terminé par Wittich et Friesen 1807. Gravé par Bouquet. Les Echelles et l’Ecriture gravées par Aubert. Image area, including title and scales below: 36 x 82.2 cm. Original brown coloring. Original tissue guard present. Presented is a cross section depicting the elevations from Mexico City to Veracruz. Geologic information is included. This profile and Plate 13 following, together present a profile of Mexico. Ulrike Leitner in his essay on Humboldt’s works on Mexico states: “The historian of geography and Humboldt scholar Hanno Beck has often emphasized that Humboldt, probably influenced by his work as a miner, made the profile map, originally a view into the mine from the side, into a scientific instrument. Part of this is the marvelous profile of the Mexican highland—“the first profile ever to be done of an entire country.” Rumsey 328.012.Ruiz Naufal, et al., El Territorio Mexicano, Vol. II, p. 669.
Plate 13 (one profile on folded sheet)
13. Tableau physique de la pente Occidental du Plateau de la Nouvelle Espagne (Chemin de Mexico à Acapulco) Dressé d’aprés des mesures Barométriques prises en 1803 par Mr. de Humboldt. 13. Dessine par Wittich d’apres une esquise de Mr. Humboldt 1807. Gravé par Bouquet. Les Echelles et l’Écriture gravées par Aubert. Image area, including title and scales below: 36.5 x 79.2 cm. Original brown coloring. Original tissue guard present. Cross section depicting the elevations from Acapulco to Mexico City. Geologic information is included. This profile and Plate 12 preceding taken together are the first profile ever made of an entire country. See Leitner’s note in preceding entry. Rumsey 328.013.
Plate 14 (one profile on folded sheet)
14. Tableau du Plateau central des Montagnes du Mexique, entre les 19 et 21° de Latitude boréale, (Chemin de Mexico à Guanaxuato) Dressé d’après le Nivellement Barométrique de Mr. de Humboldt. Esquisé par Alex. Humboldt à Mexico 1803. Dessiné par Raphael Davalos à Mexico 1804 (terminé à Berlin 1807.) Gravé par Bouquet. Les Echelles et l’Ecriture gravées par L Aubert. Image area, including title and scales below: 36 x 81.3 cm. Original charcoal brown coloring. Illustrated here is a cross section depicting the central plateau with elevations from approximately Mexico City to Guanajuato. Geologic information is included. Rumsey 328.014
Plate 15 (one profile on folded sheet)
15. Profil du Canal de Huehuetoca (Desague Real.) Creusé pour préserver la Ville de Mexico du danger des Inondations. Rédige d’aprés les dessins de Don Ignacio Castera et Don Luis Martin par F. Friesen 1808. Gravé par Bouquet-et l’Ecriture gravée par L. Aubert pere. Image area, including title and scales below: 35 x 52.3 cm. Original grey, tan, and brown coloring. Original tissue guard present. This profile and cross section depict Huehuetoca Canal and the drainage system of the Valley of Mexico. Geologic information is included. Rumsey 328.015.
Plate 16 (view on half sheet)
16. Volcans de la Puebla, vus depuis la Ville de Mexico, de l’Imprimerie de Langlois. Fr. Gmelin perf. Romæ 1805. Lud. Martin ad nat. del. 1803. Fr. Arnold sc. Berol. 1807. Image area, including title: 11 x 26.2 cm. Original tan and brown coloring with highlights. Handsome view of the volcanoes from Mexico City. Rumsey 328.016.
Plate 17 (view on half sheet)
17. Pic d’Orizaba vu depuis la Forét de Xalapa. De l’Imprimerie de Langlois. Fr. Gmelin perf. Romæ 1805. A. de Humboldt ad nat. prim. del. 1804. Fr. Arnold sc. Berol. 1807. Image area, including title: 15.9 x 17.58 cm. Original tan and brown coloring with white highlights. Dramatic view of Orizaba. Rumsey 328.017
Plate 18 (plan on half sheet)
18. Plan du Port d’Acapulco. Dressé par les Officiers de la Marine Royale de S.M.C. embarqués sur les Corvettes la Descubierta et l’Atrevida l’annee 1791. Gravé par Barriere. Dessiné à Madrid au Dépôt Hydrographique. L’Ecriture par L. Aubert. Neat line to neat line: 17.2 x 18.5 cm. Plan of the port of Acapulco with soundings shown. Rumsey 328.018.
