The famed country of the Rio Plata in my opinion is not much better: an enormous brackish river, bounded by an interminable green plain is enough to make any naturalist groan. So Hurrah for Cape Horn and the Land of Storms. Now that I have had my growl out, which is a privilege sailors take on all occasions, I will turn the tables and give an account of my doing in Nat. History. I must have one more growl: by ill luck the French Government has sent one of its collectors to the Rio Negro, where he has been working for the last six months, and is now gone round the Horn. So that I am very selfishly afraid he will get the cream of all the good things before me. As I have nobody to talk to about my luck and ill luck in collecting, I am determined to vent it all upon you. I have been very lucky with fossil bones; I have fragments of at least 6 distinct animals: as many of them are teeth, I trust, shattered and rolled as they have been, they will be recognised. I have paid all the attention I am capable of to their geological site; but of course it is too long a story for here. 1st, I have the tarsi and metatarsi very perfect of a Cavia; 2nd, the upper jaw and head of some very large animal with four square hollow molars and the head greatly protruded in front. I at first thought it belonged either to the Megalonyx or Megatherium (4/1. The animal may probably have been Grypotherium Darwini, Ow. The osseous plates mentioned below must have belonged to one of the Glyptodontidae, and not to Megatherium. We are indebted to Mr. Kerr for calling our attention to a passage in Buckland's "Bridgewater Treatise" (Volume II., page 20, note), where bony armour is ascribed to Megatherium.); in confirmation of this in the same formation I found a large surface of the osseous polygonal plates, which "late observations" (what are they?) show belong to the Megatherium. Immediately I saw this I thought they must belong to an enormous armadillo, living species of which genus are so abundant here. 3rd, The lower jaw of some large animal which, from the molar teeth, I should think belonged to the Edentata; 4th, some large molar teeth which in some respects would seem to belong to an enormous rodent; 5th, also some smaller teeth belonging to the same order. If it interests you sufficiently to unpack them, I shall be very curious to hear something about them. Care must be taken in this case not to confuse the tallies. They are mingled with marine shells which appear to me identical with what now exist. But since they were deposited in their beds several geological changes have taken place in the country. So much for the dead, and now for the living: there is a poor specimen of a bird which to my unornithological eyes appears to be a happy mixture of a lark, pigeon and snipe (No. 710). Mr. MacLeay himself never imagined such an inosculating creature: I suppose it will turn out to be some well-known bird, although it has quite baffled me. I have taken some interesting Amphibia; a new Trigonocephalus beautifully connecting in its habits Crotalus and the Viperidae, and plenty of new (as far as my knowledge goes) saurians. As for one little toad, I hope it may be new, that it may be christened "diabolicus." Milton must allude to this very individual when he talks of "squat like a toad" (4/2. "...him [Satan] there they [Ithuriel and Zephon] found, Squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve" ("Paradise Lost," Book IV., line 800).

"Formerly Milton's "Paradise Lost" had been my chief favourite, and in my excursions during the voyage of the 'Beagle,' when I could take only a single volume, I always chose Milton" ("Autobiography," page 69).); its colours are by Werner (4/3. Werner's "Nomenclature of Colours," Edinburgh, 1821.) ink black, vermilion red and buff orange. It has been a splendid cruise for me in Nat. History. Amongst the Pelagic Crustacea, some new and curious genera. In the Zoophytes some interesting animals. As for one Flustra, if I had not the specimen to back me up nobody would believe in its most anomalous structure.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book