The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I
Part 4 out of 10
everybody else. Everything is done quite right. I suppose by this time
you have received my letter written next day, and I hope will send off the
things. My affairs remain in statu quo. Captain Beaufort says I am on the
books for victuals, and he thinks I shall have no difficulty about my
collections when I come home. But he is too deep a fish for me to make him
out. The only thing that now prevents me finally making up my mind, is the
want of certainty about the South Sea Islands; although morally I have no
doubt we should go there whether or no it is put in the instructions.
Captain Fitz-Roy says I do good by plaguing Captain Beaufort, it stirs him
up with a long pole. Captain Fitz-Roy says he is sure he has interest
enough (particularly if this Administration is not everlasting--I shall
soon turn Tory!), anyhow, even when out, to get the ship ordered home by
whatever track he likes. From what Wood says, I presume the Dukes of
Grafton and Richmond interest themselves about him. By the way, Wood has
been of the greatest use to me; and I am sure his personal introduction of
me inclined Captain Fitz-Roy to have me.
To explain things from the very beginning: Captain Fitz-Roy first wished
to have a Naturalist, and then he seems to have taken a sudden horror of
the chances of having somebody he should not like on board the vessel. He
confesses his letter to Cambridge was to throw cold water on the scheme. I
don't think we shall quarrel about politics, although Wood (as might be
expected from a Londonderry) solemnly warned Fitz-Roy that I was a Whig.
Captain Fitz-Roy was before Uncle Jos., he said, "now your friends will
tell you a sea-captain is the greatest brute on the face of the creation.
I do not know how to help you in this case, except by hoping you will give
me a trial." How one does change! I actually now wish the voyage was
longer before we touch land. I feel my blood run cold at the quantity I
have to do. Everybody seems ready to assist me. The Zoological want to
make me a corresponding member. All this I can construct without crossing
the Equator. But one friend is quite invaluable, viz., a Mr. Yarrell, a
stationer, and excellent naturalist. (William Yarrell, well-known for his
'History of British Birds' and 'History of British Fishes,' was born in
1784. He inherited from his father a newsagent's business, to which he
steadily adhered up to his death, "in his 73rd year." He was a man of a
thoroughly amiable and honourable character, and was a valued office-bearer
of several of the learned Societies.) He goes to the shops with me and
bullies about prices (not that I yet buy): hang me if I give 60 pounds for
Yesterday all the shops were shut, so that I could do nothing; and I was
child enough to give 1 pound 1 shilling for an excellent seat to see the
Procession. (The Coronation of William IV.) And it certainly was very
well worth seeing. I was surprised that any quantity of gold could make a
long row of people quite glitter. It was like only what one sees in
picture-books of Eastern processions. The King looked very well, and
seemed popular, but there was very little enthusiasm; so little that I can
hardly think there will be a coronation this time fifty years.
The Life Guards pleased me as much as anything--they are quite magnificent;
and it is beautiful to see them clear a crowd. You think that they must
kill a score at least, and apparently they really hurt nobody, but most
deucedly frighten them. Whenever a crowd was so dense that the people were
forced off the causeway, one of these six-feet gentlemen, on a black horse,
rode straight at the place, making his horse rear very high, and fall on
the thickest spot. You would suppose men were made of sponge to see them
In the evening there was an illumination, and much grander than the one on
the Reform Bill. All the principal streets were crowded just like a race-
ground. Carriages generally being six abreast, and I will venture to say
not going one mile an hour. The Duke of Northumberland learnt a lesson
last time, for his house was very grand; much more so than the other great
nobility, and in much better taste; every window in his house was full of
straight lines of brilliant lights, and from their extreme regularity and
number had a beautiful effect. The paucity of invention was very striking,
crowns, anchors, and "W.R.'s" were repeated in endless succession. The
prettiest were gas-pipes with small holes; they were almost painfully
brilliant. I have written so much about the Coronation, that I think you
will have no occasion to read the "Morning Herald".
For about the first time in my life I find London very pleasant; hurry,
bustle, and noise are all in unison with my feelings. And I have plenty to
do in spare moments. I work at Astronomy, as I suppose it would astound a
sailor if one did not know how to find Latitude and Longitude. I am now
going to Captain Fitz-Roy, and will keep [this] letter open till evening
for anything that may occur. I will give you one proof of Fitz-Roy being a
good officer--all the officers are the same as before; two-thirds of his
crew and [the] eight marines who went before all offered to come again, so
the service cannot be so very bad. The Admiralty have just issued orders
for a large stock of canister-meat and lemon-juice, etc. etc. I have just
returned from spending a long day with Captain Fitz-Roy, driving about in
his gig, and shopping. This letter is too late for to-day's post. You may
consider it settled that I go. Yet there is room for change if any
untoward accident should happen; this I can see no reason to expect. I
feel convinced nothing else will alter my wish of going. I have begun to
order things. I have procured a case of good strong pistols and an
excellent rifle for 50 pounds, there is a saving; a good telescope, with
compass, 5 pounds, and these are nearly the only expensive instruments I
shall want. Captain Fitz-Roy has everything. I never saw so (what I
should call, he says not) extravagant a man, as regards himself, but as
economical towards me. How he did order things! His fire-arms will cost
400 pounds at least. I found the carpet bag when I arrived all right, and
much obliged. I do not think I shall take any arsenic; shall send
partridges to Mr. Yarrell; much obliged. Ask Edward to BARGAIN WITH
Clemson to make for my gun--TWO SPARE hammers or cocks, two main-springs,
two sere-springs, four nipples or plugs--I mean one for each barrel, except
nipples, of which there must be two for each, all of excellent quality, and
set about them immediately; tell Edward to make inquiries about prices. I
go on Sunday per packet to Plymouth, shall stay one or two days, then
return, and hope to find a letter from you; a few days in London; then
Cambridge, Shrewsbury, London, Plymouth, Madeira, is my route. It is a
great bore my writing so much about the Coronation; I could fill another
sheet. I have just been with Captain King, Fitz-Roy's senior officer last
expedition; he thinks that the expedition will suit me. Unasked, he said
Fitz-Roy's temper was perfect. He sends his own son with him as
midshipman. The key of my microscope was forgotten; it is of no
consequence. Love to all.
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
17 Spring Gardens (and here I shall remain till I start)
[September 19, 1831].
My dear Fox,
I returned from my expedition to see the "Beagle" at Plymouth on Saturday,
and found your most welcome letter on my table. It is quite ridiculous
what a very long period these last twenty days have appeared to me,
certainly much more than as many weeks on ordinary occasions; this will
account for my not recollecting how much I told you of my plans.
But on the whole it is a grand and fortunate opportunity; there will be so
many things to interest me--fine scenery and an endless occupation and
amusement in the different branches of Natural History; then again
navigation and meteorology will amuse me on the voyage, joined to the grand
requisite of there being a pleasant set of officers, and, as far as I can
judge, this is certain. On the other hand there is very considerable risk
to one's life and health, and the leaving for so very long a time so many
people whom I dearly love, is oftentimes a feeling so painful that it
requires all my resolution to overcome it. But everything is now settled,
and before the 20th of October I trust to be on the broad sea. My
objection to the vessel is its smallness, which cramps one so for room for
packing my own body and all my cases, etc., etc. As to its safety, I hope
the Admiralty are the best judges; to a landsman's eye she looks very
small. She is a ten-gun three-masted brig, but, I believe, an excellent
vessel. So much for my future plans, and now for my present. I go to-
night by the mail to Cambridge, and from thence, after settling my affairs,
proceed to Shrewsbury (most likely on Friday 23rd, or perhaps before);
there I shall stay a few days, and be in London by the 1st of October, and
start for Plymouth on the 9th.
And now for the principal part of my letter. I do not know how to tell you
how very kind I feel your offer of coming to see me before I leave England.
Indeed I should like it very much; but I must tell you decidedly that I
shall have very little time to spare, and that little time will be almost
spoilt by my having so much to think about; and secondly, I can hardly
think it worth your while to leave your parish for such a cause. But I
shall never forget such generous kindness. Now I know you will act just as
you think right; but do not come up for my sake. Any time is the same for
me. I think from this letter you will know as much of my plans as I do
myself, and will judge accordingly the where and when to write to me.
Every now and then I have moments of glorious enthusiasm, when I think of
the date and cocoa-trees, the palms and ferns so lofty and beautiful,
everything new, everything sublime. And if I live to see years in after
life, how grand must such recollections be! Do you know Humboldt? (If you
don't, do so directly.) With what intense pleasure he appears always to
look back on the days spent in the tropical countries. I hope when you
next write to Osmaston, [you will] tell them my scheme, and give them my
kindest regards and farewells.
Good-bye, my dear Fox,
Yours ever sincerely,
CHARLES DARWIN TO R. FITZ-ROY.
17 Spring Gardens [October 17? 1831].
Very many thanks for your letter; it has made me most comfortable, for it
would have been heart-breaking to have left anything quite behind, and I
never should have thought of sending things by some other vessel. This
letter will, I trust, accompany some talc. I read your letter without
attending to the name. But I have now procured some from Jones, which
appears very good, and I will send it this evening by the mail. You will
be surprised at not seeing me propria persona instead of my handwriting.
But I had just found out that the large steam-packet did not intend to sail
on Sunday, and I was picturing to myself a small, dirty cabin, with the
proportion of 39-40ths of the passengers very sick, when Mr. Earl came in
and told me the "Beagle" would not sail till the beginning of November.
This, of course, settled the point; so that I remain in London one week
more. I shall then send heavy goods by steamer and start myself by the
coach on Sunday evening.
Have you a good set of mountain barometers? Several great guns in the
scientific world have told me some points in geology to ascertain which
entirely depend on their relative height. If you have not a good stock, I
will add one more to the list. I ought to be ashamed to trouble you so
much, but will you SEND ONE LINE to inform me? I am daily becoming more
anxious to be off, and, if I am so, you must be in a perfect fever. What a
glorious day the 4th of November will be to me! My second life will then
commence, and it shall be as a birthday for the rest of my life.
Believe me, dear Fitz-Roy,
Yours most sincerely,
MONDAY.--I hope I have not put you to much inconvenience by ordering the
room in readiness.
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
Devonport, November 15, 1831.
My dear Henslow,
The orders are come down from the Admiralty, and everything is finally
settled. We positively sail the last day of this month, and I think before
that time the vessel will be ready. She looks most beautiful, even a
landsman must admire her. WE all think her the most perfect vessel ever
turned out of the Dockyard. One thing is certain, no vessel has been
fitted out so expensively, and with so much care. Everything that can be
made so is of mahogany, and nothing can exceed the neatness and beauty of
all the accommodations. The instructions are very general, and leave a
great deal to the Captain's discretion and judgment, paying a substantial
as well as a verbal compliment to him.
No vessel ever left England with such a set of Chronometers, viz., twenty-
four, all very good ones. In short, everything is well, and I have only
now to pray for the sickness to moderate its fierceness, and I shall do
very well. Yet I should not call it one of the very best opportunities for
natural history that has ever occurred. The absolute want of room is an
evil that nothing can surmount. I think L. Jenyns did very wisely in not
coming, that is judging from my own feelings, for I am sure if I had left
college some few years, or been those years older, I NEVER could have
endured it. The officers (excepting the Captain) are like the freshest
freshmen, that is in their manners, in everything else widely different.
Remember me most kindly to him, and tell him if ever he dreams in the night
of palm-trees, he may in the morning comfort himself with the assurance
that the voyage would not have suited him.
I am much obliged for your advice, de Mathematicis. I suspect when I am
struggling with a triangle, I shall often wish myself in your room, and as
for those wicked sulky surds, I do not know what I shall do without you to
conjure them. My time passes away very pleasantly. I know one or two
pleasant people, foremost of whom is Mr. Thunder-and-lightning Harris
(William Snow Harris, the Electrician.), whom I dare say you have heard of.
