RECORD: Barlow, N. 1932. Robert FitzRoy and Charles Darwin. Cornhill Magazine (April): 493-510.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned and OCRed by John van Wyhe 2008, corrected by Kees Rookmaaker 1.2009. RN3
ROBERT FITZROY AND CHARLES DARWIN.
In August, 1831, one hundred years ago, Charles Darwin received the first tentative proposals through Professor Henslow, of Cambridge, that he should accompany Captain Robert FitzRoy, R.N., 'on a trip to Tierra del Fuego, and home by the East Indies . . . more as companion than mere collector.' A momentous proposal of far-reaching issue which brought two curiously divergent personalities into closest contact, and led to five years of ideal training for Darwin's maturing mind, unfolding to his eager scrutiny a panorama of natural fact with the details of which he filled the notebooks that became the storehouse for his later evolutionary work.
Darwin's acceptance hung perilously in the balance for one breathless week. His father, Dr. Robert Darwin, was opposed to the scheme and Charles despatched a reluctant refusal. He posted up to Maer the next day, to the home of his uncle Josiah Wedgwood, all hope of the voyage abandoned, to be ready for his much-loved shooting on September 1. He showed the sympathetic family the summary he had drawn up of his father's objections, eight in number. The first ran: 'Disreputable to my character as a clergyman hereafter'; and the last 'That it would be a useless undertaking.' The Wedgwood family were all in favour of the adventure and Josiah wrote to Dr. Robert categorically answering each item on the list. In reply to the first he wrote: 'I should not think that it would be in any degree disreputable to his character as a clergyman. I should on the contrary think the offer honourable to him; and the pursuit of Natural History, though certainly not professional, is very suitable to a clergyman.' To the last objection of its 'uselessness' he wrote: 'The undertaking would be useless as regards his profession, but looking on him as a man of enlarged curiosity, it affords him such an opportunity of seeing men and things as happens to few.' Dr. Darwin yielded to the wisdom of Josiah Wedgwood, and the verdict was hastily reversed.
By September 5, Robert FitzRoy and Charles Darwin had met and the scene was laid, with the Beagle as stage. We have
records of their mutual impressions after this interview. FitzRoy writes of Darwin to Captain Beaufort, the Admiralty Hydrographer: 'I like what I see of him much, and I now request that you will apply for him to accompany me as Naturalist.' Darwin on the same evening writes to his sister of FitzRoy: 'It is no use attempting to praise him as much as I feel inclined to do, for you would not believe me,' and very soon he becomes 'my beau idéal of a Captain.' After the first few weeks at sea FitzRoy writes home to the Hydrographer: 'Darwin is a very sensible, hard-working man, and a very pleasant mess-mate. I never saw a "shore-going fellow" come into the ways of a ship so soon and so thoroughly as Darwin.' After several months at sea he writes again: 'Darwin is a regular Trump,' and in the same year comments thus on the first collection of specimens sent home: 'I fancy that though of small things it is numerous and valuable, and will convince the Cantabrigians that their envoy is no Idler.'
To-day, after the lapse of one hundred years, FitzRoy's fame is largely a reflected glory from Darwin's pages. But his reputation has a far wider basis and is founded on a life of strenuous activity and fine achievement. In following him along his doomed path we can trace throughout the dual strands of an austere sacrifice of all to duty, side by side with a perversity of judgment and lack of discernment. The young man of dominating personality, as Darwin first knew him, became more and more imbued with intellectual intolerance until he reached the crisis some thirty years later, when he ended tragically by his own hand.
Robert FitzRoy was born in 1805. He was the grandson of the third Duke of Grafton on his father's side, and of the first Marquis of Londonderry on his mother's. He was therefore a direct descendant of Charles II. His mother was Lady Frances Anne Stewart, sister of Lord Castlereagh.
He entered the Navy with some distinction, and for eight years commanded H.M.S. Beagle, a brig of 235 tons; from 1828-30 on a surveying voyage under the orders of Captain King who commanded the accompanying vessel the Adventure, and from 1831-6 when he was reappointed to continue alone the survey of the same coasts, accompanied by the obscure young naturalist who was to bring world-renown to the small sailing vessel. It was on board the Beagle that the word 'port' was first substituted for 'larboard' —a small point but indicative of much of FitzRoy's effort. He was one of those workers whose achievements are accepted as
part and parcel of history with little or no acknowledgment. It was he who later in life instituted weather forecasts or storm-warnings, which have had such far-reaching subsequent developments. His coastal survey of South America was an admirable piece of work; moreover he carried a chain of Meridian Distances round the world.
