2 October 2007

"Our Voyage having come to an end..."

On this day in 1836 the HMS Beagle returned to her home shores, bearing an exhausted but incalculably enriched Mr Charles Darwin, aged just 27, who later wrote of the day rather anticlimactically in his first published book The Voyage of the Beagle:
"On October 2nd the Beagle anchored at Falmouth, where I left her, having lived on board the little vessel very nearly five years."
Falmouth in 1850, 14 years after the homecoming, on 2nd October 1836, of the HMS Beagle. © C.C.Nunn of John Maggs, Falmouth. Image cross-posted from the website of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

Ah, that's our Mr Darwin, master of understatement (another gem being from On the Origin of Species..., "When the views entertained in this volume...are generally admitted, we can dimly foresee that there will be a considerable revolution in natural history.").

Fortunately for us, "very nearly five years" were not the last four words of Voyage. Darwin went on to offer us a retrospective of the journey as well as some advice for any would-be circumnavigators (ahem):

"If a person asked my advice, before undertaking a long voyage, my answer would depend upon his possessing a decided taste for some branch of knowledge, which could by this means be advanced... It is necessary to look forward to a harvest, however distant that may be, when some fruit will be reaped, some good effected."
- - -
"If a person suffer much from sea-sickness, let him weigh it heavily in the balance. I speak from experience: it is no trifling evil, cured in a week."
- - -
"There is a growing pleasure in comparing the character of the scenery in different countries... I am strongly induced to believe that as in music, the person who understands every note will, if he also possesses a proper taste, more thoroughly enjoy the whole, so he who examines each part of a fine view, may also thoroughly comprehend the full and combined effect. Hence, a traveller should be a botanist, for in all views plants form the chief embellishment."
- - -
"Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of man; whether those of Brazil, where the powers of Life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where Death and decay prevail. Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature: -- no one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body."
- - -
"Among the other most remarkable spectacles which we have beheld, may be ranked, the Southern Cross, the cloud of Magellan, and the other constellations of the southern hemisphere -- the water-spout -- the glacier leading its blue stream of ice, over-hanging the sea in a bold precipice -- a lagoon-island raised by the reef-building corals -- an active volcano -- and the overwhelming effects of a violent earthquake. These latter phenomena, perhaps, possess for me a peculiar interest, from their intimate connection with the geological structure of the world. The earthquake, however, must be to every one a most impressive event: the earth, considered from our earliest childhood as the type of solidity, has oscillated like a thin crust beneath our feet; and in seeing the laboured works of man in a moment overthrown, we feel the insignificance of his boasted power."
- - -
"I do not doubt that every traveller must remember the glowing sense of happiness which he experienced, when he first breathed in a foreign clime, where the civilized man had seldom or never trod."
- - -
"In conclusion, it appears to me that nothing can be more improving to a young naturalist, than a journey in distant countries."

1 comment:

Sissy Willis said...

"There is grandeur in this view of life" comes to mind.