Equinoctial Regions of America
Alexander von Humboldt
BOHN'S SCIENTIFIC LIBRARY.
HUMBOLDT'S PERSONAL NARRATIVE
PERSONAL NARRATIVE OF TRAVELS TO THE EQUINOCTIAL REGIONS OF AMERICA DURING THE YEARS 1799-1804
ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT AND AIME BONPLAND.
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF
ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT
AND EDITED BY
IN THREE VOLUMES
GEORGE BELL & SONS. 1907. LONDON: PORTUGAL ST., LINCOLN'S INN. CAMBRIDGE: DEIGHTON, BELL AND CO. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO. BOMBAY: A.H. WHEELER AND CO.
The increasing interest attached to all that part of the American Continent situated within and near the tropics, has suggested the publication of the present edition of Humboldt's celebrated work, as a portion of the SCIENTIFIC LIBRARY.
Prior to the travels of Humboldt and Bonpland, the countries described in the following narrative were but imperfectly known to Europeans. For our partial acquaintance with them we were chiefly indebted to the early navigators, and to some of the followers of the Spanish Conquistadores. The intrepid men whose courage and enterprise prompted them to explore unknown seas for the discovery of a New World, have left behind them narratives of their adventures, and descriptions of the strange lands and people they visited, which must ever be perused with curiosity and interest; and some of the followers of Pizarro and Cortez, as well as many learned Spaniards who proceeded to South America soon after the conquest, were the authors of historical and other works of high value. But these writings of a past age, however curious and interesting, are deficient in that spirit of scientific investigation which enhances the importance and utility of accounts of travels in distant regions. In more recent times, the researches of La Condamine tended in a most important degree to promote geographical knowledge; and he, as well as other eminent botanists who visited the coasts of South America, and even ascended the Andes, contributed by their discoveries and collections to augment the vegetable riches of the Old World. But, in their time, geology as a science had little or no existence. Of the structure of the giant mountains of our globe scarcely anything was understood; whilst nothing was known beneath the earth in the New World, except what related to her mines of gold and silver.
It remained for Humboldt to supply all that was wanting, by the publication of his Personal Narrative. In this, more than in any other of his works, he shows his power of contemplating nature in all her grandeur and variety.
The researches and discoveries of Humboldt's able coadjutor and companion, M. Bonpland, afford not only a complete picture of the botany of the equinoctial regions of America, but of that of other places visited by the travellers on their voyage thither. The description of the Island of Teneriffe and the geography of its vegetation, show how much was discovered by Humboldt and Bonpland which had escaped the observation of discerning travellers who had pursued the same route before them. Indeed, the whole account of the Canary Islands presents a picture which cannot be contemplated without the deepest interest, even by persons comparatively indifferent to the study of nature.
It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary to remind the reader that since the time when this work was first published in Paris, the separation of the Spanish Colonies from the mother-country, together with subsequent political events, have wrought great changes in the governments of the South American States, as well as in the social condition of their inhabitants. One consequence of these changes has been to render obsolete some facts and observations relating to subjects, political, commercial, and statistical, interspersed through this work. However useful such matter might have been on its original publication, it is wholly irrelevant to the existing state of things, and consequently it has been deemed advisable to omit it. By this curtailment, together with that of some meteorological tables and discussions of very limited interest, the work has been divested of its somewhat lengthy and discursive character, and condensed within dimensions better adapted to the taste and requirements of the present time.
An English translation of this work by Helen Maria Williams, was published many years ago, and is now out of print. Though faultless as respects correctness of interpretation, it abounds in foreign turns of expression, and is somewhat deficient in that fluency of style without which a translated work is unsatisfactory to the English reader. In the edition now presented to the public it is hoped that these objections are in some degree removed.
A careful English version is given of all the Spanish and Portuguese terms, phrases, and quotations which occur in this work. Though the author has only in some few instances given a French translation of these passages, yet it is presumed that the interpretation of the whole in English will not be deemed superfluous; this new edition of the "Personal Narrative" having been undertaken with the view of presenting the work in the form best suited for the instruction and entertainment of the general reader.
London, December 1851.
In this narrative, as well as in the Political Essay on New Spain, all the prices are reckoned in piastres, and silver reals (reales de plata). Eight of these reals are equivalent to a piastre, or one hundred and five sous, French money (4 shillings 4 1/2 pence English). Nouv. Esp. volume 2 pages 519, 616 and 866.
The magnetic dip is always measured in this work, according to the centesimal division, if the contrary be not expressly mentioned.
One flasco contains 70 or 80 cubic inches, Paris measure.
112 English pounds = 105 French pounds; and 160 Spanish pounds = 93 French pounds.
An arpent des eaux et forets, or legal acre of France, of which 1. 95 = 1 hectare. It is about 1 1/4 acre English.
A tablon, equal to 1849 square toises, contains nearly an acre and one-fifth: a legal acre has 1344 square toises, and 1.95 legal acre is equal one hectare.
For the sake of accuracy, the French Measures, as given by the Author, and the indications of the Centigrade Thermometer, are retained in the translation. The following tables may, therefore, be found useful.
TABLE OF LINEAR MEASURE.
1 toise = 6 feet 4.73 inches. 1 foot = 12.78 inches. 1 metre = 3 feet 3.37 inches.
(Transcriber's Note: The 'toise' was introduced by Charlemagne in 790; it originally represented the distance between the fingertips of a man with outstretched arms, and is thus the same as the British 'fathom'. During the founding of the Metric System, less than 20 years before the date of this work, the 'toise' was assigned a value of 1.949 meters, or a little over two yards. The 'foot'; actually the 'French foot', or 'pied', is defined as 1/6 of a 'toise', and is a little over an English foot.)
CENTIGRADE THERMOMETER REDUCED TO FAHRENHEIT'S SCALE.
Cent. Fahr. Cent. Fahr. Cent. Fahr. Cent. Fahr. 100 212 65 149 30 86 -5 23 99 210.2 64 147.2 29 84.2 -6 21.2 98 208.4 63 145.4 28 82.4 -7 19.4 97 206.6 62 143.6 27 80.6 -8 17.6 96 204.8 61 141.8 26 78.8 -9 15.8 95 203 60 140 25 77 -10 14 94 201.2 59 138.2 24 75.2 -11 12.2 93 199.4 58 136.4 23 73.4 -12 10.4 92 197.6 57 134.6 22 71.6 -13 8.6 91 195.8 56 132.8 21 69.8 -14 6.8 90 194 55 131 20 68 -15 5 89 192.2 54 129.2 19 66.2 -16 3.2 88 190.4 53 127.4 18 64.4 -17 1.4 87 188.6 52 125.6 17 62.6 -18 -0.4 86 186.8 51 123.8 16 60.8 -19 -2.2 85 185 50 122 15 59 -20 -4 84 183.2 49 120.2 14 57.2 -21 -5.8 83 181.4 48 118.4 13 55.4 -22 -7.6 82 179.6 47 116.6 12 53.6 -23 -9.4 81 177.8 46 114.8 11 51.8 -24 -11.2 80 176 45 113 10 50 -25 -13 79 174.2 44 111.2 9 48.2 -26 -14.8 78 172.4 43 109.4 8 46.4 -27 -16.6 77 170.6 42 107.6 7 44.6 -28 -18.4 76 168.8 41 105.8 6 42.8 -29 -20.2 75 167 40 104 5 41 -30 -22 74 165.2 39 102.2 4 39.2 -31 -23.8 73 163.4 38 100.4 3 37.4 -32 -25.6 72 161.6 37 98.6 2 35.6 -33 -27.4 71 159.8 36 96.8 1 33.8 -34 -29.2 70 158 35 95 0 32 -35 -31 69 156.2 34 93.2 -1 30.2 -36 -32.8 68 154.4 33 91.4 -2 28.4 -37 -34.6 67 152.6 32 89.6 -3 26.6 -38 -36.4 66 150.8 31 87.8 -4 24.8 -39 -38.2
INTRODUCTION BY THE AUTHOR.
PREPARATIONS.—INSTRUMENTS.—DEPARTURE FROM SPAIN.— LANDING AT THE CANARY ISLANDS.
STAY AT TENERIFE.—JOURNEY FROM SANTA CRUZ TO OROTAVA.—EXCURSION TO THE SUMMIT OF THE PEAK OF TEYDE.
PASSAGE FROM TENERIFE TO SOUTH AMERICA.— THE ISLAND OF TOBAGO.—ARRIVAL AT CUMANA.
FIRST ABODE AT CUMANA.—BANKS OF THE MANZANARES.
PENINSULA OF ARAYA.—SALT-MARSHES.— RUINS OF THE CASTLE OF SANTIAGO.
MOUNTAINS OF NEW ANDALUCIA.—VALLEY OF THE CUMANACOA.— SUMMIT OF THE COCOLLAR.—MISSIONS OF THE CHAYMA INDIANS.
CONVENT OF CARIPE.—CAVERN OF THE GUACHARO.—NOCTURNAL BIRDS.
DEPARTURE FROM CARIPE.—MOUNTAIN AND FOREST OF SANTA MARIA.— MISSION OF CATUARO.—PORT OF CARIACO.
