The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 74 of 188

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.

February 26th.

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.

March 1st.

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 start.

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.

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