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I. Dollinger, Von den Fortschritten, we/che die Physiologie seit HaILer

gemacht hat (Munich, 1824), p. 10.
C. F. Heusinger, System der Histologie (Eisenach, 1822), p. 19.
P. F. von Walther, 'Darstellung des Bichat'schen Systemes', Jahrbuch der
Medicin,2 (1807),56-7, 60-l.
P. A. Beclard, Eiemens d'anatomie generale, ou Description de tous les genres
d'organes qui composent le corps humain (Paris, 1823), p. 135.
J. C. Reil, 'Von der Lebenskraft', ArchilJ fUr Physiologie, 1 (1795),8-162.
See J. V. Pickstone, 'Globules and Coagula: Concepts of Tissue Formation in
the Early Nineteenth Century', Journal of the History of Medicine, 28 (1973),
L. J. Rather, 'Some Relations between Eighteenth-Century Fiber Theory and
Nineteenth-Century Cell Theory', Clio Medica, 4 (1969), 191-202, esp. pp.
199-200; E. H. Ackerknecht, Rudolf Virchow, Doctor, Statesman,
Anthropologist (Madison, Wise., 1953), p. 7l.
See Temkin, 'German Concepts', p. 38l.
T. Schwann, Mikroskopische Untersuchungen uber die Uebereinstimmungen
in der Struktur und dem Wachstum der Thiere und P{lanzen (Berlin, 1839),
p. iii.
Ibid., p. 192.
Ibid., p. 196.
Ibid., p. 198.
Ibid., p. 196 and passim.
See W. Page!, 'The Speculative Basis of Modern Pathology. Jahn, Virchow
and the Philosophy of Pathology', Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 18
(1945), 1-43; L. S. Jacyna, 'John Goodsir and the Making of Cellular
Reality', Journal of the History of Biology, 16 (1983), 75-99.
See L. S. Jacyna, 'The Romantic Programme and the Reception of Cell
Theory in Britain', Journal of the History of Biology, 17 (1984), 13-48.
Balan, L'Ordre et le temps: l'anatomie comparee et l'histoire des lJilJants au
XIX' siecie (Paris, 1979), pp. 281-2.


Alexander von Humboldt and the

geography of vegetation

Alexander von Humboldt was born in Berlin in 1769.' As young men he and
his brother Wilhelm were members of the elite German literary circles.
Alexander became a personal friend of both Goethe and Schiller. He also
received a scientific education at the University of Gottingen and the Freiberg
School of Mines (Bergakademie). He later became famous for his experimental investigations, for his scientific expeditions - to the Americas from 1799 to
1804, and to Russia in 1829 - and for such major works as Personal Narrative
of Travels and Cosmos. He was a remarkable man of polymathic learning and
a synthetic habit of thought.
Antecedents of Humboldt's geographical concerns may be found in the work
of those German scholars who pioneered the academic study of geography in
the second half of the eighteenth century. Of special relevance to the present
discussion are Kant's lectures on physical geography! To Kant, it was
artificial to arrange objects into taxonomies, according to carefully selected
visible features, as had been done by Linnaeus. Such a form of classification
the idea of a whole out of which the manifold character of things is being derived .. . In
the existing so-called system of this type, the objects are merely put beside each other
and ordered in sequence one after the other!

To Kant, the essential prerequisite of a knowledge of the world was a

description of phenomena as they actually occur and coexist in nature.
Physical geography should give 'an idea of the whole in terms of area'.4 It was
only after the task of geographical description had been undertaken that a
satisfactory 'SYstem of nature' based upon the phenomena themselves rather
than upon arbitrary distinctions and aggregations would be possible.
Following Kant, German geographers assumed the existence of a functional interrelation between all of the individual phenomena of the earth's



ALexander von HumboLdt and vegetation

surface. S They postulated an underlying causal unity of nature of which the

visible forms of things was only one aspect. The earth was one whole. But
geographers also recognized the existence of regionality. Phenomena peculiar
to a particular region were the causes of other equally regional phenomenafor example climatic and environmental conditions influenced human society
so that, as Kant wrote, 'in the mountains, men are actively and continuously
bold lovers of freedom and their homeland'.6 Thus although the earth was a
single organism, it contained other holistic structures which, by reason of
their peculiar internal cohesive processes, had distinctive characteristics. The
surface of the earth was comprised of many natural regions.
Humboldt first publicly set out his programme for a new form of plant
geography in 179,3.7 In the FLorae Fribergensis Specimen, he followed Kant in
distinguishing bbtween a true history of nature and a mere description of
nature such ~s had been provided by the older, Linnaean system of natural
history. No l<:inger should botanists study merely individual species and their
outward appearances; no longer should they be preoccupied solely with
descriptive taxonomy and nomenclature. The central concern of the
Humboldtian plant geographer would be, by contrast, the real phenomena of

