Posted by: Rob Viens | February 8, 2012

Setting Out to Cross the Atlantic

On February 8th, after about three weeks in the Cape Verde Islands, the Beagle departed the Old World for the New.  It would be almost two weeks before they were on real land again (“St. Paul’s Rock” aside), and that would be on the other side of the Atlantic. After that, another three-plus years would pass before they crossed an ocean again.  Although he seems happy to be “on the road again”, he clearly leaves Cape Verde on a positive note (especially compared to his attitude on arrival:

“Again I admired the varied outline of the hills round Praya; the memory of which will never be effaced from my mind.” (Feb 8)

Darwin really seemed to have enjoyed his time in Cape Verde , and in some ways it seemed to be a turning point for him.  Fitzroy had doubts that Darwin was going to stay on the trip, assuming he might jump ship n the Canaries (that decision not to stop there may been extremely fortunate).  But upon leaving Cape Verde, Darwin was committed to the trip.  He had a taste of science in the tropics and he was ready to feast on the unexplored country ahead.  In a letter to his father written on the day he departed Santiago he states:

“The time has flown away most delightfully, indeed nothing can be pleasanter; exceedingly busy, & that business both a duty & a great delight.— I do not believe, I have spent one half hour idly since leaving Teneriffe: St Jago has afforded me an exceedingly rich harvest in several branches of Nat: History.— I find the descriptions scarcely worth anything of many of the commoner animals that inhabit the Tropic.— I allude of course to those of the lower classes.— Geologising in a Volcanic country is most delightful, besides the interest attached to itself it leads you into most beautiful & retired spots..” (Correspondence on Feb 8 to R. W. Darwin)

Fitxroy even noticed this change as expressed in a letter to Francis Beaufort:

“He was terribly sick until we passed Teneriffe, and I sometimes doubted his fortitude holding out against such a beginning of the campaign. However, he was no sooner on his legs than anxious to set to work, and a child with a new toy could not have been more delighted than he was with St. Jago. It was odd to hear him say, after we left Porto Praya, “Well, I am glad we are quietly at sea again, for I shall be able to arrange my collections and set to work more methodically.” (Fitzroy correspondence on March 5 to Francis Beaufort)

One final thing to share today – I mentioned in earlier posts that Darwin kept detailed notes in multiple journals, and became very disciplined at keeping records.  It is sort of neat to see copies of his actual notes. I can see him sitting in his cabin in the evening carefully writing away – in some ways like I do watch night as I write down my thoughts in this blog.  Notice in particular the attention to detail and the “edits” and annotations all over the page.

Samples (2 pages) of Darwin’s Geologic notes from Cape Verde (from Complete Works of Darwin Online):

Another sample page, this one from his “Animal notes”:

Time to cross the Atlantic.  (RJV)

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