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October 26, 2007

First U.S. Edition
With a Mexican-American Drawing of the Battle of Veracruz

61. HUMBOLDT, Alexander de [Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von]. Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain. Containing Researches Relative to the Geography of Mexico, the Extent of its Surface and its Political Division into Intendancies, the Physical Aspect of the Country, the Population, the State of Agriculture and Manufacturing and Commercial Industry, the Canals Projected between the South Sea and Atlantic Ocean, the Crown Revenues, the Quantity of the Precious Metals which have flowed from Mexico into Europe and Asia, since the Discovery of the New Continent, and the Military Defence of New Spain.... With Physical Sections and Maps, Founded on Astronomical Observations, and Trigonometrical and Barometrical Measurements. Translated from the Original French, By John Black. New York: Printed and published by I. Riley, 1811. Vol. I: xii, cxv [1 blank], 221 [1 blank]; Vol. II: 377 [1 blank] pp. [all published]. 2 vols., 8vo (22 x 14 cm), contemporary tan sheep over marbled boards, black calf gilt-lettered spine labels. Well worn along edges and some chipping and abrasions to leather spines.

            In Vol. II the verso of front free endpaper and recto of flyleaf bear a later nineteenth-century pencil sketch of the Battle of Veracruz (March 1847) in the Mexican-American War. The sketch, oriented with east at top, shows “Veri Cruise” at the center with cannon placements and “Castle of St. Juan de Ulloa” above it. Several ships representing the U.S. fleet are cruising near the fort. Surrounding Veracruz are mortar batteries (including one with a U.S. flag), artillery emplacements, and entrenchments. Shown are the attacks on the city by “regulars” and “volunteers,” including the breaches made in the city’s defenses.

            Both volumes bear gift inscriptions on front pastedowns: “Presented to Dr. L. B. Barlow By his friend J. Stevens May 1863.” This is presumably John Harrington Stevens (1820-1900), Quartermaster in the Mexican-American War with Winfield Scott’s force at Veracruz, and, after the war, a founder of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Stevens was among the early residents on the west side of the Mississippi at what would become Minneapolis, having been granted land from the Fort Snelling military reserve in exchange for establishing a ferry service. His home, the first domestic dwelling built in Minneapolis, is a museum today. Further, the Dr. L. B. Barlow to whom the set was presented was probably Lafayette Barlow, another prominent early Minnesota resident.

            First American edition, printing through Book IV, Chapter IX; no more were issued by this publisher. American Imprints 23066. Howell, California 50:120. Howes H786. Pilling 1874a. Plains & Rockies IV:7a:5. Sabin 33715. The next U.S. edition, a 42-page abridgement, appeared at Baltimore in 1813 (Plains & Rockies IV:7a.:6). The first edition of any part of this epochal work was published at Tübingen in 1808 (text in German with Tübingen imprint {Plains & Rockies IV:7a:1}; atlas in French with combined imprint of Paris & Tübingen {Plains & Rockies IV:7a}). Next came a succession of Paris imprints beginning in 1811 (Plains & Rockies IV:7a:2 et seq). The first edition in English came out in London in 1811 (Plains & Rockies IV:7a:4 et seq). For references to the work in general, see: Cowan II, p. 296. Graff 2009. Hill (2004) 843. Palau 116974. Rader 1975. Sabin 33715. Strathern 269iii. Of Humboldt’s body of work, Printing and the Mind of Man (320) comments: “[Humboldt] laid the foundation of modern physical geography, meteorology and geography of plants.” Humboldt’s present work on New Spain constitutes the first modern geographical monograph on Mexico and the Southwest U.S., containing data assembled during the author’s visit to Mexico at the end of the eighteenth century. Much of this information had never before appeared in print. Humboldt also presents a very early, serious proposal for an inter-oceanic canal.

            The chapters on the provinces of New Mexico, the Californias, and Provincias Internas (including Texas) are covered in these two volumes. The source for this no-frills Yank edition was John Black’s translation into English of the French edition of 181l, and Black’s original preface is retained. Black (1783-1855; DNB), a British journalist and editor, adds occasional footnotes, sometimes comparing the United States and Mexico.

            The publication of this work in the U.S. reflects a growing interest in areas west of the Mississippi. These regions would become crucial battlegrounds in just a few decades as the young republic expanded into former French and Spanish possessions, as Humboldt intimates in his chapter on the Intendency of San Luís Potosí. Just as the 1807 publication of Patrick Gass’ journal concerning Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the areas to the north of the continent had ignited public interest in that area, this publication was probably intended to excite interest in the areas to the south. Only a year later José Miguel Ramos Arizpe would publish his Memoria in Spain, in which he complained bitterly about the neglect shown to Texas and the Borderland areas of Mexico, a striking contrast to the interest shown by both Gass and Humboldt. The latter, however, does remark that many parts of Texas are “uninhabited” (p. 187).

            Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) visited the United States upon completing the first scientific exploration of New Spain (1799-1804) and met with Thomas Jefferson to share his unparalleled geographic knowledge of New Spain and the nation’s newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Jefferson sought details from Humboldt regarding the largely unknown geography of America’s newly acquired lands, and especially the question of the limits of Louisiana between Spain and the United States.

            The presence of a drawing by an officer in the Mexican-American war in this set indicates the continuing reliance on and popularity of Humboldt’s in-depth work. ($300-600)

Sold. Hammer: $300.00; Price Realized: $352.50

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