This grand vision of a complete historical geography of the earth provided a

central theme for Humboldt's later work. All his diverse writings were
characterized by the desire to create what he termed 'La physique generaLe' the universal, synthetic science which would comprehend both the unity and
the diversity of nature." The geography of plants and, in particular, the
geography of vegetation had a major part to play within this cosmological
The importance of geography within Humboldt's scholarly enterprise was
also expressed in the priority he accorded to scientific travelling. To Humboldt exploration was an essential part of natural inquiry, a necessary
condition of 'La physique generaLe'. Early in his development as a natural
philosopher, he had been introduced to the art of scientific travelling by an
experienced practitioner, Georg Forster, who had sailed with Captain Cook
on his second voyage. In 1790, the two men travelled from Germany, through
the Low Countries, to France and England. Shortly after their return to
Germany, Forster published a literary and scientific account of their journey.u Ansichtenvom Niederrhein (Views of the Lower Rhine) was acclaimed
in literary circles as a major achievement, particularly by Goethe, Schiller and
Alexander's brother, Wilhelm. The harmonization of scientific investigation
with aesthetic sensitivity which Forster had accomplished was hailed as
evidence of a new maturity of attitude among natural philosophers. Here was
a demonstration that scientific inquiry need not be cold and unresponsive to
the beauties of nature. It could embrace and celebrate the earth in the act of
studying it. '3
As we shall see, there is much of Forster's exemplar in Humboldt's own
travel writing. Both men paid particular attention to the morphology of
landscape. Both favoured panoramic description. Both valued scientific accuracy and avidly collected all manner of detail and data. Their empiricism was
combined with enthusiastic recording of emotional responses and subjective
Of all his travels Humboldt regarded the journey to the Americas as the
most important since, in the New World, he had visited the tropics where
plant and animal life displayed the greatest richness and diversity. And in his
accounts of South America, Mount Chimborazo occupies a place of special
symbolic importance since it was there, in 1802, that Humboldt and his
companion, Aime Bonpland, ascended from the level of the rainforest and
human settlement, through the several aItitudinal vegetation zones, to the
region of permanent snow. On the slopes of the mountain they thus experienced, within a small compass, much of the physical and vegetational diversity of the continent. It is, likewise, a symbol of the centrality of plant
geography within Humboldt's research enterprise that it was in their camp at
the foot of the mountain that Humboldt began to compose a fuller articula-



Observation of individual parrs of trees or grass is by no means to be considered plant

geography; rather plant geography traces the connections and relations by which all
plants are bound together among themselves, designates in what lands they are found,
in what atmospheric conditions they live ... and describes the surface of the earth in
which humus is prepared. This is what distinguishes geography from nature study,
falsely called natural history . .. 8
Humboldt identified his proposed botanical innovations with changes
occurring contemporaneously in other fields of inquiry. In particular he
associated his programme for plant geography with the new historical geology (geognosy) of Abraham Werner. Werner sought to transcend classical
mineralogy - which had concentrated on the study of individual minerals and to produce a unified history of the earth. Humboldt had been a student of
Werner at the Freiberg School of Mines and was an enthusiastic practitioner
of the Wernerian exemplar, using geognosy as the organizing principle of the
geological researches he undertook on his scientific travels. 9 The gist of his
remarks in the FLorae Fribergensis Specimen was that the new programme to
investigate the study of the history of the earth must encompass not only
geological phenomena but biological ones as well:
Geognosy [ErdkundeJ studies animate and inanimate nature ... both organic and
inorganic bodies. It is divided into three parts: solid rock geography, which Werner has
industriously studied; zoological geography, whose foundations have been laid by
[EberhardtJ Zimmermann; and the geography of plants, which our colleagues left
untouched . .. '0





