Evolution Logo

close window

Excerpts from Letters and Journal Entries

To J.S. Henslow [c. 26 October ]    24 November [1832]
Monte Video [Buenos Ayres]
32°7'N, 62°W

My dear Henslow,

We arrived here on the 24th of Octob: after our first cruize on the coast of Patagonia: North of the Rio Negro we fell in with some little Schooners employed in sealing; to save the loss of time in surveying the intricate mass of banks, Capt: FitzRoy has hired two of them   has put officers in them. -- It took us nearly a month fitting them out; as soon as this was finished we came back here,   are now preparing for a long cruize to the South. -- I expect to find the wild mountainous country of Terra del. very interesting;   after the coast of Patagonia I shall thoroughly enjoy it. -- I had hoped for the credit of dame Nature, no such Country as this last existed; in sad reality we coasted along 240 miles of sand hillocks; I never knew before, what a horrid ugly object a sand hillock is: -- The famed Country of the Rio Plata in my opinion is not much better; an enormous brackish river bounded by an interminable green plain, is enough to make any naturalist groan. So hurrah for Cape Horn   the land of storms. -- Now that I have had my growl out, which is a priviledge sailors take on all occasions, I will turn the tables   give an account of my doings in Nat: History. -- I must have one more growl, by ill luck the French government has sent one of its Collectors to the Rio Negro. -- where he has been working for the last six month,   is now gone round the Horn. -- So that I am very selfishly afraid he will get the cream of all the good things, before me. -- As I have nobody to talk to about my luck   ill luck in collecting; I am determined to vent it all upon you. -- I have been very lucky with fossil bones; I have fragments of at least 6 distinct animals; as many of them are teeth I trust, shattered   rolled as they have been, they will be recognised. I have paid all the attention, I am capable of, to their geological site, but of course it is too long a story for here. -- 1st the Tarsi   Metatarsi very perfect of a Cavia: 2nd the upper jaw   head of some very large animal, with 4 square hollow molars. --   the head greatly produced in front. -- I at first thought it belonged either to the Megalonyx or Megatherium. -- In confirmation, of this, in the same formation I found a large surface of the Osseous polygonal plates, which "late observations" (what are they?) show belong to the Megatherium. -- Immediately I saw them I thought they must belong to an enormous Armadillo, living species of which genus are so abundant here: 3d The lower jaw of some large animal, which from the molar teeth, I should think belonged to the Edentata: 4th. some large molar teeth, which in some respects would seem to belong to an enormous Rodentia; 5th, also some smaller teeth belonging to the same order:  c  c. -- If it interests you sufficiently to unpack them, I shall be very curious to hear something about them: -- Care must be taken, in this case, not to confuse the tallies. -- They are mingled with marine shells, which appear to me identical with what now exist. -- But since they were deposited in their beds, several geological changes have taken place in the country. -- So much for the dead   now for the living. -- there is a poor specimen of a bird, which to my unornithological eyes, appears to be a happy mixture of a lark pidgeon   snipe...I suppose it will turn out to be some well-know bird although it has quite baffled me. -- I have taken some interesting amphibia; a fine Bipes; a new Trigonocephalus beautifully connecting in its habits Crotalus   Vipe-rus:   plenty of new (as far as my knowledge goes) Saurians. -- As for one little toad; I hope it may be new, that it may be Christened "diabolicus".- Milton must allude to this very individual, when he talks of "squat like [a] toad", its colours are by Werner, ink black, vermilion red   buff orange. -- It has been a splendid cruize for me in Nat: History. -- Amongst the pelagic Crustaceae, some new   Curious genera. -- In the Zoophites Some interesting animals. -- as for one Flustra, if I had not the specimen to back me up, nobody would believe in its most anomalous structure. -- But as for novelty all this is nothing to a family of pelagic animals; which at first sight appear like Medusa, but are really highly organized. -- I have examined them repeatedly,   certainly from their structure, it would be impossible to place them in any existing order -- Perhaps Salpa is the nearest animal; although the transparency of the body is nearly the only character they have in common. -- All this may be said of another animal, although of a much simpler structure. --

