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Letter 188

Darwin, C. R. to Darwin, C. S.

24 Oct & 24 Nov [1832]

    Summary Add

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    During the past two months CD has been lucky with fossil bones, and he is also finding new specimens of living animals.

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    He describes an ostrich hunt.

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    Has received several letters from home.

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    He enjoys Buenos Aires and admires the señoritas. Tierra del Fuego is next.


[Monte Video]

My dear Caroline

We are now October 24th.—within a few legues of M: Video, & shall before morning drop our anchor there.— This first cruize has afforded very little matter for letters or for any other purpose.— You recollect the sand hillocks at Barmouth; we have sailed along 240 miles of coast, solely composed of such hillocks.— Instead of being as at Barmouth merely a border for the sea, here in Patagonia they extend for some miles, till you reach the open plains, which are far less picturesque than the sand-hillocks.— Even with this & a good deal of bad-weather on our passage down, I have enjoyed the cruize.— Our furthest point South was Bahia Blanca, (a little N. of Rio Negro), where there is a small Spanish settlement or rather a fort against the Indians.— On entering the bay we met a little Schooner, in which was an Englishman, who is connected with two other small vessels (or rather covered boats) employed in sealing.— The man was tolerably ackquainted with the coast: the Captain thought this so fine a chance, that he has hired two of them & put two officers in each.— They now are surveying the coast, which from the number of banks would have detained us a long time.— On our return from M:V: (which will be as soon as possible) we meet them at Rio Negro, & leaving them to work, push on for the South.—

This second cruize will be a very long one; during it we settle the Fuegians & probably survey the Falklands islands: After this is over (it is an aweful long time to talk about) we return to M Video: pick up our officers & then round the Horn & once more enter the glorious, delicious inter tropical seas.— I find the peep of Tropical scenery, has given me a tenfold wish to see more: it is no exaggeration to say, no one can know how beautiful the world, we inhabit is, who has only been in the colder climes.— The chief source of pleasure has been to me, during these two months, from Nat: History.— I have been wonderfully lucky, with fossil bones.— some of the animals must have been of great dimensions: I am almost sure that many of them are quite new; this is always pleasant, but with the antediluvian animals it is doubly so.— I found parts of the curious osseous coat, which is attributed to the Megatherium; as the only specimens in Europe are at Madrid (originally in 1798 from Buenos Ayres) this alone is enough to repay some wearisome minutes.— Amongst living animals I have not been less fortunate:— I also had in September some good sporting; I shot one day a fine buck & doe: but in this line, I never enjoyed anything so much as Ostrich hunting with the wild Soldiers, who are more than half Indians.— They catch them, by throwing two balls, which are attached to the ends of a thong, so as to entangle their legs: it was a fine animated chace.— They found the same day 64 of their eggs:—

It is now nearly four months, since I have received a letter, so you may imagine how anxious I am for for tomorrow morning: We are all very curious about politicks; all that we know is that the bill is past; but whether there is a King or a republic according to the Captain, remains to be proved.—

Monte Video:— I have just received your letter of June 28, & Susans of May 12th.— Far from your letters not containing news; I am astonished at the wonderful number of events, which monthly takes place.—and I assure you no half famished wretch ever swallowed food more eagerly than I do letters.— I received one from Fox; who seems to have been suffering from much illness; but he now writes in good spirits.— Tell Susan her most elegant note of Tournure to Cap: Beaufort has travelled here.— Capt. Beaufort included it in a civil note to me ``thinking that at the distance of 6000 miles, the hand-writing of those dear to us is gratifying''.— The Captain is evidently a good hand at turning the Kaleideoscope of ``thanks'' ``gratitude'' ``compliment'' ``&c &c'' ''.— If at any time you want to send me any large letters (including papers or double &c) &c put it under cover to Cap: B. & he says he will forward them.—

On Monday we run up to Buenos Ayres, as the Captain wants to commu- nicate with the government.— we shall stay there for a week I intend to have some good gallops over the Pampas.— I suppose you all well know Heads book.— for accuracy & animation it is beyond praise. After returning here, we stay another week, & then for Terra del.— This second cruize will I suppose last between 6 & 9 months; so make up your minds for a gap in my correspondence but not in yours:— You need be in no fears about directions: till told to alter; merely put S America: all letters for HM ships pass through the Flag ship, which knows where to send to all on the station.— Although my letters do not tell much of my proceedings I continue steadily writing the journal; in proof of which the number on the page now is 250.—

We are now Novemb: 11. beating down the river to Monte Video.— We stayed a week at Buenos Ayres. I much enjoyed this long cruize on shore. The city is a fine large one: but the country beyond everything stupid.— I saw a good deal of Mr. Hughes.— nothing could be more obliging than he was; he obtained a great deal of information for me & has undertaken several troublesome commissions, which otherwise I never could have managed.— When we winter in the Plata, I intend taking a long excursion to geologize the Uruguay country & shall see him again in B. Ayres.— I think I have infected him with a slight geological Mania, which I hope he will encourage.— We saw there also Colonel Vernon, a brother in law of Miss Gooch: he is a very agreeable person & has actually come all this distance as a Tour: he intends going by land to Lima, & so by Mexico back to Europe.— Very few fine gentlemen undertake such a tour as this.— I forget whether I mentioned that during our previous stay at M Video.—Mr. Hamond joined us.— He is a relation of poor little Musters & a very nice gentlemanlike person.— We were generally companions on shore: our chief amusement was riding about & admiring the Spanish Ladies.— After watching one of these angels gliding down the streets; involuntarily we groaned out, ``how foolish English women are, they can neither walk nor dress''.— And then how ugly Miss sounds after Signorita; I am sorry for you all; it would do the whole tribe of you a great deal of good to come to Buenos Ayres.—