After his return to England in 1836 his activities were many. He published a Sailing Guide to S. America, and works on meteorology and the barometer; indeed a barometer of his design is still associated with his name. In 1841 he stood as the Conservative candidate for Durham. The retirement of a second Conservative candidate, a Mr. Sheppard, led to a violent quarrel, a challenge, and an ignoble scene outside the United Services Club. Mr. Sheppard said: 'Captain FitzRoy, I will not strike you, but consider yourself horse-whipped.' FitzRoy replied by striking at his face with an umbrella and knocking him down. Officers of high rank decided that FitzRoy could not give Sheppard a meeting, so both resorted to childish vituperation in print.
In 1843 FitzRoy was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief in New Zealand, and here again he made inveterate enemies. His missionary zeal and over-confidence in the native led him into direct conflict with the large body of settlers who were suffering from Maori outrages, and his reckless financial policy where retrenchment was called for, caused the bitterest feeling on the part of the New Zealand Company. Doubtless the views and behaviour of the settlers with regard to the Maoris went against FitzRoy's sense of justice and gave some excuse for his conduct, but it is clear that he ruled with his characteristic absence of judgment. A petition was sent to the Home Parliament, with the result that he was recalled, and the petitioners add to their concrete grievances the following: 'They cannot but think that the somewhat obtrusive and absorbing observance of devotional duties . . . has contributed to give to Government House the air of a conventicle, and caused its almost entire desertion by all but missionaries.' On his return he was appointed Superintendent of the Woolwich Dockyard, and carried out trials in the frigate Arrogant, an early attempt to fit a warship with an auxiliary screw. He retired from active service in 1851, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in the same year. He was made chief of the Meteorological Office of the Board of Trade in 1854, and in the course of seniority became rear-admiral in 1857, and vice-admiral in 1863. The Lifeboat Association owed
much to his secretaryship, and the future Mercantile Marine Act was based largely on his early draft. The strain of overwork was too great for his sensitive and unbalanced mind, and finally, like his uncle Lord Castlereagh, he committed suicide at the age of sixty.
The whole story of the association of FitzRoy with Charles Darwin is of striking interest, not only as it reveals the remarkable personality of FitzRoy himself, but also as it throws light on one of the most potent influences of Darwin's life. For though the circumstances of the voyage must be reckoned as the main factor of those decisive years, yet I think it can be maintained that the personal element counted also, and that the close companionship of a man of FitzRoy's moral ascendancy and intellectual intransigence left their indelible mark. Darwin was not yet twenty-three when he set sail, on the threshold of his career, whilst FitzRoy was only twenty-six years when personal influences count for much, and Darwin from the very beginning fell under his senior's charm. FitzRoy possessed an integrity of outlook that made an instant appeal to Darwin, and it was only later that intellectual divergences became apparent as the two young men developed along separate and ever-widening paths. Darwin had no unorthodox tendencies as a young man, and even in the second year of the voyage was still visualising himself in the future as an English country clergyman. He wrote to his sister: 'Although I like this knocking about, I find I steadily have a distant prospect of a very quiet Parsonage, and I can see it even through a grove of Palms.' FitzRoy's philosophic and religious reasoning must before long have started the ferment of questioning in his young companion's mind, for FitzRoy was a passionate believer in Creation in its crudest and most literal sense. But Darwin's warmth and loyalty outlasted all differences, and he retained a deep respect for his Captain's fine and rare qualities to the end.
To fill in the shadowy portrait of FitzRoy has been my aim, with special reference to his influence on Darwin's life and work, and I have had the privilege of being able to draw from Darwin's unpublished Autobiography and from some unpublished letters in possession of the family. The austere officer, feared and revered by his men, of aristocratic bearing, generous, extravagant, devoted to his duty and negligent of all self-interest, suddenly is revealed in some new light by the sympathetic hand of his young contemporary as he writes to his sisters eager for news in England. His
vivid summing-up after four months at sea, gives his early impression.
'Botofogo Bay, April 25, 1832.
'. . . And now for the Captain, as I daresay you feel some interest in him. As far as I can judge, he is a very extraordinary person. I never before came across a man whom I could fancy being a Napoleon or a Nelson. I should not call him clever, yet I feel convinced nothing is too great or too high for him. His ascendancy over everybody is quite curious; the extent to which every officer and man feels the slightest rebuke or praise would have been before seeing him incomprehensible. It is very amusing to see all hands hauling at a rope, they not supposing him on deck, and then observe the effect when he utters a syllable; it is like a string of dray-horses, when the waggoner gives one of his awful smacks. His candour and sincerity are to me unparalleled; and using his own words his "vanity and petulance" are nearly so. I have felt the effects of the latter. . . . His greatest fault as a companion is his austere silence produced from excessive thinking. His many good qualities are numerous: altogether he is the strongest marked character I ever fell in with.'