My chief employment is to go on board the "Beagle", and try to look as much
like a sailor as I can. I have no evidence of having taken in man, woman
I am going to ask you to do one more commission, and I trust it will be the
last. When I was in Cambridge, I wrote to Mr. Ash, asking him to send my
College account to my father, after having subtracted about 30 pounds for
my furniture. This he has forgotten to do, and my father has paid the
bill, and I want to have the furniture-money transmitted to my father.
Perhaps you would be kind enough to speak to Mr. Ash. I have cost my
father so much money, I am quite ashamed of myself.
I will write once again before sailing, and perhaps you will write to me
Remember me to Professor Sedgwick and Mr. Peacock.
Believe me, yours affectionately,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
Devonport, December 3, 1831.
My dear Henslow,
It is now late in the evening, and to-night I am going to sleep on board.
On Monday we most certainly sail, so you may guess what a desperate state
of confusion we are all in. If you were to hear the various exclamations
of the officers, you would suppose we had scarcely had a week's notice. I
am just in the same way taken all ABACK, and in such a bustle I hardly know
what to do. The number of things to be done is infinite. I look forward
even to sea-sickness with something like satisfaction, anything must be
better than this state of anxiety. I am very much obliged for your last
kind and affectionate letter. I always like advice from you, and no one
whom I have the luck to know is more capable of giving it than yourself.
Recollect, when you write, that I am a sort of protege of yours, and that
it is your bounden duty to lecture me.
I will now give you my direction; it is at first, Rio; but if you will send
me a letter on the first Tuesday (when the packet sails) in February,
directed to Monte Video, it will give me very great pleasure; I shall so
much enjoy hearing a little Cambridge news. Poor dear old Alma Mater! I
am a very worthy son in as far as affection goes. I have little more to
write about...I cannot end this without telling you how cordially I feel
grateful for the kindness you have shown me during my Cambridge life. Much
of the pleasure and utility which I may have derived from it is owing to
you. I long for the time when we shall again meet, and till then believe
me, my dear Henslow,
Your affectionate and obliged friend,
Remember me most kindly to those who take any interest in me.
"There is a natural good-humoured energy in his letters just like
himself."--From a letter of Dr. R.W. Darwin's to Prof. Henslow.
[The object of the "Beagle" voyage is briefly described in my father's
'Journal of Researches,' page 1, as being "to complete the Survey of
Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, commenced under Captain King in 1826 to
1830; to survey the shores of Chile, Peru, and some island in the Pacific;
and to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round the world."
The "Beagle" is described as a well-built little vessel, of 235 tons,
rigged as a barque, and carrying six guns. She belonged to the old class
of ten-gun brigs, which were nicknamed "coffins," from their liability to
go down in severe weather. They were very "deep-waisted," that is, their
bulwarks were high in proportion to their size, so that a heavy sea
breaking over them might be highly dangerous. Nevertheless, she lived
through the five years' work, in the most stormy regions in the world,
under Commanders Stokes and Fitz-Roy, without a serious accident. When re-
commissioned in 1831 for her second voyage, she was found (as I learn from
Admiral Sir James Sulivan) to be so rotten that she had practically to be
rebuilt, and it was this that caused the long delay in refitting. The
upper deck was raised, making her much safer in heavy weather, and giving
her far more comfortable accommodation below. By these alterations and by
the strong sheathing added to her bottom she was brought up to 242 tons
burthen. It is a proof of the splendid seamanship of Captain Fitz-Roy and
his officers that she returned without having carried away a spar, and that
in only one of the heavy storms that she encountered was she in great
She was fitted out for the expedition with all possible care, being
supplied with carefully chosen spars and ropes, six boats, and a "dinghy;"
lightning conductors, "invented by Mr. Harris, were fixed in all the masts,
the bowsprits, and even in the flying jib-boom." To quote my father's
description, written from Devonport, November 17, 1831: "Everybody, who
can judge, says it is one of the grandest voyages that has almost ever been
sent out. Everything is on a grand scale. Twenty-four chronometers. The
whole ship is fitted up with mahogany; she is the admiration of the whole
place. In short, everything is as prosperous as human means can make it."
Owing to the smallness of the vessel, every one on board was cramped for
room, and my father's accommodation seems to have been small enough: "I
have just room to turn round," he writes to Henslow, "and that is all."
Admiral Sir James Sulivan writes to me: "The narrow space at the end of
the chart-table was his only accommodation for working, dressing, and
sleeping; the hammock being left hanging over his head by day, when the sea
was at all rough, that he might lie on it with a book in his hand when he
could not any longer sit at the table. His only stowage for clothes being
several small drawers in the corner, reaching from deck to deck; the top
one being taken out when the hammock was hung up, without which there was
not length for it, so then the foot-clews took the place of the top drawer.
For specimens he had a very small cabin under the forecastle."
Yet of this narrow room he wrote enthusiastically, September 17, 1831:--
"When I wrote last I was in great alarm about my cabin. The cabins were
not then marked out, but when I left they were, and mine is a capital one,
certainly next best to the Captain's and remarkably light. My companion
most luckily, I think, will turn out to be the officer whom I shall like
best. Captain Fitz-Roy says he will take care that one corner is so fitted
up that I shall be comfortable in it and shall consider it my home, but
that also I shall have the run of his. My cabin is the drawing one; and in
the middle is a large table, on which we two sleep in hammocks. But for
the first two months there will be no drawing to be done, so that it will
be quite a luxurious room, and good deal larger than the Captain's cabin."
My father used to say that it was the absolute necessity of tidiness in the
cramped space of the "Beagle" that helped 'to give him his methodical
habits of working.' On the "Beagle", too, he would say, that he learned
what he considered the golden rule for saving time; i.e., taking care of
Sir James Sulivan tells me that the chief fault in the outfit of the
expedition was the want of a second smaller vessel to act as tender. This
want was so much felt by Captain Fitz-Roy that he hired two decked boats to
survey the coast of Patagonia, at a cost of 1100 pounds, a sum which he had
to supply, although the boats saved several thousand pounds to the country.
He afterwards bought a schooner to act as a tender, thus saving the country
a further large amount. He was ultimately ordered to sell the schooner,
and was compelled to bear the loss himself, and it was only after his death
that some inadequate compensation was made for all the losses which he
suffered through his zeal.
For want of a proper tender, much of the work had to be done in small open
whale boats, which were sent away from the ship for weeks together, and
this in a climate, where the crews were exposed to severe hardships from
the almost constant rains, which sometimes continued for weeks together.
The completeness of the equipment was also in other respects largely due to
the public spirit of Captain Fitz-Roy. He provided at his own cost an
artist, and a skilled instrument-maker to look after the chronometers.
(Either one or both were on the books for victuals.) Captain Fitz-Roy's
wish was to take "some well-educated and scientific person" as his private
guest, but this generous offer was only accepted by my father on condition
of being allowed to pay a fair share of the expense of the Captain's table;
he was, moreover, on the ship's books for victuals.
In a letter to his sister (July 1832) he writes contentedly of his manner
of life at sea:--"I do not think I have ever given you an account of how
the day passes. We breakfast at eight o'clock. The invariable maxim is to
throw away all politeness--that is, never to wait for each other, and bolt
off the minute one has done eating, etc. At sea, when the weather is calm,
I work at marine animals, with which the whole ocean abounds. If there is
any sea up I am either sick or contrive to read some voyage or travels. At
one we dine. You shore-going people are lamentably mistaken about the
manner of living on board. We have never yet (nor shall we) dined off salt
meat. Rice and peas and calavanses are excellent vegetables, and, with
good bread, who could want more? Judge Alderson could not be more
temperate, as nothing but water comes on the table. At five we have tea.
The midshipmen's berth have all their meals an hour before us, and the gun-
room an hour afterwards."
The crew of the "Beagle" consisted of Captain Fitz-Roy, "Commander and
Surveyor," two lieutenants, one of whom (the first lieutenant) was the late
Captain Wickham, Governor of Queensland; the present Admiral Sir James
Sulivan, K.C.B., was the second lieutenant. Besides the master and two
mates, there was an assistant-surveyor, the present Admiral Lort Stokes.
There were also a surgeon, assistant-surgeon, two midshipmen, master's
mate, a volunteer (1st class), purser, carpenter, clerk, boatswain, eight
marines, thirty-four seamen, and six boys.
There are not now (1882) many survivors of my father's old ship-mates.
Admiral Mellersh, Mr. Hammond, and Mr. Philip King, of the Legislative
Council of Sydney, and Mr. Usborne, are among the number. Admiral Johnson
died almost at the same time as my father.
He retained to the last a most pleasant recollection of the voyage of the
"Beagle", and of the friends he made on board her. To his children their
names were familiar, from his many stories of the voyage, and we caught his
feeling of friendship for many who were to us nothing more than names.
It is pleasant to know how affectionately his old companions remembered
Sir James Sulivan remained, throughout my father's lifetime, one of his
best and truest friends. He writes:--"I can confidently express my belief
that during the five years in the "Beagle", he was never known to be out of
temper, or to say one unkind or hasty word OF or TO any one. You will
therefore readily understand how this, combined with the admiration of his
energy and ability, led to our giving him the name of 'the dear old
Philosopher.'" (His other nickname was "The Flycatcher." I have heard my
father tell how he overheard the boatswain of the "Beagle" showing another
boatswain over the ship, and pointing out the officers: "That's our first
lieutenant; that's our doctor; that's our flycatcher.") Admiral Mellersh
writes to me:--"Your father is as vividly in my mind's eye as if it was
only a week ago that I was in the "Beagle" with him; his genial smile and
conversation can never be forgotten by any who saw them and heard them. I
was sent on two or three occasions away in a boat with him on some of his
scientific excursions, and always looked forward to these trips with great
pleasure, an anticipation that, unlike many others, was always realised. I
think he was the only man I ever knew against whom I never heard a word
said; and as people when shut up in a ship for five years are apt to get
cross with each other, that is saying a good deal. Certainly we were
always so hard at work, we had no time to quarrel, but if we had done so, I
feel sure your father would have tried (and have been successful) to throw
oil on the troubled waters."
Admiral Stokes, Mr. King, Mr. Usborne, and Mr. Hamond, all speak of their
friendship with him in the same warm-hearted way.
Of the life on board and on shore his letters give some idea. Captain
Fitz-Roy was a strict officer, and made himself thoroughly respected both
by officers and men. The occasional severity of his manner was borne with
because every one on board knew that his first thought was his duty, and
that he would sacrifice anything to the real welfare of the ship. My
father writes, July 1834, "We all jog on very well together, there is no
quarrelling on board, which is something to say. The Captain keeps all
smooth by rowing every one in turn." The best proof that Fitz-Roy was
valued as a commander is given by the fact that many ('Voyage of the
"Adventure" and "Beagle",' vol. ii. page 21.) of the crew had sailed with
him in the "Beagle's" former voyage, and there were a few officers as well
as seamen and marines, who had served in the "Adventure" or "Beagle" during
the whole of that expedition.
My father speaks of the officers as a fine determined set of men, and
especially of Wickham, the first lieutenant, as a "glorious fellow." The
latter being responsible for the smartness and appearance of the ship
strongly objected to his littering the decks, and spoke of specimens as
"d--d beastly devilment," and used to add, "If I were skipper, I would soon
have you and all your d--d mess out of the place."
A sort of halo of sanctity was given to my father by the fact of his dining
in the Captain's cabin, so that the midshipmen used at first to call him
"Sir," a formality, however, which did not prevent his becoming fast
friends with the younger officers. He wrote about the year 1861 or 1862 to
Mr. P.G. King, M.L.C., Sydney, who, as before stated, was a midshipman on
board the "Beagle":--"The remembrance of old days, when we used to sit and
talk on the booms of the "Beagle", will always, to the day of my death,
make me glad to hear of your happiness and prosperity." Mr. King describes
the pleasure my father seemed to take "in pointing out to me as a youngster
the delights of the tropical nights, with their balmy breezes eddying out
of the sails above us, and the sea lighted up by the passage of the ship
through the never-ending streams of phosphorescent animalculae."
