Humboldt, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von
Humboldt, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von
(b. Berlin, Germany, 14 September 1769; d. Berlin, 6 May 1859)
Humboldt’s father, Alexander Georg von Humboldt, was a Prussian officer who reached the rank of major and, from 1765 to 1769, served as chamberlain to the wife of the heir to the Prussian throne. In 1766 he married a widow, Marie Elisabeth Colomb Holwede, and devoted himself to administering her estates. She herself was of middle-class Huguenot extraction and had inherited the holdings from her first husband. Not until about 1738 did Alexander Georg’s father, Hans Paul, gain confirmation as one of the nobility. (Interestingly, Humboldt’s baronial title was only conferred officially on the family in 1875, sixteen years after his death.)
Alexander’s education and that of his older brother Wilhelm, later a statesman, linguist, and founder of the University of Berlin, was one of private tutorship. At an early age the brothers joined the circle known as the Berlin Enlightenment, with which many well off Jewish families were associated. After 1789 Humboldt openly subscribed to French libertarian views; he lamented, for example, that the Peasant’s War of 1525 had not succeeded.
From 1787 to 1792 Humboldt studied at the universities of Frankfurt an der Oder and Göttingen and at the academies of commerce in Hamburg and of mining in Freiberg, Saxony. His studies familiarized him with technology, and he also acquired a background in economics, geology, and mining science. He studied botany with particular zeal, for a time under the guidance of Karl Ludwig Willdenow. His first publication in book form in 1790 came out of a student natural history excursion. Here Humboldt attacked the theories of volcanism but without unequivocally embracing those of neptunism. Humboldt’s most influential teacher in his youth was the Freiberg geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner, leader of the neptunist school opposing the plutonists. Humboldt also occupied himself in Freiberg in 1791 with antiphlogistic chemistry.
In 1790 Humboldt traveled to the Netherlands and thence to England and Paris with Georg Forster, who had been with Cock on the second world voyage and was an impassioned adherent of the French Revolution. He arrived in paris shortly before the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. “The sight of the Parisians, with their National Assembly and yet incomplete Temple of Liberty, to which I myself carted sand, stirred me like a vision before the soul” (to F. H. Jacobi, 3 January 1791).
Promptly after completing his studies he entered, in March 1792, the Prussian mining service and soon became a mining leader in the Prussian part of Upper Franconia. He invented safety lamps and a rescue apparatus for miners threatened with asphyxiation, himself testing these devices in dangerous experiments. Upon his own initiative and funds he founded a “free mining school” to train miners, demonstrating early his lifelong social concern. He managed to do considerable work on problems of practical mining without neglecting his scientific research. In 1793 he published a work, dating back to the Freiberg period, which he had expanded and improved. In its appendix there is a treatment of 258 “subterranean cryptogamic plants,” a discussion of post-Aristotelian physiological views, and theoretical reflections. There are also descriptions of experiments in plant physiology, then in its infancy.
Humboldt, like his contemporaries, sought proof of the presupposed “life force” (vis vitalis). He pursued this through galvanic experiments, among them painful personal tests, hoping thereby to throw light on the “chemical process of life.” The results of his investigations were published in 1797; of special note was his original attempt to draw analogies between aniaml and plant life processes.
During this period he managed to handle both his official duties and his studies on cohesion and universality in nature; his use of the comparative method and his working out of types were characteristic. Far from being a romantic, Humboldt was a thorought empiricist in studying general relationships in nature. For him facts, measurement, and number were the cornerstone of science, and not speculation and hypothesis. He believed in universal harmony and equilibrium in nature, and was unable to perceive the importance of oppositional forces in any development.
Humboldt traveled in 1791 from Freiberg through the Bohemian Mittelgebirge, and in 1792 and 1794 he went on inspection tours of salt mines in what is now Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. In 1794 he went again to the Netherlands, partly under diplomatic auspices. Two years later he negotiated a treaty with the commander of the French troops entering Württemberg, in order to effect the formal neutralization of the Franconian prioncipalities.
