The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 80 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.S. Henslow.

East Falkland Island, March, 1834.

…I am quite charmed with Geology, but like the wise animal between two bundles of hay, I do not know which to like the best; the old crystalline group of rocks, or the softer and fossiliferous beds. When puzzling about stratifications, etc., I feel inclined to cry “a fig for your big oysters, and your bigger megatheriums.” But then when digging out some fine bones, I wonder how any man can tire his arms with hammering granite. By the way I have not one clear idea about cleavage, stratification, lines of upheaval. I have no books which tell me much, and what they do I cannot apply to what I see. In consequence I draw my own conclusions, and most gloriously ridiculous ones they are, I sometimes fancy…Can you throw any light into my mind by telling me what relation cleavage and planes of deposition bear to each other?

And now for my second section, Zoology. I have chiefly been employed in preparing myself for the South Sea by examining the polypi of the smaller Corallines in these latitudes. Many in themselves are very curious, and I think are quite undescribed; there was one appalling one, allied to a Flustra, which I dare say I mentioned having found to the northward, where the cells have a movable organ (like a vulture’s head, with a dilatable beak), fixed on the edge. But what is of more general interest is the unquestionable (as it appears to me) existence of another species of ostrich, besides the Struthio rhea. All the Gauchos and Indians state it is the case, and I place the greatest faith in their observations. I have the head, neck, piece of skin, feathers, and legs of one. The differences are chiefly in the colour of the feathers and scales on legs, being feathered below the knees, nidification, and geographical distribution. So much for what I have lately done; the prospect before me is full of sunshine, fine weather, glorious scenery, the geology of the Andes, plains abounding with organic remains (which perhaps I may have the good luck to catch in the very act of moving), and lastly, an ocean, its shores abounding with life, so that, if nothing unforeseen happens, I will stick to the voyage, although for what I can see this may last till we return a fine set of white-headed old gentlemen. I have to thank you most cordially for sending me the books. I am now reading the Oxford ‘Report’ (The second meeting of the British Association was held at Oxford in 1832, the following year it was at Cambridge.); the whole account of your proceedings is most glorious; you remaining in England cannot well imagine how excessively interesting I find the reports. I am sure from my own thrilling sensations when reading them, that they cannot fail to have an excellent effect upon all those residing in distant colonies, and who have little opportunity of seeing the periodicals. My hammer has flown with redoubled force on the devoted blocks; as I thought over the eloquence of the Cambridge President, I hit harder and harder blows. I hope to give my arms strength for the Cordilleras. You will send me through Capt. Beaufort a copy of the Cambridge ‘Report.’

I have forgotten to mention that for some time past, and for the future, I will put a pencil cross on the pill-boxes containing insects, as these alone will require being kept particularly dry; it may perhaps save you some trouble. When this letter will go I do not know, as this little seat of discord has lately been embroiled by a dreadful scene of murder, and at present there are more prisoners than inhabitants. If a merchant vessel is chartered to take them to Rio, I will send some specimens (especially my few plants and seeds). Remember me to all my Cambridge friends. I love and treasure up every recollection of dear old Cambridge. I am much obliged to you for putting my name down to poor Ramsay’s monument; I never think of him without the warmest admiration. Farewell, my dear Henslow.

Believe me your most obliged and affectionate friend,
Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin to Miss C. Darwin.

East Falkland Island, April 6, 1834.

My dear Catherine,

When this letter will reach you I know not, but probably some man-of-war will call here before, in the common course of events, I should have another opportunity of writing.

