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PREFACE BY THE TRANSLATOR.
It is observed by a popular French writer, Bernardin de St. Pierre, that by far the most valuable and entertaining part of modern literature is the department filled up by travellers. While the knowledge of the ancients extended merely to a small circle around them, and even there was far from accurate, there is hardly a nook in the most remote corner of the world of which we do not now possess some description, and with the inhabitants of which we are not more or less acquainted. We see the human race before us in every stage of civilization, from . the refinement and enterprize of the inhabitants of the west of Europe, down to the
stupid savage of New Holland or the Terra del Fuego. The eagerness with which the public have always received the accounts of travellers has naturally contributed to their multiplication. It is to be regretted, however, that this eagerness is too frequently so indiscriminate that almost nothing is so very insipid that it will not be devoured in the shape of travels. Hence the numerous productions which have appeared of late without adding any thing to our stock of information. No individual now who has left the bounds of our own island, hesitates a moment about the qualifications necessary for his appearance before the public at his return. His previous education, his means of access to proper sources of information, and his leisure to acquire it, are objects of inferior concern. He has travelled, and that is enough. M. de Humboldt belongs to a higher order of travellers, to whom the public have of late been very little accustomed. We must place him beside a Nieubuhr, a Pallas, a Bruce, a Chardin, a Barrow, and a Volney; and his works will probably be long consulted as authorities respecting the countries which he describes. He seems to be a stranger to few departments of learning or science; and his fortune enabled him to provide himself with every thing which could most advance his pursuits, and to make that appearance among persons of rank and authority necessary to remove the obstacles in the way of a traveller in every country, but most of all in a country under an arbitrary government. The work of which a translation is here offered to the public was submitted to a very severe trial: the sketch of it was freely communicated to the natives of New Spain, and underwent the examination of the
Spanish government. It may be doubted, however, whether the accuracy and fulness of information which such a measure has a tendency to procure might not be counterbalanced by seemingly unavoidable disadvantages. We never talk of our friends so candidly before their faces as behind their backs. In the former case we may say nothing but the truth, but we are seldom disposed to say the whole truth. He must be a very honest traveller indeed who communicates all the remarks which occur to him to the people among whom he is travelling. Even Dr. Johnson, with all his bluntness, would have hesitated to read his Tour to the Hebrides to his Scotch landlords. There is one disadvantage indeed almost inseparable from the mode in which M. de Humboldt appears to have been treated in the new world. He received so much attention both from public men and private