[Diego Rivera: The Flower-carrier]
Historians & Naturalists
Darwin and the Naturalists
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
[G. Richmond, 1840]
L'invitation au Voyage
In conclusion, it appears to me that nothing can be more improving to a young naturalist, than a journey in distant countries. It both sharpens, and partly allays that want and craving, which, as Sir J. Herschel remarks, a man experiences although every corporeal sense be fully satisfied. The excitement from the novelty of objects, and the chance of success, stimulate him to increased activity. Moreover, as a number of isolated facts soon become uninteresting, the habit of comparison leads to generalization. (Darwin, 1891, p.368)
The Voyage, or 'journey in distant countries', might well be regarded as the Naturalist's equivalent of the Grand Tour – a period abroad to round off and exploit one's years of education.
Certainly this point can be illustrated by looking at the careers of a number of representative Enlightenment Naturalists. Of Sir Joseph Banks, for instance, Ship's Naturalist aboard the Endeavour – it has been said:
His own fieldwork was limited and quickly over. He made a natural philosopher's anti-Grand Tour to Labrador at the age of twenty-three: then he supervised the plant-hunting on the Endeavour's voyage; after his return he made a trip to the Hebrides and Iceland. But that was virtually the end of it ... Instead he garnered the fruits of the fieldwork of others, trips he usually organized and often paid for himself? (Rogers, 1988, p.603)
Pat Rogers, who made these comments in a TLS review, equates Banks' first excursion to Labrador with a 'natural philosopher's anti-Grand Tour', but one might apply this term just as accurately to his circumnavigation with Captain Cook. Assuming that Rogers means the sobriquet 'anti' to apply to the 'anti-dilettantishness' of these scientific journeys, Banks seems actually a more typical case than he acknowledges – a contention which might be substantiated by providing a similar career-summary of one of his successors, Alexander von Humboldt.
After a student's field-trip through Holland, England, and France in 1791 (in the company of another veteran of Cook's voyages, Georg Forster), Humboldt devoted the rest of his university education to rigorous preparations for his great South American expedition of 1799. to 1804. After his return he spent twenty years, mainly in Paris, writing up his collections and diaries for publication – a series that eventually reached 35 volumes (comparable to Banks' work on the Florilegium, a compendium of the flowers and plants encountered by him on his travels, which remained unpublished until after his death). In 1827, with this task substantially complete, Humboldt planned another journey on a similar scale to the East – to India and the Himalayas. Circumstances, however (mainly the intransigence of the East India Company), made this impossible, so he had to content himself with diplomatic life in Berlin. He made one further research trip to Russia and Siberia in 1829, but this could not be compared in scope or importance with the South American expedition; partly because his role was restricted to supervising the other scientists who had been invited along. The rest of his life was devoted to the Kosmos, a vast attempt to anatomize and describe the laws of the known universe, which remained incomplete at his death in 1859. (Meyer-Abich & Hentschel, 1969)
Scientific and rigorous though it may have aspired to be, Claude Lévi-Strauss sees an analogy between this convention of the 'Naturalist's Voyage' and the puberty rituals of native tribes (not essentially dissimilar in their nature from the Grand Tour, one is tempted to add):
Qui ne voit à quel point cette «quête du pouvoir» se trouve remise en honneur dans la société française contemporaine sous la forme naïve du rapport entre le public et «ses» explorateurs? Des l'âge de la puberté aussi, nos adolescents trouvent licence d'obéir aux stimulations auxquelles tout les soumet depuis la petite enfance, et de franchir, d'une manière quelconque, l'emprise momentanée de leur civilisation. Ce peut erre en hauteur, par l'ascension de quelque montagne; ou en profondeur, en descendant dans les abîmes: horizontalement aussi, si l'on s'avance au cœur de régions lointaines. (Lévi-Strauss, 1982, pp.41-42)
['It is obvious that this 'quest for power' [through rituals] enjoys a renewed vogue in contemporary French society, in the unsophisticated form of the relationship between the public and 'its' explorers. Our adolescents too, from puberty onwards, are free to obey the stimuli which have been acting upon them from all sides since early childhood. and to escape, in some way or other, from the temporary hold their civilization has on them. The escape may take place upwards, through the climbing of a mountain, or downwards, by descending into the bowels of the earth, or horizontally, through travel to remote countries.' (Lévi-Strauss, 1984, p.47)]
There are some distinctions which need to be made here. We have, on the one hand. a generalized paradigm of 'Voyages' or explorations made by young people in order to 'franchir ... l'emprise momentanée de leur civilisation' [escape … from the temporary hold their civilization has on them]. These might be aligned with tribal masculine puberty ordeals, with the European 'Grand Tour', or even Romantic artistic 'escapes' such as Baudelaire's trip to India (1841-42), Flaubert's Egyptian expedition (1849-51), or Gérard de Nerval's Voyage en Orient (1851). On the other hand, we have professional research journeys, undertaken by young natural scientists (Banks, Humboldt, Darwin, Huxley, Bates, Wallace) both as a final polish to their education and an opportunity to gather the raw material on which they could work for the rest of their careers. As Darwin remarked, at the beginning of the Beagle voyage:
perhaps I may have the same opportunity of drilling my mind that I threw away at Cambridge. (Keynes, 1988, p.13)
However, while the researches of Naturalists like Humboldt and Darwin laid the foundations of modern disciplines like Geography, Botany, Geology, Zoology, and the Life Sciences generally, it would be a mistake to see these seminal figures entirely in terms of those studies. Both Darwin and Humboldt had a strong interest in literature and literary matters generally. Humboldt had, in fact, composed an 'allegorical fable': Die Lebenskrait oder der rhodische Genius (1795), which had been printed by Schiller and admired by Goethe. His works are full of musings on the subject of the correct artistic emphasis to apply to landscape description (curtailment of detail in the interests of a more accurate overall impression) . and he attempts to analyze literature and art in the same taxonomic terms already applied by him to plants and minerals in volume 2 of Der Kosmos (1847). Darwin too was alert to the problems of representing Nature, as is shown by the care with which he pruned and revised his descriptions in the Journal of Researches (1839; revised second edition 1845). Above all, the desirability of producing a textual artefact to match the artefact of the perfectly planned and accomplished 'Naturalist's Journey' was always present in their minds, as we will find if we return and examine more closely the quotation by Darwin with which I headed this section.
