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Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

 

 

Scientific expeditions to the Canary Islands in the romantic period (1770-1830)
JOSÉ MONTESINOS SIRERA
Fundación Canaria Orotava de Historia de la Ciencia

JÜRGEN RENN
Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte

1. Introduction

Between 1770 and 1830 nearly 30 scientific expeditions travelled to the Canary Islands1. For most of them, the Canaries were a provisioning place, a compulsory stopover on the route towards America or the South Seas. At that time they constituted the frontier of the known world dominated by the European powers. If we study the voyages that were undertaken in the period to which we refer, two types of voyages can be distinguished.

The first are formed by the expeditions financed by the States, closely related with the official Scientific Institutions; they are characterized by having strict scientific objectives. Most of them took place before 1800 and the spirit of the Illustration and progress inspired them. In 1715, the British citizen Edens ascends Peak Teide: his story, published in the Philosophical Transactions, was read by the whole scientific community of the moment, contributing this way to transform the ascent of Teide into a obligatory reference for all the expeditions that visited the Islands. Although previous to the period here studied, the expedition of Louis Feuillé in 1724 also had a certain importance, expressly sent to measure the longitude of the meridian of the island of El Hierro regarding the observatory of Paris and to map the Islands. He travelled Tenerife, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera, carrying out the most complete general report until that moment. Especially prominent are the expeditions of Charles Borda in 1771 and 1776, in which were obtained, with the help of more precise instruments of measurement, the exact calculation of the longitudes of the Canaries and the correct measurement of the height of Peak Teide. Of this kind of expeditions financed by the States, in this present work we will speak thoroughly of the Baudin-Ledru expedition, carried out in 1796.

The second type of voyages comprehends the expeditions that took place starting from more or less private initiatives. Alexander von Humboldt was the pioneer of them. In 1799 he travelled to the Canaries in a way different to which was usual until then. Independent of the Academies, the individual and private character of these expeditions united the desire of adventure, with the desire of knowledge and a new unitary vision of Nature inspired by natural philosophy. The expeditions of von Buch-Smith, Broussonet, Webb and Berthelot are typical of this kind of voyages. For them the Canary Islands cease to be a passing place towards more ambitious goals to become an object of investigation with their own entity in natural geography, botany, geology and zoology, to which will be added later on, medicine and astronomy. In a panorama dominated until that moment by France and England enters with strength and brio the Germany of the romantic period whose presence in the Islands will increase.

Of this kind of voyage carried out by private initiative, we will talk about the von Buch-Smith expedition, favoured by Humboldt, who is par excellence, the romantic traveller.

2. The Baudin-Ledru expedition (1796).

When in 1796 the schooner Belle-Angélique, on the way to the West Indies under the command of Captain Baudin, suffered severe damage due to a storm, she had to dock at the Island of Tenerife for more than four months to be repaired2. The naturalists3 took advantage of the stay by making the first extensive report, of general character, about the Canaries4.

It is very illustrative to analyse the 12-page text that conforms the Instructions that Antoine Laurent of Jussieu (1748-1836), Director of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris, wrote for Baudin’s expedition. Their principal aim was to recover a valuable collection of Natural History objects5. Citizen Jussieu, belonging to a family of cultured botanists, details with great precision the tasks and obligations of each scientist of the expedition, besides giving out a series of instructions or advice of political nature:

[...] Ils auront grand soin de se concilier les administrateurs et les habitants, et de leur bien prouver qu’il n'est question dans l'entreprise que du progrès des sciences, de la recherche des productions naturelles de l'île: recherche qui loin de préjudicier, peut tourner au profit de la colonie, puisque les découvertes dans les sciences offrent toujours des avantages réels.6

And regarding the sailors, Jussieu tells the captain:

[...] Il leur rappellera qu'ils doivent se conserver pour remplir mieux la mission qui leur est confiée et qu'ils doivent compte d'eux-mêmes au gouvernement et aux savants, qui attendent d'eux les moyens de reculer les limites de la science.7

Jussieu extends with profusion of details in the instructions for the scientific works to be carried out, following the Linnaean classification of the beings and natural objects that conform the three kingdoms of nature: Lithological, Botanical, Zoological8. He prioritises the vegetable kingdom and details the formation and classification of the herbaria, with special interest in those plants that can be useful for agriculture. Botanist Ledru and gardener Riedlé will be responsible for the maintenance of the collections during the long trip home and will take care of the living plants till their arrival at the Museum’s doors. He asks zoologist Mauger and surgeon Tuffet to bring, besides the dissected animals for the cabinets of Natural History, specimens of live animals, insisting particularly on those farmyard animals that could be of public utility. He begs citizen Advenier, mineralogist, to strictly fulfil the instructions received in the School of Mines. And to all of them, he demands the making of a double dairy, one of the description of the inventoried objects and one of the accounts of the events that take place along the trip.

