Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Voyage of the Beagle - by Charles Darwin

Free US/UK Kindle Classic
Charles Darwin's 1839 Voyage of the Beagle is a great travel memoir.  It also has its value as a scientific book, but not on the Kindle.  The Kindle edition does not include the illustrations.  (US Edition)  (UK Edition

In honor of "Shark Week," here the great English naturalist describes an interesting fish. (If you do not have Shark Week in the UK, one station dedicates all programming for one week to extravagant shark documentaries - and that has now bled over to other stations who re-run all their shark programming.)
" . . . he has frequently found a Diodon, floating alive and distended, in the stomach of the shark, and that on several occasions he has known it eat its way, not only through the coats of the stomach, but through the sides of the monster, which has thus been killed. Who would ever have imagined that a little soft fish could have destroyed the great and savage shark?"
This is an incredible voyage and only a small part of it is spent in the Galapagos.  This is from Rio de Janeiro:
"On first arriving it was our custom to unsaddle the horses and give them their Indian corn; then, with a low bow, to ask the senhor to do us the favour to give up something to eat. "Anything you choose, sir," was his usual answer. For the few first times, vainly I thanked providence for having guided us to so good a man. The conversation proceeding, the case universally became deplorable. "Any fish can you do us the favour of giving ?" — "Oh! no, sir." — "Any soup?" — "No, sir." — "Any bread?" — "Oh! no, sir." — "Any dried meat?" — "Oh! no, sir." If we were lucky, by waiting a couple of hours, we obtained fowls, rice, and farinha. It not unfrequently happened, that we were obliged to kill, with stones, the poultry for our own supper. When, thoroughly exhausted by fatigue and hunger, we timorously hinted that we should be glad of our meal, the pompous, and (though true) most unsatisfactory answer was, "It will be ready when it is ready." If we had dared to remonstrate any further, we should have been told to proceed on our journey, as being too impertinent."
The trip is not just a travel book.  Seeing slaves, he speculates on slavery:
"It is often attempted to palliate slavery by comparing the state of slaves with our poorer countrymen: if the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin; but how this bears on slavery, I cannot see; as well might the use of the thumb-screw be defended in one land, by showing that men in another land suffered from some dreadful disease.
Not always a gentle voyage . . ."

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