While his recommendation of the 'journey' to young Naturalists sounds like rhetorical generalization, Darwin's argument in fact breaks down quite neatly into three pans, isolated in three successive sentences. Interestingly, he begins with a quasi-metaphysical justification, quoting Sir John Herschel's influential Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy on the desire for something more than 'corporeal' gratification – an almost Wordsworthian sentiment. He then mentions a further incitement – the attraction of novelty, and the possibilities of success and distinction that accompany it. This is, of course, an observation prompted by his own experiences on the voyage. He expands on it a little in his Autobiography:
As far as I can judge of myself, I worked to the utmost during the voyage for 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 amongst scientific men, – whether more ambitious or less so than most of my fellow-workers I can form no opinion. (Darwin & Huxley, 1974, p.46)
Finally, we come to the third point touched upon in this passage: how 'the habit of comparison leads to generalization'. The voyage of the Beagle itself supports this assertion, since the specific observations made by Darwin led eventually to the theory of Evolution – but leaving that aside for the moment, we can see the principle operating in this very passage, where Darwin makes his own experience, his own voyage, exemplary. True, he acknowledges, there are disadvantages to this arrangement:
as the traveller stays but a short time in each place, his descriptions must generally consist of mere sketches, instead of detailed observations. Hence arises, as I have found to my cost, a constant tendency to fill up the wide gaps of knowledge, by inaccurate and superficial hypotheses. (Darwin, 1891, pp.368-69)
Let us take the last point first. Most accounts of voyages are written in the form of diaries, or are at least based on diaries that have been kept during the trip. The sense of day-to-day fortuitous discovery which can be imparted by employing this form – and which parallels the similar chances which determine the success or failure of an expedition – can be either obscured by turning disparate entries into a single seamless narrative, or enhanced by guarding the convention of dates and daily entries. Both Darwin and Humboldt use a combination of the two methods. While it would be false to claim that the voyage was the text a Naturalist made it into, it is clear that disentangling the two becomes problematic in such cases. Perhaps, then, it is safer to say that the two, Voyage and Text, are subject to parallel influences. Both are planned carefully in advance, both are subject to fortuitous chance during their execution, and one's final assessment of both is conditioned by results.
The pressure to produce accurate scientific results (one thing which the Naturalist of the nineteenth century has in common with the Life Scientist of today) is of a rather different nature. Both Darwin and Humboldt published their travel accounts separately from the main body of their results. In Humboldt's case, his personal narrative, the Relation historique du voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent appeared in 3 volumes between 1814 and 1825. His scientific results, by contrast, came out in 35 volumes (consisting of Astronomical and Geophysical Data, Botany, Geography of Plants, Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, the Politics of Mexico, and a General Report on the Journey and Geography) between 1808 and 1827. As for Darwin, his Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. 'Beagle' was included as the third volume of the official account of the voyage, edited by Captain FitzRoy and published in 1839, The scientific results were issued as The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. 'Beagle', in 5 vols (1839-43); and The Geology of the Voyage of the 'Beagle', in 3 parts (1842, 1844, and 1846). This ratio of three to thirty-five, and one to eight, outlines the principal problem of any Naturalist with literary aspirations – that of selection.
Humboldt sums up the matter very neatly in the preface to his personal narrative:
Had I adopted a mode of composition, which should have contained in the same chapter all that has been observed on the same point of the globe, I should have composed a work of cumbrous length, and devoid of that clearness, which arises in a great measure from the methodical distribution of the matter. (Humboldt, 1814-29, I: xviii)
The solution, then, is to group together the facts and observations connected with a particular subject. It is notable that this is precisely the method adopted by Darwin in the published form of his Journal:
To prevent useless repetitions, I will extract those parts of my journal which refer to the same districts, without always attending to the order in which we visited them. (Darwin, 1891, p.29)
The difficulty, however, is to preserve the spontaneity of the original account while rejecting its diffuseness and lack of form:
The richness of nature leads to a piling up of individual images, and this disturbs the balance and overall impression projected by the 'painting'. If the style is to appeal to emotion and imagination, it all too easily degenerates into poetic prose. (Meyer-Abich & Hentschel, 1969, p.110)
These are two separate pitfalls. One is to overvalue the details at the expense of the picture; the other is to turn the picture into an exercise in 'poetic prose'. Both ability as a writer, and a correct theory of writing about landscape are therefore required if one is to convey:
A view of nature as a totality, proof of the working together of various forces, a renewal of the pleasure aroused in the breast of any sensitive person at the sight of the tropics (Meyer-Abich & Hentschel, 1969, p.109)
which are, Humboldt says, 'the aims I strive for'.
All of which brings us to the first point made by Darwin in his recommendation of the journey to young Naturalists – what might be called the metaphysical justification for this 'Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone" [Prelude. iii. 63] (Wordsworth, 1924, p.250). We noted, above, the Wordsworthian aspect of this desire which 'a man experiences although every corporeal sense be fully satisfied':
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar
(Wordsworth, 1924, p.359)
But it now appears that we can proceed with more confidence to locate this aspect of the Naturalist's Voyage in the context of the Voyage as an adolescent 'escape' - or (its natural extension), a Romantic literary motif – in the terms suggested by Lévi-Strauss.
Just as the Naturalist must artfully select details from his experiences with the intention of
- conveying the sense of a spontaneous experience, not wholly arranged in retrospect;
- avoiding a picture cluttered by too much incidental information; &
- not lapsing into 'poetic prose' and evocation for its own sake
One could perhaps summarize the various influences involved as follows. At one extreme we have the Voyage as a literary motif – as first exemplified in (presumably) Homer's Odyssey, and then a succession of early nineteenth century works such as 'L'Albatros', 'Le Voyage' and 'L'invitation au Voyage' in Baudelaire's Les F1eurs du Mal (1857); Tennyson's 'Ulysses' (1842); Edgar Allan Poe's 'MS. Found in a Bottle' (1833), 'The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaal' (1835) and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket (1838); along with Herman Melville's Typee (1846) and Mardi, and a Voyage Thither (1849). At the other extreme we have the voyage as a purely scientific project – as a contribution to knowledge in its purest form (as exemplified in the 35 volumes occupied by the results from Humboldt's expedition, or the eight volumes of geological and zoological data deduced from Darwin's collections). The 'Naturalist's Voyage' as a genre lies somewhere in between. Just as the actual voyage and the account that results from it are subject to parallel chance influences, so the 'Naturalist's Voyage' as a text is acted upon almost equally by impulses from each side – the extent in each case being governed as much by the expectations of an audience as the predisposition of the writer concerned.
The introduction to the last chapter was largely concerned with the methodological implications of chronology in a study as temporally wide-ranging as this. I said there that the 'synchronic section' which could be seen to be operating on a single text (such as Darwin's – published in 1839, but continuously composed and revised over the period 1831-45) was far more extensive than a strict definition of the term would suggest. The generic distinctions made there between 'Journal' and 'Romance' were, by contrast, fairly perfunctory – and I therefore propose to highlight that aspect in dealing with the curious hybrid that is Darwin's Journal of Researches.
This chapter is arranged in two main sections, each intended to represent simultaneously a characteristic myth or vision of South America, and an essential stage in our reading of the nature of Darwin's text. The first, 'The Brazilian Forest', examines the actual process of textual accretion in the progress from his experiences to the final published text – through the intermediate stages of notebooks, letters, and Diary. The second, 'The Voyage of the Beagle', attempts to read Darwin's travel narrative as both influenced by and as a contribution to the Romantic iconography of the Voyage. In order to do this, I shall be looking at Darwin's textual antecedents in Humboldt's Personal Narrative, and in the poetry of Wordsworth and Milton (which had an approximately equal influence on him).
The structure, then, is essentially the same as the last chapter, although it introduces a new emphasis on the particularity – rather than the exemplary nature – of its central text. Only by balancing with equal care the dual influences of genre and literary precedent will it be possible to see clearly Darwin's specific contribution to any larger literary topos of 'South America'.
