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Alexander von Humboldt: „Letter from C. Humboldt to C. Fourcroy, Member of the French National Institute“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 05.02.2023].

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Titel Letter from C. Humboldt to C. Fourcroy, Member of the French National Institute
Jahr 1801
Ort London
in: The Philosophical Magazine 10:37 (Juni 1801), S. [3]–8.
Sprache Englisch
Schriftart Antiqua
Textnummer Druckausgabe: II.10
Dateiname: 1801-Extrait_d_une_lettre_de_M_Humboldt_au_C-03-neu
Seitenanzahl: 6
Zeichenanzahl: 14465

Weitere Fassungen
Extrait d’une lettre de M. Humboldt, au C. Fourcroy (Paris, 1801, Französisch)
Copie d’une lettre écrite de Cumana, le 16 octobre 1800 (24 vendemiaire an 9). Humboldt au citoyen Fourcroy, membre de l’institut national (Paris, 1801, Französisch)
Letter from C. Humboldt to C. Fourcroy, Member of the French National Institute (London, 1801, Englisch)
Copie van een Brief, geschreven van Cumana, den 16den October 1800 (24 Vendem. an 9.) (Haarlem, 1801, Niederländisch)
Copie d’une lettre écrite de Cumana, le 16 Octobre 1800 (24 Vendémiaire an 9) (Brüssel, 1801, Französisch)
Copia de una carta de Cumaná del 24 Vendimiario, año 8º̣ (16 de Octubre de 1800), inserta en el Monitor ó Gazeta nacional de Francia del 7 Prairial, año 9º̣ (27 de Mayo de 1801); traducida en el Real Estudio de Mineralogía por D. Vicente Gonzalez del Reguero. Humboldt al ciud. Fourcroy, miembro del Instituto nacional (Madrid, 1801, Spanisch)
Extrait d’une lettre de M. Humboldt, au C. Fourcroy (Paris, 1801, Französisch)
Auszug aus einem Briefe des Hrn. v. Humboldt an Hrn. Fourcroy (Weimar, 1802, Deutsch)
Выписка изъ письма Гумбольда къ Г-ну Фуркруа. Изъ Куманы отъ 16 го Октября 1800 го года [Vypiska iz pisʹma Gumbolʹda k G-nu Furkrua. Iz Kumany ot 16 go Oktjabra 1800 go goda] (Sankt Petersburg, 1803, Russisch)
Выписка изъ письма Гумбольда къ Г-ну Фуркруа. Изъ Куманы отъ 16 Октября 1800 года [Vypiska iz pisʹma Gumbolʹda k G-nu Furkrua. Iz Kumany ot 16 Oktjabra 1800 goda] (Sankt Petersburg, 1806, Russisch)

Letter from C. Humboldt to C. Fourcroy, Memberof the French National Inſtitute.

The capture of the iſland of Curacao, by the Engliſhand the Americans, having obliged the agent of the republic,C. Breſſot, and general Jeannet to re-embark their troops, inorder to return to Guadaloupe, they have put into this portfor want of proviſions; and though they intend to remainonly twenty-four hours, I have endeavoured to collect foryou ſome objects worthy of your attention, and which Ihope will reach you in ſafety. You are well enough ac-quainted with the nature of my travels, and the difficulty andexpenſe attending conveyance in the centre of a vaſt conti-nent, to know that my object is rather to collect ideas thanthings. A ſociety of naturaliſts ſent out by government, ac-companied with painters, collectors, packers, &c., might beable to embrace all the detail of the deſcriptive part of na-tural hiſtory, and, no doubt, would do ſo; but a private per-ſon, of a very moderate fortune, who undertakes a voyageround the world, ought to confine himſelf to objects more in-tereſting. To ſtudy the formation of the globe, and theſtrata which compoſe it; to analyſe the atmoſphere; to mea-ſure, with the moſt accurate inſtruments, its elaſticity, itstemperature, its humidity, its electric and magnetic charge;to obſerve the influence of climate on the animal and vege-table œconomy; to compare, on