Posted by: Rob Viens | June 16, 2012

Waterfalls and Forest Harems

Today, June 16th, Darwin was back in the forest (continuing to alternate between the ocean and forest – you might say the “surf and turf”).  Specifically, he was back in what is now the Tijuca Forest National Park (which he spells Tijeuka).  Here is what he had to say:

“Started early in the morning for Tijeuka to see the waterfalls.— Neither the height or the body of water is anything very imposing; but they are rendered beautiful, by the dampness so increasing the vegetation, that the water appears to flow out of one forest & to be received & hidden in another below.— On the road the scenery was very beautiful; especially the distant view of Rio.” (June 16)

It is likely that Darwin was visiting Taunay Waterfall (Cascatinha Taunay), which (at 115 feet) is the highest in the area. I love the image of the water emerging from the thick forest above, tumbling down, and then disappearing in to the lower forest again.  As always, Darwin has a way with words that captures the “feeling” of what he is experiencing.  Compliment this with his detailed scientific observations, and you have what makes reading his writing so darn interesting.

See what Darwin saw – a short YouTube video of Cascatinha Taunay:

To be fair, the falls and the area around them may be less developed today then in Darwin’s time.  You may recall that the Tijuca Forest was the result of massive replanting effort led by Major Manuel Gomes Archer in the later 1800’s to protect Rio’s water supply (see Ascending Corcovado).

1890’s image of Cascatinha Taunay by Fritz Busch (from Wikipedia Commons)

Tuanay Waterfall 1890s

I am rather fond of the last part of his diary entry today – describing just how tiring it is to be immersed in a world of new and beautiful things.  This to me is that pleasant weariness that you get when you are on vacation – always on alert to what is new and exciting.  Unlike at home, where it is easy to fall into the habit of shutting off to your surroundings because it is so familiar.  Darwin writes:

“As a Sultan in a Seraglio I am becoming quite hardened to beauty.— It is wearisome to be in a fresh rapture at every turn of the road. And as I have before said, you must be that or nothing.” (June 16)

Darwin’s choice of words here is fascinating.  A Seraglio is basically a harem – the area of an Ottoman household where the wives and concubines were sequestered.  So for all practical purposes, Darwin is comparing the overwhelming beauty of the New World forests to a roomful of beautiful women. That almost sounds racy (and at the very least not stereotypical Darwin)! Well, I guess it is important to remember that Darwin is a 23-year-old young man out traveling the world.  I’m sure that beautiful women are on his mind on occasion :).

An 1873 painting of a Seraglio by the painter John Fredrick Lewis titled The Reception:

The Reception by John Fredrick Lewis



  1. Am reading this entry on Monday morning, looking out on a wet and perhaps somber Northwest day in June. Certainly most of the title of Rob’s entry (“waterfalls” + “forest”) speaks volumes of the Pacific Northwest. I, too. continue to marvel at the poetry of Darwin’s language (“hardened to beauty”). It seems natural that he can wax poetic or scientific, or both, as needed. Thanks for the waterfall shot from YouTube, Rob. I found it quite alluring, but I feel that way about almost all moving water in nature.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the connection with the Pacific Northwest – we are all about trees and water. The only difference is the temperature!

  3. […] Today, June 16th, Darwin was back in the forest (continuing to alternate between the ocean and forest – you might say the “surf and turf”). Specifically, he was back in what is now the Tijuca Forest National Park (which he …  […]

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