tion of the programme for plant geography he had adumbrated in the Florae
Fribergensis Specimen.
The Essai sur la geographie des plantes (Essay on the Geography of Plants)
was first published, in French, in 1807." Like Chimborazo itself, the Essai
encapsulated, for Humboldt, the totality of the scientific and aesthetic impression made upon him by the tropics of South America. Such was its unique
importance that Humboldt originally intended that the Essai should be the
introductory volume to the full scientific account of his travels in the New
The primary purpose of the Essai was 'to draw natural philosophers'
attention to the great phenomena which nature displays in the regions
through which I have travelled. It is their whole which I have considered in this
essa y.' 16 Humboldt directed attention to the 'whole' beca use Nature could not
be understood by concentrating only on particulars. Nature was one holistic
This science [la physique generaLel, which without doubt is one of the most beautiful
fields of human knowledge, can only progress .. . by the bringing together of all the
phenomena and creations which the earth has to offer. In this great sequence of cause
and effect, nothing can be considered in isolation. The general equilibrium, which
reigns amongst disturbances and apparent turmoil, is the result of an infinity of
mechanical forces and chemical attractions balancing each other out. Even if each
series of facts must be considered separately to identify a particular law, the study of
nature, which is the greatest problem of La physique generale, requires the bringing
together of all the forms of knowledge which deal with the modifications of matter."

Alexander von Humboldt and vegetation


The poetical works of the Greeks and the ruder songs of the primitive northern races
owe much of their peculiar character to the forms of plants and animals, to the
mountain valleys in which their poets dwelt, and to the air which surrounded them."
But the role of vegetation in mediating between Man and the physical
environment was a major one:
However much the character of different regions of the earth may depend upon a
combination of all these external phenomena ... the outline of mountains and hills, the
physiognomy of plants and animals, the azure of the sky, the forms of the clouds and
the transparency of the atmosphere, still it cannot be denied that it is the vegetable
covering of the earth's surface which chiefly conduces to the effect!O
Note that it is the vegetation en masse that is active in producing the
differences in aesthetic sensibility and moral development between races and
cultures. The individual plants are involved only as they contribute to the
collective phenomena of vegetation.
This holistic emphasis on vegetation ran throughout Humboldt's treatment of plant geography, not only in the Essai but also in his later works. It
constitutes one of the major novelties of his plant science and one of the
principal reasons why his work must be distinguished from that of older
botanists such as Johann Reinhold Forster and Karl Ludwig Willdenow.z '
Humboldt did not, of course, deny that the study of individual plants and
species was an important part of botany. But this was not the main focus of his
own botanical research, nor should it be, he argued, the exclusive concern of
other investigators:

One of Humboldt's reasons for allocating such a central position to plant

geography was that the vegetation of any given region was not only a primary
expression of the physical environment - it also exercised a formative influence on M .a nkind, both materially and spiritually. The passage with which
Humboldt introduced this subject is a very characteristic one:

Botanists' research is generally directed toward objects which merely embrace a very
small part of their science. They deal almost exclusively with the discovery of new
plants, with the study of their exterior structure ... and of the analogies which unite
them in classes and families ... it is no less important to establish Plant Geography, a
science that so far exists in name only, and yet is an essential part of La physique

but the man who is sensitive to the beauties of nature will ... find there the explanation
of the influence exerted by the appearance of vegetation over Man's taste and
imagination. He will take pleasure in examining what is constituted by the 'character'
of the vegetation and the variety of sensation it produces in the soul of the person who
contemplates it. These considerations are all the more significant because they are
closely linked to the means by which the imitative arts and descriptive poetry succeed
in acting upon us ... What a marked contrast between forests in temperate zones and
those of the Equator, where the bare slender trunks of the palms soar above the
flowered mahogany trees and create majestical portico arches in the sky ... How does
this ... appearance of nature, rich and pleasant to a greater or lesser degree, affect the
customs and above all the sensibility of people?lB

As he was later to put it, in his Personal Narrative of Travels:

The vegetation was, of course, not the only feature of the environment
which was morally influential. In a later essay Humboldt noted that:

. .. preferring the connection of facts which have been long observed to the knowledge
of isolated facts, although they were new, the discovery of an unknown genus seemed
to me far less interesting than an observation of the geographical relations of the
vegetable world, or the migtation of the social plants, and the limit of the height which
their different tribes attain on the flanks of the Cordilleras.13
Humboldt's concern with holistic structures and the unity of landscape is
well exemplified by the 'Tableau physique des Andes et pays voisins'. This isa
large and elaborate engraving, folded within the pages of the Essai. 14 It depicts
a cross-sectional profile of the Andes from the Atlantic to the Pacific at the
latitude of Chimborazo. In this one figure are mapped or tabulated which
plant and animal species live where, where the altitudinal zones of vegetation






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'Heights of the Old and New World, graphically compared.' Dedicated by

Goethe to Alexander von Humboldt. Note the figure of von Humboldt near
the summit of Chimborazo. From AlIgemeine geographische Ephemeriden, 1813.