It has been assumed that his ill-health in later years was due to his
having suffered so much from sea-sickness. This he did not himself
believe, but rather ascribed his bad health to the hereditary fault which
came out as gout in some of the past generations. I am not quite clear as
to how much he actually suffered from sea-sickness; my impression is
distinct that, according to his own memory, he was not actually ill after
the first three weeks, but constantly uncomfortable when the vessel pitched
at all heavily. But, judging from his letters, and from the evidence of
some of the officers, it would seem that in later years he forgot the
extent of the discomfort from which he suffered. Writing June 3, 1836,
from the Cape of Good Hope, he says: "It is a lucky thing for me that the
voyage is drawing to its close, for I positively suffer more from sea-
sickness now than three years ago." Admiral Lort Stokes wrote to the
"Times", April 25, 1883:--
"May I beg a corner for my feeble testimony to the marvellous persevering
endurance in the cause of science of that great naturalist, my old and lost
friend, Mr. Charles Darwin, whose remains are so very justly to be honoured
with a resting-place in Westminster Abbey?
"Perhaps no one can better testify to his early and most trying labours
than myself. We worked together for several years at the same table in the
poop cabin of the 'Beagle' during her celebrated voyage, he with his
microscope and myself at the charts. It was often a very lively end of the
little craft, and distressingly so to my old friend, who suffered greatly
from sea-sickness. After perhaps an hour's work he would say to me, 'Old
fellow, I must take the horizontal for it,' that being the best relief
position from ship motion; a stretch out on one side of the table for some
time would enable him to resume his labours for a while, when he had again
to lie down.
"It was distressing to witness this early sacrifice of Mr. Darwin's health,
who ever afterwards seriously felt the ill-effects of the 'Beagle's'
Mr. A.B. Usborne writes, "He was a dreadful sufferer from sea-sickness, and
at times, when I have been officer of the watch, and reduced the sails,
making the ship more easy, and thus relieving him, I have been pronounced
by him to be 'a good officer,' and he would resume his microscopic
observations in the poop cabin." The amount of work that he got through on
the "Beagle" shows that he was habitually in full vigour; he had, however,
one severe illness, in South America, when he was received into the house
of an Englishman, Mr. Corfield, who tended him with careful kindness. I
have heard him say that in this illness every secretion of the body was
affected, and that when he described the symptoms to his father Dr. Darwin
could make no guess as to the nature of the disease. My father was
sometimes inclined to think that the breaking up of his health was to some
extent due to this attack.
The "Beagle" letters give ample proof of his strong love of home, and all
connected with it, from his father down to Nancy, his old nurse, to whom he
sometimes sends his love.
His delight in home-letters is shown in such passages as:--"But if you knew
the glowing, unspeakable delight, which I felt at being certain that my
father and all of you were well, only four months ago, you would not grudge
the labour lost in keeping up the regular series of letters."
Or again--his longing to return in words like these:--"It is too delightful
to think that I shall see the leaves fall and hear the robin sing next
autumn at Shrewsbury. My feelings are those of a schoolboy to the smallest
point; I doubt whether ever boy longed for his holidays as much as I do to
see you all again. I am at present, although nearly half the world is
between me and home, beginning to arrange what I shall do, where I shall go
during the first week."
Another feature in his letters is the surprise and delight with which he
hears of his collections and observations being of some use. It seems only
to have gradually occurred to him that he would ever be more than collector
of specimens and facts, of which the great men were to make use. And even
as to the value of his collections he seems to have had much doubt, for he
wrote to Henslow in 1834:--"I really began to think that my collections
were so poor that you were puzzled what to say; the case is now quite on
the opposite tack, for you are guilty of exciting all my vain feelings to a
most comfortable pitch; if hard work will atone for these thoughts, I vow
it shall not be spared."
After his return and settlement in London, he began to realise the value of
what he had done, and wrote to Captain Fitz-Roy--"However others may look
back to the 'Beagle's' voyage, now that the small disagreeable parts are
well-nigh forgotten, I think it far the MOST FORTUNATE CIRCUMSTANCE IN MY
LIFE that the chance afforded by your offer of taking a Naturalist fell on
me. I often have the most vivid and delightful pictures of what I saw on
board the 'Beagle' pass before my eyes. These recollections, and what I
learnt on Natural History, I would not exchange for twice ten thousand a
In selecting the following series of letters, I have been guided by the
wish to give as much personal detail as possible. I have given only a few
scientific letters, to illustrate the way in which he worked, and how he
regarded his own results. In his 'Journal of Researches' he gives
incidentally some idea of his personal character; the letters given in the
present chapter serve to amplify in fresher and more spontaneous words that
impression of his personality which the 'Journal' has given to so many
CHARLES DARWIN TO R.W. DARWIN.
Bahia, or San Salvador, Brazils
[February 8, 1832].
I find after the first page I have been writing to my sisters.
My dear Father,
I am writing this on the 8th of February, one day's sail past St. Jago
(Cape de Verd), and intend taking the chance of meeting with a homeward-
bound vessel somewhere about the equator. The date, however, will tell
this whenever the opportunity occurs. I will now begin from the day of
leaving England, and give a short account of our progress. We sailed, as
you know, on the 27th of December, and have been fortunate enough to have
had from that time to the present a fair and moderate breeze. It
afterwards proved that we had escaped a heavy gale in the Channel, another
at Madeira, and another on [the] Coast of Africa. But in escaping the
gale, we felt its consequences--a heavy sea. In the Bay of Biscay there
was a long and continuous swell, and the misery I endured from sea-sickness
is far beyond what I ever guessed at. I believe you are curious about it.
I will give you all my dear-bought experience. Nobody who has only been to
sea for twenty-four hours has a right to say that sea-sickness is even
uncomfortable. The real misery only begins when you are so exhausted that
a little exertion makes a feeling of faintness come on. I found nothing
but lying in my hammock did me any good. I must especially except your
receipt of raisins, which is the only food that the stomach will bear.
On the 4th of January we were not many miles from Madeira, but as there was
a heavy sea running, and the island lay to windward, it was not thought
worth while to beat up to it. It afterwards has turned out it was lucky we
saved ourselves the trouble. I was much too sick even to get up to see the
distant outline. On the 6th, in the evening, we sailed into the harbour of
Santa Cruz. I now first felt even moderately well, and I was picturing to
myself all the delights of fresh fruits growing in beautiful valleys, and
reading Humboldt's descriptions of the island's glorious views, when
perhaps you may nearly guess at our disappointment, when a small pale man
informed us we must perform a strict quarantine of twelve days. There was
a death-like stillness in the ship till the Captain cried "up jib," and we
left this long-wished for place.
We were becalmed for a day between Teneriffe and the Grand Canary, and here
I first experienced any enjoyment. The view was glorious. The Peak of
Teneriffe was seen amongst the clouds like another world. Our only
drawback was the extreme wish of visiting this glorious island. TELL EYTON
NEVER TO FORGET EITHER THE CANARY ISLANDS OR SOUTH AMERICA; that I am sure
it will well repay the necessary trouble, but that he must make up his mind
to find a good deal of the latter. I feel certain he will regret it if he
does not make the attempt. From Teneriffe to St. Jago the voyage was
extremely pleasant. I had a net astern the vessel which caught great
numbers of curious animals, and fully occupied my time in my cabin, and on
deck the weather was so delightful and clear, that the sky and water
together made a picture. On the 16th we arrived at Port Praya, the capital
of the Cape de Verds, and there we remained twenty-three days, viz., till
yesterday, the 7th of February. The time has flown away most delightfully,
indeed nothing can be pleasanter; exceedingly busy, and that business both
a duty and a great delight. I do not believe I have spent one half-hour
idly since leaving Teneriffe. St. Jago has afforded me an exceedingly rich
harvest in several branches of Natural History. I find the descriptions
scarcely worth anything of many of the commoner animals that inhabit the
Tropics. I allude, of course, to those of the lower classes.
Geologising in a volcanic country is most delightful; besides the interest
attached to itself, it leads you into most beautiful and retired spots.
Nobody but a person fond of Natural History can imagine the pleasure of
strolling under cocoa-nuts in a thicket of bananas and coffee-plants, and
an endless number of wild flowers. And this island, that has given me so
much instruction and delight, is reckoned the most uninteresting place that
we perhaps shall touch at during our voyage. It certainly is generally
very barren, but the valleys are more exquisitely beautiful, from the very
contrast. It is utterly useless to say anything about the scenery; it
would be as profitable to explain to a blind man colours, as to a person
who has not been out of Europe, the total dissimilarity of a tropical view.
Whenever I enjoy anything, I always either look forward to writing it down,
either in my log-book (which increases in bulk), or in a letter; so you
must excuse raptures, and those raptures badly expressed. I find my
collections are increasing wonderfully, and from Rio I think I shall be
obliged to send a cargo home.
All the endless delays which we experienced at Plymouth have been most
fortunate, as I verily believe no person ever went out better provided for
collecting and observing in the different branches of Natural History. In
a multitude of counsellors I certainly found good. I find to my great
surprise that a ship is singularly comfortable for all sorts of work.
Everything is so close at hand, and being cramped makes one so methodical,
that in the end I have been a gainer. I already have got to look at going
to sea as a regular quiet place, like going back to home after staying away
from it. In short, I find a ship a very comfortable house, with everything
you want, and if it was not for sea-sickness the whole world would be
sailors. I do not think there is much danger of Erasmus setting the
example, but in case there should be, he may rely upon it he does not know
one-tenth of the sufferings of sea-sickness.
I like the officers much more than I did at first, especially Wickham, and
young King and Stokes, and indeed all of them. The Captain continues
steadily very kind, and does everything in his power to assist me. We see
very little of each other when in harbour, our pursuits lead us in such
different tracks. I never in my life met with a man who could endure
nearly so great a share of fatigue. He works incessantly, and when
apparently not employed, he is thinking. If he does not kill himself, he
will during this voyage do a wonderful quantity of work. I find I am very
well, and stand the little heat we have had as yet as well as anybody. We
shall soon have it in real earnest. We are now sailing for Fernando
Noronha, off the coast of Brazil, where we shall not stay very long, and
then examine the shoals between there and Rio, touching perhaps at Bahia.
I will finish this letter when an opportunity of sending it occurs.
About 280 miles from Bahia. On the 10th we spoke the packet "Lyra", on her
voyage to Rio. I sent a short letter by her, to be sent to England on
[the] first opportunity. We have been singularly unlucky in not meeting
with any homeward-bound vessels, but I suppose [at] Bahia we certainly
shall be able to write to England. Since writing the first part of [this]
letter nothing has occurred except crossing the Equator, and being shaved.
This most disagreeable operation consists in having your face rubbed with
paint and tar, which forms a lather for a saw which represents the razor,
and then being half drowned in a sail filled with salt water. About 50
miles north of the line we touched at the rocks of St. Paul; this little
speck (about 1/4 of a mile across) in the Atlantic has seldom been visited.
It is totally barren, but is covered by hosts of birds; they were so unused
to men that we found we could kill plenty with stones and sticks. After
remaining some hours on the island, we returned on board with the boat
loaded with our prey. From this we went to Fernando Noronha, a small
island where the [Brazilians] send their exiles. The landing there was
attended with so much difficulty owing [to] a heavy surf that the Captain
determined to sail the next day after arriving. My one day on shore was
exceedingly interesting, the whole island is one single wood so matted
together by creepers that it is very difficult to move out of the beaten
path. I find the Natural History of all these unfrequented spots most
exceedingly interesting, especially the geology. I have written this much
in order to save time at Bahia.
Decidedly the most striking thing in the Tropics is the novelty of the
vegetable forms. Cocoa-nuts could well be imagined from drawings, if you
add to them a graceful lightness which no European tree partakes of.
