Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Darwin Letter Friday

September 5, 2008

What do you pack for a journey around the world?

Well, if the year is 1831, guns. Lots of them.

Charles Darwin wrote his sister Susan 177 years ago tomorrow with a packing list for the H.M.S. Beagle voyage, and fears that he’s a bother for asking for more and more stuff. Or maybe that’s just Victorian manners, hard at work.

Eight shirts? Make that twelve. He needs his microscope, good shoes, and taxidermy guide. Oh, and pack that microscope in cotton.

Captain FitzRoy advises that he bring a case of pistols, and assures Darwin that guns are the one thing never to skimp on.

In other news, Darwin-mania can only grow; as a new movie is in the works.

My dear Susan
Again I am going to trouble you. I suspect, if I keep on at this rate, you will sincerely wish me at Terra de Fuego or any other Terra, but England.— First I will give my commissions.— Tell Nancy to make me soon 12 instead of 8 shirts: Tell Edward to send me up in my carpet bag, (he can slip the key in the bag tied to some string) my slippers, a pair of lightish walking shoes.—My Spanish books: my new microscope (about 6 inches long & 3 or 4 deep),1 which must have cotton stuffed inside: my geological compass.—my Father knows that: A little book, if I have got it in bedroom, Taxidermy:2 ask my Father if he thinks there would be any objection to my taking Arsenic for a little time, as my hands are not quite well—& I have always observed, that if I once get them well & change my manner of living about same time they will generally remain well.— What is the dose?— Tell Edward my gun is dirty: What is Erasmus direction, tell me if you think there is time to write & to receive an answer before I start: as I should like particularly to know what he thinks about it. I suppose you do not know Sir J. Macintosh direction?—

I write all this as if it was settled but it is not more than it was.—excepting that from Cap. FitzRoy wishing me so much to go, & from his kindness I feel a predestination I shall start.—I spent a very pleasant evening with him yesterday: he must be more than 23 old. he is of a slight figure, & a dark but handsome edition of Mr. Kynaston.—& according to my notions preeminently good manners: He is all for Economy excepting on one point, viz fire arms he recommends me strongly to get a case of pistols like his which cost 60£!!, & never to go on shore anywhere without loaded ones.—& he is doubting about a rifle.—he says I cannot appreciate the luxury of fresh meat here.—Of course I shall buy nothing till every thing is settled: but I work all day long at my lists, putting in & striking out articles.— This is the first really cheerful day I have spent since I received the letter, & it all is owing to the sort of involuntary confidence I place in my beau ideal of a Captain.—

We stop at Teneriffe. His object is to stop at as many places as possible. he takes out 20 Chronometers & it will be a “sin” not to settle the longitudes:3 he tells me to get it down on writing at ye Admiralty that I have the free choice to leave, as soon & wherever I like: I daresay you expect I shall turn back at the Madeira: if I have a morsel of stomach left, I wont give up.— Excuse my so 3 often troubling & writing, the one is of great utility, the other a great amusement to me.— Most likely I shall write tomorrow

Love to my Father.— Dearest Susan | C. Darwin

Answer by return of post

As my instruments want altering send my things by the Oxonian, ye same

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