Posted by: Rob Viens | March 6, 2012

Wishing for Advil in Bahia

Alas, March 6th sees Darwin laid up with an injured knee:

“I pricked my knee some days since, & it is now so much swolen that I am unable to walk. — The greater part of the day has been spent in idly lying on deck.” (Mar 6)

This was not the last time Darwin was laid up by some injury or ailment in the tropics (and not the first if you count seasickness). In fact, it is difficult to find any tropical explorers in the 1700 and 1800’s, Humboldt included, who did not have stories of suffering “the fever”, dysentery, or injured limbs. Some of them, as was true of a few members of the Beagle crew, even lost their lives as a result.

I’m not sure how to interpret Darwin’s “pricked” knee.  Did he physically injured it or was it a reaction to a literal prick by a toxic plant or insect?  My brief searches have not turned up a definitive answer (maybe he didn’t know, either). If it was really “some days since” he injured it, the last couple of days of walking on it must not have helped. (Maybe it was one of those hurled wax balls from Carnival?) However, regardless of what it was, it kept our hero off his feet and confined to his hammock for the next week. I bet the frustration was worse than the pain.

Darwin’s view for the next week:

Cumulus Clouds

I guess he convinced himself it wasn’t all bad (at least the first day) to have some time to sit and watch the clouds go by:

“I am not surprised that people are so indolent in a hot country; neither mind or body require any exercise; watching the sky is sufficient occupation for the former & the latter seems well contented with lying still.” (Mar 6)

Since Darwin mentions the heat, I wondered – what is the weather like in Salvador?  Thanks to the internet, it’s pretty easy to find out.  Here is the latest weather report for Salvador, Bahia from the Weather Underground:

Find more about Weather in Salvador, BZ
Click for weather forecast

Sounds nice – especially considering it is in the 30’s and snowing in Seattle today.

Injury aside, the last few days make me realize what fun it would be to hang out with Darwin as a young man – not only would it be great to talk science, but I think he would have been good company.  In fact, if I had a chance to meet Darwin at any point in his life, I think I’d like to meet him at a younger age – maybe a few years into the voyage.  To talk to him in the middle of the journey would be great – with new ideas spinning in his head and tales of adventure fresh on his mind.  Later in life would be interesting, too, but the conclusion of his “story” is a already a major part of history.  This was when he was forming his ideas and not bogged down in the politics that his ideas generated.  And, of course, at this point I could talk to him as Darwin the geologist.

If you had a chance, at what point in his life would you like to have meet Darwin? (RJV)


  1. Interesting question from Rob: At what point in Darwin’s life would you have like to hang with him? I don’t know first hand, but here are some of the ruminations that would go through my head:

    On the Beagle voyage
    • Other than some trashy romance novels, I do know that Chuck did read Lyell’s Principles of Geology while on aboard the Beagle. Imagine reading Lyell and at the same time see geologic change up close and personal in the Andes of Chile and the geographic distribution of species in the Galapagos.

    During the writing phase
    • In the 1840s, Darwin finally sat down and started writing his thoughts about natural selection, adaptations, etc., but he did not publish until years later. I believe Darwin was grappling with the significance and the impact that his ideas would have on the Establishment. It would be interesting to chat with Chuck about this period of his life, his private conversations with a few close friends (Lyell, Huxley, others)

    Glory Days
    • Chuck finally publishes On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859 and within a few years, most of the scientific community was on board in support of evolution. Chuck was da Man! It would have been cool to drink some beer with him and relish his satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. He probably was making celebrity circuit, chatting with the Oprah’s, Jay Leno’s and David Letterman’s of his time. I would have like to have been one of his “bulldogs” ala Huxley, taking on the naysayers and mixing things up like Richard Dawkins does today.

    • Great thoughts, Jim. It makes me reconsider my first thoughts, too. It would be sort of fun to sit down at a pub and have a drink with Darwin after his book came out.

      Charles still needs “bulldogs” today – so we still have some work to do.

      BTW – Thanks for the initial inspiration on the idea of meeting Darwin. I know you like to ask students about that sort of thing, which is where the idea for the blog post came from.

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