[Martin Johnson Heade: Brazilian Forest (1864)]
The Brazilian Forest
The day has passed delightfully: delight is however a weak term for such transports of pleasure: I have been wandering by myself in a Brazilian forest: amongst the multitude it is hard to say what set of objects is most striking; the general luxuriance of the vegetation bears the victory, the elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers. – the glossy green of the foliage, all tend to this end. – A most paradoxical mixture of sound & silence pervades the shady parts of the wood. – the noise from the insects is so loud that in the evening it can be heard even in a vessel anchored several hundred yards from the shore. – Yet within the recesses of the forest when in the midst of it a universal stillness appears to reign. – To a person fond of Natural history such a day as this brings with it pleasure more acute than he ever may again experience. – After wandering about for some hours, I returned to the landing place. – Before reaching it I was overtaken by a Tropical storm. – I tried to find shelter under a tree so thick that it would never have been penetrated by common English rain, yet here in a couple of minutes, a little torrent flowed down the trunk. It is to this violence we must attribute the verdure in the bottom of the wood. – if the showers were like those of a colder clime, the moisture would be absorbed or, evaporated before reaching the ground. (Keynes, 1988, p.42)
Here is the true voice of feeling; the words written by Charles Darwin in his diary (hereafter referred to as the Diary) after going ashore for the first time in South America. And here is what they became in the second edition of his Journal of Researches (1845, hereafter referred to as the Journal) – which may be regarded for our purposes as the definitive version of his text, since it differs in many particulars from the original edition of 1839:
The day has passed delightfully. Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time. has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, but above all the general luxuriance of the vegetation, filled me with admiration. A most paradoxical mixture of sound and silence pervades the shady parts of the wood. The noise from the insects is so loud, that it may be heard even in a vessel anchored several hundred yards from the shore: yet within the recesses of the forest a universal silence appears to reign. To a person fond of natural history, such a day as this brings with it a deeper pleasure than he can ever hope to experience again. After wandering about for some hours, I returned to the landing-place; but, before reaching it, I was overtaken by a tropical storm. I tried to find shelter under a tree, which was so thick that it would never have been penetrated by common English rain; but here, in a couple of minutes, a little torrent flowed down the trunk. It is to this violence of the rain that we must attribute the verdure at the bottom of the thickest woods: if the showers were like those of a colder clime, the greater part would be absorbed or evaporated before it reached the ground. (Darwin, 1891, p.9)
Before we begin to examine the specific divergences between these two versions, and the reasons for them, let us go a little deeper into the textual history of Darwin's account.
On going ashore at a new location, Darwin would record his immediate impressions in a small notebook. Twenty-four of these survive, and have been partially transcribed by Nora Barlow (1945, pp.149-268). When he had completed his observations, or was at leisure, he would expand these notes into an entry for his Diary (referred to by him, confusingly, as the 'Journal'). Also, he often described the same scenes in letters to his family and friends, so these provide yet another medium for expressing the same sensations.
The notes, then, on Brazilian forests, include passages like the following:
Sosego. Twiners entwining twiners – tresses like hair – beautiful lepidoptera – Silence – hosannah – Frog habits like toad – slow jumps – iris copper-coloured, colour became faint. Snake, fresh water fish, edible; musky shell, stain fingers red. One fish from salt Lagoa de Boacia, 2 from brook; one do. pricks the fingers – (Barlow, 1945, p.162).
In the Diary, this becomes 'These two days were spent at Socêgo, & was the most enjoyable part of the whole expedition; the greater part of them was spent in the woods, & I succeeded in collecting many insects & reptiles' (Keynes, 1988, p.58). The 'twiners entwining twiners' have been expanded into 'The woody creepers, themselves covered by creepers', and the 'tresses like hair' to 'tresses of a liana, which much resembles bundles of hay' (Keynes, 1988, p.59). The 'hosannah' may refer to the fact, noted both in the Journal and in the Diary, of the silence of his walk being 'broken by the morning hymn, raised on high by the whole body of the blacks [on the fazênda there' (Darwin, 1891, p.17 - see also Keynes, 1988, p.57; and Browne & Neve, 1989, p.61). However, this was two days before, so it may be merely an expression of praise at the beauty of the scene. In any case, these raptures are still further truncated in the Journal: 'In returning we spent two days at Socêgo, and I employed them in collecting insects in the forest. The greater number of trees, although so lofty, are not more than three or four feet in circumference.' (Darwin, 1891, p.18)
Unfortunately the notes which prompted the passage which I have quoted at the beginning of this section have not survived (or been transcribed); the closest equivalent being the following, from a few months later:
Silence well exemplified; – rippling of a brook. Lofty trees, white boles: the pleasure of eating my lunch on one of the rotten trees - so gloomy that only shean of light enters the profound. Tops of the trees enlumined; cold camp feel. (Barlow, 1945, p.165)
This becomes, in the Diary, 'A profound gloom reigns everywhere: it would be impossible to tell the sun was shining, if it was not for an occasional gleam of light shooting, as it were through a shutter, on the ground beneath; & that the tops of the more lofty trees are brightly illuminated. – The air is motionless & has a peculiar chilling dampness. – Whilst seated on the trunk of a decaying tree amidst such scenes, one feels an inexpressible delight. – The rippling of some little brook, the tap of a Woodpecker, or scream of some more distant bird, by the distinctness with which it is heard, brings the conviction how still the rest of Nature is' (Keynes, 1988, p.74).
Here we see the rewriting mechanism really in action. The 'lunch' has gone - perhaps because it is not sufficiently august, but more likely because it does not fit with Darwin's own stated principle of description: 'the habit of comparison leads to generalization', The poetic expression 'the profound' has become 'a profound gloom'; 'enlumined' has become 'illuminated'; the evocative 'cold camp feel' has become 'a peculiar chilling dampness'. It is almost as if a Modernist text has been juxtaposed with a nineteenth century one – the first notes resembling the acuteness of vision of Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal, while the transcription makes them seem a conscious rhetorical exercise.
The potentially distorting quality of this allegedly 'simple' procedure of copying notes makes it easier to understand why Joseph Huxley described Darwin's working notebooks from the voyage as a mass of '"worthless MSS" ... because of his lack of training in Biology' (Barlow, 1945, p.149). From our point of view, however, they make clear the precise sort of composition at which Darwin was aiming – one which would be flexible enough to include scientific observations side by side with anecdotes and descriptive passages, not to mention the human story of the voyage. For this reason, no one aspect could be emphasized too much – which explains the sometimes rather jerky feel of the Journal by comparison with the more relaxed and capacious Diary.
The letters represent yet another textualizing impulse:
Nobody but a person fond of Nat: history, can imagine the pleasure of strolling under Cocoa nuts in a thicket of Bananas & Coffee plants, & an endless number of wild flowers. – And this Island that has given me so much instruction & delight, is reckoned the most uninteresting place, that we perhaps shall touch at during our voyage. (Burckhardt & Smith, 1985, 1: 202)
Interestingly, this statement about 'being unable to imagine the pleasure' – applied here to St. Jago – closely parallels his remarks about 'such a day bringing with it pleasure more acute than [a person fond of Natural History] ever may again experience' in the Diary description of Bahia. Any confusion between the two descriptions is, however, accounted for a little further down in this letter (addressed to his father):
I have written this much in order to save time at Bahia. (Burckhardt & Smith, 1985, 1: 203)
A verbal characterization of Brazil may therefore be quite legitimately displaced onto another 'tropical' paradise.