a grand ſcale, the chemiſtryand phyſiology of organized beings; — ſuch is the labour whichI have propoſed. But, without loſing ſight of this principalobject of my voyage, you may readily conceive that, withmuch zeal and a little activity, two men, who traverſe an un-known continent, may at the ſame time collect a great manythings, and make a great many obſervations. |4| During the ſixteen months we have been traverſing thevaſt territory ſituated between the coaſt, the Orenoquo, Rio-Nigro, and the river of the Amazons, C. Bonpland hasdried, with duplicates, more than ſix thouſand plants. Ihave deſcribed with him on the ſpot twelve hundred ſpe-cies, great part of which appeared to us to belong to generanot deſcribed by Aublet, Jacquin, Mutis, or Dombey. Wehave collected inſects, ſhells, and different kinds of woodproper for dyeing; we have diſſected crocodiles, lamantins,apes, and the gymnotus electricus, the fluid of which is ab-ſolutely galvanic and not electric; and have deſcribed a greatmany ſerpents, lizards, and fiſh. I have made drawings of a great number of objects; in aword, I flatter myſelf that if I have erred it is rather throughignorance than want of activity. What enjoyment to livein the midſt of theſe riches of nature, ſo majeſtic and grand!Behold, then, the deareſt and moſt ardent of my wiſhes gra-tified! Amidſt the thick foreſts of the Rio-Nigro; ſurroundedby ferocious tygers and crocodiles; my body tormented withthe ſtings of the formidable moſkitos and ants; having hadfor three months no other aliment than water, bananas, andmanioc, among the Otomaqua Indians, who eat earth; oron the banks of the Caſquiara, under the equator, where, inthe courſe of a hundred and thirty leagues, no human beingis ſeen; — in all theſe embarraſſing ſituations I never repentedof my undertakings: my ſufferings have been great, but theywere only momentary. When I left Spain I intended to proceed directly toMexico, thence to Peru and the Philippines; but a ma-lignant fever, which broke out in our frigate, induced me toremain on this coaſt of South America; and, thinking it poſſi-ble to penetrate thence into the interior, I undertook two jour-neys, one to the miſſions of the Chayma Indians of Paria, andthe other to that vaſt country ſituated to the north of the riverof the Amazons, between Popayan and the mountains of theFrench part of Guyana. We twice paſſed the grand cata-racts of the Orenoquo, and thoſe of Atures and Maypura, inlat. 50° 12′ and long. 5° 39′, W. dep. from Paris 4° 43′ and4° 41′ 40″. From the mouth of the Guaviara and the rivers Atabapo, Temi, and Tuamini, I cauſed my pirogua to becarried by land as far as the Rio-Nigro, while we followedon foot through foreſts of Hevea, Cinchona, and CanellaWintertona. I deſcended the Rio-Nigro as far as SaintCarlos * that I might determine its longitude by Berthoud’s
* The error in the latitude (d’Anville’s chart) is more than two de-grees, as it had never been determined by aſtronomical inſtruments.
|5| time-keeper, with which I am ſtill well ſatisfied. I aſcendedthe Caſquiara inhabited by the Ydapaminares, who eat nothingbut ants dried in the ſmoke. I penetrated to the ſources of theOrenoquo, even beyond the volcano of Duida, or as far as theferocity of the Guaica and Guaharribo Indians would permitme to venture, and I deſcended the whole of the Orenoquo,by the force of its current, as far as the capital of Guyana;performing a journey of 500 leagues in twenty-fix days,without counting thoſe on which we ſtopped.