PHYSICAL CONSTITUTION AND MANNERS OF THE CHAYMAS.—THEIR LANGUAGE.— FILIATION OF THE NATIONS WHICH INHABIT NEW ANDALUCIA.— PARIAGOTOS SEEN BY COLUMBUS.
SECOND ABODE AT CUMANA.—EARTHQUAKES.—EXTRAORDINARY METEORS.
PASSAGE FROM CUMANA TO LA GUAYRA.—MORRO OF NUEVA BARCELONA.— CAPE CODERA.—ROAD FROM LA GUAYRA TO CARACAS.
GENERAL VIEW OF THE PROVINCES OF VENEZUELA.— DIVERSITY OF THEIR INTERESTS.—CITY AND VALLEY OF CARACAS.— CLIMATE.
ABODE AT CARACAS.—MOUNTAINS IN THE VICINITY OF THE TOWN.— EXCURSION TO THE SUMMIT OF THE SILLA.—INDICATIONS OF MINES.
EARTHQUAKES AT CARACAS.—CONNECTION OF THOSE PHENOMENA WITH THE VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS OF THE WEST INDIA ISLANDS.
DEPARTURE FROM CARACAS.—MOUNTAINS OF SAN PEDRO AND OF LOS TEQUES.— LA VICTORIA.—VALLEYS OF ARAGUA.
INTRODUCTION BY THE AUTHOR.
Many years have elapsed since I quitted Europe, to explore the interior of the New Continent. Devoted from my earliest youth to the study of nature, feeling with enthusiasm the wild beauties of a country guarded by mountains and shaded by ancient forests, I experienced in my travels, enjoyments which have amply compensated for the privations inseparable from a laborious and often agitated life. These enjoyments, which I endeavoured to impart to my readers in my 'Remarks upon the Steppes,' and in the 'Essay on the Physiognomy of Plants,' were not the only fruits I reaped from an undertaking formed with the design of contributing to the progress of natural philosophy. I had long prepared myself for the observations which were the principal object of my journey to the torrid zone. I was provided with instruments of easy and convenient use, constructed by the ablest makers, and I enjoyed the special protection of a government which, far from presenting obstacles to my investigations, constantly honoured me with every mark of regard and confidence. I was aided by a courageous and enlightened friend, and it was singularly propitious to the success of our participated labour, that the zeal and equanimity of that friend never failed, amidst the fatigues and dangers to which we were sometimes exposed.
Under these favourable circumstances, traversing regions which for ages have remained almost unknown to most of the nations of Europe, I might add even to Spain, M. Bonpland and myself collected a considerable number of materials, the publication of which may throw some light on the history of nations, and advance the study of nature.
I had in view a two-fold purpose in the travels of which I now publish the historical narrative. I wished to make known the countries I had visited; and to collect such facts as are fitted to elucidate a science of which we as yet possess scarcely the outline, and which has been vaguely denominated Natural History of the World, Theory of the Earth, or Physical Geography. The last of these two objects seemed to me the most important. I was passionately devoted to botany and certain parts of zoology, and I flattered myself that our investigations might add some new species to those already known, both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms; but preferring the connection of facts which have been long observed, to the knowledge of insulated facts, although new, the discovery of an unknown genus seemed to me far less interesting than an observation on the geographical relations of the vegetable world, on the migrations of the social plants, and the limit of the height which their different tribes attain on the flanks of the Cordilleras.
The natural sciences are connected by the same ties which link together all the phenomena of nature. The classification of the species, which must be considered as the fundamental part of botany, and the study of which is rendered attractive and easy by the introduction of natural methods, is to the geography of plants what descriptive mineralogy is to the indication of the rocks constituting the exterior crust of the globe. To comprehend the laws observed in the position of these rocks, to determine the age of their successive formations, and their identity in the most distant regions, the geologist should be previously acquainted with the simple fossils which compose the mass of mountains, and of which the names and character are the object of oryctognostical knowledge. It is the same with that part of the natural history of the globe which treats of the relations plants have to each other, to the soil whence they spring, or to the air which they inhale and modify. The progress of the geography of plants depends in a great measure on that of descriptive botany; and it would be injurious to the advancement of science, to attempt rising to general ideas, whilst neglecting the knowledge of particular facts.
I have been guided by these considerations in the course of my inquiries; they were always present to my mind during the period of my preparatory studies. When I began to read the numerous narratives of travels, which compose so interesting a part of modern literature, I regretted that travellers, the most enlightened in the insulated branches of natural history, were seldom possessed of sufficient variety of knowledge to avail themselves of every advantage arising from their position. It appeared to me, that the importance of the results hitherto obtained did not keep pace with the immense progress which, at the end of the eighteenth century, had been made in several departments of science, particularly geology, the history of the modifications of the atmosphere, and the physiology of animals and plants. I saw with regret, (and all scientific men have shared this feeling) that whilst the number of accurate instruments was daily increasing, we were still ignorant of the height of many mountains and elevated plains; of the periodical oscillations of the aerial ocean; of the limit of perpetual snow within the polar circle and on the borders of the torrid zone; of the variable intensity of the magnetic forces, and of many other phenomena equally important.
Maritime expeditions and circumnavigatory voyages have conferred just celebrity on the names of the naturalists and astronomers who have been appointed by various governments to share the dangers of those undertakings; but though these eminent men have given us precise notions of the external configuration of countries, of the natural history of the ocean, and of the productions of islands and coasts, it must be admitted that maritime expeditions are less fitted to advance the progress of geology and other parts of physical science, than travels into the interior of a continent. The advancement of the natural sciences has been subordinate to that of geography and nautical astronomy. During a voyage of several years, the land but seldom presents itself to the observation of the mariner, and when, after lengthened expectation, it is descried, he often finds it stripped of its most beautiful productions. Sometimes, beyond a barren coast, he perceives a ridge of mountains covered with verdure, but its distance forbids examination, and the view serves only to excite regret.
Journeys by land are attended with considerable difficulties in the conveyance of instruments and collections, but these difficulties are compensated by advantages which it is unnecessary to enumerate. It is not by sailing along a coast that we can discover the direction of chains of mountains, and their geological constitution, the climate of each zone, and its influence on the forms and habits of organized beings. In proportion to the extent of continents, the greater on the surface of the soil are the riches of animal and vegetable productions; the more distant the central chain of mountains from the sea-shore, the greater is the variety in the bosom of the earth, of those stony strata, the regular succession of which unfolds the history of our planet. As every being considered apart is impressed with a particular type, so, in like manner, we find the same distinctive impression in the arrangement of brute matter organized in rocks, and also in the distribution and mutual relations of plants and animals. The great problem of the physical description of the globe, is the determination of the form of these types, the laws of their relations with each other, and the eternal ties which link the phenomena of life, and those of inanimate nature.
Having stated the general object I had in view in my expeditions, I will now hasten to give a slight sketch of the whole of the collections and observations which we have accumulated, and the union of which is the aim and end of every scientific journey. The maritime war, during our abode in America, having rendered communication with Europe very uncertain, we found ourselves compelled, in order to diminish the chance of losses, to form three different collections. Of these, the first was embarked for Spain and France, the second for the United States and England, and the third, which was the most considerable, remained almost constantly under our own eyes. Towards the close of our expedition, this last collection formed forty-two boxes, containing an herbal of six thousand equinoctial plants, seeds, shells, insects, and (what had hitherto never been brought to Europe) geological specimens, from the Chimborazo, New Grenada, and the banks of the river Amazon.
After our journey to the Orinoco, we left a part of these collections at the island of Cuba, intending to take them on our return from Peru to Mexico. The rest followed us during the space of five years, on the chain of the Andes, across New Spain, from the shores of the Pacific to the coasts of the Caribbean Sea. The conveyance of these objects, and the minute care they required, occasioned embarrassments scarcely conceiveable even by those who have traversed the most uncultivated parts of Europe. Our progress was often retarded by the necessity of dragging after us, during expeditions of five or six months, twelve, fifteen, and sometimes more than twenty loaded mules, exchanging these animals every eight or ten days, and superintending the Indians who were employed in driving the numerous caravan. Often, in order to add to our collections of new mineral substances, we found ourselves obliged to throw away others, which we had collected a considerable time before. These sacrifices were not less vexatious than the losses we accidentally sustained. Sad experience taught us but too late, that from the sultry humidity of the climate, and the frequent falls of the beasts of burden, we could preserve neither the skins of animals hastily prepared, nor the fishes and reptiles placed in phials filled with alcohol. I enter into these details, because, though little interesting in themselves, they serve to show that we had no means of bringing back, in their natural state, many objects of zoology and comparative anatomy, of which we have published descriptions and drawings. Notwithstanding some obstacles, and the expense occasioned by the carriage of these articles, I had reason to applaud the resolution I had taken before my departure, of sending to Europe the duplicates only of the productions we collected. I cannot too often repeat, that when the seas are infested with privateers, a traveller can be sure only of the objects in his own possession. A very few of the duplicates, which we shipped for Europe during our abode in America, were saved; the greater part fell into the hands of persons who feel no interest for science. When a ship is condemned in a foreign port, boxes containing only dried plants or stones, instead of being sent to the scientific men to whom they are addressed, are put aside and forgotten. Some of our geological collections taken in the Pacific were, however, more fortunate. We were indebted for their preservation to the generous activity of Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society of London, who, amidst the political agitations of Europe, unceasingly laboured to strengthen the bonds of union between scientific men of all nations.