Finally, the long documentary letter actually reaches Bahia:
I arrived at this place on the 28th of Feb & am now writing this letter after having in real earnest strolled in the forests of the new world. – 'No person could imagine anything so beautiful as the antient town of Bahia; it is fairly embosomed in a luxuriant wood of beautiful trees ... the bay is scattered over with large ships. in short & what can be said more it is one of the finest views in the Brazils'. – (copied from my journal) ... If you really want to have a [notion] of tropical countries, study Humboldt. – Skip th[e] scientific parts & commence after leaving Teneriffe. – My feelings amount to admiration the more I read him. (Burckhardt & Smith, 1985, 1: 204)
We thus see, in a nutshell, the two separate lines of descent of Darwin's text. The first is his own notes and journal entries, which could be paraphrased or even quoted verbatim in the attempt to convey some impression of what he was experiencing to those at home (a not dissimilar problem from the one that faced him when he 'wrote up' the journal itself). The second is his response to the tropical descriptions in Humboldt's Personal Narrative; and references to this are scattered through the letters and entries (some surviving even into the published Journal) – giving his work, at times, the atmosphere of a commentary on the earlier text, a sort of 'in the footsteps of' Humboldt.
With reference to the first of these aspects, he himself remarks:
It is very odd, what a difficult job I find this same writing letters to be. – I suppose it is partly owing to my writing everything in my journal: but chiefly to the number of subjects; which is so bewildering that I am generally at a loss either how to begin or end a sentence. And this all hands must allow to be an objection. - (Burckhardt & Smith, 1985, 1: 219)
The entire process of composing his final text, charted in this section, could be said to be an illustration of this remark. We see him go from fragmentary statements such as 'beautiful lepidoptera – Silence – hosannah – Frog habits like toad', to the hasty syntax of some of the Diary entries: 'amongst the multitude it is hard to say what set of objects is most striking; the general luxuriance of the vegetation bears the victory, the elegance of the grasses ... the glossy green of the foliage, all tend to this end'. He then repeats these impressions in different words in letters home – sometimes using a particular phrase from the Diary in a different context, in order to 'save time at Bahia'. Finally, he painstakingly rephrased, cut and expanded (almost by haif) the whole into the published Journal (1839), which was further rewritten for its second edition in 1845 – the received text. Before I begin to look at the implications of this process of composition, however, it seems best to examine in a brief excursus Darwin's specific debt to Humboldt – the second 'line of descent' mentioned above.
Let us begin by quoting some representative passages from Humboldt, and then look at Darwin's reaction to them.
Vegetation here displays some of its fairest and most majestic forms in the banana and the palm-tree. He who is awake to the charms of nature finds in this delicious island remedies still more potent than the climate. No abode appeared to me more fitted to dissipate melancholy, and restore peace to the perturbed mind, than that of Teneriffe, or Madeira ...
The baobabs are of still greater dimensions than the dragon-tree of Orotava. There are some, which near the root measure 34 feet in diameter, though their total height is only from 50 to 60 feet ... That in Mr. Franqui's garden bears still every year both flowers and fruit. Its aspect feelingly recalls to mind 'that eternal youth of nature,' which is an inexhaustible source of motion and of life ...
On leaving Orotava, a narrow and stony pathway led us across a beautiful forest of chesnut trees, el monte de Castannos, to a site which is covered with brambles, some species of laurels, and arborescent heaths. The trunks of the last grow to an extraordinary size; and the flowers with which they are loaded form an agreeable contrast, during a great part of the year, with the hypericum canariense, which is very abundant at this height. We stopped to take in our provision of water under a solitary firtree ... (Humboldt, 1814-29, 1: 127, 143-44 & 145-46).
Humboldt has rejected the diary format in favour of an episodic narrative of events, and the 'scientific parts' are more lavishly treated in his text. Nevertheless, there is something rather evocative in his 'rich and smiling verdure' ((Humboldt, 1814-29, 1: 134) and endlessly 'attractive prospects'. I have tried to quote examples of his generalizations, his classifications of particular plants (the baobab), and his account of a walk – and, while the first is the one which can be observed most directly influencing Darwin's expression ('He who is awake to the charms of nature' becoming 'a person fond of Natural history'), the other two can be seen to inspire categories of description in both Diary and Journal.
Take the passage at the beginning of this section, for instance. It is a description of action, like Humboldt's: 'wandering by myself – 'wandering about for some hours' – 'before reaching it'; but it ends with an account of the tree he sheltered under, together with speculations on the thickness of the 'verdure in the bottom of the wood'. Containing, as it does, generalizations like 'delight is a weak word for such transports of pleasure', and 'pleasure more acute than he ever may again experience', we see that it includes all three of the categories highlighted in Humboldt's text: action, scientific detail, and generalization.
So what are we to conclude from this? There is no doubt of the amount of attention Darwin paid to Humboldt's text. He says in his Autobiography:
During my last year at Cambridge I read with care and profound interest Humboldt's Personal Narrative ... I copied out from Humboldt long passages about Teneriffe, and read them aloud ... 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 (Darwin & Huxley, 1974, p.38).
Elsewhere we find references to: 'a very pleasant afternoon lying on the sofa reading H umboldts glowing accounts of tropical scenery'; 'Already can understand Humboldts enthusiasm about the tropical nights'; 'I am at present fit only to read Humboldt: he like another Sun illumines everything I behold'; and, most importantly, 'Here I first saw the glory of tropical vegetation. Tamarinds, Bananas & Palms were flourishing at my feet. – I expected a good deal, for I had read Humboldts descriptions & I was afraid of disappointments' (Keynes, 1988, pp.18, 20, 42 & 23).
It would not be putting it too strongly to say that Darwin came text in hand to South America. We see here that his highest praise for the wonders of the Brazilian forest is to say, of Humboldt's description, that 'even he ... with all this falls far short of the truth' (Keynes, 1988, p.42). Oblique praise – to expect the reality to justify itself against the text. It is not that Darwin is behindhand in recording his rapture at the sight of tropical scenery – it is simply that he does so in a manner as much conditioned by the rhetorical traditions he has inherited as by the sights themselves ('If we rank scenery according to the astonishment it produces, this [the Caucovado at Rio de Janeiro] most assuredly occupies the highest place, but if, as is more true. according to the picturesque effect, it falls far short of many in the neighbourhead' (Keynes, 1988, p.67)). The main reason for treating Humboldt in such detail, then, is to introduce a note of specificity into this textual dependence:
Few things give me so much pleasure as reading the Personal Narrative: I know not the reason why a thought which has passed through the mind, when we see it embodied in words, immediately assumes a more substantial & true air. (Keynes, 1988, p.67)
With this in mind, let us return to the two passages at the head of this section.
The Diary records the 'transports of pleasure' associated with the fact that 'I have been wandering by myself in a Brazilian forest'. The Journal, on the other hand, says that: 'Delight itself is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest'. The first person immediacy of the first entry inevitably appeals more to a modern sensibility, but that is not really the point. The point is that Darwin has been forced to objectify his narrative, to turn 'I' into the 'person fond of Natural history' and the 'naturalist who ... has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest', for a specific reason. This is because the reader of a book like Darwin's, representing the genre of 'Naturalist's Voyage', does not expect, and will not trust, a subjective record of the experiences of a first-person narrator. Rather, he expects an account of a foreign country which will enable him in some way to apprehend the reality of that country. No more does he desire, of course, a completely impersonal summary of landscape features there must be anecdotes and personal experiences included, but as clearly identified adjuncts to the main thrust of locating the narrative in objective fact. This is, indeed, the process of 'generalization' favoured by Darwin in the passage quoted at the beginning of this chapter.
