The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 73 of 188

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.

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