In our investigations we have considered each phenomenon under different aspects, and classed our remarks according to the relations they bear to each other. To afford an idea of the method we have followed, I will here add a succinct enumeration of the materials with which we were furnished for describing the volcanoes of Antisana and Pichincha, as well as that of Jorullo: the latter, during the night of the 20th of September, 1759, rose from the earth one thousand five hundred and seventy-eight French feet above the surrounding plains of Mexico. The position of these singular mountains in longitude and latitude was ascertained by astronomical observations. We took the heights of the different parts by the aid of the barometer, and determined the dip of the needle and the intensity of the magnetic forces. Our collections contain the plants which are spread over the flanks of these volcanoes, and specimens of different rocks which, superposed one upon another, constitute their external coat. We are enabled to indicate, by measures sufficiently exact, the height above the level of the ocean, at which we found each group of plants, and each volcanic rock. Our journals furnish us with a series of observations on the humidity, the temperature, the electricity, and the degree of transparency of the air on the brinks of the craters of Pichincha and Jorullo; they also contain topographical plans and geological profiles of these mountains, founded in part on the measure of vertical bases, and on angles of altitude. Each observation has been calculated according to the tables and the methods which are considered most exact in the present state of our knowledge; and in order to judge of the degree of confidence which the results may claim, we have preserved the whole detail of our partial operations.
It would have been possible to blend these different materials in a work devoted wholly to the description of the volcanoes of Peru and New Spain. Had I given the physical description of a single province, I could have treated separately everything relating to its geography, mineralogy, and botany; but how could I interrupt the narrative of a journey, a disquisition on the manners of a people, or the great phenomena of nature, by an enumeration of the productions of the country, the description of new species of animals and plants, or the detail of astronomical observations. Had I adopted a mode of composition which would have included in one and the same chapter all that has been observed on one particular point of the globe, I should have prepared a work of cumbrous length, and devoid of that clearness which arises in a great measure from the methodical distribution of matter. Notwithstanding the efforts I have made to avoid, in this narrative, the errors I had to dread, I feel conscious that I have not always succeeded in separating the observations of detail from those general results which interest every enlightened mind. These results comprise in one view the climate and its influence on organized beings, the aspect of the country, varied according to the nature of the soil and its vegetable covering, the direction of the mountains and rivers which separate races of men as well as tribes of plants; and finally, the modifications observable in the condition of people living in different latitudes, and in circumstances more or less favourable to the development of their faculties. I do not fear having too much enlarged on objects so worthy of attention: one of the noblest characteristics which distinguish modern civilization from that of remoter times is, that it has enlarged the mass of our conceptions, rendered us more capable of perceiving the connection between the physical and intellectual world, and thrown a more general interest over objects which heretofore occupied only a few scientific men, because those objects were contemplated separately, and from a narrower point of view.
As it is probable that these volumes will obtain the attention of a greater number of readers than the detail of my observations merely scientific, or my researches on the population, the commerce, and the mines of New Spain, I may be permitted here to enumerate all the works which I have hitherto published conjointly with M. Bonpland. When several works are interwoven in some sort with each other, it may perhaps be interesting to the reader to know the sources whence he may obtain more circumstantial information.
1.I.1. ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS, TRIGONOMETRICAL OPERATIONS, AND BAROMETRICAL MEASUREMENTS MADE DURING THE COURSE OF A JOURNEY TO THE EQUINOCTIAL REGIONS OF THE NEW CONTINENT, FROM 1799 TO 1804.
This work, to which are added historical researches on the position of several points important to navigators, contains, first, the original observations which I made from the twelfth degree of southern to the forty-first degree of northern latitude; the transits of the sun and stars over the meridian; distances of the moon from the sun and the stars; occultations of the satellites; eclipses of the sun and moon; transits of Mercury over the disc of the sun; azimuths; circum-meridian altitudes of the moon, to determine the longitude by the differences of declination; researches on the relative intensity of the light of the austral stars; geodesical measures, etc. Secondly, a treatise on the astronomical refractions in the torrid zone, considered as the effect of the decrement of caloric in the strata of the air; thirdly, the barometric measurement of the Cordillera of the Andes, of Mexico, of the province of Venezuela, of the kingdom of Quito, and of New Grenada; followed by geological observations, and containing the indication of four hundred and fifty-three heights, calculated according to the method of M. Laplace, and the new co-efficient of M. Ramond; fourthly, a table of near seven hundred geographical positions on the New Continent; two hundred and thirty-five of which have been determined by my own observations, according to the three co-ordinates of longitude, latitude, and height.
1.I.2. EQUINOCTIAL PLANTS COLLECTED IN MEXICO, IN THE ISLAND OF CUBA, IN THE PROVINCES OF CARACAS, CUMANA, AND BARCELONA, ON THE ANDES OF NEW GRENADA, QUITO, AND PERU, AND ON THE BANKS OF THE RIO NEGRO, THE ORINOCO, AND THE RIVER AMAZON.
M. Bonpland has in this work given figures of more than forty new genera of plants of the torrid zone, classed according to their natural families. The methodical descriptions of the species are both in French and Latin, and are accompanied by observations on the medicinal properties of the plants, their use in the arts, and the climate of the countries in which they are found.
1.I.3. MONOGRAPHY OF THE MELASTOMA, RHEXIA, AND OTHER GENERA OF THIS ORDER OF PLANTS.
Comprising upwards of a hundred and fifty species of melastomaceae, which we collected during the course of our expeditions, and which form one of the most beautiful ornaments of tropical vegetation. M. Bonpland has added the plants of the same family, which, among many other rich stores of natural history, M. Richard collected in his interesting expedition to the Antilles and French Guiana, and the descriptions of which he has communicated to us.
1.I.4. ESSAY ON THE GEOGRAPHY OF PLANTS, ACCOMPANIED BY A PHYSICAL TABLE OF THE EQUINOCTIAL REGIONS, FOUNDED ON MEASURES TAKEN FROM THE TENTH DEGREE OF NORTHERN TO THE TENTH DEGREE OF SOUTHERN LATITUDE.
I have endeavoured to collect in one point of view the whole of the physical phenomena of that part of the New Continent comprised within the limits of the torrid zone from the level of the Pacific to the highest summit of the Andes; namely, the vegetation, the animals, the geological relations, the cultivation of the soil, the temperature of the air, the limit of perpetual snow, the chemical constitution of the atmosphere, its electrical intensity, its barometrical pressure, the decrement of gravitation, the intensity of the azure colour of the sky, the diminution of light during its passage through the successive strata of the air, the horizontal refractions, and the heat of boiling water at different heights. Fourteen scales, disposed side by side with a profile of the Andes, indicate the modifications to which these phenomena are subject from the influence of the elevation of the soil above the level of the sea. Each group of plants is placed at the height which nature has assigned to it, and we may follow the prodigious variety of their forms from the region of the palms and arborescent ferns to those of the johannesia (chuquiraga, Juss.), the gramineous plants, and lichens. These regions form the natural divisions of the vegetable empire; and as perpetual snow is found in each climate at a determinate height, so, in like manner, the febrifuge species of the quinquina (cinchona) have their fixed limits, which I have marked in the botanical chart belonging to this essay.
1.I.5. OBSERVATIONS ON ZOOLOGY AND COMPARATIVE ANATOMY.
I have comprised in this work the history of the condor; experiments on the electrical action of the gymnotus; a treatise on the larynx of the crocodiles, the quadrumani, and birds of the tropics; the description of several new species of reptiles, fishes, birds, monkeys, and other mammalia but little known. M. Cuvier has enriched this work with a very comprehensive treatise on the axolotl of the lake of Mexico, and on the genera of the Protei. That naturalist has also recognized two new species of mastodons and an elephant among the fossil bones of quadrupeds which we brought from North and South America. For the description of the insects collected by M. Bonpland we are indebted to M. Latreille, whose labours have so much contributed to the progress of entomology in our times. The second volume of this work contains figures of the Mexican, Peruvian, and Aturian skulls, which we have deposited in the Museum of Natural History at Paris, and respecting which Blumenbach has published observations in the 'Decas quinta Craniorum diversarum gentium.'
1.I.6. POLITICAL ESSAY ON THE KINGDOM OF NEW SPAIN, WITH A PHYSICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL ATLAS, FOUNDED ON ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS AND TRIGONOMETRICAL AND BAROMETRICAL MEASUREMENTS.