Plate 19 (plan on half sheet with four charts)
19. Carte des diverses Routes par lesquelles les richesses métalliques refluent d’un Continent à l’autre. Dessiné par J. B. Poirson d’après une exquisee de Mr de Humboldt. Gravé par L. Aubert. Image area, world map, four charts, and titles: 48.5 x 32.2 cm. World map showing trade routes and four charts detailing the amount and monetary worth of gold taken from the mines of Mexico and South America. Date estimated as the last information on the gold production is from 1802. Rumsey 328.019.
Plate 20 (two charts on a half sheet)
20. Tableau comparatif de l’étendue territoriale des Intendances de la Nouvelle-Espagne. II. Etendue territoriale et Population des Métropoles et des Colonies en 1804. Image area, including titles: 53 x 32.3 cm. Two charts showing relative size of the Mexican territories and population figures in the colonies as of 1804. Texas is indicated as the fourth largest region. An ingenious and unusual format for presenting comparative matter. Rumsey 328.020.
First French edition, second issue, preceded by the fascicules issue. Another French edition came out later the same year (5 vols., 8vo, no atlas, but with reduced versions of one map and a plate bound with text). The earliest edition of the text in German was published in Germany at Tübingen between 1809 and 1814, without the atlas. Yale has a partial copy of Vol. I only of the French text dated 1808, with publication at Paris and Tübingen and a presentation inscription on behalf of the author. It is quite different from the present edition, consisting of two parts of the first volume, and extending only to p. 174, which is not a text point that comports with the present edition. The Yale copy also lacks some of the preliminary leaves present here, and all the plates and maps. Regarding the atlas, Streeter in his entry 1042 for his Texas bibliography states: “Harvard has a copy of what as far as I know is a hitherto unrecorded Humboldt atlas with an 1808 title page” (the Harvard 1808 atlas, with imprint of Paris and Tübingen lacks maps 10, 19, and 20).
These seeming inconsistencies are probably due to the complex, lengthy publication history of the text and atlas. Variation in collation of the text and atlas volumes exist, due to the nature of fascicule printing, variations of binding after removing the fascicule wrappers, Humboldt’s perfectionist editing, crushing deadlines, and financial exigencies. For instance, as additional cartographic information became accessible to Humboldt, he incorporated new information into the text volumes that had already been printed. Money, or rather lack thereof, also played a part: “Mainly due to financial constraints, the original publication plans changed several times, much confusing the project’s history. Prepublication of fascicules, excerpts, [and] non-uniform titles and inconsistent title pages all add further confusion to the Humboldtian bibliography” (Andrew Sluyter, “Traveling/Writing the Unworld with Alexander von Humboldt” in Landscapes of a New Cultural Economy of Space, Dordrecht: Springer, 2006).
Ulrike Leitner in his essay on Humboldt’s works on Mexico sets out the dates and collations of the seven fascicules for the present work:
Leitner’s above analysis sheds light on another topic relating to this publication: the presence or absence of the dedication to Charles IV in the first volume of the Paris 1811 two-volume edition in quarto format. Charles IV of Spain granted Humboldt generous and exclusive carte blanche to travel in the Spanish American colonies and access to documents and maps in archives that had been jealously guarded by Spain for centuries. When the dedication is present, the text now and again is declared a very rare variant and purported to date from 1808/1811. Three such “rare variants” are offered on the market at this time, plus the present set. The presence of the dedication to Charles IV in this copy and many others would seem to indicate that the dedication survives in a good many copies. Furthermore, some copies of the five-volume octavo edition of 1811 retain the dedication to Charles IV, as well.
Leitner provides the following collation and chronological sequence for publication of the fascicules (f. = fascicule, p. = page, pl. = plate):
1808 May(?) f. 1: title pages, pp. I-XLVIII, pp. 3-52, pl. 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17.
Sept. 26 f. 2: p. 53-172, pl. 5, 6-8, 12, 18.
1809 May 22 f. 3: p. 172-348, pl. 3, 15.
Vols. 1 and 2
1809 Nov. 13 f. 4: p. XLIV-XCII, p. 349-428(?), pl. 1 and 1bis.
1810 f. 5: p. 429-662.