Bananas and plantains are exactly the same as those in hothouses, the
acacias or tamarinds are striking from the blueness of their foliage; but
of the glorious orange trees, no description, no drawings, will give any
just idea; instead of the sickly green of our oranges, the native ones
exceed the Portugal laurel in the darkness of their tint, and infinitely
exceed it in beauty of form. Cocoa-nuts, papaws, the light green bananas,
and oranges, loaded with fruit, generally surround the more luxuriant
villages. Whilst viewing such scenes, one feels the impossibility that any
description would come near the mark, much less be overdrawn.
Bahia, or San Salvador. I arrived at this place on the 28th of February,
and am now writing this letter after having in real earnest strolled in the
forests of the new world. No person could imagine anything so beautiful as
the ancient town of Bahia, it is fairly embosomed in a luxuriant wood of
beautiful trees, and situated on a steep bank, and overlooks the calm
waters of the great bay of All Saints. The houses are white and lofty,
and, from the windows being narrow and long, have a very light and elegant
appearance. Convents, porticos, and public buildings, vary the uniformity
of the houses; the bay is scattered over with large ships; in short, and
what can be said more, it is one of the finest views in the Brazils. But
the exquisite glorious pleasure of walking amongst such flowers, and such
trees, cannot be comprehended but by those who have experienced it.
Although in so low a latitude the locality is not disagreeably hot, but at
present it is very damp, for it is the rainy season. I find the climate as
yet agrees admirably with me; it makes me long to live quietly for some
time in such a country. If you really want to have [an idea] of tropical
countries, study Humboldt. Skip the scientific parts, and commence after
leaving Teneriffe. My feelings amount to admiration the more I read him.
Tell Eyton (I find I am writing to my sisters!) how exceedingly I enjoy
America, and that I am sure it will be a great pity if he does not make a
This letter will go on the 5th, and I am afraid will be some time before it
reaches you; it must be a warning how in other parts of the world you may
be a long time without hearing. A year might by accident thus pass. About
the 12th we start for Rio, but we remain some time on the way in sounding
the Albrolhos shoals. Tell Eyton as far as my experience goes let him
study Spanish, French, drawing, and Humboldt. I do sincerely hope to hear
of (if not to see him) in South America. I look forward to the letters in
Rio--till each one is acknowledged, mention its date in the next.
We have beat all the ships in manoeuvring, so much so that the commanding
officer says, we need not follow his example; because we do everything
better than his great ship. I begin to take great interest in naval
points, more especially now, as I find they all say we are the No. 1 in
South America. I suppose the Captain is a most excellent officer. It was
quite glorious to-day how we beat the "Samarang" in furling sails. It is
quite a new thing for a "sounding ship" to beat a regular man-of-war; and
yet the "Beagle" is not at all a particular ship. Erasmus will clearly
perceive it when he hears that in the night I have actually sat down in the
sacred precincts of the quarter deck. You must excuse these queer letters,
and recollect they are generally written in the evening after my day's
work. I take more pains over my log-book, so that eventually you will have
a good account of all the places I visit. Hitherto the voyage has answered
ADMIRABLY to me, and yet I am now more fully aware of your wisdom in
throwing cold water on the whole scheme; the chances are so numerous of
turning out quite the reverse; to such an extent do I feel this, that if my
advice was asked by any person on a similar occasion, I should be very
cautious in encouraging him. I have not time to write to anybody else, so
send to Maer to let them know, that in the midst of the glorious tropical
scenery, I do not forget how instrumental they were in placing me there. I
will not rapturise again, but I give myself great credit in not being crazy
out of pure delight.
Give my love to every soul at home, and to the Owens.
I think one's affections, like other good things, flourish and increase in
these tropical regions.
The conviction that I am walking in the New World is even yet marvellous in
my own eyes, and I dare say it is little less so to you, the receiving a
letter from a son of yours in such a quarter.
Believe me, my dear Father,
Your most affectionate son,
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
Botofogo Bay, near Rio de Janeiro,
My dear Fox,
I have delayed writing to you and all my other friends till I arrived here
and had some little spare time. My mind has been, since leaving England,
in a perfect HURRICANE of delight and astonishment, and to this hour
scarcely a minute has passed in idleness...
At St. Jago my natural history and most delightful labours commenced.
During the three weeks I collected a host of marine animals, and enjoyed
many a good geological walk. Touching at some islands, we sailed to Bahia,
and from thence to Rio, where I have already been some weeks. My
collections go on admirably in almost every branch. As for insects, I
trust I shall send a host of undescribed species to England. I believe
they have no small ones in the collections, and here this morning I have
taken minute Hydropori, Noterus, Colymbetes, Hydrophilus, Hydrobius,
Gromius, etc., etc., as specimens of fresh-water beetles. I am entirely
occupied with land animals, as the beach is only sand. Spiders and the
adjoining tribes have perhaps given me, from their novelty, the most
pleasure. I think I have already taken several new genera.
But Geology carries the day: it is like the pleasure of gambling.
Speculating, on first arriving, what the rocks may be, I often mentally cry
out 3 to 1 tertiary against primitive; but the latter have hitherto won all
the bets. So much for the grand end of my voyage; in other respects things
are equally flourishing. My life, when at sea, is so quiet, that to a
person who can employ himself, nothing can be pleasanter; the beauty of the
sky and brilliancy of the ocean together make a picture. But when on
shore, and wandering in the sublime forests, surrounded by views more
gorgeous than even Claude ever imagined, I enjoy a delight which none but
those who have experienced it can understand. If it is to be done, it must
be by studying Humboldt. At our ancient snug breakfasts, at Cambridge, I
little thought that the wide Atlantic would ever separate us; but it is a
rare privilege that with the body, the feelings and memory are not divided.
On the contrary, the pleasantest scenes in my life, many of which have been
in Cambridge, rise from the contrast of the present, the more vividly in my
imagination. Do you think any diamond beetle will ever give me so much
pleasure as our old friend crux major?...It is one of my most constant
amusements to draw pictures of the past; and in them I often see you and
poor little Fran. Oh, Lord, and then old Dash, poor thing! Do you
recollect how you all tormented me about his beautiful tail?
...Think when you are picking insects off a hawthorn-hedge on a fine May
day (wretchedly cold, I have no doubt), think of me collecting amongst
pine-apples and orange-trees; whilst staining your fingers with dirty
blackberries, think and be envious of ripe oranges. This is a proper piece
of bravado, for I would walk through many a mile of sleet, snow, or rain to
shake you by the hand. My dear old Fox, God bless you. Believe me,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
Rio de Janeiro, May 18, 1832.
My dear Henslow,
Till arriving at Teneriffe (we did not touch at Madeira) I was scarcely out
of my hammock, and really suffered more than you can well imagine from such
a cause. At Santa Cruz, whilst looking amongst the clouds for the Peak,
and repeating to myself Humboldt's sublime descriptions, it was announced
we must perform twelve days' strict quarantine. We had made a short
passage, so "Up jib," and away for St. Jago. You will say all this sounds
very bad, and so it was; but from that to the present time it has been
nearly one scene of continual enjoyment. A net over the stern kept me at
full work till we arrived at St. Jago. Here we spent three most delightful
weeks. The geology was pre-eminently interesting, and I believe quite new;
there are some facts on a large scale of upraised coast (which is an
excellent epoch for all the volcanic rocks to date from), that would
interest Mr. Lyell.
One great source of perplexity to me is an utter ignorance whether I note
the right facts, and whether they are of sufficient importance to interest
others. In the one thing collecting I cannot go wrong. St. Jago is
singularly barren, and produces few plants or insects, so that my hammer
was my usual companion, and in its company most delightful hours I spent.
On the coast I collected many marine animals, chiefly gasteropodous (I
think some new). I examined pretty accurately a Caryopyllia, and, if my
eyes are not bewitched, former descriptions have not the slightest
resemblance to the animal. I took several specimens of an Octopus which
possessed a most marvellous power of changing its colours, equalling any
chameleon, and evidently accommodating the changes to the colour of the
ground which it passed over. Yellowish green, dark brown, and red, were
the prevailing colours; this fact appears to be new, as far as I can find
out. Geology and the invertebrate animals will be my chief object of
pursuit through the whole voyage.
We then sailed for Bahia, and touched at the rock of St. Paul. This is a
serpentine formation. Is it not the only island in the Atlantic which is
not volcanic? We likewise stayed a few hours at Fernando Noronha; a
tremendous surf was running so that a boat was swamped, and the Captain
would not wait. I find my life on board when we are on blue water most
delightful, so very comfortable and quiet--it is almost impossible to be
idle, and that for me is saying a good deal. Nobody could possibly be
better fitted in every respect for collecting than I am; many cooks have
not spoiled the broth this time. Mr. Brown's little hints about
microscopes, etc., have been invaluable. I am well off in books, the
'Dictionnaire Classique' IS MOST USEFUL. If you should think of any thing
or book that would be useful to me, if you would write one line, E. Darwin,
Wyndham Club, St. James's Street, he will procure them, and send them with
some other things to Monte Video, which for the next year will be my
Touching at the Abrolhos, we arrived here on April 4th, when amongst others
I received your most kind letter. You may rely on it during the evening I
thought of the many most happy hours I have spent with you in Cambridge. I
am now living at Botofogo, a village about a league from the city, and
shall be able to remain a month longer. The "Beagle" has gone back to
Bahia, and will pick me up on its return. There is a most important error
in the longitude of South America, to settle which this second trip has
been undertaken. Our chronometers, at least sixteen of them, are going
superbly; none on record have ever gone at all like them.
A few days after arriving I started on an expedition of 150 miles to Rio
Macao, which lasted eighteen days. Here I first saw a tropical forest in
all its sublime grander--nothing but the reality can give any idea how
wonderful, how magnificent the scene is. If I was to specify any one thing
I should give the pre-eminence to the host of parasitical plants. Your
engraving is exactly true, but underrates rather than exaggerates the
luxuriance. I never experienced such intense delight. I formerly admired
Humboldt, I now almost adore him; he alone gives any notion of the feelings
which are raised in the mind on first entering the Tropics. I am now
collecting fresh-water and land animals; if what was told me in London is
true, viz., that there are no small insects in the collections from the
Tropics, I tell Entomologists to look out and have their pens ready for
describing. I have taken as minute (if not more so) as in England,
Hydropori, Hygroti, Hydrobii, Pselaphi, Staphylini, Curculio, etc. etc. It
is exceedingly interesting observing the difference of genera and species
from those which I know, it is however much less than I had expected. I am
at present red-hot with spiders; they are very interesting, and if I am not
mistaken I have already taken some new genera. I shall have a large box to
send very soon to Cambridge, and with that I will mention some more natural
The Captain does everything in his power to assist me, and we get on very
well, but I thank my better fortune he has not made me a renegade to Whig
principles. I would not be a Tory, if it was merely on account of their
cold hearts about that scandal to Christian nations--Slavery. I am very
good friends with all the officers.
I have just returned from a walk, and as a specimen, how little the insects
are known. Noterus, according to the 'Dictionary Classique,' contains
solely three European species. I in one haul of my net took five distinct
species; is this not quite extraordinary?...
Tell Professor Sedgwick he does not know how much I am indebted to him for
the Welsh Expedition; it has given me an interest in Geology which I would
not give up for any consideration. I do not think I ever spent a more
delightful three weeks than pounding the North-west Mountains. I look
forward to the geology about Monte Video as I hear there are slates there,
so I presume in that district I shall find the junctions of the Pampas, and
the enormous granite formation of Brazils. At Bahia the pegmatite and
gneiss in beds had the same direction, as observed by Humboldt, prevailing
over Columbia, distant 1300 miles--is it not wonderful? Monte Video will
be for a long time my direction. I hope you will write again to me, there
is nobody from whom I like receiving advice so much as from you...Excuse
this almost unintelligible letter, and believe me, my dear Henslow, with
the warmest feelings of respect and friendship,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.M. HERBERT.