This work, based on numerous official memoirs, presents, in six divisions, considerations on the extent and natural appearance of Mexico, on the population, on the manners of the inhabitants, their ancient civilization, and the political division of their territory. It embraces also the agriculture, the mineral riches, the manufactures, the commerce, the finances, and the military defence of that vast country. In treating these different subjects I have endeavoured to consider them under a general point of view; I have drawn a parallel not only between New Spain, the other Spanish colonies, and the United States of North America, but also between New Spain and the possessions of the English in Asia; I have compared the agriculture of the countries situated in the torrid zone with that of the temperate climates; and I have examined the quantity of colonial produce necessary to Europe in the present state of civilization. In tracing the geological description of the richest mining districts in Mexico, I have, in short, given a statement of the mineral produce, the population, the imports and exports of the whole of Spanish America. I have examined several questions which, for want of precise data, had not hitherto been treated with the attention they demand, such as the influx and reflux of metals, their progressive accumulation in Europe and Asia, and the quantity of gold and silver which, since the discovery of America down to our own times, the Old World has received from the New. The geographical introduction at the beginning of this work contains the analysis of the materials which have been employed in the construction of the Mexican Atlas.
1.I.7. VIEWS OF THE CORDILLERAS, AND MONUMENTS OF THE INDIGENOUS NATIONS OF THE NEW CONTINENT.* (*Atlas Pittoresque, ou Vues des Cordilleres, 1 volume folio, with 69 plates, part of which are coloured, accompanied by explanatory treatises. This work may be considered as the Atlas to the historical narrative of the travels.)
This work is intended to represent a few of the grand scenes which nature presents in the lofty chain of the Andes, and at the same time to throw some light on the ancient civilization of the Americans, through the study of their monuments of architecture, their hieroglyphics, their religious rites, and their astrological reveries. I have given in this work a description of the teocalli, or Mexican pyramids, and have compared their structure with that of the temple of Belus. I have described the arabesques which cover the ruins of Mitla, the idols in basalt ornamented with the calantica of the heads of Isis; and also a considerable number of symbolical paintings, representing the serpent-woman (the Mexican Eve), the deluge of Coxcox, and the first migrations of the natives of the Aztec race. I have endeavoured to prove the striking analogies existing between the calendar of the Toltecs and the catasterisms of their zodiac, and the division of time of the people of Tartary and Thibet, as well as the Mexican traditions on the four regenerations of the globe, the pralayas of the Hindoos, and the four ages of Hesiod. In this work I have also included (in addition to the hieroglyphical paintings I brought to Europe), fragments of all the Aztec manuscripts, collected in Rome, Veletri, Vienna, and Dresden, and one of which reminds us, by its lineary symbols, of the kouas of the Chinese. Together with the rude monuments of the aborigines of America, this volume contains picturesque views of the mountainous countries which those people inhabited; for example, the cataract of Tequendama, Chimborazo, the volcano of Jorullo and Cayambe, the pyramidal summit of which, covered with eternal ice, is situated directly under the equinoctial line. In every zone the configuration of the ground, the physiognomy of the plants, and the aspect of lovely or wild scenery, have great influence on the progress of the arts, and on the style which distinguishes their productions. This influence is so much the more perceptible in proportion as man is farther removed from civilization.
I could have added to this work researches on the character of languages, which are the most durable monuments of nations. I have collected a number of materials on the languages of America, of which MM. Frederic Schlegel and Vater have made use; the former in his Considerations on the Hindoos, the latter in his Continuation of the Mithridates of Adelung, in the Ethnographical Magazine, and in his Inquiries into the Population of the New Continent. These materials are now in the hands of my brother, William von Humboldt, who, during his travels in Spain, and a long abode at Rome, formed the richest collection of American vocabularies in existence. His extensive knowledge of the ancient and modern languages has enabled him to trace some curious analogies in relation to this subject, so important to the philosophical study of the history of man. A part of his labours will find a place in this narrative.
Of the different works which I have here enumerated, the second and third were composed by M. Bonpland, from the observations which he made in a botanical journal. This journal contains more than four thousand methodical descriptions of equinoctial plants, a ninth part only of which have been made by me. They appear in a separate publication, under the title of Nova Genera et Species Plantariem. In this work will be found, not only the new species we collected, which, after a careful examination by one of the first botanists of the age, Professor Willdenouw, are computed to amount to fourteen or fifteen hundred, but also the interesting observations made by M. Bonpland on plants hitherto imperfectly described. The plates of this work are all engraved according to the method followed by M. Labillardiere, in the Specimen Planterum Novae Hollandiae, a work remarkable for profound research and clearness of arrangement.
After having distributed into separate works all that belongs to astronomy, botany, zoology, the political description of New Spain, and the history of the ancient civilization of certain nations of the New Continent, there still remained many general results and local descriptions, which I might have collected into separate treatises. I had, during my journey, prepared papers on the races of men in South America; on the Missions of the Orinoco; on the obstacles to the progress of society in the torrid zone arising from the climate and the strength of vegetation; on the character of the landscape in the Cordilleras of the Andes compared with that of the Alps in Switzerland; on the analogies between the rocks of the two hemispheres; on the physical constitution of the air in the equinoctial regions, etc. I had left Europe with the firm intention of not writing what is usually called the historical narrative of a journey, but to publish the fruit of my inquiries in works merely descriptive; and I had arranged the facts, not in the order in which they successively presented themselves, but according to the relation they bore to each other. Amidst the overwhelming majesty of Nature, and the stupendous objects she presents at every step, the traveller is little disposed to record in his journal matters which relate only to himself, and the ordinary details of life.
I composed a very brief itinerary during the course of my excursions on the rivers of South America, and in my long journeys by land. I regularly described (and almost always on the spot) the visits I made to the summits of volcanoes, or mountains remarkable for their height; but the entries in my journal were interrupted whenever I resided in a town, or when other occupations prevented me from continuing a work which I considered as having only a secondary interest. Whenever I wrote in my journal, I had no other motive than the preservation of some of those fugitive ideas which present themselves to a naturalist, whose life is almost wholly passed in the open air. I wished to make a temporary collection of such facts as I had not then leisure to class, and note down the first impressions, whether agreeable or painful, which I received from nature or from man. Far from thinking at the time that those pages thus hurriedly written would form the basis of an extensive work to be offered to the public, it appeared to me, that my journal, though it might furnish certain data useful to science, would present very few of those incidents, the recital of which constitutes the principal charm of an itinerary.
The difficulties I have experienced since my return, in the composition of a considerable number of treatises, for the purpose of making known certain classes of phenomena, insensibly overcame my repugnance to write the narrative of my journey. In undertaking this task, I have been guided by the advice of many estimable persons, who honour me with their friendship. I also perceived that such a preference is given to this sort of composition, that scientific men, after having presented in an isolated form the account of their researches on the productions, the manners, and the political state of the countries through which they have passed, imagine that they have not fulfilled their engagements with the public, till they have written their itinerary.
An historical narrative embraces two very distinct objects; the greater or the less important events connected with the purpose of the traveller, and the observations he has made during his journey. The unity of composition also, which distinguishes good works from those on an ill-constructed plan, can be strictly observed only when the traveller describes what has passed under his own eye; and when his principal attention has been fixed less on scientific observations than on the manners of different people and the great phenomena of nature. Now, the most faithful picture of manners is that which best displays the relations of men towards each other. The character of savage or civilized life is portrayed either in the obstacles a traveller meets with, or in the sensations he feels. It is the traveller himself whom we continually desire to see in contact with the objects which surround him; and his narration interests us the more, when a local tint is diffused over the description of a country and its inhabitants. Such is the source of the interest excited by the history of those early navigators, who, impelled by intrepidity rather than by science, struggled against the elements in their search for the discovery of a new world. Such is the irresistible charm attached to the fate of that enterprising traveller (Mungo Park.), who, full of enthusiasm and energy, penetrated alone into the centre of Africa, to discover amidst barbarous nations the traces of ancient civilization.
In proportion as travels have been undertaken by persons whose views have been directed to researches into descriptive natural history, geography, or political economy, itineraries have partly lost that unity of composition, and that simplicity which characterized those of former ages. It is now become scarcely possible to connect so many different materials with the detail of other events; and that part of a traveller's narrative which we may call dramatic gives way to dissertations merely descriptive. The numerous class of readers who prefer agreeable amusement to solid instruction, have not gained by the exchange; and I am afraid that the temptation will not be great to follow the course of travellers who are incumbered with scientific instruments and collections.
To give greater variety to my work, I have often interrupted the historical narrative by descriptions. I first represent phenomena in the order in which they appeared; and I afterwards consider them in the whole of their individual relations. This mode has been successfully followed in the journey of M. de Saussure, whose most valuable work has contributed more than any other to the advancement of science. Often, amidst dry discussions on meteorology, it contains many charming descriptions; such as those of the modes of life of the inhabitants of the mountains, the dangers of hunting the chamois, and the sensations felt on the summit of the higher Alps.
There are details of ordinary life which it may be useful to note in an itinerary, because they serve for the guidance of those who afterwards journey through the same countries. I have preserved a few, but have suppressed the greater part of those personal incidents which present no particular interest, and which can be rendered amusing only by the perfection of style.