Darwin, then, is forced to construct a sort of ideal narrative out of his own experience of the voyage. Each successive overlay of writing is another step in this process – with the author himself becoming an increasingly objectified character, like the Dante of the Divina Commedia. Darwin's project might therefore be conceived as a series of rhetorical shifts designed to convey a truer overall picture of the voyage – but also, as a corollary, supplanting it in favour of another, textual identity.
Our original discussion of the Naturalist's Voyage as an artefact – to be re-created by the written description of that voyage – can therefore be supplemented with the effect of distancing achieved by these successive exercises in style. The effect of going from the Notebooks to the Diary, sideways to the Letters, and on to the two editions of the Journal, takes one steadily further from the experiences themselves. To some extent this is an inevitable process – but the replacement of the genuine question 'it is hard to see what s,et of objects is most striking' in the Diary with, first, the more decisive 'the general luxuriance of the vegetation bears away the victory' in the 1839 edition of the Journal; and, finally, a mere listing of objects which 'filled me with admiration' in 1845, seems a gradual falsification indulged in for reasons of style, not sense. The literary precedent of Humboldt also enables him to transfer responsibility for interpreting what he sees: 'If you really want to have a notion of tropical countries, study Humboldt'.
Our question must remain – having established the context in which Darwin is writing, and the process of generation of his text – what picture of South America he actually creates. His picture of the Brazilian forest is apparently generically 'tropical', since parts of it can be transferred from descriptions of Teneriffe and Madeira; yet he also makes reference to Brazil as 'the new world' and the fact that 'Brazilian scenery is nothing more nor less than a view in the Arabian Nights, with the advantage of reality' (Keynes, 1988, p.43). To expand on these hints about the terms in which the words 'South America' are operating in Darwin's travel journal, I shall be examining his attitude towards the human clientele of the countries visited by him – Spaniards, Indians. and gauchos. This will then be supplemented by an account of the reactions to the Andes (or 'Cordillera'), with which he rounded off this part of his circumnavigation.
[Gauchos in Argentina (1894)]
The Voyage of the Beagle
(a) Gauchos and Indians
The object of this chapter is, as we have seen, two-fold: it seeks to establish the generic terms in which we can best define Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle as a textual artefact; and, as a natural accompaniment, it attempts to elicit the reading he has provided of the place most 'visited' by his text – South America (at least three fifths of the entries being devoted to it alone (Browne & Neve, 1989, p.16). The first two sections were occupied mainly by the former objective. but introduce the system of categories which I intend to employ in these last two sections – devoted, respectively, to the People and the works of Nature in Darwin's 'South America'.
Let us begin by defining the classes of people Darwin includes in his narrative.
There are. according to my reading, at least four different groups:
- Gauchos. About these Darwin talks a good deal:
There were several of the wild Gaucho cavalry waiting to see us land; they formed by far the most savage picturesque group I ever beheld. – I should have fancied myself in the middle of Turkey by their dresses ... The men themselves were far more remarkable than their dresses; the greater number were half Spaniard & Indian. – some of each pure blood & some black. (Keynes, 1988, pp.99-100)
On the subject of such men of 'mixed breed, between Negro, Indian, and Spaniard', Darwin remarks in the Journal: 'I know not the reason. but men of such origin seldom have a good expression of countenance' (Darwin, 1891, p.51). In a more generalized passage, he explains:
We dined at a Pulperia, where there were present many Gauchos (this name only means 'countrymen' & those who dress in this manner & lead their life) ... [f their surprise was great. mine was much greater to find such ignorance; & this amongst people who possess their thousands of cattle & 'estancia's' of great extent ... I was asked whether the earth or sun moved; whether it was hotter or colder to the North; where Spain was & many more such questions. – Most of the inhabitants have an indistinct idea, that England, London, N. America are all the same place; the better informed well know that England & N: America are separate countries close together; but that England is a large town in London ... I am writing as if I had been amongst the inhabitants of central Africa. Banda Oriental would not be flattered by the comparison, but such was my feeling when amongst them. (Keynes, 1988, pp.154-55)
He sums up:
The Gauchos, or countrymen, are very superior to those who reside in the towns. The Gaucho is invariably most obliging, polite, and hospitable: I did not meet with even one instance of rudeness or inhospitality. He is modest, both respecting himself and country, but at the same time a spirited, bold fellow. On the other hand, many robberies are committed, and there is much bloodshed ... It is lamentable to hear how many lives are lost in trifling quarrels. In fighting, each party tries to mark the face of his adversary by slashing his nose or eyes; as is often attested by deep and horrid-looking scars ... At Mercedes I asked two men why they did not work, One gravely said the days were too long; the other that he was too poor. The number of horses and the profusion of food are the destruction of all industry. (Darwin, 1891, pp.112-13)
The change of tone brought about by a slight change of register is very apparent in this last extract from the Journal. The Diary says 'Their politeness is excessive, they never drink their spirits, without expecting you to taste it; but as they make their exceedingly good bow, they seem quite ready, if occasion offered, to cut your throat at the same time' (Keynes, 1988, p.156) – a rather more vivid expression than their being 'invariably most obliging, polite, and hospitable'. The burden of the two remarks is much the same, but the tabular form – arguments pro and contra gaucho life - adopted in the Journal gives it a more authoritative (and therefore potentially more misleading) tone. The explanation why those particular 'two men ... did not work', for example, is given in W. H. Hudson's The Naturalist in La Plata (1892), where he says: 'The philosopher was astonished and amused at the reply, but failed to understand it. And yet, to one acquainted with these lovers of brief phrases, what more intelligible answer could have been returned? The poor fellow simply meant to say that his horses had been stolen ... or, perhaps, that some minion of the Government of the moment had seized them for the use of the State' (Hudson, 1912, p.351).
- Indians. While crossing the Argentinian Pampas, Darwin witnessed the early stages of the war of extermination being carried out against the Indians by General Rosas – and he therefore had a special interest in describing a way of life that was soon to disappear:
The next day three hundred men arrived from the Colorado ... A large portion of these men were Indians (mansos, or tame), belonging to the tribe of the Cacique Bernantio. They passed the night here; and it was impossible to conceive anything more wild and savage than the scene of their bivouac. Some drank till they were intoxicated; others swallowed the steaming blood of the cattle slaughtered for their suppers, and then, being sick from drunkenness, they cast it up again, and were besmeared with filth and gore. (Darwin, 1891, p.73)
These, admittedly, are Indians who have already been partially corrupted ('tame'): 'Not only have whole tribes been exterminated, but the remaining Indians have become more barbarous: instead of living in large villages, and being employed in the arts of fishing, as well as of the chase, they now wander about the open plains, without home or fixed occupation' (Darwin, 1891, p.75). Their demeanour can still be admirable at times, however:
The three survivors [of a massacre] of course possessed very valuable information; and to extort this they were placed in a line. The two first being questioned, answered, 'No sé' (I do not know), and were one after the other shot. The third also said, 'No sé;' adding, 'Fire, I am a man, and can die!' Not one syllable would they breathe to injure the united cause of their country! The conduct of the ... cacique was very different: he saved his life by betraying the intended plan of warfare, and the point of union in the Andes. (Darwin, 1891, p.74)
This noble simplicity is matched by their appearance: 'They were remarkable fine men, very fair, above six feet high, and all under thirty years of age'. Of another group, Darwin says:
The taste they show in their dress is admirable; if you could turn one of these young Indians into a statue of bronze, the drapery would be perfectly graceful. (Keynes, 1988, p.165)
It is tempting to say that that is precisely what Darwin is doing – turning them into statues of bronze (as when he refers to a night encampment of gauchos and Indians as 'a Salvator Rosa scene' (Darwin, 1891, p.80)). For the moment, let us note the fine scorn heaped on the 'cacique', as opposed to his magnificent followers. This must be seen in the general context of Darwin's concentration on the 'picturesque' qualities of both Indians and gauchos – 'No painter ever imagined so wild a set of expressions' (Keynes, 1988, p.100) – but it is perhaps as paintings and 'statues' that they are most easily interpreted by him.