The text that Ledru9 writes about Tenerife has 212 pages and it constitutes a good example of travel literature of this period10. The beautiful prose of Ledru results in an enjoyable travel book, of which we will try to make a superficial summary in what continues. We will begin with an extract of the letter that Ledru writes to his mother from the port of Le Havre, days before his departure, on the 28th of September 1796:

...Au moment où vous lirez cette Lettre, je serai porté par les vents et les flots vers le Nouveau-Monde, pour y aller remplir la mission dont le Gouvernement m'a chargé. [...] Je ne me dissimule point les fatigues, les dangers même, inséparables d'une longue navigation.[...] Si j'échappe aux tempêtes, je serai peut-être victime du climat brûlant sous lequel je dois vivre pendant plusieurs mois: cependant mon courage n'en est point ébranlé; je sais qu'un citoyen doit sacrifier son repos, sa santé , sa vie même, lorsqu'il travaille pour l'utilité publique et le progrès des connaissances humaines.11

In an initial note, another traveller, Mr. Sonnini, who was asked by Ledru to be in charge of the publication of the story of the voyage, mentions a couple of interesting matters. In the first place, a topic of social psychology: the verification that the success of these expeditions is frequently compromised by personal disagreements, due both to the collision between the sense of the military hierarchy of the officials and the pride and the ambition of the scientists, and to the own competition of the latter ones amongst each other, as well as to the hard conditions of life on board combined with the lack of the naturalists' experience. In second place, the topic of the division of the scientific work. Sonnini is opposed to the growing specialization and division of scientific work and he defends a holistic position, proposing that the same person can be in charge of different fields: mineralogy, botany, zoology, anthropology. And he goes farther still: for a bigger effectiveness of the expeditions he suggests that scientific works should be carried out by the Navy's own officials, given their experience and discipline, which at the same time would improve their intellectual formation. The adventure begins and the Belle-Angélique sets sail on the 28th of September 1796:

Notre marche rapide (14 octobre), et la sérénité de l'atmosphère, me permettent d'admirer un spectacle sublime, qu'on ne peut bien observer qu'en pleine mer, celui du balancement apparent des cieux, occasionné par le tangage, c'est-à-dire par le mouvement du vaisseau de l'arrière à l'avant. Tandis que la proue soulevée par d’énormes vagues, et portée sur leur dos, s'élève avec elles, une partie du ciel semble se précipiter dans l'abîme: parvenu au sommet des flots, l'avant du navire glisse avec rapidité sur le côte opposé; alors le navigateur croit tomber dans une mer entr'ouverte; l'horizon paraît s'élancer du sein des ondes, et s'élever avec la plus grande vitesse. Cette oscillation devient plus majestueuse lorsque le balancement du tangage se combine avec celui du roulis; la nuit, surtout, les astres, la lune, les nuages, semblent décrire autour du vaisseau une ellipse inclinée; tout le ciel paraît en mouvement. C'est alors que l'homme sensible, aux beautés de la nature, élève son ame jusqu'à la Divinité12.

Indeed, at sea -and in those times– divinity must be thought about a great deal, and so, it happened that on October 18th, when the schooner was between the Azores and Madeira, a terrible storm broke out that nearly made it shipwreck:

- J'étais sur le pont depuis le commencement de la tempête, et j'y suis resté pendant soixante heures, à côté même du capitaine, le corps attaché à un des haubans, pour résister aux violentes oscillations du roulis, et la tête ceinte d'un triple bandeau, pour parer aux coups provenant de la chute des poulies ou des cordages. Dans cette situation j'observais en silence le spectacle terrible de l'homme aux prises avec les éléments. Une manœuvre mal exécutée, une nouvelle voie d'eau dans la cale..., le plus léger incident pouvait être le signal de notre perte... Que de réflexions sinistres! ...Que d'idées sombres m'assiégeaient alors! Cependant mon courage n'a pas été un seul instant ébranlé: la confiance que m'inspirait le capitaine, et l'espoir de survivre au danger, l'ont toujours emporté dan mon âme sur la crainte de la mort. Plusieurs des mes collègues, blottis dans leurs hamacs, y éprouvaient des agitations plus violentes que les miennes: si nous devions périr, notre sort devenait commun, mais si le Ciel daignait nous ramener au port, je ne me serais jamais consolé de n'avoir pas osé voir cet effrayant tableau13.

