FRIEDRICH WILHELM HEINRICH ALEXANDER, BARON VON HUMBOLDT (1769-1859) and AIMÉ JACQUES ALEXANDRE BONPLAND (1773-1858)
Vues des Cordillères, et monumens des peuples de l'Amérique. Paris: F.Schoell, 1810.
Large 2° (56 x 40cm). Half-titles to general and section title, 3 sub-section titles, engraved dedication to Visconti, 16pp introduction dated 1813. 69 ENGRAVED, ETCHED AND AQUATINT PLATES on 68 leaves by Bouquet and others, several printed in sepia, 26 hand-coloured, one double-page. (Some general light marginal spotting, affecting a few plates, small tears to blank margins of three plates.) Contemporary mottled boards, neatly rebacked and cornered in mottled calf, spine in seven compartments with raised bands, red or green morocco lettering-piece in two compartemnts, the others ruled in gilt.
A FINE COPY OF ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PUBLICATIONS RESULTING FROM HUMBOLDT AND BONPLAND'S JOURNEY THROUGH CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA. It is the first part Relation Historique, which itself is part of the 30 volume work, to which should be added five supplementary volumes by other authors. THE PRESENT PUBLICATION IS MOST NOTABLE FOR ITS REMARKABLE AQUATINT VIEWS OF SOUTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA, engraved after Humboldt's original sketches, with the colouring executed under his personal supervision. Almost equally important is the extensive treatment of pre-Columbian and immediately post-Columbian codices. It includes the first publication of any part of the famed Dresden Codex, the most extensive of surviving post-Columbian codices with fine coloured aquatint illustrations. Also included are coloured illustrations of the Codex Mendoza, as well as plates drawn fron various other important codices.
The expedition is one of the great explorations of the Americas, and opened up the South American Continent to the scientific explorers of the the 19th Century. However, this great scientific venture occured by chance. Humboldt, biologist, geographer and cosmic scientist, was born in Berlin, and after studies at the Universities of Frankfurt and Goettingen, and under George Forster in England, joined the famous Freiburg school of mines and in 1792 became director general of mines at Anspach and Bayreuth. On the death of his mother in 1796 he planned to travel, and whilst in Paris in 1798 met the botanist Bonpland who persuaded him to undertake an expedition to Egypt and North Africa. In Marseilles their vessel to take them to Tunis was delayed, and they travelled to Spain hoping to find another passage. To obtain further finance for his expenses, Humboldt approached the Berlin bankers Mendelssohn and Friedländer, who out of a sense of cultural responsibility, granted him unlimited funds in Madrid. At this point Humboldt decided to pursue his great ambition, using these funds. He managed to obtain two audiences with King Charles IV, who was impressed by his knowledge of geology and minerals, and soon they received a special passport from the Spanish government, stating that he had been requested to collect minerals and plants on a journey to Cuba, Mexico, New Granada (Colombia), Peru, Chile and Buenos Aires, permitting him to use any Spanish ship; Bonpland was declared to be his secretary. The two scientists embarked in the frigate Pizarro from Corunna for the New World in June 1799, arriving at Cumaná in Venezuela the following month, and at Caracas in February 1800. Humboldt and Bonpland's explorations in the Americas lasted 5 years and covered three regions.
The first journey began at Caracas where the party spent 4 months travelling south to the river Orinoco, and from there down the river to its source, a plateau watershed, where the Casaquaire river meets the Orinoco, and goes on to join the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon on the border with Brazil, thus forming a continuous waterway, a unique example of the confluence of two vast river basins in the centre of a continent. The party collected numerous botanical specimens on the trip, many of which failed to survive the damp and the insects. However on their return down the Orinocco they set off for Cuba, where two plant collections were despatched to the Natural Science Museum in Madrid, and a collection of exotic animals from the rainforest to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Whilst at sea numerous astronomical observations were carried out. Humboldt had planned to travel via Mexico to the Philippines, but on hearing the news that Baudin with his two ships was planning to round the Horn and stop off at Lima, Peru, the expedition set off in 1801 to meet Baudin, sailing to Cartagena in Colombia. Their instruments were sent by ship around the Horn, and they set off overland, travelling up the Magdelena river to Bogota, crossing the Cordilleras and exploring the northern Andes. They reached Quito on 6th January 1802, ascended Chimborazo (18,000 feet high) and investigated the headstream of the Amazon, descending to Lima, where they hoped to meet Baudin. Baudin however had turned back from the Horn and sailed to the Pacific via the Cape. Humboldt therefore sailed from Lima via Guayaquil to Acapulco on the west coast of Mexico arriving in March 1803. The expedition made its headquarters in Mexico City, travelling around Mexico and gathering information for almost a year. In March 1804 they departed for Cuba, returning to Bordeaux via Philadelphia where Humboldt met Jefferson, arriving back in France in August. Immediately after his return to Paris, Humboldt commenced work on his account and results of his travels.
The edition of the complete work was small and the French, Russian, Prussian and Austrian governments all subscribed to a number of copies for distribution to university and school libraries. Even during the course of the publication, some volumes went out-of-print and it was difficult to complete sets.
Beck, Alexander von Humboldt, Wiesbaden, 1959-61, for a discussion of the complete work; Palau 117013; Brunet III-373; Sabin 33754.