In the latter half of 1795 Humboldt, a lifelong bachelor, made an extensive trip through northern Italy and the Swiss and French Alps. He was initially accompanied by Reinhard von Haeften, an officer, and latter by Karl Freiesleben, a Saxonian mining official known from his Freiberg days. The trip of 1795—in the course of which Humboldt met Alpine experts, learned about altitude effects on climate and plants, and came to recognize the evidence of the relief and the need for astronomical and geomagnetic observatories—exercised a lasting influence on him. Geomagnetism also caught Humboldt’s interest early—in 1796 he discovered the magnetism of the Haidberg near Gefrees, northeast of Bayreuth—and his geomagnetic work occupied him for five decades.
The first record of Humboldt’s interest in describing natural interrelationships is found in a letter (24 January 1796) to the natural scientist Pictet: “Je conçus l’idée d’une physique de monde.” “Humboldt, although indisputably one of the founders of geography as a science, had as his major goal a comprehensive view of nature to which the earth sciences would contribute significantly. As a Prussian government official, there would be difficulties for him in pursuing such a major undertaking, but upon his mother’s death in 1796 he became financially independent. Leaving the civil service, he looked ahead to a “great journey beyond Europe.”
At Jena in 1797 he concluded extensive experiments on galvanism and chemical effects on animals and plants, and also acquainted himself with anatomy. Here he renewed and deepened his earlier contacts with Goethe (whom he had met personally) and Schiller. With his with interests, he had an immediate rapport with Goethe, but Schiller saw Humboldt as a “man of much too limited intellect.” This feeling notwithstanding. Schiller published in his journal Die Horen Humboldt’s article “The Genius of Rhodes” (1795), an allegorical tale in “semi-mythical clothing” in which, agreeing with Schiller, Humboldt endorsed the theory of the life force; Humboldt later abandoned this position.
In Jena, Humboldt also learned techniques for making geodetic and geophysical measurements, and especially for taking astronomical bearings. He later regarded such bearing to be the basis for all geography, and criticizd travel by routes that were needlessly uncertain for want of correct measurements.
At the end of May 1797 Humboldt went via Dresden and Prague to Vienna to prepare for a trip to the West Indies. But his desire to see active volcanoes at first hand—inspired by a previous trip to Italy—was several times thwarted because of the political situation. He heard accounts by Viennese scholars of their travels, studied West Indies plants kept at Schönbrunn, and made a trip to Hungary. While in Salzburg at the end of October, he went on excursions with the geologist Leopold von Buch. He also practiced taking geographic bearings and made eudiometric measurements.
In April 1798 Humboldt followed his brother to Paris, where he hoped to arrange his projected transoceanic travel. The following month he read a paper before the Paris Academy, “Expériences sur le gaz nitreux et ses combinaisons avec le gaz oxygène,” and later gave several lectures. Humboldt’s reputation was steadily increasing; since 1793 he had been a member of the Leopoldine Carolinian Academy, and in that same year he had received the elector of Saxonuy’s gold medal for art and science. He was present at the conclusive arc-degree measurement between Dunkirk and Barcelona. He contributed to the first relatively conclusive determination of magnetic inclination in Paris, set up galvanic experiements, and investigated the chemical compostion of air.
On 20 October 1798 he left Paris with the French botanist Aimé Bonpland, his companion for the next six years. He went first to Marseilles, where he buside himself with geodetic measurements and botanic field studies, hoping to sail to North Africa. But in mid-December he went to Spain on what was virtually a “measuring expedition”; with sextant, chronometer, barmometer, and therometer, en route to Madrid by way of Valencia and Barcelona, he established data for a relief map that for the first time clearly outlined a sizable region.
In March 1799 Humboldt received permission to make a research tour through the Spanish colonies, and on 5 June he and Bonpland sailed from La Coruña. After a break in the British blockade and a stop at Tenerife, they landed on 16 July 1799 in what is now Venezuela.
