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- Equinoctial Regions of America - 6/104 -


expedition round the globe, contributed to give a determined direction to the plan of travels which I had formed at eighteen years of age. No longer deluded by the agitation of a wandering life, I was anxious to contemplate nature in all her variety of wild and stupendous scenery; and the hope of collecting some facts useful to the advancement of science, incessantly impelled my wishes towards the luxuriant regions of the torrid zone. As personal circumstances then prevented me from executing the projects by which I was so powerfully influenced, I had leisure to prepare myself during six years for the observations I proposed to make on the New Continent, as well as to visit different parts of Europe, and to explore the lofty chain of the Alps, the structure of which I might afterwards compare with that of the Andes of Quito and of Peru.

I had traversed a part of Italy in 1795, but had not been able to visit the volcanic regions of Naples and Sicily; and I regretted leaving Europe without having seen Vesuvius, Stromboli, and Etna. I felt, that in order to form a proper judgment of many geological phenomena, especially of the nature of the rocks of trap-formation, it was necessary to examine the phenomena presented by burning volcanoes. I determined therefore to return to Italy in the month of November, 1797. I made a long stay at Vienna, where the fine collections of exotic plants, and the friendship of Messrs. de Jacquin, and Joseph van der Schott, were highly useful to my preparatory studies. I travelled with M. Leopold von Buch, through several cantons of Salzburg and Styria, countries alike interesting to the landscape-painter and the geologist; but just when I was about to cross the Tyrolese Alps, the war then raging in Italy obliged me to abandon the project of going to Naples.

A short time before, a gentleman passionately fond of the fine arts, and who had visited the coasts of Greece and Illyria to inspect their monuments, made me a proposal to accompany him in an expedition to Upper Egypt. This expedition was to occupy only eight months. Provided with astronomical instruments and able draughtsmen, we were to ascend the Nile as far as Assouan, after minutely examining the positions of the Said, between Tentyris and the cataracts. Though my views had not hitherto been fixed on any region but the tropics, I could not resist the temptation of visiting countries so celebrated in the annals of human civilization. I therefore accepted this proposition, but with the express condition, that on our return to Alexandria I should be at liberty to continue my journey through Syria and Palestine. The studies which I entered upon with a view to this new project, I afterwards found useful, when I examined the relations between the barbarous monuments of Mexico, and those belonging to the nations of the old world. I thought myself on the point of embarking for Egypt, when political events forced me to abandon a plan which promised me so much satisfaction.

An expedition of discovery in the South Sea, under the direction of captain Baudin, was then preparing in France. The plan was great, bold, and worthy of being executed by a more enlightened commander. The purpose of this expedition was to visit the Spanish possessions of South America, from the mouth of the river Plata to the kingdom of Quito and the isthmus of Panama. After visiting the archipelago of the Pacific, and exploring the coasts of New Holland, from Van Diemen's Land to that of Nuyts, both vessels were to stop at Madagascar, and return by the Cape of Good Hope. I was in Paris when the preparations for this voyage were begun. I had but little confidence in the personal character of captain Baudin, who had given cause of discontent to the court of Vienna, when he was commissioned to conduct to Brazil one of my friends, the young botanist, Van der Schott; but as I could not hope, with my own resources, to make a voyage of such extent, and view so fine a portion of the globe, I determined to take the chances of this expedition. I obtained permission to embark, with the instruments I had collected, in one of the vessels destined for the South Sea, and I reserved to myself the liberty of leaving captain Baudin whenever I thought proper. M. Michaux, who had already visited Persia and a part of North America, and M. Bonpland, with whom I then formed the friendship that still unites us, were appointed to accompany this expedition as naturalists.

I had flattered myself during several months with the idea of sharing the labours directed to so great and honourable an object when the war which broke out in Germany and Italy, determined the French government to withdraw the funds granted for their voyage of discovery, and adjourn it to an indefinite period. Deeply mortified at finding the plans I had formed during many years of my life overthrown in a single day, I sought at any risk the speediest means of quitting Europe, and engaging in some enterprise which might console me for my disappointment.

