There’s a great quote by Wilhelm von Humboldt from his study Das achtzehnte Jahrhundert (The Eighteenth Century, Gesammellte Schriften vol.2, 38) that goes: “The individual can only represent the ideal of human perfection from a single angle (i.e., from his own uniqueness). However, comparative observation of many of these partial and different representations draws us closer to a clear idea of a comprehensive view of Man.” I first came across this quote while reading Selected Basque Writings: The Basques and Announcement of a Publication by Wilhelm von Humboldt. He was talking about comparative anthropology, but I enjoy the image it provokes. That we in our own uniqueness are in ourselves a variety of human perfection, but in only one interpretation, and that it takes various perspectives and “different representations” of perfection to discover what it truly means to be human. Humboldt’s view of what it means to be human is apparent in his account of his travels through the Basque Country. Just as the quote above, it shows his value not only for the study of anthropology, but for the human experience.
Being the first English translation of Humboldt’s account of his travels to the Basque Country in 1801, these Selected Basque Writings are often praised as an essential work in the study of the Basque Country and its culture.
The book is broken up into chapters, each of which describe a different area in the Basque country with vivid description, from the path into mountain wilderness in Deba to the “sea with its pyramid of mountains” in Somorrosto to the industrial sights of Victoria-Gasteiz. Not only does Humboldt describe the Basque landscape in great detail, but the Basque people, as he admires their strength and independence, as well as their ways of governing themselves with a strong sense of nationalism to their homeland. Humboldt also looks into the Basque language, dress, food, dance and many other aspects of culture.
An incredibly insightful and interesting read, it has something for anyone interested in anthropology, politics, philosophy, history, travel or just anyone looking to better understand the Basque Country and its culture.