Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin
This is the diary entry of Charles Darwin from February 12, 1835. For those of you interested in the life of the naturalist who most thoroughly described the process of natural selection as a causative mechanism for evolution when he published the work On the Origins of the Species, one of the most interesting blogs on the internet is the daily publishing of Darwin’s diary entries from the period he was a member of the team on The Beagle. Roger is kind enough post the entries on matching days, and I have been following Darwin’s journey from the time he left England in this way.
We continued to ride through the uncleared forest; & only occassionally met an Indian on horseback, or a troop of fine mules bringing Alerce planks or corn from the Southern plains. In the afternoon one of the horses tired; we were then on the brow of a hill which commanded a fine view of the Llanos. The view of these open plains was very refreshing, after being hemmed in & buried amongst the wilderness of trees. The uniformity of a forest soon becomes very wearisome; this West coast makes me remember with pleasure the free, unbounded plains of Patagonia; yet with the true spirit of contradiction, I cannot forget how sublime is the silence of the forest. The Llanos are the most fertile & thickly peopled parts of the country: they possess the immense advantage of being nearly free from trees; before leaving the forest we crossed some flat little lawns, around which single trees were encroaching in the manner of an English park. — It is curious how generally a plain seems hostile to the growth of trees: Humboldt found much difficulty in endeavouring to account for their presence or absence in certain parts of S. America; it appears to me that the levelness of the surface very frequently determines this point; but the cause why it should do so I cannot guess. — In the case of Tierra del Fuego the deficiency is probably owing to the accumulation of too much moisture; but in Banda Oriental, to the North of Maldonado, where we have a fine undulating country, with streams of water (which are themselves fringed with wood) is to me, as I have before stated, the most inexplicable case.
What surprised me is that in this entry he makes no note of his birthday, but I also found this paragraph interesting when discussing his conversation with a local priest in a small village in South America:
I spent the evening very pleasantly, talking with the Padre. — He was exceedingly kind & hospitable; & coming from St Jago had contrived to surround himself with some few comforts. Being a man of some little education, he bitterly complained of the total want of society; — with no particular zeal for religion, no business or pursuit, how completely must this mans life be wasted.
Since this is a raw entry from a private diary it is not carefully edited for clarity and I read it a few times to try to understand what it is that Darwin is saying of the padre. Is the padre complaining of the lack of zeal for religion and then commenting that the Padre’s life being wasted for complaining of that? Or, more likely is he judging that the Padre’s life is being wasted by having no passionate pursuit for religion nor business?
I would say that if the Padre had passion and zeal for religion, his life would be wasted, but since Darwin had not yet discarded his religious beliefs in favor of a strong agnostic position I guess that Darwin is unhappy for the man that he is a Padre yet lacks the conviction of his profession and is satisfied with merely complaining. Darwin was passionate in his curiosity and I am thankful to him for that, for his devotion to methodology and the work it takes even when menial and repetitive to carry his need to know and find excitement and satisfaction while finding useful answers to big questions.
Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!