Posted by: Rob Viens | June 24, 2012

Dancing with Darwin around the Bonfire

June 24th found Darwin dining with businessmen and dancing with his little friend Theresa:

“Dined with Mr Cairns; & as far as society goes the pleasantest evening since I left England.— The Captain was there & has announced that the Beagle will sail this day week.— In the evening my little friend Signorita Theresa, whom I find is only 6 years old, gained universal admiration by her dancing & acting.” (June 24)

The night before, after returning from the forest he wandered upon the midsummer festivities of San Juan Day (a festival celebrating Saint John the Baptist).

“After returning home in the evening the quiet neighborhood of Botofogo was in unusual agitation in celebrating the eve of St Juan.— Round the numerous bonfires there is a continual firing of rockets, guns, crackers, accompanied by shouts of “Viva St Juan”.— This is continued during the greater part of the night.— I presume, not having had the luck to have had a gun-powder plot, the Brazilians thus celebrate an innocent saint.” (June 23)

In celebration of summer, the traditional activity on the Festival of San Juan is to create large bonfires on the eve of the Saint John’s Day (which is officially June 24).  Darwin compared this tradition to a similar one in England that he was much more familiar with – Guy Fawkes’ Day (celebrated on November 5).

The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (and Guy Fawkes) by Henry Peronett Briggs (1823):

Gunpowder Plot

Guy Fawkes’ Day includes bonfires, but it is celebrated for an entirely different reason. In 1605, Guy Fawkes was part of a conspiracy to assassinate King James I, known as the Gunpowder Plot. The insurgents had intended to blow up the House of Lords during the opening of Parliament in 1605. And they almost succeeded, too.

Shortly after midnight on November 5th, the day parliament was supposed to meet, authorities discovered (and arrested) Guy Fawkes while he was guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords.  Had it been set off the next day, the assassination attempt would almost certainly have succeeded, and taken most of the parliament (people and building) with it. Today, the event is celebrated by a night of bonfires (in which it is traditional to burn an effigy of Guy).

Darwin’s young friend Theresa, reminds me of my (almost) 6-yr old daughter who loves to dance, too.  A few years ago she encountered Darwin in what is probably the most remote library in Washington State – located in Holden Village high above the shores of Lake Chelan.  She was excited to find him there 🙂

Sophia and Darwin



  1. […] Guy Fawkes Day Darwin! (To “remember, remember the 5th of November” take a look at Dancing with Darwin around the Bonfire.) […]

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