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Louis-Antoine de Bougainville urged Humboldt to accompany him on a major expedition, likely to last five years, but the French revolutionary Directoire placed Nicolas Baudin at the head of it rather than the aging scientific traveler. He had already selected scientific instruments for his voyage. Discouraged, the two left Paris for Marseilles , where they hoped to join Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt.
But North Africans were in revolt against the French invasion in Egypt and French authorities refused permission to travel. Humboldt and Bonpland eventually found their way to Madrid , where their luck changed spectacularly. Baron Forell had an interest in mineralogy and science endeavors and inclined to help Humboldt.
The Bourbon Reforms sought to reform administration of the realms and revitalize their economies. For Humboldt, "the confluent effect of the Bourbon revolution in government and the Spanish Enlightenment had created ideal conditions for his venture.
These were lengthy, state-sponsored enterprises to gather information about plants and animals from the Spanish realms, assess economic possibilities, and provide plants and seeds for the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid founded Spain under the Hapsburg monarchy had guarded its realms against foreigner travelers and intruders.
The Bourbon monarch was open to Humboldt's proposal. With Humboldt's experience working for the absolutist Prussian monarchy as a government mining official, Humboldt had both the academic training and experience of working well within a bureaucratic structure. Oil painting by Eduard Ender , Humboldt had not mapped out a specific plan of exploration, so that the change did not upend a fixed itinerary. He later wrote that the diversion to Venezuela made possible his explorations along the Orinoco River to the border of Portuguese Brazil.
With the diversion, the Pizarro encountered two large dugout canoes each carrying 18 Guayaqui Indians. The Pizarro's captain accepted the offer of one of them to serve as pilot. Humboldt hired this Indian, named Carlos del Pino, as a guide. Cacao plantations were the most profitable as world demand for chocolate rose. Also described the Guanoco asphalt lake as "The spring of the good priest" "Quelle des guten Priesters". Around 19 March , Humboldt and Bonpland discovered dangerous electric eels , whose shock could kill a man.
To catch them, locals suggested they drive wild horses into the river, which brought the eels out from the river mud, and resulted in a violent confrontation of eels and horses, some of which died. Humboldt and Bonpland captured and dissected some eels, which retained their ability to shock; both received potentially dangerous electric shocks during their investigations. The encounter made Humboldt think more deeply about electricity and magnetism, typical of his ability to extrapolate from an observation to more general principles.
Humboldt laid to rest the persistent myth of Walter Raleigh 's Lake Parime by proposing that the seasonal flooding of the Rupununi savannah had been misidentified as a lake. Humboldt, who was already in Cuba, interceded with crown officials in Havana, as well as giving them money and clothing. Fraser obtained permission to remain in Cuba and explore. Humboldt entrusted Fraser with taking two cases of Humboldt and Bonpland's botanical specimens to England when he returned, for eventual conveyance to the German botantist Willdenow in Berlin.
Humboldt is considered to be the "second discoverer of Cuba" due to the scientific and social research he conducted on this Spanish colony. During an initial three-month stay at Havana , his first tasks were to properly survey that city and the nearby towns of Guanabacoa , Regla and Bejucal. Those three areas were, at the time, the first frontier of sugar production in the island. During those trips, Humboldt collected statistical information on Cuba's population, production, technology and trade, and with Arango, made suggestions for enhancing them.
He predicted that the agricultural and commercial potential of Cuba was huge and could be vastly improved with proper leadership in the future. On their way back to Europe from Mexico on their way to the United States, Humboldt and Bonpland stopped again in Cuba, leaving from the port of Veracruz and arriving in Cuba on 7 January , staying until 29 April In Cuba, he collected plant material and made extensive notes.
Mutis was generous with his time and gave Humboldt access to the huge pictorial record he had compiled since This type of careful recording meant that even if specimens were not available to study at a distance, "because the images traveled, the botanists did not have to.
This was a world record at the time, but a thousand feet short of the summit. Since Acapulco was the main west coast port and the terminus of the Asian trade from the Spanish Philippines, having accurate maps of its location was extremely important. Humboldt set up his instruments, surveying the deep water bay of Acapulco, to determine its longitude.
Humboldt was also given a special passport to travel throughout New Spain and letters of introduction to intendants, the highest officials in New Spain's administrative districts intendancies.
This official aid to Humboldt allowed him to have access to crown records, mines, landed estates, canals, and Mexican antiquities from the prehispanic era. The first journey was from Acapulco to Mexico City, through what is now the Mexican state of Guerrero. The route was suitable only for mule train, and all along the way Humboldt took measurements of elevation. When he left Mexico a year later in , from the east coast port of Veracruz, he took a similar set of measures, which resulted in a chart in the Political Essay, the physical plan of Mexico with the dangers of the road from Acapulco to Mexico City, and from Mexico City to Veracruz.
A great deal of his success in gaining a more general readership for his works was his understanding that "anything that has to do with extent or quantity can be represented geometrically. Statistical projections [charts and graphs], which speak to the senses without tiring the intellect have the advantage of bringing attention to a large number of important facts.
He declared "no city of the new continent, without even excepting those of the United States, can display such great and solid scientific establishments as the capital of Mexico. His report on silver mining is a major contribution, and considered the strongest and best informed section of his Political Essay. Although Humboldt was himself a trained geologist and mining inspector, he drew on mining experts in Mexico.
Humboldt also consulted other German mining experts, who were already in Mexico. His aim was to muster evidence that these pictorial and sculptural images could allow the reconstruction of prehispanic history. For American-born Spaniards creoles who were seeking sources of pride in Mexico's ancient past, Humboldt's recognition of these ancient works and dissemination in his publications was a boon.
He read the work of exiled Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero , which celebrated Mexico's prehispanic civilization, and which Humboldt invoked to counter the pejorative assertions about the new world by Buffon, de Pauw, and Raynal. Jefferson and his cabinet sought information from Humboldt when he visited Washington, D.
Leaving from Cuba, Humboldt decided to take an unplanned short visit to the United States. Knowing that the current U. Jefferson warmly replied, inviting him to visit the White House in the nation's new capital. In his letter Humboldt had gained Jefferson's interest by mentioning that he had discovered mammoth teeth near the Equator.
Jefferson had previously written that he believed mammoths had never lived so far south. Humboldt had also hinted at his knowledge of New Spain. C, Humboldt held numerous intense discussions with Jefferson on both scientific matters and also his year-long stay in New Spain.
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