With respect to the country which has been the object of my investigations, I am fully sensible of the great advantages enjoyed by persons who travel in Greece, Egypt, the banks of the Euphrates, and the islands of the Pacific, in comparison with those who traverse the continent of America. In the Old World, nations and the distinctions of their civilization form the principal points in the picture; in the New World, man and his productions almost disappear amidst the stupendous display of wild and gigantic nature. The human race in the New World presents only a few remnants of indigenous hordes, slightly advanced in civilization; or it exhibits merely the uniformity of manners and institutions transplanted by European colonists to foreign shores. Information which relates to the history of our species, to the various forms of government, to monuments of art, to places full of great remembrances, affect us far more than descriptions of those vast solitudes which seem destined only for the development of vegetable life, and to be the domain of wild animals. The savages of America, who have been the objects of so many systematic reveries, and on whom M. Volney has lately published some accurate and intelligent observations, inspire less interest since celebrated navigators have made known to us the inhabitants of the South Sea islands, in whose character we find a striking mixture of perversity and meekness. The state of half-civilization existing among those islanders gives a peculiar charm to the description of their manners. A king, followed by a numerous suite, presents the fruits of his orchard; or a funeral is performed amidst the shade of the lofty forest. Such pictures, no doubt, have more attraction than those which pourtray the solemn gravity of the inhabitant of the banks of the Missouri or the Maranon.
America offers an ample field for the labours of the naturalist. On no other part of the globe is he called upon more powerfully by nature to raise himself to general ideas on the cause of phenomena and their mutual connection. To say nothing of that luxuriance of vegetation, that eternal spring of organic life, those climates varying by stages as we climb the flanks of the Cordilleras, and those majestic rivers which a celebrated writer (M. Chateaubriand.) has described with such graceful accuracy, the resources which the New World affords for the study of geology and natural philosophy in general have been long since acknowledged. Happy the traveller who may cherish the hope that he has availed himself of the advantages of his position, and that he has added some new facts to the mass of those previously acquired!
Since I left America, one of those great revolutions, which at certain periods agitate the human race, has broken out in the Spanish colonies, and seems to prepare new destinies for a population of fourteen millions of inhabitants, spreading from the southern to the northern hemisphere, from the shores of the Rio de la Plata and Chile to the remotest part of Mexico. Deep resentments, excited by colonial legislation, and fostered by mistrustful policy, have stained with blood regions which had enjoyed, for the space of nearly three centuries, what I will not call happiness but uninterrupted peace. At Quito several of the most virtuous and enlightened citizens have perished, victims of devotion to their country. While I am giving the description of regions, the remembrance of which is so dear to me, I continually light on places which recall to my mind the loss of a friend.
When we reflect on the great political agitations of the New World, we observe that the Spanish Americans are by no means in so favourable a position as the inhabitants of the United States; the latter having been prepared for independence by the long enjoyment of constitutional liberty. Internal dissensions are chiefly to be dreaded in regions where civilization is but slightly rooted, and where, from the influence of climate, forests may soon regain their empire over cleared lands if their culture be abandoned. It may also be feared that, during a long series of years, no foreign traveller will be enabled to traverse all the countries which I have visited. This circumstance may perhaps add to the interest of a work which pourtrays the state of the greater part of the Spanish colonies at the beginning of the 19th century. I even venture to indulge the hope that this work will be thought worthy of attention when passions shall be hushed into peace, and when, under the influence of a new social order, those countries shall have made rapid progress in public welfare. If then some pages of my book are snatched from oblivion, the inhabitant of the banks of the Orinoco and the Atabapo will behold with delight populous cities enriched by commerce, and fertile fields cultivated by the hands of free men, on those very spots where, at the time of my travels, I found only impenetrable forests and inundated lands.
PERSONAL NARRATIVE OF A JOURNEY TO THE EQUINOCTIAL REGIONS OF THE NEW CONTINENT.
CHAPTER 1.1. PREPARATIONS. INSTRUMENTS. DEPARTURE FROM SPAIN. LANDING AT THE CANARY ISLANDS.
From my earliest youth I felt an ardent desire to travel into distant regions, seldom visited by Europeans. This desire is characteristic of a period of our existence when appears an unlimited horizon, and when we find an irresistible attraction in the impetuous agitations of the mind, and the image of positive danger. Though educated in a country which has no direct communication with either the East or the West Indies, living amidst mountains remote from coasts, and celebrated for their numerous mines, I felt an increasing passion for the sea and distant expeditions. Objects with which we are acquainted only by the animated narratives of travellers have a peculiar charm; imagination wanders with delight over that which is vague and undefined; and the pleasures we are deprived of seem to possess a fascinating power, compared with which all we daily feel in the narrow circle of sedentary life appears insipid. The taste for herborisation, the study of geology, rapid excursions to Holland, England, and France, with the celebrated Mr. George Forster, who had the happiness to accompany captain Cook in his second expedition round the globe, contributed to give a determined direction to the plan of travels which I had formed at eighteen years of age. No longer deluded by the agitation of a wandering life, I was anxious to contemplate nature in all her variety of wild and stupendous scenery; and the hope of collecting some facts useful to the advancement of science, incessantly impelled my wishes towards the luxuriant regions of the torrid zone. As personal circumstances then prevented me from executing the projects by which I was so powerfully influenced, I had leisure to prepare myself during six years for the observations I proposed to make on the New Continent, as well as to visit different parts of Europe, and to explore the lofty chain of the Alps, the structure of which I might afterwards compare with that of the Andes of Quito and of Peru.
I had traversed a part of Italy in 1795, but had not been able to visit the volcanic regions of Naples and Sicily; and I regretted leaving Europe without having seen Vesuvius, Stromboli, and Etna. I felt, that in order to form a proper judgment of many geological phenomena, especially of the nature of the rocks of trap-formation, it was necessary to examine the phenomena presented by burning volcanoes. I determined therefore to return to Italy in the month of November, 1797. I made a long stay at Vienna, where the fine collections of exotic plants, and the friendship of Messrs. de Jacquin, and Joseph van der Schott, were highly useful to my preparatory studies. I travelled with M. Leopold von Buch, through several cantons of Salzburg and Styria, countries alike interesting to the landscape-painter and the geologist; but just when I was about to cross the Tyrolese Alps, the war then raging in Italy obliged me to abandon the project of going to Naples.
A short time before, a gentleman passionately fond of the fine arts, and who had visited the coasts of Greece and Illyria to inspect their monuments, made me a proposal to accompany him in an expedition to Upper Egypt. This expedition was to occupy only eight months. Provided with astronomical instruments and able draughtsmen, we were to ascend the Nile as far as Assouan, after minutely examining the positions of the Said, between Tentyris and the cataracts. Though my views had not hitherto been fixed on any region but the tropics, I could not resist the temptation of visiting countries so celebrated in the annals of human civilization. I therefore accepted this proposition, but with the express condition, that on our return to Alexandria I should be at liberty to continue my journey through Syria and Palestine. The studies which I entered upon with a view to this new project, I afterwards found useful, when I examined the relations between the barbarous monuments of Mexico, and those belonging to the nations of the old world. I thought myself on the point of embarking for Egypt, when political events forced me to abandon a plan which promised me so much satisfaction.
An expedition of discovery in the South Sea, under the direction of captain Baudin, was then preparing in France. The plan was great, bold, and worthy of being executed by a more enlightened commander. The purpose of this expedition was to visit the Spanish possessions of South America, from the mouth of the river Plata to the kingdom of Quito and the isthmus of Panama. After visiting the archipelago of the Pacific, and exploring the coasts of New Holland, from Van Diemen's Land to that of Nuyts, both vessels were to stop at Madagascar, and return by the Cape of Good Hope. I was in Paris when the preparations for this voyage were begun. I had but little confidence in the personal character of captain Baudin, who had given cause of discontent to the court of Vienna, when he was commissioned to conduct to Brazil one of my friends, the young botanist, Van der Schott; but as I could not hope, with my own resources, to make a voyage of such extent, and view so fine a portion of the globe, I determined to take the chances of this expedition. I obtained permission to embark, with the instruments I had collected, in one of the vessels destined for the South Sea, and I reserved to myself the liberty of leaving captain Baudin whenever I thought proper. M. Michaux, who had already visited Persia and a part of North America, and M. Bonpland, with whom I then formed the friendship that still unites us, were appointed to accompany this expedition as naturalists.
I had flattered myself during several months with the idea of sharing the labours directed to so great and honourable an object when the war which broke out in Germany and Italy, determined the French government to withdraw the funds granted for their voyage of discovery, and adjourn it to an indefinite period. Deeply mortified at finding the plans I had formed during many years of my life overthrown in a single day, I sought at any risk the speediest means of quitting Europe, and engaging in some enterprise which might console me for my disappointment.
