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Alexander von Humboldt: „Fragment of a letter of Baron Alexander Humboldt to Mr. Albert Berg“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 01.10.2023].

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Titel Fragment of a letter of Baron Alexander Humboldt to Mr. Albert Berg
Jahr 1854
Ort London
in: Albert Berg, Physiognomy of Tropical Vegetation in South America. A Series of Views Illustrating the Primeval Forests on the River Magdalena and in the Andes of New Granada, London: Paul and Dominic Colnaghi and Co. 1854, S. [I]–II.
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung; Schmuck: Kapitälchen.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: VII.71
Dateiname: 1854-Auszug_aus_einem-2
Seitenanzahl: 2
Zeichenanzahl: 9473

Weitere Fassungen
Auszug aus einem Briefe Alexander’s von Humboldt an den Verfasser (Düsseldorf, 1854, Deutsch)
Fragment of a letter of Baron Alexander Humboldt to Mr. Albert Berg (London, 1854, Englisch)


If in the noble creations of painting our imagination delights to find animated pictures of exotic scenery, thisenjoyment is by no means exclusively confined to the majestic in the forms or in the richness and wildluxuriance of the soil which such pictures may present, but is at the same time reflected in our understanding.It reminds us of the intimate relation between the distribution of forms and the influences of climate dependingon the altitude of the plateaux, as also on the latitude. It is this relation which, by presenting to us thewonders and peculiar characteristics of the vegetation, renders that, which at first seemed only picturesque,both instructive and suggestive in the field of Physical Geography.Before I enter, my dear Sir, upon the charm spread over the delightful pages which you have broughtfrom the tropical regions of South America, I have thought it right to determine the point of view from whichI consider the publication of the drawings you were kind enough to present to me, both as useful and desirablein a high degree. These happy conceptions, displaying at once fine talents and the inspiration of a deep loveof nature, will possess an interest all the greater, inasmuch as they refer to countries which had not yet beenvisited by distinguished artists. Speaking generally, it is only within the last few years that any persons havedevoted themselves with much interest to the representation of the great forms of the equatorial zone, and theirvaried groupings under their real physiognomical aspect. Your work is quite worthy of appearing at the side ofthose of your illustrious predecessors.Having lived for several years with my excellent friend M. Bonpland on the declivity of the great Cordillerade los Andes, and in the very same countries which you have visited, I must bear testimony to the admirable truthwith which you have succeeded in representing not only the interior of the virgin forests, but also that alpinevegetation of the Cordilleras which offers an entirely different character. You have not contented yourselfwith seizing the type of the greater productions of the vegetable world by placing them in the foreground, butyou have also represented their individuality and that curious interlacing of the roots above the soil, of whichthe forests of our temperate zone offer no example. The drawings of the passage of the Cordillera in theParamo de Quindiù which you are going to publish, will give great interest to your work. The breadth ofthe chain interrupted by valleys and ravines is so considerable, that not wishing to be carried in a little chairof Bamboo reeds on the backs of the natives, I required twenty-four days for my journey from the small townof Ibagué to that of Cartago. I have found the highest point of this route, that of the division of the waters,to be at an elevation of 1798 toises (10788 Par. feet) above the level of the South Sea. It is the Garita delParamo where we have encamped in a portable hut made of the large leaves of the Marantaceæ, and is almost600 feet higher than the summit of Etna. In a much more southerly passage of the Cordilleras, at theParamo del Assuay (S. Lat. 2°\( \frac{3}{4} \)) between the towns of Alausì and Cuença, I have found the highest point of theroute at the Ladera de Cadlud at an elevation of 2428 toises (14568 Par. feet), which is nearly the height ofthe summit of Mont Blanc. The Paramo de Quindiù presents the very extraordinary phenomenon of a groupof Palm-trees which may be classed amongst the alpine plants. To this group belongs the Wax-palm(Ceroxylon Andicola), the Palmito del Azufral (Oreodoxa frigida) and the Caña de la Vibora (Kunthiamontana). Whilst the family of the Palm-trees generally only vegetates in the tropics in a zone where themean temperature of the air is from 22° to 24° of the centigrade thermometer, and is not found on the declivityof the Cordillera at a greater elevation than 2000 or 2500 feet, the alpine Palm-trees which we have justmentioned are first found at Quindiù (with a northern latitude of 4°26′ to 4°34′) at an elevation of 6000 feetwith a superior limit of 9000 feet. This