H i N

Alexander von


HiN                                                     I, 1 (2000)

Ulrike Leitner: Humboldt's works on Mexico


8. Conclusions

Humboldt has dealt with the topic of Mexico in the multiple genres available to him as a scientific explorer and naturalist: in his diaries, in the Essai, in statistics (Tablas), in a volume of annotated illustrations, and in a geographic atlas. Concerning the scientific aspect, that the Relation historique lacks a section on Mexico is not a real deficit, since it is compensated by the Essai (the "statistical painting" as a counterpart to the "nature painting").(29) But none of these works meets Humboldt's demand for the unification of the empirical and the aesthetic, the demand for a scientific nature painting to the same extent as the Relation historique. This high standard is probably also the reason Humboldt failed to finish the work. Equally, none of these publications show Humboldt’s analytical curiosity so typical for the Relation historique, which equally addresses both nature and culture within a narrative context describing the course of his journey. The diaries and letters from the journey can be seen as an incomplete substitute for this special combination of literary and scientific essay. Moreover, they have the advantage of describing the journey in a direct and often suspenseful way for the reader. They too already contain the kind of reflections to be expected only in the Relation historique, although they lack the essayistic stylistic finishing touches of the latter. The description of a barren landscape on his way from Mexico to Guanajuato and his reflection on the reasons for aridity, for example, in the following sentence so often quoted, is typical for Humboldt's holistic view of the world: "Alles ist Wechselwirkung - Everything is interrelatedness."(30)

Therefore, in closing, I would once again like to emphasize the value of the travel journals as an important publication about the American journey and a necessary addition to the remaining unfinished works of Humboldt. "To make some noise is part of the trade"(31) - with this quote from Humboldt may a final reference to the editions of the Humboldt Research Center be permitted.



(29) "Statistisches Gemälde" in Humboldt’s German version of the Essai , p. 1.

(30) Reise T. II: Übersetzung, op. cit., p. 258.

(31) "Läuten gehört zum Handwerk"


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