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Alexander von Humboldt: „Preface by Alexander von Humboldt“, 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 Preface by Alexander von Humboldt
Jahr 1858
Ort London
in: Baldwin Möllhausen, Diary of a Journey from the Mississippi to the Coasts of the Pacific with a United States Government Expedition, London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts 1858, S. [XI]–XXV.
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung; Fußnoten mit Asterisken; Schmuck: Kapitälchen.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: VII.126
Dateiname: 1857-Alexander_von_Humboldt_ueber_Moellhausen-5-neu
Seitenanzahl: 15
Zeichenanzahl: 20844

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Vorwort (Leipzig, 1858, Deutsch)
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Relations of reciprocal good will, and a certain simi-larity of endeavour in important and serious under-takings, could alone have induced me to overcome theobjection I have always felt — perhaps without suf-ficient reason — to introductory prefaces by any otherhand but that of the author. During the whole course of my life I have writtensuch prefaces only four times; namely, for the Frenchtranslation of the Voyage to the North Cape of ourgreat geologist, Leopold von Buch; for the Englishnarrative of Sir Robert Schomburgh’s dangerous enter-prise of five years’ duration, undertaken to connect thecoasts of Guiana, at Essequibo, astronomically with theeastern point of the Upper Orinoco, which I hadreached from the west; thirdly, for the original editionof the complete works of my ever-memorable friend,François Arago; and lastly, for the Travels in the |xii| East Indies and Thibet of the late amiable and lamentedPrince Waldemar of Prussia. In the present instance I have voluntarily under-taken the task, from esteem for the untiring energyand activity manifested by the author in an importantundertaking, as well as for the modest integrity of hisvigorous and honourable character, and the remark-able artistic talent which he has developed, almostwholly by the study of Nature. The present volumes make no pretension to the cha-racter of a scientific work, although they contain muchvaluable information on the physical geography of theregions investigated — sometimes from the author’s ownobservation, sometimes communicated by other membersof the party specially skilled in those departments.Mr. Möllhausen was appointed to accompany, as topo-grapher and draughtsman, the Expedition sent by theGovernment of the United States to determine thedirection of a line of railroad from the coasts of thePacific; and he here offers the diary which he kept asa kind of commentary on his pictorial sketches of thecountry and the people, and in which he has reflectedback, with the freshness with which they were received,his impressions of life and Nature. When a traveller’s descriptions are the result ofaccurate and conscientious observation, and especiallywhen they concern the condition of natives standingat various grades of uncivilised life, they must alwaysinterest the student of humanity. A melancholy ex- |xiii| perience has taught us that, in almost all climates,the vicinity of European or North American settlershas always tended to the destruction of the uncivi-lised races. Crowded together within narrow limits,and where the near contact affords opportunity forplunder, often sinking into a lower moral state thanthey occupied before, they gradually waste away inunequal conflicts. If, at the commencement of theEmpire of the Incas of Peru, in the Cordilleras of Quito,and the elevated plains of New Granada (the ancient Cundinamarca), and in the Mexican Anahuac, south ofthe 28th parallel, the ancient population has main-tained itself, and at some points even considerablyincreased, the cause must be sought in the fact that,many hundred years before the Spanish conquest, thepopulation consisted of peaceful agricultural tribes.The report concerning the ethnography, and of thephysical and moral condition of the scarce, copper-coloured, or rather brown-red, natives of the regionsbetween the Missouri and the Rocky Mountains, isinteresting in a twofold point of view, either withreference to generalisations concerning the sometimesprogressive and sometimes stationary character ofcivilisation, or to particular local and historical cir-cumstances. In general views of the manifold gradesof intelligence manifested by those whom we sovaguely, and often so improperly, denominate savages,the Indios bravos, the imagination is carried beyond thenarrow limits of the present to a mysterious past, in |xiv| which the greater part of the human race — of thosewho have now attained to so high a point of civilisa-tion, art, and science — lived in the same rude condition.How often have such thoughts occurred to me during ariver navigation of fifteen hundred miles in the wilder-nesses of the Orinoco, south of the cataracts of theAtures, on the Atabapo-Cassiquiare and Rio Negro.But even in the savage state you are struck occasionallyby signs of spontaneously awakening intellectual powerin the knowledge of several languages, by which theintercourse between neighbouring tribes is so muchfacilitated — in the anticipation of a future existence ofjoy or sorrow, and in traditions