The Belle-Angelique, without masts, without its big sails, without the helm, was unable to get to America and the Captain decided to veer to the southeast, towards the Canary Islands. On October 25th the island of La Palma came into sight:

Les brouillards qui couronnaient cette île, et que l'aurore colorait du plus bel incarnat, disparurent peu à peu aux premiers rayons de l'astre du jour [...]. Il était 5 heures et demie du matin [...] quoique Palme ne fût pas le but de notre navigation, cependant le voisinage de cette île, et l'espoir de relâcher bientôt à Ténériffe, nous firent verser larmes de joie.14

They will still have to fight against currents and unfavourable winds and they didn't drop anchor in the port of Santa Cruz of Tenerife until the morning of November 6th.

- Je comptai, dans la rade de Sainte-Croix, onze bâtiments marchands, savoir, quatre américains, trois espagnols, un danois et trois anglais. Ces derniers avaient été confisqués par ordre de la cour de Madrid depuis la déclaration de guerre. [...] Baudin visita ensuite D. Antonio Gutiérrez, gouverneur général des îles Canaries15.

The naturalists settled in a house in Santa Cruz and, following Captain Baudin’s instructions, they began to explore with investigating spirit the abrupt nature of the island. Ledru, of affable and kind character, soon made friends with the local notables who in general felt great admiration for French culture. In Santa Cruz he met the merchants Casalon and Cambreleng. He travelled to La Laguna and he settled at the palace of the Marquis of Villanueva del Prado, D. Tomás de Nava y Grimón, cultured nobleman and member of the Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País (the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country).

In his book Ledru offers a general panoramic of the island of Tenerife describing its cities and making observations about the climate, the land, the population of the Islands, and about the character, the customs and the trade of its inhabitants. He travels with the Marquis of Villanueva to La Orotava, from where he took on the traditional ascension to Peak Teide. As with Alexander von Humboldt three years later, he is very impressed with the vision of the then paradisiacal Valley of La Orotava, like it is demonstrated in this text:

Entre le port de l'Orotava et la ville du même nom, M. de Villanueva possède une maison spacieuse nommée Durasno. C'est là que nous descendîmes hier. Ce matin, au levé du soleil, j'en parcours les environs, et je ne peux me lasser d'admirer la beauté du paysage: quel ciel! quel climat! Une douce chaleur vivifie la campagne; ici des vignobles bien cultivés attestent l'industrie et la richesse des habitants; là, des jardins ornés de jasmins, de rosiers, de grenadiers, d'amandiers en fleurs, de citronniers, d'orangers en fleurs et en fruits, répandent dans l'atmosphère un parfum délicieux16.

Ledru lives with pleasure the delights of a climate sweetly tempered by the latitude, the sea and the trade winds, that generates a rich autochthonous vegetation but at the same time it allows the development of Mediterranean cultivations.

Cependant la nature a tout fait pour eux; il n'existe pas sur le globe de climat plus beau, de température plus douce. Toutes les maisons, bâties en amphithéâtre sur un terrain incliné, jouissent d'une perspective charmante, et dominent une plaine fertile couverte de vignobles, de verdure et des jardins.17

The water, revitalizing and necessary, rests in the breast of the high summits that surround the valley and it is made to descend with know-how though the canals to give life to laundries, watermills, sawmills and farming.