He and Bonpland remained in South America until the end of April 1804. Exposed to great hardships and dangers, the two journeyed by foot, pack horse, native canoe, and sailing vessel through every conceivable type of country in what is now Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico. They recorded, sketched, described, measured, and compared what they observed, and gathered some 60,000 plant specimens, 6,300 of which were hitherto unknown in Europe. Humboldt made maps and amassed exhaustive data in countless fields—magnetism, meteorology, climatology, geology, mineralogy, oceanography, zoology, ethnography. In addition to observations on plant geography and physiognomy, he made historical and linguistic investigations. Humboldt had mutually profitable meetings with South American scholars, notably José Celestino Mutis and Francisco José de Caldas. He showed as much interest in early Indian monuments as in the current population figures, social conditions, and economic developments. He found slavery to be the greatest evil of humankind, and this remained a matter of paramount concern to him.
Humboldt navigated the Orinoco and Magdalena rivers and confirmed the bifurcation of the Casiquiare River, thereby proving the connection between the Orinoco and the Amazon. He set a new mountaineering altitude record with his ascent of Chimborazo on June 1802, although he failed to reach the summit. This trip has justly been called “the scientific discovery of America.”
In 1804 Humboldt traveled to the United States, visiting Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., where he met several times with President Jefferson and members of the cabinet. He reported on his travels, his information on New Spain (Mexico) being of special interest.
After a further stop in Philadelphia and meeting with the American Philosophical Society (which elected him a member on 20 July), he set sail for France at the end of June and landed on 3 August, having been away from Europe for more than five years. Humboldt hastened to an enthusiastic reception in Paris, where he read reports of his journey in the Academy. He enjoyed his social contacts with the Parisian scientists, particularly Gay-Lussac, with whom he carried out chemical analyses of air.
It was in Paris that he also became acquainted with Simón Bolívar, with whom he was to correspond until Bolivar’s death in 1830. “Humboldt has done more good for America than all her conquerors,” Bolivar once said in tribute. Urging Bolivar to hold to a moderate course after his victory, Humboldt not only recommended certain natural scientists but advised the South American leader in numerous other ways. He proposed a leveling of the isthmus between Panama and the mouth of the Chagres (for more than fifty years Humboldt called for the construction of a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific) and the furthering of science in the New World.
In March 1805 Humboldt left Paris with Gay-Lussac to see his brother Wilhelm in Rome. From Rome he went to Naples, ascended Mt. Vesuvius several times, and in September traveled via Milan, Zurich, and Göttingen to Berlin, arriving on 16 November (his stay there was cut short by Napoleon’s victories at Jena and Auerstadt in 1806). At the end of 1807 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Paris, where he remained until 1827, making trips to London, Vienna, Bratislava, and Italy. Only in Paris could Humboldt have his research findings properly evaluated by first-rank scientists, and only there could he avail himself of the best artists and technical resources.
His voluminous, never finished travel journal was published in thirty-four volumes over twenty-five years; the volumes, including some 1,200 copperplates, cost about 780,000 francs. Humboldt also recorded his travels in numerous treatises, in which he developed climatology as a science in itself; established the fields of plant geography and orography; formulated the fissure theory of volcanology; specified vegetation types; set forth concepts such as plateau, mean height of a pass, mean height of a summit, and mean temperature; and introduced the isotherm in meteorology.
Humboldt gave a major impetus to the study of the Americas. He studied the discovery and history of America and its economics and politics, particularly in Cuba and in Mexico. He addressed himself to elucidating possible connections between climate and vegetation, between altitude and fertility, between human productivity and property relationships, and between the animal and plant kingdoms. He rectified the calculations of his astronomical bearings to make them a reliable basis for maps of the regions he had visited. His geographical monographs on Cuba and Mexico represent the first treatments of geography in terms of science, politics, and economics.