I became acquainted with a Swedish consul, named Skioldebrand, who having been appointed by his court to carry presents to the dey of Algiers, was passing through Paris, to embark at Marseilles. This estimable man had resided a long time on the coast of Africa; and being highly respected by the government of Algiers, he could easily procure me permission to visit that part of the chain of the Atlas which had not been the object of the important researches of M. Desfontaines. He despatched every year a vessel for Tunis, where the pilgrims embarked for Mecca, and he promised to convey me by the same medium to Egypt. I eagerly seized so favourable an opportunity, and thought myself on the point of executing a plan which I had formed previously to my arrival in France. No mineralogist had yet examined that lofty chain of mountains which, in the empire of Morocco, rises to the limits of the perpetual snow. I flattered myself, that, after executing some operations in the alpine regions of Barbary, I should receive in Egypt from those illustrious men who had for some months formed the Institute of Cairo, the same kind attentions with which I had been honoured during my abode in Paris. I hastily completed my collection of instruments, and purchased works relating to the countries I was going to visit. I parted from a brother who, by his advice and example, had hitherto exercised a great influence on the direction of my thoughts. He approved the motives which determined me to quit Europe; a secret voice assured us that we should meet again; and that hope, which did not prove delusive, assuaged the pain of a long separation. I left Paris with the intention of embarking for Algiers and Egypt; but by one of those vicissitudes which sway the affairs of this life, I returned to my brother from the river Amazon and Peru, without having touched the continent of Africa.

The Swedish frigate which was to convey M. Skioldebrand to Algiers, was expected at Marseilles toward the end of October. M. Bonpland and myself repaired thither with great celerity, for during our journey we were tormented with the fear of being too late, and missing our passage.

M. Skioldebrand was no less impatient than ourselves to reach his place of destination. Several times a day we climbed the mountain of Notre Dame de la Garde, which commands an extensive view of the Mediterranean. Every sail we descried in the horizon excited in us the most eager emotion; but after two months of anxiety and vain expectation, we learned by the public papers, that the Swedish frigate which was to convey us, had suffered greatly in a storm on the coast of Portugal, and had been forced to enter the port of Cadiz, to refit. This news was confirmed by private letters, assuring us that the Jaramas, which was the name of the frigate, would not reach Marseilles before the spring.

We felt no inclination to prolong our stay in Provence till that period. The country, and especially the climate, were delightful, but the aspect of the sea reminded us of the failure of our projects. In an excursion we made to Hyeres and Toulon, we found in the latter port the frigate la Boudeuse, which had been commanded by M. de Bougainville, in his voyage round the world. She was then fitting out for Corsica. M. de Bougainville had honoured me with particular kindness during my stay in Paris, when I was preparing to accompany the expedition of captain Baudin. I cannot describe the impression made upon my mind by the sight of the vessel which had carried Commerson to the islands of the South Sea. In some conditions of the mind, a painful emotion blends itself with all our feelings.

We still persisted in the intention of visiting the African coast, and were nearly becoming the victims of our perseverance. A small vessel of Ragusa, on the point of setting sail for Tunis, was at that time in the port of Marseilles; we thought the opportunity favourable for reaching Egypt and Syria, and we agreed with the captain for our passage. The vessel was to sail the following day; but a circumstance trivial in itself happily prevented our departure. The live-stock intended to serve us for food during our passage, was kept in the great cabin. We desired that some changes should be made, which were indispensable for the safety of our instruments; and during this interval we learnt at Marseilles, that the government of Tunis persecuted the French residing in Barbary, and that every person coming from a French port was thrown into a dungeon. Having escaped this imminent danger, we were compelled to suspend the execution of our projects. We resolved to pass the winter in Spain, in hopes of embarking the next spring, either at Carthagena, or at Cadiz, if the political situation of the East permitted.

We crossed Catalonia and the kingdom of Valencia, on our way to Madrid. We visited the ruins of Tarragona and those of ancient Saguntum; and from Barcelona we made an excursion to Montserrat, the lofty peaks of which are inhabited by hermits, and where the contrast between luxuriant vegetation and masses of naked and arid rocks, forms a landscape of a peculiar character. I employed myself in ascertaining by astronomical observations the position of several points important for the geography of Spain, and determined by means of the barometer the height of the central plain. I likewise made several observations on the inclination of the needle, and on the intensity of the magnetic forces.

On my arrival at Madrid I had reason to congratulate myself on the resolution I had formed of visiting the Peninsula. Baron de Forell, minister from the court of Saxony, treated me with a degree of kindness, of which I soon felt the value. He was well versed in mineralogy, and was full of zeal for every undertaking that promoted the progress of knowledge. He observed to me, that under the administration of an enlightened minister, Don Mariano Luis de Urquijo, I might hope to obtain permission to visit, at my own expense, the interior of Spanish America. After the disappointments I had suffered, I did not hesitate a moment to adopt this idea.

I was presented at the court of Aranjuez in March 1799 and the king received me graciously. I explained to him the motives which led me to undertake a voyage to the new world and the Philippine Islands, and I presented a memoir on the subject to the secretary of state. Senor de Urquijo supported my demand, and overcame every obstacle. I obtained two passports, one from the first secretary of state, the other from the council of the Indies. Never had so extensive a permission been granted to any traveller, and never had any foreigner been honoured with more confidence on the part of the Spanish government.


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