I think the dried plants nearly contain all which were then Bahia Blanca flowering. All the specimens will be packed in casks -- I think there will be three: (before sending this letter I will specify dates  c  c). -- I am afraid you will groan or rather the floor of the Lecture room will, when the casks arrive. -- Without you I should be utterly undone. -- The small cask contains fish; will you open it, to see how the spirit has stood the evaporation of the Tropics. --

On board the Ship, everything goes on as well as possible, the only drawback is the fearful length of time between this   day of our return. -- I do not see any limits to it: one year is nearly completed   the second will be so before we even leave the East coast of S America. -- And then our voyage may be said really to have commenced. -- I know not, how I shall be able to endure it. -- The frequency with which I think of all the happy hours I have spent at Shrewsbury   Cambridge, is rather ominous. -- I trust everything to time   fate   will feel my way as I go on: -- We have been at Buenos Ayres for a week. - Nov. 24th. -- It is a fine large city; but such a country; everything is mud; You can go no where, you can do nothing for mud. -- In the city I obtained much information about the banks of the Uruguay. -- I hear of Limestone with shells,   beds of shells in every direction. -- I hope, when we winter in the Plata to have a most interesting Geological excursion in that Country. -- I purchased fragments (NOrs: 837   8) of some enormous bones; which I was assured belonged to the former giants!! -- I also procured some seeds. -- I do not know whether they are worth your accepting; if you think so, I will get some more: -- They are in the box: I have sent to you by the Duke of York Packet, commanded by Lieu: Snell to Falmouth. -- two large casks, containing fossil bones --a small cask with fish,   a box containing skins, spirit bottle  c  pill-boxes with beetles. -- Would you be kind enough to open these latter, as they are apt to bec(ome) mouldy. -- With the exceptions of the bones, the rest of my collection looks very scanty. Recollect how great a proportion of time is spent at sea. I am always anxious to hear in what state my things come   any criticisms about quantity or kind of specimens. -- In the smaller cask is part of a large head, the anterior portions of which are in the other large ones. -- The packet has arrived   I am in a great bustle: You will not hear from me for some months:

Till then believe me, my dear Henslow, Yours very truly obliged, Chas Darwin. -

Remember me most kindly to Mrs. Henslow. --

To J. S. Henslow 11 April 1833
- April 11th, 1833
- 49°S, 67°W

My dear Henslow

We are now running up from the Falkland Islands to the Rio Ne-gro (or Colorado). -- The Beagle will proceed to M: Video; but if it can be managed I intend staying at the former place. -- It is now some months since we have been at a civilized port, nearly all this time has been spent in the most Southern part of Tierra del Fuego. -- It is a detestable place, gales succeed gales with such short intervals, that it is difficult to do anything. -- We were 23 days off Cape Horn could by no means get to the Westward. -- The last   finale gale, before we gave up the attempt was unusually severe. A sea stove one of the boats   there was so much water on the decks, that every place was afloat; nearly all the paper for drying plants is spoiled   half of this cruizes collection. -- We at last run in to harbor   in the boats got to the West by the inland channels. -- As I was one of this party, I was very glad of it: with two boats we went about 300 miles,   thus I had an excellent opportunity of geologising   seeing much of the Savages. -- The Fuegians are in a more miserable state of barbarism, than I had expected ever to have seen a human being. -- In this in-clement country, they are absolutely naked,   their temporary houses are like what children make in summer, with boughs of trees. -- I do not think any spectacle can be more interesting, than the first sight of Man in his' primitive wildness. -- It is an interest, which cannot well be imagined, untill it is experienced. I shall never forget, when enter-ing Good Success Bay, the yell with which a party received us. They were seated on a rocky point, surrounded by the dark forest of beech; as they threw their arms wildly round their heads   their long hair anything more delightful than his Sunday round, of King's, Trinity   those talking giants, Whewell   Sedgwick: I hope your musical tastes continue in due force. I shall be ravenous for the Piano-forte. Do you recollect, poor old Granny, how I used to torment your quiet soul every evening? -- 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 the night, everything short of that is absolutely planned. -- Everything about Shrewsbury is growing in my mind bigger   more beautiful; I am certain the Acacia   Copper Beech are two superb trees: I shall know every bush,   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. Snowden to my mind, looks much higher   much more beautiful than any peak in the Cordilleras. So you will say, with my benighted faculties, it is time to return,   so it is,   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   I pray forgiveness from my Father. Yours most affectionately