Botofogo Bay, Rio de Janeiro,
My dear old Herbert,
Your letter arrived here when I had given up all hopes of receiving
another, it gave me, therefore, an additional degree of pleasure. At such
an interval of time and space one does learn to feel truly obliged to those
who do not forget one. The memory when recalling scenes past by, affords
to us EXILES one of the greatest pleasures. Often and often whilst
wandering amongst these hills do I think of Barmouth, and, I may add, as
often wish for such a companion. What a contrast does a walk in these two
places afford; here abrupt and stony peaks are to the very summit enclosed
by luxuriant woods; the whole surface of the country, excepting where
cleared by man, is one impenetrable forest. How different from Wales, with
its sloping hills covered with turf, and its open valleys. I was not
previously aware how intimately what may be called the moral part is
connected with the enjoyment of scenery. I mean such ideas, as the history
of the country, the utility of the produce, and more especially the
happiness of the people living with them. Change the English labourer into
a poor slave, working for another, and you will hardly recognise the same
view. I am sure you will be glad to hear how very well every part (Heaven
forefend, except sea-sickness) of the expedition has answered. We have
already seen Teneriffe and the Great Canary; St. Jago where I spent three
most delightful weeks, revelling in the delights of first naturalising a
tropical volcanic island, and besides other islands, the two celebrated
ports in the Brazils, viz. Bahia and Rio.
I was in my hammock till we arrived at the Canaries, and I shall never
forget the sublime impression the first view of Teneriffe made on my mind.
The first arriving into warm weather was most luxuriously pleasant; the
clear blue sky of the Tropics was no common change after those accursed
south-west gales at Plymouth. About the Line it became weltering hot. We
spent one day at St. Paul's, a little group of rocks about a quarter of a
mile in circumference, peeping up in the midst of the Atlantic. There was
such a scene here. Wickham (1st Lieutenant) and I were the only two who
landed with guns and geological hammers, etc. The birds by myriads were
too close to shoot; we then tried stones, but at last, proh pudor! my
geological hammer was the instrument of death. We soon loaded the boat
with birds and eggs. Whilst we were so engaged, the men in the boat were
fairly fighting with the sharks for such magnificent fish as you could not
see in the London market. Our boat would have made a fine subject for
Snyders, such a medley of game it contained. We have been here ten weeks,
and shall now start for Monte Video, when I look forward to many a gallop
over the Pampas. I am ashamed of sending such a scrambling letter, but if
you were to see the heap of letters on my table you would understand the
I am glad to hear music flourishes so well in Cambridge; but it [is] as
barbarous to talk to me of "celestial concerts" as to a person in Arabia of
cold water. In a voyage of this sort, if one gains many new and great
pleasures, on the other side the loss is not inconsiderable. How should
you like to be suddenly debarred from seeing every person and place, which
you have ever known and loved, for five years? I do assure you I am
occasionally "taken aback" by this reflection; and then for man or ship it
is not so easy to right again. Remember me most sincerely to the remnant
of most excellent fellows whom I have the good luck to know in Cambridge--I
mean Whitley and Watkins. Tell Lowe I am even beneath his contempt. I can
eat salt beef and musty biscuits for dinner. See what a fall man may come
My direction for the next year and a half will be Monte Video.
God bless you, my very dear old Herbert. May you always be happy and
prosperous is my most cordial wish.
CHARLES DARWIN TO F. WATKINS.
Monte Video, River Plata,
August 18, 1832.
My dear Watkins,
I do not feel very sure you will think a letter from one so far distant
will be worth having; I write therefore on the selfish principle of getting
an answer. In the different countries we visit the entire newness and
difference from England only serves to make more keen the recollection of
its scenes and delights. In consequence the pleasure of thinking of, and
hearing from one's former friends, does indeed become great. Recollect
this, and some long winter's evening sit down and send me a long account of
yourself and our friends; both what you have, and what [you] intend doing;
otherwise in three or four more years when I return you will be all
strangers to me. Considering how many months have passed, we have not in
the "Beagle" made much way round the world. Hitherto everything has well
repaid the necessary trouble and loss of comfort. We stayed three weeks at
the Cape de Verds; it was no ordinary pleasure rambling over the plains of
lava under a tropical sun, but when I first entered on and beheld the
luxuriant vegetation in Brazil, it was realizing the visions in the
'Arabian Nights.' The brilliancy of the scenery throws one into a delirium
of delight, and a beetle hunter is not likely soon to awaken from it, when
whichever way he turns fresh treasures meet his eye. At Rio de Janeiro
three months passed away like so many weeks. I made a most delightful
excursion during this time of 150 miles into the country. I stayed at an
estate which is the last of the cleared ground, behind is one vast
impenetrable forest. It is almost impossible to imagine the quietude of
such a life. Not a human being within some miles interrupts the solitude.
To seat oneself amidst the gloom of such a forest on a decaying trunk, and
then think of home, is a pleasure worth taking some trouble for.
We are at present in a much less interesting country. One single walk over
the undulatory turf plain shows everything which is to be seen. It is not
at all unlike Cambridgeshire, only that every hedge, tree and hill must be
leveled, and arable land turned into pasture. All South America is in such
an unsettled state that we have not entered one port without some sort of
disturbance. At Buenos Ayres a shot came whistling over our heads; it is a
noise I had never before heard, but I found I had an instinctive knowledge
of what it meant. The other day we landed our men here, and took
possession, at the request of the inhabitants, of the central fort. We
philosophers do not bargain for this sort of work, and I hope there will be
no more. We sail in the course of a day or two to survey the coast of
Patagonia; as it is entirely unknown, I expect a good deal of interest.
But already do I perceive the grievous difference between sailing on these
seas and the Equinoctial ocean. In the "Ladies' Gulf," as the Spaniard's
call it, it is so luxurious to sit on deck and enjoy the coolness of the
night, and admire the new constellations of the South...I wonder when we
shall ever meet again; but be it when it may, few things will give me
greater pleasure than to see you again, and talk over the long time we have
If you were to meet me at present I certainly should be looked at like a
wild beast, a great grizzly beard and flushing jacket would disfigure an
angel. Believe me, my dear Watkins, with the warmest feelings of
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
April 11, 1833.
My dear Henslow,
We are now running up from the Falkland Islands to the Rio Negro (or
Colorado). The "Beagle" will proceed to Monte Video; but if it can be
managed I intend staying at the former place. It is now some months since
we have been at a civilised port; nearly all this time has been spent in
the most southern part of Tierra del Fuego. It is a detestable place;
gales succeed gales with such short intervals that it is difficult to do
anything. We were twenty-three days off Cape Horn, and could by no means
get to the westward. The last and final gale before we gave up the attempt
was unusually severe. A sea stove one of the boats, and there was so much
water on the decks that every place was afloat; nearly all the paper for
drying plants is spoiled, and half of this curious collection.
We at last ran into harbour, and in the boats got to the west by the inland
channels. As I was one of this party I was very glad of it. With two
boats we went about 300 miles, and thus I had an excellent opportunity of
geologising and seeing much of the savages. The Fuegians are in a more
miserable state of barbarism than I had expected ever to have seen a human
being. In this inclement country they are absolutely naked, and their
temporary houses are like what children make in summer with boughs of
trees. I do not think any spectacle can be more interesting than the first
sight of man in his primitive wildness. It is an interest which cannot
well be imagined until it is experienced. I shall never forget this when
entering Good Success Bay--the yell with which a party received us. They
were seated on a rocky point, surrounded by the dark forest of beech; as
they threw their arms wildly round their heads, and their long hair
streaming, they seemed the troubled spirits of another world. The climate
in some respects is a curious mixture of severity and mildness; as far as
regards the animal kingdom, the former character prevails; I have in
consequence not added much to my collections.
The Geology of this part of Tierra del Fuego was, as indeed every place is,
to me very interesting. The country is non-fossiliferous, and a common-
place succession of granitic rocks and slates; attempting to make out the
relation of cleavage, strata, etc., etc., was my chief amusement. The
mineralogy, however, of some of the rocks will, I think, be curious from
their resemblance to those of volcanic origin.
After leaving Tierra del Fuego we sailed to the Falklands. I forgot to
mention the fate of the Fuegians whom we took back to their country. They
had become entirely European in their habits and wishes, so much so that
the younger one had forgotten his own language, and their countrymen paid
but very little attention to them. We built houses for them and planted
gardens, but by the time we return again on our passage round the Horn, I
think it will be very doubtful how much of their property will be left
...When I am sea-sick and miserable, it is one of my highest consolations
to picture the future when we again shall be pacing together the roads
round Cambridge. That day is a weary long way off. We have another cruise
to make to Tierra del Fuego next summer, and then our voyage round the
world will really commence. Captain Fitz-Roy has purchased a large
schooner of 170 tons. In many respects it will be a great advantage having
a consort--perhaps it may somewhat shorten our cruise, which I most
cordially hope it may. I trust, however, that the Coral Reefs and various
animals of the Pacific may keep up my resolution. Remember me most kindly
to Mrs. Henslow and all other friends; I am a true lover of Alma Mater and
all its inhabitants.
Believe me, my dear Henslow,
Your affectionate and most obliged friend,
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS C. DARWIN.
Maldonado, Rio Plata, May 22, 1833.
...The following business piece is to my father. Having a servant of my
own would be a really great addition to my comfort. For these two reasons:
as at present the Captain has appointed one of the men always to be with
me, but I do not think it just thus to take a seaman out of the ship; and,
secondly, when at sea I am rather badly off for any one to wait on me. The
man is willing to be my servant, and all the expenses would be under 60
pounds per annum. I have taught him to shoot and skin birds, so that in my
main object he is very useful. I have now left England nearly a year and a
half, and I find my expenses are not above 200 pounds per annum; so that,
it being hopeless (from time) to write for permission, I have come to the
conclusion that you would allow me this expense. But I have not yet
resolved to ask the Captain, and the chances are even that he would not be
willing to have an additional man in the ship. I have mentioned this
because for a long time I have been thinking about it.
I have just received a bundle more letters. I do not know how to thank you
all sufficiently. One from Catherine, February 8th, another from Susan,
March 3rd, together with notes from Caroline and from my father; give my
best love to my father. I almost cried for pleasure at receiving it; it
was very kind thinking of writing to me. My letters are both few, short,
and stupid in return for all yours; but I always ease my conscience by
considering the Journal as a long letter. If I can manage it, I will,
before doubling the Horn, send the rest. I am quite delighted to find the
hide of the Megatherium has given you all some little interest in my
employments. These fragments are not, however, by any means the most
valuable of the geological relics. I trust and believe that the time spent
in this voyage, if thrown away for all other respects, will produce its
full worth in Natural History; and it appears to me the doing what LITTLE
we can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an
object of life as one can in any likelihood pursue. It is more the result
of such reflections (as I have already said) than much immediate pleasure
which now makes me continue the voyage, together with the glorious prospect
of the future, when passing the Straits of Magellan, we have in truth the
world before us. Think of the Andes, the luxuriant forest of Guayaquil,
the islands of the South Sea, and New South Wales. How many magnificent
and characteristic views, how many and curious tribes of men we shall see!
What fine opportunities for geology and for studying the infinite host of
living beings! Is not this a prospect to keep up the most flagging spirit?
If I was to throw it away, I don't think I should ever rest quiet in my
grave. I certainly should be a ghost and haunt the British Museum.
How famously the Ministers appear to be going on. I always much enjoy
political gossip and what you at home think will, etc., etc., take place.
I steadily read up the weekly paper, but it is not sufficient to guide
one's opinion; and I find it a very painful state not to be as obstinate as
a pig in politics. I have watched how steadily the general feeling, as
shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery. What a proud thing
for England if she is the first European nation which utterly abolishes it!
I was told before leaving England that after living in slave countries all
my opinions would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming
a much higher estimate of the negro character. It is impossible to see a
negro and not feel kindly towards him; such cheerful, open, honest
expressions and such fine muscular bodies. I never saw any of the
diminutive Portuguese, with their murderous countenances, without almost
wishing for Brazil to follow the example of Hayti; and, considering the
enormous healthy-looking black population, it will be wonderful if, at some
future day, it does not take place. There is at Rio a man (I know not his
title) who has a large salary to prevent (I believe) the landing of slaves;
he lives at Botofogo, and yet that was the bay where, during my residence,
the greater number of smuggled slaves were landed. Some of the Anti-
Slavery people ought to question about his office; it was the subject of
conversation at Rio amongst the lower English...
