Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Darwin Letter Friday

As Darwin watches the preparation of the H.M.S. Beagle, he gets (understandably) excited.

It also turns out that Captain FitzRoy was popular with the ladies. Darwin fears that he will get seasick on the voyage; it happens to everyone. Little did he know how bad it would be, and that raisins were all he could eat for weeks.

In the second paragraph, Darwin writes of his admiration for “a Mr. Harris.” William Snow Harris was known as “Thunder and Lightning Harris” for his work making electrical conductors for ship masts. These conductors ran down the mast and discharged lightning through the hull of the ship. He was eventually knighted in 1847 for this, but the Russians adopted it way before the Brits. in 1845, he got some special gifts from the Tsar for his work.

Thunder and Lightning Harris, huh? What an appropriate name to feature on Talk Like a Pirate Day.

12 November, 1831

My dear Caroline,

The tutor’s bill is just as I expected—and I will contrive some plan through Henslow.—Most unfortunately Henslow has just lost his brother, so I do not like at present to trouble him.—

Everything here is most prosperous; the Beagle now looks something like a ship— They have just painted her and in a weeks time the men will live on board.— No Vessel has ever been fitted at all on so expensive a scale from Plymouth— I get into a fine naval fervour whenever I look at her. I suppose she is as good a ship as art can make her—and if I believe all I hear the Captain is as perfect as nature can make him— It is ridiculous to see how popular he is, ladies can hardly splutter out big enough words to express their big feelings—

I have been going out rather more lately than I wish. I dined yesterday at the Admirals Sir Dixon with Captain FitzRoy—where I met nobody but naval officers, the conversation would have been stupid to a landsman,— but to me it was very interesting. I breakfasted yesterday with a Mr. Harris whom I like more than anybody I have seen.— He has written a great deal on Electricity— This morning I did ditto with Col. H. Smith a very clever old Gentleman.— Tomorrow I am going to Lord Morleys, and am going to ride over with Lord Borrington to see the granite on Dartmoor.— So that I am quite gay & like the place very much.— I suspect from all I hear the sea-sickness is very much worse than I expected— More than half the naval officers feel uncomfortable at first starting.— I am sure, as soon as sea-sickness is over I shall soon fall into sea habits & like them.— I think I get accustomed to anything soon, and that will be half the battle won.— It is very lucky we did not sail earlier, for if we had started 6 weeks ago, I believe we should not, owing to S. W. Gale, have reached Madeira by this time.—

Tell Susan she need not be alarmed about my forgetting to give directions about writing. I presume Rio Janeiro will be principal place for some time.— I get letters for nothing— I fancy S. America will not detain us more than 18 months— What then nobody seems to know— It is certain that a new continent has been discovered somewhere far South. Perhaps we may be sent in search.— I suppose you have received a letter from me since Susan’s date.

Love to my Father & all others. C. Darwin.

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