Une eau pure, descendue des montagnes et conduite dans un canal en pierre, arrose les principales rues de l'Orotave. Cette eau met en mouvement plusieurs moulins dans la ville même, et se dirige ensuite dans un aqueduc en bois, qui porte au jardin de botanique, établi à Durasno, les arrosements nécessaires. Je connais plusieurs beaux sites de la France, les côtes méridionales de l'Angleterre; j'ai parcouru les bords du Rhin, la Belgique, la Hollande; j'ai vécu pendant un an sur le sol favorisé des Antilles; mais s'il me fallait abandonner les lieux qui m'ont vu naître et chercher une autre patrie,... c'est aux îles Fortunés, c'est à l'Orotave que j'irais terminer ma carrière.18

There he visits the Botanical Garden, a plant acclimatization garden, built and maintained thanks to his host's generosity, the Marquis of Villanueva. He takes good note of all the varieties that there are and he takes advantage to defend Agriculture.

[...] l'agriculture fait la force intérieur des États, et y attire les richesses du dehors. Son heureuse influence n'est pas bornée aux seuls végétaux indigènes, toutes les régions du globe deviennent ses tributaires: l'habitant du nord voit croître dans son champ des plantes que la nature avait placées sous les feux du midi; et les arbres des zones glaciales se acclimatent entre les tropiques. L'histoire nous apprend que les richesses territoriales de chaque pays seraient peu nombreuses, si elles consistaient dans les seuls végétaux qui le sont indigènes.19

Finally, he dedicates a chapter to Mineralogy, where he describes the mineral substances he collected in mountains, ravines and coasts of the Island and another of Zoology giving an account of the mammals, reptiles, birds, molluscs, crustaceans, arachnids and insects.

3. Humboldtian Intermediate.

When in 1797 Ledru left the port of Santa Cruz of Tenerife towards the island of Trinidad, Alexander von Humboldt was 28 years old and had an immense desire of travelling, of furrowing the seas, of exploring the distant equatorial lands. Until that moment he had trained in the knowledge and handling of all types of scientific instruments: telescopes, quadrants and sextants, theodolites, compasses and chronometers, thermometers and barometers, magnetometers and hygrometers, microscopes, electrometers, the eudiometer of Gay Lussac to measure the purity of the air and even a cyanometer to measure the blue coloration of the sky. In some moment, later on, he will write: "the truth is that I cannot live without experiments”20.One wonders if this resolved will to measure and to quantify, very visible in all his writings, is compatible with the romantic way of being that we presuppose in our traveller. To this respect it is convenient to know the harsh impressions that Schiller emitted about the young Humboldt:

"I fear myself that in spite of all his knowledge and anxious activity will never do anything truly important. An infantile vanity, without limits, is the main motive of all his actions. His mentality is that of a cold person, a dissector, who wants the whole nature to be boldly exposed to analysis; and with unusual impertinence uses his scientific formulas that frequently are not more than empty words and mean concepts, as universal values".21

Many years later, in 1844, in the foreword to Cosmos, Humboldt will write:

"It is almost with reluctance that I will speak of a feeling that seems to arise from narrow aimed minds, or of certain weak and unhealthy sentimentalities. I refer to the fear felt by some people that Nature could gradually lose part of its charm and magic power, as we learn to uncover its secrets more and more..."

At the moment, he is satisfied with travelling with his friend Leopold von Buch through several cantons of the country of Salzburg and of Styria, “two equally interesting districts for the geologist and for the landscape artist", he tells us in “Voyages aux régions equinocciales”. But why is our trying scientist interested in painting? Will it only be because as a boy, without great success, he used to paint and had maintained this liking? One of the characteristics of the complex personality of Humboldt, as can be seen in his most important work Cosmos, it is that of divulger, proselytiser, apostle of the positive science, and in this way, in the vol. II, Part I, titled Stimuli for the study of the Nature, and in the section Landscape painting, we read:

" ...to paint the contemplation of natural objects as a means of raising a pure love for Nature, and to investigate the causes that, especially in recent times, have powerfully driven by means of the imagination the study of the Nature and the liking for distant voyages."

For Humboldt, like Carus22, the artist should not forget in his landscapes that sense of unity of everything. He should try to express the process of life that begins creating formless rocks and then vegetation, until it reaches animal creatures. The sky, whose vault crowns the landscape, is one of its essential parts, because the light and the air symbolize the Infinite, source of all life23.

Although Humboldt never names God in his works, for which he will be criticized in the conservative atmospheres, he insists over and over again on the idea, a real romantic one, of the indissoluble Unit of Nature.