My health has withſtood all the fatigues of a journey ofmore than 1300 leagues; but my poor companion, C. Bon-pland, had nearly fallen a victim to his zeal and devotionfor the ſciences. After our return, he was attacked by aviolent fever, accompanied with a dangerous vomiting;which, however, was ſpeedily cured. The river of the Amazons has been inhabited for 200years by Europeans; but on the Orenoquo and the Rio-Nigro, it was only about thirty years ago that the Europeansventured to form a few ſettlements beyond the cataracts.Thoſe which exiſt do not comprehend above 1800 Indians,from the eighth degree to the equator; and there are no otherwhites than ſix or ſeven miſſionary monks, who did everything they could to facilitate our journey. From St. Thomas, the capital of Guyana, lat 8° 8′ 24″,long. 4° 25′ 2″, we croſſed once more the great deſert calledElanos, inhabited by wild cattle and horſes. I am now em-ployed in conſtructing a map of the country through whichI have travelled. I have been ſo fortunate as to make aſtro-nomical obſervations in fifty-four places. I obſerved at Ca-raccas, Cumana, and Tuy, twelve eclipſes of the ſatellites ofJupiter; an eclipſe of the ſun on the 28th of October 1799.By theſe means, and the chronometer, I flatter myſelf I ſhallbe able to give a very exact map. We ſhall embark here atlength for the Havannah, from which we ſhall proceed toMexico. — Such is the ſummary of my travels. I know thatyou, Chaptal, Vauquelin, Guyton, are all intereſted in myfate; and for that reaſon I am not afraid of tiring you. We have ſcarcely any communication here with Europe.I have often attempted to write to you, as well as to ourfriends Vauquelin and Chaptal. I have ſent you ſome ex-periments on air, and the cauſe of miaſmata. I have ſentto Delambre and Lalande, extracts from my ſmall aſtrono-mical obſervations. Have any of theſe reached the place oftheir deſtination? By the conſul of the republic at SaintThomas I tranſmitted to you the milk of a tree which theIndians call the cow, becauſe they drink this milky juice, |6| which is not at all prejudicial, but exceedingly nouriſhing.By the help of the nitric acid I have made caoutchouc,and I mixed ſoda with that deſtined for you, according tothe principles which you yourſelf fixed. In the month of January laſt we ſent, by the corvette Phi-lippina, a collection of ſeeds for the Jardins des Plantes atParis. We know they have arrived, and muſt have beendelivered to citizens Juſſieu and Thoum by the ambaſſador ofthe republic at Madrid. By the flag of truce, which we ex-pect here from Guadaloupe, the muſæum will receive otherarticles; for at preſent we muſt be fatisfied with preſentingyou a few objects for your chemical analyſis. I have procured for you the curare, or celebrated poiſon ofthe Indians on the Rio-Nigro. I undertook a journey toEnneralda on purpoſe to ſee the liane, which produces thisjuice, but unfortunately we found it without flowers; andto ſee the method practiſed by the Catarapeni and Maquiri-tures Indians for making this poiſon. I ſhall give you, ſomeother time, a more ample deſcription of it. I ſhall only add,that I ſend you the curare in a box of tin plate*, and thebranches of the plant maracury, which produces the poiſon.This liane grows, but not in great abundance, among thegranitic mountains of Guandia and Yumariquin, under theſhade of the theobromacacao and the caryocar. The Indianstake off the epidermis and make an infuſion of it cold, havingfirſt expreſſed the juice; they then leave the water over theepidermis half expreſſed, and afterwards filter the infuſion. Thefiltered liquor is yellowiſh: it is then baked, and concentratedby evaporation and inſpiſſation to the conſiſtence of molaſſes.This matter contains already the poiſon, but not being ſuffi-ciently thick to daub over the points of their arrows, theymix it with the glutinous juice of another tree, which theycall kiracaguero. This mixture is again baked till the wholeis reduced to a browniſh maſs. You know that the curare is taken internally as a ſtomachic: it is not noxious butwhen it comes into contact with the blood, which it deoxydates.It is only a few days ago that I began to make experimentsupon it, and I have found that it decompoſes atmoſphericair. I beg you will try to de-oxydate with it the metallicoxyds, and that you will examine whether the experimentsof Fontana were properly made. I add to the curare and the marecury, the dapitche, the leche de pindare, and the earth of the Otomaquas. The da-pitche is a ſtate of the elaſtic gum, which, is, no doubt, un-
* This box, and the other articles announced here, have not yet reachedC. Fourcroy.
|7| known to you. We diſcovered it in a place where there isno hevea, in the marſhes of the mountain of Javita, lat. 2° 5′,which are ſamous on account of the terrible ſerpents, of theboa kind, found in them.
