Posted by: Rob Viens | July 4, 2012

“Most Impatient to Leave Civilized Ports”

For an “idle sporting man”, Darwin doesn’t care for waiting around too much.  Much like in Plymouth several months ago, he starts getting downright grumpy when he has to wait for a departure that doesn’t have a firm schedule. He is at the whim of the captain, the ship, and the weather.  On July 4th he writes:

“In the evening unmoored ship; now therefore it is certain we leave Rio in the morning.— I am very glad, as nothing can be more dull than lying in the harbor.— And I always find the interval between sailing & the first day announced hangs heavily on hand.” (July 4)

Tomorrow Darwin will be leaving Rio and Brazil altogether.  He’ll make one more stop in Bahai in about 4 years (on the return voyage), but will then stay in Britain for the rest of his life.

I’ve never been to Rio, or any part of Brazil for that matter, but I feel like I’ve really gotten a great view of the landmarks, history, geology, ecology and biodiversity of Brazil’s Atlantic coast. To be fair, as Darwin was overwhelmed with his dislike for the slavery in Brazil, he did not typically have good things to say about the people.  But I’ve had a chance to “meet” some great Brazilians over the last few months through the blog, and it has been a great pleasure. I hope to stay connected to the great cyber-web of the blog-sphere, and look forward to continuing to follow your blogs. And someday, I hope to visit and see it all for myself.

Slavery aside, I think this experience was a good one for Darwin, too.  He will soon be heading off to remote locations – places where very few Europeans had been before.  I think Brazil was a good transition for him as it allowed him to explore a brand new world, yet still have some connection with people from home and the convenience of markets and embassies.  Now, as the Beagle prepared to depart for points south, Darwin was also excited to venture into the unknown.  In a letter to his sister written on July 5th, he writes:

“The geography of this country is as little known as interior of Africa.— I long to put my foot, where man has never trod before— And am most impatient to leave civilized ports” (Correspondence to Catherine Darwin, 5 July 1832)

HMS Beagle sailing in southern waters (by Conrad Martens):

Beagle in Tierra del Fuego

That being said, in this same letter, Darwin also reflects on his time in Brazil fondly.  Given “only ¼ of an hour to write this” by Sulivan, he quickly comments on his “unspeakable pleasure” of being in the forest:

“We have been 3 months here: & most undoubtedly I well know the glories of a Brazilian forest.— Commonly I ride some few miles, put my horse & start by some track into the impenetrable—mass of vegetation.— Whilst seated on a tree, & eating my luncheon in the sublime solitude of the forest, the pleasure I experience is unspeakable.— The number of undescribed animals I have taken is very great—& some to Naturalists, I am sure, very interesting.— I attempt class after class of animals, so that before very long I shall have notion of all.— so that if I gain no other end I shall never want an object of employment & amusement for the rest of my life.— (Sullivan only gives me 5 minutes more—).” (Correspondence to Catherine Darwin, 5 July 1832)

In the morning, all the waiting will be over.  The Beagle will soon be on its way! (RJV)

PS – As I write tonight, I am surrounded by the booms of twilight revelers and their Fourth-of-July home fireworks displays.  It reminds me that the next time Darwin returns to port (later this month), it will be under the shadow of cannon fire and local uprisings.  So many exciting adventures yet to come!

To my US readers – Happy Independence Day!

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