In the author’s foreword to Cosmos, written in Potsdam in 1844, he speaks to us of his irresistible impulse towards knowledge:

"The main impulse that motivated me was the resolved will of understanding the physical phenomena and its interrelation. Representing the Nature like a great whole, moved and encouraged by internal forces"

At the end of 1797 Humboldt is in Paris with his friend Bonpland trying to sign up in any voyage or scientific expedition towards exotic lands, willing to use his energy and recently inherited money in the adventure of knowledge, to satisfy his limitless longing of understanding the World that surrounds him. First he tries to go to Egypt, then to Tunisia and later on to Morocco, but all his intents fail. The same thing happens with his intent of travelling to the Southern Seas with Captain Baudin, expedition that was never carried out because of budgetary problems. Finally he moved with Bonpland to Madrid and there gets, surprisingly, a Royal permission to travel to Spanish America.

On June 19th 1799 he arrives in Tenerife and although the Captain of the Spanish corvette on which he travelled has orders of stopping for some time, they are notified that because of the blockade by English ships they will have to weigh anchor in four or five days time. The ship carried on its journey on June 25th. Six days in a voyage that lasted five years is certainly not long, but we can imagine the enthusiasm with which he lived ascension up Teide and his stay in Tenerife, on his first stage as a traveller beyond the seas. The nature that he contemplates doesn't disappoint him: the variety of vegetable species in such a small space, the magnificent geologic laboratory at one’s disposal, the intensity of colours and contrast of forms that he sights, sitting at 2.000 toises of altitude in the external border of the crater, through the clearings that open up in the sea of white clouds at his feet, are already a balm and prize for his longing and zeal, and they constitute an advance of the aesthetic enjoyments that await him in his American journey. In a letter to his brother Wilhelm, dated June 23rd, hours after his descent of the Peak, he tells him"[...] I leave almost in tears; I would have liked to settle down here."

Humboldt had studied with Werner at the Fribourg School of Mines and there he had been impregnated by the teacher's theories. In particular, he will maintain along his life a geognosic vision of Nature, of integration of the organic and inorganic worlds, that he will share with Von Buch, partner of studies at Fribourg. This vision has points in common with Schelling´s philosophy of nature, for whom Nature would be animated by a force, an unconscious intelligence, that would show in higher and higher degrees, until reaching man, creature in which the conscience is raised and the intelligence acquires its self-knowledge. For Schelling “the same principle unites inorganic and organic nature”. What in nature appears as not alive is only “life that sleeps."

One year after his return from America, in 1805, he joins Gay-Lussac and Leopold von Buch in Naples to study live an eruption of the Vesuvius24.

Humboldt, with his habitual eloquence, dazzles the shy and introverted Von Buch with his stories about American volcanoes and about his ascension to the Peak of Teide, and they make plans to visit the Canary Islands together and to study the volcanic phenomena there, very especially in the island of Lanzarote that Humboldt hadn’t been able to visit. This voyage will be carried out finally by Von Buch, but in company of the Norwegian botanist's Christen Smith.

4. The voyage of von Buch-Smith to the Canaries (1815).

Leopold von Buch was born in 1774 in Stolpe, 90 kilometres to the north of Berlin, in the bosom of an old and noble Prussian family. He studies in Fribourg, Halle and Göttingen, and is already a famous geographer and geologist when he organizes in London a voyage to the Canary Islands in the company of the Norwegian naturalist and botanist Christen Smith. There they remain for more than five months and fruit of that voyage will be his Physical Description of the Canary Islands, published first in the form of chapters between 1816 and 1820, and later as a book in Berlin in 1825. In 1836 a French translation was published in Paris by C. Boulanger25, important book in the literature of scientific voyages to the Canaries for the following reasons:

  • He comes specifically to Canaries and it is the longest stay in time up to that moment.
  • He visits four Islands: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma and Lanzarote, and he is the first of the European naturalists that carries out a general study of the last three.
  • It perfects Humboldt’s classification of the five vegetable floors:26

1. The African region (of intertropical Africa) up to 1.200 feet of altitude. Region of banana plantations and palm trees.

2. The region of European cultivation (Mediterranean) up to 2.600 feet. Containing vineyards and imported cereals, consequently including most of the plants that have been introduced from Europe; and for this reason, as well as the aboriginal plants, reminds us of the nature of southern Europe.