that boldly rise to theorigin of the human race, and its abode. The hordes which occupy the country between NewMexico and the river Gila specially attract our atten-tion, because they are scattered about the line of marchalong which, in the period from the sixth to the twelfthcenturies, the various nations known as Tolteks, Chi-chimekis, Nahuatlakes, and Aztecs proceeded when theytraversed and partly peopled southern tropical Mexico.Memorials remain of the architectural and industrialskill of these nations, who had evidently attained to ahigh degree of culture. The various stations orabiding places of the Aztecs on the river Gila, and atseveral points south-south-east of it, can still be pointedout by means of historical paintings and ancient tra-ditions. They are laid down in my Mexican atlas. Andthe large, many-storied, family houses (casas grandes) |xv| seen in 1846 by the engineer, Lieutenant W. Abert,and subsequently by Möllhausen, — houses which areentered by means of ladders, drawn up at night, — offeranalogies to the mode of building in use among some ofthose tribes. The gigantic sculptures and religious and historicalpaintings left by the Tolteks or Aztecs, who builtpyramids, and kept the record of cycles of years, showa striking agreement in their representations of thehuman form and face, the physiognomical character ofwhich, especially in the structure of the forehead, andof the very large and prominent aquiline nose, differsmuch from that of the present many millions of agri-cultural native inhabitants of Mexico, Guatemala, andNicaragua; and the solution of the problem discussedby the acute Catlin, whether these forms, and the phy-siognomical structure can still be found among thenorthern tribes, — not merely in individuals, but races,and where, — becomes of great ethnographical import-ance. In the case of the American migration of nationsfrom north to south (as in that of the Asiatic nationsfrom east to west), to which the attack of the Huingnu on the fair Yueti and Usün gave the earliest impulse,might not single tribes have remained behind northwardof the Gila, as others in the Caucasus of the Ponticisthmus. All the conjectures connected with the boldhypothesis concerning the sources of a certain amountof civilisation evident in the original seats of the wan- |xvi| dering nations (Huehuetlapallan, Aztlan, and Quivira),have hitherto fallen into the abyss of historic myths.Want of faith in the possibility of finding a satisfactorysolution of the problem, in the absence of more suf-ficient materials for judgment, must, nevertheless, notbe allowed to lessen our diligence, or set limits to ourinquiries. The question concerning the remains ofthese wandering nations of the north will find muchsatisfaction in Catlin’s oil pictures (preserved in theBerlin Museum), as well as in Möllhausen’s drawings.It has also given rise to a valuable work in the philo-logical field, in which the traces of the Aztec idiom(Nahuatl) are followed along the western side of NorthAmerica. Professor Buschmann, my talented friend ofmany years’ standing, has therein confirmed someopinions that I expressed on the subject half a centuryago; and in works undertaken in conjunction with mybrother, Wilhelm von Humboldt, has turned his pro-found knowledge of the ancient Aztec language tohistorical account. In addition to the historical and ethnological interestconnected with a part of the earth so little known, andthe exact description of which is the object of the fol-lowing pages, its political importance, with relation tothe commerce of the world and its cultivation, whichmust stand in immediate connection with that com-merce, becomes a no less suggestive subject of reflection.The rich Atlantic States on the Ohio and Mississippifind themselves compelled, by the course of events, to |xvii| seek the best route to the newly acquired countries onthe Pacific coast, which have now been received intothe mighty American Union. These countries arericher than the sea-board lying opposite to Europe insafe and beautiful harbours, in timber for ship building,and in the mineral productions most in demand. Thisnew territory, so long under the strict, though peaceful,rule of the monks, and engaged only in the productivechase of the sea-otter, is now, with all its physical ad-vantages, in the hands of a restlessly active, enter-prising and intelligent population, destined to play animportant part in the commerce with China and Japan,as well as in the slowly rising trade of East Siberia. At the time of the second discovery of America byColumbus, there were found along the western part ofthe new continent, from the Mexican Anahuac to Chili,regular, social, and political institutions, widely dif-fused a common form of religious worship, monumentalsculptures, great architectural works, temples, pyra-mids, palaces, and fortifications. The far more exten-sive and flatter eastern region, though covered with aperfect net-work of rivers, was inhabited only by savagetribes, isolated, and scarcely capable of any co-opera-tion even for a warlike undertaking, and maintainingthemselves only by hunting and fishing. This singularcontrast between civilisation and uncivilisation, thusgeographically marked out, began to disappear whenthe great oceanic valley was crossed from the most |xviii| northern and