The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 79 of 188

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 Herbert,

Your affectionate friend,
Charles Darwin.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)