During his Paris years Humboldt was not concerned solely with publishing the results of his travels. He was also preparing for a journey to Asia, where he hoped to observe and measure the ranges and volcanoes for comparison with areas of the Andes. After 1809 he spoke often of this trip, but political vicissitudes again made the planning of it uncertain. In 1818 the Prussian government guaranteed the financing of a four-to five-year trip, by Humboldt to India, the Himalayas and Tibet, Ceylon, and the East Indies, and up until 1825 Humboldt made references to his forthcoming departure. Why he did not make the trip has never been adequately explained.
In 1827 Humboldt returned to Berlin. Two reasons may have prompted his return to his birthplace: his dependence on the Prussian salary (his trips had bankrupted him), and the hope of utilizing the ties between the court at Berlin and the ruling house of Russia in order to make a long-planned Siberian journey. He also returned to his home with the express purpose of raising the level of mathematics and natural sciences to the point that Berlin intellectual life would compare with that of Paris. He valued his independence, and although he served as a royal chamberlain he was not burdened with any other official posts. He was, however, an adviser on science and art and (from 1842) chancellor of the peace division of the order pour le mérite,, positions in which he exercised no political influence.
In 1829 he set out on his Siberian trip as a guest of the Russian government. Accompanied by the naturalist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg and the mineralogist Gustav Rose, Humboldt traveled about 9,000 miles. By now famous, he was honored everywhere. They went via Riga to St. Petersburg, from there to Tobolsk via Moscow, Kazan, and the northern Urals, then through western Siberia to the Altai Mountains on the border of Chinese Tungusic territory. He returned to St. Petersburg via the southern Urals, the Caspian Sea, Voronezh, and Moscow.
In the course of the journey Humboldt suggested that geomagnetic and meteorological stations be set up in order to reinforce his own en-route observations and measurements with systematic investigations covering larger areas. He collected, measured, and thoroughly compared relative temperatures, magnetic values, and geological, mineralogical, and biological data. His comparative methods enabled him, in one instance, to predict the existence of diamonds in the Urals, a surmise that was borne out by their discovery during his very trip.
Humboldt maintained the contacts he made on this journey with Russian scholars. During the trip he also lent his influence to the cause of Poles who had been exiled to Siberia.
Humboldt returned to Berlin before the end of 1829, and in 1830 went to Paris where, intermittently until 1847–1848 (altogether about three and a half years), he used the libraries and fulfiled diplomatic assignments. He also obtainded the advice of his learned friends, especially Arago, in composing the Asian travel journals and in completing a long-worked-on history of medieval geography. The latter demonstrates his historical interests; indeed, throughout his works is the manifest conviction that scientific progress is not accidental but the result of experience and “earlier development of thought.”
In the last decades of his life Humboldt collected and revised his scattered Kleinere Schriften (1853) and prepared the third edition of his favorite work, Ansichten der Natur (1849), an aesthetic presentation of research in natural science and geography and of “pictures of nature.” He worked primarily on Kosmos the plan for which dated from 1827–1828, when Humboldt had lectured on Physical geography in Berling. The first volume appeared only in 1845, and with the second (1847) marked a genuine popular triumph for the aged author. He wrote in a letter to Bessel, dated 14 July 1833: “It is the work of my life; it should reflect what I have projected as my conception and vision of explored and unexplored relationships of phenomena, out of both my own experience and painstaking inquiry into readings in many languages.”
The Kosmos is a popular scientific book in the best sense of that term. The entire material world from the galaxies to the geography of the various mosses, the history of physical cosmography, the needed stimulation for nature study—he sought to present all in vivid, “pleasing” language. Volumes III through V, containing his special research findings and added material, were not equally successful; Humboldt died before completing the fifth volume. The index was prepared according to his specifications and he credited each contemporary to whom he felt in debted. The work cites over 9,000 sources and is thus an important reference for the history of science.