Charles Darwin...

To J. S. Henslow 12 [August] 1835
Lima
July6 12th . 1835

My dear Henslow

This is the last letter which I shall ever write to you from the shores of America. -- and for this reason I send it -- In a few days time the Beagle will sail for the Galapagos Isds -- I look forward with joy   interest to this, both as being somewhat nearer to England,   for the sake of having a good look at an active Volcano. -- Although we have seen Lava in abundance, I have never yet beheld the Crater -- I sent by H.M.S. Conway two large boxes of Specimens. The Con-way sailed the latter end of June. -- With them were letters for you. -- Since that time I have travelled by land from Valparaiso to Copiapo   seen something more of the Cordilleras. -- Some of my Geological views have been subsequently to the last letter altered. -- I believe the upper mass of strata are, not so very modern as I supposed. -- This last journey has explained to me much of the ancient history of the Cordilleras. -- I feel sure they formerly consisted of a chain of Volcanoes from which enormous streams of Lava were poured forth at the bottom of the sea. -- These alternate with sedimentary beds to a vast thickness: at a subsequent period these Volcanoes must have formed Islands, from which have been produced strata several thousand feet thick of coarse Conglomerate. -- These Islands were covered with fine trees; in the Conglomerate I found one 15 feet in circumference, per-fectly silicified to the very centre. -- The alternations of compact crystalline rocks (I cannot doubt subaqueous Lavas)   sedimentary beds, now upheaved, fractured   indurated from the main range of the Andes. The formation was produced at the time, when Ammonites, several Terebratulae, Gryphites, Oysters, Pectens, Mytili  c  c lived. -

In the central parts of Chili, the structure of the lower beds are rendered very obscure by the Metamorphic action, which has rendered even the coarsest Conglomerates, porphyritic. -- The Cordilleras of the Andes so worthy of admiration from the grandeur of their dimensions, to rise in dignity when it is considered that since the period of Ammonites, they have formed a marked feature in the Geography of the Globe. -- The geology of these Mountains pleased me in one respect; when reading Lyell, it had always struck me that if the crust of the world goes on changing in a Circle, there ought to be somewhere found formations which having the age of the great European secondary beds, should possess the structure of Tertiary rocks, or those formed amidst Islands   in limited Basins. Now the alterations of Lava   coarse sediment, which form the upper parts of the Andes, correspond exactly to what would accumulate under such circumstances. In consequence of this I can only very roughly separate into three divisions the varying strata (perhaps 8ooo ft thick) which compose these mountains. I am afraid you will tell me to learn my A.B.C.-to know quartz from Feldspar before I indulge in such speculations. -- I lately got hold of ( ) report on M. Dessalines D'Orbigny's labors in S. America. I experienced rather a debasing degree of vexation to find he has described the geology of the Pampas,   that I have had some hard riding for nothing; it was however gratifying that my conclusions are the same, as far as I can collect, with his results. -- It is also capital, that the whole of Bolivia will be described. I hope to be able to connect his Geology of that country, with mine of Chili. -- After leaving Copiapo, we touched at Iquique. I visited, but do not quite understand the position of the Nitrate of Soda beds. -- Here in Peru, from the state of Anarchy, I can make no expedition....

Believe me, dear Henslow, Yours affectionately obliged

Charles Darwin

© 2001   WGBH Educational Foundation and Clear Blue Sky Productions, inc. All rights reserved.