Alexander von Humboldt.

The travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt online

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Humboldt's desiie was pressed with any urgency upon
them, or it would certainly have met with a more credit-
able reception, had circumstances permitted, of its fulfil-
ment. The state of the political world, however, was by political im.
no means favourable to travel or research by a European, P'^'i'menta.
in the regions surrounding the Himalaya range, during
the earlier years of the present century. An intelligent
writer has remarked in referring to the same suliject : —
"At two different periods of his life Baron Humboldt
cherished the hope of penetrating into the interior of
Asia. During the reign of the Emperor Alexander, and
under the ministry of Count RomanzofF, he was invited
to accompany the embassy which was about to be sent Russian
to Thibet by the route of Kachghar and Yarkand ; but ["^^g"'"" "
the war whicli burst out in 1812, prevented the execu-
tion of this vast enterprise. Notwithstanding this dis-
appointment, our author devoted several years to the
study of the Persian language, in the expectation of
being able to travel into India by Teheran or Herat, and
he examined all the accessible documents which throw
any light upon the orography and climatology of the
whole of Asia. These labours and researches, though at
first only of a preparatory character, were afterwards
greatly extended, when, on the invitation of the Em-
peror of Russia in 1829, he performed his celebrated
journey to the Ural mountains, the Altaian range, and
the Caspian Sea."

It is this journey that we now propose to give the Asiatic
reader some account of. The invitation of the Emperor Jowroey
of Russia was chiefly directed to a mineralogical tour to the
North of Asia and the Caspian Sea. But such an object
promised also ample opportunities for gratifying the desire
Humboldt had long entertained of visiting the East, and
exploring its whole physical character. Accompanied by





Gold and


IVI. Ehrenberg, the celebrated naturalist, and Gustavua
Rose, no less famed as a chemist, he embarked at Nijnei-
Nov-gorod, on the Volga, and descended to Kasan and the
Tartar ruins of Bolgari. Thence they went by Perm to
Ekatherinenberg, on the Asiatic side of the Uralian
Mountains, a vast chain composed of se\eral ranges run-
ning nearly parallel to each other, of which the higliest
summits scarcely attain an elevation of 4593 or 49-2C
feet, but which, like the Andes, follows the direction of
a meridian, from the tertiai^' deposites in the neighbour-
hood of Lake Aral to the greenstone rocks in the vicinity
of the Frozen Sea. A month was occupied in visiting
the central and northern parts of these mountains, which
abound in alluvial beds containing gold and platina, the
malachite mines of Goumeschevskoi, the great magnetic
ridge of Blagodad, and the celebrated deposites at Mour-
zinsk, in which topaz and beryl are found. Their miner-
alogical investigations were rewarded with results of the
gi-eatest practical value. Besides the precious metals
and gems already mentioned, they found the zircon,
ruby, garnet, anatase, and ceylanite. Near Nijnei-Ta-
gilsk, a country which may be compared to Choco in
South America, a mass of platina has been found weigh-
ing nearly 22 pounds troy. The osmiuret of iridium has
also been discovered ; and though they did not jierson-
ally disinter the diamond, yet their observations have
since led to its discovery. " In 1826, Professor Engel-
Wamonds in hardt predicted that diamonds would be found in the

thti Urals.

alluvium on the Urals, which strikingly resemlded that
of Brazil, containing diamonds. Humboldt saw the same
similarity between the Ural and Brazilian mountains,
but though the sand washed for gold was examined in
his presence, no diamonds were found. Count Polier
however, after separating from the Baron, repaired to
the possessions of his lady, on the western side of the
Urals, and discovered the first Ural diamond. Other
diamonds were afterwards found, equal in beauty to
those of Brazil."


It was Humboldt and his companions, however, who CHAm:R
personally discovered the remarkable mass of platina re- ^^^^H-
ferred to, and they were also successful in finding in the Discovery of
vicinity of Miask, tiiree masses of native gold, two of ^ '' '"'*■
which weighed 18. 3G, and the third 28. 36 pounds troy.