Bibliographical and cartographic references: Brunet III, col. 373: “Ce magnifique ouvrage.” Cohen, Mapping the West, pp. 100-101. Cowan II, p. 296n (cites London, 1811 edition). Fiedler & Leitner, Alexander von Humboldts Schriften 4.6 & 4.6.10. Francaviglia, Mapping and Imagination in the Great Basin: A Cartographic History, Chapter 4, pp. 43-57. Graff 2009 & 2010 (1811 atlas and the five-volume octavo text). Griffin 2296: “The most valuable single description of the late colony.” Hill I, p. 149n. Hill II #843n: “Contains references to the early exploration of California.” Howes H786: “Of superlative California importance.” Jackson, Shooting the Sun #64, Chapter 11 (with excellent deconstruction of the Humboldt-Pike-Arrowsmith controversy) & p. 380: “The maps of Humboldt, Pike, and Arrowsmith vary considerably in their Texas portions, but taken together represent an understanding of the province not seen on maps published before their time. Between the three of them, they influenced most maps of Texas and northern New Spain for the next two decades.” Löwenberg, Humboldt: Bibliographische Ubersicht 113. Mapa Colombiana, #51 & p. 40. Martin & Martin, 23n (citing the reduced format version of the large map of New Spain in the first English edition) & pp. 19, 32n: “A noteworthy turning point in the cartographic history of Texas.” McNeil & Deas, Europeans in Latin America: Humboldt to Hudson, Part II, p. 5 & #13, p. 6. Miles & Reese, Creating America 23; America Pictured to the Life 45. NYPL Bulletin Vol. 20, “American Interoceanic Canals: A List of Works,” p. 13. Palau 116973 (text) & 116974 (atlas). Paullin, Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, Plates 14C & 30B. Phillips, Atlases 2682. Pilling 1873 (diverse languages, including “Mexican, Escelen, Rumsen, and Noutka”). Plains & Rockies IV:7a:3 & 7a:3a:l: “Humboldt’s discussions of California, New Mexico, Texas, and Northern Mexico are detailed and thorough, containing much data that had never before appeared in print.” Sabin 33756 (text & atlas). Raines, p. 121. Rumsey 328. Rumsey, Cartographica Extraordinaire, p. 133. Schwartz & Ehrenberg, Plate 139 & p. 127: “Humboldt’s map remained the standard map of the Great Basin region until Frémont’s expeditions thirty-five years later.” Strathern 269: “Includes the Spanish exploration of the northwest coast, and a description of the country surrounding Nootka Sound...and information on the fur trade.” Streeter 1042. Streeter Sale 195. Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West, *272, *274, *275, *302, *304, *305 & Vol. I, pp. 132-138: “Humboldt performed a service to all concerned with the science of cartography when he adopted the ‘hachure’ method of showing mountains.”
The focus of this monumental work is New Spain, of which Texas, the Southwest, and California were parts at the time of publication. The work contains the first scientific description of those regions, including a wealth of previously unpublished information Humboldt found in the archives of Mexico. The late William H. Goetzmann repeatedly refers to the influence and inspiration Humboldt’s work exercised on the methods and imaginations of subsequent explorers in those regions, as well as pivotal leaders such as Thomas Jefferson (see Exploration and Empire and Army Exploration in the American West, 1803-1863). In the latter work, Dr. Goetzmann states: “Alexander von Humboldt’s Carte General du Royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne proved to be the most important compendium of knowledge concerning the Southwest.” The grand map of New Spain certainly provided the first widely available and up-to-date map of the northern frontier of New Spain and became the prototype rendering for the next several decades. The publication sequence of the original seven fascicules indicates the map appeared in the fourth fascicule (November 13, 1809).