3/ Slaves and Estate-owners. The theme of 'levelling' indignation expressed in the contrast between the cacique and his followers is echoed by the distinctions Darwin draws between slave-owners and their property.
While staying at this estate [near Rio de Janeiro), I was very nearly being an eye-witness to one of those atrocious acts which can only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a lawsuit, the owner was on the point of taking all the women and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction at Rio. Interest, and not any feeling of compassion. prevented this act. Indeed, I do not believe the inhumanity of separating thirty families. who had lived together for many years, even occurred to the owner. Yet I will pledge myself, that in humanity and good feeling he was superior to the common run of men. It may be said there exists no limit to the blindness of interest and selfish habit. (Darwin, 1891, p.18)
And to emphasize the 'blindness of [that] selfish habit', Darwin has changed the icily polite 'person' in the first edition to a more indignant contrast between 'male slaves' and 'owner'. Darwin goes on to define his attitude towards the slaves:
I was crossing a ferry with a negro, who was uncommonly stupid. In endeavouring to make him understand, I talked loud, and made signs, in doing which I passed my hand near his face. He, I suppose, thought I was in a passion, and was going to strike him; for instantly, with a frightened look and half-shut eyes, he dropped his hands. I shall never forget my feelings of surprise, disgust, and shame, at seeing a great powerful man afraid even to ward off a blow, directed, as he thought, at his face. This man had been trained to a degradation lower than the slavery of the most helpless animal. (Darwin, 1891, p.18)
One feels a certain contempt mingled here with the pity, and this extends to the landowners as well – despite their ready acceptance of him as part of their own class and caste.
At night we asked permission to sleep at an Estancia at which we happened to arrive. It was a very large estate ... & the owner at Buenos Ayres is one of the greatest landowners in the country. - His nephew has charge of it & with him there was a Captain of the army, who the other day ran away from Buenos Ayres. Considering their station their conversation was rather amusing. They expressed, as was usual, unbounded astonishment at the globe being round, & could scarcely credit that a hole would if deep enough come out on the other side ... The Captain at last said, he had one question to ask me ... I trembled to think how deeply scientific it would be. – 'it was whether the ladies of Buenos Ayres were not the handsomest in the world'. I replied, 'Charmingly so'. He added, I have one other question – 'Do ladies in any other part of the world wear such large combs'. I solemnly assured him they did not. – They were absolutely delighted. – The Captain exclaimed, 'Look there, a man, who has seen half the world, says it is the case; we always thought so, but now we know it'. My excellent judgement in beauty procured me a most hospitable reception; the Captain forced me to take his bed, & he would sleep on his Recado. (Keynes, 1988, p.202)
The reception might not have been quite so good if they could have read that entry in his Journal, however. Darwin tells such anecdotes without malice – and this one is amusing in itself – but his complacency about his own state of knowledge as compared with theirs is complete.
- Patagonians. This attitude de haut en bas becomes even more marked when he meets the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego:
I would not have believed how entire the difference between savage & civilized man is. – It is greater than between a wild & domesticated animal, in as much as in man there is greater power of improvement. – The chief spokesman was old & appeared to be head of the family: the three others were young powerful men & about 6 feet high. – From their dress &c &c they resembled the representations of Devils on the Stage, for instance in Der Freischutz ... Their language does not deserve to be called articulate: Capt. Cook says it is like a man clearing his throat: to which may be added another very hoarse man trying to shout & a third encouraging a horse with that peculiar noise which is made in one side of the mouth. – Imagine these sounds & a few gutterals mingled with them, & there will be as near an approximation to their language as any European may expect to obtain. (Keynes, 1988, pp.122-24)
It is true that he toned down these remarks in the published Journal, adding that 'They are excellent mimics ... They could repeat with perfect correctness each word in any sentence we addressed them, and they remembered such words for some time' (Darwin, 1891, p.149) – but even this is scarcely a tribute to their humanity. When they are not regarded as zoological specimens, they are seen as clowns:
The tallest amongst the Fuegians was evidently much pleased at his height being noticed ... He opened his mouth to show his teeth, and turned his face for a side view: and all this was done with such alacrity, that I daresay he thought himself the handsomest man in Tierra del Fuego. After our first feeling of grave astonishment was over, nothing could be more ludicrous than the odd mixture of surprise and imitation which these savages every moment exhibited. (Darwin, 1891, p.151)
No acknowledgement here of the fact that the crew's fascination with tallness was actually due to a peculiarly European absurdity: the legend of the Patagonian giants, surviving from the time of Magellan into the nineteenth century. (See further Percy G. Adams' 'The Patagonian Giants or The Drama of the Dolphin' (1962, pp.19-43).
Brazilian Indians were thought by Montaigne to have important lessons to teach Europe and Europeans. The nineteenth century liberal Darwin, however, observes all these species of men as inferiors – at best, material for a case-study. A better way to look at it, perhaps, is not so much as an expression of Darwin's contempt for them as people, but rather as a sign of his too hasty categorization of them. These four sets of characters are, after all, as well-defined as the stock figures of Commedia dell'Arte; or, more to the point, like the stages of human development in a text-book. The Estate-owner might be seen, on one level, as Pantaloon – a well-meaning fool with more power than is good for him; on the other, as the king at the top of a feudal pyramid – the ignorant ruler of an ignorant race. The Gaucho is wild and free, yet courteous. His blood-thirstiness is as proverbial as his hospitality. We might see him as the jeune premier, Pierrot; or else as a throwback to the Heroic Age. The Indian is noble but inscrutable. We may corrupt him, but we can never fully understand him. He seems to represent the helpful beasts in fairy tales as much as, say, Chingachgook in the Leatherstocking Tales. Historically, of course, he is the Noble Savage. Finally, the Patagonian is the lowest of all – incapable of any social organization or cooperation outside the family unit; A sub-human troll or dwarf, who greets kindness with suspicion and scorn: a Caliban.