I became acquainted with a Swedish consul, named Skioldebrand, who having been appointed by his court to carry presents to the dey of Algiers, was passing through Paris, to embark at Marseilles. This estimable man had resided a long time on the coast of Africa; and being highly respected by the government of Algiers, he could easily procure me permission to visit that part of the chain of the Atlas which had not been the object of the important researches of M. Desfontaines. He despatched every year a vessel for Tunis, where the pilgrims embarked for Mecca, and he promised to convey me by the same medium to Egypt. I eagerly seized so favourable an opportunity, and thought myself on the point of executing a plan which I had formed previously to my arrival in France. No mineralogist had yet examined that lofty chain of mountains which, in the empire of Morocco, rises to the limits of the perpetual snow. I flattered myself, that, after executing some operations in the alpine regions of Barbary, I should receive in Egypt from those illustrious men who had for some months formed the Institute of Cairo, the same kind attentions with which I had been honoured during my abode in Paris. I hastily completed my collection of instruments, and purchased works relating to the countries I was going to visit. I parted from a brother who, by his advice and example, had hitherto exercised a great influence on the direction of my thoughts. He approved the motives which determined me to quit Europe; a secret voice assured us that we should meet again; and that hope, which did not prove delusive, assuaged the pain of a long separation. I left Paris with the intention of embarking for Algiers and Egypt; but by one of those vicissitudes which sway the affairs of this life, I returned to my brother from the river Amazon and Peru, without having touched the continent of Africa.
The Swedish frigate which was to convey M. Skioldebrand to Algiers, was expected at Marseilles toward the end of October. M. Bonpland and myself repaired thither with great celerity, for during our journey we were tormented with the fear of being too late, and missing our passage.
M. Skioldebrand was no less impatient than ourselves to reach his place of destination. Several times a day we climbed the mountain of Notre Dame de la Garde, which commands an extensive view of the Mediterranean. Every sail we descried in the horizon excited in us the most eager emotion; but after two months of anxiety and vain expectation, we learned by the public papers, that the Swedish frigate which was to convey us, had suffered greatly in a storm on the coast of Portugal, and had been forced to enter the port of Cadiz, to refit. This news was confirmed by private letters, assuring us that the Jaramas, which was the name of the frigate, would not reach Marseilles before the spring.
We felt no inclination to prolong our stay in Provence till that period. The country, and especially the climate, were delightful, but the aspect of the sea reminded us of the failure of our projects. In an excursion we made to Hyeres and Toulon, we found in the latter port the frigate la Boudeuse, which had been commanded by M. de Bougainville, in his voyage round the world. She was then fitting out for Corsica. M. de Bougainville had honoured me with particular kindness during my stay in Paris, when I was preparing to accompany the expedition of captain Baudin. I cannot describe the impression made upon my mind by the sight of the vessel which had carried Commerson to the islands of the South Sea. In some conditions of the mind, a painful emotion blends itself with all our feelings.
We still persisted in the intention of visiting the African coast, and were nearly becoming the victims of our perseverance. A small vessel of Ragusa, on the point of setting sail for Tunis, was at that time in the port of Marseilles; we thought the opportunity favourable for reaching Egypt and Syria, and we agreed with the captain for our passage. The vessel was to sail the following day; but a circumstance trivial in itself happily prevented our departure. The live-stock intended to serve us for food during our passage, was kept in the great cabin. We desired that some changes should be made, which were indispensable for the safety of our instruments; and during this interval we learnt at Marseilles, that the government of Tunis persecuted the French residing in Barbary, and that every person coming from a French port was thrown into a dungeon. Having escaped this imminent danger, we were compelled to suspend the execution of our projects. We resolved to pass the winter in Spain, in hopes of embarking the next spring, either at Carthagena, or at Cadiz, if the political situation of the East permitted.
We crossed Catalonia and the kingdom of Valencia, on our way to Madrid. We visited the ruins of Tarragona and those of ancient Saguntum; and from Barcelona we made an excursion to Montserrat, the lofty peaks of which are inhabited by hermits, and where the contrast between luxuriant vegetation and masses of naked and arid rocks, forms a landscape of a peculiar character. I employed myself in ascertaining by astronomical observations the position of several points important for the geography of Spain, and determined by means of the barometer the height of the central plain. I likewise made several observations on the inclination of the needle, and on the intensity of the magnetic forces.
On my arrival at Madrid I had reason to congratulate myself on the resolution I had formed of visiting the Peninsula. Baron de Forell, minister from the court of Saxony, treated me with a degree of kindness, of which I soon felt the value. He was well versed in mineralogy, and was full of zeal for every undertaking that promoted the progress of knowledge. He observed to me, that under the administration of an enlightened minister, Don Mariano Luis de Urquijo, I might hope to obtain permission to visit, at my own expense, the interior of Spanish America. After the disappointments I had suffered, I did not hesitate a moment to adopt this idea.
I was presented at the court of Aranjuez in March 1799 and the king received me graciously. I explained to him the motives which led me to undertake a voyage to the new world and the Philippine Islands, and I presented a memoir on the subject to the secretary of state. Senor de Urquijo supported my demand, and overcame every obstacle. I obtained two passports, one from the first secretary of state, the other from the council of the Indies. Never had so extensive a permission been granted to any traveller, and never had any foreigner been honoured with more confidence on the part of the Spanish government.
Many considerations might have induced us to prolong our abode in Spain. The abbe Cavanilles, no less remarkable for the variety of his attainments than his acute intelligence; M. Nee, who, together with M. Haenke, had, as botanist, made part of the expedition of Malaspina, and who had formed one of the greatest herbals ever seen in Europe; Don Casimir Ortega, the abbe Pourret, and the learned authors of the Flora of Peru, Messrs. Ruiz and Pavon, all opened to us without reserve their rich collections. We examined part of the plants of Mexico, discovered by Messrs. Sesse, Mocino, and Cervantes, whose drawings had been sent to the Museum of Natural History of Madrid. This great establishment, the direction of which was confided to Senor Clavijo, author of an elegant translation of the works of Buffon, offered us, it is true, no geological representation of the Cordilleras, but M. Proust, so well known by the great accuracy of his chemical labours, and a distinguished mineralogist, M. Hergen, gave us curious details on several mineral substances of America. It would have been useful to us to have employed a longer time in studying the productions of the countries which were to be the objects of our research, but our impatience to take advantage of the permission given us by the court was too great to suffer us to delay our departure. For a year past, I had experienced so many disappointments, that I could scarcely persuade myself that my most ardent wishes would be at length fulfilled.
We left Madrid about the middle of May, crossed a part of Old Castile, the kingdoms of Leon and Galicia, and reached Corunna, whence we were to embark for Cuba. The winter having been protracted and severe, we enjoyed during the journey that mild temperature of the spring, which in so southern a latitude usually occurs during March and April. The snow still covered the lofty granitic tops of the Guadarama; but in the deep valleys of Galicia, which resemble the most picturesque spots of Switzerland and the Tyrol, cistuses loaded with flowers; and arborescent heaths clothed every rock. We quitted without regret the elevated plain of the two Castiles, which is everywhere devoid of vegetation, and where the severity of the winter's cold is followed by the overwhelming heat of summer. From the few observations I personally made, the interior of Spain forms a vast plain, elevated three hundred toises (five hundred and eighty-four metres) above the level of the ocean, is covered with secondary formations, grit-stone, gypsum, sal-gem, and the calcareous stone of Jura. The climate of the Castiles is much colder than that of Toulon and Genoa; its mean temperature scarcely rises to 15 degrees of the centigrade thermometer.
We are astonished to find that, in the latitude of Calabria, Thessaly, and Asia Minor, orange-trees do not flourish in the open air. The central elevated plain is encircled by a low and narrow zone, where the chamaerops, the date-tree, the sugar-cane, the banana, and a number of plants common to Spain and the north of Africa, vegetate on several spots, without suffering from the rigours of winter. From the 36th to 40th degrees of latitude, the medium temperature of this zone is from 17 to 20 degrees; and by a concurrence of circumstances, which it would be too long to explain, this favoured region has become the principal seat of industry and intellectual improvement.
When, in the kingdom of Valencia, we ascend from the shore of the Mediterranean towards the lofty plains of La Mancha and the Castiles, we seem to discern, far inland, from the lengthened declivities, the ancient coast of the Peninsula. This curious phenomenon recalls the traditions of the Samothracians, and other historical testimonies, according to which it is supposed that the irruption of the waters through the Dardanelles, augmenting the basin of the Mediterranean, rent and overflowed the southern part of Europe. If we admit that these traditions owe their origin, not to mere geological reveries, but to the remembrance of some ancient catastrophe, we may conceive the central elevated plain of Spain resisting the efforts of these great inundations, till the draining of the waters, by the straits formed between the pillars of Hercules, brought the Mediterranean progressively to its present level, lower Egypt emerging above its surface on the one side, and the fertile plains of Tarragona, Valencia, and Murcia, on the other. Everything that relates to the formation of that sea,* (* Some of the ancient geographers believed that the Mediterranean, swelled by the waters of the Euxine, the Palus Maeotis, the Caspian Sea, and the Sea of Aral, had broken the pillars of Hercules; others admitted that the irruption was made by the waters of the ocean. In the first of these hypotheses, the height of the land between the Black Sea and the Baltic, and between the ports of Cette and Bordeaux, determine the limit which the accumulation of the waters may have reached before the junction of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic, as well to the north of the Dardanelles, as to the east of this strip of land which formerly joined Europe to Mauritania, and of which, in the time of Strabo, certain vestiges remained in the Islands of Juno and the Moon.) which has had so powerful an influence on the first civilization of mankind, is highly interesting. We might suppose, that Spain, forming a promontory amidst the waves, was indebted for its preservation to the height of its land; but in order to give weight to these theoretic ideas, we must clear up the doubts that have arisen respecting the rupture of so many transverse dikes;—we must discuss the probability of the Mediterranean having been formerly divided into several separate basins, of which Sicily and the island of Candia appear to mark the ancient limits. We will not here risk the solution of these problems, but will satisfy ourselves in fixing attention on the striking contrast in the configuration of the land in the eastern and western extremities of Europe. Between the Baltic and the Black Sea, the ground is at present scarcely fifty toises above the level of the ocean, while the plain of La Mancha, if placed between the sources of the Niemen and the Borysthenes, would figure as a group of mountains of considerable height. If the causes, which may have changed the surface of our planet, be an interesting speculation, investigations of the phenomena, such as they offer themselves to the measures and observations of the naturalist, lead to far greater certainty.
