HUMBOLDT, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von (1769-1859). 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, ... New York: Printed and published by I. Riley, 1811
2 volumes. 8vo., (8 3/8 x 5 1/8 inches). (Spotting and browning throughout). Contemporary half tan calf, the smooth pines ruled in six compartments, black morocco lettering-piece in the second (worn).
Provenance: early bookplates removed from front paste-downs, early ownership inscriptions erased from same; with gift inscriptions "Presented to Dr. L. B. Barlow By his friend J. Stevens May 1863" on the front paste-down of each volume; with Dorothy Sloan, High Spots of Texas, the West, Mexico & the Borderlands-Badu House, Llano, Texas, 26th October, 2007, lot 61
First American edition, printing up to and including Book IV, Chapter IX of the original Paris edition; no more was issued by this publisher, who issued only two volumes without maps, as here. Across the verso of front free endpaper and recto of the first blank of volume two there is a later nineteenth-century pencil sketch of the Battle of Veracruz (March 1847) in the Mexican-American War. The sketch, oriented with east at the top, shows "Veri Cruise" at the center with cannon placements and "Castle of St. Juan de Ulloa" above it. Several ships representing the U.S. fleet are cruising near the fort. Surrounding Veracruz are mortar batteries, including one with U.S. flag, artillery emplacements, and entrenchments. Shown are the attacks on the city by "regulars" and "volunteers," including the breaches made in the city's defenses.
With the gift inscriptions of John Stevens, presumably John Harrington Stevens (1820-1900), Quartermaster in the Mexican-American War with Winfield Scott's force at Veracruz, and, after the war, a founder of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Stevens was among the early residents on the west side of the Mississippi at what would become Minneapolis, having been granted land from the Fort Snelling military reserve in exchange for establishing a ferry service. His home, the first domestic dwelling built in Minneapolis is a museum today. Further, the Dr. L. B. Barlow to whom the set was presented, was probably Lafayette Barlow, another prominent early Minnesota resident (Dorothy Sloan).
Humboldt's present work on New Spain constitutes the first modern geographical monograph on Mexico and the Southwest U.S., containing data assembled during the author's visit to Mexico at the end of the eighteenth century. Much of this information had never before appeared in print. Humboldt also presents a very early, serious proposal for an inter-oceanic canal. The chapters on the provinces of New Mexico, the Californias, and Provincias Internas (including Texas) are covered in these two volumes. The source for this edition was John Black's translation into English of the French edition of 181l, and Black's original preface is retained. John Black (1783-1855; DNB), British journalist and editor, adds occasional footnotes, sometimes comparing the United States and Mexico.
"This publication in the U.S. reflects a growing interest in areas west of the Mississippi, which would become crucial battlegrounds in just a few decades as the young republic expanded into former French and Spanish possessions, as Humboldt intimates in his chapter on the Intendency of San Luís 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 publication was probably intended to excite interest in the areas to the south. Only a year later José Miguel Ramos Arizpe would publish in Spain his Memoria, in which he complained bitterly about the neglect shown to Texas and the Borderland areas of Mexico, a striking contrast to the interest shown by both Gass and Humboldt. The latter, however, does remark that many parts of Texas are "uninhabited" (p. 187).
"Alexander von 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 unparalleled 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 newly acquired lands, and especially the question of the limits of Louisiana between Spain and the United States" (Dorothy Sloan). American Imprints 23066; Howes H786; Sabin 33715. Catalogued by Kate Hunter