Friday, July 31, 2009

Darwin the Observer

From The Voyage of the Beagle (April 8, 1832):

Our party amounted to seven. The first stage was very interesting. The day was powerfully hot, and as we passed through the woods, everything was motionless, excepting the large and brilliant butterflies, which lazily fluttered about. The view seen when crossing the hills behind Praia Grande was most beautiful; the colours were intense, and the prevailing tint a dark blue; the sky and the calm waters of the bay vied with each other in splendour. After passing through some cultivated country, we entered a forest, which in the grandeur of all its parts could not be exceeded. We arrived by midday at Ithacaia; this small village is situated on a plain, and round the central house are the huts of the negroes. These, from their regular form and position, reminded me of the drawings of the Hottentot habitations in Southern Africa. As the moon rose early, we determined to start the same evening for our sleeping place at the Lagoa Marica. As it was growing dark we passed under one of the massive, bare, and steep hills of granite which are so common in this country. This spot is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some run-away slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinacy. We continued riding for some hours. For the few last miles the road was intricate, and it passed through a desert waste of marshes and lagoons. The scene by the dimmed light of the moon was most desolate. A few fireflies flitted by us; and the solitary snipe, as it rose, uttered its plaintive cry. The distant and sullen roar of the sea scarcely broke the stillness of the night.


Dr X said...

Nice follow up to the previous post.

Retriever said...

Good stuff. Off to find some more of it...Thought of the great scene in "Master and Commander" where the ship's doctor (a naturalist) is ecstatically collecting specimens only to spy a French ship. His disappointment when they have to curtail the exploration to warn their shipmates of the danger...

Wouldn't we all love to leave everything and everyone behind for a year or six and sail the globe exploring, gathering specimens, describing all the strange and wonderful sights along the way?!

A friend at work today describing to me, awestruck,the change in her kid (who she would describe earlier this year as not the brightest bulb in the box, nice but unmotivated) since his first trip abroad, to Japan to see a school friend's home and family. "He has stacks of books about Japan, and is starting to study Japanese and he never stops talking..." The stumbling youth woken up by travel.