Alexander von Humboldt and vegetation


begin and end, the types of agriculture pursued, the underlying geological
structures and a wide variety of physical or meteorological data. The object
was to give, in a single illustration, a complete impression of a natural regionthe 'regions equinoctiales' of South America.
The 'Tableau', with its holistic vision of a unified landscape, is a very
typical Humboldtian production. However the concept it represents was not
unique to Humboldt but rather sprang from the wider background of German
Romanticism and Naturphilosophie. Humboldt enjoyed an enduring friendship with Goethe, to whom the German edition of the Essai sur la geographie
des plantes was dedicated. u The dedication page is illustrated with an
engraving which represents the genius of Poetry unveiling Nature. In the
foreground lies an open copy of Goethe's great botanical work, The Metamorphosis of Plants. Goethe studied Humboldt's work on plant geography
enthusiastically and drew an illustration for the text, 'a conventional picture
of a symbolic landscape', which he, in turn, dedicated to Humboldt (fig. H)."
This was not the only common ground between the two men. When Humboldt sent Goethe a copy of his Essai politique sur l'Ile de Cuba (1826), Goethe
complimented the author on not having omitted 'pointers to the incommensurable', despite the large amount of statistical information the work
contained. "
Humboldt also had a close intellectual association with Schiller. He wrote
an allegorical essay, 'The Genius of Rhodes', for Schiller's periodical Die
Horen. Despite later being vehemently criticized by Schiller and despite
having serious scientific disagreements with Goethe, Humboldt never repudiated his early intimacy with the leaders of the German Romantic movement.
He reprinted 'The Genius of Rhodes' in his 'favourite' and most 'purely
German' work, the compilation volume Ansichten der Natur (Views of
N ature)!" Humboldt's last and most ambitious major work, Cosmos, written
almost forty years later still, contains many passages which give high praise to
the Naturphilosophen!' Goethe's influence is acknowledged in the book's
introduction and much of the tex t is redolent of the Romantic tradition,
continuing to evince intellectual concerns seen in Humboldt's earlier worksin the Essai and especially in Ansichten der Natur.
To Humboldt, one of the principal attractions of the study of vegetation was
the extent to which the plant geographer shared the interests and joys of the
landscape artists. The two approaches to nature were mutually complementary. Humboldt suggested that the pictorial representation of landscape
would be improved if the painter studied the classification of plant form
developed by the plant geographer:

Perhaps it is in the importance he attached to aesthetics within natural

inquiry that Humboldt's fraternity with the Romantic movement is most

How interesting and instructive to the landscape painter would be a work that should
present to the eye accurate delineation of the sixteen principal forms enumerated both
individually and in collective contrast! What can be more picturesque than the
arborescent Ferns, which spread their tender foliage above the Mexican laurel-oak!

With the simplest statements of scientific facts there must ever mingle a certain
eloquence. Nature herself is sublimely eloquent. The stars as they sparkle in the
firmament fill us with delight and ecstasy, and yet they all move in orbits marked out
with mathematical precision."

15 Frontispiece to Alexander van Humbaldt und Aime Banplands Reise

(1807). The Spirit of Poetry (Apollo) unveils the mystery of Nature (Isis).

What more charming than the aspect of banana groves, shaded by those lofty grasses,
the Gaudua and Bamboo! It is particularly the privilege of the artist to separate these
into groups, and thus the beautiful images of nature ... resolve themselves beneath his
touch ... into a few simple elements!O


