Page images
[merged small][ocr errors]

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 a 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 year."

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 readers.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

C. Darvin to R. IV. 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 seasickness 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 w 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

[ocr errors][merged small]




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 longwished 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 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

my time in

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 durng 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 col. lections 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 seasickness.

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 inces




santly, 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.

February 26th.--About 280 miles from Bahia. On the roth 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 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.

« PreviousContinue »