November 14th.— M: Video.— I have just been again delighted with an unexpected stock of letters.— One from Catherine July 25.—from Susan August 15th. from Erasmus 18th.— These two last I owe to the change of time of sending them from the Tuesdays to the Fridays.— As it is a special favor, thank dear old Erasmus for writing to me & doing all my various commissions— I am sorry the books turn out so expensive & not to be procured.— I only knew them from references: of course any travels, by those employed in Nat: History are preeminently interesting to me.— I am become quite devoted to Nat: History— you cannot imagine what a fine miserlike pleasure I enjoy, when examining an animal differing widely from any known genus.— No schoolboy ever opened a box of plumcake so eagerly as I shall mine, but it is a pleasure, which will not come for the next 9 months.— I am glad the journal arrived safe; as for showing it, I leave that entirely in your hands.— I suspect the first part is abominaly childish, if so do not send it to Maer.— Also, do not send it by the Coach, (it may appear ridiculous to you) but I would as soon loose a piece of my memory as it.— I feel it is of such consequence to my preserving a just recollection of the different places we visit.— When I get another good opportunity I will send some more.— The Beagle is in a state of wonderful bustle & confusion.—there is not a corner, even to the officers cabins where food is not stowed.— The Captain seems determined, that this, at least shall not call us back.— I look forward with a good deal of interest to Terra del; there are plenty of good anchorages; so that it may blow great guns if it likes, & we can laugh at it.— Anything must be better, than this detestable Rio Plata.— I would much sooner live in a coalbarge in the Cam:—

Hurrah, (Nov 24th): have just received the box of valuable thank everybody who has had a finger in it, & Erasmus for packing them all up so well: Neither the Captain or myself have received (from some change in packets) any letters.— I should have like to have heard once again that you are all well & safe, before my long absence; I may say from, this world: at Buenos Ayres I drew 20£ for myself & here Cap FitzRoy asked me if I could pay an year in advance for my mess.— I did so, for I could not, although, perhaps I ought, refuse to a person who is so systematically munificent to every one who approaches him.— So that now, (one year being gone) am, as at first starting 2 years in advance.— Having drawn

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 188.f1
    CD is referring here to the country between Cape San Antonio and Bahia Blanca in the southern part of La Plata province. The province of Patagonia did not extend north beyond the Rio Colorado.
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    f2 188.f2
    Robert FitzRoy paid for the hire of the two boats, the Liebre and Paz, out of his own pocket. His hope that the Admiralty would reimburse him was disappointed. See Mellersh 1968, pp. 104, 130--2 and Narrative 2: 109--11.
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    f3 188.f3
    At Punta Alta, near Bahia Blanca, CD had uncovered fossil bones of the Megatherium, a giant ground sloth, and several hitherto undescribed extinct mammals (see `Beagle' diary, pp. 102--7). They were later named and described by Richard Owen for Fossil Mammalia. Although CD was aware that many of his South American fossils were new, his identifications were inevitably vague and sometimes mistaken, as when he failed to distinguish Megatherium from other edentate forms later described by Owen as Toxodon, Mylodon, and Glossotherium.
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    f4 188.f4
    The naturalists of the time thought Megatherium had dorsal armour—an error that apparently originated with Georges Cuvier, who had named and described it (in Cuvier 1812) from the Madrid bones referred to by CD (see Judd 1911, p. 9). The osseous coat belonged to Glyptodon, related to the modern armadillo.
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    f5 188.f5
    At the time, CD wrote in his `Zoological diary': `In one days hunting 64 were found; 44 of these were in two nests—the other 20 [interl] scattered about.— It seems strange that so many *of the latter [interl] should be produced for no end.' (DAR 30.2: 112).
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    f6 188.f6
    Head 1826.
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    f7 188.f7
    Lieutenant Robert Nicholas Hamond, who had been a ship-mate of FitzRoy's in the Thetis, was transferred to the Beagle at Montevideo from the Druid, of which he was Mate. Shortly after CD's death, Hamond wrote to Francis Darwin the following hitherto unpublished reminiscence: `I have the most pleasant and happy recollections of your father during the short intercourse I had with him while in the Beagle, from the fact of his having joined with me in a request to the Chaplain of Buenos Ayres, where we were then staying to have the Sacrament of the Lords Supper administered to us, previous to going to Tierra del Fuego— We were both then young and looked on that Ordinance as many young did, and do, as I suppose they do now as a sort of vow to lead a better life. Our request met with so cold a response and the necessity put on us of engaging others to come with us; that our purpose was not carried out, but it shewed a disposition of mind I was glad to dwell on— Of course this was too delicate a passage in life to mention in public.' (DAR 112: 54).
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