Posted by: Rob Viens | April 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Fazendas

Today, April 15th, Darwin and his companions reached Mr. Lennon’s estate on the Rio Macaé.  I thought I would let Darwin speak for himself today, as he wrote quite a bit about the two fazendas his visited in the area around the town of Macaé. As you will see, however, his impressions of each was quite different.

First a description of life on Signor Figuireda’s fazenda from a couple of days ago:

“The house was simple & uncomfortable, & formed like an English barn: it was well floored, & thatched with reeds. — The windows merely had shutters. Interiorly it was divided into rooms by partitions which did not reach the roof. At one end was a sitting room of the whole breadth. — the gilded chairs & sofas were oddly contrasted by the white washed walls. — Beyond this was a longitudinal division, one side of which was the dining room, on the other, 4 bedrooms belonging to the family. Separated from this building only by a few inches was another long shed, the adjoining end formed the kitchen: the other, large storehouses & granaries. — These formed one line on the other side of a cleared space where coffee was drying, were the bedrooms for guests, stables & working shops for the blacks, who had been taught different trades…

The pasturage abounded in cattle, goats, sheep & horses; near the house, oranges, Bananas flourished almost spontaneously. — The woods are so full of game, that they had hunted & killed a deer on each of the three days previous to our arrival. — This profusion of food shows itself at the dinners, when if the tables do not groan, the guests surely do. — Each person is expected to eat of every dish; one day having, as I thought, nicely calculated so that nothing should go away untasted, to my utter dismay a roast turkey & a pig appeared in all their substantial reality. — During the meals, it was the employment of a man to drive out sundry old hounds & dozens of black children which together at every opportunity crawled in. — As long as the idea of slavery could be banished, there was something exceedingly fascinating in this simple & patriarchal style of living. — It was a such perfect retirement & independence of the rest of the world.

As soon as any stranger is seen arriving, a large bell is set tolling & generally some small cannon are fired; thus it is announced to the rocks & woods & to no one else. — One morning I walked out before daylight to admire the solemn stillness, when it was broken by the morning hymn raised on high by the whole body of the blacks; in this manner do they generally begin their dayly work. — In such Fazendas as these I have no doubt the slaves pass contented & happy lives. ” (Apr 13)

This is the sort of place Darwin was referring to a month ago when he wrote:

“The air is deliciously cool & soft; full of enjoyment one fervently desires to live in retirement in this new & grander world.” (Mar 1)

Vida na Fazenda by Tulio Dias (click on image to link to source –
Vida na Fazenda

Now compare that description with Darwin’s experience today on Mr. Lennon’s fazenda. In this case, one major incident overshadows Darwin’s time on Patrick Lennon’s estate – forever painting a negative picture of a man he though was “good”.

“On arriving at the estate, there was a most violent & disagreeable quarrell between Mr Lennon & his agent, which quite prevented us from wishing to remain there. — This Fazenda is the most interior piece of cleared ground, untill you pass the mountains. — its length is 2 & ½ miles, Mr Lennon is not sure how many broard. —it may be guessed what a state the country must be in when I believe every furlong of this might be cultivated. — In the evening it rained very hard, I suffered from the cold, although the thermometer was 75°.

During Mr Lennons quarrell with his agent, he threatened to sell at the public auction an illegitimate mulatto child to whom Mr Cowper was much attached: also he nearly put into execution taking all the women & children from their husbands & selling them separately at the market at Rio. — Can two more horrible & flagrant instances be imagined?—& yet I will pledge myself that in humanity & good feeling Mr Lennon is above the common run of men. — How strange & inexplicable is the effect of habit & interest!. — Against such facts how weak are the arguments of those who maintain that slavery is a tolerable evil!” (Apr 15)

The contrast is striking – in one case, Darwin actually describes the slaves a “happy” (though I think he would still stand by his earlier argument that they would still prefer to be free (see Darwin the Abolitionist)).   In the second, he argues that slavery brings out the worst in people, even people he perceives as “good people”.

In any case, I find it very interesting when Darwin wrote Voyage of the Beagle several years later – knowing that it was for public consumption (compared to the diary which was for the family) – he chose to leave out Patrick Lennon’s name, referring to him only as ” an Englishman who was going to visit his estate”. In contrast, he mentions “Senhôr Manuel Figuireda” by name. Were it not for Darwin’s diary, Mr. Lennon’s name would be lost to history altogether.

Throughout his stay in Brazil, Darwin’s writing reflect a deep contrast between his strongly negative feelings of slavery and the people who buy into that system, and the reverence for the beauty of the natural landscape.  For Darwin, Brazil was a land of extremes. (RJV)


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