Darwin Letter Friday
Charles “connoisseur of deserts” Darwin has reached Cape Town, which he finds to be a great mass of boarding houses and inns, bustling with travelers to the far East and back. The word “Nabobs” refers to people returning from overseas, often India, having acquired wealth there.
Towards the end of the letter, rather amusingly, Darwin is frightened about the circulation of his field notes in England before he has had a chance to edit them properly. To be fair, Henslow, who circulated the notes, did so with an extensive caveat.
To Catherine Darwin 3 June 1836
Cape of Good Hope.
June 3d. 1836
My dear Catherine,
We arrived here the day before yesterday; the first part of our passage from Mauritius was very favourable, and the latter as execrably bad. We encountered a heavy gale of wind, which strongly reminded us of the old days, near Cape Horn; It is a lucky thing for me, that the voyage is drawing to its close, for I positively suffer more from sea sickness, now, than three years ago.— All hands, having been disappointed in letters at Sydney & Mauritius made up their minds for a grand pile at this place.— The mountain of letters, alas, has dwindled into a small packet of about a dozen: amongst them I had the good fortune of receiving yours of Jan. 1836!.— Nine months’ letters are wandering over the wide ocean, which we shall not receive till some time after reaching England; But if you knew the glowing unspeakable delight, which I felt at being certain that my Father & all of you were well, only four months ago, you would not grudge, the labor lost in keeping up the regular series of letters.—& it has only happened by such order that I have received this last letter.—
When I wrote from Mauritius, I begged, that the Plymouth letter might contain a short abstract of the last 18 months; now it need only go back as far as January. Pray do not disappoint me this; for otherwise I shall be uncomfortable in my journey instead of enjoying, the sight of the most glorious & the most beautiful of countries. I believe I have at home, a leathern Portmanteau, great coat, & cloth leggings: if so, will you have them sent, by the 1st of September directed to “Lieut. Sulivan, to the care of Mr Elliot Royal Hotel, Devonport.—(to be kept till H.M.S. Beagle arrives)”.— We go from hence to St Helena; between which place & England, our stages are not yet determined.—
The Beagle is now lying at Simons Bay, more than 20 miles from Cape town, where I now am— This is a pretty & singular town; it lies at the foot of an enormous wall, (the Table mountain), which reaches to the clouds, & makes a most imposing barrier.— Cape town is a great inn, on the great highway to the east; an extraordinary number of houses are occupied as boarding houses, in one of which I am now settled: the first day I got amongst a set of Nabobs, who certainly, poor fellows, all together could not have produced a Liver as good as the hero in Beppo. They were heavy prosers. I was quite bewildered with Cawnpoor & so many “poors,” & with rushing from Calcutta to Bombay, backwards & forwards.— in despair—I effected a most precipitate retreat; & deliver me in future from the Nabobs.—
Tomorrow morning I am going to call with Capt. F.R. on the Sir J. Herschel. I have already seen the house which he has purchased; it is six miles from the town & in a most retired charming situation. I have heard so much about his eccentric but very aimiable manners, that I have a high curiosity to see the great Man.—
The day after tomorrow, I hope to set out on a short ride of 3 or 4 days, to get a few glimpses of African landscape, or rather I should say, African deserts.— Having seen so much of that sort of country in Patagonia Chili & Peru, I feel myself to a certain degree a connoiseur in a desert, & am very anxious to see these. Every country has its peculiar character; & every country is well worth seeing. But oh the country of countries; the nice undulating green fields & shady lanes. Oh if you young ladies have been cutting down many of the trees (& I shall recollect every one), I never will forgive you.—
I am quite delighted at hearing Erasmus is turned house holder; I hope I shall be able to get lodgings at no great distance, & then London will be a very pleasant place. I often however think Cambridge would be better, I can not make myself cockney enough to give up thoughts of a quiet walks on an Autumnal morning, in the real country.—
I have been a good deal horrified by a sentence in your letter where you talk of “the little books with the extracts from your letters”. I can only suppose they refer to a few geological details. But I have always written to Henslow in the same careless manner as to you; & to print what has been written without care & accuracy, is indeed playing with edge tools. But as the Spaniard says, “No hay remedio”.—
Farewell for the present & God bless you all.— I have a strong suspicion that my Father will hear of me again before the time of sailing, which will happen in 10 days time.— Give my love to the young Miss Parker; for I hope I have a little niece, instead of a fifth nephew. My dear Catherine | Your affectionate Brother. C. D.
N.B. I find I am forced, after all to draw a Bill of 30£ at once.—it is not that I am at all sure I shall want the money here, but if on my return from the country my funds fail, I shall not at the moment not know what to do.—