Darwin's next letter refers to FitzRoy's breakdown in 1834 at the time of an excess of anxiety of mind. Weighed down by his laborious instructions from the Admiralty, he had at various times purchased on his own responsibility additional boats, hoping to be reimbursed later, the smaller craft to act as auxiliary surveying vessels amongst the sand-banks and intricate harbours of the Argentine which must otherwise have been left uncharted, and a larger schooner to act as tender to the Beagle. He wrote of the schooner, 'My wish to purchase her was unconquerable,' and further explains his action. 'I had become more fully convinced than ever that the Beagle could not execute her allotted task before she and those in her would be in so much need of repair and rest, that the most interesting part of the voyage—the carrying a chain of Meridian Distances around the globe—must eventually be sacrificed to the tedious although not less useful details of coast surveying.' The vexation and mortification when he heard that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty would give him no assistance hastened his breakdown. It is said that the total of FitzRoy's reckless and quixotic expenditure amounted to over £3,000, to the permanent benefit of the survey and those under him, but at the expense of an undermining bitterness to FitzRoy.
Darwin's account to his sister Catherine of the Captain's condition follows.
' Valparaiso, Nov. 8th, 1834.
'Captain FitzRoy has for the last two months been working extremely hard, and at the same time constantly annoyed by interruptions from officers of other ships. The selling the Schooner and its consequences were very vexatious; the cold manner the Admiralty (solely I believe because he is a Tory) have treated him . . . have made him very thin and unwell. This was accompanied by a morbid depression of spirits, and a loss of all decision and resolution. The Captain was afraid that his mind was becoming deranged (being aware of his hereditary predisposition), and all that Bynoe1 could say, that it was merely the effects of bodily health and exhaustion after such application, would not do; he invalided and Wickham was appointed to the Command.'
Fortunately the tide of his depression turned, and he was persuaded to withdraw his resignation.
Darwin's next letter brings out another side of FitzRoy's character. In this episode his rapid decision and rapid action were the means of saving his friend Captain Seymour and the crew of the wrecked Challenger from off the coast of Chile. FitzRoy had a desperate ride through many miles of hostile Araucanian Indian country to locate the camp of the wrecked crew, and after his return piloted the Blonde, a frigate under Commodore Mason, to the spot and carried through the rescue only just in time, for disease, starvation and menacing Indians were all threatening the safety of the encampment. We can read between the lines in FitzRoy's own account and get the impression of a splendid and almost ferocious determination to save his friend, all obstacles being hewn away. Darwin's letter home tells of the stir the event caused.
' Lima, July, 1835.
'. . . When I reached the Port of Copiapò, I found the Beagle there but with Wickham as temporary Captain. Shortly after the Beagle got into Valparaiso, news arrived that H.M.S. Challenger was lost at Arauco, and that Captain Seymour and crew were badly off among the Indians. The old Commodore in the Blonde was very slack in his motions—in short afraid of getting on that lee-shore in the Winter; so Captain FitzRoy had to bully him, and at last offered to go as Pilot. We hear that they have succeeded in saving nearly all hands, but that the Captain and Commodore have had a tremendous quarrel; the former having hinted
1 The ship surgeon.
something about a Court Martial for his slowness. We suspect that such a taught-hand as the Captain is, has opened the eyes of everyone, fore and aft, in the Blonde to a surprising degree. We expect the Blonde will arrive here in a very few days, and all are very curious to hear the news; no change in state politicks ever caused in its circle more conversation than this wonderful quarrel between the Captain and the Commodore has with us.'
By the end of 1835 the voyage was drawing to a close and in the sequence of Charles's letters to his family there comes a change in his attitude towards his home-coming and his future. In this last year he visualises himself not in a parsonage, but in lodgings near the British Museum, or in Cambridge within reach of his scientific friends; or in 'lodgings with good big rooms in some vulgar part of London.'
On the homeward journey across the Atlantic Darwin gives another picture of the Captain.
'April 29, 1836.
. . . The Captain is daily becoming a happier man; he now looks forward with cheerfulness to the work which is before him. He, like myself, is busy all day in writing, but instead of geology, it is the account of the voyage. I sometimes fear his " Book" will be rather diffuse, but in most other respects it certainly will be good. His style is very simple and excellent. He has proposed to me to join him in publishing the account; that is for him to have the disposal and arranging of my Journal, and to mingle it with his own. Of course I have said I am perfectly willing, if he wants materials, or thinks the chit-chat details of my Journal anyways worth publishing.'
