May we not read in this passage an indication that the self-taught geologist had, even at this early stage, begun to feel a distrust for the prevalent catastrophism, and that his mind was becoming a field in which the seeds which Lyell was afterwards to sow would "fall on good ground"?
The second period of Darwin's geological career--the five years spent by him on board the "Beagle"--was the one in which by far the most important stage in his mental development was accomplished. He left England a healthy, vigorous and enthusiastic collector; he returned five years later with unique experiences, the germs of great ideas, and a knowledge which placed him at once in the foremost ranks of the geologists of that day. Huxley has well said that "Darwin found on board the "Beagle" that which neither the pedagogues of Shrewsbury, nor the professoriate of Edinburgh, nor the tutors of Cambridge had managed to give him." ("Proc. Roy. Soc." Vol. XLIV. (1888), page IX.) Darwin himself wrote, referring to the date at which the voyage was expected to begin: "My second life will then commence, and it shall be as a birthday for the rest of my life." ("L.L." I. page 214.); and looking back on the voyage after forty years, he wrote; "The voyage of the 'Beagle' has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career;...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 developed." ("L.L." I. page 61.)
Referring to these general studies in natural history, however, Darwin adds a very significant remark: "The investigation of the geology of 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." ("L.L." I. page 62.)
The famous voyage began amid doubts, discouragements and disappointments. Fearful of heart-disease, sad at parting from home and friends, depressed by sea-sickness, the young explorer, after being twice driven back by baffling winds, reached the great object of his ambition, the island of Teneriffe, only to find that, owing to quarantine regulations, landing was out of the question.
But soon this inauspicious opening of the voyage was forgotten. Henslow had advised his pupil to take with him the first volume of Lyell's "Principles of Geology", then just published--but cautioned him (as nearly all the leaders in geological science at that day would certainly have done) "on no account to accept the views therein advocated." ("L.L." I. page 73.) It is probable that the days of waiting, discomfort and sea- sickness at the beginning of the voyage were relieved by the reading of this volume. For he says that when he landed, three weeks after setting sail from Plymouth, in St Jago, the largest of the Cape de Verde Islands, the volume had already been "studied attentively; and the book was of the highest service to me in many ways..." His first original geological work, he declares, "showed me clearly the wonderful superiority of Lyell's manner of treating geology, compared with that of any other author, whose works I had with me or ever afterwards read." ("L.L." I. page 62.)
At St Jago Darwin first experienced the joy of making new discoveries, and his delight was unbounded. Writing to his father he says, "Geologising in a volcanic country is most delightful; besides the interest attached to itself, it leads you into most beautiful and retired spots." ("L.L." I. page 228.) To Henslow he wrote of St Jago: "Here we spent three most delightful weeks...St Jago is singularly barren, and produces few plants or insects, so that my hammer was my usual companion, and in its company most delightful hours I spent." "The geology was pre-eminently interesting, and I believe quite new; there are some facts on a large scale of upraised coast (which is an excellent epoch for all the volcanic rocks to date from), that would interest Mr Lyell." ("L.L." I. page 235.) After more than forty years the memory of this, his first geological work, seems as fresh as ever, and he wrote in 1876, "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." ("L.L." I. page 65.)
It was at this time, probably, that Darwin made his first attempt at drawing a sketch-map and section to illustrate the observations he had made (see his "Volcanic Islands", pages 1 and 9). His first important geological discovery, that of the subsidence of strata around volcanic vents (which has since been confirmed by Mr Heaphy in New Zealand and other authors) awakened an intense enthusiasm, and he writes: "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 I rested, with the sun glaring hot, a few strange desert plants growing near, and with living corals in the tidal pools at my feet." ("L.L." I. page 66.)
But it was when the "Beagle", after touching at St Paul's rock and Tristan d'Acunha (for a sufficient time only to collect specimens), reached the shores of South America, that Darwin's real work began; and he was able, while the marine surveys were in progress, to make many extensive journeys on land. His letters at this time show that geology had become his chief delight, and such exclamations as "Geology carries the day," "I find in Geology a never failing interest," etc. abound in his correspondence.
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- 1and other comforts. At Caylen, the most southern island,
- 2kind, and himself especially, as impure, depraved. Often
- 3exhaustion; he slept—if sleep came to him—on a bare
- 4Petronilla’s face hardened till its cruel sternness outdid
- 5could trust. To them he explained his plans and the rich
- 6between him and Basil, both being capable of patriotism,
- 7an absence of two or three hours, had returned, bringing
- 8every chamber of the great house, his dagger would have
- 9and not Spaniards and that they were in sad want of tobacco
- 10potters had been pillaged, not without resistance, which
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- her arms, and laughed shrilly, insanely. Then she turned
- Whether true or not, Basil had no choice but to accept
- great house were perfectly familiar to him, and had it
- kind, and himself especially, as impure, depraved. Often
- good old blooms of northern Europe which My Dear had so
- he not only denied all knowledge of where Veranilda was
- across the hall and out into a peristyle, its pavement
- his phrase. ‘The Gothic lady, I would say, who has somehow
- all the inhabitants came down to the beach to see us pitch
- perils his beloved was exposed whilst Petronilla’s captive?