The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 77 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.M. Herbert.

Botofogo Bay, Rio de Janeiro,
June 1832.

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 reason…

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 to!

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.

Yours affectionately,
Chas. Darwin.

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 passed together.

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 friendship.

Ever yours,
Charles Darwin.

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