Perhaps it was some awakening realisation of the trend of Darwin's scientific views that led to this suggestion of joint authorship, but presumably FitzRoy found this mingling of the results impossible and we hear no more of the plan. No thought of fame had entered Darwin's mind at that time, though scientific ambitions were beginning to stir. He still deferred to FitzRoy's opinion as to the merits of his Journal. But no sooner on English soil once again, than Darwin stepped into his own kingdom, an acknowledged master in geological matters. A new note of certainty is found in his letters, and even of criticism of his revered Captain, Though the friendship continued for many years and Darwin retained the warmest memories of FitzRoy's personality to the end of his life, yet the termination of the voyage and more especially the publica-
tion of their accounts of those arduous years of travel, marked the true close of the great intimacy and co-operation of these two remarkably diverse men.
The preparation for the press was severe work for both. FitzRoy was responsible for the first two volumes, whilst Darwin's Journal formed the third. Darwin had besides to cope with his collections and his purely scientific results. It was not until 1839, three years after they landed, that the volumes appeared. Darwin writes of the Captain's labours to his sister Susan, and the critical note is sounded.
'April, 1839 (Probably written from Great Marlborough St.).
' I went to the Captain's yesterday evening to drink tea. It did one good to hear Mrs. FitzRoy talk about her baby; it was so beautiful, and its little voice was such charming music. The Captain is going on very well, that is for a man who has the most consummate skill in looking at everything and everybody in a perverted manner. He is working very hard at his book, which I suppose will really be out in June. I looked over a few pages of Captain King's Journal: I was absolutely forced against all love of truth to tell the Captain that I supposed it was very good, but in honest reality no pudding for little schoolboys ever was so heavy. It abounds with Natural History of a very trashy nature. I trust the Captain's own volume will be better.'
That candid phrase sums him up: 'a man who has the most consummate skill in looking at everything and everybody in a perverted manner.' A sad verdict to come to after the wholehearted praises of eight years before.
Henry Colburn, the publisher, brought out a further issue of Darwin's volume alone, its greater popularity being soon evident. It must have been of the first and second issue together that Darwin writes in the following letter to his sister Susan. After speaking of some of his friend's speculations and their losses he says: 'The world is gone mad with their speculations. Talking, of money, I reaped the other day all the profit which I shall ever get from my Journal, which consisted in my paying Mr. Colburn £21 10s. for the copies which I presented to different people; 1,337 copies have been sold.—This is a comfortable arrangement, is it not?' Mr. Colburn, one gathers, was a good business man. It was not until 1845 that Darwin handed the copyright of the second edition over to Murray for £150, substantial alterations having been made. It was this later edition that won such an immense popularity.
In these quotations from Darwin's letters home, and in the
short survey of FitzRoy's life, there are indications of the gloomy anxiety that pervaded his mind, and quotations from his own writings will show that an increasing religious mania was the real cause of their later divergence of view. FitzRoy, with his violent temper, was a man very difficult to live with, and it needed Darwin's abhorrence of unnecessary dissension and his constant pursuit of the best in his fellow-men to ensure that during the five years' intimacy on board the Beagle there were not more than 'several serious quarrels.' One of these was on the subject of slavery, but we never hear of any open disagreement on intellectual or religious subjects. Both admired and upheld missionary enterprise, Darwin as a quiet observer, but FitzRoy with all the zeal of his uncompromising nature. Indeed his ardour had led him far afield, and readers of the Beagle will remember that intriguing figure Jemmy Button, and his compatriots from Tierra del Fuego.
In his earlier command of the Beagle, FitzRoy had taken four natives on board; two, Fuegia Basket, a girl of eight, and Boat Memory, a man, were taken as hostages after the loss of a much-prized whale-boat. Another man, York Minster, was taken shortly afterwards; later a boy, Jemmy Button, of his own will entered the sailors' boat from the canoe of his relatives during some trading operations, and was bought for the price of one button— whence his name. Fuegia Basket received her name from the contrivance by which the sailors from the lost whale-boat returned to the Beagle bringing the news of the loss, and which resembled a basket rather than any species of boat. When FitzRoy first took them on board he
'then only thought of detaining them while we were on their coasts; yet afterwards finding that they were happy and in good health, I began to think of the various advantages which might result to them and their countrymen, as well as to us, by taking them to England, educating them there as far as might be practicable, and then bringing them back to Tierra del Fuego. These ideas were confirmed by finding that the tribes of Fuegians eastward of Christmas Sound, were hostile to York Minster's Tribe, and that we therefore could not in common humanity, land them in Nassau Bay, without risking his life; hence I had only the alternative of beating to westward, to land them in their own districts, which circumstances rendered impracticable, or that of taking them to England. In adopting the latter course, I incurred a deep responsibility, but was fully aware of what I was undertaking..... They understood clearly . . . that they would return
to their country at a future time, with iron, tools and clothes and ' knowledge which they might spread among their countrymen. They were extremely tractable and good-humoured, even taking pains to walk properly, and get over the crouching posture of their countrymen.'
