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Alexander von Humboldt: „Letter from M. Humboldt to C. Delambres, one of the perpetual Secretaries of the National Institute“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 19.07.2024].

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Titel Letter from M. Humboldt to C. Delambres, one of the perpetual Secretaries of the National Institute
Jahr 1803
Ort London
in: The Philosophical Magazine 16:62 (Juli 1803), S. 165–172.
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua (mit lang-s); Auszeichnung: Kursivierung, Kapitälchen; Schmuck: Initialen.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: II.17
Dateiname: 1803-Copie_d_une-03-neu
Seitenanzahl: 8
Zeichenanzahl: 17643

Weitere Fassungen
Copie d’une lettre de M. Humboldt, adressée au C. Delambre, l’un des secrétaires perpétuels de l’Institut national (datée de Lima le 25 novembre 1802) (Paris, 1803, Französisch)
Auszug aus einem Briefe des Hrn. Alexander von Humboldt an Hrn. Delambre (Weimar, 1803, Deutsch)
Letter from M. Humboldt to C. Delambres, one of the perpetual Secretaries of the National Institute (London, 1803, Englisch)
Copie d’une lettre lue à la classe des sciences physiques et mathématiques de l’Institut national. Alexandre Humboldt au citoyen Delambre, secrétaire perpétuel de l’Institut national (Paris, 1803, Französisch)
Copie d’une lettre lue à la Classe des Sciences physiques et mathématiques de l’Institut national. Alexandre Humboldt, au cit. Delambre, Secrétaire perpétuel de l’Institut national (Paris, 1803, Französisch)
Alexandre Humboldt au Citoyen Delambre, Secrétaire perpétuel de l’Institut National (London, 1803, Französisch)
Kurzer Auszug aus Hrn. Alexand. v. Humboldt’s Brief (aus Lima vom 25 Nov. 1802) an B. Delambre zu Paris (Weimar, 1803, Deutsch)
Schreiben Alexanders v. Humbold, an den B. Delambre, immerwährenden Sekretär des National-Instituts, Lima, vom 25 Nov. 1802 (Ulm, 1803, Deutsch)
Copy of a letter read in the class of physical and mathematical sciences. Alexander Humboldt to Citizen Delambre, Perpetual Secretary of the National Institute. From Lima, the 25th November, 1802 (London, 1803, Englisch)
Extrait d’une lettre d’Alexandre Humboldt au C. Delambre, secrétaire-perpétuel de l’institut national (Brüssel, 1803, Französisch)
Letter from M. Humboldt to M. Delambre, relative to his Travels in South America (London, 1803, Englisch)
Copie d’une lettre de M. Humboldt, adressée au citoyen Delambre, l’un des secrétaires perpétuels de l’Institut national (datée de Lima le 25 novembre 1802) (Paris, 1803, Französisch)
Brief van Alexander v. Humbold aan den B. Delambre, Aanhoudenden Geheimschryver van het Nat. Institut te Parys (Haarlem, 1803, Niederländisch)
Briefe des Herrn Oberbergraths von Humboldt (Berlin; Stettin, 1803, Deutsch)
Brief des Herrn von Humboldt an Delambre, beständigen Secretär des Instituts (Leipzig, 1803, Deutsch)
A letter from Baron Humboldt to a member of the National Institute at Paris (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1804, Englisch)
[Copie d’une lettre de M. Humboldt, adressée au citoyen Delambre, l’un des secrétaires perpétuels de l’Institut national (datée de Lima le 25 novembre 1802)] (London, 1805, Englisch)

Letter from M. Humboldt to C. Delambres, one of the perpetual Secretaries of the National Institute *.