The whole thing might be written out as a table, using the terminology of both History and Romance:
- The Estate-owner - FEUDALISM (Pantaloon)
- The Gaucho - HEROIC AGE (Pierrot)
- The Indian - SAVAGERY (Chingachgook)
- The Patagonian - PRIMITIVISM (Caliban)
In this context, it might be interesting to quote some remarks on the subject of American iconography from Sarmiento's Facundo:
El único romancista norteamericano que haya logrado hacerse un nombre europeo, es Fenimore Cooper, y eso, porque transportó la escena de sus descripciones fuera del círculo ocupado por los plantadores al límite entre la vida bárbara y la civilizada, al teatro de la guerra en que las razas indígenas y la raza sajona están combatiendo por la posesión del terreno. (Sarmiento, 1981, p.44)
['The only North American novelist who has gained a European reputation is Fenimore Cooper, and he succeeded in doing so by removing the scene of the events he described from the settled portion of the country to the border land between civilized life and that of the savage, the theatre of the war for the possession of the soil waged against each other. by the native tribes and the Saxon race.' (Sarmiento, 1961, p.40)]
He goes on to record his own impression, while reading 'El último de los Mohicanos', that many of the indigenous customs recorded there were identical to those he had encountered on the Pampas. He concludes: 'modificaciones análogas del suelo traen análogas costumbres, recursos y expedientes. No es otra la razón de hallar en Fenimore Cooper descripciones de usos y costumbres que parecen plagiadas de la pampa' (Sarmiento, 1981, p.45) [analogies in the soil bring with them analogous customs, resources, and expedients. This explains our finding in Cooper's works accounts of practices and customs which seem plagiarized from the pampa' (Sarmiento, 1961, p.41)].
The point that I would like to make about Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826) is not essentially dissimilar. It is not so much, in Darwin, that we see a set of 'usos y costumbres' [practices and customs] held in common between North and South America – but a system of types which operates in the works of both Cooper and Darwin. Cooper's Romance anticipates the system of human levels adopted by Darwin's Travel Account; again, without plagiarism, but because 'modificaciones análogas ... traen análogas ... recursos y expedientes', which one might paraphrase as: 'similar [textual) needs call for similar solutions'.
Let us examine this proposition in a little more detail. Pantaloon is replaced by Colonel Munro, the ineffectual Englishman (with the wayward daughter - remember 'whether the ladies of Buenos Ayres were not the handsomest in the world'?). Pierrot, the hero, is of course Natty Bumppo, 'Hawk-eye' – with his bewildering mixture of civility and savagery ('He is modest, both respecting himself and country, but at the same time a spirited, bold fellow. On the other hand, many robberies are committed, and there is much bloodshed' (Darwin, 1891, pp.112-13)). Chingachgook, the last of the Mohicans, is self-explanatory: an embodiment of the mystery of the woods and of nature (The third also said ... 'Fire, I am a man, and can die!' Not one syllable would they breathe to injure the united cause of their country!'). Finally, his enemies, the Hurons (as well as the treacherous Magua) represent the dark side of ignorance and barbarism – a predominant theme in American Gothic – ('Matthews [the missionary left with the Fuegians] described the watch he was obliged always to keep as most harassing; night and day he was mrrounded by the natives, who tried to tire him out by making an incessant noise close to his head. One day an old man, whom Matthews asked to leave his wigwam, immediately returned with a large stone in his hand; another day a whole party came armed with stones and stakes ... Another party showed by signs that they wished to strip him naked, and pluck all the hairs out of his face and body. I think we arrived just in time to save his life' (Darwin, 1891, p.163)). Darwin can afford to mock the Patagonians a little more than Cooper his Indians because they represent no peril to him. Natty and his companions, however, are in the position of Matthews – at the mercy of creatures who have to 'show by signs' even so basic a concept as murder.
As with Sarmiento's list of customs common to Cooper's Indians and the gaucho, I do not mean to imply that this was a conscious intention on Darwin's part – or even one that he would have recognized in his own work. The point is rather that the hierarchies of characterization he creates in his Beagle narrative - most of which stem from an attitude of superiority; the god-like contempt of a creator for his work – communicate in terms of already accepted conventions to his readers. It is they therefore, as much as Darwin, who seize upon such satisfactory systems of ranking to explain and assimilate another part of the earth's surface. A region, what is more, so alien – so permanently novel – that it retains the title of the New World more than 300 years after its discovery. If Darwin is a Romancer, it is unconsciously – but this is not to say that his work cannot communicate to others in the language of Romance.
[Frederic Edwin Church: The Andes of Ecuador (1855)]
(b) The Cordillera
When we reached the crest & looked backwards, a glorious view was presented, The atmosphere so resplendently clear, the sky an intense blue, the profound valleys, the wild broken forms, the heaps of ruins piled up during the lapse of ages, the bright colored rocks, contrasted with the quiet mountains of Snow, together produced a scene I never could have imagined. Neither plant or bird, excepting a few condors wheeling around the higher pinnacles, distracted the attention from the inanimate mass. – I felt glad I was by myself, it was like watching a thunderstorm, or hearing in the full Orchestra a Chorus of the Messiah. (Keynes, 1988, p.309)
It seems that with this extract we come full circle in our discussion of Darwin. His reaction to the wildness of the Mountains is as sure a manifestation of Romantic 'sensibility' (in Jane Austen's sense) as any in Wordsworth. And Wordsworth would no doubt have appreciated his attempt to define what he saw in terms of the contrasting elements that composed it: 'bright colored rocks' against 'mountains of Snow, together produced .. .' something that excelled his own 'fancy', or imagination.
Once again, he is following Humboldt's example – but this time with a subtle difference. Humboldt, a good Enlightenment man, reacts with more horror than wonder to the heights:
Our short stay at that extreme altitude was very dismal; mist (brume) enveloped us and only now and again revealed the terrible chasms which surrounded us; no living thing was to be seen and tiny mosses were the only organic things which reminded us that we were still on an inhabited planet. (Meyer-Abich & Hentschel, 1969, p.145)
Darwin at first dutifully follows suit: 'In the deep ravines the death-like scene of desolation exceeds all description. It was blowing a gale of wind, but not a breath stirred the leaves of the highest trees; everything was dripping with water; even the very Fungi could not flourish' – but soon a sense of Romantic exaltation overtakes him:
Here was a true Tierra del Fuego view; irregular chains of hills, mottled with patches of snow; deep yellowish-green valleys, & arms of the sea running in all directions; the atmosphere was not however clear, & indeed the strong wind was so piercingly cold, that it would prevent much enjoyment under any circumstances. (Keynes, 1988, p.219)
Too cold, certainly – and the air not sufficiently clear – but one feels an exuberance in that 'a true Tierra del Fuego view' which is lacking in Humboldt's remarks. It is not so much that Darwin is always enthusiatic. about what he sees, as that he seems to be in a state of continual awe at it:
Everthing in this southern continent has been effected on a grand scale (Darwin, 1891, p.124).
An awe analogous, perhaps, with that with which he contemplated 'that mystery of mysteries', the origin of species on this earth (Darwin, 1911, p.1).
To express this feeling, he has recourse to various techniques. The most obvious of these, as we have already seen, is making reference to works of art. We have heard him compare the sight of a mountain range with 'hearing in the full Orchestra a Chorus of the Messiah.' Likewise, in. one of his evocations of the Patagonian plain, he quotes from Shelley's 'Mont Blanc':
There was not a tree, and excepting the guanaco ... scarcely an animal or a bird. All was stillness and desolation. Yet in passing over these scenes, without one bright object near, an ill-defined but strong sense of pleasure is vividly excited. One asked how many ages the plain had thus lasted, and how many more it was doomed thus to continue.
None can reply – all seems eternal now.
