A French collector [Alcide d'Orbigny] has been at the Rio Negro and will probably have "taken the cream". CD's luck with fossil bones, among them a large extinct armadillo-like animal. Describes some birds, toads, Crustacea, and other marine specimens. Nearly all plants flowering at Bahia Blanca were collected. Is sending two large casks of fossil bones by packet.
Monte Video [Buenos Ayres]
My dear Henslow,
We arrived here on the 24
Now that I have had my growl out, which is a priviledge sailors take on all
occasions, I will turn the tables & give an account of my doings in Nat:
History.— I must have one more growl, by ill luck the French government has
sent one of its Collectors to the Rio Negro.—where he
has been working for the last six month, & is now gone round the
Horn.— So that I am very selfishly afraid he will get the cream of all the
good things, before me.— As I have nobody to talk to about my luck &
ill luck in collecting; I am determined to vent it all upon you.— I have been
very lucky with fossil bones; I have fragments of at least 6 distinct animals;
as many of them are teeth I trust, shattered &
rolled as they have been, they will be recognised. I have paid all the
attention, I am capable of, to their geological site, but of course it
is too long a story for here.— 1
So much for the dead & now for the living.— there is a poor specimen
of a bird, which to my unornithological eyes, appears to be a happy mixture of a lark
pidgeon & snipe (N
I think the dried plants nearly contain all which were then Bahia Blanca flowering. All the specimens will be packed in casks—I think there will be three: (before sending this letter I will specify dates &c &c).— I am afraid you will groan or rather the floor of the Lecture room will, when the casks arrive.— Without you I should be utterly undone.— The small cask contains fish; will you open it, to see how the spirit has stood the evaporation of the Tropics.—
On board the Ship, everything goes on as well as possible, the only drawback is the
fearful length of time between this & day of our return.— I do not see
any limits to it: one year is nearly completed & the second will be so before we
even leave the East coast of S America.— And then our voyage may be said
really to have commenced.— I know not, how I shall be able to endure
it.— The frequency with which I think of all the happy hours I have spent at
Shrewsbury & Cambridge, is rather ominous.— I trust everything to time
& fate & will feel my way as I go on:— We have been at Buenos
Ayres for a week.— Nov
Till then believe me, my dear Henslow, Yours very truly obliged, Chas Darwin.—
Remember me most kindly to M
- f1 192.f1The following passages from this letter were extracted by Henslow and published in the Cambridge Philosophical Society pamphlet:
1.1 `We arrived … Rio Negro' 1.2 1.8 `I had hoped … groan.' 1.14 2.8 `I have been … &c &c.' 2.22 2.24 `They … country.' 2.27 3.1 `there … creature.' 3.4 3.5 `I have taken … toad' 3.10 3.11 `Amongst … common.' 3.19 5.8 `We have been … direction.' 5.12 5.13 `I purchased … giants!!' 5.15
- f2 192.f2According to `Beagle' diary and Robert FitzRoy's meteorological log, the Beagle was still at sea on 24 and 25 October. The earliest they might have arrived at Montevideo was late on the 25th.
- f3 192.f3Alcide Charles Victor Dessalines d'Orbigny. From 1826 to 1833 he travelled throughout South America, collecting specimens for the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle. He published the results in Orbigny 1835--47.
- f4 192.f4Described in Fossil Mammalia, pp. 63--73, by Richard Owen, who identified it as belonging to a distinct subgenus of Megatheroid Edentata, to which he gave the name Mylodon darwinii. The `late observations' refer to English newspaper accounts of the Megatherium fossil found by Sir Woodbine Parish in 1831 (see letter to J. S. Henslow, 11 April 1833, n. 7).
- f5 192.f5After the voyage, in discussing the origin of his evolutionary views, CD frequently cited the relationship of living species like the armadillo to South American fossils as important in suggesting the possibility of transmutation (e.g., `Journal', Appendix I, entry for 1837; Autobiography, pp. 118--19). Some of these references have led to the view that CD arrived at the hypothesis during the voyage. Most scholars, however, now hold that the `conversion' to evolution came after CD had returned to London. See Sulloway 1982b for a discussion of the various views. Sulloway makes a convincing case that CD saw the evolutionary significance of his collections only after his ornithological and fossil specimens had been classified by John Gould and Richard Owen.
- f6 192.f6The tallies were tags with numbers corresponding to those in his catalogues of specimens.
- f7 192.f7Orbigny named twenty species of shells, all of living species, collected by CD from the Punta Alta formations (see South America, p. 83).
- f8 192.f8William Sharp Macleay. In his Horæ entomologicæ (Macleay 1819--21), he propounded the Quinary System of classification in which the five main animal groups are represented by `circles of affinity'. To represent the continuity of forms the circles are arranged in a larger circle in which each is contiguous or `inosculant' with two others. Loren Eiseley cited CD's use of `inosculating' as evidence of an early, unacknowledged debt to Edward Blyth, but Macleay's system and its vocabulary were well known to CD long before he knew of Blyth. See Eiseley 1959 and S. Smith 1968. The inosculating bird is identified as Tinochorus rumicivorus in Birds, pp. 117--18.
- f9 192.f9Paradise lost 4. 799--800. CD had a copy of Milton's poems with him on the voyage.
- f10 192.f10Syme 1821.