Alexander lion Humboldt and lIegetation

Natural science, if it was to be true to Nature, must be aesthetically satisfactory. Moreover it was not that the scientific faculty comprehended while the
aesthetic faculty merely appreciated. As we have seen, to Humboldt aesthetic
and emotional responses to natural phenomena counted as data about these
pheno"mena. Aesthetic reactions to the various sorts of vegetation were
indications of the particular effect of different natural environments upon
human society.
It has recently been argued that different traditions within
Naturphilosophie may be distinguished according to the role accorded to
aesthetics within natural inquiry.32 A major problem facing the philosophy of
knowledge at the end of the eighteenth century was how human reason, which
had only sense data to work with and was thus confined to the scrutiny of
external characteristics, could ever come to comprehend the inner realities of
things. The Kantian response was to argue that reason simply could never
have direct access beyond the phenomena. The best one could hope for was,
through establishing systematic interconnections and law-like relationships,
to organize natural phenomena into synthetic holistic schemata. But the
variety of Naturphilosophen which von Engelhardt has termed 'romantic' or
'speculative' was not prepared to accept a necessary dichotomy between the
understanding of the investigator and the object being investigated. They
proposed an alternative solution by which a theory of aesthetics came to the
aid of the theory of rationality. Man's aesthetic sensitivities could, if suitably
trained and applied, transcend the limitations of reason, penetrate beyond the
surface phenomena and, sensuously and intuitively, grasp the underlying
unities of Nature.
Humboldt is clearly sympathetic to this point of view:

Humboldt's plant geography was a thoroughly empirical investigation of

the environment of plants:


... who is there that does not feel himself differently affected beneath the embowering
shade of die beeches' grove, or on hills crowned with a few scattered pines, or in the
flowering meadow where the breezes murmur through the trembling foliage of the
birch? A feeling of melancholy, or solemnity, or of light buoyant animation is in turn
awakened by the contemplation of our native trees. This influence of the physical on
the moral world - this mysterious reaction of the sensuous on the ideal, gives to the
study of nature, when considered from a higher point of view, a peculiar charm which
has not hitherto been sufficiently recognized. Jl

But Humboldt, although always alive to the prerogatives of aesthetics and

the appeal of the sublime, did not follow Schiller or Schelling in subordinating
rationality to aesthetic sensibility. He was chastised by Schiller for his 'keen
cold reason which would have all nature shamelessly exposed to scrutiny' .l" In
other words he did not repudiate empirical and experimental natural inquiry.
To Humboldt, aesthetics complemented rationality; it did not make it redundant. The mathematical precision of the stars' orbits was just as valid a topic
for study as their sparkle and its associated delights.


... it would be injurious to the advancement of science to attempt rising to general

ideas, in neglecting the knowledge of particular facts."

In his gathering of information, Humboldt made intensive use of instruments

to measure physical parameters. l6 One of the purposes of his scientific
travelling was to measure accurately, with instruments, where previous
explorers had merely described. Subjective impressions were a necessary but
not a sufficient part of what one might call the data-base of Humboldtian
plant geography. The azure of the sky, for example, was not only to be
appreciated aesthetically: it had to be quantified. Virtually everything that
could be measured was measured. The readings were tabulated and compared
between various sites. The physical data were then correlated with the
occurrence of the various types of vegetation. Such correlations would, it was
hoped, aid in the discernment of the laws which governed the distribution of
vegetation. To facilitate this work, Humboldt pioneered the isoline technique
of cartography.l7
Humboldt's 'magnificent lines' enclosed areas of equal mean temperature
and pressure. lS But, in principle at least, they also marked out natural
divisions of the earth's surface. Distinctive integrative processes went on
within the different areas. The tables of data on the equatorial region of South
America which accompany the Essai sur la geographie des plantes illustrate
the unified interrelatedness and complexity of these natural geographical
The same table indicates: the vegetation; the fauna; the geological connections; the
agricultural cultivations; the temperature of the air; the limits of perpetual snow; the
chemical constitution of the atmosphere ... the horizontal refraction of sunlight, and
the temperature of boiling water at different altitudes!"

The 'regions [which] form the natural divisions of the vegetable empire' were
thus real holistic entities in contrast to the artificial isolates on which
herbarium practice was based. 40 They existed 'not in the greenhouses and
books of botany but in Nature itself'."'
Regions of this sort were not, however, imagined to be topographically or
vegetationally homogeneous. The 'Tableau physique des Andes et pays
voisins' pictorially represented spatial differentiation within a single region.
The palm might be a characteristic plant of the 'regions equitoriales' but
palms were not distributed equally throughout its entire area. On the tops of
the mountains one found a 'region des lichens' or, lower down, a 'region des
Cinchona'. These smaller sorts of vegetational regions were distinguishable
by 'physiognomy' - that is, by the life-forms, the general appearance and habit
of growth, of the constituent plants.