is a region which in this zone is still 5400 feet from the inferiorlimit of perpetual snow, and in which, according to my observations, the thermometer often falls in the nightto 4°, 8 and to 6 above the freezing point. To you, my dear Sir, belongs the great merit of having been thefirst to represent the physiognomical traits of the Wax-palm, whose majestic and slender form, according to thestems which I ordered to be cut down, attains a height of 160 to 180 feet. The drawings in which you haverepresented these Palm-trees are the most graceful ornament of your work.The association of the Wax-palm with the Coniferæ (the yewtree-leaved Podocarpus) and the Oaks(Quercus Granadensis, similar to our northern Oaks) forms as remarkable a contrast as the mixture of Palm-trees|ii| with Pines (Pinus occidentalis) and with the Mahogany (Swietenia Mahagoni) of the warmer regions of theIsla de Pinos in the south of Cuba, and in the Pinal of the Cayo de Moya in the north of Cuba, whichChristopher Columbus already mentions ‘with astonishment’ in his Journal of Navigation of November 1492.Types which we call northern, supposing them to belong exclusively to cold and temperate regions, appearagain with the same facies, but in very different species, in the tropical regions of America and the IndianArchipelago. It is this circumstance which occasioned me to say in one of my earliest works, that theinhabitants of the equator, where the climates follow each other on the plateaux as on different stories, have theprivilege of contemplating at the same time all the stars which glisten in the vault of heaven, and almost all theforms of vegetable life.The view of the volcano of Tolima, which may be enjoyed from several points of the eastern sideof Quindiù, has supplied the subject of one of your most picturesque sketches in Plate III. The volcano,which is of a very regular shape, and like the Cayambé de Quito, rises in the form of a truncated cone, formsthe background of the landscape; while in the foreground, the soil is perceived to be encumbered with a mostluxuriant growth of the tree-fern, the Heliconia and Passiflores, which climb to the top of the trees. It is agreat advantage of your collection, that, through the care of an excellent botanist, Dr. Klotzsch, my friend andcolleague at the Academy of Berlin, you have been able to add to your drawings the botanical names of a greatnumber of species, and this with the greatest accuracy. As this learned man is Director of the great collectionof the Herbarium, he has been able to consult the reports of M. Bonpland and myself, in which we haveindicated the localities, as also the descriptions given by M. Kunth, in our ‘Nova Genera et Species Plantarum.In your beautiful drawing, the vast snowy masses appear in the horizon through a clearing in the forest. Theystand out against the azure of the tropical sky at an apparent but illusive proximity. A formidable eruption ofthe volcano of Tolima took place on the 12th March, 1595, and devastated the entire province of Mariquita,since which time it seemed almost extinguished. A celebrated chemist, M. Boussingault, accompanied byM. Goudot, the botanist, ascended it to the height of 13,240 feet, which is very near to the region of perpetualsnow, in order to examine the composition of the vapours emanating from the clefts of trachytic rock, which hasitself emerged from the bosom of a formation of micaceous and amphibolic schist. Recently the volcano hasagain been in activity. It deserved a place in your work and in my views of the Cordilleras, all the more, as itseems to me to be the loftiest summit of the whole northern hemisphere of the New Continent. I made atrigonometrical measurement of the Tolima in the valley of the Carvajal, on the west of Ibagué, and found it384 feet higher than the Popocatepetl, the great volcano of Mexico.Descending with you, my dear Sir, from the heights of the Cordilleras, to the lower regions of the valley ofthe Magdalena, I take much pleasure in bearing the same testimony to the truth with which you have seized itscharacter. Having passed fifty-six dull days in navigating this great river, I had sufficient time to becomeacquainted with the distribution of its vegetation. The affectionate interest which I take in yourself, inducesme to advise you to leave to your interesting drawings, so excellently drawn upon stone, that character ofsketches which they have had in their original state. All later additions to objects of which we received happyinspirations, take off a little from the spirit of the drawing. I do not mean to say that the technical perfectionof a drawing carefully finished on the spot, may not add to the effect and to the truth of the character of thelandscape; but a traveller in his rapid progress through places difficult of access, is very seldom in a position tofinish his sketches at leisure. The travels in a beautiful part of the East, which you were so happy as to makebefore your journey to New Granada, have fortunately prepared you to seize with talent in different zones theaspect of the forms which are the real elements of the beauty of a landscape.