the most southern part of Europe, atperiods separated by an interval of five hundred years. The first Scandinavian island settlement, originatedby Leif, the son of Erik the Red, was feeble and tran-sitory, and in a moral sense fruitless; it remainedwithout effect on the condition of the natives, althoughthe American coasts of the frigid and temperate zones,from the seventy-third degree (namely, from the smallgroup of “Women’s Islands” in West Greenland) tothe forty-first, were visited by bold Christian naviga-tors. It was not till the second discovery of Americaby Christopher Columbus, a discovery that took placewithin the torrid zone, that the one half of the earthbegan to be really revealed to the other, and the oldpromise of the astronomer and physician Toscanelli — buscar el levante por el poniente, to find the golden East,by sailing to the west — became fulfilled. If we go backin imagination to those ages of the world in which thecivilised nations who dwell round the basin of the Medi-terranean saw its gates opened to them by the foundingof Tartessus, and the important, though erroneous,voyage of Colaus of Samos, we shall recognise the sameimpulse to move from east to west which carried theAtlantic navigators across the vast ocean. The historicalevents, in which a great part of the human race appearsanimated by a similar tendency, lead to great results,slowly, indeed, and gradually, but so much the morecertainly, developing themselves according to eternallaws, like those which reign in organic nature. |xix| Although the Pacific was first seen seven years afterthe death of Columbus, by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, fromthe summit of the Sierra de Quarequa, on the Isthmusof Panama, and a few days afterwards navigated ina canoe by Alonzo Martin de Don Benito, Columbushad obtained precise information of its existence elevenyears before, in the year 1502, during his fourthvoyage, the one in which he most displayed the vigourof his genius. He gained the information at Puerto deRetrete, on the east coast of Veragua, and he pointsout, in his carta rarissima of the 7th of July, 1503, inthe letter wherein he so poetically describes his mag-nificent dreams in the clearest manner, the two oppositelying oceans, or, as his son says in the biography of hisfather, the contraction (estrecho) of the continent atthat part. The ocean, whose existence had beenrevealed to him by the natives of the country, mustlead, he thought, to the gold Chersonesus of Ptolemy,and the East Asiatic land of Spices; whither, some day,North American fleets, built in San Francisco, will sailunder the guidance of the chronometer. The distance,in a straight line, from the Atlantic coast to that ofSan Francisco, in California, is about 2200 miles, andthere is a kind of pleasure in looking back to the smallbeginnings of our knowledge of the Pacific, to all thateven Columbus could know of it on his death-bed, at atime when such gigantic projects are entertained ofrailways and oceanic canals through the Narpi andCupica; through the Atrato and the Rio Truando; the |xx| Huasacualco and the Chimalapa; through the Rio SanJuan and Lake Nicaragua. That great Columbus, halfforgotten, as I have elsewhere shown, even by his con-temporaries, died (at Valladolid, 20th of May, 1506) inthe firm belief, shared also by Amerigo Vespucci untilhis death at Seville (Feb. 22nd, 1522), that they haddiscovered only the coasts of the continent of Asia,and no new part of the world. Columbus consideredthe sea that washes the western part of Veragua sonear the gold Chersonesus, that he compares the rela-tive positions of the province of Ciguare, in WestVeragua, and Puerto Retrete (Puerto Escrivanos), tothose of Venice and Pisa, or from Tortosa, at themouth of the Ebro, to Fuenterabia on the Bidassoa, inBiscay; and he reckoned from Ciguare to the Ganges(Gangues) only nine days’ journey. It appears to meworthy of consideration, too, that at the present daythe gold fields (las minas de la Aurea), which the cartaravissima of Columbus points out as lying in the mosteastern part of Asia, are really to be found on thewestern side of the new continent. To give a descriptive survey of the contrast betweenthe former and the present time, and the great benefitwhich an intelligent investigation of the terra incognita of the far West, within the territory of the UnitedStates, will afford to our geographical knowledge formany years to come, has been the chief purpose of thispreface. It remains for me, in conclusion, to fulfil theagreeable duty of reminding the reader that the author |xxi| of the following narrative of a Journey from the Missis-sippi and Arkansas to the shores of the Pacific, had theadvantage, in a former journey to the Nebraska river, offamiliarising himself with the life of the Indian tribesby a long stay among them. He is the son of aPrussian artillery officer, and at twenty-four years ofage left the service and his country, with the mosthonourable testimonials from his superior officers, toproceed to the western part of the United States. Hewas independent and alone, but irresistibly urgedonwards, as is most frequently the case with active andenergetic characters, by a thirst for the aspect of wild,free nature, and vast untrodden regions. When nearthe banks of the Mississippi he happened