HUMBOLDT, Alexander von (1769-1859). Autograph letter signed ('Humboldt') to an unidentified recipient (presumably in Cuba, possibly Juan de la Cuesta), Cartagena [modern Colombia], 30 March 1801, in French (some phrases in Spanish), 2 pages, 4to, integral blank, docketed 'Humblot' (wear to integral blank).
HUMBOLDT ON HIS LEGENDARY LATIN AMERICAN EXPEDITION. Humboldt writes at the moment of having regained the mainland after a stay of some months in Cuba: 'Nous sommes sains et saufs mais la Navigation était detestable. 21 jours de traversée': he goes on to describe the rigours of the voyage, including flat calms and a mishap in the Gulf of Darien owing to the pilot having failed to take the ocean currents into account and refusing to trust Humboldt's chronometer. He was delighted with his landfall in South America, 'une terre vierge et intacte ... cette Amerique meridionale est belle', but the dangers of the navigation resumed, and on Palm Sunday, the anniversary of his near-disaster in the Orinoco River, 'nous fumes en grand danger devant le port de Carthagene. Un coup de vent nous submergea et el timon no governava mas [the rudder ceased to steer]'. His next move will be towards Santa Fe [i.e. Bogota] and Popayan; he refers to an enclosure to be forwarded to his brother (Wilhelm von Humboldt), and sends regards from his travelling companion Aimé Bonpland and to a group of acquaintances.
Humboldt's letter to his brother, to which he refers, is known from a text printed in the Neue Berliner Monatsschrift (vol.VI, p.394ff), where it is dated 1 April: there too he makes much of the perilous entrance into Cartagena harbour, quoting the helmsman's dramatic cry 'No gobierna el timon!'. Alexander von Humboldt's Latin American expedition of 1799-1804 is one of the most influential scientific journeys in history, virtually inventing the disciplines of physical geography and meteorology and making major contributions to fields as diverse as botany and demographics. According to American Book Prices Current, NO LETTER WRITTEN DURING THE LATIN AMERICAN EXPEDITION HAS APPEARED AT AUCTION IN 35 YEARS.