In the area which he especially cherished, geomagnetic measurement, Humboldt suggested in a letter (23 April 1836) to the president of the Royal Society of London the worldwide establishment of geomagnetic observatories. Gauss, with whom he corresponded, had just conceived the theory of the intensitas vis magneticae (1833), and it was not easy for Humboldt to see a field long his own domain become the province of a more creative mind. Humboldt nevertheless recognized his own limitations. In 1789 he had almost discovered the Gaussian addition logarithms, but he later had to confess that he could “claim for himself no serious position in the higher realms of mathematics” (letter to C. G. G. Jacobi, 27 December 1846) He saw clearly the reciprocioty of mathematics with both the natural sciences and industrial application:
Man cannot have an effect on nature, cannot adopt any of her forces, if he does not know the natural laws in terms of measurement and numerical relations. Here also lies the strength of the national intelligence, which increases and decreases according to such knowledge. Knowledge and comprehension are the joy and justification of humanity; they are parts of the national wealth, often a replacement for those materials that nature has all too sparsely dispensed. Those very peoples who are behind in general industrial activity, in application of mechanics and technical chemistry, in careful selection and processing of natural materials, such that regard for such enterprise does not permeate all classes, will inevitably decline in prosperity; all the more so where neighboring states, in which science and the industrial arts have an active interrelationship progress with youthful vigor [Kosmos, I (1845), 36].
Besides his extensive literary and court activities, Humboldt remained devoted to humanitarian causes. He was responsible for antislavery legislation in Prussia and spoke out against anti-Semitism and racism: “By asserting the unity of the human race, we also oppose every distasteful assumption of higher and lower races of man. There are more adaptive, more highly educated, and more spiritually enriched peoples, but there are none nobler than others. All are equally ordained to be free” (ibid., p. 385).
Humboldt gave advice to many gifted youths along with encouragement, recommendations for awards, and often financial help. Such young scholars regarded themselves as “his children” (letter of Emil du Bois-Reymond to Karl Ludwig, 26 June 1849). Among the many people in whom he took an early interest were the mathematicians Dirichlet and Eisenstein; the explorers Moritz Wagner, Heinrich Barth, Eduard Vogel, and the brothers Schomburgk and Schlagintweit; the chemists Liebig and Mitscherlich; the physicists Poggendorff and Riess; the physiologists Müller and du Bois-Reymond; the natural scientists Louis Agassiz and Boussingault; the meteorologist Dove; the geodesist Baeyer; the astronomers Argelander, Galle, and Karl Bruhns; the Egyptologists Richard Lepsius and Heinrich Brugsch; the geophysicist Georg Erman; and the zoologist Wilhelm Peters.
Through Johann Gottfried Flügel, United States consul general in Leipzig, Humboldt followed the progress of the natural sciences in North America and remained greatly interested in the development of the United States. He nonetheless regretted that there “freedom is only a mechanism in the principle of profitability,” and that indifference to slavery was prevalent. He observed, “The United States is a Cartesian sprial, sweeping away everything and yet boringly level” (letter to Varnhagen von Ense, 31 July 1854). He also complained that French rule was becoming more immoral through “administrators who have been defrauding, extorting, and using violence in Algeria” (letter to Caroline von Wolzogen, 6 May 1837). Shocked by the bloody events of March 1848, he lamented much more the subsequent period of reaction.
Humboldt was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of Frankfurt an der Oder (1805), Dorpat (1827), Bonn (1828), Tübingen (1845), Prague (1848), and St. Andrews (1853). In 1852 he received the Copley Medal. All major academies elected him to membership, and he was a member of the illustrious Société d’Arcueil after 1807. He corresponded extensively with eminent scholars, artists, writers, and politicians of his time; indeed, over 2,000 of his correspondents are known to us. His ties to the French intellectual world were especially close. The French never forgot Humboldt’s earnest intercession, during the occupation of France by the allied troops, on behalf of scientific institutions such as the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle; nor his fight to save private property, including that of Laplace. In 1827 he became honorary president of the Société de Géographie in Paris.
