Friday, August 26, 2016

Humboldt and Bonpland as polymaths

Going different ways…
Friedrich Georg Weitsch (1810):
Alexander von Humboldt and
Aimé Bonpland near Mt Chimborazo
(imagined landscape)
Bonpland: It’s been a propitious five years. Finding 6,000 new species. We’ll go back to our countries to report of course, but I think someday I’ll settle back here.
Humboldt: To grow maté on an orange plantation?
Bonpland: I like farming and being a jack of all trades.
Humboldt: You’d rather be a jack than a polymath?
Bonpland: You’re the academic, Alexander, the geographer and naturalist. I see an opportunity in herbal teas.
Humboldt: A jack of all trades is somewhat skilled in many trades, a polymath is learned in many academic fields. I still think you are as much a polymath as I am, Aimé.
Both were polymaths: von Humboldt an explorer, geographer, astronomer, scientist, botanist, zoologist, artist and more. Bonpland an explorer, botanist, physician.

“He saw the earth as one great living organism where everything was connected…” Andrea Wulf: The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt.

Their conversation in 1804 foreshadowed Bonpland’s return to South America in 1816 where he lived until his death in 1858.

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