Posted by: Rob Viens | February 25, 2012

The South American Homesick Blues

On the 25th of February , just a few days away from setting foot in the new world, Darwin seems a little pensive. The trip across the Atlantic has been relatively smooth, especially compared to “element which tossed us about in the Bay of Biscay. ” And he notes that, “for the two last days we have been driving with a steady Trade wind for the continent of S America.”

After two months Darwin actually seems to enjoy life aboard a ship (and he hasn’t complained about being seasick since before St. Paul’s Rocks). On a good day, I’d say he even likes being at sea:

“This stillness is of great moment to the quantity of comfort which is attainable on ship-board, hitherto I have been surprised how enjoyable life is in this floating prison.” (Feb 25)

“I already have got to look at going to sea as a regular quiet place, like going back to home after staying away from it. — In short I find a ship a very comfortable house, with everything you want, & if it was not for sea-sickness the whole world would be sailors.” (Correspondence to Robert Darwin, written in February after leaving St. Jago and sent March 1, 1832)

But it is interesting that although he seems to know he is doing the right thing, and by all accounts he is excited about seeing the tropics, Darwin still would rather be home. The following diary entry is an interesting insight into his state of mind at the end of February 1832. One that I have not really seen before.  It seems to show his determination to be a scientist/naturalist, to make his mark on the world.  Yet, at least at this stage in his life, it also shows that he would rather be back with his friends – playing cards, collecting bugs and hunting.  But his drive to explore means that Charles is willing to “suffer”:

 “But the greatest & most constant drawback to this is the very long period which separates us from our return. — Excepting when in the midst of tropical scenery, my greatest share of pleasure is in anticipating a future time when I shall be able to look back on past events; & the consciousness that this prospect is so distant never fails to be painful.” (Feb 25)

I’m not sure if this attitude changes in the coming years, but I recall that once he returned to England Darwin never left the Britain again.

However, his melancholy must not be too deep, or maybe, after writing the previous sentiment, he looks up out the skylight at the stars above his head.  For in the very next line he can’t help but be lost in the pleasures of his new environment:

“To enjoy the soft & delicious evenings of the Tropic; to gaze at the bright band of Stars which stretches from Orion to the Southern Cross, & to enjoy such pleasures in quiet solitude, leaves an impression which a few years will not destroy.” (Feb 25)

The constellation Orion the Hunter (NASA):

Orion the Hunter

I think there was a part of Darwin that was always a bit of a “home body”, but I also think this entry was just “one of those nights” when he was a little homesick. I know I’ve said it before, but it is moments like these that make reading the Diary so interesting and provide such insight into Darwin the man. The Voyage of the Beagle, although a fine book for reading about Darwin’s adventures and discoveries, was written after the trip was over.  So it no longer contains the emotions Darwin felt while actually in the “moment”.

Wow – Darwin’s two months into the trip and, as of today, I’ve been blogging for a month.  Only 55 months to go.  When I put it that way, I’m starting to understand what Darwin meant in his diary today! (RJV)

PS -Yes, today’s title is an intentional play on the Bob Dylan Song.  Thinking of you David, where ever your adventures have taken you…



  1. The past few entries have reminded me of many days at sea. My longest stretch was 63 days at sea, but others were 55 and 45 with a typical line period of 30 days. I too remember how I occupied my time with work, reading, card playing, music, talk and simply watching the sea and stars. Being a sailor for 4 years was a fun and exciting time period, although Darwin and I differ, he was on a great adventure to learn about life, I was on a mission to destroy life (Vietnam 1972, 1973). But, over time, sailors are sailors, very little changes. Yes, during my first tour, I too got home sick but as we will see Darwin will “shake” it off and get into the rhythm of the life at sea.

  2. […] with a local bug.  And so far, Darwin experienced all of these to some degree or another (see the South American Homesick Blues and Sick and Tired in Brazil for a couple of examples). Today, he had another travelers experience […]

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