Posted by: Rob Viens | November 18, 2012

A Respite in Uruguay

On the 14th the Beagle returned to Montevideo, and in the days since, Darwin (in parallel with me this week) was relatively quiet.  He read some letters, went shopping, criticized the weather, and continued to comment on the ladies:

“This morning we entered the harbor at noon; after having fairly conquered as foul a wind as ever blew.— I received letters dated July 25, August 15th & 18th.” (Nov 14)

“Spent the whole day in the city.” (Nov 15)

“The dilatory method of doing business in this place again detained me all morning; in the evening enjoyed with Hamond a delightful gallop over the grassy plains.— We called on our way back on a Spanish family. Here I first saw the well known & universal custom of the young ladies giving to any gentlemen present a rose; the Signoritas make their little present with much grace & elegance.— The Signora at the same time, tells you with due formality, to consider the house as your own.” (Nov 16)

“Boisterous weather; glad should I be if the day for taking an everlasting farewell of the Rio Plata was near at hand.” (Nov 17)

“After divine service on board I took a quiet ride over the open plains which border the river.” (Nov 18)

I think we are seeing Darwin mentally preparing for what will be the most exciting and dangerous part of the trip so far – the voyage to remote southern tip of the continent – Tierra del Fuego. Even today, relatively few North Americas and Europeans venture that far south. Two hundred years ago, Darwin was heading to a place that very view of his contemporaries would ever see.  Already, he has been wowed by the wonders of the New World tropics and experienced all sorts of new forms of live (both living and in fossil form).  But even in these exotic places, he was still dipping in and out of the world of British diplomats, theatre, and senior officers of the Royal Navy. None of that existed where he was going next, and it would be nearly six months before he was back to the civilized world of Montevideo.

In addition, he had been gone now for almost one full year.  So it was as good a time as any to relax and regroup – pack up and ship samples back home, write some letters, and take in a show or two. Even Darwin can’t be on duty 365 days a year.

Darwin may also have been busy reading.  In addition to several new natural history books Darwin received from Erasmus in November (including Humboldt’s “Fragmens de Geologie et de Climatologie Asiatique“), he also received (hot off the presses) Lyell’s second volume of Principles of Geology. I have no doubt that he eagerly dived in to his new library books.

Principles of Geology Volume 2 (a modern edition from University of Chicago Press):

Soon it would be time to head out and explore the bottom edge of the world. (RJV)

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