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.
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
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
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.