The Cheap Yankee Edition, & Rightly So

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189. HUMBOLDT, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander & Aimé Jacques Alexandre Goujaud Bonpland. 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. By Alexander de Humboldt. 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[saac] Riley, 1811. Vol. I: [i-iii] iv-xii, [i] ii-cxv, [1, blank], [1] 2-221 [7, blank]; Vol. II: [1-3] 4-377 [7 blank] pp. [all published]. 2 vols. in one, 8vo (21.7 x 13.5 cm), full modern grey buckram with gilt-lettered black leather label. Occasional spotting (including Vol. I title), pp. 6-7 of preface moderately to heavily stained (but legible), paper uniformly browned, otherwise good.

     First U.S. edition, containing through Book IV, Chapter IX; no more were issued by this publisher. American Imprints 23066. Cowan II, p. 296n (cites London, 1811 edition). Fiedler & Leitner, Alexander von Humboldts Schriften Howell 50:120. Howes H786. Pilling 1874a. Plains & Rockies IV:7a:5. Sabin 33715. For references to the work in general, see preceding entry. The next U.S. edition, a 42-page abridgement, appeared at Baltimore in 1813. The first editions of any part of this epochal work were published in Germany and Paris (1808-1811). Despite the indication on the title that sections and maps are in the book, none were published with this edition. 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. Humboldt intimates such in his chapter on the Intendency of San Luis 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 work was probably intended to excite interest in the areas to the south. 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 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 recently acquired lands, and especially the question of the limits of Louisiana between Spain and the United States.

     The source for this no-frills U.S. edition was John Black’s four-volume English translation of the French edition published in London in 181l. Black’s original preface is retained, along with Humboldt’s dedication to Charles IV of Spain. Black (1783-1855; DNB), a British journalist and editor, added occasional footnotes, sometimes comparing the U.S. and Mexico. Humboldt was highly offended by Black’s translation and preface, in which Black criticized the savant for lack of literary grace, inconsistencies, and errors. Publisher Isaac Riley is described as “a rather unscrupulous book dealer and merchant” who specialized in importing foreign books, which often left authors without copyright protection (Michael H. Hoeflich, Legal Publishing in Antebellum America, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 58).


Sold. Hammer: $150.00; Price Realized: $183.75.

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