Thursday, 26 August 2010

Humboldt (and Venezuelans|und Venezolaner)

Alexander von Humboldt wrote the following at the start of his long visit to Venezuela in 1799. The place was Cariaco, now a third-rank town that was an important "city" in Venezuela back then.

"We met in the city many people who through a certain lightness of behaviour, through a wider scope of ideas and - may I say - through a strong preference for the form of government of the United States, showed they had a lot of links with the outside world. Here we heard for the first time under these skies people pronouncing the names of Franklin and Washington with excitement. Next to the expression of this excitement we got to hear complains about the current situation of New Andalusia, images, often exaggerated, of the natural wealth of the country, and passionate, impatient desires for a better future"

Alexander von Humboldt hat folgendes am Anfang seines Aufenthalts in Venezuela 1799 geschrieben. Der Ort war Cariaco, eine wichtige "Stadt" im damaligen Venezuela, jetzt einfach ein Kaff.

"Wir lernten in der Stadt viele Leute kennen, die durch eine gewisse Leichtigkeit des Benehmens, durch umfassenderen Ideenkreis und, darf ich hinzusetzen, durch entschiedene Vorliebe für die Regierungssorm der Vereinigten Staaten verriethen, daß sie viel mit dem Ausland in Verkehr gestanden. Hier hörten wir zum erstenmal in diesem Himmelsstriche die Namen Franklin und Washington mit Begeisterung aussprechen. Neben dem Ausdruck dieser Begeisterung bekamen wir Klagen zu hören über den gegenwärtigen Zustand von Neu-Andalusien, Schilderungen, oft übertriebene, des natürlichen Reichthums des Landes, leidenschaftliche, ungeduldige Wünsche für eine bessere Zukunft."


  1. I've read a lot of Humboldt's Venezuela diaries and this is just one part where you wonder "was this really 210 years ago?" He also found that in Caracas, no white people had climbed the Avila, as it was considered low-class to sweat. He and his buddy Bonpland ended up making the climb with African slaves and Indians. He found people to be open and conversational and always offering him food and shelter. He describes how talented drivers and boatmen overcame lousy transportation infrastructure (no pier at La Guaira, for example) and piracy. Its a wonderful read.

  2. Boz,

    His diaries are amazing. I also ask myself: was it really then or now?

    His writings are a treasure of information on every field and a great tool for understanding Venezuela back then and even now.
    I imagine - if we had a functional government that cared- a Humboldt trail with boards indicating what Humboldt wrote about the place back then.

    I wonder what edition you have read, I would like to recommend a good version for English speakers. The English version in Gutenberg is a shortened one and there are some wonderful passages left out.

    I am trying to write a bit in Spanish for Venezuelans here

  3. Kepler,

    we just discovered the Penguin Great Journeys series but after reading the 100 page booklet we are in want of more. Which edition do you recommend?

  4. Hi, Anonymous. I am not sure as I read Humboldt's account in German and French.

    I later wanted to quote him and show some passages to a couple of friends who didn't speak German or French and found the text in Gutenberg

    The text is OK, but not complete. I didn't find several parts I very much wanted to show where he wrote about the mentality in Venezuela. The text is probably more than your booklet and you can get it for free. I see at Amazon that you can get for free the Kindle book...probably it is the same version.

    Perhaps this is the real deal in English:

    But bear in mind: that would be the first book. Also: Humboldt discusses in detail about everything. At times it can be tough reading, even if he knows what to's just that few people are so interested in so many details about so many subjects. For instance: there could be a couple of pages here about geology of one region, then about botany and then he goes into the social and historical perspective and his actual experiences.

    Hope that helps.


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