FitzRoy carried through his project and maintained them at his own expense in England where the Admiralty allowed them entry into the Royal Naval Hospital for a time. He took great trouble over their vaccination, but to his great sorrow one, Boat Memory, died of small-pox soon after arrival. They were unmoved by the sights of a civilised town. The only show of any emotion on driving through London was from York Minster, who cried ' Look' as he fixed his eyes on that now transplanted landmark, the lion on Northumberland House. They were taught the simpler truths of Christianity and the use of tools. They even visited St. James's, where they were interviewed by His Majesty and Queen Adelaide. Her Majesty 'left the room in which they were for a minute, and returned with one of her own bonnets, which she put upon the girl's head. Her Majesty then put one of her rings upon the girl's finger, and gave her a sum of money to buy an outfit of clothes when she should leave England to return to her own country.'
With his sense of responsibility heavy upon him, FitzRoy began making his private preparations for their return in the summer of 1831. Too late to save himself from the heavy expense entailed by these arrangements, he was unexpectedly reappointed to the command of the Beagle, with elaborate instructions with reference to a continuation of the survey of those same dangerous coasts. So that the Beagle in addition to her ordinary crew, contained an odd assemblage when she set sail once again in December, 1831. There was Charles Darwin, naturalist, and an artist, both present through FitzRoy's enterprise ; the three surviving Fuegians, and a missionary to accompany them and, if it proved possible, settle with them on their own soil. Also an unsorted mass of goods to bring civilisation to the island, including wine-glasses, tea-trays, fine white linen and beaver hats; the seamen enjoyed some ' fair jokes at the expence of those who had ordered complete sets of crockery ware.'
After a thirteen-month voyage FitzRoy disembarked from the Beagle with his Fuegians, the missionary Matthews, and his three boatloads of 'useful' articles, to re-establish the natives on the island of Navarin. There wigwams were built, gardens marked out,
and presumably the nomadic canoe Indians were equipped with beaver hats, trousers and fine white linen, whilst their wigwams were furnished with complete sets of toilet crockery. FitzRoy then left Matthews, not without qualms, and returned in a week to find the missionary's sense of security destroyed by the hostile demonstrations of the tribe. Matthews was therefore taken back on board the Beagle, and a year passed before FitzRoy revisited the scene, when he found the wigwams deserted and plundered and Jemmy Button in his original nakedness 'except for a bit of skin about the loins; his hair was long and matted.' He told the Captain how York Minster and Fuegia Basket had cunningly stolen his possessions and had left him. But Jemmy would not hear of returning to England, and insisted on his great contentment. He was a married man and had the food he liked.
Here was a bad breakdown in the plan, but FitzRoy seemed hardly disillusioned. One wonders whether he followed the train of events in the missionary world that ensued from his own account and Darwin's of the misery of the Fuegian native. Did he read of the calamitous sequel on the very same spot where he had based his original hopes, on which occasion it is alleged that Jemmy's son threw the stone that felled the missionary? The natives of Tierra del Fuego had had too long an apprenticeship in the ways of the white man, learnt from the piratical fortune-hunters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, quickly to unlearn such bitter experience. The missionaries had to suffer, and the tales of their martyrdom caused fresh waves of enthusiasm in England. It was not until the suitability of the Fuegian uplands for sheep-ranching was discovered that any stability was gained, and the missionaries have been blamed for combining a thriving business with the saving of souls. In any case the balance of well-being for the native was destroyed for ever, and the new conditions of clothing, food and habitation, together with the introduction of new diseases, led to such a diminution in numbers that in the end the mission died for want of material. Yet these Indians had thriven on their whale-oil coating and on their fare of mussels and clams before European interference destroyed their virility and independence. When the tragic history of the Fuegian aborigines comes to be fully recorded, FitzRoy's noble motives but misguided actions will receive their due. It must be stated in fairness that it was doubtless through the united efforts of FitzRoy and the later missionaries that the Admiralty charts of 1870 were able to say: 'A great change
has been effected in the natives generally, and the Yaghan Natives1 from Cape San Diego to Cape Horn can be trusted.' It is interesting to note that Darwin's first publication apart from a privately printed pamphlet, was a vindication of missionary work, written in conjunction with FitzRoy and bearing both signatures, entitled A letter containing remarks on the Moral State of Tahiti. This letter, dated June, 1836, was published, but in what Journal I have been unable to discover. To the end of Darwin's life he followed the movement and supported it. The Fuegian experiment does not seem to have discouraged the writers of the Tahiti 'letter. They speak of the 'change of nature' in the individuais after their education in England, and their complete belief in the adaptability of the Fuegian and in his power of adopting Christian ideals. Surely if three years sufficed to change the nature of such cannibal wretches as Fuegians, and transform them into well-behaved civilised people . . . there is some cause for thinking that a savage is not irreclaimable.' The evidence seems hardly to justify these conclusions.