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.M. HERBERT.
Maldonado, Rio Plata, June 2, 1833.
My dear Herbert,
I have been confined for the last three days to a miserable dark room, in
an old Spanish house, from the torrents of rain; I am not, therefore, in
very good trim for writing; but, defying the blue devils, I will send you a
few lines, if it is merely to thank you very sincerely for writing to me.
I received your letter, dated December 1st, a short time since. We are now
passing part of the winter in the Rio Plata, after having had a hard
summer's work to the south. Tierra del Fuego is indeed a miserable place;
the ceaseless fury of the gales is quite tremendous. One evening we saw
old Cape Horn, and three weeks afterwards we were only thirty miles to
windward of it. It is a grand spectacle to see all nature thus raging; but
Heaven knows every one in the "Beagle" has seen enough in this one summer
to last them their natural lives.
The first place we landed at was Good Success Bay. It was here Banks and
Solander met such disasters on ascending one of the mountains. The weather
was tolerably fine, and I enjoyed some walks in a wild country, like that
behind Barmouth. The valleys are impenetrable from the entangled woods,
but the higher parts, near the limits of perpetual snow, are bare. From
some of these hills the scenery, from its savage, solitary character, was
most sublime. The only inhabitant of these heights is the guanaco, and
with its shrill neighing it often breaks the stillness. The consciousness
that no European foot had ever trod much of this ground added to the
delight of these rambles. How often and how vividly have many of the hours
spent at Barmouth come before my mind! I look back to that time with no
common pleasure; at this moment I can see you seated on the hill behind the
inn, almost as plainly as if you were really there. It is necessary to be
separated from all which one has been accustomed to, to know how properly
to treasure up such recollections, and at this distance, I may add, how
properly to esteem such as yourself, my dear old Herbert. I wonder when I
shall ever see you again. I hope it may be, as you say, surrounded with
heaps of parchment; but then there must be, sooner or later, a dear little
lady to take care of you and your house. Such a delightful vision makes me
quite envious. This is a curious life for a regular shore-going person
such as myself; the worst part of it is its extreme length. There is
certainly a great deal of high enjoyment, and on the contrary a tolerable
share of vexation of spirit. Everything, however, shall bend to the
pleasure of grubbing up old bones, and captivating new animals. By the
way, you rank my Natural History labours far too high. I am nothing more
than a lions' provider: I do not feel at all sure that they will not growl
and finally destroy me.
It does one's heart good to hear how things are going on in England.
Hurrah for the honest Whigs! I trust they will soon attack that monstrous
stain on our boasted liberty, Colonial Slavery. I have seen enough of
Slavery and the dispositions of the negroes, to be thoroughly disgusted
with the lies and nonsense one hears on the subject in England. Thank God,
the cold-hearted Tories, who, as J. Mackintosh used to say, have no
enthusiasm, except against enthusiasm, have for the present run their race.
I am sorry, by your letter, to hear you have not been well, and that you
partly attribute it to want of exercise. I wish you were here amongst the
green plains; we would take walks which would rival the Dolgelly ones, and
you should tell stories, which I would believe, even to a CUBIC FATHOM OF
PUDDING. Instead I must take my solitary ramble, think of Cambridge days,
and pick up snakes, beetles and toads. Excuse this short letter (you know
I never studied 'The Complete Letter-writer'), and believe me, my dear
Your affectionate friend,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
East Falkland Island, March, 1834.
...I am quite charmed with Geology, but like the wise animal between two
bundles of hay, I do not know which to like the best; the old crystalline
group of rocks, or the softer and fossiliferous beds. When puzzling about
stratifications, etc., I feel inclined to cry "a fig for your big oysters,
and your bigger megatheriums." But then when digging out some fine bones,
I wonder how any man can tire his arms with hammering granite. By the way
I have not one clear idea about cleavage, stratification, lines of
upheaval. I have no books which tell me much, and what they do I cannot
apply to what I see. In consequence I draw my own conclusions, and most
gloriously ridiculous ones they are, I sometimes fancy...Can you throw any
light into my mind by telling me what relation cleavage and planes of
deposition bear to each other?
And now for my second SECTION, Zoology. I have chiefly been employed in
preparing myself for the South Sea by examining the polypi of the smaller
Corallines in these latitudes. Many in themselves are very curious, and I
think are quite undescribed; there was one appalling one, allied to a
Flustra, which I dare say I mentioned having found to the northward, where
the cells have a movable organ (like a vulture's head, with a dilatable
beak), fixed on the edge. But what is of more general interest is the
unquestionable (as it appears to me) existence of another species of
ostrich, besides the Struthio rhea. All the Gauchos and Indians state it
is the case, and I place the greatest faith in their observations. I have
the head, neck, piece of skin, feathers, and legs of one. The differences
are chiefly in the colour of the feathers and scales on legs, being
feathered below the knees, nidification, and geographical distribution. So
much for what I have lately done; the prospect before me is full of
sunshine, fine weather, glorious scenery, the geology of the Andes, plains
abounding with organic remains (which perhaps I may have the good luck to
catch in the very act of moving), and lastly, an ocean, its shores
abounding with life, so that, if nothing unforeseen happens, I will stick
to the voyage, although for what I can see this may last till we return a
fine set of white-headed old gentlemen. I have to thank you most cordially
for sending me the books. I am now reading the Oxford 'Report' (The second
meeting of the British Association was held at Oxford in 1832, the
following year it was at Cambridge.); the whole account of your proceedings
is most glorious; you remaining in England cannot well imagine how
excessively interesting I find the reports. I am sure from my own
thrilling sensations when reading them, that they cannot fail to have an
excellent effect upon all those residing in distant colonies, and who have
little opportunity of seeing the periodicals. My hammer has flown with
redoubled force on the devoted blocks; as I thought over the eloquence of
the Cambridge President, I hit harder and harder blows. I hope to give my
arms strength for the Cordilleras. You will send me through Capt. Beaufort
a copy of the Cambridge 'Report.'
I have forgotten to mention that for some time past, and for the future, I
will put a pencil cross on the pill-boxes containing insects, as these
alone will require being kept particularly dry; it may perhaps save you
some trouble. When this letter will go I do not know, as this little seat
of discord has lately been embroiled by a dreadful scene of murder, and at
present there are more prisoners than inhabitants. If a merchant vessel is
chartered to take them to Rio, I will send some specimens (especially my
few plants and seeds). Remember me to all my Cambridge friends. I love
and treasure up every recollection of dear old Cambridge. I am much
obliged to you for putting my name down to poor Ramsay's monument; I never
think of him without the warmest admiration. Farewell, my dear Henslow.
Believe me your most obliged and affectionate friend,
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS C. DARWIN.
East Falkland Island, April 6, 1834.
My dear Catherine,
When this letter will reach you I know not, but probably some man-of-war
will call here before, in the common course of events, I should have
another opportunity of writing.
After visiting some of the southern islands, we beat up through the
magnificent scenery of the Beagle Channel to Jemmy Button's country.
(Jemmy Button, York Minster, and Fuegia Basket, were natives of Tierra del
Fuego, brought to England by Captain Fitz-Roy in his former voyage, and
restored to their country by him in 1832.) We could hardly recognise poor
Jemmy. Instead of the clean, well-dressed stout lad we left him, we found
him a naked, thin, squalid savage. York and Fuegia had moved to their own
country some months ago, the former having stolen all Jemmy's clothes. Now
he had nothing except a bit of blanket round his waist. Poor Jemmy was
very glad to see us, and, with his usual good feeling, brought several
presents (otter-skins, which are most valuable to themselves) for his old
friends. The Captain offered to take him to England, but this, to our
surprise, he at once refused. In the evening his young wife came alongside
and showed us the reason. He was quite contented. Last year, in the
height of his indignation, he said "his country people no sabe nothing--
damned fools"--now they were very good people, with TOO much to eat, and
all the luxuries of life. Jemmy and his wife paddled away in their canoe
loaded with presents, and very happy. The most curious thing is, that
Jemmy, instead of recovering his own language, has taught all his friends a
little English. "J. Button's canoe" and "Jemmy's wife come," "Give me
knife," etc., was said by several of them.
We then bore away for this island--this little miserable seat of discord.
We found that the Gauchos, under pretence of a revolution, had murdered and
plundered all the Englishmen whom they could catch, and some of their own
countrymen. All the economy at home makes the foreign movements of England
most contemptible. How different from old Spain. Here we, dog-in-the-
manger fashion, seize an island, and leave to protect it a Union Jack; the
possessor has, of course, been murdered; we now send a lieutenant with four
sailors, without authority or instructions. A man-of-war, however,
ventured to leave a party of marines, and by their assistance, and the
treachery of some of the party, the murderers have all been taken, there
being now as many prisoners as inhabitants. This island must some day
become a very important halting-place in the most turbulent sea in the
world. It is mid-way between Australia and the South Sea to England;
between Chili, Peru, etc., and the Rio Plata and the Rio de Janeiro. There
are fine harbours, plenty of fresh water, and good beef. It would
doubtless produce the coarser vegetables. In other respects it is a
wretched place. A little time since, I rode across the island, and
returned in four days. My excursion would have been longer, but during the
whole time it blew a gale of wind, with hail and snow. There is no
firewood bigger than heath, and the whole country is, more or less an
elastic peat-bog. Sleeping out at night was too miserable work to endure
it for all the rocks in South America.
We shall leave this scene of iniquity in two or three days, and go to the
Rio de la Sta. Cruz. One of the objects is to look at the ship's bottom.
We struck heavily on an unknown rock off Port Desire, and some of her
copper is torn off. After this is repaired the Captain has a glorious
scheme; it is to go to the very head of this river, that is probably to the
Andes. It is quite unknown; the Indians tell us it is two or three hundred
yards broad, and horses can nowhere ford it. I cannot imagine anything
more interesting. Our plans then are to go to Fort Famine, and there we
meet the "Adventure", who is employed in making the Chart of the Falklands.
This will be in the middle of winter, so I shall see Tierra del Fuego in
her white drapery. We leave the straits to enter the Pacific by the
Barbara Channel, one very little known, and which passes close to the foot
of Mount Sarmiento (the highest mountain in the south, excepting Mt.!!
Darwin!!). We then shall scud away for Concepcion in Chili. I believe the
ship must once again steer southward, but if any one catches me there
again, I will give him leave to hang me up as a scarecrow for all future
naturalists. I long to be at work in the Cordilleras, the geology of this
side, which I understand pretty well is so intimately connected with
periods of violence in that great chain of mountains. The future is,
indeed, to me a brilliant prospect. You say its very brilliancy frightens
you; but really I am very careful; I may mention as a proof, in all my
rambles I have never had any one accident or scrape...Continue in your good
custom of writing plenty of gossip; I much like hearing all about all
things. Remember me most kindly to Uncle Jos, and to all the Wedgwoods.
Tell Charlotte (their married names sound downright unnatural) I should
like to have written to her, to have told her how well everything is going
on; but it would only have been a transcript of this letter, and I have a
host of animals at this minute surrounding me which all require embalming
and numbering. I have not forgotten the comfort I received that day at
Maer, when my mind was like a swinging pendulum. Give my best love to my
father. I hope he will forgive all my extravagance, but not as a
Christian, for then I suppose he would send me no more money.
Good-bye, dear, to you, and all your goodly sisterhood.
Your affectionate brother,
My love to Nancy (His old nurse.); tell her, if she was now to see me with
my great beard, she would think I was some worthy Solomon, come to sell the
CHARLES DARWIN TO C. WHITLEY.
Valparaiso, July 23, 1834.
My dear Whitley,
I have long intended writing, just to put you in mind that there is a
certain hunter of beetles, and pounder of rocks still in existence. Why I
have not done so before I know not, but it will serve me right if you have
quite forgotten me. It is a very long time since I have heard any
Cambridge news; I neither know where you are living or what you are doing.