3. The region of the forests, of trees with dense and perennial leaves: laurels, Ardisias, Mocan, Ilex perado, Olea excelsa, Myrica faya. During the day the clouds rest on this region whose vapour maintains the humidity, and in its shade the forest plants characteristic of this island grow: Digitalis, Dracocephalum, Sideritis, Ranunculus Teneriffae, Geranium anemonifolium, Convolvulus canariensis.

4. The region of the pines, of the Pinus canariensis, up to 5.900 feet. Almost all of the big leaved trees disappear much before this region. The tree heath (Erica arborea) grows almost up to that altitude.

5. The region of the Spartium nubigenum (White Broom), the Summit, up to 10.380 feet. It begins where the pine no longer grows and it covers with its odoriferous flowers the pumice stone fields and lava.

The thousand feet located below the Peak’s summit completely lacks vegetation.

  • He studies the relationship between the climatology and the plants, making continuous measurements of the temperatures of the springs and of the floors.
  • His geologic studies will be fundamental for the future of the volcanic knowledge of the Canary Islands.

The exhaustive report that the botanist Smith should have made about the Canarian flora was never carried out, because Smith, once he arrived in London, undertakes, on request of Sir Joseph Banks, a new voyage of investigation to the Congo of fatal consequences, because he died from some fevers soon after his arrival in this country.

We would like to finish this essay naming another illustrious traveller, also a noble Prussian and naturalist who arrived in Tenerife one day after the departure of von Buch and Smith, on the 28th October 1815. He is Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1838) coming from a French aristocrat family that escaped from their castle in Champagne during the French Revolution and settled down in Prussia. He participated (1815-1818) in a Russian polar expedition that stopped at Tenerife for only three days and was under the command of captain Kotzebue.

In fact, Chamisso is better known, at least in the German speaking world, for his novel The prodigious story of Peter Schlemihl, the story of a man who sells his shadow to the devil in exchange for a “bottomless sack” or inexhaustible purse. This agreement gives wealth to Peter Schlemihl, but it excludes him from society and it drives him to desperation. With the help of a pair of magical boots, he travels the world looking for peace of spirit that he finds as naturalist.

Peter Schlemihl is no other, of course, than Adelbert von Chamisso, or it could be Pierre André Ledru or Alexander von Humboldt or Leopold von Buch, the heroes of our story.

“Excluded by my fault from the company of men, I was given in compensation that of Nature, which I had always loved; the Earth was like a rich garden for me, study as the norm and support of my life, and science was the object."


1 The basic data of these expeditions are shown in the attached synoptic table. For more information see the work of Alfredo HERRERA PIQUÉ: Las Islas Canarias, escala científica en el Atlántico: viajeros y naturalistas en el siglo XVIII, Rueda, Madrid 1987.

2 In fact, the damages caused by the storm make the repair impossible and Baudin decided to continue the voyage to the island of Trinidad on an American brig "The Fanny", leaving half of the initial crew composed of 108 men, at Tenerife.

3 Ledru, botanist; Mauger, zoologist; Riedlé, gardener; Tuffet, doctor; Advenier, student of the School of Mines.

4 On board the schooner Belle-Angélique, in the port of Santa Cruz, island of Tenerife, the 20 of Brumaire, year V (November 10 1796). To the citizen Ledru, botanist: the unfortunate events that we have suffered at sea [...] having forced me to suspend the foreseen route [...] this circumstance, that retards a great deal the mission that we should complete [...] however being able to contribute to increase our investigations in botany and in natural history [...] the discoveries that you will be able to make will be a kind of compensation of the expenses that our stay here will cause the Republic [...]. Health and Fraternity, N. Baudin.

5 195 species of live plants, a great quantity of shells, madrepores, fossils, minerals, fish, insects, quadrupeds, dissected birds, etc that Baudin had had to leave on the island of Trinidad in a previous voyage.

6 They will have good care of winning the administrators and inhabitants, and to prove them that the only aim of the enterprise is the progress of the sciences, the investigation of the natural products of the island: investigation that, far from harming, will be profitable for the colony, since the discoveries in the sciences always offer real advantages.