From Astorga to Corunna, especially from Lugo, the mountains rise gradually. The secondary formations gently disappear, and are succeeded by the transition rocks, which indicate the proximity of primitive strata. We found considerable mountains composed of that ancient grey stone which the mineralogists of the school of Freyberg name grauwakke, and grauwakkenschiefer. I do not know whether this formation, which is not frequent in the south of Europe, has hitherto been discovered in other parts of Spain. Angular fragments of Lydian stone, scattered along the valleys, seemed to indicate that the transition schist is the basis of the strata of greywacke. Near Corunna even granitic ridges stretch as far as Cape Ortegal. These granites, which seem formerly to have been contiguous to those of Britanny and Cornwall, are perhaps the wrecks of a chain of mountains destroyed and sunk in the waves. Large and beautiful crystals of feldspar characterise this rock. Common tin ore is sometimes discovered there, but working the mines is a laborious and unprofitable operation for the inhabitants of Galicia.
The first secretary of state had recommended us very particularly to brigadier Don Raphael Clavijo, who was employed in forming new dock-yards at Corunna. He advised us to embark on board the sloop Pizarro,* (* According to the Spanish nomenclature, the Pizarro was a light frigate (fragata lijera).) which was to sail in company with the Alcudia, the packet-boat of the month of May, which, on account of the blockade, had been detained three weeks in the port. Senor Clavijo ordered the necessary arrangements to be made on board the sloop for placing our instruments, and the captain of the Pizarro received orders to stop at Teneriffe, as long as we should judge necessary to enable us to visit the port of Orotava, and ascend the peak.
We had yet ten days to wait before we embarked. During this interval, we employed ourselves in preparing the plants we had collected in the beautiful valleys of Galicia, which no naturalist had yet visited: we examined the fuci and the mollusca which the north-west winds had cast with great profusion at the foot of the steep rock, on which the lighthouse of the Tower of Hercules is built. This edifice, called also the Iron Tower, was repaired in 1788. It is ninety-two feet high, its walls are four feet and a half thick, and its construction clearly proves that it was built by the Romans. An inscription discovered near its foundation, a copy of which M. Laborde obligingly gave me, informs us, that this pharos was constructed by Caius Sevius Lupus, architect of the city of Aqua Flavia (Chaves), and that it was dedicated to Mars. Why is the Iron Tower called in the country by the name of Hercules? Was it built by the Romans on the ruins of a Greek or Phoenician edifice? Strabo, indeed, affirms that Galicia, the country of the Callaeci, had been peopled by Greek colonies. According to an extract from the geography of Spain, by Asclepiades the Myrlaean, an ancient tradition stated that the companions of Hercules had settled in these countries.
The ports of Ferrol and Corunna both communicate with one bay, so that a vessel driven by bad weather towards the coast may anchor in either, according to the wind. This advantage is invaluable where the sea is almost always tempestuous, as between capes Ortegal and Finisterre, which are the promontories Trileucum and Artabrum of ancient geography. A narrow passage, flanked by perpendicular rocks of granite, leads to the extensive basin of Ferrol. No port in Europe has so extraordinary an anchorage, from its very inland position. The narrow and tortuous passage by which vessels enter this port, has been opened, either by the irruption of the waves, or by the reiterated shocks of very violent earthquakes. In the New World, on the coasts of New Andalusia, the Laguna del Obispo (Bishop's lake) is formed exactly like the port of Ferrol. The most curious geological phenomena are often repeated at immense distances on the surface of continents; and naturalists who have examined different parts of the globe, are struck with the extreme resemblance observed in the rents on coasts, in the sinuosities of the valleys, in the aspect of the mountains, and in their distribution by groups. The accidental concurrence of the same causes must have everywhere produced the same effects; and amidst the variety of nature, an analogy of structure and form is observed in the arrangement of inanimate matter, as well as in the internal organization of plants and of animals.
Crossing from Corunna to Ferrol, over a shallow, near the White Signal, in the bay, which according to D'Anville is the Portus Magnus of the ancients, we made several experiments by means of a valved thermometrical sounding lead, on the temperature of the ocean, and on the decrement of caloric in the successive strata of water. The thermometer on the bank, and near the surface, was from 12.5 to 13.3 degrees centigrades, while in deep water it constantly marked 15 or 15.3 degrees, the air being at 12.8 degrees. The celebrated Franklin and Mr. Jonathan Williams* (* Author of a work entitled "Thermometrical Navigation," published at Philadelphia.) were the first to invite the attention of naturalists to the phenomena of the temperature of the Atlantic over shoals, and in that zone of tepid and flowing waters which runs from the gulf of Mexico to the banks of Newfoundland and the northern coasts of Europe. The observation, that the proximity of a sand-bank is indicated by a rapid descent of the temperature of the sea at its surface, is not only interesting to the naturalist, but may become also very important for the safety of navigators. The use of the thermometer ought certainly not to lead us to neglect the use of the lead; but experiments sufficiently prove, that variations of temperature, sensible to the most imperfect instruments, indicate danger long before the vessel reaches the shoals. In such cases, the frigidity of the water may induce the pilot to heave the lead in places where he thought himself in the most perfect safety. The waters which cover the shoals owe in a great measure the diminution of their temperature to their mixture with the lower strata of water, which rise towards the surface on the edge of the banks.
The moment of leaving Europe for the first time is attended with a solemn feeling. We in vain summon to our minds the frequency of the communication between the two worlds; we in vain reflect on the great facility with which, from the improved state of navigation, we traverse the Atlantic, which compared to the Pacific is but a larger arm of the sea; the sentiment we feel when we first undertake so distant a voyage is not the less accompanied by a deep emotion, unlike any other impression we have hitherto felt. Separated from the objects of our dearest affections, entering in some sort on a new state of existence, we are forced to fall back on our own thoughts, and we feel within ourselves a dreariness we have never known before. Among the letters which, at the time of our embarking, I wrote to friends in France and Germany, one had a considerable influence on the direction of our travels, and on our succeeding operations. When I left Paris with the intention of visiting the coast of Africa, the expedition for discoveries in the Pacific seemed to be adjourned for several years. I had agreed with captain Baudin, that if, contrary to his expectation, his voyage took place at an earlier period, and intelligence of it should reach me in time, I would endeavour to return from Algiers to a port in France or Spain, to join the expedition. I renewed this promise on leaving Europe, and wrote to M. Baudin, that if the government persisted in sending him by Cape Horn, I would endeavour to meet him either at Monte Video, Chile, or Lima, or wherever he should touch in the Spanish colonies. In consequence of this engagement, I changed the plan of my journey, on reading in the American papers, in 1801, that the French expedition had sailed from Havre, to circumnavigate the globe from east to west. I hired a small vessel from Batabano, in the island of Cuba, to Portobello, and thence crossed the isthmus to the coast of the Pacific; this mistake of a journalist led M. Bonpland and myself to travel eight hundred leagues through a country we had no intention to visit. It was only at Quito, that a letter from M. Delambre, perpetual secretary of the first class of the Institute, informed us, that captain Baudin went by the Cape of Good Hope, without touching on the eastern or western coasts of America.
We spent two days at Corunna, after our instruments were embarked. A thick fog, which covered the horizon, at length indicated the change of weather we so anxiously desired. On the 4th of June, in the evening, the wind turned to north-east, a point which, on the coast of Galicia, is considered very constant during the summer. The Pizarro prepared to sail on the 5th, though we had intelligence that only a few hours previously an English squadron had been seen from the watch-tower of Sisarga, appearing to stand towards the mouth of the Tagus. Those who saw our ship weigh anchor asserted that we should be captured in three days, and that, forced to follow the fate of the vessel, we should be carried to Lisbon. This prognostic gave us the more uneasiness, as we had known some Mexicans at Madrid, who, in order to return to Vera Cruz, had embarked three times at Cadiz, and having been each time taken at the entrance of the port, were at length obliged to return to Spain through Portugal.