Soon after Ilumbokit's return from his Asiatic expe- FraEmens
dition he published an account of his researches in his ^"^^'1"^
Fragmens Asiatiques. This work extended to two
volumes, but though it contained a great mass of valu-
able information, it included only a very small propor-
tion of the results of his observations. When a second
edition was called for, he adopted a new, and much
more extended form, embracing the conclusions arrived
at by study and investigation during the intervening
period, and also included a systematic view of Asiatic
geology. He thus intimates the limits which he assigned
to himself in the treatment of the subject. " In pub-
lishing this new work, a part of my studies in Asia, it New Asiatic
was not my intention to delineate a physical picture, the
different parts of which bore a due proportion to each
other. I have confined myself to the most correct and
recent information respecting the irregularities in the
surface of the ground, and the influence which they have
on the constitution of the atmosphere, under the double
aspect of its temperature and dryness. As I still cherish
the hope of publishing a very general work under the
imprudent title of Kosmos, I confined myself by prefer-
ence, in my C'cntral Asia, to the subject of terrestrial

The extejit of country explored by Baron Humboldt
and his companions afforded ample opportunities for the
most varied observations of the phenomena of nature.
From Jekatherinenburg they proceeded by Tioumen to CourFeof
Tobolsk on the Irtisch, and thence by Tara, a steppe
or desert of Baraba, which is dreaded on account of the
torments caused by the multitudes of insects belonging
to the family of Tipulce, to Barnaoul on the banks of the
Ob ; the picturesque lake of Kolyvan ; and the rich




Sliver mines.

Route to the



Salt mine of

Return to

tions of

silver-mines of Scli-Iangenl)erg,Rid(lersk, and Zyrianovski,
sitvmted on the south-western declivity of the Altaic
range, the highest summit of which is scarcely so ele-
vated as the Peak of Teneriffe. The mines of Kolyvan
produce annually upwards of 49,842 troy pounds of

Proceeding south-ward from Riddersk to Oust-Kamc-
nogorsk, they passed through Boukhtarminsk to the
frontier of Chinese Zungaria. They even ohtained per-
mission to cross the frontier, in order to visit the Mongol
post of Baty, or Khonimailakhou, nortlnvard of the Lake
Dzaisang. After visiting the steppe of the Middle Horde
of the Kirghiz, and reaching tiie southern part of the Ural,
where the masses of gold referred to above were found,
they passed by Gonberlinsk to Orenburgh, which, not-
withstanding its distance from the Caspian Sea, is below
the level of the ocean, and then visited the famous salt-
mine of Iletzki, situated in the steppe of the Little
Kirghiz Horde. They afterwards inspected the principal
place of the Ouralsk Cossacks ; the German colonies of
the Saratov government on the left bank of the Volga ;
the great salt lake of Elton in the steppe of the Kal-
mucks ; a tine colony of Moravians at Sarepta ; and,
finally, arrived at Astracan. The principal objects of
this excursion to the Caspian Sea were, the chemical
analysis of its waters, which Mr. Rose intended to make ;
the observation of the barometrical heights ; and the col-
lection of fishes for the great work of Baron Cuvier and
M. Valenciennes.

From Astracan the travellers returned to IMoscow, by
the isthmus which separates the Don and the Volga,
near Tichinskaya, and the country of the Don Cossacks.

The knowledge acquired by Ilumlioldt in his explora-
tion of Central America furnished him with means of
comparison and analysis, such as no other traveller, or
scientilic observer, ever possessed before. lie is thus en-
al)led to point out the analogies or differences between
the great mountain ranges of Asia, the European Alps,


and the Cordilleras of the New World, and to furnish data CHAPTEK.
from whence to deduce some of the laws wiiicli govern ^^^^VIIL
the most remarkable phenomena of the globe. In fol-
lowing out the great plan which he had set himself,
Baron Humboldt has devoted the two first volumes of
his work to an elaborate treatise on the peculiar phe-
nomena attendant on the upheaval of continents, and the
remarkable geological changes which liave produced the Geological
great mountain chains, and the other striking physical '^'"*"S'*
conformations of the earth's crust. His Memoir on the
Mountain Chains and the Volcanoes of Central Asia
possesses very great attractions to the student of science,
though much of the work, and the mode of treating the
very comprehensive subjects which it includes, renders it
too strictly scientific to offer the attractions which Hum-
boldt's personal narrative possesses for the general reader.
The following abstract will afford some idea of the earlier
portion of this valuable work.