Though the two writers of the missionary letter saw eye to eye on this subject, yet the rift was there ready to open. Darwin's notebooks were filling and his mind was ripening. Evolutionary views were in the air; he absorbed the geological reasoning of Lyell's first volume eagerly during the voyage. That FitzRoy and Darwin discussed scientific matters is proved by the parallel accounts in their separate volumes of the expeditions that they made in common, where the similarities and differences are illuminating. FitzRoy himself must have become alarmed at the trend of some of these talks, and therefore he disburdens himself to us in the last two chapters of the Narrative of the Beagle entitled 'Remarks on the early migration of the Human Race,' and 'A very few Remarks with reference to the Deluge.' Surely a more naive statement has seldom been recorded, and perhaps it is hardly fair to quote from these pages written so humbly and as he says 'in a purblind search after truth,' yet with the fervour of a zealot to save young sailors from the new arguments of false philosophers, and with a decided echo of the 'smack of the waggoner's whip' to lash the wanderer back into the narrow path. That FitzRoy felt the cleavage in the two points in view is clear, and the note of a definite challenge is sounded which must have acted as a stimulus to Darwin's unfolding ideas. Before proceeding to these passages,
1 Jemmy Button's tribe.
I will give his first mention of his plan of engaging a scientific companion for the voyage, when his ardour and spirit of enquiry were unassailed by gloomy doubts and fears. In the year 1830 on his earlier voyage to S. America he had already felt the need of a trained geologist and wrote:
'There may be metal in many of the Fuegian mountains, and I much regret that no person in the vessel was skilled in mineralogy, or at all acquainted with geology. It is a pity that so good an opportunity of ascertaining the nature of the rocks and earths of these regions should have been almost lost. I could not avoid often thinking of the talent and experience required for such scientific researches, of which we were wholly destitute ; and inwardly resolving that if ever I left England again on a similar expedition, I would endeavour to carry out a person qualified to examine the land; while the officers and myself would attend to hydrography.'
This open-minded spirit became obscured later, and the following passage shows the change from the earlier attitude. He writes:
'While led away by sceptical ideas, and knowing extremely little of the Bible, one of my remarks to a friend on crossing some vast plains composed of rolled stones bedded in diluvial detritus some hundred feet in depth, was "this could never have been effected by a forty days' flood"—an expression plainly indicative of the turn of mind and ignorance of Scripture. ... I mention this particularly, because I have conversed with persons fond of geology, yet knowing no more of the Bible than I knew at that time.'
The sceptical friend was clearly Darwin.
There follows a long discussion on the Deluge and the Ark with all the corroborative evidence he can muster—twenty-five pages of closely argued matter difficult to take seriously. The fossils of S. America, embedded trees and coal measures, meteorological observations, were all suborned into evidences to vindicate the complete literality of the Book of Genesis. Darwin probably did not see the chapter until it was published. One wonders what he thought.
The next passage I will quote is definitely non-evolutionary, and would suggest that some discussion between the two on these subjects must have taken place.
'That man could have been first created in an infant or a savage state, appears to my apprehension impossible; (for a moment taking a view of the case unaided by Scripture) ... after a few-hours of apathetic existence he must have perished. The only idea I can reconcile to reason is that man was created perfect in body, perfect in mind, and knowing by inspiration enough for the part he had to perform;—such a being it would be worse than folly to call savage.
' Have we a shadow of ground for thinking that wild animals or plants have improved since their creation? Can any reasonable man believe that the first of a race, species or kind, was the most inferior ? Then how for a moment could false philosophers, and those who have been led away by their writings, imagine that there were separate beginnings of savage races, at different times and in different places? Yet I may answer this question myself; for until I had thought much on the subject, and had seen nearly every variety of the human race, I had no reason to give in opposition to doubts excited by such sceptical works, except a conviction that the Bible was true, that in all ages men had erred, and that sooner or later the truth of every statement contained in that record would be proved.'