to hear of theproposed grand and promising scientific Expedition ofH. R. H. Duke Paul William of Wurtemberg to theRocky Mountains. He asked permission to join it,which was accorded in the most gratifying manner, andthe Expedition proceeded without accident as far asFort Laramie, on the Flat River, but there the un-practicable character of the ground, a terrible andgeneral affection of the eyes from a fall of snow, therepeated attacks of the Indians, and the deaths of agreat number of horses, indispensable for the journey,compelled the duke for the time to give up his inten-tion. Having been separated from the party, M. Möll-hausen joined a passing band of Ottoe Indians, whoprovided him with a horse; after which he turned |xxii| northwards to Bellevue, at that time the seat of anagency and depôt of the fur company. After a resi-dence of three months among the Omahas, duringwhich he was an active associate of their huntingparties, he embarked on board a steamer going downthe Mississippi, and had the pleasure of again meetingDuke Paul of Wurtemberg, accompanying him inseveral excursions, and assisting him in adding to hisimportant geological collection. In 1852 he embarkedat New Orleans for Europe, having been commissionedby M. Angelrodt, the estimable Prussian consul atSt. Louis, at the mouth of the Missouri, to take chargeof a number of interesting animals, destined for theBerlin Zoological Gardens. With increased knowledge, and improved artisticculture, although with very limited resources, M. Möll-hausen had taken the bold resolution of making anotherjourney to the West of the United States, and throughthe intervention of my old and valued friend, ProfessorLichtenstein, I became acquainted with the enterprisingyoung traveller. Although now, perhaps, the oldesttraveller of the age, I remembered too well the enthusi-astic feelings of my early life not to be interested in ayoung man of such congenial tastes, and who had beenso warmly recommended to me; and the kindness of amonarch, who has always so gladly extended his pro-tection to rising talent, permitted M. Möllhausen to laybefore him in person his remarkably clear and accurate |xxiii| Sketches of Indian Life. The increasing favour withwhich my labours and exertions have been regarded inthe United States, and the generous sacrifices made bymany of the particular governments there for theencouragement of intellectual progress, especially in alldepartments of astronomical and geographical science,and of natural history, led me to hope that recommenda-tions from me, joined to those of my dear friend the Prus-sian ambassador, M. von Gerolt, would, on his return tothe United States, have some weight with the authori-ties and with the admirable Smithsonian institution;and my hopes were speedily fulfilled. M. Möllhausenhas himself, in the commencement of his narrative,mentioned his appointment as topographical draughts-man* in the very completely equipped Expedition underLieutenant Whipple. Notwithstanding the fatigue inseparable from a landjourney of eleven months’ duration, the traveller severaltimes sent papers, two of which were of remarkableinterest, to the Geographical Society of Berlin. Onerelated to the manners and physical conformation ofsome little known Indian tribes on the great Coloradoand in the neighbouring mountains — Mohaves, Cut-chanas, and Cosninos; the other to the so-called petri-fied forest, between the “Old Town” (Pueblo de Zuñi),and the Little Colorado. This remarkable phenomenon,
* M. Möllhausen frequently speaks of himself as the “German Naturalist” of the Expedition, and appears to have acted also in thatcapacity.
|xxiv| in which coniferœ were found united with tree ferns,was also examined by M. Marcou, the geologist of theExpedition, now professor at the Federal PolytechnicSchool of Zurich, and it has been described in hisextremely instructive work, entitled “General Oro-graphy of Canada and the United States.” Thefollowing narrative of travel has been enriched by somescientific notes from the learned works of ProfessorMarcou, now printed.
The purpose of the Expedition under LieutenantWhipple was happily attained on the 23rd of March,1854, by its arrival on the Pacific coast, at the sea-portof San Pedro, to the north of the Californian mission ofSan Diego. The return was by a rapid journey acrossthe Isthmus of Panama to New York; and after anabsence of a year and five months, M. Möllhausenreturned to Berlin with his collections, and a greatnumber of interesting pictorial studies from nature inthe Far West, which met with the most encouragingapproval from his sovereign. His Majesty has sincebeen graciously pleased to take the young traveller intohis own service, by appointing him to be the keeper ofthe libraries in the castles of Potsdam and the environs. His fresh and animated descriptions of wild naturein all the manifold variety of her forms, of the uncivi-lised state of the native tribes, and of the habits ofvarious species of animals, evince a keen sensibilitythat naturally finds adequate expression in language. |xxv| What Baldwin Möllhausen has learned of Naturethrough so many vicissitudes and privations, thoughwith many compensatory pleasures, has not been lostto his intellectual culture; as Schiller says, withbeautiful simplicity, “Man himself grows with hisaims.” Berlin.