Darwin’s trip to Brazil and the Theory of Evolution.


Porquê viagem de Darwin ao Brasil influenciou a Teoria da Evolução.

Durante a passagem do naturalista inglês pelo país, o deslumbre inteiro pela pluralidade da floresta tropical contrastou com o choque diante dos horrores da escravidão. Saiba porquê as observações em território brasiliano foram decisivas nos artigos e livros que ele escreveu pelas décadas seguintes.

“A mente é um caos de deleites.”

Essa foi a frase que Charles Darwin (1809-1882) usou para expressar o que sentiu ao se aventurar pela primeira vez numa floresta tropical no Brasil.

“Quando os olhos tentam seguir o voo de uma vistosa mariposa, são atraídos por alguma árvore ou fruta exótica. Se observam um inseto, esquecem-se dele ao contemplar a flor peculiar sobre a qual rasteja”, detalhou ele em seu quotidiano.

O naturalista inglês, célebre pela obra A Origem das Espécies, em que descreveu em detalhes a Teoria da Evolução, passou pelo Brasil por duas ocasiões, em 1832 e 1836.

De contrato com essa teoria, há uma luta pela sobrevivência na natureza, mas aquele que sobrevive não é necessariamente o mais possante e, sim, o que melhor se adapta às condições do envolvente em que vive.

Durante esses anos, ele integrou a tripulação do navio HMS Beagle, que fazia levantamentos costeiros e cartográficos de certas regiões da América do Sul.

A expedição começou em dezembro de 1831 em Plymouth, no Reino Uno, margeou ilhas europeias e africanas, chegou ao Brasil, “desceu” para Uruguai e Argentina, cruzou o Estreito de Magalhães, passou por Chile e Peru, aportou em Galápagos, foi para a Oceania e África do Sul, e precisou passar de novo pelo nordeste brasiliano antes de voltar para lar em 1836.

During all this time, Darwin made observations and collected many animals, vegetation and minerals, in addition to writing several letters to colleagues and family. There is no doubt that the four and a half year expedition was essential for him to come up with many ideas and subsequently carry out the experiments that culminated in the Theory of Evolution.

But what about Brazil? Why did his visit to places like Fernando de Noronha, Salvador, Recife and Rio de Janeiro inspire and influence the English researcher ‘s work?

For journalist Pedro Alencastro, responsible for translating and organizing the book  Darwin in Brazil , recently released by Editora Duas Aspas, there is no doubt that the naturalist’s visit to Brazilian lands was decisive for the work that would revolutionize Biology.

“Brazil was very important for Darwin, because he had a great desire to learn about tropical forests and from an early age he showed a great interest in South America”, he states.

“When he arrived in places like Fernando de Noronha, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, he had a real understanding of what the tropical forest is and why so many different species can live there ”, adds the translator.

Biologist Shirley Noely Hauff highlights that, until now , the young English researcher was familiar with the environments of the United Kingdom , whose biodiversity is much more limited when compared to that of Brazil.

The Brazilian expert was part of a project led by the University of Brasília (UnB) and other institutions that, between 2015 and 2016, retraced part of Darwin’s journey through Latin America.

Biologist Nelio Bizzo, senior professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), agrees with his colleagues’ assessment.

“What is recorded in Darwin’s daily life is the amazement he had with Brazilian biodiversity, particularly with plant biodiversity”, details the expert , who worked on the two most recent translations of The Origin of Species  into Portuguese, released by publishers Martin Claret and Edipro.

“Darwin had the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) as a great idol,” describes Bizzo.

At the time , Humboldt had been banned from entering Brazil because it was suspected that he was a spy, but the German ‘s expeditions through Spanish Latin America — and the reports he shared in books, articles and letters — fascinated and influenced History lovers in Brazil. Europe.

“Darwin already had an idea of ​​what a tropical forest was. But when he saw all that plurality in clothes , he was very moved,” says Bizzo.

Where Darwin went and what he saw.

The naturalist’s first contact with Brazilian territory took place in February 1832, when the HMS Beagle reached the Archipelago of São Pedro and São Paulo, a small group of rocky islets in the middle of the Atlantic.

Days later, the trip continued towards Fernando de Noronha and soon approached Salvador, where it remained for several weeks.

At the beginning of April 1832, the expedition arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian capital . You can see all locations and dates on the map below:

From there, the ship headed towards Montevideo, Uruguay.

As explained previously, the Beagle needed to return to Brazil in 1836. Initially, the travelers’ theory was to skirt the coast of Africa and return directly to Europe.

But there was an urgency to make some repairs, which required a stop in Salvador and Recife for a few weeks in August of that year — Darwin even wrote letters in which he vented that he missed home .

Because the vessel spent a long time at each site , the researcher had the opportunity to go on hikes and expeditions on firm ground . He often spent days or even weeks on exploratory terrain trips .

He stayed in Salvador, for example, between February 29 and March 17, 1832. In Rio de Janeiro, another extended stay, lasting two months: Darwin was in the Brazilian capital between April 4 and June 5 of that same year .

However, even in places where visits were lighter, the researcher found a way to make observations and research. This was the case of the Archipelago of São Pedro and São Paulo, where Darwin reflected on geology.

“The mineralogical constitution of the land is not simple. In some parts the rock is quartz, in others it is feldspathic in nature, with fine serpentine veins”, he wrote in Daily Life .

He also noticed the birds, algae and fish that inhabit the outskirts of the rocks — and noticed the lack of vegetation species there.

“In a way, the Archipelago of São Pedro and São Paulo was the place where Darwin began to think about the issue of the geographic isolation of islands and the species that develop in these places. This was something that he observed more intensely later in Galápagos”, points out Alencastro.