I saw your name down as one of the indefatigable guardians of the eighteen
hundred philosophers. I was delighted to see this, for when we last left
Cambridge you were at sad variance with poor science; you seemed to think
her a public prostitute working for popularity. If your opinions are the
same as formerly, you would agree most admirably with Captain Fitz-Roy,--
the object of his most devout abhorrence is one of the d--d scientific
Whigs. As captains of men-of-war are the greatest men going, far greater
than kings or schoolmasters, I am obliged to tell him everything in my own
favour. I have often said I once had a very good friend, an out-and-out
Tory, and we managed to get on very well together. But he is very much
inclined to doubt if ever I really was so much honoured; at present we hear
scarcely anything about politics; this saves a great deal of trouble, for
we all stick to our former opinions rather more obstinately than before,
and can give rather fewer reasons for doing so.
I do hope you will write to me: ('H.M.S. "Beagle", S. American Station'
will find me). I should much like to hear in what state you are both in
body and mind. ?Quien Sabe? as the people say here (and God knows they
well may, for they do know little enough), if you are not a married man,
and may be nursing, as Miss Austen says, little olive branches, little
pledges of mutual affection. Eheu! Eheu! this puts me in mind of former
visions of glimpses into futurity, where I fancied I saw retirement, green
cottages, and white petticoats. What will become of me hereafter I know
not; I feel like a ruined man, who does not see or care how to extricate
himself. That this voyage must come to a conclusion my reason tells me,
but otherwise I see no end to it. It is impossible not bitterly to regret
the friends and other sources of pleasure one leaves behind in England; in
place of it there is much solid enjoyment, some present, but more in
anticipation, when the ideas gained during the voyage can be compared to
fresh ones. I find in Geology a never-failing interest, as it has been
remarked, it creates the same grand ideas respecting this world which
Astronomy does for the universe. We have seen much fine scenery; that of
the Tropics in its glory and luxuriance exceeds even the language of
Humboldt to describe. A Persian writer could alone do justice to it, and
if he succeeded he would in England be called the 'Grandfather of all
But I have seen nothing which more completely astonished me than the first
sight of a savage. It was a naked Fuegian, his long hair blowing about,
his face besmeared with paint. There is in their countenances an
expression which I believe, to those who have not seen it, must be
inconceivably wild. Standing on a rock he uttered tones and made
gesticulations, than which the cries of domestic animals are far more
When I return to England, you must take me in hand with respect to the fine
arts. I yet recollect there was a man called Raffaelle Sanctus. How
delightful it will be once again to see, in the Fitzwilliam, Titian's
Venus. How much more than delightful to go to some good concert or fine
opera. These recollections will not do. I shall not be able to-morrow to
pick out the entrails of some small animal with half my usual gusto. Pray
tell me some news about Cameron, Watkins, Marindin, the two Thompsons of
Trinity, Lowe, Heaviside, Matthew. Herbert I have heard from. How is
Henslow getting on? and all other good friends of dear Cambridge? Often
and often do I think over those past hours, so many of which have been
passed in your company. Such can never return, but their recollection can
never die away.
God bless you, my dear Whitley,
Believe me, your most sincere friend,
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS C. DARWIN.
Valparaiso, November 8, 1834.
My dear Catherine,
My last letter was rather a gloomy one, for I was not very well when I
wrote it. Now everything is as bright as sunshine. I am quite well again
after being a second time in bed for a fortnight. Captain Fitz-Roy very
generously has delayed the ship ten days on my account, and without at the
time telling me for what reason.
We have had some strange proceedings on board the "Beagle", but which have
ended most capitally for all hands. Captain Fitz-Roy has for the last two
months been working EXTREMELY hard, and at the same time constantly annoyed
by interruptions from officers of other ships; the selling the schooner and
its consequences were very vexatious; the cold manner the Admiralty (solely
I believe because he is a Tory) have treated him, and a thousand other,
etc. etc.'s, has made him very thin and unwell. This was accompanied by a
morbid depression of spirits, and a loss of all decision and resolution...
All that Bynoe [the Surgeon] could say, that it was merely the effect of
bodily health and exhaustion after such application, would not do; he
invalided, and Wickham was appointed to the command. By the instructions
Wickham could only finish the survey of the southern part, and would then
have been obliged to return direct to England. The grief on board the
"Beagle" about the Captain's decision was universal and deeply felt; one
great source of his annoyment was the feeling it impossible to fulfil the
whole instructions; from his state of mind it never occurred to him that
the very instructions ordered him to do as much of the West coast AS HE HAS
TIME FOR, and then proceed across the Pacific.
Wickham (very disinterestedly giving up his own promotion) urged this most
strongly, stated that when he took the command nothing should induce him to
go to Tierra del Fuego again; and then asked the Captain what would be
gained by his resignation? why not do the more useful part, and return as
commanded by the Pacific. The Captain at last, to every one's joy,
consented, and the resignation was withdrawn.
Hurrah! hurrah! it is fixed the "Beagle" shall not go one mile south of
Cape Tres Montes (about 200 miles south of Chiloe), and from that point to
Valparaiso will be finished in about five months. We shall examine the
Chonos Archipelago, entirely unknown, and the curious inland sea behind
Chiloe. For me it is glorious. Cape Tres Montes is the most southern
point where there is much geological interest, as there the modern beds
end. The Captain then talks of crossing the Pacific; but I think we shall
persuade him to finish the Coast of Peru, where the climate is delightful,
the country hideously sterile, but abounding with the highest interest to a
geologist. For the first time since leaving England I now see a clear and
not so distant prospect of returning to you all: crossing the Pacific, and
from Sydney home, will not take much time.
As soon as the Captain invalided I at once determined to leave the
"Beagle", but it was quite absurd what a revolution in five minutes was
effected in all my feelings. I have long been grieved and most sorry at
the interminable length of the voyage (although I never would have quitted
it); but the minute it was all over, I could not make up my mind to return.
I could not give up all the geological castles in the air which I had been
building up for the last two years. One whole night I tried to think over
the pleasure of seeing Shrewsbury again, but the barren plains of Peru
gained the day. I made the following scheme (I know you will abuse me, and
perhaps if I had put it in execution, my father would have sent a mandamus
after me); it was to examine the Cordilleras of Chili during this summer,
and in winter go from port to port on the coast of Peru to Lima, returning
this time next year to Valparaiso, cross the Cordilleras to Buenos Ayres,
and take ship to England. Would not this have been a fine excursion, and
in sixteen months I should have been with you all? To have endured Tierra
del Fuego and not seen the Pacific would have been miserable...
I go on board to-morrow; I have been for the last six weeks in Corfield's
house. You cannot imagine what a kind friend I have found him. He is
universally liked, and respected by the natives and foreigners. Several
Chileno Signoritas are very obligingly anxious to become the signoras of
this house. Tell my father I have kept my promise of being extravagant in
Chili. I have drawn a bill of 100 pounds (had it not better be notified to
Messrs. Robarts & Co.); 50 pounds goes to the Captain for the ensuing year,
and 30 pounds I take to sea for the small ports; so that bona fide I have
not spent 180 pounds during these last four months. I hope not to draw
another bill for six months. All the foregoing particulars were only
settled yesterday. It has done me more good than a pint of medicine, and I
have not been so happy for the last year. If it had not been for my
illness, these four months in Chili would have been very pleasant. I have
had ill luck, however, in only one little earthquake having happened. I
was lying in bed when there was a party at dinner in the house; on a sudden
I heard such a hubbub in the dining-room; without a word being spoken, it
was devil take the hindmost who should get out first; at the same moment I
felt my bed SLIGHTLY vibrate in a lateral direction. The party were old
stagers, and heard the noise which always precedes a shock; and no old
stager looks at an earthquake with philosophical eyes...
Good-bye to you all; you will not have another letter for some time.
My dear Catherine,
My best love to my father, and all of you. Love to Nancy.
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS S. DARWIN.
Valparaiso, April 23, 1835.
My dear Susan,
I received, a few days since, your letter of November; the three letters
which I before mentioned are yet missing, but I do not doubt they will come
to life. I returned a week ago from my excursion across the Andes to
Mendoza. Since leaving England I have never made so successful a journey;
it has, however, been very expensive. I am sure my father would not regret
it, if he could know how deeply I have enjoyed it: it was something more
than enjoyment; I cannot express the delight which I felt at such a famous
winding-up of all my geology in South America. I literally could hardly
sleep at nights for thinking over my day's work. The scenery was so new,
and so majestic; everything at an elevation of 12,000 feet bears so
different an aspect from that in a lower country. I have seen many views
more beautiful, but none with so strongly marked a character. To a
geologist, also, there are such manifest proofs of excessive violence; the
strata of the highest pinnacles are tossed about like the crust of a broken
I crossed by the Portillo Pass, which at this time of the year is apt to be
dangerous, so could not afford to delay there. After staying a day in the
stupid town of Mendoza, I began my return by Uspallate, which I did very
leisurely. My whole trip only took up twenty-two days. I travelled with,
for me, uncommon comfort, as I carried a BED! My party consisted of two
Peons and ten mules, two of which were with baggage, or rather food, in
case of being snowed up. Everything, however, favoured me; not even a
speck of this year's snow had fallen on the road. I do not suppose any of
you can be much interested in geological details, but I will just mention
my principal results:--Besides understanding to a certain extent the
description and manner of the force which has elevated this great line of
mountains, I can clearly demonstrate that one part of the double line is of
an age long posterior to the other. In the more ancient line, which is the
true chain of the Andes, I can describe the sort and order of the rocks
which compose it. These are chiefly remarkable by containing a bed of
gypsum nearly 2000 feet thick--a quantity of this substance I should think
unparalleled in the world. What is of much greater consequence, I have
procured fossil shells (from an elevation of 12,000 feet). I think an
examination of these will give an approximate age to these mountains, as
compared to the strata of Europe. In the other line of the Cordilleras
there is a strong presumption (in my own mind, conviction) that the
enormous mass of mountains, the peaks of which rise to 13,000 and 14,000
feet, are so very modern as to be contemporaneous with the plains of
Patagonia (or about with the UPPER strata of the Isle of Wight). If this
result shall be considered as proved (The importance of these results has
been fully recognised by geologists.), it is a very important fact in the
theory of the formation of the world; because, if such wonderful changes
have taken place so recently in the crust of the globe, there can be no
reason for supposing former epochs of excessive violence. These modern
strata are very remarkable by being threaded with metallic veins of silver,
gold, copper, etc.; hitherto these have been considered as appertaining to
older formations. In these same beds, and close to a goldmine, I found a
clump of petrified trees, standing up right, with layers of fine sandstone
deposited round them, bearing the impression of their bark. These trees
are covered by other sandstones and streams of lava to the thickness of
several thousand feet. These rocks have been deposited beneath water; yet
it is clear the spot where the trees grew must once have been above the
level of the sea, so that it is certain the land must have been depressed
by at least as many thousand feet as the superincumbent subaqueous deposits
are thick. But I am afraid you will tell me I am prosy with my geological
descriptions and theories...
Your account of Erasmus' visit to Cambridge has made me long to be back
there. I cannot fancy anything more delightful than his Sunday round of
King's, Trinity, and those talking giants, Whewell and Sedgwick; I hope
your musical tastes continue in due force. I shall be ravenous for the
I have not quite determined whether I will sleep at the 'Lion' the first
night when I arrive per 'Wonder,' or disturb you all in the dead of night;
everything short of that is absolutely planned. Everything about
Shrewsbury is growing in my mind bigger and more beautiful; I am certain
the acacia and copper beech are two superb trees; I shall know every bush,
and I will trouble you young ladies, when each of you cut down your tree,
to spare a few. As for the view behind the house, I have seen nothing like
it. It is the same with North Wales; Snowdon, to my mind, looks much
higher and much more beautiful than any peak in the Cordilleras. So you
will say, with my benighted faculties, it is time to return, and so it is,
and I long to be with you. Whatever the trees are, I know what I shall
find all you. I am writing nonsense, so farewell. My most affectionate
love to all, and I pray forgiveness from my father.