my respected friend,

I have just arrived from the interior of a country wherein a large plain I made experiments on the small horary
* From Annales du Museum d’Histoire Naturelle, No. 8.
|166| variations of the magnetic needle; and I learn, with regret,that the frigate Astigarraga, which was not to set out beforethe end of a fortnight, has hastened her departure for Cadiz,and will sail this very night. This is the first opportunitywe have had during five months of writing to Europe fromthe solitude of the South Seas; and the want of time ren-ders it impossible for me to write as I ought to the NationalInstitute, which has given me the most affecting marks ofthe interest and kindness with which it honours me. A fewdays before my departure from Quito for Jaën and the riverAmazon, I received the letter dated Pluviose 9th, addressedto me, through you, by that illustrious body. This letteremployed two years to reach me in the Cordillera of the Andes: I received it the day after a second excursion whichI made to the crater of the volcano of Pinchincha to carrythither a Volta’s electrometer, and to measure the diameterof it, which I found to be 752 toises, while that of Vesu-vius is only 312. This reminded me that on the summitof Guaguapichincha, where I have often been, and whichI love as classical ground, La Condamine and Bouguer re-ceived their first letter from the ci-devant academy; and Ifigure to myself that Pinchincha, si magna licet componereparvis, is fortunate to philosophers. It is impossible forme to express the joy with which I read that letter of theInstitute, and the repeated assurances of your remem-brance. How agreeable it is to know that one lives in thememory of those whose labours continually tend to favourthe progress of the human mind! In the deserts of theplains of the Apure, in the thick forests of Casiguiare andof the Oronoko, every where, in short, your names havebeen present to me; and, while reviewing the different pe-riods of my erratic life, I stopped with pleasure on that ofthe years 6 and 7, when I lived among you, and when La-place, Fourcroy, Vauquelin, Guyton, Chaptal, Jussieu, Desfontaines, Hallé, Lalande, Prony, and you in parti-cular, loaded me with kindness in the plains of Lieusaint.Receive together the homage of my tender attachment andof my constant gratitude.
Long before I received the letter which you wrote to mein your quality of secretary to the Institute, I successivelyaddressed to the Class of the Physical and MathematicalSciences three letters, two from Santa-Fé di Bogota, accom-panied with a work on a genus of cinchona; that is to say,specimens of seven kinds of bark, with coloured drawingsof these vegetables; the anatomy of the flower so differentby the length of its stamina, and the skeletons carefully |167| dried. Dr. Mutis, who showed me a thousand marks ofkindness, and for whose sake I went up the river in fortydays, gave me a manuscript of nearly a hundred magnifi-cent drawings representing new genera, and new species ofhis Flora of Bogota. I have thought that this collection,as interesting to botany as remarkable for the beauty of thecolouring, could not be in better hands than in those of Jussieu, Lamarck, and Desfontaines; and I have presentedit to the National Institute as a small mark of my attach-ment. This collection and cinchona were sent off for Car-thagena of the Indies about the month of June this year;and Dr. Mutis took upon him to transmit them to Paris.A third letter for the Institute was dispatched from Quitowith a geological collection of the productions of Pinchin-cha, Catopaxi, and Chimborazo. It is distressing to re-main under a melancholy uncertainty in regard to the ar-rival of those objects, as well as to that of the collection ofrare seeds, which three years ago I addressed to the Jardindes Plantes at Paris. Want of time at present will not allow me to give you anaccount of my travels and occupations since our return fromRio Negro. You know that at the Havannah we receivedthe false intelligence of the departure of captain Baudin forBuenos Ayres. Faithful to the promise which I made ofjoining him wherever I could, and persuaded that I shouldbe more useful to the sciences by uniting my labours tothose of the naturalists who accompanied captain Baudin,I did not hesitate a moment to sacrifice the little glory offinishing my own expedition; and I immediately freighteda small vessel to Bataban, that I might proceed to Cartha-gena of the Indies. This short passage was lengthenedmore than a month by stormy weather; the winds hadceased in the South Seas, where I expected to find captain Baudin; and I entered on the difficult route to Quito byHonda, Ibagué, the passage of the mountain of Quindin,Popayan, and Pastos. My health continued in a wonderfulmanner to withstand the change of temperature to which oneis exposed in this route, descending every day from snowyregions of 2460 toises in height to scorching valleys wherethe thermometer does not fall below 26° or 24°. My com-panion Bonpland, whose knowledge, courage, and immenseactivity were of great assistance to me in my botanical re-searches and comparative anatomy, was afflicted for twomonths with a tertian fever. The season of the great rainscame upon us in the most critical passage, the high plainof Pastos, and after a journey of eight months we arrived |168| at Quito, where we learned that captain Baudin had pur-sued his voyage from west to east by the Cape of GoodHope. Accustomed to misfortunes, we consoled ourselveswith the idea of having made so great sacrifices for an in-tention of doing good: casting our eyes on our herbals, ourbarometric and geodesic measurements, our drawings, andour experiments on the air of the