Sunday, January 10, 2010

Darwinian Travel

Everyone knows Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was a great scientist, formulator of a breakthrough theory of earthly evolution. What a lot of people don't know is that he was also a great travel writer: precise, acute, adventurous and a gifted descriptive writer.

I recently completed a round the world trip; it took me 28 days. Travel was a bit different in Darwin's day, well before the age of jet planes. His round the world trip on the HMS Beagle, which took him to South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and to numerous island groups, including the Galapagos, took five years. Darwin, a robust man in his twenties when he made the sea voyage, wrote his first classic book, "The Voyage of the Beagle,'' in 1839, three years after returning to England. I just finished reading the book, and it is brilliant.

A good many things have changed in travel since the 1830s, but one thing that hasn't is people's propensity to jump to sweeping conclusions about places we have just visited.

But let Darwin say it:

"... as the traveler stays but a short time in each place, his descriptions must generally consist of mere sketches, instead of detailed observations. Hence arises, as I have found to my cost, a constant tendency to fill up the wide gaps of knowledge, by inaccurate and superficial hypotheses.''

T'was ever thus, we can be certain.

No comments:

Post a Comment