In Fernando de Noronha, geological analyzes continued. Later, in Salvador, the English naturalist made the long-awaited visit to the tropical forest.

On February 29, he noted: “The day passed delightfully. But that is perhaps a poor term to express the emotions of a naturalist who, for the first time, ventured alone into a Brazilian forest. The elegance of the grass, the unusual of the parasitic vegetation , the beauty of the flowers, the pompous greenery of the foliage and, above all, the exuberance of the surroundings filled me with amazement .”

“A paradoxical mixture of sound and silence spreads deep in the forest”, he noted.

Bizzo remembers that Darwin had a conservative background. “He was a researcher who had studied Procedent Theology , which reinforced the sublimity of the world and nature. This sublimity is conceivable in an environment with few elements. But why is it possible to conceive such sublimity in a tropical forest context, in which thousands of species live? are they concentrated in the same place? Why do they harmonize perfectly?” asks the biologist.

“This opulence requires much more complex accounting to be understood,” he notes.

In Rio de Janeiro, Darwin had the opportunity to go to the city of Cabo Indifferent , where he discovered an Englishman’s property.

An important observation that the naturalist made in Rio de Janeiro was that of a monkey from the tropics, the first he saw in mesocarp and bone.

“The animal was dead, but it was still wrapped around a branch by its tail”, describes Alencastro.

“This scene caused a powerful feeling in Darwin, and he later wrote about why tails evolved in land animals and what the function of this structure is in different species”, adds the translator.

Upon leaving Brazil, Darwin headed to Montevideo, Uruguay. In the following stops, he gathered objects and artifacts that he could also easily find in the Southern Region of Brazil, in the Pampas areas.

“An example are fossils, especially those collected in Patagonia. They were very important for the development of the Theory of Evolution”, says Alencastro.

“In his works, Darwin made comparisons and cited several times the discoveries of mammal fossils made by the Danish paleontologist Peter Wilhelm Lund (1801-1880) in the Lagoa Santa region, Minas Gerais.”

He loved Brazil, he didn’t like Brazilians.

Reading Darwin’s diaries reveals that, in contrast to his amazement at the tropical forest, he was quite uncomfortable with what he saw of Brazilian society at the time .

This is mainly due to the shock that the naturalist had when faced with a slave regime — Brazil only abolished servitude completely more than five decades later.

In a certain part of his daily life , he mentions “the atrocities that could only happen in a slave-owning country”. In another, he confesses that he wishes to never set foot in a slave country like Brazil again.

“He found the way people treated others paradoxical ,” recalls Hauff.

Darwin also complained about the manners of Brazilians, which he considered excessively brutish and uncourteous.

Bizzo remembers that, when Darwin made the expedition, Brazil had become independent a decade ago — and the United Kingdom only recognized this sovereignty requirement a few years later.

“For this to happen, D. Pedro I had to sign a treaty with the United Kingdom that was absolutely vexing , with the imposition of huge customs tariffs on Brazilian goods and practically no taxes on industrialized products that came from England”, he contextualizes.

At the time , the United Kingdom also imposed the urgency of ending slavery in Brazil and began monitoring the Atlantic to prevent the movement of enslaved people from Africa.

This whole context meant that the British were not very popular, especially in large Brazilian cities. “When Darwin arrived in the country, he was not very welcomed, unlike what would happen today with an English tourist. He was there as a representative of a world power that had imposed conditions that were uncomfortable”, says Bizzo.

The biologist also highlights that Darwin came from a family with progressive positions.

“Susan, one of Darwin’s sisters, was not exclusively an activist against slavery, but she was also one of the first defenders of animal rights and worked to suppress the use of some hunting traps”, explains the researcher.

The good sprout at home makes

Scares, horrors and relationship problems with Brazilians aside , the naturalist returned to England after 4 and a half years of travel, in 1836.

But he would only publish  The Origin of Species , a book that would revolutionize the world, 23 years later, in 1859.

Bizzo explains that Darwin left England without having developed the Theory of Evolution — and returned to his country without being an evolutionist.

“It is not true that he developed the Theory of Evolution during the trip on the HMS Beagle. What he did over that time was collect a lot of material and know a good part of the world in a way that few people knew at that station “, explains the professor .

Those interviewed by BBC News Brasil described Darwin as a detailed , almost obsessive researcher , who carried out the most diverse experiments before making his theory public.

“Darwin was a methodical and observant researcher”, characterizes Hauff.

One of these studies, for example, tried to discover how long mollusk eggs survive in the mud stuck to the legs of migratory birds.

“In one of his most inventive experiments, Darwin placed two duck feet, cut at knee height , inside an aquarium full of gluttonous rain snails . The theory was to simulate a bird sleeping with its feet stuck in a pond, a general habit of many species. Some time ago , he removed his feet from the aquarium, shook them both to imitate the flight of a bird and asked his children, who had much better vision, to count how many baby snails they would find in them”, describes the book  Darwin no. Brazil .

The naturalist also became a great expert on barnacles, marine organisms that settle on rocks — some of the work he published on these beings remains current today.

“He studied barnacles for about eight years, and even now it is very difficult to work with this species”, estimates Hauff.

“Darwin did all this because he didn’t want to create any gaps, as he was very afraid of how his ideas would be received and questioned with the station ‘s religiosity and morals “, assesses Alencastro.

“For this reason, he always tried to corner himself from the maximum amount of evidence possible, which ranged from home experiments to correspondence he exchanged with experts from all over the world”, he concludes.

Source: mailbraziliense