The wilderness has a mysterious tongue,
Which teaches awful doubt. (Darwin, 1891, p.122)
The poetry seems here for sensuous impact rather than sense, which leads one to see much of the rest of the passage, too, as an attempt to re-create the sensation of 'visionary dreariness' familiar to us from Wordsworth's Prelude.
Nor is this technique employed merely for the highs, the mountain slopes, of Darwin's experience. He says of one landscape: 'The entangled mass of the thriving and the fallen reminded me of the forests within the tropics – yet there was a difference: for in these still solitudes, Death, instead of Life, seemed the predominant spirit' (Darwin, 1891, p.152). 'Death' and 'Life' are poetic, almost allegorical personifications hardly to be expected in a sober traveller's account. Darwin, the Romantic writer, is however as fascinated with darkness as with light – as in his comparison of the gauchos at camp with a 'Salvator Rosa scene'; or the Latin tag which follows the scene of the Indian's feast, 'besmeared with filth and gore'. The Patagonians, too, are like Devils in 'Der Freischutz'. If one were to characterize the entire view of South America presented by him, one could do no better than his remark:
The theatre is worthy of the scenes acted on it. (Darwin, 1891, p.136)
An appropriately artificial metaphor to sum up this aspect of his work.
Darwin's voyage, then, represents a progression: a progression from imagination to reality – and from reality, through various layers of textuality, to Art – but also a narrative progression from the forests of Brazil, through the embattled plains of Argentina, to the heights of the Andes. The first of these stages is marked by an extreme dependence on precedent – both textual (in the form of Humboldt's writings), and personal (sticking close to the ship, and not undertaking many expeditions inland). The genre here is Naturalist's Diary pure and simple – with each entry blending narrative, generalization, and Scientific detail: the three categories exemplified by Humboldt's Personal Narrative.
In Argentina, Darwin became more independent. Circumstances allowed him to roam more widely, but it was he who acted upon the opportunity. His view of men and their foibles becomes more Olympian – the human categories of South America become a sort of cross-section of characters from Romance: Savages, foolish Aristocrats, Heroes, and ignoble Primitives.
In Chile his genre mutates again. Alone, now, he contemplates the universe and attempts to echo its effect on him by the loftiness of his aspirations ('to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in natural science'). Just as Wordsworth saw in Newton a kindred spirit, 'Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone', so Darwin finds in Shelley and Handel the appropriate models for his state of mind.
The journey, of course, continued – out across the Pacific: to the Galapagos Islands (most commonly associated with his name); to Tahiti; New Zealand; New South Wales; and finally home – but the main body of the epic is set in South America, and it is in the attempt to re-create South America that he ranged across the myriad styles that together make an epic: from the homely, the anecdotal – to the heroic and warlike – to the sublimity of the elemental forces of nature. If the Voyage of the Beagle is, on the one hand, a Romance: it is also a primary epic - one, like Homer, that accretes over time. For secondary, self-conscious epic, one must turn to Moby Dick (1851), The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897), and Arthur Gordon Pym.
In the next chapter, too, we shall be examining such questions of narrative coherence, and the shaping of experience associated with the allegedly 'objective' genres of Historiography and Scientific Naturalism. Only after that will it be possible for us to consider in their full ramifications the overtly fictional accounts of 'South America' (Hudson, Conrad, Masefield), which are, after all, the principal concern of this study.
1. This was the translation used by Darwin, and the one which he took with him on the Beagle [Information from Keynes (1988, p.24)].
2. Indeed Darwin himself remarks: 'About this time [1837-39] I took much delight in Wordsworth and Coleridge's poetry, and can boast that I read the Excursion twice through (Darwin & Huxley, 1974, p.49).
3. I shall record all significant departures from the first edition text in footnotes. Here, for example, aside from a few accidentals, the substantive changes are from 'has been wandering by himself' (1839), to 'has wandered by himself' (1845) in the second sentence; the inversion of 'he ever can hope again to experience' (1839), to 'he can ever hope to experience again' (1845) in the sixth sentence; and the addition of 'that' (1845) to 'it is to the rain we must attribute' (1839) in the ninth. The only major change is between: 'Among the multitude of striking objects. the general luxuriance of the vegetation bears away the victory. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, all tend to this end.' (1839), which has become the single sentence: 'The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, but above all the general luxuriance of the vegetation, filled me with admiration.' (1845) – (Information from the - unfortunately slightly abridged - version of the first edition text reprinted by Janet Browne and Michael Neve (Harmondsworth, 1989, p.50).
4. 'On the other hand, there is much blood shed, and many robberies committed.' (1839) has been reversed to 'On the other hand, many robberies are committed, and there is much blood shed' (1845) – (Browne & Neve, 1989, pp.143-44).
5. Information from Ruth Tomalin (1984, p.91).
6. The phrase 'the male slaves' (1845) has replaced 'the men' (1839) in the second sentence. In the fourth, 'the person' (1839) has become 'the owner' (1845) - (Browne & Neve, 1989, pp.62-63).
7. This whole passage was added in the 1845 edition. 1839 has merely, 'Captain FitzRoy has given an account of all the interesting events which there happened.' – (Browne & Neve, 1989, p.182).
8. It is interesting to note that in the Diary entry corresponding to this, 'death instead of life' is written without this distinctive capitalization – evidence of a conscious intention on Darwin's part in accentuating them in both editions of the Journal (Keynes, 1988, p.126).
- Adams, Percy G. Travelers and Travel Liars: 1660-1800. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1962.
- Barlow, Nora, ed. Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle. London, 1945.
- Browne, Janet & Michael Neve, ed. Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin's Journal of Researches. 1839. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1989.
- Burkhardt, Frederick & Sydney Smith, ed. The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Volume I: 1821-1836. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
- Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. Ed. James A. Sappenfield. Introduction by Richard Slotkin. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin, 1987.
- Darwin, Charles. Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H. M. S. 'Beagle' Round the World. 2nd ed. Sir John Lubbock's Hundred Books, 2. London, 1891.
- Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. 6th ed. London, 1911.
- Darwin, Charles, & Thomas Henry Huxley. Autobiographies. Ed. Gavin de Beer. London, 1974.
- Hudson, W. H. The Naturalist in La Plata. London, 1912.
- Humboldt, Alexander von. Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent During the Years 1799-1804, by Alexander de Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland. Trans. Helen Maria Williams. 7 vols. London, 1814-29.
- Keynes, Richard Darwin, ed. Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
- Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes tropiques. Paris: Terre Humaine, 1982.
- Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes Tropiques. Trans. John & Doreen Weightman. Harmondsworth. 1984.
- Meyer-Abich, Adolf, & Cedric Hentschel. Alexander von Humboldt: 1769/1969. Bonn & Bad Godesberg, 1969.
- Rogers, Pat. 'Monument to the Multitudinous'. TLS, 4444 (3 June 1988): 603-4.
- Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino. Facundo: Civilización y Barbarie - Vida de Juan Facundo Quiroga. Colección Hispanica. New York, 1981.
- Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino. Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days at the Tyrants: or, Civilization and Barbarism. Trans. Mrs. Horace Mann. New York, 1961.
- Tomalin, Ruth. W. H. Hudson: A Biography. Oxford, 1984.
- Wordsworth, William. The Complete Poetical Works. Ed. John Morley. London, 1924.
[R. B. Cunninghame Graham: A Brazilian Mystic (1920)]