Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von (1769-1859) Kosmos Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung

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Author: Humboldt, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von (1769-1859)

Year: 1845-1861

Publisher: I.S. Gotta'scher Verlag

Place: Stuttgart und Tübingen


4 volumes and atlas. xvi+493 pages, [1]+[2]+544 pages; [2]+644 pages; [2]+649+[1] pages. (8½” x 5¼") Octavo 19th century half morocco & boards, spines lettered in gilt, raised bands. Atlas volume 136 pages with 39 hand-colored lithographs and 3 engraved plates and by Traucott Bromme, figures and index. Oblong quarto (11 ¼” x 13 ½”) Atlas half leather binding with six raised spine binds with gilt lettering to spine over marbled boards. (Norman 1112; PMM 320; Sparrow 106) First Editions.

Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe is an influential treatise on science and nature written by the German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Cosmos began as a lecture series delivered by Humboldt at the University of Berlin, and was published in five volumes between 1845 and 1862 (the fifth was posthumous and completed based on Humboldt's notes). In the first volume of Cosmos, Humboldt paints a general “portrait of nature”, describing the physical nature of outer space and the Earth. In the second volume he describes the history of science. Widely read by academics and laymen alike, it applied the ancient Greek view of the orderliness of the cosmos (the harmony of the universe) to the Earth, suggesting that universal laws applied as well to the apparent chaos of the terrestrial world. Humboldt goes on to suggest that when one contemplates the beauty of the cosmos, one can obtain personal inspiration and a beneficial, if subjective, awareness about life. Cosmos was influenced by Humboldt's various travels and studies, but mainly by his journey throughout the Americas. As he wrote, “it was the discovery of America that planted the seed of the Cosmos. Due to all of his experience in the field, Humboldt was preeminently qualified for the task to represent the universe in a single work. He had extensive knowledge of many fields of learning, varied experiences as a traveler, and the resources of the scientific and literary world at his disposal. In 1828 after the Berlin lectures, Humboldt began formulating his vision in writing. His factual text, heavily loaded with footnotes and references, was sent in proof sheets to all the various specialists for comments and corrections before publication. In this way, he aimed to ensure that what he wrote was both accurate and up-to-date. He continually looked to his friend and literary advisor Varnhagen von Ense for advice in the matter of his style of writing. In total Cosmos took twenty-five years to write. Humboldt felt as if publishing Cosmos was a race against death. The first volume was published in 1845 when he was seventy-six, the second when he was seventy-eight, the third when he was eighty-one, and the fourth when he was eighty-nine. The fifth volume, however, was only half-written when Humboldt died in 1859 and had to be completed from his notes and provided with an index over a thousand pages long. Humboldt's Cosmos had a significant impact on scientific progress, as well as various scientists and authors throughout Europe and America. Humboldt's work gave a strong impetus to scientific exploration throughout the nineteenth century, inspiring many, including Charles Darwin, who brought some of Humboldt's earlier writings with him on his voyage as the naturalist aboard the Beagle in the 1830s. Darwin called Humboldt "the greatest scientific traveler who ever lived.


Some rubbing to extremities, spine head of Vol. II chipped. Atlas volume with some child’s scribbling to title and index pages, some internal foxing else a very good set.

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