Poor FitzRoy. He little knew that he was providing the ideal education for that false philosopher who, above all others, would finally relegate his cherished beliefs to dusty upper shelves. What an irony of Fate that these passages should be written by the originator of the scheme which led Darwin to the world survey that laid the sure foundation for his evolutionary writings.
One more paragraph must be quoted, where the application to Darwin is clear.
' Much of my own uneasiness was caused by reading works written by men of Voltaire's school; and by those of geologists who contradict by implication if not in plain terms, the authenticity of the Scriptures ; before I had any acquaintance with the volume which they so incautiously impugn. For Geology as a useful branch of Science, I have as high a respect as for any other young branch of the tree of knowledge, which has yet to undergo the trial of experience; and no doubt exists in my own breast that every such additional branch, if proved by time to be sound and healthy, will contribute its share of nourishment and vigour to the tree which sprung from an immortal root. For men who like myself formerly, are willingly ignorant of the Bible, and doubt its divine inspiration, I can only have one feeling—sincere sorrow.'
By science, he adds in a footnote, 'I mean Knowledge in its most comprehensive signification.' There is so much that is admirable in all this, and it was so small a twist that prevented him from welcoming every aspect and implication of Darwin's work. But the narrowing effect of his mania ever widened the divergence of their views, and, thorough in everything, he could admit no sort of compromise. He never recognised later the arguments in the Origin of Species. In the famous battle at the Oxford British Association in 1861, twenty-five years after the termination of the voyage, when Hooker and Huxley took up the cudgels in the open in favour of Darwin's views, FitzRoy rose to record his disagreement. ' He regretted the publication of Mr. Darwin's book, and denied Professor Huxley's statement that it was a logical statement of facts.'
That phrase is a sad peroration to the close comradeship of the Beagle years, and must have been spoken with much bitterness of thought. Did he compare the courses of their two lives, in his sad isolation? He must have watched Darwin, established in congenial work, and gaining fame in spite of constant ill-health, surrounded by devoted champions and friends, though he did not live to see his old shipmate's world-wide reputation. We, on the other hand, have watched FitzRoy with his inflexible opinions and obstinate conscientiousness, fighting the world and his own mentality to the tragic end.
I should like to suggest in conclusion that FitzRoy's twofold influence over Darwin has been imperfectly recognised, both the direct influence wielded by admiration and affection, and the secondary influence exerted by FitzRoy's misreading of natural phenomena and fixity of religious ideas, which in my belief acted as an intellectual spur to Darwin's candid and enquiring mind. Though this contrary influence must have urged Darwin along the pathway of exact thought and speculation, yet his love of and loyalty to FitzRoy may well have caused some retardation of the formulation of his evolutionary ideas for publication. Darwin pays tribute to FitzRoy's comradeship when he wrote on his departure to New Zealand in 1843: ' I cannot bear the thoughts of your leaving the country without seeing you once again; the past is often in my memory, and I feel that I owe to you much bygone enjoyment and the whole destiny of my life.' Our last view of the sad austere man shall be from another farewell letter of Darwin's that reveals the generous and warmer side of his nature. ' Farewell, dear Fitz-
Roy, I often think of your many acts of kindness to me, and not seldomest of the time, no doubt quite forgotten by you, when before reaching Madeira, you came and arranged my hammock with your own hands, and which, as I afterwards heard, brought tears into my Father's eyes.'
Darwin's own account of FitzRoy, written during the last years of his life, less than half of which has been published in his Autobiography, will form a fitting ending to this survey of the relationship of these two great minds.
'FitzRoy's character was a singular one, with many very noble features; he was devoted to his duty, generous to a fault, bold, determined and indomitably energetic, and an ardent friend to all under his sway. He would undertake any sort of trouble to assist those whom he thought deserved assistance. He was a handsome man, strikingly like a gentleman with highly courteous manners, which resembled those of his maternal uncle the famous Ld. Castlereagh, as I was told by the Minister at Rio. Nevertheless he must have inherited much in his appearance from Charles II, for Dr. Wallich gave me a collection of photographs which he had made and I was struck by the resemblance of one to FitzRoy; on looking at the name I found it Ch. E. Sobieski Stuart, Count d'Albanie1 and illegitimate descendant of the same monarch. FitzRoy's temper was a most unfortunate one, and was shown not only by passion, but by fits of long-continued moroseness against those who had offended him. His temper was usually worst in the early morning, and with his eagle eye he could genet-ally detect something amiss about the ship, and was then unsparing in his blame. The junior officers when they relieved each other in the forenoon used to ask "whether much hot coffee had been served out this morning?" which meant how was the captain's temper? He was also somewhat suspicious and occasionally in very low spirits, on one occasion bordering on insanity. He seemed to me often to fail in sound judgment and common sense. He was very kind to me, but was a man very difficult to live with on the intimate terms which necessarily followed from our messing by ourselves' in the same cabin. We had several quarrels, for when out of temper he was utterly unreasonable. For instance, early in the voyage at Bahia in Brazil he defended and praised the slavery which I abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished
1 The Count d'Albania's claim to Royal descent has been ahown to be based on a myth.
to be free, and all answered no. I then asked him perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answer of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything. This made him excessively angry, and he said that as I doubted his word we could not live any longer together. I thought that I should have been compelled to leave the ship; but as soon as the news spread which it did quickly, as the Captain sent for the first Lieutenant to assuage his anger by abusing me, I was deeply gratified by receiving an invitation from all the gun-room officers to mess with them. But after a few hours FitzRoy showed his usual magnanimity by sending an officer to me with an apology and a request that I would continue to live with him. I remember another instance of his conduct. At Plymouth, before we sailed he was extremely angry with a dealer in crockery who refused to exchange some articles purchased in his shop: the Captain asked the man the price of a very expensive set of china and said "I should have purchased this if you had not been so disobliging." As I knew that the cabin was amply stocked with crockery, I doubted whether he had any such intention; and I must have shown my doubts in my face, for I said not a word. After leaving the shop, he looked at me, saying "You do not believe what I have said," and I was forced to own that it was so. He was silent for a few minutes, and then said "You are right, and I acted wrongly in my anger at the blackguard."
'At Conception in Chile, poor FitzRoy was sadly overworked and in very low spirits ; he complained bitterly to me that he must give a great party to all the inhabitants of the place. I remonstrated and said I could see no such necessity on his part under the circumstances. He then burst out into a fury, declaring that I was the sort of man who would receive any favours and make no return. I got up and left the cabin without saying a word, and returned to Conception where I was then lodging. After a few days I came back to the ship, and was received by the Captain as cordially as ever, for the storm had by this time quite blown over. The first Lieutenant, however, said to me, "Confound you, philosopher, I wish you would not quarrel with the Skipper; the day you left the ship I was dead-tired (the ship was refitting) and he kept me walking the deck till midnight abusing you all the time."
'The difficulty of living on good terms with a Captain of a Man-of-War is much increased by its being almost mutinous to answer him as one would answer anyone else; and by the awe in which he is held or was held in my time by all on board. I remember hearing a curious instance of this in the case of the purser of the Adventure, the ship which sailed with the Beagle
during the first voyage. The purser was in a store in Rio de Janeiro purchasing rum for the ship's company, and a little gentleman in plain clothes walked in. The purser said to him, "Now, sir, be so kind as to taste this rum and give me your opinion of it." The gentleman did as he was asked, and soon left the store. 'The store-keeper asked the purser whether he knew that he had been speaking to the Captain of a Line of Battle Ship, which had just come into the harbour. The poor purser was struck dumb with horror; and let the glass of spirits drop from his hands on the floor, and immediately went on board, and no persuasion, as an officer in the Adventure assured me, could make him go on shore again, for fear of meeting the Captain after this dreadful act of familiarity. I saw FitzRoy only occasionally after our return home, for I was always afraid of unintentionally offending him, and did so once almost beyond mutual reconciliation. He was afterwards very indignant with me for having published so unorthodox a book (for he became very religious) as the Origin of Species. Towards the close of his life he was, as I fear, much impoverished, and this was largely due to his generosity. Anyhow, after his death a subscription was raised to pay his debts. His end was a melancholy one, namely suicide, exactly like that of his uncle Ld. Castlereagh whom he resembled closely in manner and appearance. His character was in several respects one of the most noble which I have ever known, though tarnished by grave blemishes.'
FitzRoy and Darwin, 1831-36. F. Darwin, Nature, Feb. 22, 1912.
Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, edited by F. Darwin, 1887.
Capt. FitzRoy's statement of circumstances which led to a personal collision between Mr. Sheppard and Capt. FitzRoy, 1841.
Conduct of Capt. FitzRoy in reference to the electors of Durham. W. Sheppard, 1842.
Petition to Parliament from the inhabitants of the Southern Settlement of N. Zealand (praying for recall of FitzRoy), 1845.
Voyages of 'Adventure' and 'Beagle.' Chaps. XXVII and XXVIII. 1839.
Athenaeum Report of British Association, July 7-14, 1861.
Of the extracts from Darwin's correspondence, five letters and two short paragraphs have not been previously published. Less than half the autobiographical passage appears in Life and Letters.
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
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