9.15.2016 Quote of the Day

"Alder trees by the Beaulieu River at Longwater Lawn" by Jim Champion
“Alder trees by the Beaulieu River at Longwater Lawn” by Jim Champion

“During my last year at Cambridge, I read with care and
profound interest Humboldt’s Personal Narrative. This work,
and Sir J. Herschel’s Introduction to the Study of Natural
Philosophy, stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most
humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science.
No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as
these two. I copied out from Humboldt long passages about
Teneriffe, and read them aloud on one of the above-mentioned
excursions, to (I think) Henslow, Ramsay, and Dawes, for on a
previous occasion I had talked about the glories of Teneriffe, and
some of the party declared they would endeavour to go there; but
I think that they were only half in earnest. I was, however, quite
in earnest, and got an introduction to a merchant in London to
enquire about ships; but the scheme was, of course, knocked On
the head by the voyage of the Beagle.

My summer vacations were given up to collecting beetles, to
some reading, and short tours. In the autumn my whole time was
devoted to shooting, chiefly at Woodhouse and Maer, and
sometimes with young Eyton of Eyton. Upon the whole the three
years which I spent at Cambridge were the most joyful in my
happy life; for I was then in excellent health, and almost always
in high spirits.

As I had at first come up to Cambridge at Christmas, I was
forced to keep two terms after passing my final examination, at
the commencement of 1831; and Henslow then persuaded me to
begin the study of geology. Therefore on my return to
Shropshire I examined sections, and coloured a map of parts
round Shrewsbury. Professor Sedgwick intended to visit North
Wales in the beginning of August to pursue his famous geological investigations amongst the older rocks, and Henslow
asked him to allow me to accompany him. (In connection with
this tour my father used to tell a story about Sedgwick: they had
started from their inn one morning, and had walked a mile or
two, when Sedgwick suddenly stopped, and vowed that he would
return, being certain “that damned scoundrel” (the waiter) had
not given the chambermaid the sixpence intrusted to him for the
purpose. He was ultimately persuaded to give up the project,
seeing that there was no reason for suspecting the waiter of
especial perfidy. — F.D.) Accordingly he came and slept at my
father’s house.

A short conversation with him during this evening produced a
strong impression on my mind. Whilst examining an old gravel-pit near Shrewsbury, a labourer told me that he had found in it a
large worn tropical Volute shell, such as may be seen on the
chimney-pieces of cottages; and as he would not sell the shell, I
was convinced that he had really found it in the pit. I told
Sedgwick of the fact, and he at once said (no doubt truly) that it
must have been thrown away by some one into the pit; but then
added, if really embedded there it would be the greatest
misfortune to geology, as it would overthrow all that we know
about the superficial deposits of the Midland Counties. These
gravel-beds belong in fact to the glacial period, and in after years
I found in them broken arctic shells. But I was then utterly
astonished at Sedgwick not being delighted at so wonderful a
fact as a tropical shell being found near the surface in the middle
of England. Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly
realise, though I had read various scientific books, that science
consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions
may be drawn from them.

By JKMMX (Own work) cc 3.0
By JKMMX (Own work) cc 3.0

Next morning we started for Llangollen, Conway, Bangor,
and Capel Curig. This tour was of decided use in teaching me a
little how to make out the geology of a country. Sedgwick often
sent me on a line parallel to his, telling me to bring back
specimens of the rocks and to mark the stratification on a map. I
have little doubt that he did this for my good, as I was too
ignorant to have aided him. On this tour I had a striking instance
of how easy it is to overlook phenomena, however conspicuous,
before they have been observed by any one. We spent many
hours in Cwm Idwal, examining all the rocks with extreme care,
as Sedgwick was anxious to find fossils in them; but neither of
us saw a trace of the wonderful glacial phenomena all around us;
we did not notice the plainly scored rocks, the perched boulders,
the lateral and terminal moraines. Yet these phenomena are so
conspicuous that, as I declared in a paper published many years
afterwards in the Philosophical Magazine ( Philosophical
Magazine, 1842.), a house burnt down by fire did not tell its
story more plainly than did this valley. If it had still been filled by a glacier, the phenomena would have been less distinct than
they now are.

At Capel Curig I left Sedgwick and went in a straight line by
compass and map across the mountains to Barmouth, never following any track unless it coincided with my course. I thus
came on some strange wild places, and enjoyed much this
manner of travelling. I visited Barmouth to see some Cambridge
friends who were reading there, and thence returned to
Shrewsbury and to Maer for shooting; for at that time I should
have thought myself mad to give up the first days of partridge-
shooting for geology or any other science.