After a rather dull childhood when the future savant was perceived to be intellectually challenged, Humboldt (1769-1859) discovered his predilection for scientific research and exploration while he was a student. He travelled with Georg Forster, who encouraged his interests (Forster accompanied Captain Cook’s second voyage). He joined the Berlin Enlightenment and adopted French libertarian views. He was very successful in his twenties working in the Prussian bureaucracy as a mining engineer and invented safety lamps and rescue apparatus for miners, but that was not enough for a man of his expanding intellectual interests. After receiving his inheritance, he had the means to pursue his goals, and he did so with great passion and diligence. In 1799 he and French botanist Bonpland (1773-1858) set sail for the New World under the patronage of Charles IV of Spain. Humboldt obtained permission from the Spanish Crown to conduct unrestricted scientific research and gather printed and manuscript data residing in the archives of the Spanish-American colonies. This was an extraordinary opportunity, since for three centuries Spain had with very few exceptions restricted entry mainly to its own subjects. After arrival in Venezuela, Humboldt and Bonpland explored the course of the Orinoco River and established the precise location of the connection between Rio Orinoco and Rio Negro—a question that had baffled geographers for three centuries (Von Hagen, South America Called Them, pp. 87 & 122). Among their many adventures in South America, the fellow travellers ascended the magnificent Chimborazo volcano, reaching an altitude of 19,286 feet (a world record at that time).
Humboldt and Bonpland’s next great adventure was in Mexico. The pair landed at Acapulco in March of 1803 and spent the next year exploring central New Spain. They visited the most populous and most agriculturally productive parts of Mexico. He describes at length mining, minerals, and mining techniques, resulting in European and English interest and investment in Mexico’s mines. Humboldt’s explorations in the archives of Mexico proved to be as productive as his work on the ground, if not more. His work on Mexico covers the physical-geographic basics as well as a differentiated geographic study in terms of population, economy, and society. Besides being a weighty and significant compilation of detailed data and analysis on the latter period of colonial New Spain, the present work is, according to Donald D. Brand, “the first modern regional economic geography...concerned primarily with the sources of wealth and their distribution and utilization” (“Humboldt’s Essai Politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne” in J.H. Schultze, editor, Alexander von Humboldt. Studien zu seiner universalen geistshaltung, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1959, p. 125).
During their sojourn in America, Humboldt and Bonpland “recorded, sketched, described, measured, and compared what they observed and gathered some 60,000 plant specimens, 6,300 of which were hitherto unknown in Europe. Humboldt made maps and amassed exhaustive data in countless fields—magnetism, meteorology, climatology, geology, mineralogy, oceanography, zoology, ethnography. In addition to observations on plant geography and physiognomy, he made historical and linguistic investigations. Humboldt had mutually profitable meetings with South American scholars...and showed as much interest in early Indian monuments as in the current population figures, social conditions, and economic developments. He found slavery to be the greatest evil of humankind, and this remained a matter of paramount concern to him.... This trip has justly been called ‘the scientific discovery of America.’ He gave a major impetus to the study of America.... Humboldt towers as a servant of worldwide science and a humanitarian. His stimulating influence on his contemporaries and on science itself, his humanistic and democratic principles, and his unshakable faith in the constant progress of man have remained exemplary” (Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. V, pp. 549-555). This source should be consulted for a review of the amazing array of Humboldt’s inventions and discoveries, only a few of which include the discovery of the structure of volcanoes, the first measurements of the intensity of the terrestrial magnetic field, the idea of international cooperation for meteorological stations (weather forecasting), study of shooting stars to determine light intensity of southern stars, etc. He laid the foundation for several new fields of study, including physical science, meteorology, economic geography, political geography, and biogeography,
Upon his return to Europe, Humboldt spent much of the next twenty-five years micromanaging the publication of the mass of scientific, geographical, and political information he and Bonpland had collected during their five-year trip. The present work was the third part of Humboldt’s monumental Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent fait en 1799-1804 published at Paris (1805-1834) in over thirty volumes with about 1,200 copper plates (and even then, the work still was not complete). The work Humboldt considered his most important was Kosmos, Entwurf einer Physischen Weltbeschreibung (4 vols., Stuttgart & Tübingen: Cotta, 1845-1862), a complete survey of the physical sciences and their relation to each other (see Printing & the Mind of Man 320).
Humboldt’s quantitative methodology would become known as “Humboldtian science.” Where others perceived isolated facts, he combined observations and saw unity in diversity. He believed an approach to science was needed that could reconcile the harmony of nature with the diversity of the physical world. He viewed nature holistically—microcosm to macrocosm. He wrote: “Nature herself is sublimely eloquent. The stars as they sparkle in firmament fill us with delight and ecstasy, and yet they all move in orbit marked out with mathematical precision.” No wonder his trip has justly been called “the scientific discovery of America,” and Bolivar once said in tribute: “Humboldt has done more good for America than all her conquerors.”
DSRB Home | e-mail: email@example.com