Cordillera, we did notregret our having traversed that country, a great part ofwhich has never been visited by any naturalists. We weresensible that man ought never to depend on any thing butwhat is produced by his own energy. The province ofQuito, the highest land in the world, and torn by the grandcatastrophe of the 4th of February 1797, furnished us witha vast field for physical observations. Volcanoes so enor-mous, the flames of which often rise to the height of 500toises, have never been able to produce a drop of liquidlava; they vomit up fire, sulphurous hydrogen gas, mud,and carbonated argil. Since 1797 this whole part of theworld has been in agitation; we every moment experiencefrightful shocks, and the subterranean noise in the plainsof Rio Bamba resembles that of a mountain crumblingto pieces under our feet. The atmospheric air and moist-ened earth (all these volcanoes are in decomposed porphyry)appear to be the grand agents of these combustions andthese subterranean fermentations. It has hitherto been believed at Quito that 2470 toisesis the greatest height at which men could resist the rarityof the air. In the month of March 1802 we spent somedays in the large plains which surround the volcano of An-tisana at 2107 fathoms, where the oxen, when hunted,often vomit up blood. On the 16th of March we foundout a passage over the snow, a gentle acclivity, on whichwe ascended to the height of 2773 toises. The air therecontained 0·008 of carbonic acid, 0·218 of oxygen, and0·774 of azote. Reaumur’s thermometer was only at 15°;it was not at all cold, but the blood issued from our lips andeyes. The situation did not permit me to make a trial of Borda’s compass but in a grotto lower down at the heightof 2467 toises: the intensity of the magnetic forces wasgreater at that height than at Quito in the ratio of 230 to218: but it must not be forgotten that the number of oscil-lations often increases when the inclination decreases, andthat this intensity is increased by the mass of the mountain,the porphyry of which affects the magnet. In the expedi-tion I undertook on the 23d of June 1802 to Chimborazo,we proved that with patience it is possible to sustain a |169| greater rarity of the air. We ascended 500 toises higherthan Condamine (on Carazon), and on Chimborazo wecarried our instruments to the height of 3031 toises, wherewe saw the barometer fall to 13 inches 11·2 lines: the ther-mometer was at 1·3° below zero. We still bled at the lips;our Indians deserted us as usual; C. Bonpland, and M. Mon-tufar, son of the marquis de Salvalegre of Quito, were theonly persons who remained. We all experienced an unea-siness, debility, and desire to vomit, which certainly aroseas much from the want of oxygen in these regions as fromthe rarity of the air. At that immense height I found only0·20 of oxygen. A frightful chasm prevented us fromreaching the summit of Chimborazo, of which we werewithin 236 toises. You know that a great uncertainty stillprevails in regard to the height of this colossus, which LaCondamine measured only at a very great distance, assign-ing to it the height of nearly 3220 toises, whereas Don Juan makes it 3380 toises; nor does this difference arise from thedifferent heights which these astronomers adopted for thesignal of Carabura. I measured in the plain of Tapia a baseof 1702 metres. Pardon me if I speak sometimes of toisesand sometimes of metres, according to the nature of my in-struments. You know that in publication every thing maybe reduced to the metre and centigrade thermometer. Twogeodosic operations gave me for Chimborazo 3267 toisesabove the level of the sea; but the calculations must be recti-fied by the distances of the sextant from the artificial horizonand by other circumstances. The volcano of Tunguraguahas decreased a great deal since the time of La Condamine:instead of 2620 toises I found no more than 2531; and, inmy opinion, this does not arise from an error in the opera-tions, because in my measures of Cayambe, Antisana, Co-topaxi, and Iliniza, I seldom differ ten or fifteen toisesfrom the results of La Condamine and Bouguer. The in-habitants of these unfortunate countries all say that Tungu-ragua has visibly decreased in height: on the other hand, Ifind that Cotopaxi, which has been subject to such immenseexplosions, is of the same height as in 1744, or rathersomewhat higher. But the stony summit of Cotopaxi in-dicates that it is a chimney, which resists and retains itsfigure. The operations we made from January to July inthe Andes of Quito gave to their inhabitants the dismal in-telligence that the crater of Pinchincha, which La Conda-mine saw full of snow, burns again; and that Chimborazo,which was thought to be so peaceable and innocent, hasbeen a volcano, and perhaps will one day be so again. We |170| found burnt rocks and pumice-stone at the height of 3031toises. It will be unfortunate for the human race if thevolcanic fire, for it may be said that the whole high landof Quito is one volcano with several summits, should forcea passage through Chimborazo. It has often been saidthat this mountain is granite, but a single atom of it is notto be found: it is porphyry, here and there disposed incolumns inclosing vitreous feld-spar, corncerre and oli-vin. This stratum of porphyry is 1900 toises in thickness.On this subject I could mention a polarizing porphyry which we discovered at Voisaco near Pasto; a porphyrywhich, analogous to the serpentine I described in the Jour-nal de Physique, has poles without attraction. I mightmention other facts relative to the grand law of the paral-lelism of the strata, and of their enormous thickness nearthe equator: but this is too much for a letter, which perhapswill be lost; and