The following interesting letter from Baron Alex-ander Von Humboldt to Lionel Gisborne, Esq., M.A.,C. E. has been made public:—
“Sir—I trust you will excuse the oldest among thetravellers in both the tropics of America and thesteppes of Siberia, for having so long delayed to thankyou for the information I derived from your interestingjournal, &c., on the junction of the Atlantic with thePacific. The position I occupy in this country and theardent desire I feel to finish, before my death, somesientific works which I had the imprudence to begin,considerably interrupt the even course of my corre-spondence. I therefore hope that I shall meet, on yourpart also, with that indulgence which your countrymenhave shown me during so long a period.
“I have not been beyond the Rio Rimo, which lieseast of the mouth of the Atrato, since the time when Ileft the island of Cuba on my way to Lima by Bogota,Quito, and the river Amazon, for the purpose of ob-serving the passage of Mercury through the solar disc.I was then on friendly terms with a very intelligentmerchant, Don Ignacio Iombo, of Cartagena, in Ame-rica, and I recollect that the Casso (Treasury convoy)of Guayaquil was then on its way to Europe, by theroad from Cupica to the Atrato, which was first openedby the Biscayan pilot Poguerache. Knowing, geologi-cally, the interruption of the mountain chains, and thedepression of the range in the eastern part of the Isth-mus, my attention has remained fixed during this lasthalf century on the Bay of San Miguel and the routefrom Cupica to the Rio Napipi. Owing to my friendlyrelations with General Bolivar, I obtained through himthe first line of levels across the Isthmus of Panama.Ever since the subject has not ceased to occupy mymind, as the various works and maps which I publishedsince 1810 and my correspondence with various states-men will testify. But all my striving and urging onlyled to imperfect trials and projects calculated for a lineto the west of the meridian of Panama and Portobello,none of which ever gained my confidence. I had, how-ever, the gratification of seeing my views honoured byan eminent member of Her Britannic Majesty’s navy,Captain Fitzroy. (Journal of the Royal GeographicalSociety, vol. xx., p. 20.)
“The increase of human knwledge, and the immenseprogress of science, arts, and industry among the west-ern nations, have given us powers which only call forapplication. Everything depends upon energy and per-severance. I therefore congratulate you, Sir, and yourcourageous friend, Dr. Cullen, as well as Sir CharlesFox, Mr. Henderson, and Mr. Brassey, for havinggiven your names to so noble an undertaking. I havealways considered, firstly, the opening of an oceaniccanal, without locks; and secondly, the cut atHuchuecoca, in the valley of Mexico (which is on acomparatively smaller scale, as may be seen by themap and section I published), as two events calculatedhighly to improve the relations between the differentfamilies of the human species. In fact, such a work asthe one you contemplate will bring Eastern Asia nearerto the nations of Europe and America. It will renderthe whole globe more easy to be travelled over—thislittle globe, of which Christopher Columbus, in one ofhis letters to the Queen of Spain, said, ‘el mundo espoco.’ It will facilitate the diffusion of productions,especially of precious metals, of which the relative value(1 to 15 5-6ths) would change too suddenly without this‘permeability’ of the world.
“As early as the discovery of the new Continent,civilisation had spread, in a direction from north tosouth, over those portions of America which he op-posite to Asia, those on the European side being thenoccupied by barharous hunting tribes. The finestharbours, the most precious products, are likewisefound in the West. Even the currents of the air, bytheir direction, contribute towards the preponderanceof West American power over the rich countries ofAsia. The increasing importance of the west coast ofAmerica promises to balance, at some future time, thesurprising progress of the Atlantic States, provided thewestern States keep themselves free from that hideousdisease—slavery of coloured people.
“Indeed, Sir, I feel the most ardent wishes for thehappy suceess of this oceanic canal. The attentionwhich the public of the two continents bestows alreadyupon your undertaking will increase, as soon as youare enabled, assisted by further explorations, and asurvey extending over all details, and carried on by agreat number of experienced men, to publish, on alarge scale, maps and sections of the line fixed uponbetween Puerto Escoces and the Gulf of San Miguel.The changes which the success of your undertakingis sure to effect in the international commerceof the world will only disturb such people as inthe narrowness of their viewa oppose themselvesto the natural and providential course of events,and shed tears over the unfortunate discovery ofAmerica. The Rio Huaxacualco with its portageto the Rio Chimalapa (Tchuantepee), of which I pub-lished the first map after the itineraries discovered byme in the archives of the vice-kingdom of Mexico, willalways be of great importance, owing to its positionopposite Louisiana, in the Gulf of Mexico, which hasall the appearance of soon becoming a mare clausum—a lake of the United States. The nature of the soil,however, does not allow great works to be carried outin that locality; besides, you know the difficulties im-peding any canalization or rectification of rivers ofgreat length, and the great variations of the volume ofwater, as in the river San Juan; but a radway wouldbe a great advantage to the southern States.
“The great interest which every one at the presenttime takes in the canalization of the Isthmua recalls asimilar fact to my memory, reminding me of the suddeninterest created by the discovery of guano.
“I was the first who brought guano to Europe, ofwhich
Klaproth and Vauquelin published an analysis.During 40 years I preached,
but always in vain, the use-fulness of this substance, and in vain did I
recommendits employment in fertilising the fields of Europe. But itis only 15 or 18 years since it has at last become a greatarticle of commerce.
“I beg of you, my dear Sir, to present my kind re-membrance to the excellent and able Mr. Peterman, &c.
“Alexander Von Humboldt.
“P.S. I am not surprised at the difference betweenthe level you found at Turbaco and my own statement.To this, however, I had prudently added, ‘doubtfulbarometrical observation.’ (See my Recueil d’Obserca-tions Astronomiques et de Mesures Barometriques, vol.i. p. 299.) The fact that the gas issuing from the littlevolcanoes at Turbaco is inflammable in its natural statehas already been communicated by Colonel Acosta
(Journal, p. 65). It appears that the gaseons fluidwhich issues from the ‘salses’ is not the same at alltimes. I find in my journal that, in 1801, the flame ofany burning substance was suddenly extinguished onbeing thrown into a bottle containing air from thoselittle volcanoes.
“Parrot, also, in the mud volcanoes in the island ofTaman, found only azote, although the gas emittedwould burn at other times. (See my Relation Histo-rique, vol. xii., chap. 29, p. 367 371).”