Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was the gentleman-explorer par excellence, fascinated and eager to draw connections between phenomena. In one of many such reveries, this one from Views of Nature, he describes the scenery along the Orinoco River:

"All distant objects had wavy undulating outlines, the optical effect of the mirage. Not a breath of air moved the dust-like sand. The sun stood in the zenith; and the effulgence of light poured upon the river, and which, owing to a gentle ripple of the waters, was brilliantly reflected, gave additional distinctness to the red haze which veiled the distance. All the rocky mounds and naked boulders were covered with large, thick-scaled Iguanas, Gecko-lizards, and spotted Salamanders. Motionless, with uplifted heads and widely extended mouths, they seemed to inhale the heated air with ecstasy. The larger animals at such times take refuge in the deep recesses of the forest, the birds nestle beneath the foliage of the trees, or in the clefs of the rocks; but if in this apparent stillness of nature we listen closely for the faintest tones, we detect a dull, muffled sound, a buzzing and humming of insects close to the earth, in the lower strata of the atmosphere. Everything proclaims a world of active organic forces. In every shrub, in the cracked bark of trees, in the perforated ground inhabited by hymenopterous insects, life is everywhere audibly manifest. It is one of the many voices of nature revealed to the pious and susceptible spirit of man."

For more on Humboldt, see the related exhibit items in Illustration and Representation.

 
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