In our present state of knowledge, volcanic phenomena Volcanic
are not to be considered as relating peculiarly to the ^'
science of geology, but rather as a department of general
physics. When in action they appear to result from a
permanent communication between the interior of the
globe, which is in a state of fusion, and the atmosphere
which envelopes the hardened and oxidated crust of our
planet. Masses of lava issue like intermittent springs ;
and the superposition of their layers which takes place
under our eyes bears a resemblance, on a small scale, to
the formation of the ancient crystalline rocks. On the
crest of the Cordilleras of the New World, as well as in Uniformity
the south of Europe and the western parts of Asia, an in- " "^^" '*"
timate connexion is manifestly traceable between the
chemical action of volcanoes properly so called, or those
which produce rocks, — their form and position permitting
the escape of earthy substances in a state of fusion, —
and the mud-volcanoes of South America, Italy, and the Mud
Caspian Sea, which at one period eject fragments of rock, vo''^""""-
flames, and acid vapours, and at another vomit muddy





clay, naptha, and irrespii-able gases. There is even an
obvious relation between the proper volcano and the for-
mation of beds of gypsum and anhydrous rock-salt, con-
taining petroleum, condensed hydrogen, sulphuret of iron,
and, occasionally, — as at Rio-Kualloga to the east of the
Peruvian coasts, — large masses of galena and sulphuret
Hot springs, of lead ; the origin of hot springs ; the arrangement of
metallic deposits ; earthquakes, which are ever and anon
accompanied by chemical phenomena : and the some-
times sudden, and the sometimes very slow, elevations of
certain parts of the earth's surface. It is during these
great changes in the earth's crust that the most of the
metalliferous deposits have occurred which now form so
valuable a source of economic wealth. The altered rock,
split into crevices, and, changed by the action of heat has
been anew filled up and agglomerated by the metals
forced upwards from nature's great laboratory into these
cracks which become the metalliferous veins. An intel-
ligent, scientific writer, in reviewing Baron Humboldt's
" Researclies in Central Asia," has remarked : — " The
study of these interesting phenomena, leads us to general
views of the catastrophes which have taken place in
times which preceded the historic era. The action of
the interior of a planet upon its outer crust, varies with
the stages of its progressive cooling, and with the inequa-
lities in the solidity and fluidity of the matters which
compose it. In our day this action is greatly enfeebled ;
it is confined to a small number of points. It is inter-
mittent, and less frequently displaced, and only produces
rocks, round small circular apertures, or longitudinal
crevices of small extent. It never exhibits its power
at gnat distances, excepting in shaking the crust of
the eartli in linear directions, or in circles of simultane-
ous oscillations, which continue the same for many
centuries. In these primeval ages, says Humboldt,
the elastic fluids or volcanic forces of our earth, more
energetic than at i)resciit, have made their way through
the oxidated and slightly solidified crust of our planet.






It was then they produced cracks in this crust, and filled CirAPTER
them not only with dykes, but with shapeless masses of ^^^"^'
matter of great density, such as ferruginous basalts,
greenstones, and masses of metal, materials which were
introduced subsequently to the solidification and flatten-
ing of the planet. The epoch of great geological revolu- Period of
tions, was that when the communication between the "'^''°"-
fluid interior of the earth and its atmosphere were the
most frequent — when they acted upon a greater number
of points — when the tendency to establish these commu-
nications lias upheaved, (at different epochs, and by dif-
ferent kinds of action), upon long crevices, — Cordilleras,
like the Himalaya and the Andes, or chains of moun-
tains of less elevation, or finally those ridges and heights
whose varied undulations embellish the landscape of our
plains. It is as the witness of these upheavals, and mark- Relative ngo
ing (after the grand and mgenious views of JVl. Elie de tains.
Beaumont) the relative age of the mountains I have seen
in the Andes of the New world, at Cundinamara; — of ex-
tensive formations of grit, stretching oyer the plains of
Magdalena and Meta almost uninterruptedly, in plateaus
about 9000 feet high, that I have found still more re-
cently in the north of Asia, in the chain of the Ural, the
same bones of antediluvian animals, (so celebrated in the Bones of

1 • ^iT^ iiTis-i antedilnviau

lower regions of the Koma and the Irtyche), mixed on animals,
the back of the chain, and in the j^lateaus between
Beresovsk and Ekaterinbourg with earths rich in gold,
diamonds, and platina. It is also as a witness of the
subterranean action of elastic fluids which raise conti-
nents, mountain chains, and insulated domes — which
displace rocks, and the organic debris which these rocks
contain — which produce heights or hollows as the vaults
crumble down, that we ought to consider the prat de-
pression which the west of Asia presents to us. The sur- Area of
face of the Caspian Sea, and of the Lake Aral, forms ^'=P'e^='°"'
the lowest part of it ; but the depression extends itself
far into the interior of the country beyond the Sarepta,
as at the Lake of Elton, aud at the steppes of Bogdo, be-





Traces in
Europe and

ot pvobleiiis
iu science.