Humboldt was among the first to interest astronomers in shooting stars and his method for determining the light intensity of southern stars was an original contribution to astronomy (Astronomische Nachrichten, 16 , 225–230). He was the first to note the significant decrease of magnetic intensity with the appearance of the aurora borealis. Humboldt gave a qualitative explanation for the amplification of sound at night. (In 1955 Hans Ertel introduced with the quantitative solution the “Humboldt effect” into literature; it is the only thing in the physical sciences for which Humboldt is the eponym.) He was also the first to send guano to Europe.
Despite his accomplishments, Humboldt does not rank with the great discoverers or inventors, as he himself realized. No matter where he traveled, others had been there before him and had reported on their trips. But Humboldt saw broadly and comprehensively, and, where others perceived only isolated facts, he combined observations and saw unity in diversity. He was gifted with a quick intelligence and with boundless receptivity and powers of memory.
His deficiencies notwithstanding, Humboldt towers as a servant of worldwide science and a humanitarian. His stimulating influence on his contemporaries and on science itself, his humanistic and democratic principles, and his unshakable faith in the constant progress of manking have remained exemplary.
I. Original Works. Unfortunately there is still no complete bibliography of Humboldt’s writings. Therefore, we must still use the list which Julius Löwenberg gave in Alexander von Humboldt: Eine wissenschaftliche Biographie, Karl Bruhns, ed., II (Leipzig, 1872), 485–552; this list was reprinted unchanged (Stuttgart, 1960). Löwenberg had handled poorly the great problems which result from the numerous preprints, abstracts, translations, and reprints; from publications appearing in several parts; and from various forms of a single work with variations in content. In addition there are (1) an inconsistency in arrangement, (2) mistakes stemming from faulty examination in the rendering of titles, (3) listing of the same title in several places, and (4) the inclusion of writings which were not even written by Humboldt. See the review of the 1960 reprint by Fritz Gustav Lange in Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen, 108 (1964), 110.
Other bibliographical senier are Alexander von Humboldt. Bibliographie seiner ab 1860 in deutscher Sprache herausgegebenen Werke und der seit 1900 erschienenen Veröffentlichungen über ihn (Leipzig, 1959), pp. 9–14; and Hanno Beck, Alexander von Humboldt, II (Wiesbaden, 1961), 347–356.
The so-called Gesammelte Werke, 12 vols. (Stuttgart, 1889), contain a fraction of Humboldt’s writings in German.
The following are Humboldt’s most important works published separately during his lifetime; and, of course, without regard to the editions in different formats, to separately published, somewhat expanded extracts, or to later printings and supplements as well as to translations: Mineralogische Beobachtungen über einige Basalte am Rhein... (Brunswick, 1790); Florae Fribergensis specimen plantas cryptogamicas praesertim subterraneas exhibens... (Berlin, 1799); Versuche über die gereizie Muskel- und Nervenfaser..., 2 vols. (Poznán–Berlin, 1797); Versuche über die chemische Zerlegung des Luftkreises... (Brunswick, 1799); Ueber die unterirdischen Gasarten und die Mittel ihren Nachtheil zu vermindern (Brunswick, 1799); Ansichten der Natur, mit wissenschaftlichen Erläuterungen (Tübingen, 1808); Essai géognostique sur le gisement des roches dans les deux hémisphères (Paris, 1823); Fragments de géologie et de climatologie asiatiques, 2 vols. (Paris, 1831); Asie centrale. Recherches sur les chaînes de montagnes et la climatologie comparée, 3 vols. (Paris, 1843); Kosmos: Entwurfeiner physischen weltbeschreibung, 5 vols. (Stuttgart-Tübingen, 