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Darwin's Diary

Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882


January 1832 (Voyage of the Beagle)

St. Jago, one of the Cape Verde Islands, is the first place Darwin disembarks on his Beagle voyage.

"The geology of St. Jago," Darwin notes, "is very striking yet simple: a stream of lava formerly flowed over the bed of the sea, formed of ... recent shells and corals, which it has baked into a hard white rock. Since then the whole island has been upheaved."

Darwin's sickness-induced "dreary thoughts" soon are swept away as he explores the volcanic island.

"Here I first saw the glory of tropical vegetation. Tamarinds, Bananas & Palms were flourishing at my feet ... I expected a good deal ... & I was afraid of disappointments: how utterly vain such fear is ... I returned to the shore, treading on Volcanic rocks, hearing the notes of unknown birds, & a glorious day, like giving a blind man eyes. -- he is overwhelmed with what he sees & cannot justly comprehend it. -- Such are my feelings, & may they remain ..."

In a rocky cliff, Darwin spots a horizontal band of compressed sea shells and corals 30 feet above sea level. The whole area looks as if it was once under water. Why not now? He thinks about a book he has brought along, Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology. Lyell suggests Earth is gradually and continuously changing, with land rising in one area, falling in another. What Darwin sees before him seems to be evidence for Lyell's theory.

"[W]ith the sun glaring hot, a few strange desert plants growing near, and with living corals in the tidal pools at my feet ... It then first dawned on me that I might perhaps write a book on the geology of the various countries visited, and this made me thrill with delight."

"St. Jago has afforded me an exceedingly rich harvest in several branches of Nat: History ... And this Island that has given me so much instruction & delight, is reckoned the most uninteresting place, that we perhaps shall touch at during our voyage."

February-April 1832 (Voyage of the Beagle)

While Darwin generally gets along with FitzRoy, the captain has a temper that the crew refers to as "hot coffee" -- it often boils over, particularly in the morning.

"FitzRoy's temper was a most unfortunate one. This was shown not only by passion but by fits of long-continued moroseness against those who had offended him ... He was extremely kind to me, but was a man very difficult to live with on the intimate terms which ... followed from our messing by ourselves in the same cabin."

Darwin in old age reflects back on FitzRoy: "His character was in several respects one of the most noble which I have ever known, though tarnished by grave blemishes ... He was ... somewhat suspicious and occasionally in very low spirits, on one occasion bordering on insanity ... His end was a melancholy one, namely suicide."

Darwin and Fitzroy have their first major quarrel early in the voyage, at Bahia in Brazil.

"[H]e defended and praised slavery, which I abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free, and all answered 'No.' I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answers of slaves, in the presence of their master was worth anything. This made him excessively angry ... I thought that I should have been compelled to leave the ship ... But after a few hours Fitz-Roy showed his usual magnanimity ... with an apology and a request that I would continue to live with him."

The slave trade in Brazil horrifies Darwin. "The extent to which the trade is carried on; the ferocity with which it is defended; the respectable (!) people who are concerned in it are far from being exaggerated at home." He is disgusted that the slaves "are ranked by the polished savages in England as hardly their brethren, even in God's eyes."

While lodging at one estate, Darwin sees the horrors of slavery firsthand. "I was very nearly being an eye-witness to one of those atrocious acts which can only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a lawsuit, the owner was on the point of taking all the women and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction in Rio ... [T]here exists no limit to the blindness of interest and selfish habit."

March-June 1832 (Voyage of the Beagle) (Darwin's Struggle with Faith)

"Delight is a weak term to express the feeling of a naturalist who for the first time has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest ... such a day brings a deeper pleasure than he can ever hope to experience again."

It thrills Darwin to think that "naturalising is doing my duty, and that if I neglected that duty I should ... neglect what has for some years given me so much pleasure."

For weeks after, as Darwin continues to explore the pristine rainforest, he is awed.

"Whilst seated on a tree, & eating my luncheon in the sublime solitude of the forest, the pleasure I experience is unspeakable."

"I can only add raptures to former raptures ... each new valley is more beautiful than the last. I collected a great number of brilliantly-coloured flowers, enough to make a florist go wild."

Darwin writes, "if the eye attempts to follow the flight of a gaudy butter-fly, it is arrested by some strange tree or fruit; if watching an insect one forgets it in the stranger flower it is crawling over ... The mind is a chaos of delight ..."

He sees 12-foot-high ant nests, iridescent hummingbirds, and his first New World monkey. He collects orchids, lizards, and more.

On a single day, Darwin catches 68 species of beetles. Earlier on the voyage, Darwin was struck by the thought that "creatures so low in the scale of nature are most exquisite in their forms & rich colours. -- It creates a feeling of wonder that so much beauty should be apparently created for such little purpose."

The rainforest also strikes a spiritual chord in the 22-year-old.

"I was led by feelings ... to the firm conviction of the existence of God, and of the immortality of the soul ... [W]hilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind. I well remember by conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body."

Darwin sees the forest as "a temple filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature." Here, human beings seem a tiny part of the living world -- one species amongst countless others.

One creature, a predatory wasp, haunts Darwin, and in the future plays into his religious doubts. The wasp stings and paralyzes caterpillars, and then stuffs the still living prey into its nest, for hatching larvae to feed upon. Why, Darwin wonders, would a loving God design such a creature?

-> Go to 1833


Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882

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