The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 82 of 188

Charles Darwin to Miss C. Darwin.

Valparaiso, November 8, 1834.

My dear Catherine,

My last letter was rather a gloomy one, for I was not very well when I wrote it. Now everything is as bright as sunshine. I am quite well again after being a second time in bed for a fortnight. Captain Fitz-Roy very generously has delayed the ship ten days on my account, and without at the time telling me for what reason.

We have had some strange proceedings on board the Beagle, but which have ended most capitally for all hands. Captain Fitz-Roy has for the last two months been working extremely hard, and at the same time constantly annoyed by interruptions from officers of other ships; the selling the schooner and its consequences were very vexatious; the cold manner the Admiralty (solely I believe because he is a Tory) have treated him, and a thousand other, etc. etc.’s, has made him very thin and unwell. This was accompanied by a morbid depression of spirits, and a loss of all decision and resolution… All that Bynoe [the Surgeon] could say, that it was merely the effect of bodily health and exhaustion after such application, would not do; he invalided, and Wickham was appointed to the command. By the instructions Wickham could only finish the survey of the southern part, and would then have been obliged to return direct to England. The grief on board the Beagle about the Captain’s decision was universal and deeply felt; one great source of his annoyment was the feeling it impossible to fulfil the whole instructions; from his state of mind it never occurred to him that the very instructions ordered him to do as much of the West coast as he has time for, and then proceed across the Pacific.

Wickham (very disinterestedly giving up his own promotion) urged this most strongly, stated that when he took the command nothing should induce him to go to Tierra del Fuego again; and then asked the Captain what would be gained by his resignation? why not do the more useful part, and return as commanded by the Pacific. The Captain at last, to every one’s joy, consented, and the resignation was withdrawn.

Hurrah! hurrah! it is fixed the Beagle shall not go one mile south of Cape Tres Montes (about 200 miles south of Chiloe), and from that point to Valparaiso will be finished in about five months. We shall examine the Chonos Archipelago, entirely unknown, and the curious inland sea behind Chiloe. For me it is glorious. Cape Tres Montes is the most southern point where there is much geological interest, as there the modern beds end. The Captain then talks of crossing the Pacific; but I think we shall persuade him to finish the Coast of Peru, where the climate is delightful, the country hideously sterile, but abounding with the highest interest to a geologist. For the first time since leaving England I now see a clear and not so distant prospect of returning to you all: crossing the Pacific, and from Sydney home, will not take much time.

As soon as the Captain invalided I at once determined to leave the Beagle, but it was quite absurd what a revolution in five minutes was effected in all my feelings. I have long been grieved and most sorry at the interminable length of the voyage (although I never would have quitted it); but the minute it was all over, I could not make up my mind to return. I could not give up all the geological castles in the air which I had been building up for the last two years. One whole night I tried to think over the pleasure of seeing Shrewsbury again, but the barren plains of Peru gained the day. I made the following scheme (I know you will abuse me, and perhaps if I had put it in execution, my father would have sent a mandamus after me); it was to examine the Cordilleras of Chili during this summer, and in winter go from port to port on the coast of Peru to Lima, returning this time next year to Valparaiso, cross the Cordilleras to Buenos Ayres, and take ship to England. Would not this have been a fine excursion, and in sixteen months I should have been with you all? To have endured Tierra del Fuego and not seen the Pacific would have been miserable…

I go on board to-morrow; I have been for the last six weeks in Corfield’s house. You cannot imagine what a kind friend I have found him. He is universally liked, and respected by the natives and foreigners. Several Chileno Signoritas are very obligingly anxious to become the signoras of this house. Tell my father I have kept my promise of being extravagant in Chili. I have drawn a bill of 100 pounds (had it not better be notified to Messrs. Robarts & Co.); 50 pounds goes to the Captain for the ensuing year, and 30 pounds I take to sea for the small ports; so that bona fide I have not spent 180 pounds during these last four months. I hope not to draw another bill for six months. All the foregoing particulars were only settled yesterday. It has done me more good than a pint of medicine, and I have not been so happy for the last year. If it had not been for my illness, these four months in Chili would have been very pleasant. I have had ill luck, however, in only one little earthquake having happened. I was lying in bed when there was a party at dinner in the house; on a sudden I heard such a hubbub in the dining-room; without a word being spoken, it was devil take the hindmost who should get out first; at the same moment I felt my bed slightly vibrate in a lateral direction. The party were old stagers, and heard the noise which always precedes a shock; and no old stager looks at an earthquake with philosophical eyes…

Good-bye to you all; you will not have another letter for some time.

My dear Catherine,
Yours affectionately,
Chas. Darwin.

My best love to my father, and all of you. Love to Nancy.

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