1845–1862); Kleinere Schriften, I, Geognostische und physikalische Erinnerungen (Stuttgart-Tübingen, 1853), the only vol. published; and Atlas der kleineren Schriften... (Stuttgart-Tübingen, 1853). Complete comprehension of the great American travel journals presents great difficulties to the bibliographer. Following is a survey of short titles under the various subject groups designated by Humboldt but persistently ignored by bibliographers; it is based on the folio or quarto ed. The overall title is Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent, fait en 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803, et 1804 par Al [exandre] de Humboldt et A [imé] Bonpland... (Paris, 1805–1834). Subject group I (7 vols.) includes: Relation historique; Vue des Cordillères; Examen critique; Atlas du Nouveau Continent. Group II (2 vols.) concerns zoology and contains Recueil d’observations de zoologie. Group III (3 vols.) contains the work on Mexico: Essai politique sur la Nouvelle Espagne and Atlas de la Nouvelle Espagne. To subject group IV, astronomy (3 vols.), belong Conspectus longitudinum et latitudinum and Recueil d’observations astronomiques. Group V (1 vol.) contains the work on plant geography: Essai sur la géographie des plantes accompagné d’un tableau physique des régions équinoxiales. The sixth and last group (18 vols.) deals with botany: Plantes équinoxiales, Mélastomacées, Nova genera, Mimoses, Synopsis plantarum (associated by Carl Sigismund Kunth with the travel works by means of the serial titles in the Voyage aux régions équinoxiales...) and Graminées.
The works to which Humboldt attributed great importance are Essai politique sur l’île de Cuba, 2 vols. (Paris, 1826), a greatly expanded extract from the Relation historique; Tableau statistique de l’île de Cuba (Paris, 1831); Esssai sur la géographie des plantes (see above); and “Des lignes isothermes et de la distribution de la chaleur sur le globe,” in Mémoires de physique et de chimie de la Société d’Arcueil, 3 (1817), 462–602. Humboldt exerted the greatest influence on the general public through the Ansichten der Natur (3rd ed., 1849) and the Kosmos, as well as through the extract he authorized from the Relation historique: Alexander von Humboldt’s Reise in die Aequinoctial-Gegenden des neuen Continents, rev. and trans. by Hermann Hauff, 4 vols. (Stuttgart, 1859–1860), and through translations of his works.
Besides the publication of hundreds of single letters or of small groups of letters there are more or less comprehensive collections of correspondence. Some include several of Humboldt’s correspondents—e.g., the eds. by Dézos de La Roquette, 2 vols. (Paris, 1865–1869); of E. T. Hamy (Paris, 1905); of C. Müller (Leipzig, 1928); and of D. I. Shcherbakov et al. (Moscow, 1962). Others contain his correspondence with one or predominantly one correspondent, such as those involving K. A. Varnhagen, von Ense, L. Assing, ed. (Leipzig, 1860); H. Berghaus, H. Berghaus, ed., 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1863); M. A. Pictet, A. Rilliet, ed. (Geneva, 1869); Count G. von Cancrin, W. von Schneider and W. Russow, eds. (Leipzig, 1869); C. K. J. von Bunsen (Leipzig, 1869); J. W. von Goethe, F. T. Bratranek, ed. (Leipzig, 1876), and L. Geiger, ed. (Berlin, 1909); C. F. Gauss, K. Bruhns, ed. (Leipzig, 1877); Wilhelm von Humboldt, F. Gregorovius, ed. (Stuttgart, 1880); W. G. Wegener, A. Leitzmann, ed. (Leipzig, 1896); F. Arago, E. T. Hamy, ed. (Paris, 1907); J. von Olfers, E. W. M. von Olfers, ed. (Nuremberg-Leipzig, 1913); F. G. Eisenstein, K-R. Biermann, ed. (Berlin, 1959); and A. Valenciennes, F. Théodoridès, ed. (Paris, 1965). But all these and others encompass only a small part of Humboldt’s correspondence. The collected material, in photocopies by the German Academy of Science in Berlin, D.D.R., includes more than 10,000 pieces, among them about 5,600 unedited letters.