Alexander von Humboldt and vegetation




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In determining those forms, on whose individual beauty, distribution and grouping,

the physiognomy of a country's vegetation depends, we must not ground our opinion
... on the smaller organs of propagation ... but must be guided solely by those
elements of magnitude and mass from which the total impression of a district receives
its character of individuality ... The systematizing botanist ... separates into different
groups many plants which the student of the physiognomy of nature is compelled to
associate together. 4J

Similarly, species closely allied for the taxonomist might be put into different
physiognomic groups by the Humboldtian plant geographer.
Humboldt's interest in reducing the diversity of plant shapes to a small
number of fundamental life-forms is closely cognate with the concern of other
German naturalists - such as Goethe, Lorenz Oken and the Gottingen
professors, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and G. R. Treviranus - to identify
the ideal or primitive forms underlying plant and animal structure'" As
Humboldt expressed it:
The primeval force of organization, notwithstanding a certain independence in the
abnormal development of individual parts, binds all animal and vegetable structures to
fixed, ever-recurring types. 4S









Map of isothermal lines by Alexander von Humboldt, from Annales de

chimie et de physique (1817).

Classifying plant physiognomy was an important feature of Humboldt's

botanical enterprise:
Among the variety of vegetation which covers the structure of our planet, one may
distinguish, without difficulty, several general forms to which most of the others may
be reduced ... I have marked our by name fifteen of these physiognomic groups."

Examples of the life-forms recognized by Humboldt were: the grasses, the

palms, the cacti, the conifers, the lianas, the horse-tails (Equisetales), the
mosses and the lichens. Thus the 'regions des lichens' were distinguishable by
the obvious profusion of a number of species, all with the same lichenous lifeform. It was the study of such natural physiognomies that Humboldt recommended to the landscape painter in the quotation given above.
This aspect of Humboldt's work on vegetation constitutes one of the most
decisive ways in which he departed from classical taxonomic and floristic
methods. Classification by life-form, although in many cases it did approximate to more orthodox arrangements, was essentially independent of floristic

Thus in his study of plant physiognomy, as in much else of his plant science,
Humboldt gave empirical expression to the characteristic themes and preoccupations of German Romanticism and Naturphilosophie.
Alexander von Humboldt may be seen as both a product of German Romanticism and an important exponent of a Romantic style within natural inquiry.
He undoubtedly received formative influences from the intellectual milieu of
turn-of-the-century Romanticism and from his personal acquaintance with
the leading figures of the movement such as Goethe and Schiller. He combined
the inputs received from these sources with the more empirical but equally
holistic Naturphilosophie of his teachers at Freiberg and Gottingen. In
Humboldt's plant geography we can see a vivid example of the Romantic
commitment to a form of natural inquiry which would engage both Man's
spiritual and his rational faculties, which would effortlessly combine rigorous
empiricism and experimentalism with idealism and holism and which would
produce a vision of nature that was both aesthetically and scientifically


For Humboldt's biography, see K. Bruhns (ed.), The Life of Alexander

Humboldt, 2 vols. (London, 1873).
Kant's lectures on physical geography are contained in I. Kant, Gesammelte





Schriften, edited by the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences (Berlin, 1902-),