Among the Pormiſano and Paragini Indians we ſaw mu-ſical inſtruments made of the caoutehouc, and the inha-bitants told us they found it in the earth. The dapitche or zapir is really a ſpongy white maſs found under the roots oftwo trees, which appeared to us of a new genus, the jacio andthe curvana, and of which we ſhall one day give a deſcription.The juice of theſe trees is a very aqueous milk, but it appearsthat it is a malady in theſe trees to loſe the juice by the roots.This diſcharge cauſes the tree to periſh, and the milk coagu-lates in the moiſt earth, where it is preſerved from the con-tact of the air. I ſend you the dapitche itſelf, and a maſs ofcaoutchouc made from it, merely by expoſing it to heat ordiſſolving it over the fire. This production, and the milk ofthe cow, in your hands, will ſerve to throw new light on thisſubſtance, ſo curious in a phyſiological point of view. The leche de pindare, which is the dried milk of a pindar-tree, is a natural white varniſh. The Indians cover theirveſſels and tacuma with this milk when it is freſh. It driesſpeedily, and forms a very beautiful varniſh; but, unfortu-nately, it becomes yellow when dried in a large maſs; andit is in this ſtate that I ſend it to you. In regard to the earth of the Otomaquas, I muſt obſervethat this nation, ſo hideous by the paintings which disfiguretheir bodies, when the Orenoquo is very high, and they canfind no tortoiſes, for three months eat ſcarcely any thing buta kind of fat earth. There are ſome of them who eat apound and a half of it per day. Some of the monks aſſertthat they mix with it the fat of the tails of crocodiles: butthis is falſe. We found among the Otomaquas ſtores of thepure earth which they eat: they give it no other preparationthan that of burning it ſlightly, and rendering it moiſt. Itappears to me aſtoniſhing that people can be robuſt and eata pound and a half of earth daily, while we find that earthproduces a very pernicious effect among children. My ownexperiments on earths and their properties, however, giveme reaſon to ſuſpect that they may be nouriſhing; that is toſay, that they may act by affinities. I add for the muſæum, becauſe it has fallen into my hands,the ſmoking inſtrument of the Otomaquas, and a ſhirt of thePiroas, a neighbouring nation. This ſmoking inſtrument isnone of the ſmalleſt, as you will ſee. It is a kind of plate, |8| on which they place the raſped and rotten fruit of a mimoſa,mixed with ſalt and a little quick-lime. The Otomaquaholds the plate in one hand and in the other the tube, thetwo ends of which enter his noſtrils, that he may inhale thisſtimulating tobacco. This inſtrument has a hiſtorical in-tereſt: it is common only to the Otomaquas and the Ome-guas, two nations who at preſent are 300 leagues diſtantfrom each other, among whom Condamine ſaw it. It provesthat the Omeguas, who, according to an old tradition, camefrom Guaviara, may be deſcended from the Otomaquas, andthat the city of Manoa was ſeen by Phillip de Vure betweenMeta and Guaviara. Theſe facts are intereſting in regardto the origin of the fable of the Dorado. The ſhirt, which one of my people wore for a long time,is the bark of the tree called morima, without any preparation.You ſee that ſhirts grow upon trees in this country, and nearthe Dorado, where I found no mineral curioſities but talc anda little titanium. It has been impoſſible for us to arrange the ſeeds and plantsof the Rio-Nigro deſtined for Thouin, Juſſieu, and Desfon-taines, who will not altogether have forgotten me. We havevery uncommon things; for example, new kinds of befaria, new genera of palms; all which we ſhall ſoon diſpatch, andbe aſſured that we ſhall not loſe ſight of the intereſts of themuſæum. But alas! captain Baudin has ſet out, and we arehere! This is very hard and diſtreſſing. We ſhall perhapsfind him in the South Sea. I beg you will remember me to the reſpectable membersof the National Inſtitute: my reſpects to Berthollet, Chaptal, Vauquelin, Guyton, Juſſieu, Desfontaines, Halley, Delam-bre, Laplace, Cuvier. In the letter which I ſend to De-lambre I forgot an eclipſe, which I beg you will add to it. Immerſion of the 3d ſatellite on the 4th of October 1800,at Cumana, at 16 h. 59′ 36″ mean time. P. S. Repeat, I beg of you, my requeſt to the Board ofLongitude for the Connoiſſances des Tems. I regret thedeath of general Deſaix. What a loſs to the republic and allmankind!