Humboldt’s letters and MSS are scattered throughout the world. The most important owners of originals are the German Central Archives, Merseburg, D.D.R.; the German State Library, Berlin, D.D.R.; State Library for the Preservation of Prussian Cultural Possessions, West Berlin, and the Schiller National Museum, Marbach. Many public and private writings by Humboldt are also in France, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Latin America, as well as other countries.
II. Secondary Literature. There is no bibliography of the literature on Humboldt which separates the important from the nonessential and at the same time arranges things according to subject. Therefore one must use the above mentioned bibliography (Leipzig, 1959), pp. 15–36; Hanno Beck, Alexander von Humboldt, II (Wiesbaden, 1961), 356–380; Literaturzusammenstellung über Alexander von Humboldt. Schrifttum der Jahre 1805–1959, 3rd ed. (Jena, 1959); N. G. Suchowa, Alexander von Humboldt in der russischen Literature (Leipzig, 1960); and Poggendorff VIIa, supp. (1971), 295–301.
A few of the important works of the literature on Humboldt are Mémoires Alexander von Humboldt’s, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1861), often unjustifiably attributed to Julius Löwenberg (it must be used with great caution; it contains falsifications—but Humboldt’s letters to the U.S. consul general in Leipzig, Johann Gottfried Flügel, are genuine); Alexander von Humboldt; Eine wissenschaftlich Biographie, Karl Bruhns, ed., 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1872); Herbert Scurla, Alexander von Humboldt. Sein Leben und Wirken (Berlin, D.D.R., 1955); Helmut de Terra, Humboldt. The Life and Times of Alexander von Humboldt (New York, 1955, 6th ed. 1968; German trans. 1956; Russian trans. 1961); Alexander von Humboldt. Gedenkschrift zur 100. Wiederkehr seines Todestages, Alexander von Humboldt Commission of the German Academy of Sciences (D.D.R.), ed. (Berlin, D.D.R., 1959); Gespäche Alexander von Humboldts, Hanno Beck, ed. (Berlin, D.D.R., 1959); Hanno Beck, Alexander von Humboldt, 2 vols. (Wiesbaden, 1959–1961); Alexander von Humboldt. Studien zu seiner universalen Geisteshaltung, Joachim H. Schultze, ed. (Berlin, 1959); Richard Bitterling, Alexander von Humboldt (Munich-Berlin, 1959); Alexander von humboldt. Vortaäge und Aufsätze..., Johannes F. Gellert, ed. (Berlin, D.D.R., 1960); “Beiträge zum Alexander-von-Humboldt-Jahr 1959,” Zusammenstellung von Sonderdrucken aus der wissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 8 (1958–1959) and 9 (1959–1960); “Alexander von Humboldt, Seine Bedeutung für den Bergbau und die Naturforschung,” in Freiberger Forschungshefte, D33 (1960); V. A. Esakov, Aleksandr Gumboldt v Rossii (Moscow, 1960); Lotte Kellner, Alexander von Humboldt (London-New York-Toronto, 1963); Adolf Meyer-Abich, Alexander von Humboldt in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Hamburg, 1967); Kurt-R. Biermann, llse Jahn. and Fritz G. Lange, “Alexander von Humboldt. Chronologische Übersicht über wichtige Daten seines Lebens,” in Beiträge zur Alexander-von-Humboldt-Forschung, 1 (1968); Alexander von Humboldt. Wirhendes Vorbild für Fortschitt und Befreiung der Menschhiet. German Academy of Sciences, Berlin, ed. (Berlin, D.D.R., 1969): Alexander von Humboldt. Werk und Weltgeltung, Heinricj Pfeiffer, ed. (Munich, 1969); “Numero especial dedicadp a la conmemoració del bicentenario de Alejandro de Humbolt,” Islas, Revista de la Universidad Central de las Villas Santa Clara, Cuba, 11 (1969), no. 3; and “Bicentenario de Humboldt,” Academia de Ciencias de Cuba, Serie histórica, (1969/70), nos. 7–13.