The Pizarro set sail at two in the afternoon. As the long and narrow passage by which a ship sails from the port of Corunna opens towards the north, and the wind was contrary, we made eight short tacks, three of which were useless. A fresh tack was made, but very slowly, and we were for some moments in danger at the foot of fort St. Amarro, the current having driven us very near the rock, on which the sea breaks with considerable violence. We remained with our eyes fixed on the castle of St. Antonio, where the unfortunate Malaspina was then a captive in a state prison. On the point of leaving Europe to visit the countries which this illustrious traveller had visited with so much advantage, I could have wished to have fixed my thoughts on some object less affecting.
At half-past six we passed the Tower of Hercules, which is the lighthouse of Corunna, as already mentioned, and where, from a very remote time, a coal-fire has been kept up for the direction of vessels. The light of this fire is in no way proportionate to the noble construction of so vast an edifice, being so feeble that ships cannot perceive it till they are in danger of striking on the shore. Towards the close of day the wind increased and the sea ran high. We directed our course to north-west, in order to avoid the English frigates, which we supposed were cruising off these coasts. About nine we spied the light of a fishing-hut at Sisarga, which was the last object we beheld in the west of Europe.
On the 7th we were in the latitude of Cape Finisterre. The group of granitic rocks, which forms part of this promontory, like that of Torianes and Monte de Corcubion, bears the name of the Sierra de Torinona. Cape Finisterre is lower than the neighbouring lands, but the Torinona is visible at seventeen leagues' distance, which proves that the elevation of its highest summit is not less than 300 toises (582 metres). Spanish navigators affirm that on these coasts the magnetic variation differs extremely from that observed at sea. M. Bory, it is true, in the voyage of the sloop Amaranth, found in 1751, that the variation of the needle determined at the Cape was four degrees less than could have been conjectured from the observations made at the same period along the coasts. In the same manner as the granite of Galicia contains tin disseminated in its mass, that of Cape Finisterre probably contains micaceous iron. In the mountains of the Upper Palatinate there are granitic rocks in which crystals of micaceous iron take the place of common mica.
On the 8th, at sunset, we descried from the mast-head an English convoy sailing along the coast, and steering towards south-east. In order to avoid it we altered our course during the night. From this moment no light was permitted in the great cabin, to prevent our being seen at a distance. This precaution, which was at the time prescribed in the regulations of the packet-ships of the Spanish navy, was extremely irksome to us during the voyages we made in the course of the five following years. We were constantly obliged to make use of dark-lanterns to examine the temperature of the water, or to read the divisions on the limb of the astronomical instruments. In the torrid zone, where twilight lasts but a few minutes, our operations ceased almost at six in the evening. This state of things was so much the more vexatious to me as from the nature of my constitution I never was subject to sea-sickness, and feel an extreme ardour for study during the whole time I am at sea.
On the 9th of June, in latitude 39 degrees 50 minutes, and longitude 16 degrees 10 minutes west of the meridian of the observatory of Paris, we began to feel the effects of the great current which from the Azores flows towards the straits of Gibraltar and the Canary Islands. This current is commonly attributed to that tendency towards the east, which the straits of Gibraltar give to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. M. de Fleurieu observes that the Mediterranean, losing by evaporation more water than the rivers can supply, causes a movement in the neighbouring ocean, and that the influence of the straits is felt at the distance of six hundred leagues. Without derogating from the respect I entertain for the opinion of that celebrated navigator, I may be permitted to consider this important object in a far more general point of view.
When we cast our eyes over the Atlantic, or that deep valley which divides the western coasts of Europe and Africa from the eastern coasts of the new world, we distinguish a contrary direction in the motion of the waters. Within the tropics, especially from the coast of Senegal to the Caribbean Sea, the general current, that which was earliest known to mariners, flows constantly from east to west. This is called the equinoctial current. Its mean rapidity, corresponding to different latitudes, is nearly the same in the Atlantic and in the Pacific, and may be estimated at nine or ten miles in twenty-four hours, consequently from 0.59 to 0.65 of a foot every second! In those latitudes the waters run towards the west with a velocity equal to a fourth of the rapidity of the greater part of the larger rivers of Europe. The movement of the ocean in a direction contrary to that of the rotation of the globe, is probably connected with this last phenomenon only as far as the rotation converts into trade winds* (* The limits of the trade winds were, for the first time, determined by Dampier in 1666.) the polar winds, which, in the low regions of the atmosphere bring back the cold air of the high latitudes toward the equator. To the general impulsion which these trade-winds give the surface of the sea, we must attribute the equinoctial current, the force and rapidity of which are not sensibly modified by the local variations of the atmosphere.
In the channel which the Atlantic has dug between Guiana and Guinea, on the meridian of 20 or 23 degrees, and from the 8th or 9th to the 2nd or 3rd degrees of northern latitude, where the trade-winds are often interrupted by winds blowing from the south and south-south-west, the equinoctial current is more inconstant in its direction. Towards the coasts of Africa, vessels are drawn in the direction of south-east; whilst towards the Bay of All Saints and Cape St. Augustin, the coasts of which are dreaded by navigators sailing towards the mouth of the Plata, the general motion of the waters is masked by a particular current (the effects of which extend from Cape St. Roche to the Isle of Trinidad) running north-west with a mean velocity of a foot and a half every second.
The equinoctial current is felt, though feebly, even beyond the tropic of Cancer, in the 26th and 28th degrees of latitude. In the vast basin of the Atlantic, at six or seven hundred leagues from the coasts of Africa, vessels from Europe bound to the West Indies, find their sailing accelerated before they reach the torrid zone. More to the north, in 28 and 35 degrees, between the parallels of Teneriffe and Ceuta, in 46 and 48 degrees of longitude, no constant motion is observed: there, a zone of 140 leagues in breadth separates the equinoctial current (the tendency of which is towards the west) from that great mass of water which runs eastward, and is distinguished for its extraordinary high temperature. To this mass of waters, known by the name of the Gulf-stream,* (* Sir Francis Drake observed this extraordinary movement of the waters, but he was unacquainted with their high temperature.) the attention of naturalists was directed in 1776 by the curious observations of Franklin and Sir Charles Blagden.
The equinoctial current drives the waters of the Atlantic towards the coasts inhabited by the Mosquito Indians, and towards the shores of Honduras. The New Continent, stretching from south to north, forms a sort of dyke to this current. The waters are carried at first north-west, and passing into the Gulf of Mexico through the strait formed by Cape Catoche and Cape St. Antonio, follow the bendings of the Mexican coast, from Vera Cruz to the mouth of the Rio del Norte, and thence to the mouths of the Mississippi, and the shoals west of the southern extremity of Florida. Having made this vast circuit west, north, east, and south, the current takes a new direction northward, and throws itself with impetuosity into the Gulf of Florida. At the end of the Gulf of Florida, in the parallel of Cape Cannaveral, the Gulf-stream, or current of Florida, runs north-east. Its rapidity resembles that of a torrent, and is sometimes five miles an hour. The pilot may judge, with some certainty, of the proximity of his approach to New York, Philadelphia, or Charlestown when he reaches the edge of the stream; for the elevated temperature of the waters, their saltness, indigo-blue colour, and the shoals of seaweed which cover their surface, as well as the heat of the surrounding atmosphere, all indicate the Gulf-stream. Its rapidity diminishes towards the north, at the same time that its breadth increases and the waters become cool. Between Cayo Biscaino and the bank of Bahama the breadth is only 15 leagues, whilst in the latitude of 28 1/2 degrees, it is 17, and in the parallel of Charlestown, opposite Cape Henlopen, from 40 to 50 leagues. The rapidity of the current is from three to five miles an hour where the stream is narrowest, and is only one mile as it advances towards the north. The waters of the Mexican Gulf; forcibly drawn to north-east, preserve their warm temperature to such a point, that in 40 and 41 degrees of latitude I found them at 22.5 degrees (18 degrees R.) when, out of the current, the heat of the ocean at its surface was scarcely 17.5 degrees (14 degrees R.). In the parallel of New York and Oporto, the temperature of the Gulf-stream is consequently equal to that of the seas of the tropics in the 18th degree of latitude, as, for instance, in the parallel of Porto Rico and the islands of Cape Verd.
To the east of the port of Boston, and on the meridian of Halifax, in latitude 41 degrees 25 minutes, and longitude 67 degrees, the current is near 80 leagues broad. From this point it turns suddenly to the east, so that its western edge, as it bends, becomes the western limit of the running waters, skirting the extremity of the great bank of Newfoundland, which M. Volney ingeniously calls the bar of the mouth of this enormous sea-river. The cold waters of this bank, which according to my experiments are at a temperature of 8.7 or 10 degrees (7 or 8 degrees R.) present a striking contrast with the waters of the torrid zone, driven northward by the Gulf-stream, the temperature of which is from 21 to 22.5 degrees (17 to 18 degrees R.). in these latitudes, the caloric is distributed in a singular manner throughout the ocean; the waters of the bank are 9.4 degrees colder than the neighbouring sea; and this sea is 3 degrees colder than the current. These zones can have no equilibrium of temperature, having a source of heat, or a cause of refrigeration, which is peculiar to each, and the influence of which is permanent.