After visiting some of the southern islands, we beat up through the magnificent scenery of the Beagle Channel to Jemmy Button’s country. (Jemmy Button, York Minster, and Fuegia Basket, were natives of Tierra del Fuego, brought to England by Captain Fitz-Roy in his former voyage, and restored to their country by him in 1832.) We could hardly recognise poor Jemmy. Instead of the clean, well-dressed stout lad we left him, we found him a naked, thin, squalid savage. York and Fuegia had moved to their own country some months ago, the former having stolen all Jemmy’s clothes. Now he had nothing except a bit of blanket round his waist. Poor Jemmy was very glad to see us, and, with his usual good feeling, brought several presents (otter-skins, which are most valuable to themselves) for his old friends. The Captain offered to take him to England, but this, to our surprise, he at once refused. In the evening his young wife came alongside and showed us the reason. He was quite contented. Last year, in the height of his indignation, he said “his country people no sabe nothing– damned fools”–now they were very good people, with too much to eat, and all the luxuries of life. Jemmy and his wife paddled away in their canoe loaded with presents, and very happy. The most curious thing is, that Jemmy, instead of recovering his own language, has taught all his friends a little English. “J. Button’s canoe” and “Jemmy’s wife come,” “Give me knife,” etc., was said by several of them.

We then bore away for this island–this little miserable seat of discord. We found that the Gauchos, under pretence of a revolution, had murdered and plundered all the Englishmen whom they could catch, and some of their own countrymen. All the economy at home makes the foreign movements of England most contemptible. How different from old Spain. Here we, dog-in-the-manger fashion, seize an island, and leave to protect it a Union Jack; the possessor has, of course, been murdered; we now send a lieutenant with four sailors, without authority or instructions. A man-of-war, however, ventured to leave a party of marines, and by their assistance, and the treachery of some of the party, the murderers have all been taken, there being now as many prisoners as inhabitants. This island must some day become a very important halting-place in the most turbulent sea in the world. It is mid-way between Australia and the South Sea to England; between Chili, Peru, etc., and the Rio Plata and the Rio de Janeiro. There are fine harbours, plenty of fresh water, and good beef. It would doubtless produce the coarser vegetables. In other respects it is a wretched place. A little time since, I rode across the island, and returned in four days. My excursion would have been longer, but during the whole time it blew a gale of wind, with hail and snow. There is no firewood bigger than heath, and the whole country is, more or less an elastic peat-bog. Sleeping out at night was too miserable work to endure it for all the rocks in South America.

We shall leave this scene of iniquity in two or three days, and go to the Rio de la Sta. Cruz. One of the objects is to look at the ship’s bottom. We struck heavily on an unknown rock off Port Desire, and some of her copper is torn off. After this is repaired the Captain has a glorious scheme; it is to go to the very head of this river, that is probably to the Andes. It is quite unknown; the Indians tell us it is two or three hundred yards broad, and horses can nowhere ford it. I cannot imagine anything more interesting. Our plans then are to go to Fort Famine, and there we meet the Adventure, who is employed in making the Chart of the Falklands. This will be in the middle of winter, so I shall see Tierra del Fuego in her white drapery. We leave the straits to enter the Pacific by the Barbara Channel, one very little known, and which passes close to the foot of Mount Sarmiento (the highest mountain in the south, excepting Mt.!! Darwin!!). We then shall scud away for Concepcion in Chili. I believe the ship must once again steer southward, but if any one catches me there again, I will give him leave to hang me up as a scarecrow for all future naturalists. I long to be at work in the Cordilleras, the geology of this side, which I understand pretty well is so intimately connected with periods of violence in that great chain of mountains. The future is, indeed, to me a brilliant prospect. You say its very brilliancy frightens you; but really I am very careful; I may mention as a proof, in all my rambles I have never had any one accident or scrape…Continue in your good custom of writing plenty of gossip; I much like hearing all about all things. Remember me most kindly to Uncle Jos, and to all the Wedgwoods. Tell Charlotte (their married names sound downright unnatural) I should like to have written to her, to have told her how well everything is going on; but it would only have been a transcript of this letter, and I have a host of animals at this minute surrounding me which all require embalming and numbering. I have not forgotten the comfort I received that day at Maer, when my mind was like a swinging pendulum. Give my best love to my father. I hope he will forgive all my extravagance, but not as a Christian, for then I suppose he would send me no more money.

Good-bye, dear, to you, and all your goodly sisterhood.

Your affectionate brother,
Chas. Darwin.

My love to Nancy (His old nurse.); tell her, if she was now to see me with my great beard, she would think I was some worthy Solomon, come to sell the trinkets.

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