Opflratinn of




tween the "Wolga and the Jaik. The depression of a mass
of continent 80 feet below the surface of the waters of
the ocean, in tlieir mean state of equilibrium, has never
been considered in all its importance, because we are ig-
norant of the extent of this depression, of which some
parts of the coasts of Europe and Egypt (in Holland, and
at the Natron lakes) present only feeble traces."

This intimate connexion between these diversified ap-
pearances is now serving to elucidate many problems in
geology and physics which had previously been consid-
ered inexplicable. Tlie analogies of observed facts, and
the strict investigation of phenomena of recent occur-
rence, gradually lead us to more probable conjectures as
to the events of those remote j)eriods which preceded his-
torical records. The influence which the forces in the
interior of our planet exercise upon its external envelope
in the various stages of its refrigeration, on account of the
unequal aggregation in which its component substances
occur, is at the present day in a very diminished condi-
tion. These forces appear now to be restricted to a small
number of points ; intermittent ; simplified in their
chemical effects ; producing rocks only around small
circular apertures, or over longitudinal cracks of small
extent ; and manifesting their power, at great distances,
only dynamically, by shaking the crust of our planet in
linear directions, or in spaces which remain the same
during a great number of ages. Previous to the existence
of the human race, the action of the interior of the globe
upon the solid crust, which was increasing in volume,
must have modified tlie temperature of the atmosphere,
and rendered the whole surface capable of giving birth to
those i)roductions which are now regarded as exclusively
tropical . since that time, by the ett'ect of the radiation
and refrigeration of the exterior, the relations of the earth
to a central body, the sun, began almost exclusively to
determine the diversity of geographical latitudes, and to
give their present character to the various climates of
the earth's zones.


There is something extremely fascinating in the view chapter
thus afforded us of the great worlc-shop and laboratory of ^^VI^IL
nature as it may be justly called. We see the volcanic
powers of the central earth at work, their hidden fires Central
fusing and changing the materials of which it is com- P°w*^''*'
posed, and the elastic fluids traversing the oxidated and
solidified crust of the globe, intersecting this crust with
crevices, and injecting it with masses and veins of basalt,
metallic substances, and other matters, introduced after
the solidiiicating of the planet had been completed. The
period of the great geological changes which we are now Period of
considering, is shown to have been that when the com- chlngea
munication of the fluid interior of the planet and its at-
mosphere were frequent, and gave rise, in the line of the
long crevices, to the cordilleras of the Andes and Him-
malaya Mountains, and the ridges whose indulations em-
bellish the landscape of tamer scenery. It is as proofs
of these protrusions that Humboldt refers to the sand- EWdence of
stone formations which extend from the plains of the P'''^''^'"'"'^-
Magdalena and Meta, over platforms having an elevation
varying from 8950 to 10,232 feet ; and to the bones of
antediluvian animals intermingled on the summit of the
Uralian chain of North Asia with transported deposites,
containing gold, diamonds, and platina. Another evi-
dence of this subterranean action of elastic fluids is the
great depression of the land already referred to, which
occurs in the west of Asia, of which the Caspian Sea and Great Asiatic
the Lake Aral form the lowest part many feet beneath '-P'^^^"''*
the level of the ocean, but which extends far into the in-
terior of the continent, stretching to Saratov and Oren-
burg on the Jaik, and probably to the south-east as far
as the lower course of the Sihon (Jaxartes) and the
Amou (the Oxus of the ancients). This depression of a
continental mass extending to 80 feet below the surface
of the ocean in its mean state of equilibrium, has not
hitherto obtained the necessary consideration which its
importance demands, because it was not suflBciently