7 They will be reminded that they should take care to complete the mission that has been entrusted to them and that they should have to account for themselves to the government and the scientists who expect from them the means of enlarging the limits of science.
As in the voyages of La Peyrouse (1785) and of d'Entrecasteaux (1791), the declared scientific and only scientific objectives were hiding interests of political and economic domain, in the fight between France and England to control the overseas territories that were not dominated by Spaniards and Portuguese. The people responsible of these scientific expeditions were military men who had fought in many battles against the English, but at the same time they are learned and cultured men where we can see a vision "d’homme des Lumières" in their travel stories, which today we would call eurocentric, simultaneously humanist, scientific and colonial.

8 The Instructio Peregrinatoris, published in 1759 by Linnaeus, was the obligatory reference for Voyage Instructions in the second half of the XVIII century.

9 VOYAGE AUX ILES DE TÉNÉRIFFE, LA TRINITÉ, SAINT-THOMAS, SAINTE CROIX ET PORTO-RICCO, Exécuté par ordre du gouvernement français, Depuis le 30 Septembre 1796 jusqu'au 7 Juin 1798, sous la direction du Capitaine BAUDIN, pour faire des Recherches et des Collections relatives à l'Histoire Naturelle; Contenant Des Observations sur le Climat, le Sol, la Population, l'Agriculture, les Productions de ces Iles, le Caractère, les Mœurs, et le Commerce de leurs Habitants. Par ANDRÉ-PIERRE LEDRU, L'un des naturalistes de l'Expédition. Tome Premier, Chez Arthus Bertrand, Libraire, rue Hautefeuille, nº 23. Paris 1810. La traducción española que utilizaremos en lo que sigue corresponde a A-P Ledru, Viaje a la isla de Tenerife (1796), (trad. José A. Delgado), Ed. José A. Delgado, La Orotava 1991.

10 Preceded by 47 pages that contain a Preamble by M. Sonnini, and a long Introduction formed by: 1) Object of the voyage. 2) Letters from the Naval Minister. 3) Instructions for the naturalists of the expedition (by A. L. of Jussieu). 4) Safe-conduct granted by the English Admiralty. 5) Letters of the author to his mother and M. de Jussieu. 6) Names of the officials and of the naturalists on board. 7) Conversion to currencies, measures and French pesos, of the currencies, measures and foreign pesos mentioned in this work.

11 When you read this letter, I will be being taken by the winds and the waves towards the New World, to be able to complete the mission that the Government has entrusted me there. [...] I will not in any way obviate the fatigues, even the dangers, inseparable of a long sailing. [...] If I escape from the tempests, I may be victim of the burning climate under which I will have to live several months; nevertheless, my spirit is not dampened by it; I know that a citizen should sacrifice his rest, his health, his own life, when he works in pro of the public utility and the progress of the human knowledge.
The same as in the epic discovery voyages of Portuguese and Spaniards in the XV and XVI centuries, in those that the assumed risks were even bigger, the individual motivations of many of those strained travellers were idealistic and to the service of a cause that transcended their personal interests; although in the XVIII and XIX centuries Science and Progress on Earth have substituted Religion and Salvation in the Heavens.

12 The speed of our departure (October 14) and the serenity of the atmosphere, allowed me to admire a sublime scene that one cannot observe well but full out at sea: the apparent oscillation of the skies, caused by the pitching, this is by the back to front movement of the ship. While enormous waves lift the bow on its back, elevating it with them, part of the sky seems to throw itself into the abyss; reaching the crest, the bow slips quickly over the opposed slope; then the navigator believes to fall in a half-open sea; the horizon seems to surge from the centre of the waves and raise at a great speed. This oscillation becomes more majestic when the movement of the pitching combines with that of the swinging. The night, and mainly the stars, the moon and the clouds, seem to describe around the ship an inclined ellipse; the whole sky seems to be in movement. It is at that moment when men sensitive to the beauties of Nature elevate their souls to Divinity.

13 I was on the bridge from the beginning of the tempest and I remained there for sixty hours, next to the captain, with my body tied to one of the shrouds, to resist the violent rolling oscillations, and with a triple bandage tightened around my head, to stop the blows from the fall of the blocks or the riggings. In this situation I observed in silence the terrible sight of men fighting against the elements. A badly executed manoeuvre, a new leak in the in the hold …, or the slightest incident could be the sign of our perdition... What sinister reflections! …What sombre ideas assaulted me then! However, my integrity didn't hesitate an instant. The confidence inspired by the captain and the hope of surviving were stronger than the fear of death. Several of my partners, curled up in their hammocks, suffered more violent agitations than me. If we should perish, our luck was common. But if the sky deigned to take us to good port, I would never have forgiven myself not to have dared to see that horrible picture.