besides, I shall recur to this subject an-other time: I shall only add, that besides the elephantsteeth which we sent to C. Cuvier from the land of Santa-Fé, 1350 toises in height, we have preserved for him othersmore beautiful; some of the carnivorous elephant, andothers of a species a little different from those of Africa,brought from the valley of Timana, the town of Ibarra,and from Chili. Here then we have confirmed the exist-ence of that carnivorous monster from the river Ohio from50° northern latitude to 35° south latitude, I spent a veryagreeable time at Quito. The president of audience baron de Carondelet loaded us with kindness, and for three yearsI have not once had reason to complain of the agents of theSpanish government, which have every where treated mewith a delicacy and distinction of which I must ever retaina grateful remembrance. How much the times and man-ners have changed! I have paid particular attention to thepyramids and their foundation, which I do not think at allderanged in regard to the mill-stones (pierres molaires). Agenerous individual, a friend to the sciences, and to those menwho have done honour to them, such as La Condamine, Godin, and Bouguer, the marquis de Salvalegre, at Quito,thinks of reconstructing them; but this leads me too far. After passing Assonay and Cuenca, where they gave usbull-fights, we pursued our way by the Oxa to completeour labours on cinchona. We then spent a month in theprovince of Jaën de Bracamorros and among the Pongos ofthe river Amazon, the banks of which are ornamented withthe andiva and buganvillæa of Jussieu. It appeared to meof importance to fix the longitude of Tomependa and Chu- |171| chunga, where Condamine’s chart begins, and to connectthese points with the coast. La Condamine was able todetermine the longitude only of the mouth of the Napa:time-keepers were not then in existence, so that the longi-tude of these countries requires a great many changes. Mychronometer by Louis Berthoud does wonders; as I see bymaking observations from time to time on the first satellite,and comparing point for point my differences of meridianwith those found during the expedition of M. Fidalgo, whoby order of the king performed trigonometrical operationsfrom Cumana to Carthagena. From the river Amazon we crossed the Andes at themines of Hualgayoc, which produce a million of piastresper annum, and where the mine of gray argentiferous cop-per is found at the height of 2065 toises. We descendedby Casamasca (where in the palace of Atahualpa I deline-ated the arches of the Peruvian vaults) to Truxilla, pro-ceeding thence by the deserts of the coast of the SouthSea to Lima, where for one-half of the year the heavensare obscured by thick vapours. I hastened to Lima, that Imight observe there the transit of Mercury on the 9th ofNovember 1802. Our collections of plants, and the drawings which I madein regard to the anatomy of genera, agreeably to the ideascommunicated to me by Jussieu in conversations in theSociety of Natural History, have greatly increased by theriches which we found in the province of Quito, at Loxa,at the river Amazon, and in the Cordilleras of Peru. Wefound a great many of the plants seen by Joseph de Jussieu;such as the lloqua affinis, the quillajae, and others. Wehave a new species of jussiæa which is charming, colletia, several passifiores, and the loranthus in a tree of sixty feetof height. We are particularly rich in palms and grami-neous plants, on which C. Bonpland has made a very ex-tensive work. We have at present 3784 very complete de-scriptions in Latin, and nearly a third more of plants inherbals which for want of time we have not been able todescribe. Of every vegetable we can indicate the rockwhere it resides, and the height in toises at which it grows;so that in our manuscripts will be found very correct ma-terials for the geography of plants. To do still better, Iand Bonpland have often described the same plant sepa-rately. But two-thirds and more of the descriptions belongto the assiduity of Bonpland alone, whose zeal and devo-tion for the sciences cannot be too much admired. Jussieu, Desfontaines, and Lamarck, have in him formed a pupil |172| who will do great things. We compared our herbals withthose of Dr. Mutis, and we consulted a great many booksin the immense library of that great man. We are con-vinced that we have a great many new genera and species,but much time and labour will be required to determinewhat is really new. We shall bring with us also a siliceoussubstance analogous to the tabascher of the East Indies,which M. Macé has analysed. It exists in the knots of agigantic gramineous plant which is confounded with thebambou, but which in its flower differs from the bambusa of Schreiber. I do not know whether Fourcroy has re-ceived the milk of the vegetable cow, a tree so called by theIndians. It is a milk which when treated with nitric acidgave me a caout-chouc of a balsamic odour, but which, in-stead of being caustic and hurtful like all vegetable milks,is nourishing, and agreeable to drink. We discovered itin the road to Oronoko, in a plantation, where the negroesdrink a great deal of it. I have sent also to Fourcroy bythe way of Guadaloupe, as well as to sir Joseph Banks byTrinidad, our dapiché, or white oxygenated caout-chouc,which exudes from the roots of a tree in the forests of Pi-michin in the most remote corner of the world towards thesources of the Rio Negro. I shall not go to the Philippines. I shall proceed to Eu-rope by Acapulco, Mexico, and the Havannah; and I hopeto have the pleasure of seeing you at Paris in September orOctober 1803.

Health and respect, Humboldt.

P. S. I shall be at Mexico in February, and at the Ha-vannah in June.