Yours most affectionately,
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
Lima, July, 1835.
My dear Fox,
I have lately received two of your letters, one dated June and the other
November, 1834 (they reached me, however, in an inverted order). I was
very glad to receive a history of this most important year in your life.
Previously I had only heard the plain fact that you were married. You are
a true Christian and return good for evil, to send two such letters to so
bad a correspondent as I have been. God bless you for writing so kindly
and affectionately; if it is a pleasure to have friends in England, it is
doubly so to think and know that one is not forgotten because absent. This
voyage is terribly long. I do so earnestly desire to return, yet I dare
hardly look forward to the future, for I do not know what will become of
me. Your situation is above envy: I do not venture even to frame such
happy visions. To a person fit to take the office, the life of a clergyman
is a type of all that is respectable and happy. You tempt me by talking of
your fireside, whereas it is a sort of scene I never ought to think about.
I saw the other day a vessel sail for England; it was quite dangerous to
know how easily I might turn deserter. As for an English lady, I have
almost forgotten what she is--something very angelic and good. As for the
women in these countries, they wear caps and petticoats, and a very few
have pretty faces, and then all is said. But if we are not wrecked on some
unlucky reef, I will sit by that same fireside in Vale Cottage and tell
some of the wonderful stories, which you seem to anticipate and, I presume,
are not very ready to believe. Gracias a dios, the prospect of such times
is rather shorter than formerly.
>From this most wretched 'City of the Kings' we sail in a fortnight, from
thence to Guayaquil, Galapagos, Marquesas, Society Islands, etc., etc. I
look forward to the Galapagos with more interest than any other part of the
voyage. They abound with active volcanoes, and, I should hope, contain
Tertiary strata. I am glad to hear you have some thoughts of beginning
Geology. I hope you will; there is so much larger a field for thought than
in the other branches of Natural History. I am become a zealous disciple
of Mr. Lyell's views, as known in his admirable book. Geologising in South
America, I am tempted to carry parts to a greater extent even than he does.
Geology is a capital science to begin, as it requires nothing but a little
reading, thinking, and hammering. I have a considerable body of notes
together; but it is a constant subject of perplexity to me, whether they
are of sufficient value for all the time I have spent about them, or
whether animals would not have been of more certain value.
I shall indeed be glad once again to see you and tell you how grateful I
feel for your steady friendship. God bless you, my very dear Fox.
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
Sydney, January, 1836.
My dear Henslow,
This is the last opportunity of communicating with you before that joyful
day when I shall reach Cambridge. I have very little to say: but I must
write if it is only to express my joy that the last year is concluded, and
that the present one, in which the "Beagle" will return, is gliding
onwards. We have all been disappointed here in not finding even a single
letter; we are, indeed, rather before our expected time, otherwise, I dare
say, I should have seen your handwriting. I must feed upon the future, and
it is beyond bounds delightful to feel the certainty that within eight
months I shall be residing once again most quietly in Cambridge.
Certainly, I never was intended for a traveller; my thoughts are always
rambling over past or future scenes; I cannot enjoy the present happiness
for anticipating the future, which is about as foolish as the dog who
dropped the real bone for its shadow.
In our passage across the Pacific we only touched at Tahiti and New
Zealand; at neither of these places or at sea had I much opportunity of
working. Tahiti is a most charming spot. Everything which former
navigators have written is true. 'A new Cytheraea has risen from the
ocean.' Delicious scenery, climate, manners of the people are all in
harmony. It is, moreover, admirable to behold what the missionaries both
here and at New Zealand have effected. I firmly believe they are good men
working for the sake of a good cause. I much suspect that those who have
abused or sneered at the missionaries have generally been such as were not
very anxious to find the natives moral and intelligent beings. During the
remainder of our voyage we shall only visit places generally acknowledged
as civilised, and nearly all under the British flag. These will be a poor
field for Natural History, and without it I have lately discovered that the
pleasure of seeing new places is as nothing. I must return to my old
resource and think of the future, but that I may not become more prosy, I
will say farewell till the day arrives, when I shall see my Master in
Natural History, and can tell him how grateful I feel for his kindness and
Believe me, dear Henslow,
Ever yours, most faithfully,
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS S. DARWIN.
Bahia, Brazil, August 4 .
My dear Susan,
I will just write a few lines to explain the cause of this letter being
dated on the coast of South America. Some singular disagreements in the
longitudes made Captain Fitz-Roy anxious to complete the circle in the
southern hemisphere, and then retrace our steps by our first line to
England. This zigzag manner of proceeding is very grievous; it has put the
finishing stroke to my feelings. I loathe, I abhor the sea and all ships
which sail on it. But I yet believe we shall reach England in the latter
half of October. At Ascension I received Catherine's letter of October,
and yours of November; the letter at the Cape was of a later date, but
letters of all sorts are inestimable treasures, and I thank you both for
them. The desert, volcanic rocks, and wild sea of Ascension, as soon as I
knew there was news from home, suddenly wore a pleasing aspect, and I set
to work with a good-will at my old work of Geology. You would be surprised
to know how entirely the pleasure in arriving at a new place depends on
letters. We only stayed four days at Ascension, and then made a very good
passage to Bahia.
I little thought to have put my foot on South American coast again. It has
been almost painful to find how much good enthusiasm has been evaporated
during the last four years. I can now walk soberly through a Brazilian
forest; not but what it is exquisitely beautiful, but now, instead of
seeking for splendid contrasts, I compare the stately mango trees with the
horse-chestnuts of England. Although this zigzag has lost us at least a
fortnight, in some respects I am glad of it. I think I shall be able to
carry away one vivid picture of inter-tropical scenery. We go from hence
to the Cape de Verds; that is, if the winds or the Equatorial calms will
allow us. I have some faint hopes that a steady foul wind might induce the
Captain to proceed direct to the Azores. For which most untoward event I
Both your letters were full of good news; especially the expressions which
you tell me Professor Sedgwick used about my collections. I confess they
are deeply gratifying--I trust one part at least will turn out true, and
that I shall act as I now think--as a man who dares to waste one hour of
time has not discovered the value of life. Professor Sedgwick mentioning
my name at all gives me hopes that he will assist me with his advice, of
which, in my geological questions, I stand much in need. It is useless to
tell you from the shameful state of this scribble that I am writing against
time, having been out all morning, and now there are some strangers on
board to whom I must go down and talk civility. Moreover, as this letter
goes by a foreign ship, it is doubtful whether it will ever arrive.
Farewell, my very dear Susan and all of you. Good-bye.
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
St. Helena, July 9, 1836.
My dear Henslow,
I am going to ask you to do me a favour. I am very anxious to belong to
the Geological Society. I do not know, but I suppose it is necessary to be
proposed some time before being ballotted for; if such is the case, would
you be good enough to take the proper preparatory steps? Professor
Sedgwick very kindly offered to propose me before leaving England, if he
should happen to be in London. I dare say he would yet do so.
I have very little to write about. We have neither seen, done, or heard of
anything particular for a long time past; and indeed if at present the
wonders of another planet could be displayed before us, I believe we should
unanimously exclaim, what a consummate plague. No schoolboys ever sung the
half sentimental and half jovial strain of 'dulce domum' with more fervour,
than we all feel inclined to do. But the whole subject of 'dulce domum,'
and the delight of seeing one's friends, is most dangerous, it must
infallibly make one very prosy or very boisterous. Oh, the degree to which
I long to be once again living quietly with not one single novel object
near me! No one can imagine it till he has been whirled round the world
during five long years in a ten-gun-brig. I am at present living in a
small house (amongst the clouds) in the centre of the island, and within
stone's throw of Napoleon's tomb. It is blowing a gale of wind with heavy
rain and wretchedly cold; if Napoleon's ghost haunts his dreary place of
confinement, this would be a most excellent night for such wandering
spirits. If the weather chooses to permit me, I hope to see a little of
the Geology (so often partially described) of the island. I suspect that
differently from most volcanic islands its structure is rather complicated.
It seems strange that this little centre of a distinct creation should, as
is asserted, bear marks of recent elevation.
The "Beagle" proceeds from this place to Ascension, then to the Cape de
Verds (what miserable places!) to the Azores to Plymouth, and then to home.
That most glorious of all days in my life will not, however, arrive till
the middle of October. Some time in that month you will see me at
Cambridge, where I must directly come to report myself to you, as my first
Lord of the Admiralty. At the Cape of Good Hope we all on board suffered a
bitter disappointment in missing nine months' letters, which are chasing us
from one side of the globe to the other. I dare say amongst them there was
a letter from you; it is long since I have seen your handwriting, but I
shall soon see you yourself, which is far better. As I am your pupil, you
are bound to undertake the task of criticising and scolding me for all the
things ill done and not done at all, which I fear I shall need much; but I
hope for the best, and I am sure I have a good if not too easy taskmaster.
At the Cape Captain Fitz-Roy and myself enjoyed a memorable piece of good
fortune in meeting Sir J. Herschel. We dined at his house and saw him a
few times besides. He was exceedingly good natured, but his manners at
first appeared to me rather awful. He is living in a very comfortable
country house, surrounded by fir and oak trees, which alone in so open a
country, give a most charming air of seclusion and comfort. He appears to
find time for everything; he showed us a pretty garden full of Cape bulbs
of his own collecting, and I afterwards understood that everything was the
work of his own hands...I am very stupid, and I have nothing more to say;
the wind is whistling so mournfully over the bleak hills, that I shall go
to bed and dream of England.
Goodnight, my dear Henslow,
Yours most truly obliged and affectionately,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
Shrewsbury, Thursday, October 6, .
My dear Henslow,
I am sure you will congratulate me on the delight of once again being home.
The "Beagle" arrived at Falmouth on Sunday evening, and I reached
Shrewsbury yesterday morning. I am exceedingly anxious to see you, and as
it will be necessary in four or five days to return to London to get my
goods and chattels out of the "Beagle", it appears to me my best plan to
pass through Cambridge. I want your advice on many points; indeed I am in
the clouds, and neither know what to do or where to go. My chief puzzle is
about the geological specimens--who will have the charity to help me in
describing their mineralogical nature? Will you be kind enough to write to
me one line by RETURN OF POST, saying whether you are now at Cambridge? I
am doubtful till I hear from Captain Fitz-Roy whether I shall not be
obliged to start before the answer can arrive, but pray try the chance. My
dear Henslow, I do long to see you; you have been the kindest friend to me
that ever man possessed. I can write no more, for I am giddy with joy and
Farewell for the present,
Yours most truly obliged,
CHARLES DARWIN TO R. FITZ-ROY.
Shrewsbury, Thursday morning, October 6, .
My dear Fitz-Roy,
I arrived here yesterday morning at breakfast time, and, thank God, found
all my dear good sisters and father quite well. My father appears more
cheerful and very little older than when I left. My sisters assure me I do
not look the least different, and I am able to return the compliment.
Indeed, all England appears changed excepting the good old town of
Shrewsbury and its inhabitants, which, for all I can see to the contrary,
may go on as they now are to Doomsday. I wish with all my heart I was
writing to you amongst your friends instead of at that horrid Plymouth.
But the day will soon come, and you will be as happy as I now am. I do
assure you I am a very great man at home; the five years' voyage has
certainly raised me a hundred per cent. I fear such greatness must
experience a fall.
I am thoroughly ashamed of myself in what a dead-and-half-alive state I
spent the few last days on board; my only excuse is that certainly I was
not quite well. The first day in the mail tired me, but as I drew nearer
to Shrewsbury everything looked more beautiful and cheerful. In passing
Gloucestershire and Worcestershire I wished much for you to admire the
fields, woods, and orchards. The stupid people on the coach did not seem
to think the fields one bit greener than usual; but I am sure we should
have thoroughly agreed that the wide world does not contain so happy a
prospect as the rich cultivated land of England.
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