14 The fog that crowned this island, and the dawn coloured it in the most beautiful red, disappeared little by little with the first sunbeams... It was five thirty in the morning... although La Palma was not our goal, the vicinity of this island and the hope of landing soon at Tenerife made us spill tears of happiness.

15 I counted in Santa Cruz's bay eleven merchant ships, namely, four Americans, three Spaniards, one Danish and three English. These last ones had been confiscated by order of the Court of Madrid after the declaration of war. Baudin promptly visits D. Antonio Gutiérrez, General Governor of the Canary Islands.
Four months after the departure of Baudin´s expedition to the West Indies, on the 25 of July of 1797, General Gutiérrez rejected in this same port of Santa Cruz an intent of landing by English troops under the command of Viscount Horatio Nelson. The English suffered a severe defeat and the Admiral lost his right arm.

16 Between the port of La Orotava and the city of the same name, the Marquis of Villanueva possesses a beautiful house called “El Durazno”. This is where we stayed. The following morning, at sun break, I went around the surroundings and I could not stop admiring the beauty of the landscape. What sky! What climate! A temperate heat vivified the countryside; here the well-cultivated vineyards attested the wealth and the industry of the inhabitants; there, the gardens full with jasmines, rosebushes, pomegranate trees, almond trees in flower, lemon trees and orange trees in flower and with fruits, they spread in the atmosphere a delicious perfume.

17 However, Nature has made everything for them; there is not on the globe a better climate nor a sweeter temperature. All the houses, built in an amphitheatre on an inclined land, enjoy a charming perspective and they dominate a fertile plain covered with vineyards, vegetables and gardens.

18 Pure water that descends from the mountains driven through a stone channel, waters the main streets of La Orotava. This water moves several mills in the town itself and then travels by a wooden aqueduct to the botanical garden, established at “El Durazno” taking the necessary irrigation. I know beautiful places in France and in the southern coast of England; I have travelled the banks of the Rhine, Belgium and Holland; I have lived for one year on the fertile soil of the Antilles, but if I had to abandon the places where I was born and to look for another homeland, it would be in the Fortunate Islands, it would be in La Orotava where I would finish the course of my life.

19 [...] agriculture is the interior strength of the states that attracts wealth from the exterior. Its happy influence is not limited to indigenous vegetables, because all the regions of the world become tributaries. The inhabitant from the North sees growing in his fields plants that Nature had located in the warm climates of the South, and the trees of the glacial areas are acclimatized in the tropics. History teaches us that the territorial wealth of each country would not be very numerous if it only consisted in vegetables that are indigenous.

20 See the list of apparatuses that they take on their voyage, in their Voyages aux régions equinocciales du Nouveau Continent. Vol. I. Paris, 1816.

21 Letter of August 6, 1797 of Schiller to Christian Gottfried Koerner.

22 Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), illustrious doctor, philosopher, naturalist, painter and writer, student and friend of Caspar David Friedrich, the romantic naturalist's archetype.

23 Carus says in his book Nine letters on Landscape Paintings, in a romantic-religious prose: “[...] as natural and rational creatures, we constitute an unit that contains nature and reason at the same time, and this way we participate of the divinity. This opens two ways to our mental life. We can, on one hand, to try to reduce the multiple and infinite of the natural and the rational to the original divine unit. Or we can try to represent our internal and creative unit in an external multiplicity. Doing the last, we exercise our capacity, while with the first we show perspicacity. The perspicacity produces knowledge and science. The capacity produces art. With science man feels like God. With art he feels God in him [...].”

24 The following twenty years of his life were passed in Paris almost exclusively dedicated to the edition of the texts resulting from their studies during the American voyage.

25 Leopold von Buch, Descripción física de las Islas Canarias (Trad. José A. Delgado y estudio crítico de Manuel Hernández González) Ed. José A. Delgado, La Orotava 1999.

26 Humboldt rectified his own classification, adopting von Buch´s in the IV tome of his Voyages aux régions equinocciales.


Main European scientific expeditions to the Canaries between 1770 and 1830

 

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Juan Martinez Jaen & Cristina Silvia Hansen Ruiz, December 2004dd Impressum