X, pp. 151-436.
3 Trans. in J. A. May, Kant's Concept of Geography (Toronto, 1970), p. 260.
4 Quoted in R. Harrshorne, 'The Nature of Geography', Annals of the
Association of American Geographers, 29 (1939), 220.
5 See R. Harrshorne, 'The Concept of Geography as a Science of Space, from
Kant and Humboldt to Hetrner', Annals of the Association of American
Geographers, 48 (1958), 97-108.
6 Quoted in Harrshorne, The Nature of Geography', 220.
7 A. von Humboldt, Florae Fribergensis Specimen (Berlin, 1793).
8 Quoted and trans. in Harrshorne, The Concept of Geography', 100.
9 For Werner's historical geology and Humboldt's use of it, see W. R. Albury
and D . R. Oldroyd, 'From Renaissance Mineral Studies to Historical
Geology, in the Light of Michel Foucault's The Order of Things', British
Journal for the History of Science, 10 (1977), 187-215; and H . Baumgiirrel,
'Alexander von Humboldt: Remarks on the Meaning of Hypothesis in his
Geological Researches', in C. J. Schneer (ed.), Toward a History of Geology
(Cambridge, Mass., 1969), 19-35.
10 Quoted and trans. in Harrshorne, The Concept of Geography', 100.
11 For characterizations of 'la physique generale', see S. F. Cannon,
'Humboldtian Science', in her Science in Culture: The Early Victorian Period
(New York, 1978),73-110; and M. J. Bowen, 'Mind and Nature: The
Physical Geography of Alexander von Humboldt', Scottish Geographical
Magazine, 86 (1970), 222-33.
12 G. Forster, Ansichten vom Niederrhein von Brabant, Flandern, Holland,
England und Frankreich (Berlin, 1790).
13 For the reception of Ansichten vom Niederrhein, see A. Meyer-Abich,
Alexander von Humboldt (Bonn, 1969), p. 101.
14 A. von Humboldt, Essai sur la geographie des plantes (Paris, 1807). All
translations from this work are my own.
15 Ibid., p. vii.
16 Ibid., p. v.
17 Ibid., pp. 42-3.
18 Ibid., pp, 30-1.
19 A. von Humboldt, 'Ideas for a Physiognomy of Plants', in E. C. One and H.
G. Bohn's translation of Humboldt's Views of Nature or Contemplations on
the Sublime Phenomena of Creation (London, 1850), p. 217.
20 Ibid.
21 This point is discussed in greater detail in my 'Alexander von Humboldt,
Humboldtian Science, and the Origins of the Study of Vegetation', History of
Science, 25 (1987), 167-94.
22 Humboldt, Essai, p. 1.
23 A. von Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions
of the New Continent, 6 vols. (London, 1821-5), I, p. iii.
24 Humboldt, Essai, between the Preface and the main te~t.
25 A. von Humboldt, Ideen zu einer Geographie der Pflanzen (Tiibingen, 1807).
26 Bruhns (ed.), The Life of Alexander Humboldt, I, p. 176.
27 Meyer-Abich, Alexander von Humboldt, p. 36.
28 A. von Humboldt, Ansichten der Natur (Tiibingen, 1808). Humboldt's
comments on Ansichten are quoted in Btuhns (ed.), The Life of Alexander

Alexander von Humboldt and vegetation





Humboldt, I, p. 37. For an English translation of the Ansichten, see n. 19

above, this chapter.
A. von Humboldt, Cosmos: Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe,
4 vols. (London, 1850).
Humboldt, 'Ideas for a Physiognomy of Plants', pp. 229-30.
Letter, 28 April 1841, in L. Assing (ed.), Letters of Alexander von Humboldt
to Varnhagen von Ense (London, 1860), pp. 67-8.
See D. von Engelhardt, Hegel und die Chemie (Wiesbaden, 1976), and T.
Lenoir, The Gottingen School and the Development of Transcendental
Naturphilosophie in the Romantic era', Studies in the History of Biology,S
(1981), 111-205.
Humboldt, 'Ideas for a Physiognomy of Plants', p. 219.
Letter, Schiller to Korner, 6 August 1797, in Bruhns (ed.), The Life of
Alexander Humboldt, I, p. 188.
Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels, I, p. v.
For a full account of Humboldt's use of measuring instruments, see Cannon,
'Humboldtian Science'.
A. H. Robinson and H. M. Wallis, 'Humboldt's Map of Isothermal Lines: A
Milestone in Thematic Carrography', Cartographic Journal,S (1967), 119-23.
G. Harvey, 'Meteorology', in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, quoted in
Cannon, 'Humboldtian Science', p. 95.
Humboldt, Essai, p. 42.
Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels, I, p. 158.
Humboldt, Essai, p. 32.
Ibid., p. 31.
Humboldt, 'Ideas for a Physiognomy of Plants', pp. 220-1.
See Lenoir, The Gottingen School', esp. pp. 172-3; H. B. Nisbet, 'Herder,
Goethe and the Natural Type', Publications of the English Goethe Society, 37
(1967), 83-119; and A. G. Morron, History of Botanical Science (London,
1981), pp. 343-6.
Humboldt, 'Ideas for a Physiognomy of Plants', p. 217.

Botting, D., Humboldt and the Cosmos (New York, 1973)
Bowen, M ., Empiricism and Geographical Thought: From Francis Bacon to Alexander
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Cannon, S. F., 'Humboldtian Science', in her Science in Culture: The Early Victorian
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Lenoir, T., 'Kanr, Blumenbach, and Vital Materialism in German Biology', Isis, 71
Macpherson, A. M., The Human Geography of Alexander von Humboldt' (unpublished University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D thesis, 1972)
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