“The most beautiful & generally interesting of Humboldt’s works” (Sabin)

With the Magnificent Chimborazo Plate after Humboldt’s 1802 Drawing

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190. HUMBOLDT, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander & Aimé Jacques Alexandre Goujaud Bonpland. Vues des cordillères, et monumens des peuples indigènes de l’Amérique. Paris: Chez F. Schoell, Rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain-L’Auxerrois, No. 29, 1810-[1813]. [On half-title verso]: De Imprimerie de J. H. Stône. [2, half title], [2, title], [i] ii-xvi, [1] 2-350 [2, verso blank, section title to plates: Vues des cordillères...Planches] pp. (pagination error: 186 for 189), supplementary notes and index included in pagination (pp. 305-350), 69 engravings and aquatints on 68 sheets, 25 with full original hand-coloring, 4 in sepia tone, 1 with minor color, remainder uncolored (codices, archaeological ruins, views, plans, Native American costume groups), mostly engraved by Bouquet in Paris or by Arnold in Berlin after sketches by Humboldt and drawings by Aguera, Koch, Marchais, and others. Folio (59.5 x 43.5 cm), recent three-quarter tan polished calf over marbled boards, spine with blind-stamped compartments, red calf label lettered in gilt, new endpapers and fly leaves Other than mild foxing to first few signatures (not affecting majority of text or plates), an exceptionally fine, large, untrimmed copy, plates pristine.

     First edition of “the most beautiful and generally interesting of Humboldt’s works” (Sabin 33754). This version contains Humboldt’s 16-page introduction dated 1813. According to Fiedler & Leitner, this work was issued in seven fascicules between 1810 and 1813. This volume was the first part, second section of Humboldt’s monumental Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du nouveau continent, fait dans les années 1799 à 1804. Bernal 1788 (citing an 1816 edition). Brunet III, col. 373. Fiedler & Leitner, Alexander von Humboldts Schriften 4.3. Field 739. Field Auction 1052. Glass 627: “Pioneer work with first partial publications of various Mesoamerican pictorial manuscripts.” Hiler, p. 451. Hill (1) I, pp. 148-149. Hill (2) 839. Howell (Americana Auction, 1985) 276. Jones, South America Rediscovered, p. 16. Leclerc, Bibliotheca Americana (1867) 752: (1878) 1160 (citing an 1816 edition). Lipperheide 1630. Löwenberg, Humboldt: Bibliographische Ubersicht 103. McNeil, Europeans in Latin America 12n. Miles & Reese, The Illustrating Traveler: Adventure and illustration in North America and the Caribbean 1760-1895: “Set a standard for description and illustration which every serious scientific traveler of the nineteenth century strove to emulate.” Palau 117026 (citing the London edition). Pilling 1871 & addenda (citing an 1815 edition, title obtained from Sabin). Sabin 33754: “Every class of Mexican or Aztec, and Peruvian Antiquities receives in this work the clearest philosophical analysis. Many of the plates are beautifully colored; indeed, it is the most beautiful and generally interesting of Humboldt’s works.”

     This work, the first major one to result from Humboldt’s American explorations, fell like a thunderbolt on the European intellectual, scientific, artistic, and political communities. Just as Columbus had returned from his own voyage with wonderful things to relate, so had Humboldt, whose coffers were so full of treasures that it required the rest of his life for him to display their contents to the astounded world. Departing Europe in 1799, Humboldt and his partner, Bonpland, caused a sensation merely by returning to Europe six years later, since they had widely been given up for dead. The voyage took place almost by accident as it commenced only because Humboldt was repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to explore elsewhere. While in Spain, after a series of fortunate events and crucial introductions, he was issued a rare passport and recommendation by Carlos IV for Spain’s overseas possessions and, thus, for the first time could indulge his passion for travel and exploration. Humboldt achieved cultural hero status in the United States and Mexico in the second half of the nineteenth century. His travels, experiments, and knowledge transformed Western science.

     Two more energetic, inquisitive, learned, and gifted explorers than Humboldt and Bonpland would be difficult to find, although in an historic coincidence, their U.S. counterparts, Lewis and Clark, would also be making an equivalent impact at the same time. Humboldt and Bonpland travelled extensively in South and Central America. They paid particular attention to the region’s plant life, geology, antiquities, minerals, and geography. The pair seems to have been especially fascinated by volcanoes, exploring and climbing several during their travels. The fascination the geological features held for the two is clearly indicated by the magnificent folded plate showing the great volcano of Chimborazo in the Andean highlands, probably the finest and most arresting scene in the entire volume, and a production exhibiting an American scene that would remain practically without rival until the works of Nebel and Gualdi later in the century. Chimborazo was long thought to be the highest mountain on earth (measured from sea level), and many attempts were made to ascend it in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1802 Humboldt and his party attempted to reach the summit and reached a point of 5,875 meters, higher than previously attained by any European up to that time. Humboldt referred to this event as one of the greatest moments of his life. Reports of this mountaineering accomplishment made Humboldt a celebrity in Europe.

     Humboldt included in this volume the first extensive reproductions of codices dating from around the Columbian era, such as materials from the Dresden Codex (the first publication), Codex Mendoza, and others. These plates inspired a renewed interest in American indigenous antiquities and were without rival until Kingsborough’s larger, more elaborate work nearly thirty years later (see herein).

     The production of this atlas was overseen closely by Humboldt, from the smallest details to the overall series. Many of the aquatint plates were based on his own drawings. He personally supervised the coloring to ensure that it was accurate. The work was published mostly at his own expense. Humboldt’s technique is sophisticated, sympathetic, and erudite, seeking as it does to place objects in both their human and natural context rather than as disembodied pieces of cultural fragmentation. Humboldt’s stated goal was “to examine the interweaving and interacting of all forces of nature.” He also was an early advocate of human rights and a pioneer in the field of ecology (see Aaron Sachs, “The Ultimate ‘Other’: Post-Colonialism and Alexander von Humboldt’s Ecological Relationship with Nature” in History and Theory 42:4, pp. 111–135). Humboldt’s subjects received the clearest philosophical analysis, and in its widest concept, this intellectual point of view stretched back to Diderot, Alambert, and their fellow encylopédistes.


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