On returning home from my short geological tour in North
Wales, I found a letter from Henslow, informing me that Captain
Fitz-Roy was willing to give up part of his own cabin to any
young man who would volunteer to go with him without pay as
naturalist to the Voyage of the Beagle. I have given, as I believe,
in my MS. Journal an account of all the circumstances which
then occurred; I will here only say that I was instantly eager to
accept the offer, but my father strongly objected, adding the
words, fortunate for me, “If you can find any man of common
sense who advises you to go I will give my consent.” So I wrote
that evening and refused the offer. On the next morning I went to
Maer to be ready for September 1st, and, Whilst out shooting, my
uncle (Josiah Wedgwood.) sent for me, offering to drive me over
to Shrewsbury and talk with my father, as my uncle thought it
would be wise in me to accept the offer. My father always
maintained that he was one of the most sensible men in the
world, and he at once consented in the kindest manner. I had
been rather extravagant at Cambridge, and to console my father,
said, “that I should be deuced clever to spend more than my
allowance whilst on board the Beagle,” but he answered with a
smile, “But they tell me you are very clever.”

Next day I started for Cambridge to see Henslow, and thence
to London to see Fitz-Roy, and all was soon arranged.
Afterwards, on becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected, on account of
the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, and
was convinced that he could judge of a man’s character by the
outline of his features; and he doubted whether any one with my
nose could possess sufficient energy and determination for the
voyage. But I think he was afterwards well satisfied that my
nose had spoken falsely.

Fitz-Roy’s character was a singular one, with very many
noble features; he was devoted to his duty, generous to a fault,
bold, determined, and indomitably energetic, and an ardent
friend to all under his sway. He would undertake any sort of
trouble to assist those whom he thought deserved assistance. He
was a handsome man, strikingly like a gentleman, with highly
courteous manners, which resembled those of his maternal uncle, the famous Lord Castlereagh, as I was told by the
Minister at Rio. Nevertheless he must have inherited much in his
appearance from Charles II., for Dr. Wallich gave me a
collection of photographs which he had made, and I was struck
with the resemblance of one to Fitz-Roy; and on looking at the
name, I found it Ch. E. Sobieski Stuart, Count d’Albanie, a
descendant of the same monarch.

boat ship mayflowerFitz-Roy’s temper was a most unfortunate one. It was usually
worst in the early morning, and with his eagle eye he could
generally detect something amiss about the ship, and was then
unsparing in his blame. He was very kind to me, but was a man
very difficult to live with on the intimate terms which
necessarily followed from our messing by ourselves in the same
cabin. We had several quarrels; for instance, early in the voyage
at Bahia, in Brazil, he defended and praised slavery, which I
abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave-
owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them
whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free,
and all answered “No.” I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer,
whether he thought that the answer of slaves in the presence of
their master was worth anything? This made him excessively
angry, and he said that as I doubted his word we could not live
any longer together. I thought that I should have been compelled
to leave the ship; but as soon as the news spread, which it did
quickly, as the captain sent for the first lieutenant to assuage his
anger by abusing me, I was deeply gratified by receiving an
invitation from all the gun-room officers to mess with them. But
after a few hours Fitz-Roy showed his usual magnanimity by
sending an officer to me with an apology and a request that I
would continue to live with him.

His character was in several respects one of the most noble
which I have ever known. The voyage of the Beagle has been by
far the most important event in my life, and has determined my
whole career; yet it depended on so small a circumstance as my
uncle offering to drive me thirty miles to Shrewsbury, which few uncles would have done, and on such a trifle as the shape of my
nose. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real
training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to
several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of
observation were improved, though they were always fairly

The investigation of the geology of all the places visited was
far more important, as reasoning here comes into play. On first
examining a new district nothing can appear more hopeless than
the chaos of rocks; but by recording the stratification and nature
of the rocks and fossils at many points, always reasoning and
predicting what will be found elsewhere, light soon begins to
dawn on the district, and the structure of the whole becomes
more or less intelligible. I had brought with me the first volume
of Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which I studied attentively; and
the book was of the highest service to me in many ways. The
very first place which I examined, namely St. Jago in the Cape
de Verde islands, showed me clearly the wonderful superiority
of Lyell’s manner of treat ing geology, compared with that of
any other author, whose works I had with me or ever afterwards

Another of my occupations was collecting animals of all
classes, briefly describing and roughly dissecting many of the
marine ones; but from not being able to draw, and from not
having sufficient anatomical knowledge, a great pile of MS.
which I made during the voyage has proved almost useless. I
thus lost much time, with the exception of that spent in acquiring
some knowledge of the Crustaceans, as this was of service when
in after years I undertook a monograph of the Cirripedia.

student writing armDuring some part of the day I wrote my Journal, and took
much pains in describing carefully and vividly all that I had
seen; and this was good practice. My Journal served also, in part,
as letters to my home, and portions were sent to England
whenever there was an opportunity.

The above various special studies were, however, of no
importance compared with the habit of energetic industry and of
concentrated attention to whatever I was engaged in, which I
then acquired. Everything about which I thought or read was
made to bear directly on what I had seen or was likely to see;
and this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the
voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which has enabled me
to do whatever I have done in science.

Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for
science gradually preponderated over every other taste. During
the first two years my old passion for shooting survived in nearly
full force, and I shot myself all the birds and animals for my
collection; but gradually I gave up my gun more and more, and
finally altogether, to my servant, as shooting interfered with my
work, more especially with making out the geological structure
of a country. I discovered, though unconsciously and insensibly,
that the pleasure of observing and reasoning was a much higher
one than that of skill and sport. That my mind became
developed through my pursuits during the voyage is rendered
probable by a remark made by my father, who was the most
acute observer whom I ever saw, of a sceptical disposition, and
far from being a believer in phrenology; for on first seeing me
after the voyage, he turned round to my sisters, and exclaimed,
“Why, the shape of his head is quite altered.”

To return to the voyage. On September 11th (1831), I paid a
flying visit with Fitz-Roy to the Beagle at Plymouth. Thence to
Shrewsbury to wish my father and sisters a long farewell. On
October 24th I took up my residence at Plymouth, and remained
there until December 27th, when the Beagle finally left the shores of England for her circumnavigation of the world. We
made two earlier attempts to sail, but were driven back each time
by heavy gales. These two months at Plymouth were the most
miserable which I ever spent, though I exerted myself in various
ways. I was out of spirits at the thought of leaving all my family
and friends for so long a time, and the weather seemed to me
inexpressibly gloomy. I was also troubled with palpitation and pain about the heart, and like many a young ignorant man,
especially one with a smattering of medical knowledge, was
convinced that I had heart disease. I did not consult any doctor,
as I fully expected to hear the verdict that I was not fit for the
voyage, and I was resolved to go at all hazards.

I need not here refer to the events of the voyage — where we
went and what we did — as I have given a sufficiently full
account in my published Journal. The glories of the vegetation of
the Tropics rise before my mind at the present time more vividly
than anything else; though the sense of sublimity, which the
great deserts of Patagonia and the forest-clad mountains of
Tierra del Fuego excited in me, has left an indelible impression
on my mind. The sight of a naked savage in his native land is an
event which can never be forgotten. Many of my excursions on
horseback through wild countries, or in the boats, some of which
lasted several weeks, were deeply interesting: their discomfort
and some degree of danger were at that time hardly a drawback,
and none at all afterwards. I also reflect with high satisfaction on
some of my scientific work, such as solving the problem of coral
islands, and making out the geological structure of certain
islands, for instance, St. Helena. Nor must I pass over the
discovery of the singular relations of the animals and plants
inhabiting the several islands of the Galapagos archipelago, and
of all of them to the inhabitants of South America.

As far as I can judge of myself, I worked to the utmost during
the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my
strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in
Natural Science. But I was also ambitious to take a fair place
among scientific men, — whether more ambitious or less so than
most of my fellow-workers, I can form no opinion.

The geology of St. Jago is very striking, yet simple: a stream
of lava formerly flowed over the bed of the sea, formed of
triturated recent shells and corals, which it has baked into a hard
white rock. Since then the whole island has been upheaved. But
the line of white rock revealed to me a new and important fact, namely, that there had been afterwards subsidence round the
craters, which had since been in action, and had poured forth
lava. It then first dawned on me that I might perhaps write a
book on the geology of the various countries visited, and this
made me thrill with delight. That was a memorable hour to me,
and how distinctly I can call to mind the low cliff of lava
beneath which 1 rested, with the sun glaring hot, a few strange  desert plants growing near, and with living corals in the tidal  pools at my feet. Later in the voyage, Fitz-Roy asked me to read
some of my Journal, and declared it would be worth publishing;
so here was a second book in prospect!

pfunked Deviant Art
pfunked Deviant Art

Towards the close of our voyage I received a letter whilst at Ascension, in which my sisters told me that Sedgwick had called on my father, and said that I should take a place among the leading scientific men. I could not at the time understand how he could have learnt anything of my proceedings, but I heard (I believe afterwards) that Henslow had read some of the letters which I wrote to him before the Philosophical Society of Cambridge (Read at the meeting held November 16, 1835, and printed in a pamphlet of 31 pages Jor distribution among the members of the Society.), and had printed them for private distribution. My collection of fossil bones, which had been sent to Henslow, also excited considerable attention amongst palaeontologists. After reading this letter, I clambered over the mountains of Ascension with a bounding step, and made the volcanic rocks resound under my geological hammer. All this
shows how ambitious I was; but I think that I can say with truth
that in after years, though I cared in the highest degree for the
approbation of such men as Lyell and Hooker, who were my
friends, I did not care much about the general public. I do not
mean to say that a favourable review or a large sale of my books
did not please me greatly, but the pleasure was a fleeting one,
and I am sure that I have never turned one inch out of my course
to gain fame.”  Charles Darwin, from an Autobiography that he prepared for his children and never intended for publication