The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 83 of 188

Charles Darwin to Miss S. Darwin.

Valparaiso, April 23, 1835.

My dear Susan,

I received, a few days since, your letter of November; the three letters which I before mentioned are yet missing, but I do not doubt they will come to life. I returned a week ago from my excursion across the Andes to Mendoza. Since leaving England I have never made so successful a journey; it has, however, been very expensive. I am sure my father would not regret it, if he could know how deeply I have enjoyed it: it was something more than enjoyment; I cannot express the delight which I felt at such a famous winding-up of all my geology in South America. I literally could hardly sleep at nights for thinking over my day’s work. The scenery was so new, and so majestic; everything at an elevation of 12,000 feet bears so different an aspect from that in a lower country. I have seen many views more beautiful, but none with so strongly marked a character. To a geologist, also, there are such manifest proofs of excessive violence; the strata of the highest pinnacles are tossed about like the crust of a broken pie.

I crossed by the Portillo Pass, which at this time of the year is apt to be dangerous, so could not afford to delay there. After staying a day in the stupid town of Mendoza, I began my return by Uspallate, which I did very leisurely. My whole trip only took up twenty-two days. I travelled with, for me, uncommon comfort, as I carried a bed! My party consisted of two Peons and ten mules, two of which were with baggage, or rather food, in case of being snowed up. Everything, however, favoured me; not even a speck of this year’s snow had fallen on the road. I do not suppose any of you can be much interested in geological details, but I will just mention my principal results:–Besides understanding to a certain extent the description and manner of the force which has elevated this great line of mountains, I can clearly demonstrate that one part of the double line is of an age long posterior to the other. In the more ancient line, which is the true chain of the Andes, I can describe the sort and order of the rocks which compose it. These are chiefly remarkable by containing a bed of gypsum nearly 2000 feet thick–a quantity of this substance I should think unparalleled in the world. What is of much greater consequence, I have procured fossil shells (from an elevation of 12,000 feet). I think an examination of these will give an approximate age to these mountains, as compared to the strata of Europe. In the other line of the Cordilleras there is a strong presumption (in my own mind, conviction) that the enormous mass of mountains, the peaks of which rise to 13,000 and 14,000 feet, are so very modern as to be contemporaneous with the plains of Patagonia (or about with the upper strata of the Isle of Wight). If this result shall be considered as proved (The importance of these results has been fully recognised by geologists.), it is a very important fact in the theory of the formation of the world; because, if such wonderful changes have taken place so recently in the crust of the globe, there can be no reason for supposing former epochs of excessive violence. These modern strata are very remarkable by being threaded with metallic veins of silver, gold, copper, etc.; hitherto these have been considered as appertaining to older formations. In these same beds, and close to a goldmine, I found a clump of petrified trees, standing up right, with layers of fine sandstone deposited round them, bearing the impression of their bark. These trees are covered by other sandstones and streams of lava to the thickness of several thousand feet. These rocks have been deposited beneath water; yet it is clear the spot where the trees grew must once have been above the level of the sea, so that it is certain the land must have been depressed by at least as many thousand feet as the superincumbent subaqueous deposits are thick. But I am afraid you will tell me I am prosy with my geological descriptions and theories…

Your account of Erasmus’ visit to Cambridge has made me long to be back there. I cannot fancy anything more delightful than his Sunday round of King’s, Trinity, and those talking giants, Whewell and Sedgwick; I hope your musical tastes continue in due force. I shall be ravenous for the pianoforte…

I have not quite determined whether I will sleep at the ‘Lion’ the first night when I arrive per ‘Wonder,’ or disturb you all in the dead of night; everything short of that is absolutely planned. Everything about Shrewsbury is growing in my mind bigger and more beautiful; I am certain the acacia and copper beech are two superb trees; I shall know every bush, and I will trouble you young ladies, when each of you cut down your tree, to spare a few. As for the view behind the house, I have seen nothing like it. It is the same with North Wales; Snowdon, to my mind, looks much higher and much more beautiful than any peak in the Cordilleras. So you will say, with my benighted faculties, it is time to return, and so it is, and I long to be with you. Whatever the trees are, I know what I shall find all you. I am writing nonsense, so farewell. My most affectionate love to all, and I pray forgiveness from my father.

Yours most affectionately,
Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin to W.D. Fox.

Lima, July, 1835.

My dear Fox,

I have lately received two of your letters, one dated June and the other November, 1834 (they reached me, however, in an inverted order). I was very glad to receive a history of this most important year in your life. Previously I had only heard the plain fact that you were married. You are a true Christian and return good for evil, to send two such letters to so bad a correspondent as I have been. God bless you for writing so kindly and affectionately; if it is a pleasure to have friends in England, it is doubly so to think and know that one is not forgotten because absent. This voyage is terribly long. I do so earnestly desire to return, yet I dare hardly look forward to the future, for I do not know what will become of me. Your situation is above envy: I do not venture even to frame such happy visions. To a person fit to take the office, the life of a clergyman is a type of all that is respectable and happy. You tempt me by talking of your fireside, whereas it is a sort of scene I never ought to think about. I saw the other day a vessel sail for England; it was quite dangerous to know how easily I might turn deserter. As for an English lady, I have almost forgotten what she is–something very angelic and good. As for the women in these countries, they wear caps and petticoats, and a very few have pretty faces, and then all is said. But if we are not wrecked on some unlucky reef, I will sit by that same fireside in Vale Cottage and tell some of the wonderful stories, which you seem to anticipate and, I presume, are not very ready to believe. Gracias a dios, the prospect of such times is rather shorter than formerly.

>From this most wretched ‘City of the Kings’ we sail in a fortnight, from thence to Guayaquil, Galapagos, Marquesas, Society Islands, etc., etc. I look forward to the Galapagos with more interest than any other part of the voyage. They abound with active volcanoes, and, I should hope, contain Tertiary strata. I am glad to hear you have some thoughts of beginning Geology. I hope you will; there is so much larger a field for thought than in the other branches of Natural History. I am become a zealous disciple of Mr. Lyell’s views, as known in his admirable book. Geologising in South America, I am tempted to carry parts to a greater extent even than he does. Geology is a capital science to begin, as it requires nothing but a little reading, thinking, and hammering. I have a considerable body of notes together; but it is a constant subject of perplexity to me, whether they are of sufficient value for all the time I have spent about them, or whether animals would not have been of more certain value.

I shall indeed be glad once again to see you and tell you how grateful I feel for your steady friendship. God bless you, my very dear Fox.

Believe me,
Yours affectionately,
Chas. Darwin.

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