In The Voyage of the Beagle, twenty-two year old Charles Darwin boarded the H.M.S Beagle and sailed towards the coast of South America. He crossed paths with the Fuegian people, and described the way civilized man exchanged information with “savage man” (1263). Darwin says, “…the party looked rather alarmed, but continued talking and making gestures with great rapidity, It was the most curious and interesting spectacle I ever beheld,” and furthered his statement with comparing this meet-up to a wild and domesticated animal (1263). Darwin’s encounter with people unfamiliar to his native-tongue, and noting the physical differences, leads his discovery in the theory of evolution, which came twenty years after he landed back home. He outlines the way the Fuegians dress so minimalist and how appalled their lifestyle is, “but these Fuegians in the canoe were quite naked, and even one full grown woman absolutely so,” and even goes as far as to call them “barbarians” (1266). This journey that he took on helped create the scientific literature he published many years later. He begins his work by crediting how the better individuals in species arise in nature and their struggle for existence bear on natural selection, but also how certain parts of the world play a role in existing (1272). An abundance of food source and water are just small sections of things that play a part in survival, and he goes on to explain in the next chapter (1273).
Darwin’s writings profoundly affected thought and one’s perspective, in England; as such, his ideas would certainly influence English writers. The nineteenth century was a period of turbulence for traditional ideas; Darwin’s writings added to the skepticism of old beliefs regarding humans’ place in the world. For the first time, many began to consider taking the perspective that, perhaps, humankind’s origins lie with the beginnings of all other animals, as Darwin suggests. Such ideas were problematic for religious institutions, as they contradicted the Bible’s explanation of the creation of the universe. While on his voyage, in an attempt to explain why the birds were so docile, Darwin states: “[fear of humans] is not acquired by individual birds in a short time, even when much persecuted; but that in the course of successive generations it becomes hereditary” (Darwin 1272). This quote illustrates the inspiration given to Darwin by the voyage for the idea of natural selection, as he compares the birds he encounters to the birds in England, which do have fear of humans (Darwin 1272). Darwin implies that the laws of natural selection apply to humans, as well: “Nature by making habit omnipotent and its effects hereditary, has fitted the Fuegian to the climate and the productions of his miserable country” (Darwin 1267). Darwin sees the differences between himself and the Fuegian people; he sees how they evolved differently from himself to adapt to their environment. Whereas many once believed humankind to be separate from the rest of the animal kingdom, Darwin’s revolutionary ideas rendered those ideas null to the open-minded people of English society. As Darwin’s ideas influenced English thinking so much, understanding them and the conflicts they created is important in comprehending the writings of writers of the period.
Wordsworth’s use of the concepts of time and nature in “Tintern Abbey” makes it a revolutionary poem. In fact, the first line of the poem relates to time, as the narrator states that “[f]jve years [had] passed” since his last visit to that spot in nature (Wordsworth 1). The purpose of the author using time in his poem is to demonstrate how moments survive time and change, through memories; this seems appropriate as the author lived in an ever-changing Europe. After recollecting on previous trips, the narrator describes how “in this moment there is life and food / [f]or future years” (Wordsworth 65-6). The narrator infers from his nostalgia at this moment that he will have the same nostalgia in the future.
However, as the years have passed, the narrator observes nature differently than he used to; he learns “[t]o look on nature, not as in the hour / [o]f thoughtless youth, but [to hear] oftentimes / [t]he still, sad music of humanity” (Wordsworth 90-2). The narrator no longer views nature and humanity as entirely disconnected. One can infer since the author describes hearing the “still, sad music of humanity” within the wilderness, Wordsworth believes there is a bond between humans and nature that has been forgotten by most (Wordsworth 92). As humans of Wordsworth’s period furthered themselves from nature, Wordsworth emphasized the importance of a continued relationship between nature and humans; his poem is revolutionary in this sense. People of Wordsworth’s period failed to remember their origins in nature; Wordsworth insinuated humankinds need to remember their origin. As the narrator feels nostalgia upon reconnecting with nature, the whole of humanity will too.
In light of our recent reading of Endgame, I thought you’d like to see this page with pictures of animals captioned by quotes from existentialist authors. The seal saying “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” is quoting Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot.