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Alexander von Humboldt: „The Isthmus of Darien“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 23.03.2023].

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Titel The Isthmus of Darien
Jahr 1853
Ort London
in: The Standard 9052 (12. August 1853), [o. S.].
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Spaltensatz; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung, Kapitälchen.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: VII.49
Dateiname: 1853-Junction_of_the-04-neu
Seitenanzahl: 1
Spaltenanzahl: 1
Zeichenanzahl: 7408

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Letter from Baron Alexander von Humboldt to Lionel Gisborne, Esq., M.A., C.E. (Sydney, 1853, Englisch)


The following interesting letter from Baron AlexanderVon Humboldt to Lionel Gisborne, Esq., M.A., C.E., hasbeen made public:—


—I trust you will excuse the oldest among thetravellers in both the tropics of America and the steppes ofSiberia, for having so long delayed to thank you for the in-formation I derived from your interesting journal, &c., onthe junction of the Atlantic with the Pacific. The positionI occupy in this country, and the ardent desire I feel tofinish, before my death, some scientific works which I hadthe imprudence to begin, considerably interrupt the evencourse of my correspondence. I therefore hope that I shallmeet, on your part also, with that indulgence which yourcountrymen have shown me during so long a period. “I have not been beyond the Rio Rimo, which lies eastof the mouth of the Atrato, since the time when I left theisland of Cuba on my way to Lima by Bogota, Quito, andthe River Amazon, for the purpose of observing the passageof Mercury through the solar disc. I was then on friendlyterms with a very intelligent merchant, Don IgnacioIombo, of Carthagena, in America, and I recollect that theCasso (Treasury convoy) of Guayaquil was then on itsway to Europe, by the road from Cupica to the Atrato,which was first opened by the Biscayan pilot Poguerache.Knowing, geologically, the interruption of the mountainchains, and the depression of the range in the eastern partof the Isthmus, my attention has remained fixed duringthis last half century on the Bay of San Miguel and theroute from 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 my mind,as the various works and maps which I published since1810, and my correspondence with various statesmen, willtestify. But all my striving and urging only led to im-perfect trials and projects calculated for a line to the westof the meridian of Panama and Portobello, none of whichever gained my confidence. I had, however, the gratifica-tion of seeing my views honoured by an eminent memberof her Britannic Majesty’s navy, Captain Fitzroy (Jour-nal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. XX., p. 20.) “The increase of human knowledge, and the immenseprogress of science, arts, and industry among the westernnations, 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 have |Spaltenumbruch| always considered, firstly, the opening of the oceaniccanal, without locks; and, secondly, the cut at Huchuecoca,in the valley of Mexico (which is on a comparativelysmaller scale, as may be seen by the map and section Ipublished,) as two events calculated highly to improve therelations between the different families of the humanspecies. In fact, such a work as the one you contemplatewill bring Eastern Asia nearer to the nations of Europe andAmerica. It will render the whole globe more easy to betravelled over—this little globe, of which ChristopherColumbus, in one of his letters to the Queen of Spain, said,el mundo es poco.’ It will facilitate the diffusion of pro-ductions, especially of precious metals, of which the rela-tive 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, civili-sation had spread, in a direction from north to south, overthose portions of America which lie opposite to Asia, thoseon the European side being then occupied by barbaroushunting tribes. The finest harbours, the most precious pro-ducts, are likewise found in the west. Even the currents ofthe air, by their direction, contributo towards the pre-ponderance of West American power over the rich countriesof Asia. The increasing importance of the west coast ofAmerica promises to balance, at some future time, the sur-prising progress of the Atlantic States, provided the West-ern States keep themselves free from that hideous disease—slavery of coloured people. “Indeed, sir, I feel the most ardent wishes for the happysuceess of this oceanic canal. The attention which thepublic of the two continents bestows already upon yourundertaking will increase, as soon as you are enabled,assisted by further explorations, and a survey extendingover all details, and carried on by a great number of ex-perienced men, to publish, on a large scale, maps andsections of the line fixed upon between Puerto Escocesand the Gulf of San Miguel. The changes which thesuccess of your undertaking is sure to effect in the inter-national commerce of the world will only disturb suchpeople as in the narrowness of their views oppose them-selves to the natural and providential course of eventsand shed tears over the unfortunate discovery ofAmerica. The Rio Huaxacualco with its portage tothe Rio Chimalapa (Tehuantepec), of which I publishedthe first map after the itineraries discovered by mein 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 clausuma lake of the United States. The nature of the soil,however, does not allow great works to be carried out inthat locality; besides, you know the difficulties impedingany canalisation or rectification of rivers of great lengthand the great variations of the volume of water, as in theriver San Juan; but a railway would be a great advan-tage to the southern states. “The great interest which every one at the presenttime takes in the canalisation of the Isthmus 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, of whichKlaproth and Vauquelin published an analysis. During40 years I preached, but always in vain, the usefulness ofthis substance, and in vain did I recommend its employ-ment in fertilising the fields of Europe. But it is only15 or 18 years since it has at last become a great articleof commerce.

“I beg of you, my dear sir, to present my kind remem-brances to the excellent and able Mr. Peterman, &c. Alexander Von Humboldt.

“P.S. I am not surprised at the difference between thelevel you found at Turbaco and my own statement. Tothis, however, I had prudently added, ‘doubtful baro-metrical observation.’ (See my Recueil d’ObservationsAstronomiques et de Mesures Barometriques, vol. i. p. 299.)The fact that the gas issuing from the little volcanoes atTurbaco is inflammable in its natural state has already beencommunicated by Colonel Acosta (Journal, p. 65). Itappears that the gascous fluid which issues from the ‘salses’is not the same at all times. I find in my journal that, in1801, the flame of any burning substance was suddenly ex-tinguished on being thrown into a bottle containing air fromthose little volcanoes. “Parrot, also, in the mud volcanoes in the island ofTaman, found only azote, although the gas emitted won’tburn at other times. (See my Relation Historique, vol. xiichap. 29, p. 367—371).”