Baron Humboldt, after a careful exploration of the
country, and a comparison of its features with those
which he had previously investigated in the New World,
arrives at the conclusion that it has an intimate connexion
Upheaval of with the upheaving of the Caucasian Mountains, those of
mountain!., jjindoo-kho, and of tlie elevated plain of Persia which
borders the Caspian Sea and the Mavar-ul-Nahar to the
south ; and, perhaps, more to the eastward, with the ele-
vation of the great mass of land, which is designated by
the vague and incorrect name of the central plain of
Asia. This concavity he considers as a crater-country,
similar to the Hipparchus, Archimedes, and Ptolmey, of
the moon's surface, which have a diameter of more than
100 miles, and which may be rather compared with Bo-
hemia than with our volcanic cones and craters.*

In the course of this journey of Baron Humboldt, in
company with MM. Ehrenberg and Rose, he passed, in
seven weeks, over the frontiers of Chinese Zungaria, be-
tween the forts of Oust-Kamenogorsk, and Boukhtar-
minsk, and Khonimailakhou (a Chinese post to the north
of the Lake Dzaisang), the Cossach line of the Kirghiz
steppe, and the shores of the Caspian Sea. In the im-
portant commercial towns of Semipolatinsk, Petropa-
lauska, Troitzkaia, Orenburg, and Astracan, he obtained
from Tartars, Bucharians, and Tachkendis, information
respecting the Asiatic regions in tlie vicinity of their na-
tive country. At Orenburg, where caravans of several
Oeographical thousand camels annually arrive, an enliglitened indi-
vidual, M. de Gens, has collected a mass of materials of
the highest importance for the geography of Central Asia.
Among the numerous description of routes communi-
cated bj' this person, o\ir author found the following

Pnssasje of
the Chinese

• It appears, however, tliat Professor Parrot, on the authority of whose
barometrical measurements, made in 1811, this opinion was originally
ad.iptcd, has since been led to doubt its accuracy. In fact, from obsen-a-
tions made by him in 1829 and 1S30, he has found the mouth of the Don,
T^hlcli enters the Black Sea, to be between tln'ee and four feet lower than
that of tlic Volga, which empties itself into the Caspian.


remark : — " In proceeding from Semipolatinsk to Jer- CHAPTER

kend, when we were arrived at the Lake Ala-koul or ^-^^^^

Ala-dinghiz, a little to the north-east of the great Lake

Balkachi, which receives the waters of the Ele, we saw

a very high mountain which formerly vomited fire. Old volcano.

Even now this mountain, which rises in the Lake like a

little island, occasions violent storms which incommode

the caravans. For this reason some sheep are sacrificed

to this old volcano by those who pass it."

This account which was obtained from a Tartar who interesting
travelled at the commencement of the present century, '"1^"^'^
excited a lively interest in the mind of Humboldt, more
especially as it suggested some probable authority for the
accounts of bui-ning volcanoes in the interior of Asia,
made known through the researches of Abel Remusat
and Klaproth in Chinese books, and the great distance
of which from the sea has excited so much surprise.
Soon after his departure fi-om Petersburg he received
from M. de Klosterman, imperial director of police at
Semipolatinsk, the following particulars which were ob-
tained from Bucharians and Tachkendis ; —

" The route from Semipolatinsk to Kouldja is twenty- Information
five days. It passes by the mountains Alachan and '^'^ ^^ ^
Kondegatay, in the steppe of the JMiddle Horde of the
Kirghiz the borders of the Lake Savande-koul, the
Tarbagatai IMountains in Zungaria, and the river Emyl.
When it has been traversed, the road unites with that
which leads from Tchougeutchak to the province of Ele,
From the banks of the Emyl to the Lake Ala-koul the
distance is 39? miles. The Tartars estimate the distance
of this lake from Semipolatinsk at 301 miles. It is to
the right of the road, and extends from east to west 66i
miles. In the midst of this lake rises a very high
mountain named Aral-toube. From this to the Chinese
post, situated between the little Lake Janalache-koul
and the river Baratara, on the banks of which reside
Kalmucks, are reckoned 36 miles."

It is evident that the same mountain is alluded to in


cnAPTEK both these accounts ; and with the view of connecting

^^^Xi^^ it with the volcanoes discovered by Klaproth and Abel

Remusat mentioned in very ancient Chinese books, as

existing in the interior of Asia, to the north and south

of Teen-shaw.

Plains and In the succeeding section of this work on Central

mountain Asia, Baron Humboldt supplies an exceedinprly interest-

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 29 of 35)